Memorial Day With A Twist

DSC_0033.jpgEveryone in my newsroom knows when I get excited about a story, stand back because the show is about to begin.

My boss tapped the send button on her email and watched from behind her computer monitor. I could almost feel her smile as I opened it. The show was going to be epic.

The story had everything I hate. First, it was a Memorial Day story. Don’t get me wrong, the men and women who died to secure our freedom deserve to be honored every day, but when every television station and website in the country is doing the same story, with the same pictures, and the same sound . . . well, I think you get my point.

Admittedly, this story was going to be different. It had no video. Maybe an old black and white photo or two. I was going to have to create the rest out of thin air.

And of course, I would have to shoot it over the weekend

Still, I couldn’t resist.

 

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The Road to Fitness

40918392201_1fa5b18e42_oThe morning air clings to my skin like sweat after a long, afternoon run, and I’m less than a quarter mile in. A morning run is different. There is none of the clutter from the day to cloud my thoughts. Only possibilities. Time to relax into my warm-up pace and let the Peter Frampton tune in my headphones take me back to starting line of this crazy race.

IMG_3387I discovered Frampton back in seventh grade — that was about the time I discovered the gym. I was a scrawny kid trying to bulk up for football season. Olympic lifting and peanut butter sandwiches coated with chalky, imitation-banana flavored Weight On powder ruled the day. It was like eating wet cement, but at 60 pounds with three pounds of rocks in my pocket, I was hardly an intimidating presence in the St. Genevieve Catholic Elementary third-string defensive secondary. I would do anything to gain weight.

It didn’t happen.

But in the gym and on the field, I found a love for hard work.

By mile two, my breathing is steady. My feet bound off the pavement like I could do this all day. Running slow is harder than running fast. My body wants to go, so I throttle up. 9:05 should be just about right. I’ve got 8.75 miles, today, and Barry White is telling me I Can’t Get Enough.

In high school, it became painfully obvious that I was not a football player. Hell, I didn’t break 100 pounds till the summer before my junior year. IMG_3388That didn’t keep me from slinging iron around the small gym above the furniture store half-a-mile from my house. I would run to and from my workout. I hated running then. Not for any other reason than it sucked.

By the time I graduated high school, I had a gym partner who shit bigger turds than me. He beat the crap out of me every day after work. Working out was more about getting massive to look good in the bars than anything else. With hair like that, I needed all the help I could get. It worked for him. I remained kinda puny.

By the half-way point, my feet are swimming inside my shoes. I can feel my toenails rake the inside, and I pray I don’t rip a couple off before I get home. Billy Joel is in a New York State of Mind, as I make the turn for home.

clownsThen came a wife and kids. Those little bundles of joy, smelling all fresh, and cooing back from behind the blanket are the perfect recipe for pounds. My workouts became shagging flies in the back yard. The only gym I ever entered was to watch my kids get buff on the gymnastics floor, or roll around the wrestling mat.

The weight I had so desperately chased caught me after my 40th birthday. Two knee injuries, and my 50th birthday had me convinced I’d never lift again. My entire body paid the price. Then came the phone call.

DSC_0249My cousin wanted me to run. Not just run. Run through mud. And climb stuff. And carry things. He called it a Tough Mudder. It sounded like fun, but could I get my fat, broken body in shape in just 3 months?

I downloaded the Nike Running Club app to train for the run, and found a bootcamp to whip the rest of my body into shape.

My trainer’s first bit of advice — You can’t sculpt fat, so don’t even try. Just eat right and work hard. Everything else will take care of itself.

Mile 6.

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My mind wanders off Greg Allman’s guitar bleeding into my ears, and onto the aches I’m going to feel in my knees later today. I’m still running my 9-minute pace, feeling strong, but these last three miles are going to be long.

The feeling of accomplishment in conquering the Mudder drove my team to run 5 more obstacle course races that year, including the grueling Spartan Trifecta. My wife called it my mid-life crisis, but I was hooked. If I was going to run obstacle races, I needed more strength than bootcamp could provide.

