Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mo' bettah blues

Here's a picture of my abs. Not bad after just one week.

Some rubes might think I'm gay for posting a picture of some other dude's gut. Oh, and I'm the last born of four boys, which means my mother's body fought off my maleness with female hormones, according to an article in that bastion of medical journalism, Time Magazine.

So THAT'S why I'm an English grad student.

I'm not gay, but at least I'm in touch with my feelings more than most men and my dago machismo is tempered by a poetic sensibility.

My workout plan has gone well this week. On Monday I ran 4.5 miles in a light rainstorm. I felt really good, fantastic even, considering it was my first run in over a month. Wednesday's run upon first awakening was more difficult because I took benadryl the night before and was a little dry-mouthed and sluggo-headed the entire run. Still, riding out the course with my bike later, I ran almost 7 miles in an hour.

And today I worked out at the rec center for the first time. Guh. I hate lifting weights. It's SOOO boring. What can I do to liven it up? I put myself through an extreme ab workout that still has me sore this evening. One good thing about me is I never have a problem pushing myself physically. I tend to work myself to the limits of my endurance and live for that blessed fatigue that comes only after extreme exertion, that panting, heaving, lay on the floor in a totally exhausted state of bliss that no drug can duplicate.

Good news is I've already exceeded my weight goal.

I've always wanted to be like my idol, Brett Favre, 6' 2", 200 pounds, the All-American boy. Height's not a problem.

But at my heaviest, back in early 2000, I weighed almost 240 pounds. When I got off the Pacific Crest Trail in Sept. 2004, I was 183. A month ago I weighed 208. Today: 198. Last weekend on my parent's scale: 200.

I did not diet, necessarily, in the past month, but was merely conscientous of how much I ate. I try not to eat to fullness, but until I'm no longer hungry. We are biologically hard-wired to gorge when food is present. This instinct betrays us when we have an overabundance of food.

I'm lucky. It takes little effort for me to take off the pounds. No calorie counting. No carb diet. No shakes or soup diets. No dramatic changes. Just plain old awareness and exercise. And I love exercise.

My goal is to post a picture of my actual gut by the middle of October with six pack abs. If I can work through the boredom of working out, it will happen.

Then I'll shave my chest, flex my rippling muscles and call out the rest of you late-born sons for the girly men you are.

The long-promised Country Acres photo essay

For 10 months, from Oct. 19, 2005 to Aug. 12, 2006, I lived in a rooming house at 350 1/2 Augusta Ave., DeKalb, IL, misappropriately-named Country Acres. For the most part, I enjoyed living here amongst the townie drunks and crazies. I will mine, for fictive purposes, many of the stories I heard at Country Acres and the even more hard-scrabble and misappropriately named Augusta Inn next door.

Is it strange for a graduate student from a middle class background to actually love Country Acres? Not really. My hiking experiences exposed me to people from all walks of life. I don't judge people on past actions, but on how they treat me. I feel sorry for people who think they are superior to others or are disdainful of those who look or act differently. They are missing out. I know a lot of so-called Christians who would look down on the derelicts and drunks that I hung out with as equals this past summer.

Like Steve, the resident drunk and backporch philosopher. I idled away many a summer afternoon and evening with him. I learned to gauge his mood by how many empty Miller cans I saw laying about. Before he gets too drunk, Steve is a charming, intelligent man. After he crosses the line, he's just an obnoxious, obvious, repetitive, loud, and highly annoying provocateur. I think he'd like this description. "Apropo, Greg," I imagine him saying. I have many more Steve-isms I'll publish in a stand-alone blog entry.

And then there's Wade, the crazy down the hall. He was the main motivation for my departure from the place. Wade hung out in the basement, often for days at a time. His sweet/sour body grew stronger each day until I could smell him before I saw him. He sat there, head cocked to one side, a line of drool cascading to his shirt, or the couch. If I talked to him he'd get up and leave without saying a word.

Worse than the smell is the threat of violence Wade presented. More than once, coming home from Jewel at 4 a.m., I passed Wade's room, two doors down from mine, and heard him yelling, arguing, with some unseen foe. Once he asked, "Should I kill them all?" Creepy stuff. When I first met Wade he seemed quite normal. Something switched in his brain sometime late December and he locked himself in his room for two weeks. He didn't eat anything during this time. I knew he was in there because of the loud conversations he carried on with himself. I even called the Ben Gordon Center to check on him because I worried he might starve himself into a coma or something. He's never been quite the same since.

Country Acres has an international flavor. Wendy, who has since moved to Peoria to live with her boyfriend, is from Fujian Province, China, and was the subject of a Teaching English as a second language project I did last fall. Anna, who has also moved away, is from Poland. We still keep in touch. Joe, who is still there, is from Palestine. His mother gave me many middle-eastern pastries and even made a rice and meat wrap with grape leaves she picked off the fence in the parking lot. Joe also inspired my love of hummus, flat bread, and (though this is not Palestinian) fried ramen noodles. Okaka, my Ugandan friend studying at NIU on a Fullbright scholarship, moved in when I moved out.

