Chicken Little Part 1

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

When you picture your current physical self walking into a fitness facility how does it make you feel? Standing at the door, in your oversized and likely unflattering outfit of choice what do you see? Before you is a room filled with unfamiliar torture devices, gorgeous super model-like people with perfect bodies, club music pumping, machines whirring, weights clanging, Hercules grunting, TVs flashing and then you, looking like the Michelin man, unable to move, your heart racing, your mind darting and sweat pooling under your arm pits. Now, in this moment, you have a choice: run back out the door, race home, and never go back or take a deep breath, push your anxiety aside and step forward into the mix and navigate your way through your first workout.

This scenario is a replay of the first day I walked into the YMCA. Actual super models and Greek mythological characters may not have been present. I think about what life would’ve been like had I chosen to go home in that moment and I am forever thankful I didn’t. Instead I swallowed my fear and put myself through the most poorly structured but physically exhausting workout I could manage with my limited knowledge and experience. It was a horrid display, all 330lbs of me sliding from machine to machine where every movement was a heroic effort. I wandered aimlessly through the maze, even once dropping the full weight of a bench press bar across the top of my groin. You haven’t lived until you’re lying there on an incline bench with about 100lbs of dead weight sitting just above your baby maker and hoping nobody in the gym can see you but desperately needing someone to help you move the bar. That day could barely have been more disheartening but it was a start and as much as I felt like an utter failure and total loser on the way home I pushed all doubt aside and reminded myself I had done it, I’d gone to the gym and not died so I vowed to go back. And I did. And I do. And you have to, too.

Quit being the greatest obstacle in your own life. Fear is powerful yet not something people necessarily consider as blocking them from losing weight. Failure, judgment, uncertainty, lack of knowledge, and an inability to see the future are all elements of fear. They’re common and they’re legitimate. To succeed at weight loss you have to acknowledge the fear, put it aside and get started. This is not earth shattering news. It sounds easy but can actually be pretty daunting, the whole get started part. That’s why I’m here. I’m going to give you a first day “how-to.”

So many people have the desire to change, to lose weight and start living their best life but many people, myself included, have absolutely no idea how to start, what to do on Day 1. Because I’m bossy and have all the answers I’m going to tell you, thereby removing all excuses.

What can that first day look like for you and what should you do? First, wear comfortable but not too schlubby clothing. You don’t have to wear spandex but a decently put together outfit will do wonders for your psyche. Second, walk in knowing you’re there to work on yourself and nobody there cares what you look like or why you’re there. If you think they do just log in to Instagram and take a peak at the infinite number of gym selfies. You are the least of anyone’s concern. Third, act like you know what you’re doing. As they say, fake it til you make it. And if you can’t fake it, text me, I’ll help you out. Fourth, breathe, at all times, no matter what.

Now you’re in the gym, what do you do? My advice is to begin with a cardio workout followed by a light introduction to weight training. It’s your first day and this journey is a marathon in the greatest sense of the word so it’s not necessary to blow it out on the first day, especially if the last time you saw physical activity was some time around grade school Red Rover. Here’s my guide to start gaining on your life.

Gym Day 1

Pick a cardio machine, preferably one out of the main visible areas of your gym. In my opinion it’s okay to hide on your first day with the goal of one day putting yourself on full display. If you’re really big, like I was, avoid the bike. This gives you three other options: the treadmill, elliptical, or stairmaster. Since it’s day one go with the treadmill; it’s familiar, it’s safe, and it’s forward movement which is obviously meant to be symbolic. Not all treadmills are the same but they’re similar enough to follow this routine after hitting Quick Start. Don’t worry about selecting a program, do this one instead:

Pace                        Duration            Incline

2.8                        4 minutes            0

3.8                        3 minutes            0

3.8                        3 minutes            1.5%

4                            3 minutes            3%

3                            5 minutes            6%

4                            4 minutes            2%

3.8                         5 minutes            0

2.8                         3 minutes            0

Total Cardio = 30 minutes

Congratulations, you’ve just completed your first cardio workout and you should have definitely broken a sweat and should feel either fairly invigorated or tired as hell or a combination of both. Good.

Come back soon for the second half!

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German Chocolate Cake

I’ve been a little off-track recently, pointing my focus in the wrong direction. Since joining a new gym in October, one that is populated by some of the most attractive people New York has to offer, including actors, models, go-go boys, porn stars and writers (me), I got caught up in keeping up with the Jones’s. What was once a place I went to work hard on body improvement and health became a tense, uncomfortable experience. It got so bad that I was arranging the perfect outfit to workout in lest I look out of place, though in the spectrum of actors/porn stars/models, a writer is certainly going to naturally look a little out of place; we’re not technically known for our adherence to fashion. I was more concerned with what the other guys might think of me than I was with improving. I started trying to adopt new workouts designed to increase muscle mass because that’s the current trend. I was overwhelming myself with the ideas and practices of others and ignoring my own. Instead of leaving the gym inflated I typically left angry, frustrated and deflated. Plus I wasn’t feeling tired, like I’d worked hard and, right or wrong, that is a vital part of my experience in the gym, it’s gotta “hurt” and I have to sweat through every piece of clothing to feel like it counted. I sweat a lot. I should, maybe, be studied.

Finally I opened my eyes and took stock of myself and realized how out of line I was, doing exercises that were the opposite of what I wanted which is a strong, flexible, agile, tone and fit body. Not that bodybuilders can’t or don’t have this but I don’t want to be a bodybuilder with striated quads or crazy bulging biceps. Muscle? Yes, please. But I also value more and have long preferred full-body, cardio intense workouts. Full disclosure: the idea of bulk still makes me uncomfortable so why was I doing workouts that are designed to create bulk?

Last week I rediscovered a website I’d forgotten I bookmarked. It’s two guys in Germany who are crazy strong and fit (at least they appear so through YouTube) and who offer workout videos centered on calisthenics. Like, some crazy ass shit stuff. Two days of YouTube viewing snapped me back to reality and I compiled lists of exercises and workouts to start incorporating with the goal of perfecting some of these moves. I like these workouts because, while they will tone and help lose fat, they also seem to create an overall more fully functional, strong body. It was a pleasant experience because through this research I realized I have utilized this methodology already and had already created a couple of similar workouts of my own.

