Tales from the Darkside Christmas Special: Seasons of Belief

Ok, right up front, this will be the last post here at FFDC until sometime after Christmas. FFDC is going on vacation. Our whole staff. Meaning me and Jonathon Cabot. Could be back right after Christmas, or it could be next year.

Either way, my New Year’s Resolutions are to post more here and step up my fitnessing (just like everyone else).

But forget New Year’s because Christmas is so close that I’m getting a funny feeling in my stomach. I haven’t watched all my Christmas specials yet! Sure, I’ve watched the main ones, but what about Frosty’s Winter Wonderland? Sure it sucks, but since I have it on dvd, I feel it must be watched by Christmas. So much to do, so little time. Thankfully, I’ve been done with my shopping since like Thanksgiving.

I don’t know if Seasons of Belief falls into any sort of strict definition of what a Christmas Special should be. But maybe it does. It is a Christmas-themed episode of a regular show that was aired around Christmas (actually, a few days after Christmas, which seems weird to me).

This is, probably, my favorite episode of TFTD.

As I have mentioned, I love things that mix scary stuff and Christmas (yes, including Nightmare Before Christmas). And this mixes them both beautifully. It also has a sort of Terry Gilliam “what you believe is real, is real” aspect to it, but you’ll see that, if you haven’t already.

The story opens with stereotypical Christmas-y shots from around the set of the show. I guess this is to set the mood as jolly, and also to let us know that this is going to be a Tale from the Darkside of Christmas…

a piano with Christmas carols

a Christmas tree with a train

After establishing the mood and time of year, we are introduced to the characters: a family, seated around the kitchen table, enjoying dinner together. Very Christmas-y, yes? Well, no. Not really. This Christmas-y mood will quickly drop as soon as the kids start being bratty.

EG Marshall

The dad, who is old enough to be the mom’s father, and definitely looks more like a grandfather to a couple kids this young, is played by EG Marshall, whom you will recognize from Creepshow and, coincidentally, as Ellen’s dad in Christmas Vacation.

Just like Clark Griswold, Dad in this story wants to have a good old-fashioned family Christmas Eve, but the kids want to watch Christmas specials. Well, the little girl does. The little boy just wants to be a brat and claim that there is no Santa Claus. EG tells him, “That’s a wicked thing to say, at any time of year, but it’s especially wicked to say on Christmas Eve.”

So we know that it’s Christmas Eve.

Bratz

The mom asks the kids, “Do you know what Santa does to kids who say there is no Santa?”

“What?”

“He flips a switch with your name on it, and every toy you get for Christmas breaks within a month.”

breaks within a minute

Then it cuts to the Christmas Tree train, which promptly derails and goes up in a puff of smoke. This is foreshadowing of two things:

1. Things are already starting to go bad.

2. Whatever you believe, and say, on Christmas Eve is real.

A kiss under the mistletoe. Gross.

the American Christmas Family

Although Santa has sent a warning with the busted-ass train (the mom tells the daughter that), it doesn’t take long for our family to settle down into their comfortable, Christmas Eve, roles. The only thing that could make this shot better is if EG Marshall was smoking a pipe. Instead, I think he’s having a little nip of moonshine.

"Tell us a story!"

This idyllic setting does not last long, however, before the kids start bitching that they’re bored.

The little boy wants Grandpa Munster to tell them a story. When they claim that they do not know any stories, the kids say, “Come on! You make up stories all the time!”

“Are you calling your parents liars?”

“No, we just want a story.”

Boychild explains that they’ve heard all the old stories before, and that now they want a “good story”.

EG leans over to his young wife and says, “Maybe I should tell them about the mumble mumble mumble…”

You can’t hear the last part of what he says, but the mom gets a look and says…

"No, not that one. It's too scary."

"It might even be dangerous."

Mom already knows this story. Given the outcome of this episode, you hafta wonder what these parents were thinking. At this point, it seems like they are baiting the kids to beg for this particular story, even though, and because of, it’s “too scary” and might even be dangerous.

"PLEEEEEASE"

The kids beg for it, as we suspect the parents wanted them to, so dad relents and begins a terrifying tale about a creature who lives at the North Pole… but it ain’t Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick.

"A tale about the most fearsome, appalling creature in the world!"

And It’s called…

that.

Dad has to write it down, because if you say His name on Christmas Eve, He’ll come get you… He does not like to be talked about. In fact, I may have gone too far already.

the story of the creature

At the North Pole, Santa lives on the protected side of a mountain, and it’s a wonderful place. But on the other side is where It lives, in a cave that is the coldest, wettest, place in the world…

He has very good hearing...

… and can hear it anytime His name is spoken, anywhere on Earth, because His ears get a little bit bigger every time someone speaks His name.