I'll still visit Steve and the gang on Sundays if I'm in town. They're still my friends, even if they're no longer my neighbors.

COMING SOON: A photo essay of my new place!!! It's nicer, cleaner, quieter, but lacks the charm and rustic flavor of my former abode.

sometimes a cob is just a cob

Check out the photo links below for more pictures of Jon, Cornfest, a trip to Chain O' Lakes State Park and Gander Mountain forest preserve, my old Country Acres home and environs, and anything else I might have snapped between now and then.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Swimming thoughts

Don't know what I want to write about. Me head's swimming with random thoughts.

At my parent's

Dad said I can borrow his truck as long as I want

No need to carpool for my teaching observation in Rockford
Good because my grand carpool plan backfired
At ILAS 301 orientation only a handful of people are assigned to my school and none of them live in DeKalb

Worked two double shifts this week
8 hours overnight at Jewel Monday and Tuesday night
Grad assistant orientation from 9-4 Monday through Friday
Draggin' major ass Wednesday afternoon
But new availability hours kick in now
that shouldn't happen anymore

Lots of new beginnings this week
Momentous, really
New friends gained

lost (tears and flapdoodle, sighs, campus ghosts)

Drunken phone call from a REALLY old friend

Don't know why I'm writing without punctuation

SO Booyeah pumped about teaching First Year Composition to 26 unwitting freshman
The focus of the class is on pop culture
I'm no guru, but I keep a slight tab on hipness
I am my own hipster
What I'm into is the latest, coolest thing
Or it's retro chic
Or I can listen, watch, learn from them about pop culture
Avoid too many 80s references, or to the grunge rock of the early 90s
that was the last time I felt current
anachronist anarchist
Dead Kennedys? The furrows in David Johanson's jowels?

I have a key to Reavis Hall and its classrooms (except computer labs)
Mwu ha ha

Positive feedback on my mini-lesson
"Your students are going to LOVE you!" -- Alissa

I sang the New Milford Refrigeration theme song

"Call 398-C-O-L-D, 398- (hushed whisper) "Cold!"

sing the body electric
see, anachrone? (70s reference, even, a backlit fro)

Getting to know new English friends...
Did I talk too much?
Make too many hiking references? (Shhh shhh don't let them know how obeessive you are about getting outside) (that's, like, weird and stuff)
Did I try to show off my intellectual prowess? Which, in trying, is doubt of its existence?
No pissing duels.
Thankfully, no one seems like that
Mostly, they are really chill
even the odd ones

'course I'm an all-accepting Walt Whitman conduit of human experience
Avoid no one and treat the beggar and king equally
Actually, I'm a little biased
Always take the underdog's side

Settled into my new place (pictures soon)
Soooo quiet compared to Country Acres
Central air hum
refrigerator drip and tick
Tune in radio for companionship

But there are people in my life
and Jon
who bangs on everything and tries to dismantle my face
who said "da da" for the first time last Friday
Friday, Aug. 18
Hell day
I won't go into details
Let's just say "da da" saved me
brought me back from the dark hole I'd sunk into

Through English department and semi-regular visits to Annex I'm FINALLY making some new DeKalb friends

Old friend Todd visited last Sunday
Man, has he lost weight
He's on a tour of all the disc golf courses in N. Illinois and S. Wisconsin
We played at Prairie Park
He finished one game a couple strokes below par
He carries an extra outfit for wading in the river to find discs

Used to be a visit from Todd meant getting wasted
Now he's a health nut

Todd's still loud, brash
Jon loves him
gives him a furrowed brow look
but ultimately smiles in approval at my bald friend's antics

If I were religious, I would make Todd Jon's godfather
Need a secular, less Brando term
sports guru?

Okay. Mentor works.
Let's have an official mentor ceremony/barbecue.

Next week I begin a new workout regimen
a return to running
even weightlifting
the rec center has new equipment

Lately, my exercise regimen's informal
Walk or ride my bike at least an hour a day
Go for a more strenuous ride/hike at least once a week

My formal workout plan is simple
M-W-F-Sa run at least an hour, with a long run of at least 10 miles once a week
T-Th lift weights
Goin' for the six pack abs

Got a lot of things going for me initially
Don't smoke
Don't have a problem with alcohol (I usually stop at 1 or 2 drinks, enjoy the pleasant buzz and quietude, no hangovers or sickness)
Am reasonably fit already from informal exercise and stocking shelves
I eat healthy, even though I think I eat too much meat
All organic fruits and veggies

Me love handles are small
But need to go away entirely

That's all
No preening
No body oils
Okay, maybe a little patchouli

Still a hippie at heart
Workouts are a natural high, baby

Right now is the crest of the roller coaster
The clicky clack lift
Trees and houses and water tower vista
Next week whoomph and fall and 70 mph
This ride don't end until December

Wish me luck

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Big News I

I have a new apartment. My new address is: 318 South First Street, Apt. 5, DeKalb, IL 60115

I move in after Aug. 12 and am currently shopping/dumpster diving for kitchen table and chairs, shelves and any funky wall art. The new place is an improvement over my current digs at Country Acres. The rent increase shows it. But I've got my own bathroom and kitchen, a brick deck area just outside my door with grill and chairs, a small lawn to play with Jonny on, and, for the first time in my life, a place of my own to call my own.

