Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Flip Flops And Training

I was having a conversation the other day with a couple of people that I have known for many years, and they were talking about a guy, about 45 or 50 years old and that he was a great guy and all that. I believe them when they say that he is a great guy, I guess. He is a well respected professional in his field.

Besides the fact that he wears "flip flops" (those things where the "thong" goes through your toes), his appearance was, well , normal. Meaning normal for the average 45-50 year old man in America today. "Normal" meaning that he doesn't lift weights at all. I mean you could tell that he has never picked up a weight, he had zero muscle tone to speak of, just soft and all, little bitty arms sticking out of his little bitty shirt, and little bitty legs.

Now, I realize my shallowness in this regard, my belief that everyone should train, but man, I really do believe it. I do believe that everyone should , within reason, do what they want to do as long as it isn't harming anyone else, but lets just say that I dont get it. I don't get the fact that a man wants to walk around all soft and flip floppy and sorta squirrely, and needs to ask for help to lift a box or maybe even he needs help with his groceries.Or what if he is walking the streets of Baltimore (just got back from there and it is literally like the Wild West, you better have your head on a swivel when walking down the street) and he has to defend himself? Now he may be a secret Clark Kent kind of guy with mystical MMA power who can explode on somebody like a lion when cornered or a spider monkey, but I doubt it. Just looking like that invites people to mess with you. And yes, I do know some special forces guys who are like 5' 10'' and 175, but they are the badassery exception, not the rule.

How about just training a little? Thirty minutes three days a week will do wonders for your appearance and confidence. Squat, deadlift, press. Or even just machines. Something to gain some muscle. I have always believed that-“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

Old Socrates knew what the deal was all about. The deal that a well rounded man does it all, intellectually and physically. Of course we all are a work in progress, but doesn't it make sense that one would try to achieve excellence in both?And those guys wore sandals, not flip flops. Still questionable, but it wasn't easy to make manly shoes back then.

The men and women that I am around on a daily basis all lift weights, so I have a tendency to think that everyone lifts weights. Then I go to Walmart to get some fishing stuff and then I realize that most people don't, and I have to admit, its kinda shocking when I see them.Do you think that the aforementioned flip flopper flexes in the mirror? I bet he does. Does he like what he sees?My six year old was walking down the hallway in my house the other day and I thought that he was gonna go into his brothers room and cause trouble so asked him what he was doing, and he replied, "Dad, I'm not doing anything wrong, I am just looking in the mirror and flexing," which passed as okay in my house. Start them early. And then flexing becomes your standard practice, and in order to stand in the mirror and see some muscular progress, you better do some training. 

So what is the point here? The point is that no man should wear flip flops, but besides that, the point is that every man should hoist a barbell or dumbbell or kettle bell or something that can give him some strength and hypertrophy. Shoot, even dips and chins and pushups will do. 

I have a doctor friend who I have been training for years that used to be a high carb soft and flabby marathon runner (flip flops? Not sure), who now swears by eating meat and squatting and deadlifting and in fact, his workouts take precedence over all else in his life because he knows that when he is on point with his lifting and eating, his whole damn life is better. His performance at work is better, his overall well being has improved.   And now, instead of shuffling along on asphalt and squirting energy gels in his mouth, he is training with weights three times a week for 45 minutes and kicking ass not only at his job but at his lifting. He boxes and walks the dog and hits the exercise bike, too. But the cornerstone of it all is the lifting. He found out that you learn just as much deadlifting and squatting as you do getting the "runners high",  and it carries over into all aspects of his life; work is better, yard work is easier,  and he can perform simple tasks that used to be arduous to him with ease.

You can feel it when you get stronger and gain some muscle. Walk down the street after a great workout and you will feel on top of the world, and your energy will be boundless.

It's not that hard.ANYONE CAN DO IT. Just get started. Don't listen to the naysayers. You won't hurt your knees and you wont lose your flexibility. You will find the fountain of youth and you will want to tell everyone about it and then you will start wondering, as I do, why everyone doesn't train also.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

One Morning

3:54 Am. Monday, December 27th. 

Darkness on the highway.