The boy finds this hilarious and rolls over laughing and saying His name over and over and over again…

The mom warns that now His ears are bigger than ever, and worst of all….

"Now He knows where we are!"

He is far away, but now he has begun his journey towards their house. It’ll be awhile before He can get there though.

The little girl starts getting scared, because things start happening around the house (lights blinking, the telltale sign of something bad is afoot, and the storm shutters start banging around)….

"He's just Bigfoot"

But Jimbo is still incredulous. And bratty. And keeps saying His name.

He, the Creature, has huge fists, arms like boa constrictors, and the only people who have ever seen Him are the ones He has eaten up.

And you can hear Him coming, because he sings a song about Himself. The dad and mom sing it for the kids, to the tune of “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful”. What’s interesting here is that the parents now have no problem with saying His name repeatedly. I guess they figure He’s coming anyway, so you might as well say it as much as you like.

"Oh, I am The...."

*gulp*

This song scares the kids. But to be honest, since it was to the tune of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”, as a kid I would have taken that as proof that the entire story was bullshit.

"There are other verses too..."

The kids say the song doesn’t even rhyme, and that the parents made it up. However, they both knew it before now, so they obviously didn’t make it up on the spot. And they tell the kids that, “Monster songs never rhyme” and that there are other verses that explain what He looks like. He’s as tall as a poplar, He looks like a road map because His skin is very, very white and the veins show through. The blue is for fear, and the red is for rage.

Sounds like a fearsome Creature, no doubt.

He was born on a ship that got stuck in the Arctic. Everyone aboard died, and He was born out of their fear and rage. Why does He kill people? No one knows. Maybe they made fun of His ears, which are so big that He can use them as wings.

Uncle Mike

Someone shows up at the door, singing the song about Him! (The little girl flips out, of course, because by now she’s scared out of her wits) It’s good ol’ Uncle Mike, which is who taught mom the song, who taught it to dad.

Santa is no more real than...

Part of the legend of Him is that the story must be finished before He can get to your house. If you can finish the story, I guess He’ll leave you alone. Before the adults disappear into the kitchen for some Christmas Eve cordials, the kids beg that the story be finished.

Dad decides to break the news that the story isn’t any more true than the story of Santa Claus. And you don’t believe in Santa Claus, do you? No? Good. Because no one lives at the North Pole, and neither one is coming to this house tonight.

What a terrible thing to say to kids. The boy, sure. He’s older and a man. The little girl, not so much. She probably still believes, and that’s what this episode is all about: Belief, and if you believe something hard enough, in some ways it is real and true.

"But you didn't finish the story!!!"

Stepha, the little girl, still believes, and I think that is what makes all the difference. Despite being told to her face that Santa and the Bad Guy are not real, she’s still worried that the story has not been finished.

That’s when the front door flies open.

The parents, and all of us, are about the find out the power of believing in something on Christmas Eve, the scariest damn night of the year….

After they get the front door closed, two huge arms, white and veiny and the size of basketballs, burst through the front windows!!!!

The huge arms palm mom and dad’s heads and break their necks!

"God in heaven, What was that???"

Don't say His name!!!!!!!!!

“It wasn’t Santa Claus….”

The End

And that’s the end of it. Why were the parents the only ones killed? Both the kids said His name, as did Uncle Mike, but they didn’t face His wrath. I like to think that it was the parents’ own disbelief that led a real Creature to their house to murder them on Christmas Eve. As I said, it seems that if you truly believe something is real on Christmas Eve, then it is real.

Anyway, great episode. It useta be on youtube, but like anything good, it’s probly been taken down by now.

There was so much that I wanted to get to this holiday season. I had several great posts planned:

– The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. The most pagan Christmas special you will ever see.

– 5 Things in A Christmas Story I Never Noticed Before

– Letters to Father Christmas by JRR Tolkien

Oh well. I’ll get to them next year, if I’m still around. Until then, just imagine the greatest blog posts you have ever read, and imagine that, while I’m writing them, I’m lifting dumbbells. Heavy ones.

I hope you all have a great Holiday Season, a wondrous Yule, and a merry Christmas, and etc.

Posted in About Media, General dorky shit | 11 Comments

A Strong Base: They’re Counting On Us (Part 2)

by Jonathon Cabot:

“I fear not the man who has practiced ten thousand kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times.”
–Bruce Lee

We can learn a lot from children. One lesson we can definitely afford to learn, or rather relearn, is natural mobility. Have you ever watched the way a toddler moves, one who has just mastered getting around on his own two feet? The next time you have the chance to observe children at this early stage, pay particular attention to the way in which they squat down. Without any coaching, they know instinctively to keep the knees lined up correctly, back straight, and go hamstrings all the way down to the calves deep. They can pretty much do this all day, even comfortably remaining in that seated position for quite a while, and then they just stand back up whenever the spirit moves.