I will still involve weight training in my workouts because it is valuable. But basically what I’m saying is I’m happy to be back, back to realizing why I go to the gym and what I want to achieve. For the “average Joe” the gym can be a daunting, overwhelming place and it sometimes takes a lot of strength and courage to get there and stay there. I had momentarily fallen prey to my own insecurities. But I’m coming back!

On Sunday I put into practice one of their suggested workouts and I will admit, it whooped my ass. I had one of those “ugly” workouts where I was gasping for breath, sweating like a cooling beer bottle in the August heat, audibly grunting and looking an absolute mess. I didn’t give a shit what anyone there thought because I was there for me. I almost threw up three times, I tripped down the stairs twice because I was wobbly, my arm were jelly and I smiled all the way home, a feat in itself.

Why am I telling you this? One reason is to be accountable for my own missteps and challenges. Two to remind myself that I have way more knowledge and strength than I remembered because I was sidetracked by vanity. Three to give you your own balls out workout to try! I’m not sharing their workout because it feels a little like stealing but I will share a workout I created that produces equally vomit-inducing results and is fun. Sidebar: I don’t believe you have to feel the urge to puke to quantify a quality workout; that’s kind of bullshit. However, sometimes that feeling of pushing yourself that hard is truly worth a little puke laced burping. Feels (but not tastes) really good.

The moral of this story? Wear whatever the hell you want to the gym (within reason of course) and don’t get sidetracked by your self-esteem and insecurity. You’re there for you, nobody else. And be careful walking down steps.

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Try this workout for an overall full-body workout that requires little space and minimal equipment. Perform each exercise as a cycle with no rest between exercises for 3-4 rounds. It’s not the easiest workout so if you don’t get all the reps or all the sets or even every single exercise don’t worry, eventually you will. I made it up and I still have difficulty!

1) Pull-ups – as many as possible

2) Push-up w/alternating arm and leg extension – 10 reps – Starting in the up push-up position lower yourself to the ground. Upon pushing back up extend the left arm and right leg at the top of the movement. Lower back to the ground then repeat on the other side.

3) Burpees with jump but no push-up – 20 reps

4) Medicine Ball Cross Body Chops – 15 each side – Using a weighted medicine ball stand with legs shoulder width apart. Raise the ball overhead to the right side of your body, extending your torso, then swing the ball across your body down past your left knee, twisting your legs and squeezing not only your midsection and obliques but also try to squeeze the triceps. Repeat on the other side.

5) Chin-ups – as many as possible

6) Decline Wide-grip push-ups w/feet on exercise ball – 20 reps

7) Turkish Get-ups – 6 reps each side – This is a helpful video to show you how to do this move: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCV02JdQkwI

8) Mountain Climbers – 20 reps

9) Box Jumps – Choose a box or surface of appropriate height for your ability. You can do quick jumps going up and down from the box as quickly as possible or you can aim for a more isolated jump where, once atop the box you hold a squat position for a few seconds before stepping down from the box.

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Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Hear that sound? Yeah, I hear it too but ramblings from a cracked out homeless hooker outside my apartment is not what I mean. I’m talking about that steam hissing, the slow chug of the engine and the blaring of the whistle letting you know the train is leaving the station! What train you ask? I don’t know. I’m getting lost in my own metaphor. It’s possible I could come up with a more ridiculous way to describe the slight alteration in my blogging but why waste the effort when this one was so easy. Basically I’m switching things up a bit here. In an effort to include less diary-inspired entries and introduce a little more relevant currency to my writing, today I bring you something new-ish, a blog posting that will hopefully do something more than just sit in the annals of web-dom and lead to something, anything. I still plan to include the ol’ “Evan as a bumbling fitness idiot” stuff but it’s time to add a new spice to the mix. Okay, I gotta stop, these clichés are killing us. Enjoy!

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Many fitness magazines, blogs and websites generally offer glossy, generic advice about how to lose weight, how to tone your ass, how to get a six-pack or how to get ripped. For the novice, the obese man laboring day after day, browsing Instagram with envy for the bodies of the narcissistic elite, it’s not so simple. To finally get out of the house and into a fitness facility armed with a logical, realistic plan takes courage and some essential, realistic information about what it all means.

I don’t care what anyone says and I couldn’t care much less about the trends going on in the world of fitness today because the truth is a person will never lose weight and keep it off if he doesn’t know why he’s fat in the first place. We all know what makes us fat; that’s simple logic. What I mean is to truly break through he must take the time to analyze his life, specifically his past, going all the way back to his first pair of husky jeans, and take a hard look at what prompted him to take the road to fatland.

I’ve long believed that if you don’t understand why you’re fat in the first place you’re not likely to lose weight and maintain it. I’m not saying a person needs to spend hours and thousands of dollars on a shrink’s couch but some serious, hardcore self-analysis is necessary. I am confident most fat people have an idea of the root cause, simple or complex as it may be. I knew what my problem was all along and I know most people, with a little time, will see a clearer picture of who they are and how they got to there.

Start here: why are you fat? How long have you been this way? Is this an acceptable weight at which you want to live or do you honestly want to make a life change? Why do you want to change? These are some challenging questions. You may wonder what’s my point, why does it matter? It matters because in my opinion, if you don’t answer these questions you miss the most important step in the weight loss process.

Dropping pounds is simultaneously easy and excruciatingly difficult. It’s easy when you finally flip the switch in your brain that says your fat days are over. Once you’ve answered the scary question, have a clear picture of who you are, where you’ve come from and where you want to go it’s easy to move forward. Beyond that, though, well, that’s not always going to be fun.

Here are my recommendations for making it all work:

Start slow and methodical

Rome, they say, wasn’t built in a day. What empire was built in twenty-four hours?

It’s going to suck, hard, for a little while, until you know what you’re doing and you see progress. Spending time in a fitness facility is going to, at times, be a soul crushing experience because without fail you’re going to be one of the largest, sweatiest people there and inevitably you’ll be surrounded by great looking people with even greater looking bodies. But you can’t be deterred and you can’t focus on this aspect because if you do you may never go back. Find a time that works best for you with minimal exposure, the time of day that suits your schedule and includes fewer crowds. For me it was the early, early hours. Sacrifices will need to be made in the beginning. Suck it up.