School picks up again starting August 21 as I begin a week-long training session for the course I'm teaching. Classes don't actually start until the 28th. So far, I am taking two graduate level English courses, 500 and 547, and ILAS 301, a pass/fail observation course at the Rockford Environment Science Academy middle school and Auburn High School, both in Rockford. And since I don't have a car, I will have to arrange a ride or carpooling pronto to get in on that.

I continue to work at least 16 hours (union minimum) a week at Jewel. When school kicks in I have to change my availability to suit my schedule, but should still be able to work those hours. In addition to teaching a class and taking three others, my schedule may allow me to substitute teach on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays, depending on my work load, etc. So, yeah. Three classes. Three jobs. One son. And a one-bedroom apartment to decorate and make all homey. Woob woob wooby warp speed ahead, keptin'!

I'm still working on a photo essay of Country Acres, and will follow it, blogger willing (photo uploads have been fussy lately), with one of my new place.

Trail Days a la Paris?

Homeless Tent Camps Draw Ire in Paris

Associated Press Writer

Eric Creuly's bedroom is a khaki tent on the banks of a Paris canal. His kitchen is a barbecue made from a metal barrel, and his living room is a set of mismatched chairs where he and friends smoke and watch the pleasure boats pass.

Tent camps have become a familiar sight in Paris since the aid group Doctors of the World, or Medecins du Monde, first distributed tents in December to shelter the homeless and make their plight less invisible.

But complaints about the tents have been pouring into City Hall, and four tents were burned this weekend in circumstances that are still unclear. With Paris sweltering in a heat wave, authorities say the tents are unsanitary and dangerous.

Socialist City Hall wants many of them moved, and the conservative government wants them just plain gone. Last week, the government named a mediator to find a solution.

About 300 tents with the aid group's insignia still dot Paris _ and they are even harder to overlook in July, when tourists fill the streets and Parisians live outdoors. Now, some homeless are even saving money to buy tents themselves.

Doctors of the World says it will take down one tent for every permanent housing option provided by the government. It acknowledges the risks of tents _ that heat-struck homeless could die hidden from view, for example _ but adds that street life is dangerous, no matter what.

"We never said that tents were the solution," said Graciela Robert, who heads the homeless mission for the aid group. "But a tent is better than the sidewalk."

The tents have popped up under bridges on the Seine River, near the stretch of quay where City Hall sets up a sandy beach every summer. They appeared on chic avenues and on the Canal Saint-Martin, a trendy area for nightlife.

Creuly, a 48-year-old construction worker who became homeless after losing his job a year ago, has spent a few weeks living in his girlfriend's Doctors of the World tent. It's better than going to a shelter, he says: He isn't kicked out during the day and doesn't have to worry about his belongings being stolen.

He and his friends _ some of whom go by nicknames like "Momo the Cat" and "The Indian" _ watch out for each other and take turns guarding their row of tents. Tuesday morning, they drank cold coffee and shared croissants under a parasol from an abandoned ice cream cart.

"We're at home here, we do as we like," Creuly said. He added, however, that he doesn't believe the tents will push the government to help the homeless.

France, with a population of nearly 63 million, has about 86,500 homeless people, according to a landmark 2001 study by the INSEE statistics agency. The Abbe Pierre Foundation, which works with the homeless, said this year that the figure is closer to 150,000.

The government fears the tents give people a reason to stay on the streets, expose them to sanitation problems and encourage them to live in groups _ a problem because it is harder to persuade them to get help.

"The government's objective in this affair is simple: no more tents," said Benoist Apparu, communications official for the Ministry of Social Cohesion. "Not because we don't like tents, but because the problem with them is that we have enough trouble as it is getting people off the street, persuading them to move to a shelter or a rehabilitation center."

The Abbe Pierre Foundation shares some of those concerns. Patrick Doutreligne, an official with the Roman Catholic-affiliated charity, said there are as many negative effects as positive ones.
City officials say they don't disapprove of the tent initiative but want mediators to persuade homeless to move their tents away from apartment buildings, for example.

On Monday, Mayor Bertrand Delanoe sent a letter to the government pressing for 5,000 more homeless lodgings in the Paris region _ not just overnight shelters.

Creuly and his friends have dreams of their own. Perched on the edge of the canal, talking about life, they have fantasies about being granted an abandoned building to fix up themselves.

"I realize they can't just come up with 1,000 new lodgings, just like that," Creuly said. "But are we supposed to believe anyone is really trying? I'm tired of all this talk."
Associated Press Writer Nick Vinocur in Paris contributed to this report.