Thursday, July 30, 2009

How to be a bad book club member

Wait to buy this month's Big Gay Book Club book until eight days before the book club meeting. Discover it's out of print and your only option is to order a used copy online. Quickly abandon all plans to buy or read it.

Show up for the meeting without having read the book. Think you can just throw in some ten-dollar English-major words like picaresque or bildungsroman or paragraph and hope nobody notices.

Get sleepy during the discussion since you don't have anything to say that could count as actually contributing to the conversation.

When it's over, amuse everyone—including your husband—with the story of the distractingly hot guy you'd smiled at on the train who actually handed you his business card as he got off the train when you were on your way to the book club meeting. Which really has nothing to do with being a bad book club member. But it's a great way to end this blog post. Almost as great as the fact that when you looked up the distractingly hot guy on Facebook you discovered that he already has a husband.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Recipe for a lovely evening

2 Jimmy Johns sandwiches (the #10 and the #11 on wheat with no mayo)

2 giant tubs of Diet Coke with very little ice

1 package of Double Stuf Oreos

2 of those portable, collapsible canvas chairs on sale for $9.99 each at Walgreens

1 domestic partner

1 domestic partner-in-law

1 gay couple

1 straight couple

3 blankets

1 beautiful night

1 kick-ass—and totally FREE–concert program in Millennium Park: Arvo Pärt's ethereal "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" and Jean Sibelius' heroic-provincial First Symphony

2 hours of hand-holding, happy faces, goosebumps and yummy sounds (and the occasional discreet burp) under the stars to a soundtrack of epic tonal dissonance

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Paradigm shift

First of all, this post is about yesterday's 18-mile run. But Matthew wasn't there to take pictures so I'm using a picture he took last weekend at our 17-mile run that I never got posted on here. I wore the same running shorts both weekends if that helps you pretend the pix are from yesterday. Even though I wore a black tank top this weekend. And I ran almost 7% more distance.

Now that that's out of the way, here's what our running group has dwindled to from our initial population of 15 people:
Our shrinking population isn't a total surprise; only about seven of us are training for an actual marathon. And now that it's summer and (theoretically) hot, we're running at 7:00 in the morning instead of 10:00. And a lot of our casual runners would much rather get their Friday night drink on than their Saturday morning running shoes on.

But I had an epiphany yesterday after my group pulled ahead of me as it always does after our Gatorade stop at mile 4: I can't keep up with them. It's not that I'm having a bad run or I didn't eat enough or I should just push myself harder, which is how I usually rationalize away my slowness. The fact is I'm 41 and I have a predisposition for knee and foot injuries (I have a sinking feeling I reactivated old stress fractures in BOTH feet yesterday) and I'm 8ish pounds heavier after a year with my personal trainer and it all adds up to a big case of the slows. And even though I can't do much about the age and the injuries, I'm way too vain to let myself lose any more muscle mass than I have to for a stupid marathon.

So I am no longer Jake The Guy Who Hopes To Run A Marathon In Under Four Hours. In fact, I have demoted myself to merely Jake The Guy Who Is Pretty Tired Of Marathon Training And Is Just Doing The Bare Minimum To Make Sure He Crosses The Finish Line In October And Then Devote His Winter To Getting Even Huger And Vainer And Presumably Even Slower For Next Summer's Training Which Will Be His Very Last Since He's Guaranteed To Run New York In November 2010 And That's Been The Dream All Along So Once It's Over He's Going To Find A Different Summer Hobby, Preferably One That Doesn't Require So Many Capitalized Words Like Maybe Just Knitting Or Something.

And I'm just fine with that. I've all but stopped doing shorter runs during the week because it takes me so long to recover from my longer weekend runs. And my weekday running buddy, who lived two blocks from me, just moved in with his girlfriend in the south Loop so it's not like he'll be bugging me to get up and run at 6:00 any Wednesday in the foreseeable future.

In the mean time, I'll spend my weekdays throwing weights around in the gym and my Saturdays propelling my slow old self through space and time as I build up a tolerance for 26.2 miles and all the while hope that if I get injured I get the kind of injury that makes supermodels want to kiss me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Three years ago today

I woke up, ran 16 miles, had breakfast with my marathon team, headed home to nap ... and decided I should be social and go to a brunch at some friends' house instead.

A few hours later I left that brunch with a boyfriend. Who became a fiancé a year later. Who is now a domestic partner or a husband depending on which word pops out of my mouth first ... even though we haven't had a wedding yet. Mostly because we're too lazy to plan one. And too cheap to pay for one. But as far as we're concerned, we're still very much married.

