Friday, June 29, 2012


"In the Army there's sobriety, promotion's mighty slow, so we'll sing our reminiscences to Benny Havens, oh." - Benny Havens, O'Brien et al

Telling stories about my time at West Point, as I have in the past couple of posts, makes me wax nostalgic toward my wonderful(ish) years of educational experiences there on the east bank of the Hudson.  Granted, today is no particularly special day for West Point history, nor is it a special armed forces holiday or anything else, but it's a fine day nonetheless to say how proud I am to be a graduate of USMA and a member of the Class of '89.  I'm proud to have classmates like Greg Gadson, who has recently proven not only an excellent spokesman for wounded warriors everywhere but also quite the movie star, and like Kelly Perdew, who won the second season of The Apprentice, and like the hundreds of other '89 grads who invest of themselves in doing their duty to the nation, whether still in the service or out, every day.

In honor of that nostalgic feeling, then, today I bring you the words to a song that was nearly as important to us as our alma mater: The Corps, lyrics by Bishop Herbert S. Shipman and music by W. Franke Harling. 

The Corps bareheaded, salute it
With eyes up thanking our God
That we of the corps are treading
Where they of the corps have trod

They are here in ghostly assemblage
The men of the corps long dead
And our hearts are standing attention
While we wait for their passing tread

We sons of today, we salute you
You sons of an earlier day
We follow close order behind you
Where you have pointed the way

The long grey line of us stretches
Through the years of a century told
And the last man feels to his marrow
The grip of your far off hold

Grip hands with us now, though we see not
Grip hands with us strengthen our hearts
As the long line stiffens and straightens
With the thrill that your presence imparts

Grip hands, though it be from the shadows
While we swear as you did of yore
Or living or dying to honor
The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps


Thursday, June 28, 2012

When quitting is good

Initial note: After following a blog for a while, you get kind of wrapped into the community it represents.  Y'all here have seen me several times link to and quote Rachelle Gardner's blog; I've been following it for a long time.  Anyway, she and her family are apparently in the path of the massive wildfire that's raging in Colorado, and I'd appreciate if you'd keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Funny, in'nit, how social media these days ties us in to locales and people whom we would've just heard about and gone on with our business some years ago? 

And now, back to the regularly scheduled blog topic:

"You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run...." - Kenny Rogers

Some things need to be quit. Like, ferinstance, a Texas Hold'em hand containing a two of diamonds and a six of spades. No point even bidding on that. Right? I mean, I haven't played that game in a while, but that's what I recall of it--a lot of hands like that.

Some habits need to be quit also--like, say, smoking. Yeah, there was a time when the arguments for smoking were just like the discussion regarding global climate change is today. I still remember my mother reacting to the "propaganda" I brought home from elementary school by telling me that there was no scientific proof that smoking was dangerous, and that the science that spoke to the subject was suspect, and all that. She insisted all that, in fact, right up to the day she lost her battle with lung cancer.

(Mom, in your honor/memory, I'll concede that nobody ever proved that your cancer was caused by over 40 years of smoking a pack or more of those things we called "cancer sticks" each day)

So yeah, nicotine intake is bad for you. So quit.

I did, in fact. Several times, in fact. Back in '92, ish, I was outraged at the climbing prices of tobacco and quit absolutely, totally, cold turkey.  Boy, was that a rough weekend.  Back in '94 I went without my tobacco product of choice (Copenhagen: "jest a pinch betwayn yer chick an' gum") for nine months, because it got up to something ridiculous per can (I think it was $24 for 10 cans then). Back in '97 I decided I'd had enough of it, especially considering how my new life seemed to be headed in a direction that would have me in front of classes all day long, and so I finally actually stopped. It was tough, indeed--hardest thing I've ever done, truth be told. But I'm still tobacco-free today, 15 years later, and I brag about that probably even more often than I brag about my alma mater.

So what is it that gets us into these bad habits? The alcohol made me do it, of course.


