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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mailbag December 20, 2012

I asked, you provided.  Here is the first edition of the mailbag.  If you have question you want answered, IM me on Facebook, or send it to  These are real questions from real people.

I'll take some third party advice-ongoing debate in our home.  Should we get Pete (ed. not his real name) a cell phone. I won't say who, but one adult in the house says yes and one says no. -R.B., Lexington

I'll start by saying that my parenting advice is worth what you pay for it. I don't know how to parent, so I talk to my kids like little adults who I happen to have a little power over and hope that works. It usually doesn't. They don't do anything I tell them to and my son says "screwed" and "sucks" a lot.  I'm a shitty parent. Fortunately for everyone involved, my wife is a better parent than me, and she has recently covered the ground I am about to cover with you.

I have some inside information here. Pete is a fifth grade boy. As fifth grade boys go, he is a pretty good kid. Here's what you do.  Get a cheap cell phone you can add to your plan. Let him use it for your convenience first. Tell him it is not his, it is yours. When it is good for him to have it, give it to him. Remind him that it is your cell phone that you are letting him use. Don't hand it to him to use around the house to text buddies or call girls or whatever it is he actually wants to do with the phone. Give it to him when you are separated or when you might need to get in touch with him right away. 

See how it progresses.  The greatest chance is that he'll lose it at some point (He's a 10 year old boy, after all) and that probably forestalls your argument for another year (tell him this ahead of time).  If he does well, get him his own phone for fifth grade graduation.  You'll probably want him to have one in middle school anyway.

One last thing.  No 11 or 12 year-old needs a data plan.

What's your position on manscaping? R.H, Pamama

I'm not sure what all this question is meant to encompass. For the sake of accuracy, I'll break it into three categories: head, torso and junk.

We'll start with the admission that you're talking to a 41 year old guy who can occasionally see his own eyebrows. Combing them back is like cleaning up puke with a dry mop.  I shave them down to non-eyesight level. When it impacts the looks of your face, it is easy.  Get rid it, all of it.  Be handsome, or at least as handsome as your own personal mug can be.  Like is too short to have hair coming out of visible orifices. Unless you have Alec Baldwin-type confidence, you need to take care of anything visible going on with your ears or nose. I get the eyebrows trimmed up as well, because if I don't I look like Wilfred Brimley.  Your mileage may vary.

Chest and back are dictated by one thing. Your social circle.  Literally and figuratively, which pool are you most likely to be swimming in this summer? A shaving choice that goes over well at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas will likely get you ridiculed (at least behind your hairy ass back) around a bunch of 45 year olds at the local country club. In the end, you probably look more attractive shorn, but you just have to balance that against how much you want to be "that guy". If you are a 30 year-old bodybuilder, shaving probably won't make you "that guy", you'll just be "a guy" among the people you are around.  But if you are hanging around me and I notice your chest stubble, I'm making a mental note of it even if I'm not crushing you to your face.

Before shaving his pubes, every guy should ask himself one simple question.  "Am I about to shoot a porn scene?". If you cannot answer that question in the affirmative, put the razor down.

In sum, from top to bottom, it is: always, sometimes, almost never.

How do you get someone to stop saying "cool beans"? Intervention? Tough love? C.K., Lex
This one is easy and my answer foolproof. Start calling this person "cool beans" to her (I hope it is a her) face. Don't say it only in response to a "cool beans" or you'll sound sarcastic.  From now on, that is just her name.When she asks why, say very pleasantly, "Because you always say 'cool beans'". Don't make it sound like a bad thing, but don't stop doing it until she takes the phrase out of her vocabulary. I guarantee she'll quit before you do.
Is it pass-aggressive? Sure.  But that shit will work.

How do kids balance school work and sports? D.G., Baton Rouge, La.
By doing what interests them.  If this means throwing themselves into sports and other competitive pursuits while doing the bare minimum in school, that's fine. Before you quit reading, hear me out.

Before 9th grade, school doesn't count.  We try to tell ourselves otherwise, but its the truth. All we should worry about up to that point is developing study habits and making sure they don't fall behind. If your kids are in advanced classes, they need to perform well enough to stay in them. If they are in regular classes, they need to avoid being sent to remedial ones. There is no such thing as a permanent record, and middle school is pretty much like taking the bar exam.  It is something people have to do now because we had to do it.

Conversely, everything you do in youth sports matters. One, kids are building memories.  It might be the only chance they get on an athletic field. I sucked at high school sports, but I can remember every game I played in football and basketball.  Other than chemistry, where I had one of the best high school teachers who ever lived, I have almost no memory of being in a high school class at all. In general, I remember the guys I played sports much more fondly than the people in my classes. We weren't necessarily the best of friends, but we have more to talk about now.