I found Crossfit.

The weight lifting, the gymnastics, the rowing, sweat angels, the rips, the camaraderie, the family. I had forgotten how much fun slinging iron could be.

crossfit1Crossfit taught me how to attack training. How to push through the pain. How to embrace the suck, to suffer with a smile. It taught me when to push, and when to pull back.

It taught me that for an old guy, I’m in pretty decent shape.

The tinkling keyboards of Eminence Front drift through my headphones as Mile 7 begins. I feel like I could run forever.

In the three years that followed the first rush of obstacle races, I have only taken about 8 months off — that was to rebuild our house after the floods of August 2016. I have begun to cut back on the obstacle races. I still run at least two a year, but training like I did that first year takes a toll on old joints. Last January, I competed in my first half marathon.

I still love it. I’m just a little more focused on strength. Crossfit taught me that fitness is not about how you look, how much you can lift, or how far you can run. Fitness is about living better.

One mile left. Lynard Skynard is complaining about That Smell. I can’t blame them. Time to kick it up a notch and finish this thing. I cross my driveway three and a half years since my first run — 25 pounds lighter, 2 minutes faster, and more than 2007 miles from where I started.DSC_0019 (1)

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Conrad

I wish I could say I knew him better. He’s a big reason my son is the Marine he is today.

Conrad always pushed Brock. He was a Marine’s Marine. Hard as nails, but somewhere inside, a man who cared deeply for everyone whose path he crossed.

In school, Conrad was a stand-out athlete, but ask the coaches or teachers at Central High, and that’s not what they remember most. They remember a guy who took the time to take care of the weakest among us — the kids in the special needs class, to care for a coach’s autistic children, to touch every single heart on campus.

It’s too bad we don’t learn all those things until it’s too late.

My wife and I only met Conrad a couple of times. Every time we did, we were thankful he had entered Brock’s life. Conrad was someone to push him to be the best, whether it was on the PT field, the obstacle course, in the classroom, or on the rifle range.

We got the call about 12:30 Wednesday morning. Conrad’s CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter had gone down in a training exercise near El Centro, Ca. Conrad was presumed dead.

14595678_1270359059661596_6513921530024322494_nIt’s funny how someone so young can have such an impact on so many. You see, Taylor Conrad wasn’t a drill instructor molding doughy recruits into men. Hell, wasn’t even a Marine. When Brock met him, Conrad was a Poolie — a prospective recruit at the station recruiters called Beastmode. Just a kid, three years out of high school, who wanted more than anything to serve his country.

DSC_0764He and Brock were bunk mates in boot camp, where Conrad’s fire challenged every recruit in the platoon. They came home together after graduation, and left for infantry training together.

IMG_4399From there, they parted ways. Conrad had a thing for avionics. It figures a man like that would pick one of the more challenging fields. He became a crew chief, and shipped out to Miramar. Along the way, he met the woman who he planned to marry this summer.

21752930_1395657613886385_601474178632111046_oSoon, Brock will say good-bye to a brother; a mother will bury a son; and the city of  Central will remember a man who embodied the spirit of that small community — a man my wife and I wish we had gotten to know little bit better, and to whom we will always be grateful for the impact he had on our lives without even knowing it. LCpl Taylor Conrad.dsc_0189.jpg

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Comedy Club

It ain’t easy being cheesy. I should know. Before television, I spent 4 years turning song titles into sexual innuendo on the radio. Add to that all the Dad Jokes my kids have groaned at for the past 25 years. It’s a wonder anyone in my family has laughed in a quarter century.

But my cheese is just that. Goopy, sloppy retorts I slather on every conversation. I’m more of a joke shot gun than anything else. Fire enough ammo, and I’m bound to hit something.

My oldest son inherited that. Sorry dude.

17218503_10210702893920682_1843461757024607662_oMy youngest, well, he’s more analytical. Before he could even talk, we could see it. When Nick learned how his fingers worked, we could something happening behind those brown eyes. It was like his brain was trying to take this new-found skill and use it for something all together different than its intended purpose.