A Non-Scientific Scientific Process

This is a “scientific” process. Read all you can about health, diet and fitness but don’t necessarily buy into it because a lot of it is stock bullshit that won’t necessarily apply to you, present advice excluded. Not much out there in the web-iverse and in magazines is contributed by people who’ve been down the path you’re starting. Yes, there are some amazing blogs and sites that offer true, first hand experience but most of the major fitness industry is not geared toward you. To truly succeed you have to get to know your body and its chemistry in an entirely new way. What does this mean? It means you can try as many things as you want, absorb what works, but pay close attention to the results. Remember, regardless of what anything says, your ultimate goal is to increase your caloric burn while decreasing your caloric intake. Many nutrition experts tell you to eat specific foods in specific doses for specific results. It may be the case that your body won’t process some of these ideal foods in the same way that people claim they should and in some cases they could do more damage than good. Not everyone can use cheese and milk and yogurt as helpful snacks. And if eating a ton of beans and leafy greens and broccoli tends to give you uncomfortable and explosively toxic gas, well then, you need to find an alternative.

Don’t Watch Your Weight

Most of us avoid the scale as though it were a soul-sucking device designed to crush our existence and drive us insane. In fact, I’d venture most folks wanting to get thinner haven’t actually been on a scale in a very long time. My advice? Weigh yourself when you start the process but don’t weigh again for six weeks. Weight is a somewhat arbitrary number that, while a helpful guide and motivational tool, can fluctuate in a given day causing unnecessary anxiety. I encourage you, against your wishes, to weigh yourself fully clothed. Whatever you wear the first time should be repeated each subsequent time you weigh. So if you wear shoes, always wear shoes, if you don’t, then don’t. Also, recognize that initially it’ll be easy to drop a lot of weight, it always is and as many people say, it’s water weight. Whatever it is, it’s gone, it’s awesome and you can celebrate the feeling of being lighter but beyond that, stay away from the scale because it’s not really going to be your friend. You’ve seen them, the weigh-ins, week after week, on the Biggest Loser and you see how elated people are when the scale shows significant loss and how crushed they are when it doesn’t move, barely moves or, dreadfully, goes back up. Save yourself that anguish until you’re more mentally steeled to put it in perspective. It’s not really about the number, but in the end it will surely feel like it.

No Crunches Necessary

I’d venture to guess a lot of people will dispute this one but lay off the abdominal work. I don’t mean don’t focus on strengthening your core but as a woman once told me, it makes no sense to do endless crunches that will build the layer of muscle beneath your ample layers of fat. All that does is push the fat out further. I don’t really know if she was actually scientifically accurate but it made sense to me. Instead find stabilizing exercises, core strengthening exercises that engage your abs on a deeper level and serve to hold you in and upright. Without a doubt you need a strong core to properly perform many exercises but haphazardly crunching yourself into a little ball isn’t really going to do much for you. There are many exercises out there designed to stabilize your core; find them. You may aspire to a six-pack (we all do) but right now, it’s the least of your worries and concerns; you just want a strong core and want to ensure that once your tummy deflates it doesn’t hang to your knees.

You’re an Addict

I save this for last because it may be tough to swallow. Nobody likes to believe they’re addicted to anything and I’m in no way claiming we are addicted to food. What I’m saying, though, is that this process, weight loss, fitness and maintenance should be treated with the same vigilance and delicacy as people who do have addiction challenges. If you are going to succeed and live the rest of your life in a smaller body then it means forever being aware of how much you eat, what you eat, how much you exercise and maintaining constant oversight. I don’t mean that forever you will walk around in fear of food or gaining a pound. But you will have to be accountable to yourself, the process and the necessary tools to keep you safe on your newly chosen path. Addicts attend meetings for affirmation, guidance, strength, support and for accountability. You have to do all of the same things and often you must do it alone and your AA meeting is a gym or a class or a park. Trust me on this one; it takes a minute to wrap your mind around but it will help. Once you’ve been at this for some time and are stronger and more self-aware it becomes much easier and you don’t carry the same anxiety you might carry now but every single day does carry the responsibility to be ever vigilant and conscious.

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Olympic Gold

*This is a continuation of the series on my youthful running escapades.

After recovering from the trauma of my “run in” with a twister I didn’t run again until 8th grade when, after some time to rest, and expand further, I joined the track team. I totally did, I joined the track team. I can’t say why I did it, what I was hoping to get out of it, but I wanted to do it so I did. Track offered a wealth of different activities to try and I tried them all. A boy of my size was naturally thrust toward shotput and discus but what eighth grade boy had the strength and coordination for these events? Okay, some did but I didn’t, though had there actually been a coach for these events I might have eventually learned and gone on to Olympic gold. Guess we’ll never know since Otwell Middle School didn’t see fit to invest in overweight track stars’ futures.

Directionless and foolish, I moved on to long jump. The event requires a little bit of running and the ability to hurl oneself through the air and into a pit of sand. I ran with all my might down that short little section of concrete and threw myself forward and upward with as much will as I could muster. I didn’t make it into the sand. They couldn’t even count my effort because, well, the tape measure starts at the edge of the sand and since I will still standing on concrete, well, you get the gist. I’d jumped from the big white line and made it to the edge of the pit, two feet away. Jesus I was bad. So then, what was my next logical choice? Obviously it was hurdles. I couldn’t jump out but maybe I could jump up and over. Hurdles are impossibly hard, as is the ground when you land on it with your knees, face and hands after you’ve clipped your shins for the millionth time. I will say it takes some courage to jog toward the waist high piece of equipment and convince yourself you can scale it. I don’t know, courage or blind ambition. Time after time I gingerly approached it (I’ll cop to the fact that I was using the girl’s height, not the boys) and time after time I fell or crashed or chickened out with one leg halfway over. Logic eventually intervened and I moved my lone practice hurdle from the track to the grass to practice. At least here only my ego was getting bruised. Realizing, eventually, that to compete in the hurdles meant I had to successfully leap over not just one hurdle but many, and to that point I hadn’t cleared the first one, I had to move on, for the good of my future. The final attempt literally crushed my barely descended balls so I was done.