Second, athletically builds on what has happened before. Teachers know the reputations of a very few kids when they get to high school. Usually if your reputation precedes you, that's a bad thing. Coaches know almost every kid by the time they hit the door, especially the ones who are supposed to make a difference.

Sports keep kid healthy, which is probably a bigger concern these days than keeping them smart. I'd rather my kids have to make up some ground academically in high school and college than be on their way to diabetes and other health related problems.  

Finally, and most importantly, there is this. Ultimately, almost no kid works so hard in sports that he or she ignores school. Of all the kids I grew up with, I can only think of one whose singular devotion to athletics messed him up in school. Granted, I knew a lot of good athletes who were crappy students, but one thing had nothing to do with the other.  What I saw a lot more of were guys who studied hard to stay eligible, people who learned to compete on the field then decided to compete in the classroom, kids who stayed out of trouble by going to practice and games and ended up in college rather than jail, and some who got to a junior college to play a sport and ultimately ended up with a free ride somewhere. Tons.

Should Lane Kiffin be drawn or quartered? R.T., Lexington

If all the Presidents in history had a Royal Rumble style brawl, who would win? Caveat: they're each the age and physical condition of their respective inaugurations, with all the contemporary medical advantages that might imply. Caveat 2: they all desperately want to win (so no one avoids fighting Lincoln out of respect) J.P, Lex
First of all, the best part about this would be if they all just appeared out of thin air and had only a couple minutes to assess the situation.  Every President before about 1950 would be shocked to see Obama there, and guys like George Washington might piss their pants. 
As for who would win, I think you have to look at three factors. Age when they went into office, athletic and/or military experience and the year in which they took office. On the latter point, here is my thinking. We generally accept that we as a human race are better at some things now than we were years ago.  Basketball, tennis, computers. 
But there are some things we've surely gotten worse at. Upper and middle class white landowners are probably noticeably shittier at fighting than our forefathers.  We just don't do it much. I think anyone from about 1900 on gets his ass kicked pretty quick. Not just FDR. Everyone. If skinny ass Lincoln takes on beefy Clinton in a bare knuckle brawl, Lincoln drops him in one punch. Dude probably wrestled a bear at one point in his life. 
This knocks out JFK, who at 43 was the youngest guy elected. Gerald Ford, who played center for Michigan and was a pretty big son of a bitch, might be the exception here, but since he was 61 when he took office, that probably does him in too.
I could take a racist stand here about Obama and black guys being better at boxing. There isn't any need to, though.  Barry O doesn't last five minutes.  We aren't talking about passive racism and fear taking hold.  We're talking overt, 1950s Ole Miss style, crazy assed racism from some of these early year guys. 
I think your favorites come down to two guys.  James Polk was one tough motherfucker. How tough? Polk showed up in Danville, Kentucky in 1812, ailing from urinary stones. You know who removed them? Dr. Ephraim McDowell. You know what he used for anesthetic? Brandy. The operation left him sterile (Polk, not McDowell), and he drank brandy beforehand. You want to fight him to the death? I don't.  Polk, a former militia colonel, was 49 when he took office. Relatively young. But Polk was also in poor health.  In fact, he died of cholera shortly after his first and only term.
That leaves one guy. Ulysses S. Grant.  Grant was 46 when elected, at the time the youngest President in history. A West Point graduate, he was of course the most famous Union General in the Civil War. I'm pretty sure Grant knew five ways to kill a man with his bare hands. He's the guy.

I'll get to more questions as soon as I can.  Wanted to get this out. 

Follow me on Twitter @AlexScutchfield 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

April 29, 1992

"April 26th(sic) 1992, there was a riot on the streets now tell me where were you?"
-Sublime "April 29th, 1992" from its eponymous 1996 album.

In fact, I was sitting on the roof of my fraternity house with a beer in my hand and a 9-iron laying on my lap, while good sized pieces of the city of Los Angeles burned.  More than 50 people died in LA that week, including a handful shot dead by police. I was attending UCLA at the time, and while our village of Westwood was mostly spared, the L.A. riots made for a crazy long weekend that was more than my 21 year-old brain could process.  Like a lot of middle aged men, what's harder to process now is that this all happened 20 years ago.

"You were sitting home watching your T.V., while I was par-tic-i-pa-ting in some anarchy"

Actually, this part isn't exactly true, for reasons I'll get into in a moment. On April 29th, a Simi Valley, CA jury handed down not guilty verdicts to four LAPD officers accused of beating African-American motorist Rodney King.  Police beating up a black man in a major metropolitan area wasn't exactly a shock to anyone who'd been paying attention.  But this beating was captured by an ordinary citizen on video.  This was before the days of smart phones and $99 flip cameras and the video itself was novel.  As footage leaked to the media and began looping over and over on the news, the African-American community was shocked but relieved that the LAPD had finally been caught red-handed doing things the citizens had complained for some time.