Quick quiz, and it doesn’t even require a #2 pencil. Go ahead and stand up. Now, while keeping your legs straight, bend at the waist, and lower yourself down until you touch your toes. Stand up straight again, spread your feet a little wider than shoulder width, and squat down as low as you can, until the back of your upper legs come to rest on your calves.

There is no reason that any of us should be unable to do either of these tasks, barring serious crippling disability. Yet so many of us in the free world can’t. Why is this? What happened to us between infancy and our present state that caused us to lose this capability? This is a much bigger deal than we might think. Maintaining our basic mobility and full range of motion as we age is probably the best insurance policy we’ve got when it comes to preventing injury and strain, and to echo the main theme of the last week’s article, it’s one of those fundamentals that might just make us less of a liability when the world comes crashing down.

Now then, how are we going to incorporate some good leg-specific training into our lives, and what sort of equipment are we going to need to get started? If we were to return to that standard commercial gym at a peak hours, what would we see our fitness contemporaries doing in order to work their lower limbs? It’s entirely possible there would only be a handful of them hitting up the legs, if there were any at all (this tends to ring especially true for the male of the species, as the lower body takes a distant backseat to the pursuit of pumped up biceps and a big bench press). There might be one or two gym members hitting their quads on the leg extension machine, and maybe one other performing hamstring curls on another rig in the vicinity. If we’re really in luck, there might be a Spandex-clad gym bunny seated on the overgrown Thigh Master, repeatedly bringing her knees together and opening them up, often to the discreet approval of any of her fellow gym-goers with a direct line of sight. There’s a veritable smorgasbord of these contraptions to choose from. Curiously, the simple and sinister looking squat rack stands alone and vacant, with the possible exception of the occasional doofus standing inside of it, performing bicep curls with a barbell.

Here’s what it pretty much boils down to. We can go the machine route, and attempt to “isolate” each muscle group in our lower body (once more, the notion of “muscle isolation” is neither possible nor desirable), or we can do the efficient thing–working all of these big muscles at once and developing their coordination as a unit rather than a collection of unrelated hunks of meat by learning to squat properly.

Once again, I’m not going to attempt to reinvent the wheel here. This gent does a pretty good job of demonstrating what we’re after.

As for any additional commentary from me on this video, I would encourage trainees to follow a slower cadence than this particular demonstrator. As suggested previously with pushups, I’d recommend the two seconds down/one second pause on the bottom/two seconds back up pace. Slow and smooth is the name of the game for this kind of strength building. Also, I would ask that the trainee either wears a very thin soled, non-giving pair of shoes (wrestling shoes, Chuck Taylors or similar styles, or even some of those trendy “5-Finger” thingees that are so en vogue these days), or else works the squat barefooted. As a guideline, “the smarter the shoe = the dumber the foot.” Our fancy sneakers have a tendency to cause injuries during strength training sessions that would likely not have happened without them. As simply as I can put it, the extensor reflex interacts with our legs muscles in a specific way, and this depends on the feedback pressure we get from the floor. Thick soles tend to redirect this pressure to the wrong places, and it messes with the way the system should be firing.

How far can we take the bodyweight squat? Pretty far. Seems that back in the early days of mixed martial arts competition, 500 consecutive reps was a standard expectation from the fighters. For our purposes, I’d suggest building ourselves up to the point where we can nail 50 good squats at that 2-1-2 cadence. Once this is doable for a couple sets, it’s time to up our game and move on to a harder variation of the drill. From thighs parallel to the deck, progress lower, ultimately hamstrings to calves at the point where we can no longer descend. While some folks may shy away from doing so, unless there is some sort of pre-existing condition in the trainee, the harsh truth is that if we are afraid to train our joints through their full range of natural motion, they’re going to stay weak.

Our daily TV viewing would be an ideal time to get our numbers in. We could start by repping out during the commercial breaks. Each time, aspire to keep squatting at the slow proscribed cadence until the show returns (or 50 good ones have been reached, whichever comes first–no idea how long commercials run for these days…..). When we reach the point where we can knock off three sets of 50 during a half hour show, resting during the commercial breaks, we’re ready to move on up.

For those who may be worrying about bulking up, fear not–this plan isn’t going to do much, if anything at all, for hypertrophy (increasing the size of a muscle). To the handful of folks who may be aspiring hugeness and are willing to hear me out on the matter, I wouldn’t recommend this pursuit in the case of our legs. The upper and lower body just don’t play by the same rules on this one. There comes a point when we can still add mass to our leg muscles, but we won’t really be gaining in the actual strength or speed departments any longer. Granted, some of us might be totally okay with that, if our primary motivation is purely aesthetics. But for the majority of us, unless each additional ounce on our frames is making us faster or stronger, it ain’t quality weight. Superfluous mass with no benefit can not only be a hinderance to us (think of our pullup numbers for one thing, and for individuals that need to do a lot of hiking, chafing thighs are absolutely no fun), but it’s also liable to make things even tougher for our would-be rescuer if we ended up being the one in need of saving. You can ask any soldier that found himself having to fireman’s carry one of his bodybuilder comrades plus all of his gear from A to B.