This failure meant that all that was left for me were running events but I never had time to actually practice any of them. By the time I’d exhausted other event options our first meet arrived and when we didn’t have a participant in the 800-meter I naturally volunteered. I’d never attempted the distance, never been in a formal race aside from field day and had no idea what it took to semi-sprint two laps around the track. My short-term memory during those days must’ve been pretty weak because had I stopped for one minute I’d have recalled the last time I sprinted halfway around the track during a test in P.E. when we were required to run the 200-meter. I don’t know why we were required to, we just were, so I did, and ended up with cramps so bad in my legs and butt that I had to lay down the rest of the class. This memory might have served me well had it surfaced before volunteering. None of it would’ve mattered to me, I’m certain, because I believed I could do it. I desperately wanted to compete in some track and field event. And nobody stepped in to say no, or question my abilities, or ask if I’d ever run 800-meters or even notice I wasn’t wearing an official team jersey. They didn’t have my size. It took some time to find an appropriate top for me to wear and I must have blocked that part of it out of my memory because I have no idea what I wore but I’m sure it was not the standard tank top that other teammates were wearing. I was delusional but still had my limits.

I was the final competitor to step to the line. I didn’t know any of the kids in the race, and didn’t care. I was so filled with nervous energy and excitement that I could have been standing next to Jesse Owens and not even noticed. Not true. If I’d been standing next to Jesse Owens undoubtedly I’d have noticed because not only was he dead but also black and black people really tended to stand out where I’m from, since around 1912 anyway.

The gun went off and with it every other runner, save me. I was a bit shocked at the quickness of the whole get to the line late and take-off experience so I was already behind. I bolted off the line, heart beating, legs pumping, stomach bouncing. I’m not sure why but I told myself to just watch the ground, which would’ve been good advice had I followed it. As we finished the first turn I looked up in front of me and was immediately struck with fear, nausea, exhaustion and tunnel vision. I saw every runner in a straight line,  seemingly miles away, sprinting away from me with ease. They made it look so easy and I can only imagine what I must’ve looked like to the crowd, waddling along, yards and yards behind. It kind of brings to mind that old Garth Brooks video for “Standing Outside the Fire”, the one with the kid with Downs Syndrome who trains for and competes in a track event, despite a nasty fall near the finish line. Even that kind found more success than me.

I instantly knew I’d never catch up, much less finish the race since I was just barely 100 meters into the 800. I did the only thing I could do; I succumbed to the dizziness, slowed down, and puked on the side of the track. I did make it 200 yards before the sick came and the good news is that I was on the opposite side of the track from the stands so while people could assume what was happening, they couldn’t see it, therefore allowing me to pretend I only dropped out to prevent the other runners from being embarrassed when Jesse Owens and I chased them down at the tape. I never returned to track practice and certainly never participated in another track meet, except for Special Olympics.

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No Place Like Home

It seems that I am currently stuck in a running theme. Maybe it’s because I’ve not been running as of late or maybe it’s because that seems to be how I cause the most damage to myself. Either way, over the coming days I’m going to share a series of stories from my youth. There are more whacked out tales of my running experiences but hopefully soon I’ll detour and offer something of a different variety but for now, here you go. Settle in as I take you through the three times from the fourth to twelfth grade I chose to run and the one time I had no choice.

I gave up running after the fourth grade when I lost my first-ever field day event to my nemesis, Curtis Kelly. Curtis was a fast (and spastic) kid who’d been chasing me since kindergarten but had never beaten me, not once. I took great pride in never letting him win, having him always be second so of course I remember the day he finally overtook me in the 100-yard dash I was demoralized. It just wouldn’t register with me that this kid, a weirdo Jehovah’s Witness who never celebrated Christmas, Halloween or birthdays, was now the best runner in our grade. Had I, too, refrained from the treats that accompany these holidays I’d not have slowed down quite so much and the journey toward fatdom would’ve been averted before it ever began but then again, what would you be reading right now? My lone option, upon facing my defeat, was to change schools.

Clearly I didn’t switch schools of my volition, it just happened to be a welcome coincidence, that is until upon arriving at my new school in the fifth grade I was enrolled in the elementary school version of weight watchers. To date I have no idea who put me in this program nor do I understand why there were only two of us in it: me and my girlfriend Rebecca, who, poor girl, was enrolled because she was too skinny. Forsyth County school administrators were possibly less sensitive, informed, and intelligent than they are now, at least I hope. I kind of laugh at the conversation someone must have had at some point upon seeing us together, butterball and his supposed anorexic beard. Either they wanted us separated or they thought one’s habits would rub off on the other. The program clearly made a strong impact on us both since I proceeded to get fatter and Rebecca’s biological make-up has essentially prevented her from really ever gaining much of an ounce. I’d say I can’t stand her but that’d be too unfair to such a kind, supportive friend. Damn your genes Rebecca!

As a progressively overweight sixth grader I was encouraged (?) to attend regular weighlifting workout sessions at the high school football weight room. A friend traveled, by bus, with me. They said it was necessary. Was it necessary to send two fat sixth grade boys to a weight room with high school football players? These trips and workouts went on for a few months and I can’t honestly say it did much for my body or my mind. I didn’t like it, felt ridiculously out of place and mostly just wanted to be home practicing the baritone horn. The one good thing that came of it all, though, was learning I had really strong legs. This meant nothing as I was about to find out.

During one of the not remotely fun workouts I was forced to run but not as part of our regimen. It was a life-saving measure. The boys and I, in our cinderblock building sitting in the midst of an open set of athletic fields, had no clue a tornado was bearing down on us. Northern Georgia didn’t really see much in the way of wild weather so this was quite a scary and noteworthy event. By the time anyone noticed through the open door that it was green outside and the sky was swirling, the tornado was almost on top of us so in a burst of fear we were all told to run, fast, to the basement of the stadium, two hundred yards away. I took off in a flash of confused, exhausted, jiggling terror but was already the last one in a line of scrambling boys and older men. You can see that my version of taking off in a flash was less fleet than everyone else in the room. None of us, as far as I knew, had ever seen, or run from, a tornado. Those of us who ended up being friends of Dorothy, and repeatedly watched the Wizard of Oz, were familiar with the devastating impact of those winds and while I’d eventually find myself skipping down a Technicolor yellow-brick road with my own band of societal outcasts, I wasn’t quite ready to be swept away.