There was always something happening behind those eyes. Whether it was deconstructing Barney the Dinosaur’s “Clean Up” song, or befuddling his older brother with a 4-year-old’s logic, Nick kept us on our toes.

While his older brother excelled at sports, athletics never clicked for Nick. But he would insist on following in his brother’s footsteps. Still, we could see, it didn’t quite fit.

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Nick was a rebel. Not in the usual sense. He didn’t get into trouble. But unlike kids his own age, he didn’t care what anybody thought about the way he looked, the things he did, or the people he called friends.

While his brother could walk in and own a room, Nick would rather sit with the adults and ask questions. He didn’t ask normal questions either. He always took conversations to deep and unexpected places. Like his first sex question. Not the usual, “what’s making out?” or “where do babies come from?” Nick asked, “What’s a blow job?”

Kinda glad I wasn’t in the car for that one.

In high school, his brain got him into all sorts of scrapes . . . mostly with teachers ill-equipped or unwilling to humor a kid with a mind of his own. Imagine a free thinker in a high school religion class.

Then came that day in his senior year. The semester was winding down. It think it was just before exams. Nick came to his mom and me and told us he had finished studying, and wanted to go to a bar the following night. (It’s Louisiana. So, yeah, it was legal.)

1486119_10103411106417425_4690932779115612618_oHe didn’t want to drink or party. He wanted to walk on stage and tell jokes.

We were floored. The kid with the huge intellect and the weird questions, the kid who would rather sit in his room and read the internet from start to finish, wanted to stand up in front of people and dare to make them laugh.

What could we say?

We could have said, “Hell no! You’ve got exams this week Mister Funny Man!” I may have even tried. My wife stopped me.

The first time we saw him, we could not believe it. He was funny! Not just family-gathering-inside-joke funny. For nearly 30 minutes, Nick held a barroom full of people in the palm of his hand. And they laughed.

They laughed hard.

A funny thing happened that night. Our awkward rebel found a home. It was amazing to see. In 30 minutes, my whole vision of my son changed. He wasn’t that awkward kid who listened to that man who cusses at movie screens on the internet.

He was a man. Talking about grown up issues. Challenging the conventions of everyone in that room, just as he had in all those discussions in our living room. Only this time, his audience wasn’t a curmudgeon who thought he was a communist, it was a crowed bar full of people. And they ate it up.

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I don’t know when my chest puffed out bigger, or when I had seen our little brain so happy.

That was more than three years ago. Every opportunity since that first open mic, Nick has hunted a stage to make people laugh — a job that may be even harder than being a parent.

This week, Nick heads west to chase his dream. (Something I could have never done at his age.) Seven booked shows in seven nights, in Los Angeles.

So, if you’re in LA between June 30 and July 7, look him up. He’ll be the kid in ill-fitting clothes cracking wise beyond his years.

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Dr. Feelgood

When your doctor is on indefinite medical leave, it might be time to find a new one. Don’t get me wrong, I love my doctor. He’s a great guy. And he’s the team physician for a local college football team that begins with “L” and ends in “U.”

© 2007 Robert Seale Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

He’s nursed me back to health from all sorts of work-related injuries. Like that time I blew out my knee chasing Lil’ Boosie’s momma around the courthouse. And he’s probed me in places even my wife won’t touch.

Just a few years ago, the doctor was simply the dude in the ER who stitched me up after a dare gone bad. Now, it seems I need one weekly. Men, in general, have an aversion to doctors. I think it all starts when we are kids.

On the little league field we rub dirt on it. We walk it off. Blood makes the grass grow. We don’t need doctors. We just need a little time to shake everything back into place.

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In high school, the doctor asks you to turn your head and cough. In college he gives you a shot of penicillin and sends you on your merry way.

In short, the good doctor is rarely good.

Even into adulthood, the doctor holds only bad news in his gloved hand. High blood pressure, cancer, migraines, depression, diabetes. He’s almost as scary as Jason Voorhees.

Then of course, there’s the reason his hand is gloved.

Which brings me to the reason I needed a doctor this week.

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It’s time for the yearly drop-em-and-bend procedure. Without a current doc, I did what any man would do — took the first name on the list at my local hospital.

So, I called Dr. Blaise. Of course, he’s not taking new patients, but a new physician in his practice is. Well, sign me up.

The kind voice on the other end of the phone told me I would be seeing Dr. Candi.  “With an ‘I.'”

There were a number of thoughts that whizzed through my cortex. But they were not what you might think.

No, it didn’t bother me that Dr. Candi With An I was a woman. It’s 2017, and I’m old. It wasn’t that she was “new.” In all those years in med school, she had to learn something.

The one thought that stuck in my head when I was told that I would be seeing Dr. Candi With An I was, “Great, I got the one stripper who really was paying her way thorough med school.”

il_570xN.1253432507_a0yeI freely admit that is chauvinistic and completely inappropriate. I also admit that before my appointment I showered with that special “smell good” soap my wife bought me.

Dr. Candi With An I was completely professional, and completely lovely. She asked about my medical history, my family, my health. We talked about diet, exercise, work, Crossfit. Turns out she’s a fan, though not a cult member.

It almost felt like a first date.

Then came the moment of truth, and I learned she had one important qualification my old doc didn’t. Small hands.

When it was all said and done, Dr. Candi With An I gave me her number and told me to call anytime.

I think I might have a shot.

 

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Yah Nasty

isla_280x280.25591620_jocox1yoThere are few things worse than coming home smelling like a photog — crackhouse fires, sewer plant explosions, swamp ass, eaux de politician — most days, I could knock a buzzard off a shit wagon.

Lately, I’ve cleaned up pretty good. That’s saying a lot considering what I’m working with, but it’s not me. It’s the soap.

It started off as gifts for my wife — samples from a local hair dresser perfecting her recipes. Handcrafted soaps made from natural clays, aromatic oils, and all kinds of other stuff guys like me don’t understand. I just know my wife came out of the tub soft, smelling great, and relaxed.

My favorite is the name Yah Nasty — because why else would you use a great-smelling soap.

In all seriousness, it’s great soap. Hell, we have a bar in every room and they keep the whole house smelling great, and they look better than any Glade Plug-In or those crappy pull-top air fresheners.

il_570xN.1253422059_ghsfAnd when you get right down to it, who would’t want to smell like Grandma’s Couch? Soft rose scents with a hint of jasmine take you back to those days sneaking cookies on that ugly floral couch.

How’s about an old goat? Rolled Goats, made from goat’s milk, oats, and essential oils smell like no barnyard I’ve ever schlepped a camera through.

il_570xN.1253432507_a0yeShe’s even got one for men. Put A Beard On It, with it’s sandalwood, black tea, and activated charcoal scrubbed off the nastiest assignments the Adult in the Room has thrown at me and left me smelling good enough for my wife to actually sit next to me.

You owe it to yourself — or the lady in your life — to check these out.

My next bar is going straight into my work car. Gas fumes and stale cheese poofies don’t stand a chance.

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A Fairy Tale With A Twist

cs_default_imageI’m so flipping excited.  One of the authors in our local writer’s group is about to give birth.

Karen Ullo’s second novel is on the way. And it’s a tale you only thought you knew. Cinder Allia is on the way.

I got a chance to see this one as she wrote it. It’s sort of a Cinderella-meets-Joan of Arc tale, with Cinderella having to rescue herself when her prince dies. Treason, espionage, romance, magic, murder, mayhem, and the most evil step-mother you can imagine.

A release date is still sketchy, but make room on your bookshelf for this one!

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Earn Your Rank

18402930_10211113874019994_8400291433473830259_nGrains of sand tumbled over each other then took flight, hurling themselves across my legs at speeds enough to shave the skin off my ankles. This was not what I signed up for. At least we were’t racing on the beach.

The Battle Race course, set up ten miles inland, awaited my partner and me. We had run Sid Morris‘ epic first Battle Race in Baton Rouge last year.

This year’s series promised to be even better — 3+ miles and 38 obstacles, complete with extra burpees and penalty laps. Needless to say, we were amped.

Our strategy was nothing new, after half-a-dozen OCRs together, we just looked at each other as the rookies sprintedP4290383 out of the starting gate. We knew we would see them again, gasping for air about 7 obstacles in. Slow and steady is the way to handle a Battle.

Terrain isn’t much of a challenge in Gulfport, MS. The obstacles were the reason we were here, nearly 40 in a 5.5-mile course. And Battle Race did not disappoint.

Cargo nets to crawl under and climb over. Ladders. Inverted ladders. Short walls. Tall walls. Cliffhangers. Rope climbs. Rope swings. Sandbag carries. And that was the
easy stuff.
P4290287I have never seen this much variety, and this many obstacles packed into any OCR anyhere. And as we battled deeper into the course, the obstacles just got better. Barbed wire crawls. A-frames. Tire flips. And a literal mountain of sand. (So much for terrain not  being an obstacle on the Gulf Coast.

You want log carries? Try humping a log down a gentle slope, then crawling under barbed wire while rolling that log up a dried gully.

Tough Mudder has Everest. Spartan has the Bucket Carry. Battle Race has at least three signature obstacles. The first we faced was Limitless. P4290201Imagine Victor Frankenstein as a fitness freak instead of a mad scientist.

This contraption could have come straight from his lab. First you shimmy up an angled pole, swing up and down monkey bars, then back up another angled bar before crossing another set of monkey bars and out of the obstacle. And the best part is, this thing has so many rigs, there can be a different set-up for every race.

Unmovable should be dubbed MissionAlmostImpossible. Grab a 150+ pound sandbag, and schlep it 20 yards. But that, my wheezing sherpa, is just the beginning. 18320595_1718903321740732_5350041093897681042_oDrop that behemoth onto a 24-inch platform then push it over to the other side. Now, jump on top, and cross to the other side. Now, pick up that beast, flip it over the box, jump back, and again hoist the dead weight off the ground and carry at back to where you started.

It’s enough to knock the wind out of the most seasoned OCR strongman. I watched the action at this one for nearly half an hour before our race. No one ran out of this obstacle.

The FF5 Rig, is . . . well . . . words fail me. If Limitless was something from Frankenstein’s lab. FF5 is another dimension. Ropes, balls, and freaky little handlebars all unstable, all dangling from trusses, IMG_6056just daring you to grab one and swing.

Choose wrong, and risk a penalty lap with even more challenges.

Battle Race is the race for obstacle lovers and novices alike. It is a great introduction into what OCRs are all about. Challenging for the individual. Fun to run as a team. On a bigger course, it could easily challenge Spartan as the baddest race in the land. The price is better than any of the big-name races, and the swag aint bad either.

IMG_6035After happy damsels plied us with protein bars and battlefield medals, we retired again to the beach where the winds had intensified. But what’s a sand-blasted ankle when there are beers to be drunk by returning heroes.

If you missed Gulfport, don’t cry in your sports drink. There are two more Battle Races scheduled for New Orleans and Baton Rouge. I’m already signed up.

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A Bag of Ass

17362917_10210828317876893_2968130807892576018_nIt’s been an entire week since I ran the Tough Mudder NOLA, and I’m still blowing mud out of my nose. I’d call that success.

The TM guys said that this year, they had upped their game. I can attest, Tough Mudder 2.0 is a beast. New obstacles. Improved old obstacles. And more mud!

I’m not going to lie, when my team and I crossed the finish line back in 2015, we were ready to run again. This time, I don’t think any of us wanted any more of this course.