I'm just kidding. I do take credit/blame for my own stupid acts of stupidity. That said, alcohol did actually serve as a gateway drug. See, a funny thing happened one night at the Firstie Club....

Ugh, what a horrible starting line to a story. But it really did happen that way.

At West Point we weren't able to drink until a) we were 21, and b) we were seniors. Once we met both criteria we could head down to the only drinking spot we were allowed on post, which just happened to be named after us. We were seniors, of course, but the official term was First Class Cadets, which we inevitably shortened (as we shortened every significant term we could) to Firsties.

One good thing about the name is that "Firstie Club" sounds an awful lot like "thirsty club" when you're drunk or aspiring to reach that status.

Now, one night a week--can't recall whether it was Wednesday or Thursday, but it doesn't make much difference--was a special night. That one night every single week was referred to in jubilant tones as "International Beer Night." Yum-O! I mean, who doesn't like International Beer? Especially that one with the cute German girl on the bottle, ja?

The funny thing about the title applied to the evening was that the Firstie Club served Beck's, Molson, Corona, etc., every night. Calling one evening "International Beer Night" was more of a gimmick to get us all there, because on International Beer Night they moved the club from the cozy little lounge to the great big entertainment/dining area where they had beer taps and pitchers at their disposal. You see, International Beer Night was that special evening every week when they served domestic beer in pitchers.

Nope, not kidding.

That, by the way, is why we also called International Beer Night by another name: Big Cup Night. And there's more; I and my fellow electrical engineering (another term we quickly shortened to just "juice," in part because it's a lot easier to say than "elecrictrical engerneerning" when you're drunk, but mostly because shortening terms was just something we did) majors would nearly always join together in a joyous tribute to our beloved academic discipline that we appropriately called "F*ck Juice Night."

Yes, there's a tale behind that one too, but I'll not digress that far in this post.

So there we were one night, um, drinking (go figure), when a friend of mine pulled out a can of Copenhagen and put a pinch between...well, you know the line.

It. Looked. So. Cool.

Granted, I was already deep into my second or third big cup, so my judgment was just a skosh impaired. But I asked him how I could be that cool also, and he gave me what was left of that can and showed me how to pinch it.

It made me high...higher than I could get with just beer. It also made me expel a little bit of the beer I'd already consumed, but my hand-eye coordination was so well developed at that point that I caught the rogue beer in a glass and disposed of it in an appropriate receptacle, to the approving cheers of my fellow drunks. Gawd, young men do dumb things when they're intoxicated.

Anyway, that was--as they say--that. For the longest time I hung my body's chemical fate on the "I'm not addicted; I can quit anytime I want" line of mierda.  I didn't see any need to quit until well after I was no longer capable of readily doing so. I didn't actually quit until I wanted to do so more than I wanted nearly anything else on the planet.

So...yeah. Sometimes quitting something is the best thing you can do.  Paradoxically, that's often when it's also the hardest thing to do.


(EDITING note: Yes, I recognize the dangling modifier in the paragraph about the drinking requirements at West Point.  I'm actually leaving it there just this one time, because a) I think it's funny, and b) I don't think anybody would really believe the post was named after us.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On second thought....

"If a book about failures doesn't sell, is it a success?" - Jerry Seinfeld

So my post yesterday was rewarded with very positive response. More than a few people, it turned out, were touched by the message. I'm eternally grateful that I had/have the ability and platform to do so. It's why I write.

Thing is, I've lived most of my life proving that success is what you get when you start again after you fail. I failed to finish a master's degree program, because I quit. Twice, actually. Then I started another one, and I quit again. Finally in 2004 I had enough of quitting and started one last time, and in 2006 I walked across stage with an MBA. The next year I started my Ph.D., and I've quit that more times than I wanted to admit. Never for long, though--and now I'm done with that also. I started writing my first book in 2006, and quit. That was part of what was going through my mind last year, actually, as I started blogging about the process just so that I couldn't quit. It worked; I finished two novels and a novella and am working on a couple more novels now.

But--you gotta admit, there's a time to quit, isn't there?