Tension had been mounting in the area recently, with rap acts like Ice-T and N.W.A shedding light on the problem in graphic, violent detail. The King beating was brutal, long and involved a number of officers. The video showed little evidence of resistance, and what happened to King was clearly excessive even if he had, at some point prior, resisted.  Police claimed that King was on PCP, and thus very difficult to subdue, a claim that toxicology reports later contradicted. Audio of one of the officers referring to African-Americans as "gorillas in the mist" earlier that night eventually leaked. The trial of the four officers was moved to Simi Valley, outside of Los Angeles County, due to pre-trial publicity.  The jury featured only one black person, something which would have been nearly impossible statistically had the trial remained in L.A.

I don't remember giving the trial itself much thought.  I assumed the police would be convicted, though I admit my knowledge of the case never extended much beyond the video. But had I wanted to glue myself to the TV that morning to see what happened, I'd have been shit out of luck.

UCLA fraternities were wisely sequestered into a couple of blocks of the otherwise pristine Westwood community.  Most houses were either "front row" (closer to campus) or "back row" (a block west). For as long as I was at school, every front row house spliced its cable feed off the same line.  In the unlikely event someone was paying for it, it wasn't me.  Every once in a while the cable provider, the identity of which is lost to my memory, would get wise. The line would get cut or something (shit, I don't know) and about 500 guys would lose their cable all at once.

The Greek system at UCLA wasn't exactly a tight-knit place. In an alpha male world run amok, there were never friendly relationships between houses. In fact, there was an undercurrent of contempt in just about every interaction.  The cable thing was about the only time I saw any cooperation. At some point one technically savvy guy from every front row house wandered out to a centrally located, one square foot plot of land where cable magic happened.  I wish I could say that we were all interested in the sociological case study that was about to unfold in our community.

The truth is, the Lakers were playing the Phoenix Suns that night in the first round of the playoffs.  This created an urgency and sense of camaraderie rarely seen on fraternity row.  At some point, order was restored through collaborative effort. Stealing cable was the great unifier. I take no pride in this, but I'll admit I wanted to see the game.

"When we returned to the pad to unload everything, it dawned on me that I need new home furnishings. So once again we filled the van until it was full.  Since that day my living rooms been much more comfortable."

As news spilled out about the verdict, we were finally able to flip on TVs with a decent picture (if you were working with rabbit ears in LA at the time, you might as well have been trying to get ABC in Venezuela). I can't remember if I was disappointed or indifferent, but my first thought was, "This isn't going to be good".  In fact, it was way worse than I imagined.

Within an hour after the verdict was handed down, I decided to go for a jog around UCLA's "perimeter".  Students were already out in groups, not protesting so much as looking pissed.  As I passed one group of African-American students on the sidewalk, one guy cocked his arm back as if he was going to punch me.  Since I was already running, and in no mood to fight, I did a little pirouette and kept running. I seriously doubt this guy planned to hit me, but it gave me an idea of how mad people were.

After I finished my jog, the riots in South Central LA were in full swing.  At about 5:30 that evening, a white trucker named Reginald Denny was pulled from his truck and beaten senseless by four men.  By the time he was rescued (by an African-American man, it should be noted) his skull was broken in 91 places. Like the attack by the officers on King, Denny's beating was caught on camera.  Unlike the King tape, it played out on the LA news live and in real time.   One of the assailants, Damian Williams, later busted another man's head open with a car stereo.  The second victim, Fidel Lopez, had his ear partially cut off, in a scene reminiscent of the film Reservoir Dogs. Like Denny, Lopez was rescued by a black Good Samaritan.

Westwood was far from the riots at Florence and Normandie, but people were starting to get nervous. In fact, the village would suffer some vandalism, broken store windows and looting, but there was never any widespread violence. Of course, none of us knew that at the time.  We saw the Greek houses, fraternities and sororities, as a symbol of whiteness and a possible target.  How they got that way says a lot about everyone involved, from our members, to the other students, to the university itself.

This was 1992 in southern California. Despite or perhaps because of the racial tensions gripping the city, it would be hard to find a more "politically correct" time and place on earth.  To this day, hearing that phrase still burns my ass, because it was thrown in my face about everything on earth for the entire four years I was in school.  The term was so prevalent in everyday discourse, UCLA students and administrators shortened it to "PC". Before doing anything from wiping yourself to asking for a date, you have to consider whether it was PC. Conversations would end if you expressed a thought and someone responded, "That's not very PC." Despite being one of the best public colleges in the nation, UCLA's efforts at educating its students were secondary to creating a PC atmosphere.

