Clears Me Out

Part of why I run is I’m convinced that it staves off illness.

(When’s the last time you saw “staves” used in a sentence? You don’t have to fake it; I know you’re impressed. You know, “staves” has a fascinating etymology and original meaning, but I digress…)

When I run, I typically listen to podcasts of Christian preachers. I find that raising my heart rate and body temperature not only helps clear my head, but it also makes me much more susceptible to programming and brainwashing. I think the term “brainwashing” has been labeled unfairly as a bad thing, with negative connotations attached that it also doesn’t deserve. I like to think of it as a positive, like that Bible verse that says we should be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” That renewal is brainwashing in the best sense. But that’s a whole other sidebar. All I want to say right now is that I think better after a good run.

But the number one reason I run is that it seems to pound out all of the phlegm and other nasty particles that are just hanging around in my body. A good friend of mine who was more of a weightlifter than a runner once said to me, “Yeah—it pounds all that sinus congestion right down into your chest. Hope you like pneumonia.” Of course I don’t. Certainly not as much as I know he likes steroids. (But don’t tell him I said that.)

When I’m running, I cough up all sorts of random bits and pieces. I’ve coughed up some string, most of a hot dog, a lost cell phone, and once even a live kitten. The trick when you’re dispensing detritus is to be certain you account for the wind. Six miles is a long way to go with a jellyfish trailing saliva sloshing inside your ear canal.

My weightlifting buddy’s not the only person I know who prefers muscle over cardio. A lot of guys would rather be buff than fast, I guess because they think it would be more useful in a fistfight. My pastor, for example, a super-nice guy with beguiling handsomeness, can do something like 400 push-ups. But before he’s even on number 7, I could be half a mile away from that fight.

As far as I’m concerned, running is a far more practical and therefore critical survival skill. I don’t think a Bengal tiger would be the least bit impressed with how big Craig’s biceps are, except that I’ve heard before that they’re tasty, like filet mignon. (I don’t mean his specifically, I just mean biceps in general.) But it’s like that old saying: “I don’t have to outrun the bear…I only have to outrun you.”

Once when Craig was staving off the flu (okay, I’m a big enough man to admit that I was overreaching on that one)—pounding down all kinds of anti-cold remedies, I tried to convince him how great running is to clear you out. He didn’t seem to take it as the helpful advice I intended. He seemed more—I don’t know—mad, I guess. Which is funny, because that’s probably one of maybe 10 times since I’ve known him that I’ve offered him unsolicited advice. He’s got no problem telling me what I should do, week after week after week. I guess I like the punishment. Maybe that’s the real reason I like running so much.

Do you like to run? Are you cardio or weights, or both? What is it you like about the kind of exercise you prefer? Have you ever tasted a bicep? If so, how was it?

Tempted by Spam

Everybody receives spam. Well, not everybody, I guess. Just people (and probably pets, too) who have email accounts. Of course I don’t mean the salty, canned meat poseur my grandparents always had on hand—I mean junk email. Spammers’ techniques are broadly known among techies. Even as I type these very words, bots are right now scouring the web for email addresses that people sillily typed into their web pages or linked to. (“Hey, they put their email address on a web page! Clearly, they would like to know about our miraculous weight loss pill—about which the FDA not only said ‘No,’ but ‘God Almighty! Nooooo!’”)

What Brannon says: “A common spammer trick to validate genuine emails is to hide a zero-byte transparent graphic in the message that refers back to a web server they control.” What you hear: “Spammer blah-blah emails blah-blah message blah-blah-blah-blah.” Translation: They put a tiny graphic file that’s invisible to you into the email they sent you. If you open their message, even though you never actually “see” it, the simple act of you opening it tells the spammers that their message reached a valid email address. Congratulations! Your email address will now be trapped on spam lists forever. Your valid email address is actually worth money. Believe it or not, other horrible “people” will gladly pay for your address from these particular horrible “people.”

My email services filter for spam, so these messages rarely make it to my Inbox. Even so, I just can’t help myself, clicking on that delightful “Spam” tab in my mail client. Reading their subject lines and hilarious made-up names is a cheap, guilty pleasure, like scanning the headlines of all the gossip mags at the grocery store check-out. With so much entertainment value packed into just their teasers, I’m dying to open them and read their actual pitches. And I know some of you actually must do that, whether you’ll fess up or not. And how do I know? Because if it didn’t work—if they didn’t sell, if they didn’t yield valid email addresses for the spammers—then it would stop. (I like to believe it would, anyway.) I guess what I’m saying in a semi-nice way is: I blame you for our spam problems.

For a while I collected some of the more humorous subject lines. I intended to mock them online, but upon reflection I thought better of it. I figured spammers could easily Google their subject lines and see where they were turning up. And if my name was anywhere nearby, I imagined it making me like a magnet—more like a black hole with a huge gravitational force, really—and they would know that they got through to me and harass me mercilessly.

(Well, more mercilessly than they already do. Is it possible to be “more merciless”? Merciless means “without mercy,” so would it be possible to have less mercy than zero? Because then, you’re really just spilling over into pure, evil malice. But I digress…)

Their teasers almost sucker me in so many times, although not for the reasons you might think. I’m actually reasonably satisfied with the size of “the man in my pants.” However, honestly, who wouldn’t accept two more inches? (Just being real here.) I don’t need to purchase “an elegant, classy timepiece” online from an Eastern Bloc country to prove how truly “classy and sophisticated” I am. (Just so you know, purchasing a watch in this manner proves precisely how classy you are.) Although I’m intrigued at the prospect of acquiring my meds from what I’m certain is a “reputable Canadian pharmacy,” there’s a CVS less than a mile from my house in one direction, and a 24-hour Walgreens less than a mile in the opposite direction. Not only will either of these establishments allow me to use my insurance co-pay, but I could literally crawl to either one on my hands and knees and still receive my medicine much faster than your “best guaranteed rush delivery.” What’s more, each has a pharmacist (with a college degree! from an actual college!) on schedule around the clock to answer any questions I may have. You know what? It just occurred to me—I’ve had the offer before: “Need a diploma? Just call us.” Come to think of it, that last antibiotic I had tasted suspiciously like delicious Tic-Tacs. Hm.

Thanks though, guys, really. Very sweet of you to think of me.

Do you have any spam horror stories? Or love affairs? Or success with growth products you’d like to share?

Haircut Prognosticator

Rarely do I catch myself looking in the mirror to ask, Hey, I wonder if I need a haircut? That’s too hard. I follow a simple flowchart instead. (Most people who know me well would not be at all surprised. Equally unsurprised would be any person who actually sees my hair on any given day.)

Frequently, friends may ask me, “Hey, did you get a haircut?” or they may say, “Hey, are you letting your hair grow out?” Never are these questions followed by the simple phrase, “I like it!”

My wife taught me that this is polite code for, “I am acknowledging that I have noticed something different about your appearance; however, I do not like it. And since common courtesy precludes me from being honest with you, let’s just leave it at that.”

Or maybe I should just trim my bangs with fingernail scissors? Oh no, wait... that's Kendra.

Haircut Prognosticator Flowchart

What did I miss? What factors do you consider in whether you get a haircut?

Stretchypants Runner

When it’s time to run and it’s cold outside, I have a uniform I have to wear. It’s a navy blue short-sleeved t-shirt, either the one that says Nike and has what looks like a bullet hole right next to the navel, or the one that says “EWPOR,” which at one time said “NEWPORT.” Over that I wear a long-sleeved light gray Nike t-shirt with a royal blue ringer neck. I put on underwear too, of course. But most importantly, silver stretchy pants. Rather than trying to sell myself as a younger, chubbier Baryshnikov, I cover those up with black Nike shorts. Dark gray fuzzy gloves (that honestly, fit a little loosely), and then white Nike socks and Brooks running shoes round out the package.

I imagine if someone from Nike marketing saw me completely outrigged for a ten-miler, it would cost them an anyeurism. Or at least their job. No one’s going to invite me to be in a commercial anytime soon, unless it’s to extol the many benefits of delicious ham sandwiches.

There’s this passage in the Bible about “the full armor of God,” consisting of things like a breastplate of righteousness, a shield of faith, peaceful shoes (I’d guess that means Vans), and whatnot. In similar fashion, each element of my winter running warrior’s gear has specific purpose and significance. Most important of all are the stretchy pants. And those are critical, because they don’t inhibit my movement at all.

You see, I don’t see my running as “exercise,” as I imagine most people do. No, when I run, I’m using myself to create art, something beautiful. The outdoors, the sidewalks, are my canvas, and my body is my palette. Eric Liddell, the Scottish Christian who won the gold medal for the 400 meters in the 1924 Olympic games, said (at least in the Chariots of Fire movie version of the story), “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” I know exactly what he meant. I feel God’s pleasure, too.

Granted, it might appear to you that I’m gasping, wheezing, vomiting, urinating on myself and flailing about wildly like a desperate man drowning in oxygen. But I like to make God laugh. Stretchy pants merely underscore the comedic effect.

Do you have a uniform that’s special to you? Is it for creating art? Or just hanging out around the house? Do you know anyone who works for Nike who might be willing to put me in a commercial?

Hunting Dumb

I know just enough about guns to be dangerous, perhaps even lethal, provided you’re a small, defenseless animal. But the hunter’s mystique has always escaped me. Remember in Red Dawn when C. Thomas Howell killed his first deer, and Patrick Swayze had him drink the blood? “Once you drink that, you’ll never be the same.” (Turns out Swayze was right. C. Thomas Howell’s character ended badly.)

When I was about 11, I killed a toad, more or less with my so-called BB gun. My BB “gun” wasn’t even a Daisy. It was an off-brand from Sears, something like Daizee.

“Sears makes Craftsman. They know what they’re doing,” my dad insisted.

Evidently, skills with tool manufacturing don’t carry over to firearms. It was such a weak little thing, I could actually see the BB as it left the barrel, my naked eye tracking its pathetic downward arc. I could have done more damage shovel-throwing a handful of BBs like an orangutan. (As a father of two boys now myself, certainly I can see the wisdom in providing these wild, smelly heathens with a neutered “weapon alternative.”)

Anyway, after emptying my entire firearm into this toad’s back (to pretty much zero effect), I ended up mercy-killing him with a hoe and burying him in the backyard, sobbing the entire time. I could have written an opera about the experience. (I may yet.)

Another time, when I was a teenager, my dad sent me out to kill a skunk just behind our backyard. We had this mulberry tree in our yard whose branches hung over the chain link fence, and this skunk was just hanging out under it outside the fence, eating berries all afternoon, aloofly ignoring our dog—who was inside the fence losing his mind.

I had to wrestle the dog, dragging him into the garage to lock him up. (Not that that was hard. He was a 16-lb poodle.) Then I sneaked stealthily along the outside of the fence, a sniper on a special ops mission. I raised our 12-gauge, channeled my inner seasoned marksman, and BLAM! The skunk found itself startled, standing suddenly before God’s Throne of Judgment.

(Random aside: Don’t you just HATE that gauge is spelled like that? Every time I read it, I can’t help pronouncing it “gouge.” I  have to write it out to remember how to spell it. I always type it as guage first, then fix it when that doesn’t look right.)

Meanwhile, back here on earth, I went for a shovel to carry off the carcass for proper burial. When I flipped the skunk’s body over, I couldn’t find any blood—not a single drop. Turns out I had hit it with precisely one piece of shot, directly in the temple. (Evidently wasting the other 13,999 pieces of shot.)

Unfortunately, I was also unnerved to discover that she was (or rather, had been) a mama skunk. Covered with swollen nipples, she clearly had babies somewhere who had tasted the last of her milk. No doubt she was so ravenously hungry she’d risk a crazed dog because she had little mouths to feed back at the hole. So not only had I committed skunk matricide, but I had also unwittingly offed an entire litter of helpless infant skunks. Behold the mighty hunter!

I pictured her patiently taking a seat in one of the lovely mahogany chairs in the waiting area outside God’s courtroom, insisting she be allowed to wait for me to show up before she would tell her side. (Just one more thing I’m gonna have to answer for.)

What about you? Do you LOVE killing things? Tasting their blood? Dancing around the empty shell that once housed a living soul? What’s your great hunting (or vermin) story?

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