We joined a gym a couple of weeks ago, and I can already see and feel the difference. My muscles are hurting in ways that I don't recall them ever hurting before. Every trip results in more pain somewhere else I didn't think I could feel pain. So yesterday Heide invited me to go with her, on our low-intensity workout night, to a class that sounded like a lot of fun. It's described in the gym's literature:

Sh'Bam: The SIMPLE dance program from Les Mills with the latest chart music and the hottest dance moves! It’s a hip, fun & sociable way to exercise. So, jump in and dance your Sh’Bam off! All fitness levels.

Sounds great, right? Also sounds like something an grumpy old dude like me could do, right? "All fitness levels" usually even includes fat, grouchy, and creaky, even when all three adjectives apply to the same guy.

Problem is, I guess, that I'm too used to "normal" group classes. You know, the kind where "grapevine" and similar terms are bandied about, where they do things you'd never expect to see on a dance floor. Where the moves do look really pretty stupid and that's okay because it's a workout class, not a dance session.

After all, there's workout moves, and there's dance moves. Can there be a union between the two sets?

I'd say no, now. Most emphatically, in fact. NOOOOO.

Sh'Bam is a dance session. Oh, the moves still look stupid, at least when I do them. "Turn to the side, wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle jump up with your hands in the air--whee!--shimmy right shimmy right...."

Not this fat grouchy creaky old man, anyways.

I quit. Walked around the back of the class and then right out the door, down to the fitness machine circuit where I could press some iron. Ish, anyway--the iron is actually contained in flat plates that may not actually be iron, attached to fancy adjustable bars and "Range of Motion" selector switches and the like. Still manlier than Sh'Bam, though, despite the cute yellow adjuster handles.

It all turned out okay, at least. I got a great workout. I just had to shake the shimmies off and grunt a few times like Tim the Tool Man Taylor, and then all was well again.

Bottom line: all that "don't quit...quitters never win, winners never quit" crap only applies when you're not trying to turn an 80-pound-overweight man into a dancing twinkletoes.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On not giving up

"Age wrinkles the body.  Quitting wrinkles the soul." - Douglas MacArthur

Over at RG's playground ( today is a post that has once again inspired me to get to thinking.  She talks about not giving up, and frames the discussion within the vignette of her daughter's challenges with gymnastics and subsequent flirt with quitting.  Hey, I can't do what she said any justice here, so please go read it for yourself. 

I think sports are like that, though.  If nothing else, the field of athletic competition teaches us the importance of pressing on, pushing ourselves past where we think we can go. 

Reminds me of a story, in fact.  Granted, looking out of my living room window can remind me of a story, I'm so full of it--er, them.  But RG's daughter's struggles reminded me of my own, way back when I'd decided that I was going to attend a military academy, and so I'd been advised to become athletic.  Yes, generally that happens in reverse order, but I've always been the guy who does things backwards.

My mother was quite protective of her eldest son, mind you.  I'd been trying to talk her into letting me play football (though how I thought I would do both football and band is a mystery) but she was convinced I would end up being bundled off the field in a medical cocoon, every bone fractured and permanently ruined.  Thus, the only way I could work toward going into the military (where people might be shooting at me, but--well, we didn't go there) was to seek out a non-contact, non-violent, non-son-crushing sport.  Like, um, water polo.

I mean, how hard can that sport be, I thought.  People swim down the court and throw the little ball at the goal, and then they swim back.  It's just a lot of swimming back and forth with some occasional ball-throwing mixed in for interest.

The reason I'm snickering to myself is that the only people who think that water polo is non-violent are those who haven't played it.  The refs can't see through splashing water very well, and the unwritten rule of water polo is that anything the refs don't see is legal.

So anyway, first day of water polo, there I was in my speedos and towel.  Wasn't all that challenging at first--how hard could it be, anyway?  Granted, at the time I had no idea of the difference between "warm-up" and "conditioning."  Thus it was that we arrived at the conditioning portion of the practice with me still pretty much unaware of what was to come: In-n-Outs.