After mastering the full range of motion squat, where do we go from there? How do we keep improving our lower body strength and resiliency while adhering to the conceit of having nothing to play with but our own weight? At this stage, we’ve developed the strength base to start mastering single leg squatting.

When you achieve this strength feat (and keep at it), you will never lose the spring in your step. When even single leg squats become easy, maybe once you’re busting out 20+ good reps each leg, the motion can be made challenging once again with the addition of holding a weight in your hands, if you feel so inclined. Still, I would suggest working up to a long set of 50 per leg (it’s achievable–dedicated men have been known to break into tripe digits), and putting those newly earned hot wheels of yours to use in events like sprinting, jumping, or kickboxing rather than chasing a certain external poundage. Once more, the upper and lower bodies just don’t play by the same rules here. Nearly all competitive powerlifters are plagued with chronic aching sooner or later. I’d much prefer my charges not have to learn to live with constant pain.

Need to run faster? Jump higher? Kick harder? Contrary to the implications of the sneaker commercials of my day, it’s not “da shoes.” For across the board strength and quickness, get squatting already. If you’re hesitant to start, due to some type of old injury, get yourself fixed up already. In a lot of cases, it can be as simple as a same day, in and out surgical procedure or a few days/weeks of physical therapy. GET IT DONE. Someone is counting on you.

Let’s be careful out there.

Posted in About Fitness | 1 Comment

Jim Henson’s “The Christmas Toy”

When I was a kid, I saw a film that showed what happened with your toys when you left the room: They came to life! Of course, this was no surprise to us kids, as that was what we had, generally, suspected all along.

Not only did the toys come to life, but they enjoyed playing, and their most favoritest thing in the world was to be loved and played with by a child… particularly the child that they belonged to.

Also, at Christmastimes it was time for a new toy to come join the other toys in the playroom. This kinda made the old favorite toy nervous, as he was scared that he would be replaced.

Sure enough, at Christmas, a new toy came to the playroom. This new toy was from Outer Space and could fly! The old favorite toy got really jealous, of course.

In the end, we learn that all children love all their toys, not just the new Christmas toy.

Sound familiar?

Let me give you a hint: this film had absolutely nothing to do with Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, or computer animation.

I’m sure you’ve guessed it by now: it’s Jim Henson’s “The Christmas Toy”.

If the plot above sounded familiar to you, it’s because Disney/Pixar basically stole it for their hit feature film, “Toy Story”.

Sure, toys coming to life at Christmas isn’t a new idea. Who hasn’t seen “the Nutcracker”, after all? Or “Babes in Toyland”? But the plotline for “The Christmas Toy” is so incredibly close to “Toy Story” that it is extremely hard for me to believe that it’s just a mere coincidence.

This fellow here is named Rugby, and a better name for a cuddly stuffed tiger I have yet to hear. Especially one with this personality.

See, Rugby here is the “Woody” of “the Christmas Toy”. Rugby was the Christmas Toy last year, and since that time, he’s been the A-Number-One toy of the playroom. As such, he is arrogant (I guess Woody doesn’t come off as too arrogant) and very, very comfortable in his spot as the Christmas Toy.

What Rugby does not realize is that Christmas comes every year, and every year there is a new Christmas Toy. He doesn’t realize that last year he took this creepy motherfucker’s place:

That little glass-eyed serial killer was the Christmas Toy last year. She looks like a psychopathic cross between Rainbow Brite and Strawberry Shortcake, to me. I think it’s the all-black eyes that do it for me. It could also be that she looks like she could be Chucky’s sister. Rugby’s worries should be more concentrated on this little Lizzie Borden, than on maintaining his title as the Christmas Toy.

As a side note, I thought I would point out here that there aren’t any Muppets in this one, but you will certainly recognize a lot of the voices. I think Gonzo does the voice for Rugby. As a kid, I didn’t really care as much about the non-Muppet Muppet stuff as much, but I remember being deeply affected by this film. Mostly because of this one scene:

Rugby decides to sneak out and place himself into a gift box so that he can be the Christmas Toy all over again this year. This plan has one fatal flaw: If a toy is caught “out of place” (meaning caught moving around, basically), then they are FROZEN. FOREVER. This is, for all practical purposes, death for toys. Like exorcisms for ghosts in Beetlejuice. So if the child opens up her gift, and Rugby is inside, he’ll be frozen. forever.