The power of the storm hit me the minute I passed the barrier of the building and I was knocked to the ground in a heap. Yes, a heap. I’d just worked out, I was tired! It’s possible I peed a little, from fear, which plagued me at various uncomfortable, hilarious and embarrassing moments throughout my life, most often associated with haunted houses and horror films. Apparently things pop out of my body when associated with traumatic running excursions. Rain and hail were pelting me as I hesitated there in the mud and I saw my brief life coming to an end. I simply could not go out this way. I screamed out and my friend (he was the second slowest) turned to see me on the ground and yelled at me to get up and come on. Truly valuable and insightful advice in a moment of crisis, get up and come on. This moment mirrors every fallen man scenario you’ve seen onscreen except I was eleven, my friend didn’t come back and I was, in fact, left behind, by everyone, including all adults responsible for my well-being. Wouldn’t an adult have been required, in a state of emergency, to ensure all of his charges were safe? No? Okay. I sometimes wonder what the other boys saw as I came ambling through the twister, struggling to reach safety. In my mind I can see myself and I have to say, it makes me giggle.

Suffice to say I survived, breathlessly scrambling into the shelter of the stadium, thankful to have lived, upset to have been ignored and then mortified to see my mother driving through the storm with my siblings in tow to come save me. Yes, as any good, panicked mother would do, fearing her child would be blown to parts unknown she packed her other two reasonably safe children into the car, put their lives and hers in jeopardy to save the fat one. If any of us could’ve been sacrificed I feel confident it was the one who ate the most and had the worst attitude. But I guess her belief that I’d go to college someday and maybe do something valuable with my life spurred her to action. I climbed into the backseat and figuratively gave the middle finger to all the chumps standing at the stadium and my days as an elementary school bodybuilder. At least I could pass off the pee on my shorts as rain.

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Brandon

If you read my previous post you’ll recall that there were a few times I ended up on the gym floor after being attacked by a treadmill. At the end of that post I admitted it didn’t always happen involuntarily. This is the one time I chose my fate.

I imagine it’s fairly obvious to many people who know me that I’m competitive. Not to a crazy degree in that I’d ever do anything silly, of course, but in certain circumstances, internally challenging others and vowing to destroy them actually motivates my activity. When it comes to running I often use other nearby runners as a barometer to push myself further.

Once I finally returned to the scene of my original fall from the treadmill onto an unsuspecting Asian lady I was determined to conquer running, and the treadmill, and it eventually became my go-to exercise for achieving my goals. I can’t say I enjoyed the treadmill but it was useful for gauging progress and allowed me to tap into my competitive reserves. On any given day I mentally challenged anyone within a two-treadmill radius. It was often my mission to outlast them. During this phase I noticed an adorable little guy on whom I’d developed a crush. Apparently I’d not learned my lesson that cruising while treadmilling is an unsafe activity. Brandon (that’s the name I gave him because he seemed like a Brandon) and I had the same attendance schedule and I made every effort to be seen by him. It never worked. He had no idea I was alive, at least as far as I could tell. I was angry.

One day, about a mile into my run Brandon mounted the treadmill next to me. Initially unnerved to be running next to him, insecurity quickly turned to aggression and I decided I was going to crush him. If this bastard wouldn’t be my boyfriend then I was forced to humiliate him in front of everyone. He took off at a decent clip so I decided to match his pace. Up to that point my max, absolute max, was four miles. I was already a mile in; I was not daunted and could not be beaten. Every time he increased his pace I matched him. I was inching closer to my current top speed but I was only slightly nervous. One, of many problems, was that he showed no signs of fatigue and continued increasing the pace. I did, too. There were a few minor differences in our running execution. These included my flailing arms, shuffling feet heavy as lead, teetering closer and closer to the back of the machine, sweat flying everywhere, and a heart that was soon to explode from my heaving chest. He ran like a normal human athlete. Otherwise we were evenly matched.

This was getting real. By real I mean real damn hard. He sped up often and I was already insanely fatigued. I begged my body not to give out, I willed him to quit and quietly screamed expletives at him and threatened his life but he never waivered, never faltered, never even saw me dying a quick, ridiculously self-induced death. We’d passed my four-mile barrier and I’d been past max speed for longer than was wise. I was out, over, done. I told myself if I didn’t dismount immediately the machine would do it for me and having experienced that twice already, a third time would possibly have me expelled from the gym for being hazardous to everyone’s health. At that speed if I’d fallen off I’d have been like a giant torpedo with no satellite guidance to prevent multiple casualties. I shot him the nastiest look I could muster, slapped the emergency stop button and stumbled off so sweaty and light-headed that I didn’t know which direction to walk so I did the only thing I could do. I laid down, flat on my back, on the gym floor. I didn’t care, this time, who could see me. I struggled for air and my head spun and my chest heaved up and down. Odd that nobody stopped to ask if I was okay but then again, why would they? I slowly turned my head to give my newfound enemy one final death stare. Boring a hole in his back I caught sight of the back of his t-shirt: Nashville Country Music Marathon. He was a marathon runner! I’d been trying to outlast a man who could run 26.2 miles when I was only capable of 4. Clearly I’d picked the wrong foe and if wasn’t interested in me before, certainly lying prostrate on the nasty floor behind him like a beached whale would not further endear me to him. Eventually I pulled my body off the floor, dried the pool that had formed beneath me and sidled my way to a more secluded place to recover. After a few minutes, remarkably, I actually smiled, and laughed at my stupidity. I also cheered for myself because I had a realization.

I’d found a new threshold, a new max. I’d pushed past my limits and survived. It was ugly and it hurt but I crossed over that day and knew I couldn’t go back. Though I still ended up on the gym floor I proudly exited through the front door of the YMCA that day. Brandon never spoke to me for the duration of my days there (it’s quite likely he was not, in fact, gay) but I eventually caught up to him, years later, so to speak, when I, too, completed the Nashville Country Music Marathon…barely.

Posted in Running | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Kung Pao

I’ve shared many stories about my running experiences over the years. Most of my mishaps were singular and other people were spared harm. This, however, was not the case on a normal day during the early stages of my thin journey.

