Friday, September 28, 2018

Cutting the Cord, a.k.a. Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space

Honestly, it's a little weird.

I've been in the same job for 29 years, and I'm leaving in two months.

Thanks to a retirement system that I never used to think about when I was younger, I don't have to get a new job to have enough money to live on. I'm a lucky man, and I'm grateful as hell.

But I'll almost certainly keep working in some form or other.

I'm leaving because I have pretty solid info that moves are afoot -- among those who have the power to make such moves -- to change aspects of that very retirement system in a way that would cost me a lot of money if I stick around. It would be a ridiculous and foolish risk to stay -- or so say those who advise me on financial decisions. The math on leaving adds up -- easily -- whereas the math on staying makes the obvious sentimentality of that potential course of action seem something close to reckless.

By the way, in case you can't tell, I'm being intentionally vague. If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you'll know that we don't ever talk about my day job as a lawyer here. I'm trying to maintain that facade, for now anyway.

OK, it's probably closer to really weird. I'm really good at my day job. I could keep doing it forever.

But it's also exhilarating as hell to be free-falling, with a giant safety net below me.

I'm 56 years old and in two months I can do whatever I want.

Have I mentioned the exhilaration part of the deal?

I'm in two bands. I do volunteer work. I teach. Add in travel, gym, yoga, playing sports, etc., and I don't think I'll be anything close to bored. Last night I had a few ciders with a guy that works in a law office that I might want to join one day. Or not. I can also just handle individual cases once I'm "retired." There's talk of relocating to the Mountain West some day.

Hell, there might even be a book in me. There could be some freelancing or other work in the "paleo" world.

None of these things could come true, or all of them, or, more likely, something somewhere in between.

The exhilaration is real. The uncertainty is pretty cool.

 It's time to have (more) fun (than ever). Let's go.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Little Garage Gym That Could

In June 2010, I quit the standard-issue gym where I'd been keeping myself in okay shape, and I showed up at 7 a.m. at a one-car garage in the suburban town of Cherry Hill, NJ, ready to try CrossFit.

These were the early days -- for New Jersey anyway -- of CrossFit. At the time, there were two CF gyms in the area, and I chose the upstart for a really simple reason: I was fairly sure that I was a decently fast runner for an old guy, but I otherwise didn't know anything about barbells. So, my brain reasoned, I could embarrass myself a lot less at a smaller CrossFit gym, especially a new one. We'd all be newbies in this thing together, sucking toward some higher goal, right? Right.

When I say, "One-car garage," I shit you not. This wasn't one of those sort of 1.5-wide garages where you could keep the beer fridge on one side of the car and maybe a folded-up ping-pong table on the other side and still have room to open your car door. Nope. One car. One. (Count it). To make room, the car was parked outside. There was a pullup bar. One. There was a barbell and there were some weight plates. There might have been two barbells, actually. There were some dumbbells and a fucked-up-looking thing or two that I later learned was called a kettlebell.

I remember a few very specific things about that morning:

--Justin and Alycia, the owners, were really nice, enthusiastic, and ready to talk all things CrossFit at the drop of a hat. As a new convert, so was I, so the CF-oriented yapping was exactly what I wanted.

--Justin played loud music and also told me that he played bass in a band. Now we were getting somewhere. CrossFit and music/band talk? Sign me up. (I signed up).

--I deadlifted for the first time ever. Dude. Deadlifting. I felt like Barney in the Simpsons when he has that first drink ever and yells, "Whoa. Where ya been all my life?" It was like Jesus, the Buddha, and the Quaker Oats man had all shone their little lights -- or whatever it is that they do -- on me simultaneously. I was hooked. This deadlifting was a thing I could get into. It was nothing like Olympic lifts -- cleans, snatches, or jerks -- all of which seemed at the time more like magic tricks than actual achievable feats. Deadlifting was just digging in, with the right basic form, and standing up while holding a heavy thing that had been on the floor. I've never stopped loving deadlifts. Ever.

When I joined CrossFit Aspire, I think I was the fourth member. I learned a lot. I got really fit, not just runner fit. I eventually, a few years later, got a three-rep deadlift at 425 pounds that made my then-51-year-old self pretty effing happy.

But back to 2010. Fast forward to the end of that first year and there were enough people showing up on a regular basis that Justin and Alycia ditched the garage for a rented space. The new place seemed huge.

A year later the gym got even bigger, moving to a much larger space. That one seemed extra huge.

From 2010 through 2015 -- when an injury sidelined me enough that I quit CF altogether -- CrossFit Aspire, whether located in a garage or a giant warehouse, was a centerpiece of my life. CrossFit gyms are rarely just gyms. They have parties and dinners and pig roasts and generally become an important part of a member's social life.  Even after I quit, my wife remained an Aspire member and we still hung out with lots of CF friends fairly often.