This stupid clown, whose name I think is Ditz or something similarly demeaning, has the bright idea, “Why don’t we just stick our heads out and call for him?”

"We hafta figure out what we're gonna do about Rugby!"

"Why don't we just stick our heads out and call him back?"

"Emergency! Emergency! Ditz is leaving the playroom!"

Busted.

FROZEN. FOREVER.

This chilling sequence really affected me as a kid. Like, toys could die? That is effed up. Even for an idiot like Ditz, it’s not right that an innocent toy should die. But at least now we have an idea of exactly how serious the trouble with Rugby really is.

Mew.

This is Mew. Mew is a cat toy, which means he doesn’t really get any respect in the playroom, and also that he smells like catnip. Fortunately for Rugby, Mew is his friend and decides to help him not get dead.

To fast forward a bit, Rugby makes it downstairs to under the Christmas tree:

"Now... how to get inside"

He finds a Rugby-size box and decides that this is the one that he needs to be in (incidentally, we’re led to believe that this is the same box the parents used last year, which is weird. I’m sure I didn’t notice it as a kid, but kids are stupid). Mew has come along on his long journey, thankfully, and must figure out a way to get Rugby back to the playroom.

"Leave that box alone!"

Chucky’s sister also shows up to lend a hand in getting the Rugster back up to the playroom.

Rugby doesn’t listen, and opens the box anyway…

" I AM METEORA, KNAVE! BOW TO ME!"

Which sets loose this whacked-out space bitch. Meteora. Like Buzz Lightyear, she is from Outer Space and has no clue that she is a toy, instead opting for a hostile takeover of the Christmas Tree area, as you can see here. I think she has Mew in a headlock.

While Meteora goes on a rampage, Rugby sneaks into the box:

Mew tries to talk him out of the box.

While Meteora is killing chess pieces, Mew and Chucky’s Sister try to talk Rugby out of the box. We get a real tear-jerky kind of tale from Chucky’s Sister about how she was the Christmas Toy last year, but then Rugby’s ass came along and knocked her out of her spot. This doesn’t persuade Rugby one bit, but it has all the 5-year-olds in the audience bawling like 4-year-olds.

What finally does convince him is when they remind him that, if he is caught out of place in the box, that he will be frozen forever, just like Ditz and that other weird Bird thing toy that no one liked anyway.

They also convince Meteora (a little too easily, if you ask me) to get back in the box and they all go back upstairs to the playroom.

Oh, and Mew gets caught out of place and frozen…

"Ah, shit...."

In the end, they figure out that love(?) somehow brings all the dead toys back to life. How they have gone their whole toy existence thinking that being frozen was forever, when all you had to do was sing a charming tune to bring the frozen toys back, is beyond me. But I’m also a thirtysomething year old grown ass man writing about a kid’s Christmas special like it was my business.

"Hallelujah! It's a Christmas Miracle!"

So Ditz, Mew, and that tangle-eyed Bird Thing are all back to life. Just by singing one of the greatest tunes ever written for the Muppets. Yes, this is the first use of the song “Old Friends, New Friends” (or “Dear Friends” as it is sung in this), that we hear so famously in “A Muppet Family Christmas”.

The kids arrive on Christmas morning to place their new toys in the playroom. You can’t really see it here, but the boy has a giant “tin soldier”. No doubt that tin soldier is going to rule the roost from now on… he’s twice as big as any of the other toys, and he has a frackin firearm!!!! Meteora (seen here in the arms of the girlchild, about to be deposited in the playroom) better watch her ass, that tin soldier isn’t gonna put up with any of that “Bow to me!” bullmess.

The kids leave and the toys come to life and wish each other “Merry Christmas”. Here’s a good shot of that tin soldier I was talking about.

"Hiiiii...."

There’s also a new cat toy, presumably female and appropriately named Mew 2 (cat toys aren’t the brightest toys in the playroom). Mew seems excited about this, but as a cat owner I can tell him that the arrival of this new cat toy can only mean one thing for him: the garbage dump. Sorry Mew, you had a good run. Say hello to Broken GI Joe for me, wouldja?

"I love you Meteora, just like I love all my toys."

The girl comes back for one last look at her new Christmas Toy. Honestly, how could a little girl love Meteora? Look at those big thighs. And that mangy hair. And that crazy get-up. Honestly.

The End

I hafta be honest: for years I thought I was crazy and had made up “the Christmas Toy” in my head, because when I would bring it up to people, all like “Toy Story ripped off this Muppet thing I saw when I was a kid!” No one would ever remember it.

Then I stumbled onto it on netflix. So you can watch it there. It is probably on youtube also, everything else is.

Posted in About Media, General dorky shit | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Fitnessing Lately & Game of Thrones

262 Days Until Dragon*Con 2012…

Well, I’ve got the good news and I’ve got the bad news. I’ve always been a “bad news first” sort of chap, so that’s what we’ll do here…

The bad news is that I haven’t lost any weight in a while. In fact, I think I have gained a pound or two… and not in muscle. In heart-stopping, female-repelling, Conan-costume-ruining, FAT.

How did this happen? I recently turned thirtysomething. I blame it on that. Partly. The part that means that, as we get older, we can’t just run around town eating “bad” stuff willy-nilly and that the “bad” stuff intake must constantly be kept in check.

Unfortunately for my waistline, and future Costume Contest eligibility, I have been doing just that: running around town putting just any ol’ thing down my throat in a hedonistic maelstrom of unhealthiness.

I guess it really started with my sister’s birthday, which was about a week before Thanksgiving….

My body could be compared to Sloth from the Goonies: normally it is moderately docile (though not tamed by any means), but when it gets bad stuff (like Baby Ruth or Giant Burrito) it suddenly wakes up and turns into a full-blown maniac.

So on my sister’s birthday, we went to a buffet. Just to be clear, despite my girth, I am not a buffet kind of guy. But, when it comes time for birthdays and other celebrations, for some reason my family always goes to one of about 3 different buffets: The Seafood Buffet (one of the ones here locally), The Southern Food Buffet (not Golden Corral, a big step above that, but still…), or one of the ones that mixes those two popular choices. People in the South didn’t earn “Fattest State in the Union” by eating twigs and berries, I tell you that.

We went to this buffet, and I ate things there that any dead-before-his-time, 400-lb, Kentucky Colonel would be proud of. I didn’t eat anything fried (I know you were picturing fried chickens due to the Colonel comment), but I did have tons of sugar (no specifically-dessert items though). My mind and body woke up and remembered that they really, really, really liked sugar and fat.

Sine then, I’ve had a near-constant craving for the bad stuff. This has not been helped by The Holidays….

Christmas Parties: copious amounts of alcohol and Christmas treats.

Cookie-Making Parties: I’m not a cookie maker, and I’ve always been partial to crackers over cookies, but when the wife brings home about a gajillion homemade cookies, who am I to question destiny?

Holiday Beverages: Christmas beers (which I’m a sucker for), hot chocolate (with a little Rumple Minze thrown in), and all manner of sweetened and fattened up coffees (no Starbucks, of course. Despite the BSG reference, I refuse to go to this evil place).

With all that said, and off my chest (because FFDC is all about honesty, folks. Otherwise, there would be no point), the good news:

I’m still hitting the gym. That’s right. In spite of the fact that I’m eating bad, and have gained some fat cells, I am still waking up and going to the gym to face down that gotdamn Whirly Bird and the ToT.

Not only that, but I’m actually making progress. I’m lifting more weight than I’ve lifted since I started this thing nearly 3 months ago, and I’m at nearly 50% difficulty on the Whirly Bird. You may say, “FFDC, dog, you may have gained a couple pounds in muscle, not in fat, especially if you are lifting more than usual.” Not so, my helpful and flattering friend. I can look at myself in the Mirror, Mirror and know that my belly has expanded a bit in the last month, even though friends and family tell me they can tell that I’ve lost a lot of weight.

One thing I’ve learned again is that Form is Everything when lifting weights. This is a lesson I learned a long time ago when I was mostly doing free weights, and learned, painfully, yet again when I took up the kettlebell.

If you are not using proper form, you are only hurting yourself (literally and um…. not literally). When I first joined the gym, form was not even on my mind when I was hitting the ToT. I guess I just figured that, since you are sitting down on the ToT devices, that form was not something I had to worry about. In a way, I guess I was right: it seems that form on the machines is not as important as it is with free weights… but it is still everything.

You may remember that I hurt my back at the gym on the ToT a week or two ago, and yes it still hurts a bit, and it was because I was not using proper form on the “sit down push up simulator” machine, whatever it is really called. Specifically, I was arching my back in an attempt to get up more weight. This put undue stress on some of my back muscles which were not meant to be pushing up that much weight, especially not when they were all twisted around like I was doing in an effort to “get under” the weight.

So remember kids: feet first, first time, and always keep your back straight when lifting weights.

And don’t eat a dozen Christmas Cookies in one sitting.

Game of Thrones

Here’s a bandwagon I’m getting on before it’s too late:

a picture of a picture

Yes, that is a photo of a photo of the A Song of Ice & Fire box set by George RR Martin.

This is the first book that I’ve ever read on an e-reader.

I got a Kindle Fire as soon as they came out, but up until I purchased this series of e-books, the only thing I used it for was to check the weather and watch South Park episodes via netflix while taking a dump.