Demographics played a large role. Our student body was supposed to mirror the makeup of California. In truth, this would have proven impossible without turning away droves of ridiculously qualified Asian students. All hell would have broken loose. As a result, the student population was roughly 35% Asian or Pacific Islander, 33% White, 15% Hispanic, 7% African American with the final 10% made up of other backgrounds or foreign students.  (I don't have the actual numbers available to me, but this is a guestimate based on my recollection and more recent UCLA data).

College is different things to different people.  As with all campuses across the country, many were there to work hard and head to professional or graduate school, many were looking to get a degree while supporting themselves through middling jobs as security guards and hostesses, many were there to drink, do drugs and have sex until the registrar gave them a degree.  But at UCLA, a lot of people were there to identify with a group of people, find their voice and fight for their community.

At a place that diverse, there were a lot of communities.  In addition to all the ethnic groups, the gays/lesbians and feminists were campus stalwarts.  Eventually, these people figured out that it was easier to fight against a common enemy than one another.  Since the University was so accommodating, that left white guys.  It just so happened that many of us could be found in one city block. It also turned out we weren't very good at fighting. Every campus election involved a Greek candidate and someone who was either a minority, outspoken feminist or openly gay. We were an apathetic bunch, and we usually got our clocks cleaned.

 "First spot we hit up was the liquor store, I finally got all that alcohol I can't afford. With red lights flashing, time to retire. And then we turned that liquor store into a structure fire."

TV news being what it is, closeup footage of looting and violence eventually gave way to wider shots of fires that appeared to engulf the city. The shift de-humaized the whole ordeal and everyone calmed down a little.  Two things became apparent by early evening.  Not much else was going to get done at UCLA this week and women really didn't want to sleep in their apartments or especially in sorority houses, which were strictly off limits to men.  Again, I'm not proud of this, but this lead to quite a gathering in my house, and I'm sure several others as well. Los Angeles was in shambles and it amounted to an excuse to have a party. As I did every time such an opportunity presented itself at this point in my life, I began drinking with a singularity of purpose usually reserved for leg humping dogs.

As the night wore on, reports about violence on the streets continued and eventually word hit that Westwood had some looting.  The police had given up at Florence and Normandie, as they were outnumbered. South Central was going to be destroyed. George Bush was involved.  Looters were a half mile from us, and there wasn't much to do about it. By about 11:30, those of us who hadn't paired off or otherwise found greener pastures grabbed whatever beer was left and headed up to the roof, each with one of Jake Henry's golf clubs.  Why the roof, I have no idea. I threw a dip into my lip (the only people in Southern California who chewed tobacco in 1992 were baseball players and fraternity guys, and almost every one did, don't judge) and we drank the last of the beer, talked about whatever shitfaced guys talked about in 1992 and never had any use for our golf clubs.

One April 30, word came fairly early that Mayor Tom Bradley was placing the city under martial law.  There would be a curfew a sundown, and anyone out after it risked arrest.  I cannot remember if I bothered to attend class that day (I was shooting about 50% that quarter even under the best of circumstances) but by early afternoon UCLA announced that its Friday classes were cancelled so I was done in any event.

What happened next would make an above average scene in an otherwise terrible movie. Upon hearing "curfew" and "no classes" I immediately went into hysterics.  "I have an epiphany," I bellowed, "We need to buy a shitload of beer and hole up in the house.  Can't go anywhere, fuck it!"  Like I had discovered a cure to cancer.

Ten minutes later I was standing in a line longer than one for free condoms at a Scissor Sisters show. Westwood's corner mart closest to fraternity row was so overrun (the place was no bigger than 20' by 20') that people had to line up outside to pay.  So while looters were breaking windows to steal on one end of town, this proprietor was actually sending people out the door with cases of beer in their hands for the purpose of coming back in to pay.  There were 100 guys and girls, about 90% of whom were carrying nothing more than 24 Keystone Lights and maybe a pack of gum.  Some epiphany I had. This whole scene probably took an hour.  

The partying that night turned out to be substantially more subdued. Several factors intervened. First, the UCLA sorority houses (or some of them, I can't remember) decided to break with tradition and allow men to sleep in the house.  It made sense from a safety standpoint. Logistics were a different story. Any guy who thought he'd be sleeping in his girlfriend's bed had a wet blanket thrown on him post haste.  This was all going to play out campout style in the sorority lobbies. Just a bunch of people on the floor in sleeping bags.

The notion lost its appeal to all but a few.  For some, it was the novelty of sleeping in a sorority house.  For others, it was the chance to put on a cheesy-as-fuck, no stakes show of chivalry. By this time it was clear that no one was going to disturb us.  The looting was widespread and lawless as hell, but very predictable.  By Friday, the LAPD had given up and were waiting on military aid. Very few people stayed behind to protect their businesses. No one was going to disturb a sorority house with 90 sympathetic victims and nothing more than 90 credit cards with $500 limits when they could loot a completely abandoned electronics store.

The smarter students from outside of LA just went home for the weekend. I had beer that took me an hour to buy and no real reason to leave. Another writer might pick his three best drinking stories from college and pretend all of them happened that night, just to liven the thing up.  The truth is, I remember nothing else about that evening other than buying the beer, and opting for my own bed rather than a sorority floor.

"Next stop we hit it was the music shop. It only took one brick to make that window drop. Finally we got our own p.a., where do you think I got this guitar that you're hearing today?"

Students were leading protests all over campus, while calling for the violence and looting to stop.    I took some time Friday to go around and take it all in.  Since classes were cancelled, the signs and microphones were set up in unusual places.  UCLA had a "free speech area" where students once protested misogynistic Fraternity songbook lyrics (a story for another time), but that area had been abandoned.  Instead, students were set up in sort of a village on the south end of campus that was usually cleared for foot traffic.  After wandering around for a few minutes, I got uncomfortable and left. Most people didn't mind me being there, but I got some glares.

In truth, I had no desire to be cast in the role of the bad guy in these situations. But I was used to it, and left UCLA with a far different attitude towards race and class than I entered with.

Growing up, I attended a high school almost as diverse as UCLA itself. The San Diego Unified School district had a pretty simple solution to the mandates of Brown v. Board of Education and its progeny. A minority student who lived in a high school district composed primarily of minorities could attend school anywhere that was predominately white. A lot of people did so. In fact, the phrase "homeboy" did not mean "friend" where I grew up.  Instead, a homeboy was a guy who didn't flee his home, primarily minority school.

As a child I was not a good athlete. I was tall and lumpy, but couldn't catch a Nerf football or hit a curveball. In seventh grade, my Mom went to work full time and I became a latchkey kid. There were a number of us who ran back and forth between a local rec center, 7-11 and a public library from 2:30-5:00p.m most days.  Some studied, some got into drugs, some were lucky enough to start having sex.  I did none of those. I shot baskets in the rec center gym and got into whatever pickup games I could muster.  By ninth grade, I still wasn't much of an athlete, but I was tall, could shoot a stationary jump shot and had a feel for the game.

While most guys my age were hanging out at the beach or playing baseball, I was playing around in stinky gyms throughout high school. The urban rhythm of the game appealed to me like nothing else. A boom box in a gym made me feel alive. The squeak of sneakers on a floor still reminds me of those beats, broken English banter ("Who got next?", "Ball don't lie.", "Who you got?") and sweat dripping out of every pore.

In high school, I wasn't part of The Crew (a group comprised primarily of the better football, basketball and track athletes in my high school, nearly all black), but we could talk and hang out and had a mutual respect. You had to be careful in my position because trying to act black got you labelled a wannabe, especially if you didn't have the athletic chops or other cred to pull it off (I didn't).  This resulted in an odd dichotomy where I would act black in front of my white friends and white in front of my black friends. I'm not sure most people realized it, so I ended up seeming a little different to everyone.

The best thing about our environment was this. While everyone went their own separate ways at times, my high school congregated together.  House parties involved everyone from every avenue. We came from different places but everyone got along.  I don't remember a single racial incident.  Other than dating, which caused animosity no matter who was involved, race wasn't really discussed much. I'd be naive not to consider that the black students had a very different view.  But for whatever reason, I never recall being confronted with it.

"Cause everybody in the hood has had it up to here.  It's getting harder and harder each and every year."

So when it came to standing up for straight white male america as a fraternity guy, I wanted no part of it. The truth is, almost none of us did.  At age 18-22, and living in Southern California, almost everyone was objectively left of center.  Few people disagreed with liberal agendas on paper, but looking back on it now I think few of us understood it.

My attitude in college was basically this: We are getting a great education for practically free (I paid an average of about $500 a quarter for tuition the whole time I was in school), it is sunny every day here, I can buy beer out of a vending machine in my back yard. What exactly does everyone have to be so pissed off about?  Chill.