My wife got an email yesterday that CrossFit Aspire is closing -- for good -- in less than two weeks. The gym world is rough, and never stays the same for long. A thriving enterprise one year is yesterday's news the next year. I don't even know all the details. I just know all that matters: that consistently, without fail, over the years Justin and Alycia ran a top-notch facility where the nice people were in charge and attracted a clientele that includes some of the best people I know.

Impermanence is a repeating-theme blues in all of our lives, and gratitude is not overrated. So you cherish the good times and the people that made them. And you move on, but always remember. Thanks, CrossFit Aspire. "You changed my life for the better" might sound trite. Nope. Really. You did.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Live Review: The Jesus Lizard, Philly, September 8, 2018

"Oh, stop!" were the first words out of David Yow's mouth last night in Philadelphia as his band, the Jesus Lizard, took the stage at a sold-out Union Transfer and he waved his hand dismissively in a faux gesture of humility. A few seconds later the rest of the band was off into the crushing riffage of "Puss," and he was off as well: off the stage -- horizontally riding the crowd as he delivered his vocal chaos -- seemingly off balance, and off the hook. Within a few more minutes, as the band ground another song to a simultaneously punishing and precise halt, another Yow emerged.

The faux humility was gone. He knew they were killing it:

"Amazing. Fucking amazing," Yow said in wonderment of his bandmates. "I am SO HAPPY for you people to get to see this." And then a wry smirk came across his face: "This has to be the highlight of your life. I mean, after all, you live in Philadelphia."
"One [Steve] Albini trademark was to mix the vocals very low -- on the Jesus Lizard albums that Albini recorded, singer David Yow sounds like a kidnap victim trying to howl through the duct tape over his mouth; the effect is horrific." --Michael Azerrad ("Our Band Could Be Your Life")

My attempts to describe the sound of the Jesus Lizard invariably end up at some sort of melange of noise and math rock -- maybe the Butthole Surfers and Fugazi had a love child? (That's reasonably close, actually). But I most like what my rock-critic friend Mark Deming just today said about the band: "An amazing balance of precision and chaos."

Yeah. That's the one. Precision and chaos.

Mac McNeilly (drums) and David Wm. Sims (bass) lay down a thunderous groove, often in time signatures that seem familiar, but which then veer off to something more unsettling -- after which they return to the familiar. Repeat, ad infinitum. The two are so inextricably bound together that I just assume that they eat meals at the same time even when they are thousands of miles apart. They sound a little bit like it would if, in a cartoon, you threw a perfectly-tuned drum kit and bass guitar down the stairs, and they landed together. The rumble is frantic, but with the exacting perfection of genius musicians.

Over top of that rhythm ride two things, one providing shimmering texture and one... uh, not. Duane Denison's guitar is the texture. While McNeilly and Sims roar and seeth, Denison adds flavor, sometimes joining in the musical brutality of the rhythm section, but more often operating in (somewhat) more ethereal tones.

When I first heard this band, I thought vocalist David Yow's name was Yowl. It would fit. He provides most of the chaos. Yow speaks, growls, screams, and occasionally sings the words. Most of the time, I have to look up the lyrics; sometimes when I do, I wish I hadn't.

I knew all that -- I've owned this band's records for years -- but nothing prepared me for the first time I saw them live.

That first time -- inexplicably (I have no excuse) -- was last night.

Christ, it was powerful. It was, no shit, one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. My thesaurus is broken. I have no more words. Everything I just said about the nearly disturbing power of this band? In the live context, it's increased by several orders of magnitude. These men are all in their late fifties, just a couple years older than I am, but McNeilly attacks the drums with the testosterone-fueled aggression of a teenager and Yow spends song after song stage diving while continuing to vocalize as the crowd passes him around. Sims and Denison are less physically aggressive than their bandmates, but their musical delivery is no less precise, mathematical, and deadly.

I really don't know that in 41 years of seeing bands that I've ever seen anything better than the Jesus Lizard last night. And they went on for 26 songs -- 15 in the regular set and then three multisong encores. I believe the set was the same exact order as this one, but I'll post the Philly setlist when it gets published.

Ordinarily, I'd tell you what the very biggest highlights of the evening were, but every single song fit that bill. Yes, 26 strategic blasts of perfect tactical chaos. I'm a drummer; I've played in bands for years, and I simply don't know how they pulled off that sustained intensity for a whole set, and I don't know, specifically, how Mac McNeilly isn't in the fucking hospital, or, at a minimum, on long-term doses of anti-inflammatories.

I hit the drums really fucking hard, harder than most guys my age. But Mac hits them harder. Sometimes most of the joints in my body ache as a result of the way I play. In fact they ache so hard that a soon-to-be post will address the relative wonders of CBD oil for chronic pain. But... Mac, dude, sir, I do not know how the hell you do what you do. But please keep doing it.

This band is a multiheaded hydra of power and precision. And, yeah, chaos too. They have no peers.

It may take weeks for me to fully recover from this one.

Dig in: