Friday, August 24, 2012

Blood Doper, Mid-flight Toker

As the Olympics were in full force I thought of something I think about every Olympics; blood doping.  I remember watching the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics with my brother, footage from a cross country skiing event, and a Spanish skier named Johann Muhlegg dominate the competition. He finished well ahead of any other skier. As I was a competitive cross country skier at the time for my high school team, seeing him finish beyond strong was inspiring to me. I thought, this guy might be my new hero. I was jacked for my next meet.

Then it came out that he tested positive for blood doping. He got his medal taken away. And he wasn't really my hero anymore.

Blood doping is the act of injecting additional red blood cells into your blood stream for a short time to increase your body's ability to carry more oxygen to its cells, upping your energy, endurance, making for a great performance. Blood doping emerged in the 1970s as a practice among athletes, and it wasn't banned in the Olympics until 1986. That gave Olympians a good decade and a half of being, as a British commentator would say, "bloody unstoppable."

Blood doping is a strange thing. My brother explained to me that going from a high altitude to a lower one is a natural form of blood doping. Sans needles and infusion. When I went to visit him in Golden, Colorado several years ago, having gone from Chicago, which is pretty much at sea level, up to the mountains where the air is thinner, my body started to, after a few days, create extra red blood cells to adapt to the thinner air. Less oxygen was getting in through my lungs, so my body found a way to even things out through overcompensation. As more red blood cells were created, more oxygen could be passed along from the lungs. When I went back to a lower altitude, my body having more blood cells than normal, but also a higher concentration of oxygen in the air, my blood was getting a real treat, sending around a real rush. Unfortunately, my time to experience this was on the tarmac as major airport delays caused us to sit for 4 hours waiting to take off again from a lay-over. Sitting still was a mad joke. Irritation danced from inside my skin as the likes of splintery clogs. I had the energy of 1,000 hormonal teenagers, each having chewed 1,000 espresso beans. And I got to just feel it, sitting strapped into my middle seat, waiting for clearance. 

When I was deep into method acting, I once wrote in a journal that if I were to ever play a famous figure that was still alive, that a true hardcore commitment to taking on this character would be to inject their own blood into my veins and dive into the scene with it in circulation. This was a vampire-ish idea, and certainly can highlight the notion that acting is in a way based on sucking the personality of others, not sure if I ever planned on doing this, but my imagination did explore the notion. I no longer method act. Not to say that I never will, but the concept I jotted on my thespian bucket list was a creepy one that I won't be aiming to infuse into any approach to walk around in the character's theoretical shoes. But, I would like to see that performance, if say Johnny Depp, while hanging around with Hunter S. Thompson before shooting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, had also been taking Hunter's blood for a spin in his body.

One summer, while visiting my old hometown, a former cross country ski teammate mentioned to me that one of our other teammate's second cousins was a nutritionist for a famous band's bass player and that she helped him blood dope. When I mentioned I heard this to that teammate on AIM she wasn't too happy that this knowledge was going around, so I am refraining from mentioning who it is. But based on the feeling I had sitting on that airplane with extra red blood cells to go around, I can see blood doping turning a stage presence into a scary and jolting experience. If Jon Voight had circulated the blood of Howard Cowsell in Ali, new meaning would be given to embodying the character. And if blood doping were a thing at punk rock shows, look out.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pumpkin Progress

I tried my hand at growing pumpkins in my backyard this summer in hopes to harvest the fruit and use in a batch of home brewed pumpkin ale this fall. I'm worried, though, about the plant actually bearing fruit. We're half way through August, have been getting some beautiful flower action, but no fruit yet. After WebMD-ing the state of my pumpkins in various pumpkin grower forums, it seems from the similar experience of others, lots of flower blooms, no big orange fruit, the soil may have too much nitrogen! There goes my thoughts of letting the luscious plants decompose right in the same spot to fertilize the soil for next year's go around. Because compost creates a nice quantity of nitrogen, I believe. I have a lot to learn and research about micro, urban gardening. 

It also seems my pumpkins may be suffering from what's called "powdery mildew" as it looks like the leaves have been dusted with baking soda. I can expect the leaves to start dying soon. Next door, on the other side of the fence, our neighbors have a little circular pool. Not a kiddie, wading pool, but not a big, big pool. But it's a pool, and I assume some chlorine. I wonder if some pool splashes seeped through the wooden fence gaps and coated the leaves, making them susceptible to some fungus spreading. But, before I go blaming neighbors for my pumpkin's disease, I learned in the forums that I should not have been watering the leaves themselves. And all through the summer I'd give them good splashes from the hose, thinking I was cooling them down, since they were sitting out in the hot sun burning like fair skinned Irish kids. But their outdoor activities caught them a variable case of athlete's foot that no fungus cream can treat. 

If I don't get any fruit, I can rest knowing that my plants probably created a smidgen of oxygen for our fine atmosphere. I learned that the average plant leaf creates approximately 5 mL of oxygen for every hour it is photosynthesizing. I counted about 100 leaves on my pumpkin vines which have taken over a stretch of my backyard. And let's say they're in the sun for maybe 8 hours a day? 11-7 at its angle. A good eight hour workday. 100 x 5mL x 8 =  4000 mL, or 4 liters! If my calculations are correct, my pumpkins are creating about two 2 liter bottles of oxygen a day. 

Next time you breathe, you could be sucking in a bit of my pumpkin's progress.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Gross Harris

I heard a rattling outside my apartment's front window and saw a shirtless African American man pushing a shopping cart of collected cans. His gait and voice reminded me of a man I met a couple of years ago named Harris. His pace was brisk. Before I could think about saying hello and seeing if it was indeed Harris, he was pretty far down the street.

For a month I worked a door-to-door sales job selling Quill office supplies. I had resigned my photo op management job, attempted to make a run at writing fiction full-time, learned it was a tough "market" to sustain, shared a sad laugh at the illusory joke on over-excited artists the hard way and was back to working a regular job. My savings had depleted, new bills were coming, and it was the first somewhat legitimate job I found on any online jobs posting that wasn't an obvious scam.  I went in for the interview, the post was well written, something about "one man wolf pack" intrigued me and I thought it would be for some fancy marketing job with a cubicle, maybe a small office. In the interview I spent a lot of time rationalizing why I'd leave a management job during the recession. But they called me back for a second interview which brought me out into the streets, doing door-to-door. The guy that took me out for the "in-field" segment of the interview process was nice, level-headed, and made some nice sales and that made me confident in the business model. They brought me in for a re-cap interview and told me I was likable and offered me the job. I learned that I have a propensity toward taking compliments to heart and head when desperate. 

Desperation and capitalistic fairy tales. 

I started in on training the next day and went through morning "atmosphere." An hour and half each and every morning of self-help-esque inspiration in oratory form from the "leaders." Promising young college grads eager to make their mark on business, and the energy was actually infectious, as I imagine cults to be. I listened to their promises of soon running my own office! Even though that kind of responsibility was exactly what faded my spark for the photo job. Priorities do change, however, when you start to think of money as though each bill denomination is a different vitamin for the spirit. And no one would admit that we were door-to-door salesmen. We were consultants! I'd go out into the field, jacked, ready to get rich quick off of hocking office supplies.

The territory I was trained in was Portage Park. There would be stretches of storefronts all in Polish lettering, and with the late winter afternoon light, I'd feel as though I was returning from Europe each evening. It had a jet-lag like quality. I was always tired and losing weight. I was too fatigued at night to realize I didn't like it and should be searching for other jobs.

After I burned through that territory, making some modest sales and making a lawyer furious with me after miscalculating a sales discount on the calculator of my flip phone, I was on to my next territory. Beyond Garfield Park. The West Side of Chicago. 

I didn't do much selling there as I didn't come across that many businesses. Pockets of it were a post industrial wasteland. Boarded up factories. And not to sound racist, but most businesses were chicken shacks or barber shops. These were on the no-no list for Quill business accounts. But I was fascinated. I took the opportunity to wander a part of town I otherwise would never have reason to wander. Run down housing units. People peeing in the street multiple times a day. High speed car chases. I was asked by many if I was selling dope.  "Nope," I'd reply. Lone white guy dressed in a suit and pea coat. I stopped in the Public Library to use the bathroom. It looked more like a homeless shelter. Sleeping faces down into the tables. The water fountain tasted like it was urine infused. When I would come across an industrial plant that was still in service, and after being buzzed in through several barriers of security, I'd be lectured by a white male about how I, as another white male, shouldn't be walking around these parts of town by myself.

