HELL WEEK, Day 1

Most of us have very different ideas about what is bad or good, what sucks and what sucks worse, or even what’s right and wrong-for illustrations of this we need not look further than our country’s own opinions about its Great and Wise Leader.  

However, one thing most of us can agree on is that fasting really sucks, and that fasting for more than an hour really, really sucks.  My wife and I are currently doing a “Master Cleanse”, which was definitely a woman’s idea, and which, though I have no proof to back this claim up with, is supposed to make you feel, like, good afterwards.  At least it made the choosing of the title of this article relatively easy.

To be honest, this isn’t the first time we’ve cleansed before, and won’t be the last, and I can honestly say I haven’t regretted any of them.  This time, however, we’ll be doing it for a week, to make sure the results are especially good, presumably, and I’m definitely nervous.  Our previous record was three days without food, which was fun enough.  

OK I’m writing this in the throes of Day 1, well towards the end, where my body has begun to ask in a clear and firm voice, “WTF?”  Day two will probably be a bad one as well, but from there it’s all downhill (or up?) as the body gets used to what you’re putting it through.

I just read an “article” (advertisement) about this super awesome wonder drug that Melania Trump takes that removes brain fog and improves cognitive and memory (which is, like, cognitive) prowess.  I can even have a free trial.  

I do not want a new wonder drug.  I do not want Melania telling me how I can better my life.  Who’s she to talk?  But I will acknowledge that I do have a problem.  This pesky brain cloud thing has been bothering me for a decade at least, my memory is pitiful, and I find it very difficult to concentrate.  

Unlike many Americans, however, I refuse to fill the pockets of Pharmaceutical Companies if there’s any other solution available.  As a consumer, I feel it’s my responsibility to send a message with what I buy or don’t buy to the people I approve or disapprove of.  I’m thinking of you, Martin Shkreli.

I have no money to give you, DB…

Thanks to mic.com for the DoucheBag picture.

I believe it’s also my responsibility, not some doctor’s, not some Pharma Company’s, not no one’s responsibility, to take care of my own goddamn body.  Am I two?  Does I just sit back and let Mommy and Daddy take care of me or do I take my life into my own hands?

So here we are, as Day 1 of Hell Week, Part 1, fades sloth-like from us.  There’s a pit inside my gut that gnaws and groans.  I’m weak and weary, finding it difficult to get the energy up to write this or do anything else productive.  Can’t wait till tomorrow, when I want to start the day with a five to ten Km run, depending on how I feel.  I’ll do anything to keep my mind off of food.

EXCITING, ACTION-PACKED FASTING PICTURE

Rumors of an “Ultráman”

I was surprised recently when I read somewhere on facebook that someone had met someone that heard of someone that ran an ultra marathon with something called an “Ultráman” (pronounced Ul – TRAH – meñ).  As a sober, no-nonsense reporter with his head in the right place I naturally thought to myself, “How rad is that?”

I naturally decided to use my nearly one semester of well-paid for (and nearly paid off!👍🏼), acutely honed reporting skills to leap onto the trail of the specter spoken of only in the hushed tones of 1 Facebook post.  Maybe. Many would have argued that such a source is hardly reliable enough to move anyone to put everything he has to the side (marital plans, making a good impression the first week on the job, quitting smoking, and an immensely difficult three-hundred piece Pinnochio puzzle, in my case) and chase shadows.

But I am not many.  I have been born to run Mankind’s most foolish errands.  Like delivering pizza to Bigfoot.  That was me.

In short, I gathered what supplies I could muster and headed out to find the someone that had met the someone that had heard of someone that ran with the Ultráman.  Two hours later I was back at my place after discovering how difficult a search for someone on Facebook can be without a laptop.  But, having finally collected my key to unlocking this great mystery, and my resolve being thereby more stolen than ever before, I set out again.  O..only to return six hours later because under “supplies” I had somehow NOT filed away any food.  

The next morning I raced out to meet my fate.   I remember feeling a tingling that extended from my elbow down to my hand; at least, after I whacked my funny bone on the door knob when I left.  I made my way to a nearby café that received the internet, ordered an empty cup, and began my search.  After almost an hour I realized that which less experienced individuals than myself might have only figured out after hours and hours:  the fruitless tapping and clicking on my keyboard was due to the malfunction i.e. total absence of a charging cable.  I thanked the heavens above for my dozens of minutes of reporter training that helped extrapulate me as seemlessly from this dreadful imbroglio as possible, and took my leave.

The next morning I sat at the foot of my bed, where I could see the mirror on my dresser, and looked resolute.  Three days of hopeless, wasted searching were not going to daunt me! Or undaunt me.  Whichever of the two was positive. Or negative.

That day, I caught a break.  While walking to my favorite café that received internet webs, I stumbled over, athletically, I’ll be it, a large paper bag brimming with empties.  I could afford a tea!

In the café I made sure everyone noticed my tea.  It was a great and triumphant moment for me.  However, sitting down with it and opening my laptop, I had to face the facts that in over three days of heartbreaking, futile searching I had absolutely nothing to show.  The mysterious fantom known only as “Ultráman” was just as easy to locate as my wallet with all of my credit cards in it. 