I start up my Toyota Tacoma 4x4 and I set off on the 150 mile trip from South Jersey to some land on the Eastern Shore of Maryland that I bought a few years ago. Its 31 acres of marsh land on a small river that is filled with ducks and geese and bald eagles and Sika deer and it is a damn nice place. I am not in a hurry. I always enjoy this ride. Early morning driving is my favorite time to clear my head. With hot coffee in my thermos and my favorite country music playlist on the stereo , I am happy.

With my son sleeping in the back with the old dog and the young dog in the passenger seat next to me, everyone is asleep and from the looks of it, very content. 

All in the truck understand the routine: Dad gets us into the car, we sleep for a few hours and when we awake, it is time to hunt.

I am responsible for all of them and their faith in me is something that I take very seriously. This thought hits me hard when I am driving and I feel a sense of pride that they all love me and trust me so much. I get emotional about only a few things, family and dogs being two of them. And when some sad country music is playing and its dark outside and the highway lights are illuminating this lonely road, and I look at them all sleeping, this realization never fails to make me tear up.
I turn off of highway 95 onto Route One and into the beginning of Delaware’s Eastern Shore.
To the right and left, massive farms are brightened by the full moon, farms that grow corn and soybean and hay. This time of year, though, many of the farms are ready for goose hunting, a big deal in these parts. Hunters pay upwards of 5,000 dollars a season to rent a blind on some of these farms.
In the daylight, one can see the blinds in the middle of the fields, many of them underground “pit blinds” where the hunters hide until the geese get close enough to shoot.

I come upon small towns where the speed limit drops off to 25 awfully fast so that the police in these towns can fill their ticket quotas. I have to admit that I do take some kind of perverse joy when a fancy car that sped by me a ways back gets pulled over when they are unaware of the speed traps. Serves him right, I say to no one in particular.

The highway is dotted with other signs that you have now entered a different place, an era that is gone from most of the rest of the country. Convenience stores with neon signs advertising cheap cigarettes at the “lowest allowed by law”, prices.

Single wide trailers and small houses, some with lights on inside, some completely dark, some with television sets on, visible through the front window. Cars and trucks parked on the front lawn, broken down swing sets and overturned buckets by the front door for sitting on. A few honky tonk bars with neon signs , some only halfway lit up. Some guys and girls standing outside one of those bars, smoking. Their night is ending, my day is just beginning. After many nights like those in my life, I am glad to be going hunting, not waking up feeling hungover from drinking and lack of sleep. Hell, hunting keeps me on the straight and narrow.

How many years have I taken part in this ritual that I love so much? Over thirty years, and it never gets old. Each year when hunting season rolls around, I am like an excited child on Christmas Eve, anticipating the next morning’s presents.

I pull into a convenience store to get gas and coffee. The coffee here is not half bad, I have been here many times over the years. This is around the halfway point of my trip and is also usually the point where my bladder is feeling like it will explode from all the coffee that I have consumed and I feel an urgent need to stop.

This store sells pretty much all that I need in life: ammo, guns, bait, Copenhagen snuff, coffee and it even has a deli. The sign outside actually reads, “Guns, Bait, Ice Cold Beer, Ammo”, and I am delighted that places such as these still exist.

I smile at the young girl making the fresh pot of coffee as I wait with my small silver travel thermos in my hand. The girl is around five foot three, slightly overweight. Her brown hair has a streak of purple running through it and she has it pulled back in a pony tail. There is a tattoo of a rose on her left forearm and another tattoo behind her right ear with some writing on it that I can’t quite make out. I notice her fingernails. They have chipped purple polish on them and they look as though they could use a new coating. She is dressed in a blue and white uniform and the shirt has a name tag on her left breast pocket that reads “Jennifer”. She looks happy, and in my head, I am guessing that her age is around eighteen. Smiling back at me, she asks if I am going hunting and when I answer yes, asks what I am going for today. I say ducks and she tells me how her father loved duck hunting and always talked about how he was going to take her with him when she got old enough, but he died last summer and he never did get to take her. I feel tremendously sad when she tells me this, and I really don’t know what to say back to her. Finally, I say I am so sorry. Thanks, she says, and then after a brief moment where we look at each other in silence, I nod at her awkwardly and move along.