When I joined the YMCA in Nashville I spent the early days trying to hide. I only went in the ungodly early hours, around six am and it was a rare occurrence to find me there at night or on the weekend, peak visitation hours by anyone other than older businessmen and housewives. Eventually I gained some confidence, in my own subtle ways. This meant, weirdly, running on a treadmill in the most on display area of the facility. See, this was a huge YMCA (it was previously a country club) and it had three treadmill sections. One that was situated at the furthest end of the gym, on a separate level and overlooking the indoor pool (yes, an indoor and outdoor pool plus indoor and outdoor tennis courts); another one at the front windows of the gym overlooking the entrance and parking lot; and a row of treadmills situated in the very center of the whole place, visible to anyone and everyone, the place where the real runners worked it out. This is where you ran to be on display and it was my mission to be one of those people. I aim high with my goals, I really do. My running form was not necessarily one that should be on display nor would it be admired. I kind of imagine most people wanting to cheer me on like some kind of Special Olympics athlete or to just put me down like a lame pony. But I persevered. Over time I moved, like Goldilocks, from one area to the next, testing each treadmill and each section for a proper, comfortable fit. When you’re still hovering at 300 pounds a sense of comfort is relative. The one day, in area #2 that I (barely) achieved my greatest distance to date, three miles, I decided I was ready for the big leagues. Yes, one milestone was all it took. I’m pretty ambitiously stupid at times.

Stepping onto the machine in the middle of it all, the center ring, trying to determine just how far I thought I could go, felt not unlike standing at the base of Mt. Everest, minus the matter of scale. It turned out to be quite an endeavor, the physical challenge of the run and the mental/emotional fight to stay on the machine when after five minutes I was exhausted from working so hard to adapt my tragically poor form into that of the most elite Nigerian marathoner. Turning a turkey trot waddle into a Serengeti gazelle is super easy. I stayed on and continued to go back, day after day, partially because, as it turned out, the view from this section was way better than the others. From here I could see any half attractive man in the gym, those working out around me and those coming in the main door. Now, lest I make it seem like the layout of the gym made the process of ogling simple, trust me, it did not. I utilized mirrors, reflective windows and constant head turns toward the door to catch it all. Running, proper running, typically requires looking ahead, not backward and side to side. But this new vantage point offered so much in the way of attractive men! I’d been missing out during my weeks of hiding and only going in the off hours.

My strength grew slowly and incrementally and my confidence inched upward and a few more pounds melted away. It became common for me to perch myself on the center treadmill and bang out three to four miles at a time while sneaking constant glances at any man with a mediocre body and face. Don’t think I became a more skilled runner with killer form and improved athletic ability. I did not; I just pushed to run longer because it gave me more time to lust. Case in point the day it all came crashing down.

I can’t quite remember the day or exact time it happened but I know the gym was moderately full and the hum and thump of the treadmills was overwhelming the area. I climbed onto my usual machine, after a short wait, and found myself situated next to an Asian girl whose lithe body and petite frame was gliding along at a pretty decent pace. I’d have rather not been seen next to such a tiny body that so clearly highlighted the jumbo nature of my own. Turns out, she’d come to feel the same way. All was fine at first; I was running, sweating, struggling a bit and partially competing with the two folks next to me because that’s what I do. Interestingly, on this day, I was quite focused, probably because I felt gigantic and mentally berated myself into recognizing that harder work meant better results. A novel concept. Then he walked in the main door, this amazing male specimen whose perfection I caught first in the reflection of the glass in front of me. I’d not seen him before and definitely wanted to see more. I threw a quick glance to my left to get a nanosecond look. Who was he and how could I get him to fall in love with me? It might be worth mentioning that during this time I was still a closeted homosexual. The man eased into the gym, taking his time getting started. Had he just come in and moved on we’d have been safe but no, he couldn’t do that, he had to catch my roving eye, over and over and oh shit I’m falling over!

During a ridiculous attempt to catch another glimpse of the man as he passed behind me, (yes, behind me) I threw myself off balance and my next foot landing was off the side of the treadmill. This crazy jolt to my forward movement sent me careening from the machine and directly into the tiny Asian woman next door. I’m sure she, thankfully, had no time to process the hundreds of pounds of sweaty man flesh coming her way. It’s likely the sheer shock of it would’ve killed her. I slammed into her full force and my momentum meeting hers sent us both crashing into the middle of the gym floor. Fortunately for me her tiny body cushioned my fall. Yeah, I landed square on top of this poor soul who couldn’t have weighed more than 120 pounds. Overwhelmed with utter shame, terror and embarrassment I slid my slimy body off of her and slowly found my feet. Through the urge to cry I frantically inquired about her well-being though unable to make eye contact. God bless her, she was uninjured, said she was fine and resumed her position. I asked again, are you okay, to which she replied, “Are YOU okay?” I muttered a whispered apology as I stood on my machine, wondering what to do next. It was a strange moment, trying to process what just happened. Should I continue running, should I run out screaming, how long should I wait before leaving, who would notice me leaving? Wisdom prevailed and I, as inconspicuously and shamelessly as possible made an exit out the side door, trying to avoid the awestruck stares of anyone who saw it unfold. So what did I learn from this? Constant sideways head whipping is a foolish practice for an unskilled duck waddling runner who is confined to a narrow, unchanging and constantly moving path. And I was NOT ready for the center ring so as long as it would take for the memory of my kung pao move to subside I would return to my regularly scheduled workout time and location. Back to the pool view. Amazingly this meant little in terms of dipshit moments.

I should say, I’m not stupid and take pride in my relative intelligence. However, I DO do stupid things, or rather, have momentary lapses in logical judgment. I’d returned to my original hiding spot with a determination to focus. I was focused. And one day it seems I was so focused I didn’t recognize an untied shoelace. A kind running neighbor gently indicated the lace and I came to and stepped off the treadmill. Without thinking, or utilizing just a small portion of my brain, I stepped right back on the treadmill as though it were stationary. It was not; it was still going full tilt. One step was all it took to first slam me face first into the belt of the machine then throw me forcefully into the half-wall that was about two feet behind me. There I was, again, lying in a heap on the gym floor, the two-time victim of treadmill violence. The fall would’ve been enough on its own but to add insult to literal injury when I hit the dust, when my feet went out from under me, I let out quite a loud, high-pitched girlish scream followed by a grunt and eventually a fart when I hit the wall. Out of the three sounds that spewed from my body I can’t pinpoint which was the most humiliating or drew the most attention. I CAN say, though, that there is no real way to recover from such a display. I tried. I at least got up, stood on top of my assassin, cried a little, then quietly found my new favorite exit, the side door. One step forward, three steps backward upside down against a wall blasting toxic gas.