A hole had begun to bore itself in the bottom of my dress shoe. This was a concern because there was a lot of broken glass on the side walks. The liquor stores had bullet proof glass separating the counter from the populace. Lawn chairs were set up out front. Men were drinking and teasing one another. They paid me no mind. They gave me no trouble. There was an underground mall with hundreds of little booths where clothes, shoes, electronics were sold by individual merchants and it seemed an endless expanse, like a subterranean lake of small commerce on a bed of graffiti-ed tiles.

I walked by a residential stretch. It was starting to get hot out, spring had rounded out the end of winter. Out front of a house that looked like a rotted mesh of oak there was a shirtless man leaning up against his fence. His pockmarked chest had an asymmetrical proportioning of breast and body fat. A bit toothless. We made eye contact. I said "hello, how are you?" He said he'd be better if he had some damn food. I felt bad. I had been packing my lunches but had already ate it that day. I wanted to give him something. I only had credit cards in my wallet. But I decided to shoot the breeze with him. We talked for a few minutes. He was hard to understand, but smiled and laughed a lot. Despite his initial well deserved grumbling about food, he was jolly. His name was Harris. When I decided I should get back on my "sales route" he shook my hand. His hand was sweaty, sticky and greasy. After I rounded the block, out of his view I wiped off the post-shake residue on my panted leg. But I felt bad about it. Really, really bad about. It was sort of heart breaking, in the way of realizing maybe I don't have the best intentions as a person, that I'm already infected with selfishness and germs should be the least of my worries. Here was Harris, a genuinely nice guy, far down on his luck in life. And my first reaction, when out of sight, was that he was a little gross. 

I kept my eye out for him the next day when I passed by his dilapidated home. He wasn't out front. I thought about knocking on his front door to see if he wanted to hang out. But I was scared, because I assumed the inside of his home was probably a little gross.

He became a character in my daydreams. Gross Harris, and in these fantasies he was a good friend of mine. Whereas when imagination is applied to conceptions of reality, weird textures are all the more vivid and repel with gusto, such nasty sensations can be muted in the daydream for daydream's sake. And in these daydreams I would try crack without consequence and Gross Harris would laugh at my naivety.

There was a fenced in patch of vegetation by the highway. It looked like a little forest of dead bamboo shoots. I felt the urge to hop the fence, build a fort, and declare myself King. Or better yet, tell Harris about it. Let him take it up and farm the hell out of it. And Harris could be King. He'd be a hell of a King.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

You Can Make Him Like You by Ben Tanzer - a review

The dialogue in Ben Tanzer's You Can Make Him Like You from Artistically Declined Press reads like a riveting play. But instead of seeing everything from the fourth wall, you're seeing it from the narrator's eyes, ears, nose, mouth, sweaty palms. The subtext is working through your nervous system. You're up there. You're in it.

A lot of tasty layers to this read, quite a unique and relatable coming of age tale. I laughed, I even teared up in a few parts. Sucked me in and stirred me up. Makes me want to have a kid, and not have one, in the same stroke of thought. Any writer that can make me feel fucked up like that is like a crazy chef that makes a good spicy dish, that burns my tongue and flushes my face but makes me crave more of his signature work, if that makes sense.

My favorite passage:

I undo the locks and ease the door open. There is no one there, but there is a plastic bag from Jewel hanging on the doorknob. I open the bag and find a container of chicken soup, a small stuffed, multi-colored octopus and a note.

"Dear Jones,
Your dad told me that you're having a rough time, and I just want you to know that I think everything is going to be okay soon, so just hang in there, all right?

It is the single greatest thing anyone has ever done for us and for a moment I honestly believe we will get through this.
Tanzer creates such simple moments like this that are loaded with the stuff in life that freak us out, stews tension in our minds, and it's those little things, like Frank's gesture that cut the tension and make life digestible, help us breath before bed, maybe laugh for the first time in a given day. Those little things are sometimes difficult to convey, but Tanzer seems to be a master at subtly building to those.

Read his books!