But the truth was, we didn't do ourselves any favors.  When the gay and lesbian alliance would march down fraternity row, some guy would always get on his balcony and yell, "Fucking faggots" or something else clever. One house had a Mexico themed party where people had to crawl under a fence to get in. The animosity towards the fraternities hit its nadir (this actually happened a year after the riots) someone located a fraternity songbook that contained such classics as "Sweet Lupe", about a "hot fucking cocksucking Mexican whore". That landed the fraternity two doors down from us on Nightline.  This was all awful, and I excuse none of it.

What no one else knew, and could not know, was that for every guy yelling at GALA, there were 20 guys in his house telling him to shut the fuck up because he was an idiot. For every fraternity writing "Cheap Chicks for Sale" on the side of a Winnebago before a road trip, there were 10 others with decent guys who wouldn't pull something like that and probably half of that house cringing at what others were doing.  We were all the same to the other student groups. One big group lumped together. At the time, I thought that horribly unfair, and never saw the irony in my position or theirs.

My biggest failing in all of this was not realizing it was important.  I abhorred racism and basically all of the -isms, but wasn't sure what anyone hoped to accomplish and why everyone was so mad.  After all, the administration bent over backwards for all these groups, and crawled around our asses whenever they got the chance. I was in school to have fun, get that paper, and hopefully end up in law school on the other end. What I didn't get was that many of the people railing against injustice were first generation college students.  They were the first people in their families to have a voice, and they were getting to use it for the first time.

True, they weren't going to get anywhere going on hunger strikes to protest policies when they were adults. But I wasn't going to be able to lay drunk four nights a week and pee outside without repercussion either. It was college, which meant something different for me than it did for them.  If the riots showed anything, it is that things were at a breaking point for a lot of people. LA wasn't ready for it, but I should have been.  I saw hundreds of people express their breaking points well before that.

The net result of all this "othering" and my sheltered environment within it? While I had a ton of black friends, both close and casual, in high school, I can remember passing friendships with only 2 African American guys the whole time I was at UCLA. (My musical tastes moved from hip-hop to grunge about this time, I've never before pondered if the two were related). The administration spoke of a desire to make UCLA a "salad bowl instead of a melting pot".  My high school was a bit of both.  UCLA was neither.

"Let it burn, wanna let it burn, wanna let it burn, wanna wanna let it burn."

By Saturday, the riots were getting under control. As draconian as the curfew seemed, it was working. Police were able to control matters some without stepping into situations where they were heavily outnumbered.  When people weren't supposed to even be outside, it was much harder to congregate. The initial shock of the verdict had worn off, and widespread genuine anger had been replaced by more isolated opportunism. Military troops, which had been deployed a day earlier from an hour away and took 24 hours to mobilize and arrive, were finally on the ground.

UCLA would resume classes on Monday, and things would get back to normal.  Across the 10 Freeway at USC was a different story.  Given its close proximity to South Central LA, the illustrious institution of higher learning simply closed down for the semester.  Everyone got the grade they already had and went on their merry way for the summer a few weeks early.

I did end up sleeping in a sorority house that weekend after all. Three nights of holing up had been bearable, but by Saturday several of the guys, myself included, were getting restless. We made plans to get the hell out of LA by sundown and embarked on a road trip to Santa Barbara.

UCSB was a place that should have existed only in a movie. Nearly as selective as UCLA, the school nonetheless put out a party vibe like few others.  The campus featured "private dorms" with six people to a suite on coed floors with seemingly no rules.  Unlike apartments, the "dorms" were self contained and what went on inside wasn't visible to the outside world.  In later years, most students lived in Isla Vista, a town where everyone set up a keg in their back yard and people roamed freely carrying cups upside down from house to house, so as to show any wandering John Q. Laws that it had already been drained.  One side of the main street in IV, as it was known, was also perched perilously on a 60 foot cliff (if I'm sketchy on the details, sue me) above the ocean.  My guess is someone fell off at least once a year.

Despite having a stone cold sober driver, after a night on the town no one was all that excited about a two hour return drive.  Like everything else at UCSB, things were more laid back than at UCLA.  The sorority houses weren't old mansions, they were basically apartment complexes where the girls all lived.  Similar rules about alcohol and male callers existed, but were much harder to enforce. I wish I could tell you this was a story of a random drunk hookup, but really it was just a battle for couch space between five drunk guys and one sober one in a sorority apartment of one of the guys' high school friend's.

This story might have a better moral if I'd spent the evening contemplating race and class in 1992 Los Angeles, but in truth, my thoughts involved trying to outlast the other guys so I could gank a pillow from the guy who passed out first.

Voice of a police radio: "Any units assist 334 Willow. Structure fire, and numerous subjects looting. 10-15 to get rid of this looter."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 22

Today brought the end of week #3 and I am now only a couple of days from the end of The Great Experiment. Obviously, I haven't written in five days. Frankly, the topic has ceased being interesting now that I've gotten used to the way I'm eating. Also, there is nothing glamorous about it. I'm not starving myself or eating a diet of cabbage and raw eggs or anything like that. I've just cut down on snacks, eaten reasonable dinners, and made smart lunch choices. Plus, I've worked out a lot more. In doing this, I've found that I almost never eat fried food and obviously sweets are at a minumum. But nothing is really, truly off limits.
In any event, as I limp to the finish line I weighed in at 235 this morning. This is a four lb weight loss from this time last week and a total of 12 lbs. I may get one more pound off by Friday, but that is about it. Anyway, expect some sort of post summing this all up then. As I think is clear, there isn't much wisdom left.
On another program note, the chances of doing a meaningful Running Diary on Friday are starting to look slim. I will end up wracked with guilt in that a) my wife will be working; b) the only real reason I am staying home is to watch my kids, who are out of school; c) I can probably spend some time doing work that I need to get done from home; and d) most of the teams I care about, including the one big one, are playing the night before.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day 17

Today I am one week away from the close of The Great Experiment. I've settled into a routine. The feeling of disappointment associated with making healthy choices is tapering off. The positive reinforcement scales are starting to tip away from the immediate gratification of tasty food and towards the realization that what I'm doing is working. Make no mistake, the Experiment seems to have worked thus far. I took something I've long needed to do and infused some immediacy into the situation by holding myself accountable to anyone who wants to read this blog. The question becomes, where do I go from here. In the end, it doesn't matter how successful this is in the short run. Without long-term success, its a failure.
I'm in a strange position. First, while I intended that some forms of "diet" or lifestyle changes would last longer than The Great Experiment, I didn't account for the impact actually blogging about the experience would have. I'm a little concerned about letting go of it from that standpoint. On the other hand, I have no desire to write a blog about what I eat for any appreciable length of time.
Not sure how I'm going to resolve this.
In the short run, my plan is to allow some indulgence on March 19th and 20th, then try to run a real tight ship again up until I leave for spring break on March 27th. For spring break week (Cocoa Beach if your are curious), the goal will be strictly maintenance. I figure I can eat sensibly 75% of the time and exercise a ton. Hopefully this will offset the cocktails I have every night, because if you aren't going to drink while you're at the beach, you may as well go to the mall instead.
Smooth sailing recently. Yesterday, grilled chicken sandwich and veggies for lunch, some leftover chili with lowfat cheese for dinner, a couple glasses of red. Today I forgot breakfast, and had a decent lean cuisine for lunch.
With a week to go, I weighed in this morning at 236.5 for a weight loss of 10.5lbs. thus far. Two-thirty four sounds like a realistic place to end up next Friday, and hopefully I could take about 2 more off of that before I leave for Florida. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Corey Haim would have liked Day 15

Day 15 started with a weigh-in of 239. I've lost 8 lbs. in two weeks, 3.5 of which was the second week. This is pretty good considering I didn't go for a gimmick or try to starve myself. My pre-experiment prediction of ending up between 234-236 by March 19th now looks realistic.

Yesterday I ate a lean cuisine chicken Parmesan at my desk for lunch (310 calories) and had some nuts for a snack. I had a large dinner (homemade pizza, didn't even try to hold back), then spent about 45 minutes on the elliptical.

The Great Experiment has certainly morphed over the last couple of weeks. I'm making mostly good choices, but haven't been a fanatic about any one thing for several days now. I've cut fried foods and sweets down to a rare treat, tried to keep lunch to under 600 calories, cut after dinner snacking down to light popcorn and an occasional girl scout cookie and worked out or played tennis at least 11 of the 14 days. In short, I've eaten less and exercised more.

My hope is that by March 19th, this will cease to be The Great Experiment and will morph into How I Live My Life. There are a couple of things I'll need to account for and I will undoubtedly loosen up a bit. The key will be doing this in such a way that I can have a realistic existance and continue to lose weight.

Finally, a sad note that Corey Haim was found dead this morning in West Hollywood. The cause of death was listed as "Take a wild guess". Corey was famous for a series of forgettable films and one, The Lost Boys, that was indescribably awesome. Sorry to see this happen, but it has an air of inevitability to it. RIP Corey.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday Reset

Time to reset this puppy. I had a very busy end of the week at work and yesterday was almost completely shot, so I have not had much time to write on the blog. I cannot really remember what I did before about 4 p.m. on Saturday, but I know it wasn't writing.

With a lack of writing came a lack of accountability, and I did not have a good couple of days on the diet. Friday night I had the best of intentions. We went to Max and Erma's with some friends for dinner, and I ended up with a 543 calorie Hula Bowl, which consisted of a few pieces of chicken, one chunk of pineapple and some twigs. It was covered with some "light honey mustard" which resembled "edible honey mustard" in name only. I also had a small cup of soup, which was cheese based and probably not terribly healthy. Nonetheless, overall a very healthy dinner out considering it was a Friday night and considering it was, you know, me. I even got a fairly good workout in before we left.

I washed this conservative meal down with about 135 beers. So Friday night was a bust.

Saturday I woke up with both a hangover and some resolve. I also had a tennis match to play at 5 and had the dual challenge of trying to both feel better and not eat too much. This plays into my Four Ways theory of boozing.

One, liquor has calories. Empty, seldom filling, calories. Two, I tend to pay less attention to what I eat while drinking. Three, many a hangover has killed weekend workout plans. This stings, because I have so much more free time than during the week, count on getting two workouts in. Missing one is tantamont to eating 600-700 extra calories over the weekend. Finally, like others, I make the mistake of chasing a hangover with some awful food choices. How many times have you said, "I need some grease" when rocking a sore head? Everyone has done it. But truth be told, nothing you eat is very effective in combating a hangover. It isn't much more than a convenient excuse.

Anyway, I needed to feel better while continuing the great experiment. I did a good job of sticking to water and not overeating before the match. When I got done, I was so weak I could hardly stand up, and ended up eating about a 700 calorie snack after dinner, which basically destroyed Saturday.

Yesterday wasn't so bad, but not so good that I'm going to go into gory detail with you about everything. I also failed to exercise, which had nothing to do with a hangover and everything to do with a busy day. I probably walked a couple of miles going to the basketball game, but nothing else real useful.

So today was a reset. I had Kashi cereal for breakfast, and about 500 calories of no cheese or sour cream Qdoba tacos at lunch. I'm going to try eating in the office as the week progresses, having purchased some pseudo-Scutch friendly Lean Cuisine fare at the grocery yesterday.

No idea what I weigh today, though I was 241.5 yesterday morning.

Before I go, a program note. Before The Great Experiment, the only thing I've done on this blog of any note is a twice NCAA Men's Basketball conference tournament running diary. The tradition began in 2008 a couple of hours after I got snipped, and pretty much did nothing but pop percocet, drink bud light, watch basketball and type out silly posts on my laptop for 12 hours a day two days in a row. It was awesome. Last year I revised it on the conference tournament Friday, minus the sore balls and the drugs.

This year, I hope to do the running diary on the second day of the NCAA's (not the conference tournaments) on March 19th. My kids are off of school that day, and I've tentatively planned to stay home with them. The fine folks at Fayette County Public Schools picked one of the three days I most want to play hooky (First Thursday and Friday of the NCAAs and Oaks Day) and give me an excuse to stay home. All of this is not going to win me any father of the year awards, I understand. But someone at least has to be there to call the fire department in case they burn the house down. I'll do my solid parenting another day. Besides, my wife has made me promise to take them somewhere that morning. Barring something coming up workwise, this should pan out. Stay tuned.

Astute observers will note that The Great Experiment is set to end the same day. If you think this is coincidental, you don't know me very well.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day 10

Sorry, I have been crazy busy at work and at home for the last couple of days and haven't been able to post. I am going to try for some more meaningful posts this weekend, but for now know that The Great Experiment continues.

Had a good day Wednesday, topped off with an hour and a half of singles tennis.

I didn't have the best day yesterday, a low cal lunch (turkey on wheat, no cheese or mayo), relatively small though not altogether healthy dinner, sadly topped off with couple glasses of wine and two girl scout cookies.

Today I tried for a light lunch (details to follow) and got a big workout in this evening.

As always, the weekend poses a challenge. But I am now convinced that what I am doing is working, I'm starting to feel better, and I am gaining momentum. I'm not as hungry, and this is starting to feel like less of a chore.

More to come.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quick Update

Quick, no frills, catch-up. Yesterday lunch: Chef's salad, low fat vinaigrette. This was a pretty healthy Chef's. Not much bacon or cheese to speak of. Dinner: Mediterranean salad which probably would have been very healthy if everything wasn't dripped in oil. As it was, though, a two salad day with the lunch much healthier than the dinner.
Forty minute elliptical workout. About 650 calories in elliptical math.
One girl scout cookie and about 100 calories worth of lowfat popcorn before bed.

This morning's one week weight-in of 242.5, making the first week a semi-successful 4.5 lb weight loss. I've decided to stop weighing every day and it is proving counterproductive. I'll try to limit it to 3-4 times between now and March 19th.

One cup of black coffee and a Fiber One Bar (150 calories) on the way to court on Northern Kentucky this morning. Lunch pending.