Three years is the Chips Ahoy!® anniversary. I think. So we'll be packing a snacky picnic basket and spreading ourselves on a blanket tonight at Millennium Park to enjoy a free concert. And we're thrilled that some dear friends and family members will be joining us.

And I can't think of a happier way to celebrate three years of freakishly easy happiness.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Six years ago today

I started writing this blog.

I'd like to tell you it was because I had a story to tell or I just wanted to organize my thoughts or I was using the blog to test material for a book I intended to write. But the pathetic truth is I kind of started writing it to impress a blog writer I had a huge crush on. And, of course, the moment I started writing my blog, he quit his job in Canada and moved to Chicago to be with me and we've lived happily ever after since then. Or he never noticed my blog and he eventually stopped writing his and I've never heard a thing about him since then. But I like my version of the story better.

Though I periodically see his writing in mine when I look back at my old blog posts. Which tells me that my crush was not based entirely on his photos. But they sure helped.

Now this blog seems to be an online diary devoted mostly to running and working out. Which kind of makes sense, since that's about all I do with my free time. But I sometimes shake things up with an angry-homo diatribe or a camera-phone picture of a home project. Which still leaves the overall content pretty high on the gaytinuum. And I've always tried to end every blog post in a clever summation that brings my thoughts full-circle. Except this time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nine years ago today

I woke up to a beautiful Iowa sunrise, packed a U-Haul with everything that was left after I’d sold 75% of my belongings in a yard sale the day before, said goodbye to the city I’d called home for 32 years, and drove excited and scared to Chicago.

Two weeks earlier, I’d been in Chicago visiting a friend for pride. I’d decided it would be fun to interview at a big-city advertising agency while I was here. Just for the practice. You know: in case I decided to move here sometime in the distant, distant future. Because moving to Chicago was just a pipe dream. A crazy, insane, brave-person pipe dream.

Imagine my surprise when the big Chicago agency offered me a job on the spot. And offered to reimburse me for my moving expenses. And could I start in two weeks?


So over the next two weeks I quit my job, listed my house, organized a massive garage sale, day-tripped to Chicago to find an apartment I could move into almost immediately, and never let myself think too hard about what I was doing out of fear I might talk myself out of it.

I drove to Chicago nine years ago today in my little green Neon and Mom and Dad bounced along behind me in the U-Haul. It hadn’t occurred to me that my 60-ish parents were not an ideal U-Haul-unloading team until a couple days before the move, so—since I’d yet to hear about craigslist and it was too late to hire the few movers I could find and I couldn’t conjure up many other options—I sent an email to the tiny handful of people I knew in Chicago, asking nicely (but not needily) if they could possibly meet us at 10:00 that Sunday morning in front of my new apartment. And when we pulled up, they were there. All of them. My sainted welcoming committee. And together we carried everything I owned from the truck up a three-flight spiral staircase into my elfin starter apartment in less than an hour. And then they disappeared back into their beautiful summer weekends … and, unfortunately, they all eventually drifted completely out of my life. But that’s a lament for a different blog post. (If any of you boys are reading this, I thank you again for your help that morning. And please know I’ve paid your immense favor forward to at least 10 other friends here in Chicago over the years.)

Mom and Dad helped me unpack a few boxes and get my bed put together and find some basic utensils so I wouldn’t starve, but they had to get back on the road so they could return the U-Haul. So we shared some hugs and said some good-byes and I got some you-be-carefuls and they climbed in the truck and bounced down the road toward Iowa.

And as I stood there waving goodbye on my new street in front of my new apartment at the dawn of my new life and my new career in my new city, I thought to myself Holy shit, what have I done?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One year ago today

I officially succumbed to the plague of aging gay male vanity and I met with my personal trainer for the first time. I had one goal: get huuuuuuuge. Plus not look 40. Plus maybe get a modeling contract with Hot Topic.

And since I was forking over staggering amounts of money in personal training fees anyway, I used what was left of my credit card to invest in a private warehouse of hardcore training supplements too. And I hired a nutritionist to make sure I wasn’t sabotaging my gym efforts every time I stuffed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich down my throat. (It turns out my three-sandwich-a-day habit wasn’t the best thing for my personal transformation, but it wasn’t the worst either. And if I just cut down on the jelly, my nutritionist assured me I could still enjoy my thrice-daily fix without much guilt.)

