Tweaking the Health Regimen

The light of my life and I bought a fancy elliptical trainer a couple of years ago. She has been very consistent with it, while I’ve been, well, streaky. There are times I come home from work and I’m just too wiped out to contemplate getting on the thing. (On days I do manage to get up on it, I’m glad I did, but that lesson is soon forgotten.) I’m definitely healthier, but I’m no skinnier. In fact, I’m bigger than ever.

The obvious answer, of course, is to climb up on that bad boy first thing in the morning, before I’ve had time to start making excuses. Alarm goes off (dreadfully early), I drag my sorry ass out of bed and grind out my time. So far, I’ve been very consistent with this approach, and I think I arrive at work more alert and cheerful. And hungry. Gotta love the oatmeal bar at the little coffee place in the building. More on the hunger shortly.

One thing I have observed about working out first thing in the morning: It’s much harder to meet my goals. I’m going into max energy burn after fasting for a few hours, and I hit the proverbial bottom of the tank way sooner that I do when I work out in the evening. I’ve had to adjust my expectations accordingly.

I did some research to see if there was some food I could eat only moments before exercising that could help me power through. Turns out, not so much. But I did learn another interesting thing: What I eat right after I exercise can make a big difference next time. There is a window after exercise in which the body grabs all the energy it can out of the blood stream to convert to store in muscles as glycogen. Get the carbs (and some protein) rolling during that window and things will be better the next day. Pretty sweet!

I started comparing different foods for the right carb-protein balance (nonfat chocolate milk apparently is about perfect and has nutrients the commercial sports recovery drinks lack). I was about three days into this process when I started to wonder:

Isn’t it good when I run out of gas while working out? Isn’t that kind of the goal of all this?

All the advice I’d read, you see, was targeted at athletes. For them, high output while exercising is the goal. Not so much for me. I want to create conditions where my body (reluctantly) chooses to break down some of that stored energy in my fat cells and use that to restore the glycogen in my muscles. This process is far less efficient, and the human body really is loath to give up its precious fat, but during that same window where the body will suck every carb out of the bloodstream, if there aren’t enough carbs, it will convert just enough fat to keep things running.

My muscles aren’t replenished as much, and the next morning’s workout will be tougher. But ideally the energy is coming from the right place.

By the time I get to work, that window has closed, and my insides have returned to business as usual. And I’m about ready to eat an entire pizza. Hooray for oatmeal! It’s carb-heavy, but low-fat and sticks to the ribs and by lunchtime I’m able to make more sensible choices as well.

So, with such a sensible system, the pounds must be flying off, right?

Well, not so much. Not yet, anyway. I’m absolutely certain that I’m on the right track, and like any long-term project, it’s best to keep expectations of instant and dramatic success tempered. But I have recently made one more change, a dramatic, desperate gesture of good health beyond all reason.

I have a target weight this month. Next month, the target weight goes down. Each morning as I prepare to exercise, I step on the scales. If I’m above the target, no alcohol that day. No beer after work, no wine with dinner. I like beer and wine. While cutting alcohol will definitely reduce my caloric intake, there is a second, even more powerful, indirect effect. When the alarm clock goes off in the morning and I just want to stay in bed, I remind myself that shirking on my exercise will only delay my next sip of sweet beer. On days I don’t bring lunch from home I think about the consequences of eating the wrong thing: Another meal with my sweetie, with no wine for me.

A coworker laughed when I told him this story, imagining me on a treadmill running full-speed for a beer hanging just out of reach. That’s not far from the truth. But if it works, that’s all right with me.


My 21st Birthday

I am sometimes served beer by people who are not themselves allowed to drink the beverage. One such just informed me that tomorrow is her birthday. While I know that no gentleman ever asks a lady this question, I could not resist inquiring of her how old she was going to be. “Twenty-one,” she said, making the “air quotes” gesture, holding up both hands and flexing the first two fingers on each. The message: She still won’t be twenty-one, but she’s going to drink anyway. Kids these days.

It may come as a shock to some of you, but I also experienced the taste of alcohol before I reached the statutory age for such. This story starts on a Saturday, the last Saturday I would spend as a minor. I would be celebrating my birthday the next day. I invited everyone I knew to the celebration that Sunday evening. (My actual birthday was, according to my calendar, on Monday. Somehow the story in my head managed to forget this technicality. Now I’m sorry I looked it up. Anyway, I was committed for Sunday.)

By ‘invited everybody’, I mean ‘invited every female’. I went to a small, male-dominated engineering school, and I had, as any good engineer would, arrived at a simple party algorithm. Invite every female you can. Half of the ones who say they will definitely show up actually will. Twice as many males will show up.