Now, In-n-Outs are one of the bread and butter workout moves for water polo teams.  Conceptually they've very, very simple: every body dives in, swims the short length of the pool, and jumps out.  In, and out, got it?  Like I said, it ain't rocket science.  It's also pretty easy to do.  Once.  But then the coach tells you to spin around and do it again.  And after that, spin around and do it again.  And again.  And again.

Problem with doing it in a synchronized, team-wide manner, is that the guy who can really swim (Kyle Kopp, in our case--great guy, but that day I hated his guts) gets several seconds of rest between each one, while the weakest swimmer on the squad (guess who that was...) comes up gasping for breath only to have to flop-spash back in immediately every time.

After nearly a hundred of them (actually it was only seven or eight, but by that point I couldn't count too well) I was done.  I'd had it.  My illustrious water polo career was over, man.  I was never, ever going to cut it with these guys, so why bother trying?

The coach knew, somehow.  Something about the way I stood straight on that rep instead of flopping back in half-hunched over told him what was on my mind.  He came over and said something to me, and suddenly I had entirely new life.  Granted, I still flop-splashed through the rest of that workout and the dozens to come, but I didn't quit again.  I made it through that season, and the next one.  I even played in a few games, ones where we were already up by monstrous point differences and so the coach could afford to put in the flop-splasher. 

I sucked at water polo.  Still do, or at least did the last time I pulled on a pair of speedos.  But I was okay at other sports.  Used to be able to run a five-minute mile, followed by several more.  It's not Olympic standards, but I liked it.  And you know what?  Time after time I remembered that moment by the pool at San Bernardino High School.  When I was somewhere between Mile 25 and Mile 26 of the Marine Corps Marathon, ambling along with muscle cramps in four different major muscles while every other muscle, bone, and ligament in my body screamed at me to stop, I thought of that moment and ran--well, jogged--on. 

That's helped me in other things as well.  I've had jobs where I wanted to just quit, yet I plowed on.  Sometimes we feel that way as writers, too.  But the fact is that no matter how hard it is, there's always something left inside of us to draw from in pressing on. 

You'd think I'd remember what it was the coach said.  I don't.  I only remember how I felt in that instant, the switch that flipped from "I can't do this" to "I can do this."


My favorite poem of all time (I bought a laminated copy over 25 years ago and still have it):

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow--
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor's cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out--
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit--
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

- Author unknown

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Being an authorpreneur (verse 2)

"My son is now an 'entrepreneur.'  That's what you're called when you don't have a job." - Ted Turner

"You've got to say, 'I think that if I keep working at this and want it badly enough I can have it.' It's called perseverance." - Lee Iacocca

Over at Rachelle Gardner's blog this morning there's a thought-provoking discussion, as usual.  Today, though, it's all about how everybody these days seems convinced that the publishers are going out of business, as are the bookstores, and they'll take agents and authors down with them as the great fiscal sky falls down on our heads.  "How do you persist in the face of depressing odds and harsh realities?" she asks.

I chortled a bit and wrote a response, then stopped.  Why entertain her readers when my own need some food for thought?

The post and its responses are, though, enjoyable and entertaining to read.  Of course, there's the predictable "there's never been a better time to be a writer" response.  While I agree with the sentiment, I also point out that you can't feed "a better time to be a writer" to your family, nor will the apartment complex take it in exchange for the monthly rent.

Here's what I was writing as a response:

Reality has always been harsh.  Odds have always been depressing.  "Making it" in any field is challenging, but especially so in a field where the only requirements for entry are a computer of any age or a pen and paper, and the potential reward is millions of dollars per year.  Technology changes, and the marketplace changes.  Even Terry Goodkind, the wunderkind who landed an agent on his first query and a huge contract on his first book (I used to hate kids like him in high school) is going Indie.  Sales are up but only in ebooks and blah blah blah blah....

Readers (like me) still need stories and are willing to pay for good ones.  We always will.  Those of us who provide the stories need to be aware of what's going on, but not afraid of it. 

It is what it is, and it's not any harder to tell a good story than it's ever been, so get over it and write. 

In the world of business, it's usually the ones who defy conventional wisdom who go on to be the FedExes, the WalMarts, the KFCs, the Blue Niles.  Be different.  But be good at it.  

True?  I hope so.  Some of that came from a couple of nights ago when I watched the story of KFC and Blue Nile as I was torturing myself on the elliptical trainer.  Harland Sanders didn't just pop some chicken into his fryer after mixing up the 11 herbs and spices and have everybody loving it and begging for a restaurant in their neighborhood.  He actually was told by many people just how stupid an idea a fast food fried chicken place was.  And Mark Vadon, builder of Blue Nile (an online diamond retailer), bought and built his business in the incredible lows of the dot-com bust years.  That, and he defied people who said nobody would buy diamonds online, that the purchase is a tactile affair.

Oh, and the brick-and-mortar jewelry stores hated Vadon.  Still do.  Sound familiar?

If you're going to make it in business doing just about anything, you can't be like everybody else.  That, I suppose, is the bottom line.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Father's Day tale

Matt, mighty god of war and lord of the estate, drew the day’s official reportings to a close with a nod to his advisors Rellgl and RJ and then relaxed into the simple wooden throne. Man and thrakkon vanished through the door into the reception hall, followed by Matt’s head mages Phoenix and Birch and then by the thrakkoni attendants in the room, leaving the god alone with Sorscha.

“So. Any remaining business for the day?” he asked his chief assistant without turning his head. He knew she was standing where she always did, immediately in front of the curtains that opened onto the stairs that spiraled back down into his chambers. The answer, he knew, would be “None but your bidding, Master,” just as it always was. The thrakkon had been created to serve him, a role she filled well, but creative ideas weren’t her strong suit.

A giggle from behind the curtain brought his chin around quickly, though. That was different. Sorscha stood still, a grin gripping one corner of her lips as she made clear efforts to fight it down from the remainder of her face.

“I believe….” She began.

“Yeah,” Matt interrupted. “Heidi, you can come out now. And bring your sister with you.”

The twins sprang from behind the curtains and skipped across the half of the throne room that separated that exit from their father. Heidi skipped, anyway; Linda walked.

“Well,” Matt continued once his daughters stood in front of him. “Welcome to my throne room, I suppose. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit? And does it have anything to do with whatever Linda is hiding behind her back?”

“To the day, Dad,” Heidi chirped as Linda beamed.

“The day?”

“Happy Father’s Day!” both girls said while Linda pulled a large folded piece of paper from behind her back.

“Well. I—I didn’t realize anybody was still tracking those days,” Matt said, gingerly opening the paper. Inside was a well-drawn portrait of the god of war and his wife, dressed up in regal finery as they had been on their date to Olympus, with both girls’ signatures below.

“It’s beautiful, girls. Thank you. You both worked at drawing this?” As both girls’ heads bobbed, he smiled and said, “I’m proud to have such talented daughters, then.” Rising, he enfolded both girls in his arms. They stood quietly for a long time, father holding both daughters in a warm hug.

“We haven’t had a lot else to do, with Mom being gone and all,” Heidi said, breaking the silence. Linda speared her sister with a dark expression as Matt disengaged and smiled tenderly.

“She’ll return soon enough, girls. Thor and I have known each other a long, long time, and I’m sure he’s taking good care of her while he teaches her how to fight like a goddess. We talk to her nearly every night now.” It was true; Matt signaled the girls whenever their mother buzzed in on the link he had created from where the thunder god was teaching her to fight as a test along the path to becoming an immortal. Together they would come running at his signal and spend as long as they could sharing the events of the day with their mother, and listening to the events in Thor’s hall in turn.

“Dad,” Linda changed the subject, “what’s it like to be eternal?”

“I wouldn’t know. Eternal means forever, in both directions. I’ve lived a long time, but not forever. I’m actually immortal.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I do. It’s tough sometimes. I’ve spent eons watching humans do stupid things to each other. I know I will continue spending the next many eons watching humans continue to do stupid things to each other. Sometimes it’s kind of like being a father: knowing, based on experience, how things will turn out, yet also knowing that they don’t care, they’ll do it their way anyway.”

“Have we been like that, Dad?” Linda asked.

“Nah,” Matt smiled. “Well, maybe a little. But you two are the most wonderful daughters a father could hope for. That, and you’ve generally been willing to listen to what I say. Except, of course, the one time on our trip to....”

“Brazil. Yes, Dad, we remember.” The story of a childhood prank that had backfired and landed the twins in the Rio de Janeiro jail had been the focus of attention recently, and the girls weren’t in the mood to hear it again.

“I was about to say Sicily, but now that you mention it, there was that trip too.” Matt’s smile warmed even further.

Eagerly changing the subject again, Linda asked, “So, Heidi and I were talking the other day, and we started wondering. Who is our grandfather?”

“He was a wonderful school teacher. It’s too bad you were never able to meet him.”

“We know about him, though. What about your father? You never talk about him.”

“MY father? Um—well, he is the creator. The Father God. You kinda come from a pretty powerful line, girls.”

“And where is he?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know, Dad? Don’t you know everything?”

Matt snorted. “No. Not even close. If I were omniscient, I’d’ve been able to stop your little foray into the war room—-remember that?”

“Uh huh, but it doesn’t answer the question,” Linda said, standing her ground. “Where is he?”

“He went away.”

“To where? And why did he go away, Dad? It seems a silly thing for a father to do, creating and then disappearing.”

“Yeah, that’s the human way to think about it, I guess. But he’s the creative force behind everything, girls. He created the place that you know as the universe. He created us, the gods. Oh, he stops by every so often and plays around—the Norse knew him as Odin, and the Greeks knew him as Zeus. And then he goes and my guess is that he plays around in other creations of his. I mean, looking at it as a god--why would the ultimate creative being create a single universe and then say, ‘okay, good enough, I’m done forever’?”

“Good point, I guess. So since he’s gone, we’ll never get to meet him, will we?”

Matt nodded. “Yeah, you will. I think, anyway. I can never predict what he’ll do, of course, but I get the feeling he’ll be back soon.”

“Really? I can’t wait,” Heidi exclaimed. “You’ll have to introduce us as his granddaughters so we can tell him how much we disapprove of his absence and then forgive him with a great big hug.”

Matt roared in laughter, unable to control his humor enough to play along. Sometimes the girls acted very much older than their thirteen years, and sometimes the opposite. “I think it would be the first time he’ll have heard all that.”

“I bet. Now, Dad, what do you want to do on your special day?”

“Hmm, let’s see. Since I’m the Dad of War, how about if I go and find a nice village to raze? You can go with me.”

As both daughters’ faces blanched, Matt chortled. “Just kidding, girls. Just kidding. How about a nice pleasant ride around the estate? Phobos could use some exercise, I bet.”

Knowing how much his daughters loved to ride horses, Matt smiled as they led him from the throne room to the stables for a Father’s Day ride.


Hope you enjoyed.  To all the Dads out there--and to my own, up in the Creator's embrace--I wish all a very Happy Father's Day!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On Exercise

"Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning." - Thomas Jefferson

"Exercise is bunk. If you are healthy, you don't need it: if you are sick you should not take it." - Henry Ford

"My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She's ninety-seven now, and we don't know where the heck she is." - Ellen DeGeneres

"I take my only exercise acting as a pallbearer at the funerals of my friends who exercise regularly." - Mark Twain


Zumba: from the Spanish word zumbar, meaning "to watch old fat men die."

Actually, zumbar means "to buzz" in Spanish. Which, I should add, would be just as applicable to the situation, if not as humorously piquant.