The NOLA trail snaked for 10.9 miles across acres of old sugar cane fields, and through sparse woods. I grew up in cane country. The smell of the sugar mill is not one you want to wear to a black tie affair.Bagasse

Once cane is crushed and drained of its sweet nectar, it is thrown into huge piles outside the mill and left to ferment and rot. It’s called bagasse (pronounced bag-ass), which I believe it’s French for “bag of ass,” because that’s what it smells like.

Now, imagine thick, gumbo mud churned to cake-batter and smelling of bagasse. I was a kid again!

The re-magined Everest2.0 is a leg-slayer. 2014_training_everest_420x220px_1The run-up is shorter, and steeper. If you want to make it to the top, don’t stop churning your legs — even when the mountain falls away from you.

Then, swing wildly for one of the dozen or so outstretched arms of your fellow mudders waiting to pull you up.

If you miss, it’s a short, humiliating slide down the Everest’s muddy face all the way back to base camp for a short rest, and another run at it.13116039_10154117816772790_3498648781963682248_oPyramid Scheme is a blast, as long as you don’t mind strangers grabbing any body part available to heave their muddy carcasses over you. I want to apologize to the woman who’s crotch I may have grabbed on my way to the top. That’s what happens when someone is hanging upside-down and her legs look like a fork in the branches of that big oak tree from your childhood.

She was a good sport and yelled at me, “Just get your ass to the top! I can’t hang here all day!”race_3517_photo_50969411

Standing at the base if an eight foot, mud wall with no foot-holds to help me out of the chest-deep goop I was wading through, I thought, “This is gonna be fun.” Mile of Mud is one of the trademarks of Tough Mudder. This year, it was the slickest, nastiest, most fun on the course, and we got to do it TWICE.

But the best thing about a TM is the mudder to your left and the one to your right. Your team is every single mudder on the course. You’re all in this mad, muddy dash together, and the only way you’ll make it through is with the help of the dudes around you.

And THAT is what Tough Mudder is all about. Now hit the showers. You smell like a bag of ass.17362575_10210828317716889_3419742437002249856_n

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Return to Everest

o-MOUNT-EVEREST-BRAWL-facebookIt started as a whisper, somewhere in the distance, a nagging call among my team. You need to do this. . . Again. The voice was seductive, like the siren’s songs that draws sailors to the sea, only this whispered echo was calling us home.

There was much to do: Gear to clean. Weights to lift. Miles to run. Diets to perfect. In short, we were in no shape to return to Everest. But it was April. Our ascent wasn’t until March. That gave us an entire year to prepare for the grueling trek up the face of an obstacle that has stolen the hopes and dreams of so many.

Preparations the first time around had almost killed us, but they paid off in every member of our team scaling the monolithic half-pipe that is the single toughest Tough Mudder obstacle.

14232489_10208956828370825_7740601966627015887_nWe were all two years older now, and one member of our team was AWOL. (Actually, he’s now a Marine, scaling much tougher obstacles.) Still, we were determined to meet the challenge as any Legionnaire would: With lots of help from our friends.

Then, the historic floods of August 2016 took our home. It could not take our drive.

Training would have to wait while we rebuilt our lives from the ground up. Healthy diets would have to be put aside for something we could eat single-handed on the fly with a hammer in our free hand. Running? Only if dashes to the lumber yard for more sheetrock mud counts.

DSC_0249Last time I scaled Everest, I was in perhaps the best shape of my life. This time, with only two months to prepare, I enter the fray 10 pounds heavier, and a full minute off my mile pace.

Now, with two days left before we get muddy, that siren call blares like a trumpet in our ears.

Rebuilding your life from the ground up in just three months throws up every mental road block anyone can imagine. The crushing blow of learning your home will have to be demolished, the joy of learning it will not, daunting five-hour work sessions after a full nine on your day job, sixteen-hour days on the weekend, sheetrock dust — pounds and pounds of sheetrock dust settled on your skin and in your lungs, decisions on everything from walls to be moved to cabinet pulls.

We may enter this trial slower and heavier, but we enter it stronger. Mudder Nation, prepare for Team Geezer!

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