Unlike a lot of geeks, I’m not that into technology. In fact, I sometimes have some serious luddite tendencies, as pointed out by a friend of mine. All that went flying out the window when I started this blog (which led to me starting both a facebook and a twitter account, two things I would have sworn 4 months ago that I would never do). As long as my computer is good enough for me to play MMOs on, I am fine with it.

But back to Game of Thrones….

I have been recommended this book by, at least, five different people whose opinions on matters of taste I trust. This, usually, has the  opposite effect on me: when people say “I know you will like this” my inner curmudgeon comes out and expresses itself as, “I’ll show you, I will not like this. You don’t know me so well!!!!”

This time, I listened. Mainly because I pre-ordered, via amazon, the Game of Thrones Season 1 blu-ray set as soon as I could (which was in September, before they even had a release date). I haven’t watched the show, but just from seeing it on tv a little bit, and hearing about it, I knew I would love it.

Time and time again, when I would tell people this, their response was, “You hafta read the books first!”

As an English major, this appeals to my inner “Books are better than Movies. Always.” side. If I am to continue to be this way, I can’t see the tv show first then read the book. I was advised that the first book, A Game of Thrones, is the first season, so I will finish the first book before I get the dvds… which won’t be hard since I’m over halfway done with the first book and the dvds don’t come out until March 2012.

So far I have found the book to be quite engrossing. The pace is extremely quick, unlike WoT, so you stay engaged the whole time. Plus the chapters are fairly short, not Kurt Vonnegut short, but short enough that you constantly find yourself thinking, “Well, I can probably read one more.” This almost always leads me to finishing a book in record time.

The pace is so quick, that there is a small part of me that sorta wishes it would slow down a bit and, forgive me, kinda thinks that the fast pace is a result of bad writing (if you have read this blog for awhile, you know that I have no place to call someone out for bad writing).

Well, maybe not bad, just a bit impatient. But, like I said, the quick pace really makes the book easy to read and engaging for the audience.

The best thing about reading it on the Kindle is that I can read it one-handed. Therefore, I can sit outside in this lovely cool weather we have in the Deep down here, and smoke my tobacco pipe with one hand, while leisurely reading GoT in the other. This makes for a wonderfully relaxing time, and is something that I have tried to make time for every day since I started reading this tale of political intrigue set in a fantastical world.

One thing I have heard from many people is that Martin is brutal to his characters (and thus to his readership) and that I shouldn’t ever get too attached to any of them. This is something you can easily infer just by reading the Prologue of GoT…. but regardless, there are definitely characters I am “rooting” for, and characters that I am hoping get their comeuppance in the most harsh and brutal way possible.

The only thing I can say about that is, “We’ll see…”

So, we’ll see if George “RailRoad” Martin desires a more realistic approach, or an approach that the readers all hope for. Either way, it will be enjoyable to see it all unfold… or at least it is so far.

Tomorrow: Jim Henson’s “The Christmas Toy”

Posted in About Fitness, About Media, General dorky shit | Leave a comment

A Strong Base: They’re Counting On Us (Part 1)

(Editor’s Note: A giant welcome back to weekly columnist Jonathon Cabot is in order. WELCOME BACK! Especially considering how much of a slacker I’ve been this past week, a great post from a great fitness writer such as J.C. is just what FFDC needed!)

by Jonathon Cabot:

“Nations have passed away and left no traces, and history gives the naked cause of it. One single, simple reason in all cases: they fell because their people were not fit.”
–Rudyard Kipling

To kick this one off with my trademark good humor, the average human body in the developed world is a pretty sad state of affairs. It’s both bemusing and worrisome to me. Perhaps at some other point in our history, I could regard this as some sort of grotesque comedy–the irony of the “corporate granola” types lecturing on the threat of global warming, yet proceeding to drive the three blocks to Starbucks when they think no one’s watching. Or the prematurely senior-ized citizens who likely never really needed such a device in the first place, yet now find themselves utterly dependent on some electric scooter for all of their mobility. There’s the disturbing trivia of just how much it’s cost the American emergency services and medical industry to somehow transport and otherwise accommodate the ever increasing girth of the infirm, and the morbidly fascinating data of how this same dilemma has been affecting the funerary industry–seems that in addition to the plus-sized caskets, vaults, and upgraded payloads for hearses, most crematoriums have had no choice but to declare a 500-pound limit for their clients. Makes me wonder if dear old Mark Twain, who famously declared that he ironically got all the exercise he needed from acting as a pallbearer for friends who exercised would reconsider this witticism if he could see us now. But perhaps most exasperating, the ever increasing number of twenty-somethings who appear more capable of rolling at a faster speed than they could walk. Yeah, this might have been nothing more than a bountiful source of dark humor in days past, but if there ever was a time for this mirth, it’s long gone now. And it ain’t coming back.