Party set for Sunday. That’s where planning is required. Back then, on Sundays in New Mexico, the booze stores were closed. No problem; with the true foresight that five and three-quarters semesters of physics and abstract math will give one, I mounted an expedition to the local beer store on Saturday and stocked up. Thus equipped, My roommate and I sent out word far and wide. Even divided by two, the number of women who said they would definitely be there climbed into the double digits. Hell, yeah, we had a party!

Saturday evening some people came by, then some others, and of course one has to entertain. Sunday morning dawned and our stockpile had vanished. We were going to have a party, with as many as twelve female guests, and we had no alcohol. Roommate Janne and I pulled out a map.

By Alfa Romeo odometer, it is 156 miles from my dorm to the closest liquor store in Arizona. It was a good drive, over the continental divide, bundled up against the chill air as Janne and I drove with the top down. That kind of day on that kind of road demands swiftness, but the state trooper was not inclined to agree. He pulled me over and strode to the driver’s side of the car with a swagger that cannot be trained.

He asked us to step from the vehicle. It was cold, once we didn’t have the heater blowing on our feet. Trooper shook his head. “I remember when I was young and stupid,” he said as he assessed our top-down state. It didn’t seem derogatory, coming from him. He was all right. I learned later that highway 60 had become a primary drug artery heading west to California. Not smugglers, he had decided, just dumb. One speeding ticket heavier, we continued to Springerville, Arizona, there to buy a ridiculous amount of ridiculous booze. One of everything, basically*. And beer.

Back we scampered, careful not to tempt the radar gods again.

That night, the party commenced. It was pretty good, but my invitation theorem was shattered to pieces. Of the members of the distaff who said they would definitely show up, none did. Not a single one. Yeah, I had a way with the ladies, all right (probably I told too many of them my party algorithm). Still, I was surrounded by friends, and while the party was not a rager it was a good way to stagger into adulthood, story-heavy.

* the new cocktails invented from the leftovers of this party are legendary: Lollipops, Bro Cones, and let no one forget Pink Drool.

Real Sports

Said by fuego this evening as he lined up a risky shot while holding a beer with his other hand: “You know it’s a different kind of croquet when you have to worry about breaking a window or hitting the bust of Lenin.”


Almost Ready to Shoot

Weeks have passed since our first tentative shoot dates slid past, but at last the big day approaches. The big day underwent one last unexpected lurch when the DOP was confused about the days, and the Friday shoot was abruptly shifted to Sunday. This caused some scrambling and we lost our makeup person in the shuffle, and we still don’t have a script supervisor and the free jukebox is not available, but other than that things worked out well, especially with the camera.

Wednesday night we met with Rene Trossman, who will play Old Ray Black, a blues musician. Rene has only one line, but some heavy musical responsibilities. He’d been reluctant to commit to the production, but when we met him before his gig things were congenial and he caught some of the excitement of the project. His keyboard player, Jan (rhymes with John), seemed especially excited. It was with a great feeling of relief that I woke up yesterday morning and wrote the first ten words of this episode. That was all I had time for.

Thursday was a productive day as well, starting with a meeting at Slavia Café (reputed to have been a hangout for Havel and his buddies before the revolution). The presence of a baby increased the time the meeting took by a factor of five, but we figured out most of the things we needed to figure out. The exception was our focus puller: it turns out George Lucas made us lose the guy who was going to do it for us (for cheap), and we’re still searching for a replacement. The first day we may be able to get by without one (which is good considering the rates these guys are asking); the biggest shots are using steadycam, freeing up our DOP to work focus. (We have a different guy as steadycam operator). Maybe an all-steadycam production?

The other glitch we face is that we will have limited time in the Sunday location. The key to getting in and out in time is preparation, and fortunately fuego makes a living doing that. After we’re booted from U Sudu we will get some shots of our two guys passing through the cobbled streets of the city center, dodging tourists and eventually finding themselves in a deserted lane.

After the meeting I parted ways with the rest and found a comfortable place to sit and mark up the most recent version of the script. Happily, there was nothing I felt the need to tweak that will have much effect on the shooting of the scenes. I need to read over my markups this morning and see how they sound after a few hours.

After that fuego and I met with Steve and we scouted the passages and alleys of the city choosing the locations for the aforementioned exterior shots. We found enough places to make the travel sequence work, and happily enough of them were close together so we can get the shots efficiently.

Once all that was done it was time for my first outdoor beer of the year. The weather has been ourdoor-beeriffic for days now, but there was always something in the way, either health (I’ve had a cough for days now) or just too much to do. The three of us repaired to a park in Žižkov with a large garden.

It was packed. Just next door was a slightly more upscale spot with a much smaller garden but without the long lines of people waiting for beers. A much better choice; who wants an outdoor beer to be a hassle? It goes contrary to the who ethos of it.