I was going to have ask a friend of mine for a favor.  You know, like in those crime movies where the desperate cops try one last ploy to solve the case, and the friend’s information ends up “breaking the case wide open”?

Well, since I technically had no friends there was no one I could ask to “break the case wide open” except myself, so I did.  Unfortunately, “American Idol” was on too loud and I couldn’t hear what I was saying.  I decided to take my defeat in stride and head off for another night’s well-earned rest.  Tomorrow would be another day, where the strange mythical creature would most definitely hear my footprints.  Ultráman, I’m on your trail!

Needle in a Haystack

My daughter Josephine, Mama Sarah, and my wife Kay

We did not enjoy our time in Sri Lanka at all. All three of us are very sensitive and there was a very ugly, negative energy stuck on everyone and everything we came into contact with. In addition, all of our much-coveted vegetables were sprayed with enough pesticide to kill dragons. We ate and ate and were never satisfied; in short: the food was devoid of all nutrition.

It was a country not at peace with itself, probably still trying to adjust to the awful realities of this post-tsunami world. As nightmarish as our stay was, we had the unimaginable good fortune to become acquainted with a very special person. Mama Sarah from Sicily had taken it upon herself to do her best and try and change something in this world for the better.

No matter where you go in this world, be it imprisoned in the endless expanse of utter solitude, or the cauldron of jealous, angry humanity, there is always someone or something there to help you on your way, if you only keep the faith.

Thank you, Mama Sarah, for making our time in Sri Lanka bearable, and for showing us how much good we can really do in a very bad place. Let the hopeless be damned! All the best to you!

A Charmed Life

The dogs at the Rescue Center were lucky anyway. Almost all of them were not treated well at some point in their lives, most had been abused, and some had been tortured, but Mama Sara from Sicily had built an impressive little compound a few inches from the long empty beaches on Sri Lanka‘s southeastern coast, where all of the canines there can live like kings. There’s always plenty to eat, only Sara (the dog) has to have her meals…er… managed, because let’s just say she overestimates „the Worth of Girth“.

Mama Sara is generous in that regard, as well as with her love. In fact, on some days the only problems that might arise are the occasional fits of jealousy that overtakes some of the dogs, who jockey for the best napping positions as close to Mama Sara as possible.

The Sri Lankans employed there as cook and caretaker are competent and efficient. The woman whose name I’ll never be able to understand or pronounce takes care of all of the dogs‘ nutritional needs without tiring seven days a week, while someone called “Unkele“ – Uncle in Italian? – has a job not so clearly defined, but one he completes just as effectively. One minute he might be oiling door hinges, then he might put a new roof over some of the stalls, and every day around three he shepherds a gang of about fifteen of the forty-six dogs out to the beach to run and play for an hour or two.

The place is a veritable doggie heaven, so much so the question must be asked: What’s the catch? There has to be a bad side, right? I mean, other than the terrible pasts most of the dogs have endured. Well, I can’t think of one, that’s how well Mama Sara’s best-laid plans have worked out. But … there is a cloud hanging over the place, a topic I didn’t want to broach, one I couldn’t help wondering about.

Last Saturday Mama Sara coincidentally spilled the beans on just this subject, and I thought her story wasn’t only amazing, it deserved retelling.

2004. December 26th. The Tsunami. The worst catastrophe in the history of mankind. Over 300,000 dead. And here’s The Doggie Center not 200 meters away from the waterline, with dozens of dogs, some of whom in stalls, just waiting to be swept away.

What happened? This is the story of how three of Sara’s dogs died. They did not perish as you might have already pictured them to, though. There’s a world of difference.

On December 25th, Mama Sara was in her native Sicily, as her father had taken sick. His condition had improved enough, however, for her to make the return trip, and she spent the day getting ready to get to the airport, which would have put her right back in the Danger Zone on the 26th, Boxing Day.

The phone rang. It was Sara’s mother. Her father’s condition had worsened, could she stay a little longer? Sara agreed. She had seen to it that her dog center was in good hands, and even left money so that nothing would lack. There was still the possibility of wiring more money should something go wrong, and Mama Sara trusted the people taking care of the house, so she felt comfortable with staying for a few more days.

Naturally, the next morning she was horrified to hear the news about the Tsunami. Anyone who remembers that day, or knows a little geography, or researches it, will know that the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka was nearly annihilated by the wave. Which also meant that the phone lines were down. It was days before she heard anything, and when she did the news was not good. Her house was gone, as if it were a sand castle. She hung up wondering about her dogs and the murky future.

A few days later, the next bit of news arrived from a more informed source. The house was fine. Not a single stone was missing. And, will wonders never cease, all of the dogs except two were accounted for. They had all been washed inland, and when the waters receded they were deposited on the same land they had been on before the great wave hit. When Mama Sara finally returned to her oceanfront abode, the circle closed: she got to hear the story of the remaining two dogs. The wave had washed these dogs not inland, but out to sea. Maybe it was just coincidence. Maybe it was an unimaginable feat of will power on the part of the dogs. Maybe a kindly fisherman recognized them and taxied them back to shore before disappearing and never telling anyone, but after hearing stories about how some of these fishermen set dogs on fire, or tie their legs together with wires and throw them in the ocean, I seriously doubt it.