Right before I hired my trainer, someone forwarded me this time-lapse video of a guy going from noticeably out of shape to distractingly in shape:

It was the perfect complement to my vanity binge, and I decided to record my progress in my own video … which would probably get me right in with the Hot Topic people once it went globally viral on YouTube. I also thought I could make a WAY cooler video because I’d QC my surroundings so it didn’t look like I lived in a Dumpster. Plus I’d use something ironic for music. Like I Feel Pretty. Or You Must Love Me. Or Ladies Who Lunch. Or I’m Still Here.

So I dug out my tripod (an impulse purchase I’d made years ago that finally had a purpose!) and set up my camera and snapped a picture of myself in my gym shorts the night before my first training session. Then I waited until the next Friday and did it again. I decided I’d take my pictures on Friday nights since I get up early to run on Saturdays so I usually don’t have Friday-night plans. Like a loser.

But after two months, the pictures I’d pulled off the camera didn’t show much progress. Plus we actually had a surprising number of Friday-night plans so I kept forgetting to take more pictures. Plus we didn’t have room to set up the tripod in a permanent location with permanent footprints taped on the floor, so I wasn’t ending up in the same place in every picture I took.

And when I finally decided to get the video started, I fired up the free iMovie software on my computer … and promptly accomplished nothing. iMovie is NOT very intuitive. Even when I read through the tutorials, I still couldn’t figure out how to upload my photos, move them so my body was generally in the same place in each one, and create a movie that scrolled through the images at a fast, even, wow-look-at-that-dramatic-transformation speed.

So by the fourth month, my grand video project had become little more than a folder of pictures hogging space on my hard drive. And while I was definitely growing, I wasn’t growing dramatically. So my dreams of hugeness, YouTube stardom and Hot Topic celebrity modelhood died. As they should. Because I probably would have made a 40-year-old fool (OK, a bigger 40-year-old fool) of myself by making this video and then actually showing it to people.

But! One year later I’m in the best shape of my life. I have more energy, I feel healthy, I sleep well (possibly too well), I fill out my shirts like I’ve never filled out my shirts before … and I seem to have advanced a level in You’re Cute So I’ll Talk To You®, the silent blood sport that takes place everywhere gay men gather in tight clothing. Which is not necessarily an accomplishment, but when you’re terminally shy around strangers, bar talk with a vapid social climber is far more fun than hiding in a corner behind a leafy plant.

Plus! Today is just the first of a string of epic anniversaries I’m celebrating in July. (Actually, it’s the second. Sunday was the two-year anniversary of my proposal to the domestic partner. But we both forgot about it and he was out of town anyway and we still haven’t nailed down what we want to do for a wedding so we’ll just celebrate that anniversary the next time around.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I’ve had our couch for nine years this month. And in addition to the marginal dinginess you’d expect to build up on a couch after nine years of use, it’s also stained with (what I hope is) chocolate in a few places. So I got up early on Sunday to rent an upholstery cleaner from the faraway grocery store where I rented a rug cleaner three years ago when I sold my condo. But when I got there, I discovered the store doesn’t rent upholstery cleaners anymore. Rats.

So I tried to salvage the trip by picking up a few groceries and stocking up on liquor for a dinner party we’re having on Friday night. The store was inexplicably out of bread (who runs out of bread?) but I filled my cart with bananas and jelly and yogurt and two flavors of vodka and two six-packs of carbonated liquor-based beverages … and a goofy little impulse purchase: a cheese-based toy that looked like it might be fun to keep on my desk at work.

And when I got to the checkout, I discovered that you can’t buy liquor before 11:00 on a Sunday in Chicago. I have no idea if the law is in place to control the behavior of alcoholics or to show some kind of deference to some kind of god, but because of it, I essentially drove across town to buy kitchen staples. And this:

But it's totally adorable! And stretchy! And versatile! You can stick the mice in any hole and tell your mice-in-cheese story any way you want. For instance, you can have them both popping out of the cheese at once as though they live there:

Or you can have their butts hang out one hole and their faces hang out another hole as though they were just passing through:

Or you can add rubber mice left over from Halloween and drag the health department into your story:

Convince Andrew Lloyd Weber to write a score for it, and you might have a hit musical on your hands.

But you'll still have a dingy couch. With (what you hope are) chocolate stains on it. Even with rats and mice in the house.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Climbing climbing climbing RIGHT TO THE TOP!