Only one bar and then home for some food, a bit of writing, then an early bedtime. And now here it is, bright and early on Friday, one day before the shoot. fuego here, and Lenka will stop by in an hour

More Auspicious Events on Road Trip Day

As I write this on April 3rd (5:001 M.A.), I am sipping tea and trying to convince myself that all I need is some rest and plenty of liquids and that I AM NOT CATCHING A COLD. This is annoying, especially since I had to turn down an invite from zlato to go and drink beer outdoors. (“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” his message read.)

The scratchy throat and cough are annoying, as is that fact that I can’t find Internet that doesn’t come with cigarette smoke. Nevertheless I’m in a good mood. Road Trip Day saw two events that have lifted a weight off my shoulders. First we met with the owner of a restaurant and he was very cool and now we have our last elusive location. It is a place I hadn’t been to in a while, that has a lovely terrace with a view. We won’t be using that in the film, but it’s still nice to have.

Actually yesterday the terrace was closed; it was to be opened today, one day late. They should have checked their muddled calendars. What better day to open up your beer garden for the summer than Road Trip Day?

The second thing is that for the last few weeks of pre-production I simply wasn’t having fun. The production has grown dramatically since it was first born in my head; and a job that I was barely competent to perform at the start has mushroomed into a big mess that I don’t even know where to start with. All the stress was eating at my gut and I worried constantly about my boat-anchor-like effect on the production. Finally yesterday I called Cowboy Bob. He has experience chasing all these details around, and already the film is becoming fun again. Hooray for Cowboy Bob!

Shooting starts one week from today. Suddenly that seems like a good thing again.

Bar 300

I set out today to scout a place called Jazz Dock, a venue recommended by one of our musicians as a spot we could film the concert at a respectable hour. Let’s face it, one of the themes of the movie is the difference between the day world and the night world, and we are planning to simulate the night world during the day. The reason: the best places to film have actual concerts at night.

Jazz Dock is a new place, and is therefore not totally booked up. It is also completely, 100% wrong for our film. Oh, well. So there I was in Smichov, hanging with the guy doing the original music for the final scene. “Want to have a beer somewhere?” he asked.

He’s opening a sound studio around the corner from here soon, so he’s a bit familiar with the local drinkeries. His recommendation: Jungle Bar. As we walked it occurred to me that this would be bar 300 on my list.

Only, Jungle Bar was closed, and missed its chance at immortality. Bar 300 is instead Ragtime Bar, which is connected to Jungle Bar but had the advantage of being open. And here I sit. It’s a nice place.

Nice, but I can’t come up with much more to say about it. There’s lots of wood, which is good, a moderate amount of kitsch but not enough to bother me, decent music (not ragtime) playing, but somehow all of that leaves something missing. This despite the fact that we’re by the river and I had a great view across to the other side as the sun set and lit up the buildings. Meanwhile, a bunch of older guys who made me think ‘mafia’ were meeting here. What’s not to like?

Honestly, I have no idea. When you look at any individual facet of the place it comes across well, but in this case the whole is less than the sum of the parts. I think it comes down to a feeling that the place is calculated. It’s like a really well-executed chain restaurant. I’m not entirely sure what a place can to about that, except to allow the customers to leave an imprint on the place, to provide a little funkiness and family vibe. But pragmatically speaking, how do you bring that about?

Of course there’s always rock-stacking. There’s a way to set your bar apart: a stack pit, a web cam, exotic stones from around the world — some rounded, some angular. When the bar opens the stacks from the night before (if still standing) are knocked down with a toast to gravity. That would be the best bar ever.

Pivo with zlato

I dropped zlato a line in the afternoon, and he suggested the Globe cafe/bookstore for our hanging-out venue. He had some credit there, a reward for an mp3 party he’d hosted. He also had no money, so the venue was a pretty easy call.

I was on the metro when I got the text message: the Globe was closed. We met instead at a nice Gambrinus pub called Propaganda, just up the street. It was a pleasant evening; there’s always something interesting to talk about when zlato’s around, whether it’s the use of dashes and semicolons, books, flexibility of beliefs in the context of Shinto, or the female of the species. He loaned me a book, Hypnotic Language (though he hadn’t planned to), that I’m looking forward to reading.

I ended up staying out pretty late. Time just flew by, as they say. Propaganda is a congenial place. Friends of zlato came and went. zlato proffered quick in-bar massage to a couple of people (he’s trained for that stuff), and my muscles were jealous. The waiter is apparently studying the art, and some conversation ensued. It was a night of stuff like that.

The journey home was pleasant, a combination of tram and hoof; temperatures were solidly below freezing but that just felt right. The night tram had the right mix of people napping in their seats and others still hoping to find the next great place to party. Alas, no dogs in plaid.