As I am screwing the lid back on my cup, I wonder what her life is like, what her house is like, what she does everyday besides working here. I imagine her standing outside of a small house on the roadside just getting off of work, smoking a cigarette and watching the cars pass by.
I exit the store and glance at my truck, parked at the gas pump where I was filling up. The young dog is sitting in the driver’s seat and is looking my way. Most likely she has been watching the store to catch a glimpse of me, making sure that I am okay, feeling though I am her responsibility. I can tell when she notices that it is me, her head rises a few inches in recognition and her tail slaps against the steering wheel with excitement.

I open the door to the truck and tell her to move over. She is content now that I have returned to her, and she circles one time in place and lies down. The dogs worry about me, They believe that they must take care of me, not the other way around.

I begin to pull away to resume my journey but before I do, I look into the store at Jennifer. She is watching me, also. I wave at her and smile and she waves back and smiles and then I get back onto the highway.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

John Hamilton Interview

I was on Amazon the other day, looking at book recommendations according to my purchases, and I see a book called A Hell Called Ohio. It's 4.99 on Kindle, and I read the reviews. It was cheap, and I liked the reviews, so I bought it.

The book blew me away. It hooked me from the start.  I couldn't put it down.

I wrote a review on Amazon and bought the hard copy. Then I emailed the author, John Hamilton, telling him how much I enjoyed the book and asked John if I could interview him for my blog. He agreed, so here we go. 

His answers are unique and well thought out.

JS:  John, I love your book, A Hell Called Ohio. I was thinking about this last night: To me, the book is about a very unique man, Warrell. He lives in a refurbished gas station, he loves his dog,  and he works in a metal factory. He has saved enough money to not work, but he loves working so much that he sometimes works overtime for free. He fights his friend because fighting makes him feel alive. He loves the library and reading, he can get emotional (crying and dancing alone), without being seen as soft. He has a relationship with two girls at once, he walks out his door and takes his dog hunting, He is a deep thinker and highly intelligent and blows away the typical stereotype of a blue collar worker that one is used to reading about in print.  Does that sort of sum it up?

 JH:  Better than I’ve ever been able to sum it up.  Can I use that as my elevator pitch?

JS: John, we have to do the perfunctory tell me a little bit about yourself.

JH: I grew up in the industrial Midwest and went to Michigan State where I studied history, philosophy and religion.  I still read those disciplines.  My mom was a school teacher so there was never a question of not going to school.  My parents were cool though.  They said go, study what interests you and then figure out what to do.  I’ve been in trucks and construction ever since.

I moved to Washington and got my Class A CDL at 22.  That’s the earliest age you can be insured.  I spent a couple years driving long haul and then drove in-state flatbed and beer.  You get real good at throwing chains on if you’re going over the pass every day.  Eventually, I got a good union job driving concrete mixers, dump truck and boom truck in Seattle.  In between I worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska and California.  After that I switched trades and entered the apprenticeship in the Operator’s union.  I worked dirt, mostly bulldozers, for a couple years and then got my crane licenses.  I never journeyed out though and I regret that.  Life just took over.  Now I split my time between the military and writing.

JS: Where did you grow up?

JH: I grew up in Saginaw Michigan.  My dad was a foundry man for GM.  He got transferred to the Defiance OH plant in my junior year of high school so I graduated down there.

JS: Biggest influences growing up?

JH: Personally?  My dad and uncles.  My grandmothers for sure.  Professionally it was Hemingway.  I loved his style.  It was true art.

JS: How did you get interested in going into the armed forces?

JH: I come from a military family.  My dad and uncle were army infantry officers and another couple uncles were marines.  I always thought that was my path and then the cold war ended, the wall came down, when I was in college so I shelved it for a few years.  I joined at 35‑- the latest age possible.  The war was on and I was already a construction dude so I joined the reserve as a heavy equipment operator.  My plan was to do one deployment, do my duty, and then get out.  But I liked it.  The military feels natural to me.  My dad said the same thing.  I just made Senior Chief and I’m in it for twenty.  I’ve been to Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea and all over the US.  Time flies but war and separation really make you appreciate family and home.  I’m a big fan of the US.  “The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for.” - Hemingway

JS: You are a Seabee. What are the duties that they perform?