So I'd imagined rock climbing as having a difficulty level between a light back workout (a 2 on a scale of 10) and the last three miles of a half marathon (a 6 on a scale of 10). In reality, the whole thing is about an 11 on a scale of 8, once you factor in the sweaty palms, the hand grips that are often as useful as mouse nipples, the forearms that turn rock-solid with pain even when you're trying your damndest to support yourself with your toes like you were told to, and the unintentional grunting that constantly reminds you holy shit this is hard and if I don't focus and hold on I could fall off this wall and even though I'm tethered to a safety rope the partial fall might very likely result in an unintentional pooping.

It starts out easy enough, though. You're on the ground and then you're holding onto a wall. Easy, right? But then you're expected to climb the wall. Like some gravity-hostile monkey. But at least at first you're close enough to pose for a reasonably in-focus picture:

But then you're off. And every reach you make and every step you take obligates you to separate yourself from the safe, comfy ground. Plus pictures of you start to get blurry:

But if you don't look down and you don't look up and you just keep focusing on successfully holding onto the next mouse nipple and then the next and then the next, you suddenly find yourself 65 feet in the air, slapping a chalky stripe of colorful tape at the top to signal that YOU MADE IT!

And then you get to ride down. Which is lots of fun. Unless you're so busy smiling for pictures that you bonk your knee into the wall. Which would never happen to a seasoned expert like me.

But if your bonk results in broken skin, you are suddenly very badass. And people take pictures of your wound as though it were a trophy. Or a talisman of masculinity. Even though using the word talisman automatically disqualifies you from the ranks of the masculine. But if the photos don't register the gushing blood in the proper shades of crimson and terror, your street cred plummets when you display your trophy on your blog so you might as well call it a talisman and let people laugh at you until the next "family values" Republican gets caught cheating on his wife and finally takes the heat and humiliation off you.

And after two successful climbs and two not-so-successful climbs, you are spent. But not spent in an overextending-your-credit kind of way. Spent in a good way. In an I'll-sleep-so-soundly-I-probably-won't-notice-when-I-pee-myself kind of way. And when you text your trainer afterward to report that "climbing is a BITCH," he—who has heretofore never shown any interest in talking smack on any level—will text you back with a terse "suck it up." Which will make you laugh. Plus in your exhausted spentness, you'll pose for pictures where your harness pretty much says I got your talisman right HERE:

But enough about you. This is Scott. He was my belay artist (or whatever the proper title is) during my climbs last night. He's also so freaking adorable I could tether my body to his with a rope. Which, in fact, I did.

I have a good 60 pounds on Scott. So when he belays me, he doesn't just stand there like a boy with a kite. I actually make him work to keep me from killing myself when I fall off a climbing wall and face the prospect of plummeting 30 feet to my sloppy, splatty death. Which may or may not have happened one or maybe two times last night. Or possibly even three. But no more than four. And there was no involuntary pooping. At least not by me.

Scott is, of course, a consummate professional when he belays his friends. His commitment to and respect for his climbers are beyond reproach.

But enough about Scott. This is Brad. He climbed with us too. And he was put on this earth to make us feel bad about our calves.

Brad climbed four times last night too. And he always made it to the top. And he never fell off the wall. Which means he never pooped involuntarily. I assume. And see the colored tape next to the mouse nipples on the wall behind him? He did three climbs where he limited himself to using only the mouse nipples marked with one color of tape. So he has the power to make us feel bad about more than our calves.

But I'm magnanimously still letting him be my friend. And possibly my climbing buddy. Even though he doesn't have any talismans like us badass climbers.

Plus he uses his fingers too much too. So we both had painfully pumped forearms when the night was over. And we were, of course, not to vain—or veined (HA!)—to show them off for posterity:

I thought I'd be a wreck 24 hours after my first four climbs to the heavens (assuming they're on the third floor), but I'm in no more lingering pain today than I usually get from a workout. Possibly because I had one at 7:00 this morning. But my forearms are still tight. And my calves are tender. So I must have used my toes at some point. And my heart got racy and my palms got sweaty just from reliving all the fun as I wrote about it here. So I can't wait to do it again. And if you have any interest in rock climbing, I say go for it! But not before you abandon any preconceived notions you have that it will be easy. Or that you won't get out without being covered in talismans.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

I have a new respect for rock climbing

Because I just did it for three hours. And I have a bloody bruise on my knee to prove it. Which makes me totally badass. And just a little bit limpy.