As you read this, somewhere, someone is training to kill you. Humor me and let that happy thought sink in for just a moment.

I have no doubt that there are at least a few folks reading along who would emphatically declare that I’m full of it. That’s their call, and they’re free to do so. I also have no desire to engage anyone here in any debates dealing with moral relativism–that’s not the intention of this blog. However, and regardless of how we’re supposed to feel about it all, the proverbial elephant in the room we’re supposed to be ignoring remains that there are appreciably sized groups of our fellow carbon based lifeforms that seek to violently bend us to their will, and they do so by exploiting the weakness of human superstition to build up their own power base; harnessing the power of imagination to create subjugation and to destroy individual liberty. Their strategies cost pennies to put into effect, and cost us trillions to respond to. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is not a part of their agenda, unless you happen to fully agree with their exceedingly narrow definitions of these terms. To disagree would mean finding yourself marked for death on their deity’s behalf. While we can try to dismiss all of this with the withering argument that it’s nothing more than the actions of “a tiny minority of extremists (TM),” I never really understood how that was supposed to make us collectively feel better. It only takes one, after all, to really ruin your day. And unfortunately for us, I have a bad feeling that we’re about to start seeing a whole lot more of these “isolated incidents” (“manmade tragedies”) right here on the homefront. I don’t want to be right about this. You’ve got no idea how much I want to be proven wrong.

The majority of this nation’s citizens may not realize just how many close calls America has had over the past two years alone. I suppose that this can partly be attributed to the soccer fan mentality, in the sense that our goaltenders can make a thousand saves, but the only ones that anyone ever remembers are the ones that got by. Or maybe it’s simply the unspoken rule that no body count equals no media interest, so we won’t have to be distracted from keeping up with the antics of our favorite celebrities and similar pressing news items.

Alright. Now that I’ve likely either bummed us all out (which is understandable, and I promise it wasn’t exactly a lot of fun coalescing all of this to begin with) or possibly even offended a few (which is okay, I’m on scarier poopy lists than yours), what is it we can do about our deteriorating physical state, and simultaneously perhaps make us less of a liability and maybe even an asset when we find ourselves the lucky recipients of front row tickets when the world suddenly goes to hell? We can start by building up our legs.

It’s been said that an athlete is only as young as his legs, and that’s not an unfair assessment. When we think of the term “sports,” our minds tend to conjure images of competitors running, jumping, kicking, and any number of activities generally requiring two good gams under us. Just to clarify, I’m referring to athletics here, since I’m fully aware that the definition of sports somehow loosened up enough to include poker and billiards under that heading (oy). Sprinting for the end zone, or sprinting after the guy trying to get there. Hustling down the court over and over again as that ball keeps changing hands. Rounding first base and making a beeline for second (possibly even for third, if the throw was a little too high or the baseman couldn’t catch, and the biggest kid on the sandlot proclaimed that ‘only-one-base-on-an-overthrow’ shall now be deemed “girl’s rules.” He was also likely the captain of your team). All the obvious examples.

Less obvious would be the role of the legs in the expression of total body power. You may have heard the quote that you can’t fire a cannon from a rowboat (well. maybe you can. Once, anyway. And your results may vary, but I’m digressing). To use boxing as the example again, try to imagine yourself suspended with your feet off the ground, but otherwise in full control of your movement. How much power do you think you’re going to generate in a punch without that solid base? Not very much at all. While it might seem counterintuitive, genuine knockout power comes from the legs, in particular the hips (we might talk about that one some more at another time). And despite what we’ve been seeing in any number of martial arts flicks, the same rule holds true for kicking. While the legend is that jumping kicks were intended to bring down opponents on horseback, trying to pull off one of those in an actual scuffle will probably only ensure that you go out looking like a cheerleader.

So an athlete is only as good as his legs, but I’d go so far as to say that rings true for us all–doubly so these days. With or without living under threat of attack, we just never can tell when bad stuff is going to go down in this world, and there might not be anyone around more qualified than us to save the day. While I’m not necessarily expecting all of us to overcome our deep-seated instinct for self-preservation and go the John Wayne route each time disaster strikes, I have no doubt that you have someone counting on you. Doesn’t matter who you are. And it would not do our souls any favors if we weren’t fast, strong, or capable enough to save them from ending up a statistic. So before that moment comes, let’s start building some strong, quick legs that won’t quit when we need them most. A good pair of the resilient, car pushing, door kicking, casualty carrying and dragging kind. And once again, we can make that happen with minimal gear.

Stay tuned.

Let’s be careful out there.

Posted in About Fitness | 2 Comments