It's been both a busy and an exhausting past few weeks. I've nearly finished off that dreadful project called a "dissertation"--ever notice how many perfectly dreadful things begin with that same syllable? Disuse, disease, dismember, to name just a few? Take my normal writing voice (I know, some of you chuckled at the juxtaposition of "normal" and "my writing voice) and remove every ounce of interesting from it. Take it all out. Adverbs begone! Adjectives also, unless they're the dreadful ones that merely name something: in "a quantitative study," for example, quantitative is in fact arguably an adjective. It's a dreadful one, though. You'll never hear it used, say, at a Renaissance Faire or a park. "It's such a nice quantitative day, Dad"--nah.

Academic writing is no fun.

However, I'm almost done! Over the weekend I received full approval from committee, and now I merely await school approval and "format editing" (where someone looks over my droll example of English language usage and verifies that my commas and such are all placed just as the American Psychological Association says they should be) before I can defend it--the proper term for that being "conference call" actually, since the committee has already approved it and so their justification for attacking, thus creating a need for a defense, is rather slim.

So anyway, I'm almost done. In celebration, my wife and I joined a gym this weekend. Sorry--we joined a health club. It is indeed a gym, but there's oh-so-much more to it. Like, um, fitness classes.

Like Zumba.

Zumba is described in what must be an illegal manner on the fitness club's web site--illegal insofar as there must be laws somewhere that prevent Death by Untruthful Disclosure or some such--as "Dance your way to a fitter you! An Aerobic workout using exciting and unique Latin Moves and Rhythms. Also incorporates dance elements from other cultures including Belly Dancing and Hula. All Fitness Levels."

A fitter me! Hey, that's what I want. And I've danced before. Just last Saturday night, Heide and I went out to a dance club at a local hotel. Granted, we picked wrong; this club was full of people who have already earned every senior citizen benefit known to us here in the U.S., and the D.J. seemed intent on playing every disco song that we hadn't heard back in the 70's. Okay, bad choice. We danced anyway, though.

Dancing is fun. Latin Dancing is even more fun! There was this club up in Anchorage called Club Soraya that.... Nah, too many digressions already. But it's fun fun fun! Not sure about Belly Dancing, as I've never done it before, but I figure I've got plenty of the first word to make it good. And Hula? I used to do that, too.

"All Fitness Levels," they said. Ha ha freakin' ha.

Now, I've done aerobics before. At West Point we had to take a PE class every semester, and we got to rank the choices in the order in which we desired them. I figured out the system pretty quickly; whichever one I wanted the most I'd put at the end of the list so that I'd be sure to be assigned to take it. Before I figured it out, though, I found myself one day in an aerobics studio in a class called, simply, "Aerobic Dance." We started calling it Aerobic Death after the first day. The professor was a little Army officer--she couldn't have been more than five feet tall--who could aerobicize entire football squads to death. The only reprieve we got, as I recall, was the one time she played "Don't Worry, Be Happy" as part of the slower "remembering why gravity sucks" portion of the death match, and we all got to sing backup by chirping along to the "coo coo" in the background music to the rhythm of the bounce and the pain.

This wonderful experience plus a couple other classes I took later on taught me such important terms as "grapevine," "step-touch," "v-step," and the like. Granted, we rarely use those terms in anything resembling normal life, but they're used a lot in group exercise classes. I was so happy to already know them, in fact, that I busted right out of the gate flashing my best moves. I shimmied, I shook, and I grapevined with the best of them, imagining all the while my wife and daughter's eyes shining in pride from my side.

The fact, I learned later, was that they were just doing their best to keep up and didn't have much time to look at me.

Did I mention that Zumba is fast, fast, fast? And it gets faster after the warmup, as I learned to my dismay.

Sure enough, about twenty-six minutes in, I was done. Couldn't breathe. Couldn't do much dance except for an awesome head-bobble move I pulled out of somewhere.

"Maybe we should go." - somebody said. Might have been me, but I'm not sure I can claim that much lucidity.

"Yeah." - somebody else said. That was probably me, but I really have no idea.

Ever walked out of a group exercise class not quite half-way through? It's a little embarrassing. Probably not nearly as embarrassing as falling on the floor unable to breathe would've been, though.

Okay, so no more Zumba for me for a while. Not till I find where I stowed my lungs, anyway....