For those of you keeping score at home, I made four climbs up a 65-foot wall. I made it to the top twice. I made it halfway up twice. And I completely fell off the wall and found myself dangling in space hanging from an alarmingly thin rope three times. Which is more than a little unnerving.

There are pictures. But they're not on my camera. I'll post them as soon as I get them. But first: sleep. Six hours of it. Because what's left of my body is going to be pummeled by my trainer starting at 7:00 tomorrow. And I want to be awake enough to enjoy all the street cred I get from my bloody, bruisy, badass knee.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Fireworks and bunting and other accoutrements of patriotism

Wow. A long weekend of uncling can really cut into your blogging time. As can a hectic first couple days back at work.

But here's our July 4 weekend in a nutshell:

Running: I ran the Fifth Season 8K in cold, spitty rain on Saturday. I didn't set another personal best, but I finished at an 8:41 pace, which is at the fast end of my acceptable race-time continuum. My little nephew was all excited to run with me, but when he found out the race had moved and was no longer running past his house where he could bask in the glow of a 30-foot front-yard cheering section, he decided to sit this race out. Which meant less running in cold, spitty rain for me, so I'm not complaining.

Uncling: I'm past the point of letting the kids win at Sorry and Apples to Apples and all the other games they like to play with us. So now they're kicking my butt on their own. Rotten kids.

Celebrating: I took my entire family to dinner on Friday to celebrate my folks' 45th anniversary and my sister and her husband's 15th anniversary. We went to one of those food-as-theater Japanese restaurants where they make a big show of cooking everything fresh right in front of you ... but they drench everything in soy sauce so it all ends up tasting the same when you finally get it. The kids get a huge kick out of the little peeing chef doll they use to put out fires, which helps overcome the dull blandness of the menu. At $300, the evening averaged out to $5 per year of celebrated marriage. And that's a pretty affordable way to honor the people I love the most in this world.

Shopping: I love to shop for stuff when I'm home in Iowa because there's parking! and lower taxes! and merchandise that hasn't been picked over! And on this trip I came home with fabulous new 1,000-count sheets and fluffy, fluffy pillows, a trunkful of protein shakes and other potions of aging gay male vanity, new knee-length (like the kids wear!) gym shorts (with pockets!), new foo-foo trendy T-shirts that are probably a size too small (see: gay male vanity, above), and storage containers for organizing our tools and painting supplies since our condo has all the storage of a pair of Barbie® panties.

The dog: Could she be any cuter? Only if we put her in a little polka-dot hat. Or taught her to walk in pantaloons:

Bucolic bliss: My nephew is turning out to be a pretty fierce pitcher. He's kind of a shy little kid—just like his lonely uncle Jake was—so I'm glad he's found a skill that will bring kids to him as he becomes a rockstar baseball player and eventually buys us all mansions and unnecessary surgeries on his Major League salary. But he still needs to practice his fundamentals if I'm gonna get pec implants. So on Sunday afternoon, his dad took him out in the front yard to practice pitching and catching and fielding while the rest of us sat in the shade and cheered him on in our little Mayberry world. And, despite what this picture might indicate, he did not lose a leg in a Hannah Montana-related stampede:

Speaking of Hannah Montana, my niece loooooves her. She also loooooves doing anything her big brother does. So she took her turn at pitching practice as well. Even though she's already declared that her sport will be golf. Or maybe choir:

I know this is kind of gay—and probably more than a little unsafe—but I still had my camera in my side pocket of my cargo shorts when we hit my favorite stretch of highway 30 on our drive home on Sunday. And I was able to dig it out in time to snap this picture of its simple beauty: a mile of arrow-straight road carved out of a thick woods just east of the Wapsipinicon River. It's even more breathtaking after a fresh snow. And it's always a goofy little highlight of drive back and forth to my hometown:

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Packing for a roadtrip to visit the family in Iowa

Clothes. Check.
Toiletries. Check.
Protein shakes. Check.
Running shoes. Check.
Running watch. Check.
Running watch charger. Check.
Sunglasses. Check.
Cell phone. Check.
Cell phone charger. Check.
Camera. Check.
New Billy Elliot CD. Check.
New Hair CD featuring a girl from my home town. Check.
New In the Heights CD. Check.
New Legally Blonde CD. Check.
New Little Mermaid CD. Check.
New Next to Normal CD. Check.
New Shrek CD. Check.
New West Side Story CD. Check.
Stuff to return at the Cedar Rapids Lowe’s since it’s in many ways easier to get to than the Chicago Lowe’s. Check.
My parents’ house key. Oops.