Anyway, as the seas settled, regaining it’s usual rhythm and surge, one wave after the other pushed the landwrecked canines back to shore. They returned not fifty miles up the coast, or even onto either of the properties to the left and right of the center. They dragged themselves up out of the ocean and onto the same property they had been forcefully evicted from. I see them shaking themselves off, and then maybe going to scrounge for food. As always. Much like Sara (the dog) is doing now.

Now you want to talk about “A Charmed Life?” You want to talk about luck? Mama Sara and her dogs were rolling in it. I’d like to believe these strange and wonderful coincidences occurred simply because Sara’s heart (Sara the human) is open and warm and lets these things happen.

But, unfortunately, it would still be days before the lady of the house would return. The people taking care of the house in Sara’s absence had completed their few chores responsibly for a few days at least. But Sri Lankans are poor, and some poor persons have a difficult time dealing responsibly with a sudden influx of cash. The temptation got the better of them and they decided to throw a party or two. Why not? They had money (for once), and a beach house, why not make the most of it? They did. The partying continued until sooner or later, probably about the time the tsunami hit, it came down to a choice between spending money on dog food or party supplies. Guess which was chosen? By the time Sara was finally able to return, three of the dogs had starved, including an Indian wolf.

An Indian wolf, beautiful and regal. It was gone. This world could be such a great place, if we would only appreciate it a little. We’re not living in harmony with it, which is bad enough, but when you actively contribute to living at odds with it, it’s criminal. This world is an incredible, magical place, it’s us who are anything but. I’ll be impressed with all the accomplishments of business, science, politics, entertainment, etcetera, when you prove to me that another wolf like that is not going to die in a similar situation in the future.

In addition to the three starved dogs, Sara was forced to deal with the one and half bodies she found in her garden. But I still hope this report can and will be taken as a powerful argument for there being plenty of good in the world, and evidence that, once you’ve found your own special little path, this universe can work wonders in your favor, no matter who, or what, is swarming around you.

P.S. Anyone looking to support Sara and her efforts will be pleased to know that the good woman does NOT approve of monetary donations, despite my constant arguments in favor of them. Gifts of rice and the like are always welcome, as the dogs always seem to be hungry. Contact me here if you are interested in supporting a Bow-Wow or two!

My daughter, Mama Sara, my wife Kay, and some awesome dude

Shaving

            Or lack thereof.  I’ve begun to not shave my beard, as many of my favorite athletes don’t, until I’ve completed my special race. My favorite athletes, whose names I can’t remember but whose beards I strangely can, won’t shave their beards until they don’t win an important playoff series. For those of you just tuning in, that special race for me is the Ultratrail Mt. Fuji, all 168km (about 100 miles) and over 7000 meters (almost 23,000 feet) of elevation gain of her.  I even got a tattoo of that very special mountain, drawn by yours truly, on my back. 

            I haven’t shaved my beard in weeks?  months?  Here it is:

Manly, but civilized. Rugged, yet somewhat kempt.

What’s disappointing is that it looks considerably less cool than those wild beasts said athletes are draping their faces with.  Studies have shown that my beard’s cool quotient is a whopping 4.2% lower than the grubby face-varmints I’ve seen those millionaires wear.  All that hard work not remembering to cut and mow my mutant stubble for a result like this is just unsatisfactory.  If only I could ascertain the reason for this truly unfair discrepancy I could repair whatever atrocities I‘ve comitted to my mouth-marmot and maybe my wife would look at me again.

            I’m sure there’s pros somewhere who, for a shamelessly exorbitant price, would primp and prune my disshevelled jaw-disaster into a comely, more attractive version of whatever is now adorning the southside of my face, but those pros cost a pretty penny, so how’re poor guys like me and those millionaire athletes supposed to afford that?

            Wait, maybe instead of combing it and cementing it under eight pounds of beard wax, I should try a more battle-worn, frontiersy look:

Wild; feedom-loving patriotic beard. Or “rusted brillo pad” look..

Eurasia!  I’ve got it!  My wife’ll love it!

One other thing, though:  all this not working with my wretched monster-pelt better pay off!  I’m not spending all this time and effort not caring for my close-shaven face just to lose because other athletes do. Do they only play for the right to shave first? If I don’t win this race there’ll be hell to pay!

            Hmmm…hell….

            Maybe I’ll set fire to it if I lose.

            A..and maybe I’ll ask my wife what she thinks about me not washing myself until after the race..

The Worst Amusement Park Ride Ever: On a Sri Lankan Bus

If you’re ever down Sri Lankan way, there’s one displeasure you’re not going to want to make, and that’s riding a bus. Anyone who shuts themselves off to these wonderful, sublime moments of nausea and terror has not fully lived, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

The Sri Lankan buses are models of conservative, sober methods of trans-portation. Each is drearily garbed in fluorescent greens and blues, highlighted with light, almost timid strokes which gracefully form images of demons driving monster trucks over what might be unhinged chickens. Or sand castles. Or winged Nazis. Whatever. Apparently, not all buses are decorated in this fashion, only the “special” ones. I’m guessing at least fifty percent of the fleet is special.

We visitors from the West, who are used to buses clad in sober, find it difficult to adjust to these eyesores, whose colors and artwork are hardly ever seen outside of certain poorer sections of larger cities, like Bridgeport, Connecticut, of Monster Trucks trampling other cars or roaming the highways with eighteen wheels of gruesome mobile disagreeability. On the positive side, it’s good to see that the need for expression and the desire for works of art still exist; on the other hand, I feel bad for the sort of people who consider a hugely breasted, skimpily clad woman riding a mechanized dragon into a battle against spidery tigeroctopi as the ultimate heigth of art. Seething flames aside, I haven’t seen infantile storyboards like that since the Beetle Bailey cartoon strips.

I remember the flames from just about any of my visits to any Catholic Church.

I suppose “to each his own” is a positive, up-with-people motto to follow passing through his or her life; I try to follow it in a general sense. Unfortunately, living by this rule opens the door to this visual carnage, and one has still not set foot inside the bus. On non-market days the bus is relatively full, but the chances of getting a seat are relatively high. If that is what one really, really wants to do. The smells are omnipotent, and drive through any barriers you might have erected, such as thick cloths wrapped around the face and over mouth and nose, or the ability to not notice scents. Oh, how I yearned to be anosmic on a Sri Lankan bus! Even this, however, is not the worst thing about riding this moving jukebox. The bright colors outside extend to the innards of the vehicle, as bright greens and blues intertwine and reconnect to form spirals and thorn bushes, and all connect up front to pay homage to the driver or bus company’s god of choice: usually either Buddha or Vishnu (?) – the woman with ten or so arms and maybe three heads. I had trouble counting because the bus hurtled faster than sound and the shock absorbers were not…like, shocking. Most of the buses had shrines to said deities at the front somewhere, usually above the windshield, that hopefully did not hamper the driver’s view of the road. And most of these shrines were made from authentic plastic, or tin, and were covered in the same probably poisonous colors and paints that adorned the rest of the bus, as well as having the added bonus of one or thousands of colored, blinking lights around, over, under, and through them which also spread out like mutant pseudopods to every corner of the bus. These lights never stopped blinking or changing colors, even when the bus was stopped, and the key was removed, strongly suggesting an independent existence with ominous intentions, like tapeworms.

But this was still not the worst experience on a Sri Lankan bus. On market days the entire population of, like, 40 zillion Singhalese flock eagerly to those shops and vegetable stands located eighteen stops ahead of where we got on. On certain days we watched these “market buses” from afar, as they swung and swayed with arms, legs, and 95% of bodies hanging out of every opening of the bus, which left precious little room for things like air, and we rejoiced in the fact that we were not able to experience the same joys those passengers were.

Which was also not the worst experience on a Sri Lankan bus.

The main streets in Sri Lanka are ridiculously full, especially on Saturday evenings around 5 or 6, which is also when the electricity goes off because it is rationed here. So picture if you will a small city’s streets with pedestrians scurrying up and down both sides of the street like hordes of ants, as well as all of the bike riders, Tuk-Tuk drivers, stray dogs, cars, motorcycles, and small trucks, and now introduce these rainbow monoliths into the equation. Remember, there are no street lights because of the electricity being rationed. Also, there were no speed limits, at least none I could see, even in daytime. Also also, the bus drivers seemed determined to keep to their schedules, wherever they might have been-I never saw any- at all costs, and drove with a near maniacal aggression. I always wondered if any of them were able to keep to their schedules; despite their teeth- and gear-grinding driving styles never once did one of these buses arrive at the time we guessed it was probably supposed to arrive at, since there no schedules anywhere. In short, I found it nearly miraculous that dozens of these poor pedestrians weren’t mowed down by the buses every day.

There was one instance where I was standing on the bus up near the front-it was a market day and there was nowhere to sit-and I happened to glance at the ol’ speed-o-meter. The driver was really hurtling at over 90 Km/H (56mph). For comparison, the absolute highest speed a truck can comfortably travel on a German autobahn and feel relatively safe that he or she won’t get a speeding ticket is 90. And these maniacs are plowing through these crowded city streets faster than that.

That was definitely the second worst experience I had on a Sri Lankan bus.

The worst experience I had on one of these buses occurred daily, when the bus was either full or empty. It may have been morning or afternoon. It may have been 120 degrees out or, well OK it was always 120 degrees out. In every one of these buses a TV hung from the ceiling way up front there, and every day all day the same channel blared a never ending stream of Sri Lankan boy band videos. Remember DeBarge. Like, sing DeBarge. I think his first name was El. Seriously. Well, I can’t tell you what happened to him and his familyslashbandmates after America woke up and realized that they definitely and without a doubt absolutely sucked and they would never fall for anything that trashy ever again…

Musically, we’re more talented than any Bob Dylan or Paul McCartney-Rob Pilatus of Milli Vanilli

(Thanks to Josh Morrisey and The Strut for the image and quote)

…sending Debarge hurtling faster than a Bobby Hull slapshot into the Great and Bottomless Chasm where Americans throw all of their wastes of time. But I think I can tell you what happened to the family’s/bandmate’s nauseatingly trendy collection of 80’s and 80’s only synthesizers and electric drum kits. See, after the interest in this truly awful form of musical expression waned, presumably after two weeks of listening to nothing but “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul, something must have happened to these dinosaurs of musical accompaniment. I’m convinced America’s supply of synthesizers and electric drum kits were sent to underprivileged persons in poorer regions of the world, like the Super Bowl losers’ hats and T-shirts that say Champs on them-they were printed beforehand, are now useless, and must go somewhere.

Apparently, an entire industry exists in many Third World countries where mildly talented teenage boys and girls channel their inner Debarges (God what a horrifying thought!) and make synthesizer music that real people actually listen to! Like me on the bus in Sri Lanka because I have no other choice and would probably be stoned to death if I did what I wanted to do and what should be done-namely toss that accursed boob tube out into the grimy street where a different rainbow monolith, trailing ours by a barely measurable distance, can crush the thing into the Chasm, where it belongs.

It is our choice what we feed our mouths, eyes, and ears with. Perhaps a slight improvement in everything we ingest would help make our lives a little better-you are, as we all know, what you eat. At the very least it would make my life a little less painful-I’m eating your DeBarge too.

Did I mention that we were there for three weeks or so, rode the bus almost every day, had the same bus driver for almost all of those days, but never once saw him in a different set of clothes? Remember the smells I was talking about? All in all riding a bus in Sri Lanka is a wonderful experience for the whole family. I would definitely recommend it to a friend, especially my best friends Donald Trump and any New York Jets fans.

Wonderdogs Part 3: Revenge of the Canine Gods

In our last episode:

The time had come, however, to say goodbye and to move on to what would be, in many ways, our greatest challenge: taking care of two poodles. Yes, we’re cat people but we’re open to dogs, too, mostly. The more they bark, or bite, or don’t listen, or fuc_everything up the less so, but I believe I can speak for all of the members of our family when I say that poodles are the absolute dregs, not only of the canine world but also of the entire animal kingdom.

Some time ago I was delivering drinks, and one of my customers was an elderly woman who possessed four or five of these yipping, prancing, bouncing bundles of knotted, putrid-smelling hair. Before she paid for her drinks the universally followed procedure in her house was to give all of the doggies a treat. Like, ME! Me give poodles treats! When I found it difficult enough not to stomp on them and just get it over with. I said no, and I told her I had never liked poodles and wasn’t interested in rewarding them for being an annoying race of dogs. To which she replied that they were also God’s creatures. To which I laughed and said they were as much God’s creatures as a Ford Pinto; they’ve been bred way the hell out of Nature’s Plan a long time ago.

So, OK these Australian poodles were definitely dealt a crappy hand this time.

We slid down to the coast on an asphalt slide and took our positions in a fine house a mere 5-20 minute walk to the mighty Pacific, depending on whether the dogs were with us or not.

Missy was a twelve-year old poodle with luxurious and heinous-smelling black fur, and Roxy, also a poodle, was also twelve and her grimy-white fur had a fine brownish-purple tinge (naturally!?) toward the ends of her limbs. She took one look at us when we walked into the door and gave us a look that said, “we won’t ever be friends”-perhaps assuming that we wanted that-and disappeared under a bed at the back of the house.

Maybe she had seen me give her the selfsame look upon meeting her..

Something funny happened on day two or three, however. Roxy came out from her hiding place and decided to give us a chance. She also gave us several other looks which disturbed me; whenever we got close she looked as if she was expecting to get hit or bawled out. I didn’t like how things stood with the dogs and felt sympathy towards them-that’s saying a lot considering our preformed opinions toward their race.

We didn’t like how scared Roxy seemed to be, and we, as fitness trainers, felt especially uncomfortable with the information we received from the owners, that the dogs basically didn’t need to be walked. Yes, they were old. And just about totally stone deaf. And yes, neither was fit or able to move well, Roxy especially was overweight and couldn’t hang with Missy anywhere. Like many extremely overweight creatures on this Earth, she would lean way over to port or starboard to enable a paw to drag itself forward over the other side, because she just wasn’t able to pick ’em up and lay ’em down like you should.

We decided to take them for walks, and I started the next morning taking them for a stroll up the street and back – maybe a football field all told – and they enjoyed it. They didn’t enjoy it half as much as what happened the next day, however.

The next morning I took both of them down to the beach. Like, all the way down. It took hours. Once there, they both had a tough time getting across the dry sand, especially Roxy, but once down by the water … WOW! I don’t know the last time I’ve seen such pure, unfiltered, honest joy. I also don’t know if the dogs had ever seen the beach before, but, judging from their reaction, probably not.

Missy hopped around, seemingly unimpeded by whatever age or ? – induced injuries or restrictions she had. When I looked at Roxy, OK, my steely heart turned a little molten and went soft.. MAYBE! She was chirping! She couldn’t stop! God knows why, she was just basically standing there; but she could not stop herself: Yip! Yip! Yip! she went. I didn’t want to leave. I even baby-jogged a few feet in both directions and they both baby-jogged with me, Roxy chirping the whole time.

Can’t help including this here: GET UP AND EXERCISE!! It’s not just friendly advice but a heartfelt plea. Your body needs it! Your body wants it!! It’s the most natural thing in the world, except maybe sex and breast feeding, and if you don’t give your body the opportunity to exercise you’re not only doing it a great disservice, your body will sooner or later take active steps to wreak its revenge. So..

All in all we were in the house for two weeks or so, and most of the time it was a chore taking care of both of them: their bladders were weak and they couldn’t maneuver themselves up and down the back steps well to relieve themselves on the back lawn, so they let it loose on the back porch. Guess who got to clean that up?

But this joy that Roxy showed on that special day is something I’ll never forget. We would sit on the beach on subsequent evenings, all together, and Roxy would cuddle up real close to my leg. Even Missy joined in the act. They loved the beach. They loved us. They loved being alive. Neither seemed able to comprehend the luck they had at being “stuck” with us.

It was the reason we became fitness trainers in the first place: to unlock that same joy in people by showing them how rewarding exercise could be. By showing them a direction to go that was truly worth going in. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a reaction so well-expressed as Roxy’s on that day. And although my opinions about poodles hasn’t softened all that much since our adventures with Roxy and Missy, I haven’t been that well-rewarded by anyone, for anything, in a long time. And that’s definitely worth something..

Ko Phan-gan: The “Dark Side”

This wonderful little island off the Eastern Coast of Thailand is famous for its Lunar Night Parties, and a general festive attitude, but we’re going to leave that all for the kiddies still wet behind their ears and look at the lesser known attractions on the isle of pleasure, hence the “Dark Side” in the title. See what I did there?

To get to the island, assuming you’re on a budget, like us, you fly into Bangkok, find your way to the right bus station – good luck! – , ride a twelve-hour but very comfortable bus down South to Surat Thani, get on a smaller bus that takes you to the ferry, then hop on the ferry that takes you to the island in a mere two and a half hours. If you’ve got a lot of baggage, like us, this is all very stressful and exhausting, so pack wisely!

Did I mention that you’re not, technically “there”, yet? You’re on the pier in Thong Sala, most likely nowhere near your accomodations. Which means, just bear with it here, these are professionals and they know what they’re doing, you’re going to be herded to the left where a parking lot filled with pickups that have cages on the back and loading “space” on the roof awaits. You and the hundreds of others you came over with are about to be prodded, divided up and alloted places in any of these rickety modes of transport, inside these “cages”, which will most definitely be overloaded and the luggage on the roof, not tied down in any way, might arrive at your resort with you but if not hey! they or it are or is still definitely on the island so hang loose!

Getting there is half the fun!

Let’s suppose you’ve got all of that behind you; you’re next step, if you’re not really interested in getting effed up and all stupid is to get to the ocean, drink a delicious fruit beverage or shake, catch your breath, make your plan. We’re up here on the Northern side of the island, which is a little quieter, and has two very special hiking trails out the front door just waiting to be navigated.

Let’s hit it!

Before you go on either one of these hikes make sure you’ve got plenty of water and a sturdy pair of shoes. Good sneakers will do, just remember the going can get a little rough on some of the trails. And don’t forget your mosquito spray, your umbrella, your face-net, a good pair of UV resistant sunglasses, compression socks, eye black, wrist bands, breathable outerwear, sexy underwear, a butterfly net, a flare gun, a harpoon, shark repellant, a satellite dish, and a Uranium Pew-36 Explosive Space Mod-ulator. But half of that crap will do, too.

Bottle Beach

From us, which is like East of that town that starts with “C” – GOOGLE BREAK – Chaloklum, we head East and follow the lone road around the Northern side of the island until the road ends in a dirt parking lot with usually fifty-two motor bikes that tell you that you should have came earlier. There’s a handsomely carved stump there if you like that sort of thing – it really is impressively carved, and you want to follow the path behind it. The path bends immediately to the right, you’ll know it because you’ll ask yourself “How am I suppossed to get up there?”

After that the path will head up over the mountain, down the other side and to a beautiful, remote beach that was well worth the trip. The way there will be lined by dense undergrowth, beautiful tropical trees, the wonderful songs of dozens of tropical songbirds performing at an ear-splitting level (11 on your dial), very motivated crickets who refuse to be drowned out, if you’re lucky a few monkeys who won’t be impressed by much, and hopefully no poisonous snakes.

See, technically I didn’t take the path I should have tooken, er, taked, and wound up clambering rocks seaside until I realized I was getting nowhere and decided to head back. But I did find the correct path, and I know this is so because it was lined with beautifully crafted, handsomely adorned, environmentally friendly plastic bottles every 8 – 21 feet, hence the name: Bottle Beach. The path is also crossed in several places by clear mountain streams, the sound of each being so relaxing you won’t want to leave.

It is a truly majestic coastline with the Gulf of Thailand on one side and the mountains on the other, with everything in between draped in luxurious jungle green. Gonna try and make this trip once more and finally make it to that hidden beach. Wish me luck..

Khao Ra

This hiking trip was special. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I found my way there and back. From Chaloklum you head back down South on the main road, first you’ll see a sign for the Paradise Waterfall, then, after an incline, you’ll see a map on the right of the entire island. The road heads downhill to the South for a kilometer or two, then arrives at an intersection, where you’ll head to the left.

Before this intersection you might have noticed two dogs resting at the entrance to a road on your left, these are important later. After taking your left follow the road for I don’t think too much longer, where you’ll promptly see a sign for the Khao Ra Bungalows, and you’re practically there. Follow this dirt road all the way to the bungalows, but if you’ve come across those two dogs again you’ve gone about two or three hundred meters too far, so if you do see the dogs go down that street cuz it’s shorter. But only before.

Once you reach the bungalows, you’re not really at the bungalows, because you’ve got to follow this other dirt road up to the finally correct bungalows, where you park your camel or motorbike or whatever and pay your twenty Baht entrance fee, if someone happens to be there; there was no one there for us six, so we missed out our complimentary bottles of water.

Follow this “adventuresome” path up the hill to the water basin, where you’ll cross the bridge and head uphill on the main path. Shortly after you’ll see your first sign for “Khao Ra” that tells you you’re going the right way, and you can relax..

..your mind. Because around here that path gets challenging. The forest grows in on you and the roots and rocks provide for some uneven footing. After you get to the sign that says “1,5 Km”, things will get really inter-esting, the footing is treacherous and you’ll have to use the roots to help navigate your way up, and the trees to help pull you up, like some crazy Jedi Obstacle Course, so use the force. I find it helps if you keep your eyes closed. But only if you don’t move.

The joy you’ll feel at seeing the sign for one more Kilometer will only be topped by the joy you’ll feel when you get to the 500 meter sign. It is a true accomplishment to make it up to the top – it is a mountain after all. And once you’re there it will all be worth it, because the view is incredible, unless it’s cloudy, like when I was there. But I was there to train and run up and down the mountain, and not look at stuff, so..

Khao Ra is the largest mountain on the island, over six hundred meters high, and it commands a beautiful view to the North and to the West. There are also apes in the trees but you’ll be too tuckered out to raise your head to look at them so just listen to them screech. There is also a path somewhere that leads South to the very famous Phaeng Waterfall, which is definitely worth a trip, but if I’d have gone looking for it I’d still be looking and I might not be on the right island.

The way down is best taken very carefully, but if you’re feeling courageous you can try to bounce down like a mountain goat. I must warn you, however, I’m very super-fit and I stumbled two or three times. Maybe you’ll have better luck with your normal human-sized feet, my size twelve and halfs got stuck on all kinds of roots.

Once down I recommend you find somewhere to get some coconut water – in a real coconut!- and maybe some mangoes to replenish those electro-lytes. FAST! The climate tends to be really humid so you really need to think responsibly when it comes to exerting yourself, you just won’t be able to breathe as well as you’re used to, and it’s definitely advisable to always have enough to drink nearby. No, not that kind of drink, that comes later..

Wonderdogs, Part I: Spain

                                                                               Nov. 30th

Charlie and Peppa are the two superdogs we’re stuck taking care of here while the woman of the house is away on vacation.  Charlie is four, Peppa two, and both come from hunting stock (Peppa even more so – Charlie is more of a mongrel), and I would not give you this information if it did not play a role later in this story.

We’re supposed to take the dogs for a walk twice a day, as they are young and full of energy.  Once we’ll walk them on the leash just to stretch their legs and let them do their “duty“, and once we’ll let them run free, Charlie for the first half of the walk and Peppa for the latter, and hopefully they’ll be tuckered out enough then to lie around and leave us alone for a few hours.  I like cats.

Before I continue with the misadventures of “Chuck“ and “Peppermint“, let me draw a quick picture to show you what we’re up against:

The other day Charlie barked at the back door, wanting to be let in, but before I could reach the door, he heard something somewhere he needed to yowl at.  Moving out to the back porch, I watched Charlie and Peppa storm down the steps,  race across the back yard, bark at nothing I could see, and then begin to playfully maul each other.  I observed this nonsense for a little, then, as they tackled and bit each other, I whistled at them to come back.

They stormed back across the back yard, raced up the steps – each almost knocking the other back down in the process – and when when they got to me I yelled “Good dogs!!“ loudly and proudly, to which they jumped up and down excitedly.

On a whim, I yelled “Go get ‚em!!“ in my command voice, and wouldn’t you know it?  They stormed down the steps, raced across the back yard, barked at nothing, and then resumed gouging each other again.  There is no doubt in my mind I could have kept this up all day, but I had things to do.  I decided they were “mentally challenged“ and went back inside.

During our long walks, when we drive to the hills with them, the routine breaks down like this:  on the way there Peppa girlie-whines the entire time, we arrive and we let the dogs out, Charlie free from his leash at first and Peppa not.  If they’re both allowed to run free they won’t come back until 2035.  Charlie takes off – but only to pee his Three Drops – that’s his nickname:  every twelve meters three drops.  Charlie is a typical boy with no imagination of his own so he needs to play “fetch“ or he will short-circuit, maybe, and his peabrain will melt.  After anywhere from two to five kilometers, in which Charlie has fetched the stick at least one hundred and fifty seven times, and peed three drops another one hundred and six times, it’s time to switch.  The switch only goes smoothly if Charlie can be tempted to come back and enjoy a biscuit, while Peppa whines because she, too, wants to run free, because she wants a sixth biscuit, because she wants those scary afternoon clouds to go away, oh, she’s got millions of reasons to whine.  So they both get their biscuit, Charlie is leashed up, Peppa is released, and after one ear-piercing yelp, is gone.

One of the first times we took them for a walk we let Charlie “run free”, or: “run back and forth” free, and tried to grow ourselves accustomed to Peppa’s whining. “When do I get to run free?” she seemed to whine. And, “what if he never comes back?” Or, “Why does Thursday end in a ‘Y’?” Maybe. At any rate, on this day Charlie was gone a little longer than usual, which meant that Peppa whined ever more fervently, until finally O my God can it be yes it is! my friend has finally returned!!! And Peppa half-whined, half-cried, half-jumped up and down excitedly, which is a lot of halfs, and runned to greet her best friend heroically returning. Unfortunately, as I’ve implied, Charlie always has a fetched stick in his trap, and promptly drilled Peppa in the face with it. It could have been a real Kodak moment.

Peppa is a typical girl and has an imagination and knows what to do when she is not leashed up and doesn’t have to chase a stick, and does.

Back at the car later we wait anywhere from ten minurtes to an hour until the little lady notices she’s completely alone in the woods and makes her way back.  Did I mention I prefer cats?  See, Peppa likes to hunt, and as soon as she sees a blade of grass bent suspiciously, she’ll start yelping and “chasing the scent“.  Which can continue for a while. Once she disappeared into the bushes “chasing the scent“ and came back an hour later without her collar, which actually had been tight enough around her neck.  Wish I had a video of how she got that off!

The short walks are kind of amusing because Charlie has to sniff everything Peppa does, pee where Peppa has peed (three drops), and, when Peppa puts her front paws up onto a wall that marks property lines, he does to.  He could miss something.  They have also obviously never seen “Ghostbusters“, and aren’t aware of the dangers of crossing the streams, because they crisscross paths every eight minutes and get their leashes tangled.

The other day we came back from our long walk and about two hundred meters from the car my wife and a friend of ours got the dogs leashed up unusually early.  Peppa had come back and it had just worked out that way.  I had been hanging back with my daughter, and my wife and our friend were waiting for us, primarily because I had the car key.  When I finally caught up to them some two-odd minutes later both dogs went nuts, jumping up and down, Charlie putting his front paws up on my abdomen, then both of them cuddling excitedly around my legs, because even though I had been with them every step of the way for the last five kilometers or so, they had blinked, maybe, and apparently were somehow convinced they would never ever see me again but O Joy!!  there I was.

I like cats!

The all time low was near the end of our stay when my daughter and I took Peppa and Charlie, respectively, for their short walk. We made it along the path across the street for almost three kilometers before turning around and heading back, and, almost immediately, my daughter noticed others walking towards us. Upon seeing that they also had a small dog, I tightened my grip on Charlie’s leash. I had just enough time in that half-second to fall completely in love with what must have been the most beautiful puppy in the history of the, like, Earth, before Charlie decided to go for the kill. He tried to run – no dice. My grip was too tight on his leash. He really tried to run – no go! I had pulled the leash back so his front paws were no longer on the ground. Then he went completely apeshoot and started twisting and writhing – I felt as though I was trying to reel in a swordfish – and it was then that I felt his collar slipping. Gulp.

I couldn’t see anymore what the people were doing, or my daughter, and did the only thing I could think of, right as he tore himself away from his collar:

I sat on him.

Well, at least we had something to laugh about later. And the puppy was not harmed in any way , thank God!

The reason I’m going into such detail about the dogs is because I don’t really want to do my hill runs today and I want to procrastinate, and because even when their  A.Q. (Annoyance Quotient) is at its absolute zenith, I remember what it was like to be young.  Charlie, especially, is talented in this regard-he’ll pull and tug and grind his way forward when he’s excited, no matter the odds, no matter how steep the hill is, with a power my wife and daughter have trouble handling, and this reminds me of the power I have inside me to push and grind my way up over the odds and obstacles I face no matter how difficult they appear to be, if I only release it.  I just have to remain true to my roots, the way Charlie (and Peppa) are true to their hunting roots and are always ready to “give chase“.

But physically, as well, I’m tied to that youth, that power, and I’m forced to perform at the level of a .. what’s dogs?  times seven?  twenty-eight year old.   They’re both keeping me young and plucky despite how my wife’s training plan tries to age me.

So yeah, I’m grateful to these goofy Wonderdogs for helping me to achieve my goals and stay on course.

Did I mention that we caught Peppa the other day licking another dog’s feces?

I like cats.