JH: We are the Navy’s combat engineers.  We started in WW2 when the Navy needed construction pros to build bases across the Pacific island campaign.  They recruited experienced tradesmen instead of kids.  The reserves are similar to the WW2 units.  We can out build the active duty guys because we’ve done the job for money, we work smarter and faster.

My favorite duty was drilling water wells in Afghanistan.  After decades of war there was no infrastructure and no water records so we had to prospect.  It was like landing on the moon, but with more rockets and mortars.  We worked 24/7 for months, the drill never stopped.  We got good water and had a hole collapse from lack of supplies.  We even invented some tooling and techniques.  My team had the record for deepest well at the time, 2040’.  We stopped there because we ran out of drill steel.  The first thousand feet was through alluvial layers and was a real bitch.  We broke bits and had a bunch of problems.  We hit solid granite at 1000’, hard cased the hole and then threw on our air hammer.  We did the second thousand in a few days with two giant air compressors run parallel to clear the hole.  That was good living.

Have you ever read ‘Artemis, the honest well digger’ by John Cheever?  I’m not a Cheever fan but that one is real good.

JS: How did you get started as a writer?

JH: My sixth grade teacher read The Outsiders aloud to us.  That was it.  I was hooked.  From then on I knew I wanted to write but it was just a matter of how and about what. 

JS: Biggest influences as a writer?

JH:  Walt Whitman, Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls), Jim Harrison (Sundog), Bukowski (Post Office), Larry Brown (Fay, Joe), Don Pollack (Heavenly Table and Devil All the Time)- he’s the best thing going right now.  I’m definitely a fan of the Americans but also Houellebecq, Solzhenitsyn, Larteguy, Brodsky…

JS: Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing?

JH: I’m getting back into hunting and fishing.  I bought a little 16’ fishing boat with a buddy I used to commercial fish with.  We go after Dungeness crab.

Mostly I do gun stuff. I take classes and shoot contests (speed steel, 3 gun, trap and skeet). Shooting is a lifetime skill and you can always learn and get better.

Also, I run and work out.  The military has a culture of fitness that I really enjoy.  There’s no excuse for a fat service member.  We get paid to work out and your strength or endurance may make a life or death difference.  More professions need dress uniforms as a literal gut check.

I like to run. Five to eight miles is my sweet spot and I listen to books.  You can get through some serious classics if you devote an hour or more a day.  The Navy’s standards are a little skewed but you have to learn to play the game.  Twice a year I have to weigh in at a target of 186 pounds.  I like to lift the classic three- squat, deadlift and overhead press and hover around 200 when I’m committed.  My last weigh in was right after SERE school and I had just shed 15 pounds in a week and nailed 186.  But it’s getting tougher as I get older.  Exercise is the best thing for mental health.

JS: What is your writing process? Are you a morning or evening writer? Do you listen to music while writing? If so, what type of music?

JH: I’m a morning guy if I can get out of bed.  I really like waking up next to my wife.  Years away make you appreciate that.  Remember that scene in Doctor Zhivago when Klaus Kinski is looking at the old couple snuggling in the freight car?  I always think of that.  Love is ungovernable by the wealthy, the coastal elites or whoever is the bad guy de jour.

Anyway, morning.  The earlier the better.  Music comes and goes.  I listened to Son Volt’s Trace a lot writing Hell.  It fits the mood.  Sometimes when writing I listen to classical or metal but mostly it’s silence. I was into punk rock in my twenties in Seattle. We had a lot of good shows- good healthy violence with a little street fighting thrown in.  Then I moved to rockabilly and now it’s mostly country.  That seems like a natural progression for a lot of my friends.

JS: I enjoyed the hell out of the Warell character. He understands the primal nature of man as evidenced from fighting his friend for the joy of it, but he is a learned guy, smart and also sensitive. What was your thought process when you were creating his character?