Sometimes I ended up on the gym floor by choice…

Posted in Running | 4 Comments

Loose Ends

I just watched a segment on the Ellen show about a guy who, like me, lost 160 lbs (I only lost 150 lbs) and has turned his fitness journey into something he shares with the world via Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. My process has only moderately been documented in writing. He, like me, has loose skin, with his being more pronounced than mine. He ended up on the Ellen show because he made a video where he showed the world his loose skin and it’s provided him a great deal of exposure. Listening to him talk about why he did it and how he felt about it and how he is comfortable in his skin and doesn’t want to have the surgery was tough. He considers his skin his battle scar, something to remember where he was and how far he’s come. He’s had offers from people willing to finance his surgery but he’s turned them down. And in the end of the segment Ellen gave him a brand new 2015 mustang and I couldn’t have felt more deflated and beaten. Our lives are not competitions with other people, certainly not those of us who have fought this battle, but damn it, it sure burned for a minute seeing this kid get a “reward” for his hard work while I sit here writing about mine in a blog. I should’ve made a video. But truth is, I don’t quite feel the same way as this guy.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I found myself looking at before/after pictures of skin reduction surgery. This endeavor was only partially motivated by the amount of food I had ingested. I’ve long thought about a procedure(s) that would finally give me the body I long for, and work hard for and sometimes believe I deserve. The bullheaded Scorpio in me often screams NO! when the thoughts march in, those fantasies of letting a surgeon’s knife give me what I can’t give myself, though I do still semi-firmly believe I can do it myself. In no known universe do I possess the disposable cash or credit to finance this dream, but more often than ever before I feel like giving in, which I don’t suppose is actually giving in but allowing myself to genuinely consider being lifted, tucked and snatched. Again, at this stage of my less than thriving professional development I have no money but where there’s a will there’s a kickstarter or indiegogo campaign. Would people actually contribute to what is an actual vanity project? Possibly, seeing as that’s how I have viewed 98% of the campaigns out there minus the few I’ve supported financially. I’m not vain. I mean, at least I don’t feel vain so much as mentally and emotionally desperate to feel and appear what I consider normal. Being caught in this divide between fat and thin weighs on me daily, more than being obese ever did. The thoughts are seldom far from the front of my mind. It would all be solved with a few thousand bucks and some seriously nasty healing time.

As I scanned grotesque photo after grotesque photo (seriously, if you know you’re being photographed in your panties maybe wear something decent, or get a tan) I couldn’t stop analyzing the noticeably pronounced scars. Every patient was left with serious scarred bodies and the overall results weren’t that impressive. These photos, I’m sure, are pretty old and it’s possible that the procedures have dramatically improved with time. Surgery, however, leaves its mark. I finally closed the page and wondered, if everything were to fall into place and I somehow landed a wealthy benefactor or invented something amazing like a teleportation device (likely), would I do it? Which scars am I more willing to carry for life?

I ponder which scars, battle wounds, as they’ve been called, are, or would be, more tolerable. On one hand I already know and feel how they look of my current body affects my daily life and at times it’s overwhelming. Would I care if, one day soon, I woke up with dark toned incision marks spanning my midsection, groin and chest? Would my reconfigured nipples and belly button register as offensive or would I finally be grateful that the sag, the droop, is gone? The feeling of quitting, of giving up, is a powerful one but so is the embarrassment and fear of being naked. Ultimately, after examining the photos I didn’t consider anyone to appear generally improved and if I’m going to drop the dough (get it, dough,?) on reconstructive surgery I better emerge looking infinitely better if not seriously perfect. There’s no guarantee nor is there any guarantee that I will solve the problem on my own. At the end of the day, (I’m writing a lot of clichés) as a person who does enjoy a guarantee, and who is wildly controlling, vain enough, and poor, I guess the answer really is to keep trying harder, to try and find mental peace, and hope that some generous talk show hostess hears my story, invites me on her show and surprises me with an all expense paid visit to a plastic surgeon. Or a new car. Or I can just shut up about it and be grateful I’m alive.

That was a cheap, not even interesting way to summarize my thoughts. It’s vastly more important than I am portraying. I feel this weight every day, all day. It’s not remotely the same burden as before; it’s different. It’s maddeningly disheartening to feel what I did to myself and subsequently for myself is going to haunt me for the rest of my life. Yes, it’s a bleak outlook.

The reality is I don’t think I could go through with surgery, even if all the stars aligned and I was guaranteed happiness and lots of attention, because isn’t part of what this comes down to attention? Acknowledgement of the process, the journey I took, the progress I made and the results I achieved? Isn’t that why I cried just a little bit when I saw this boy get a brand new car? He was being acknowledged in a way that, let’s be honest, is amazing but also superficial, and though I’ve been praised and celebrated and acknowledged in beautiful, meaningful ways, it still hurt just a little.

As I type this I can acknowledge that it’s really not the physical scars that are holding me down, it’s the mental ones and until I work to diminish those, it won’t matter what I look like. I mean it will because let’s face it, I’m still a single man living in New York City; it matters. But how I feel about it is what can change. I also can’t stop thinking about that scene in Steel Magnolia’s where Dolly Parton’s Truvy is getting ready to attend Shelby’s funeral and she’s talking to her husband, Spud. As he plays with the stiff hot wax used to remove hair he asks her what the heck is this for? Her response, “It makes you pretty,” keeps running in my mind. It makes you pretty.

Posted in Op-Ed-ish | 1 Comment

I See London, I See France…

…but you won’t see my underpants. That is, of course, unless I’m drunk, you’re cute-ish, and partially into me in which case you’ll likely see them…on the floor. This makes no sense to you yet. It wouldn’t. I’m just getting back to blogging and I’ve leapt back into it with what appears to be total nonsense. It’ll hopefully come together shortly but before I continue I do have to note that I own a host of cute undies, having invested a small fortune in my til now unmentionables. And as anyone who has read my ramblings before you’ll know I’m a big proponent of fun panties. All of this is leading to the fact that I’m ugly. Maybe not ugly; to say that is pandering for something and that’s not my point. I’ll put it this way. I may be less than an ideal body type, at least according to the people I work with and even then, maybe it’s not that I’m not an ideal body type, just not up to par when it comes to being considered to work 6-8 hours in nothing but my BVDs and a smile (I don’t own any BVDs and I rarely smile, for the record).