JH: He just seems like a normal guy to me, like one of my friends.  I knew what I didn’t want. It pisses me off when I read these books supposedly about working people and they are all Neanderthals, or junkies, or Klansmen and all stupid.  It’s a caricature.  It’s popular with the MFA crowd.  I’d bet they’ve never worked a real job in their lives and have soft hands.  That shit is unhealthy for society in general.  Kids read these books and if affects how they view the world.  We need to bring back shop class but that’s another discussion.

JS: I saw on your blog a picture of you and your buddy all bloodied up but with your arms around each other. Can you tell me about the picture and how this all went down?

JH: Ha! That’s a long tradition of battling every few years.  It started one fishing season in Wrangell or Ketchikan Alaska.  We get drunk and then see who wins.  I usually lose.  That picture was after a few months of boxing and I kept working angles on him.  A little knowledge goes a long way.  Mostly that picture is of brotherly love.  He grew up very rough but is one of the smartest and well-read people I know, definitely the toughest.

JS:  Warrell’s life almost reads like a diary. Is any of the book based on your personal experiences?

JH:  Hmmm, all?  Not really but everything comes from something similar, maybe just the emotion.  I’ve worked in factories, had crazy dogs, wanted to be a better worker than I was and dated waitresses.  I even dated a librarian but she was nothing like Emily except for the long red hair.  When you are a kid and want to be a writer you hear, over and over, write about what you know.  Then, for me at least, I read all these popular books (pretending to be literature) about suburban angst and sexual frustration and wondered how I would ever write literature.  Reading authors like Bukowski, Harrison and Brown gave me the idea that I could really write about what I know. 

JS: I love the bar scene, where the guy sits in Warrell’s girlfriend’s seat. In a typical book, it would have ended in a huge brawl or someone getting hit on the head with a beer bottle. But the situation is diffused without violence which happens in real life 99% of the time. To me, that encapsulates the “realness” of the book. And instead of it being boring, it actually made me think of the book as almost nonfiction. Real stuff day after day. Not crazy dramatic, but life that happens like it really happens. Was that intentional?

JH: Warrell is a smart guy.  Smart enough to know violence isn’t a half measure game.  To win you have to go faster and with more violence of action than the other guy.  Is that worth someone’s seat?  No way.  He’s just tired and wants his woman to love him.  The college kid might as well be the DMV, just another annoyance. 

 JS: Another scene that I really enjoyed was the scene with the guns in Warrell’s place and Emily asking about them. I was like, oh no, its going to be an antigun scene and I am going close the book, but Warrell handled it just right with Emily, knowing that all of it was a little scary for her, so he was sensitive to that, but matter of factly explains the way in which he uses the guns.  Very well done. Not a question about it, just wanted to compliment you on how well you wrote it. And it made me keep reading!

JH: Thanks.  That wouldn’t even occur to me.  That scene is true in the sense that I’ve always had guns around and they have no aura to me.  They’re just tools.  Getting paid to carry a gun really changes things too.  It feels natural to have a gun on your hip.  You watch a bunch of Americans standing around discussing a professional problem with their shooting hand resting on the butt of a pistol and it seems almost genetic.  Afghans are the only other people that seem so wedded to guns but they have crazy, unsafe habits.

JS: What’s the next book about? How far along are you?

JH: It’s about three ex-fisherman living in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.  One drives a concrete mixer.  There’s a teamster strike, waitresses, punk rock and motorcycles.  Hmm, I wonder where I get these ideas?  I hope it’s not an elegy.  The neighborhood as I still imagine it hardly exists anymore.  I’d say it’s 80% done.  I want to have it finished in the next couple months.  I’m scheduled to take another team out next year.

JS: I just want to thank you for the opportunity to interview you for the blog. I hope this helps you sell a few books!

JH: Thanks brother.

All About Being a Lifer

What's a Lifer? Someone who isn't in to something for just a day, a month, a year...it's for life. Whether its training or your family or your job...it doesn't matter. You work at it, you build on it, you see the big picture . You don't miss workouts because it means something to you. You are like a Shakespearean actor- no matter what is going on in your life, you block it out when it's time to train. You walk into the weight room and all else disappears. Worry about it later.