I’m a bartender in a gay bar, in New York’s West Village, across from the birthplace of the gay rights movement. Yea. Never in my life did I believe I’d be in this position (accepting a Tony Award, yes, because that seemed WAY more realistic).  This is fairly irrelevant but noteworthy because bartending jobs in New York and more specifically in a reputable gay bar are, in fact, difficult to come by and coveted by many. I’m fortunate to have the job I have and I gravitated to this bar partially because it’s staff remained clothed, most of the time. This bar does not employ the typical shirtless, hunky/smooth, bubbled-ass, model superior bartender type. My colleagues are actually mostly bearded, well-built and mostly handsome. And for some additional self-deprecating perspective, I’m the “smart one,” the academic looking one that seems to stick out, or so I’ve been told. Who knew a lifetime of optical challenges would preclude me from being sexy. I don’t have a terrible body, per se, though at this stage of my physical development I most closely resemble a painting of a nicely built man that someone has thrown water onto, causing the torso section to appear as though it is melting with running paint. You can tell there’s a decent body there but due to some elastin issues it just looks messy. I’ve worked tirelessly for this melting mess and was overall happy and proud until the day it was announced our bar was hosting a well-known underwear party. Christ on the cross.

Full disclosure: I want to work in my underwear. At least I want to be ABLE to work in my underwear but I cannot. Sure, I could but I know what boys like to see and it’s not me. My career as a bartender has essentially been built upon a clothed yet sometimes slightly revealing optical illusion and I cop to that. I know how much I can show and generally which clothes will accentuate and hide. There’s no hiding in your underwear.

I knew as soon as the party was announced that I would not be working it, couldn’t work it, and I also knew that if somehow my name appeared on the schedule that I’d have to find a way to back out. But what prompted me to even tell you about this is the fact that I was not chosen, I was not deemed suitable to work a party that I wouldn’t have worked anyway and I’m upset about it. I’m truly mentally deranged. Now, to be fair, I have no idea what conversations took place to determine who would work but I can assume that my name was not one considered. I don’t know this but my insecure psyche tells me it’s the truth. I don’t possess the body of the other guys or the chutzpah to serve cocktails basically naked, though with every ounce of my being (and that’s a lot of ounces) I want to be that guy. Basically what I’m struggling with is the recognition that I wouldn’t work if told to and the bruised ego of not being considered. It’s a grade school homo scenario all over again except I didn’t really experience that scenario because back then I was never left on the sideline. Of course, as life went on I was judged, not by the color of my skin but the amount of it, but in most circumstances my wit, brain, drive and humor could overcome. Not this time. Now, at 37 years-old, to be that guy, the non-cool, non-physically appropriate guy again is driving me crazy, mostly because I know how far I’ve come physically but it’s still not quite enough, not for this occasion and it kind of stings. And it’s not even that it’s all that unfair, it’s just the nature of this “industry” in which I work. I’m not begrudging any of the other guys or decision makers, honest.

It almost seems too funny for someone who has spent so much money on panties to be denied the chance to show anyone. Guess my only option is to get blitzed, find a suitable trick and show off my panties at home. Or maybe start a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for some cosmetic surgery so that I will be present at all future underwear functions. Or just shut up and work harder. Hmm…

Until my day comes I just have to continue working with what I’ve got and maybe buy new eyewear instead of new underwear. Careers have been built on the sexy librarian schtick for years, right?

Posted in How-to | 2 Comments

Fatty Fatty 2 X 4

Do people care about fat bias? Or, more to the point,  are adults bothered by fat bullying? My guess is maybe a little but not enough since usually it’s adults engaging in the behavior. I have tried to avoid ranting here because I’ve enjoyed keeping my soapbox in the closet (and who listens to that much anyway) but after reading a story last night about a woman allegedly on a TV show for a makeover being mocked for her size, I had to step up here and scold. It’s what I do best I think, at least sometimes.

I’ve said it many times, though not here, until now. Fat people are the final group of people it’s still publicly okay to mock, discriminate against and humiliate because, well, they deserve it, right? We all know we can’t use any number of racial slurs, we can’t use the word retard, certainly aren’t supposed to call something gay or say we “jewed” someone down or jipped someone but somehow we will accept a fat joke or weight biased epitaph in a minute. It’s fine, though, right, because fat people did it to themselves. The rest of the world’s minority groups were just born that way.

Truth is, yes, they did do it to themselves and they definitely brought upon themselves any number of problems. You making fun of them and treating them with contempt because somehow their girth offends you is not something that they should have to deal with because as any half wit jackass with an ounce of compassion would be able to recognize an obese person is struggling with something, in sweeping general terms, much like an alcoholic or drug addict. I make no excuses for people who are fat because I maintain we are in control of our bodies, the decisions we make and the consequences that come with it but it doesn’t mean that I don’t still have compassion for that woman silently sitting in a corner trying to hide because she’s clearly the largest person in the room. I know enough to recognize she’s dying inside, she’s terrified and unhappy, probably really wants to go home and doesn’t know why she’s there.

See, most people, for better or worse, have a reason for being fat. I truly believe that. I also truly believe that when they unlock that reason, which can be as simple as finally admitting it aloud, they are well on their way to finding happiness and weight loss success. It’s not as simple as taking on a new diet, working out or listening to some dipshit trainer tell you how hot they’re going to make you. They can’t really make anybody an attractive human being, God knows I’m learning that the hard way. But if a person can dig deep inside and open themselves up to the process of uncovering their reason for being fat in the first place they’re already halfway to being the most beautiful person in the room. Yes, it’s some sappy shit but it’s true.

So lay off fat people. Seriously, making jokes at their expense, throwing sideways glances at them because in your mind they’re taking up too much space or breathing too much of your air, and stop believing you’re somehow superior because you aren’t fat. Trust me, you’ve got a whole different set of problems all your own and you don’t hear me or them walking around pointing out the fact that people with big noses actually DO take in too much air, or people below the height of 5’7 actually just get in the way of everyone else, or people with canes move too slowly or people in wheelchairs should just stay home or people speaking Spanish should slow down or people of color should only wear their hair natural or lesbians shouldn’t act so masculine and gay men shouldn’t act so feminine. Why? Because it’s just not nice and it’s pointless. Your mockery doesn’t lead to many people taking action to lose weight I assure you. If you’re hell bent on continuing to make jokes and comments about these people remember, if they catch up to you, and remember you must sleep at some point, they can easily suffocate the life out of you by sitting their fat ass on your holier than thou face so knock it off and be a better human being. Or be a worse human being and actually make fun of everyone you encounter! That’s what I do and it seems to work out well for me. Just stop singling out the fatties, that’s my job.

Posted in Op-Ed-ish | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments