Learning to laugh

I can still recall the two occasions I had to “perform” in the WOC studios. The first time, I was a fifth grader from Harrison Elementary School in Davenport, Iowa, and certain “select” students from Mrs. Iverson’s math class were in the studio, along with our teacher, to be guests on a local programming show. It was a Sunday morning, and we were to demonstrate the use of manipulatives as a learning tool in the study of “new math”. She rehearsed us well, and I practiced for days.

Suddenly, we were on-the-air, the lights were blazing hot, all the children were petrified, and Mrs Iverson was chatting comfortably with the hostess. Several students had their turns in front of the camera, and then she turned to me.

“Now, Charles, why don’t you show us how we use the blocks to see how multiplication works.”

“Okay, Mrs. Iverson,” I chirped. I then sweated my way to the chalkboard, where she had written: 6×6=. Next to the board was a small table full of little wooden tiles, and a slanted board on which to arrange them.

“When our teacher gives us a problem like this one,” I began.

(the camera started rolling in closer)

“we…we make a row this way for the first number…”

(and closer)

“and…uh…this way for the second number…

(and CLOSER)

“and that’s how we can tell that six times six equals thirty-two.” (Whew.)

“Thirty-six,” she whispered.

“Thirty-six!” I shrieked.



Doom! Despair, and Agony on me!

I would have slunk back into the shadows, but there were none. I’m thankful, now, that those were the days of black and white television, lest the beacon of my embarrassment cast an eerie red glow across the set. I didn’t hear any snickering, back amongst my peers, but I could tell some of them were shaking their heads. One girl in particular, who had coveted my major speaking role, had a look of smug satisfaction on her face.

I was quite certain that I would never be able to show my face around town again, not realizing yet that the sum total of the viewing audience for such an early Sunday morning program was probably ten. Nevertheless, I was scarred.

The second time I was in the WOC studios went much better. I was twenty years older, and it was our church’s turn to “fill the pulpit”, or at least the 7:30 a.m. time slot on (what else?) Sunday morning. I was usually a tenor in the choir, but our choir director was scheduled to be out of town that day. I was chosen to fill in. It was no big deal, really, because our choir never looks at the director anyway, so my job was to simply wave my arms, point once in a while, and act like I knew what I was doing.

I performed flawlessly. From the back. From the front. Camera in. Camera out. Before the Preacher uttered a word, all seventeen people watching at home got to hear our renowned choir, singing to the beat of a human metronome. Piece of cake.

Why the difference? Was it the knowledge that nobody watches this public service stuff? It’s not for nothing that these are the bargain basement hours for advertising revenues. No, it was because I had learned how to play along, to laugh at myself.

About five years after my epic fail, I was in an algebra class, trying to multi-task, before multi-tasking was in vogue. (I’ve found out since, that I tend to think better in boxes, so I now leave the multi-tasking to my talented wife, with her everything-is-related-to-everything-else brain.

“What?!” I say.

“Oh, I’ve segued,” she says.

“Could you, like, give me some sort of a signal or something when you’re going to do that?”

“If you thought more like a woman, you wouldn’t need any clues.”

“Yeah, I guess I’m kind of addicted to antecedents. Just put me back in my box, and I’ll be happy.”)

That probably doesn’t count as multi-tasking, but back to my algebra class. In the middle of my daydreaming, Mr. Miller called my name…twice.

“Uh…thirty-six,” I stammered (there’s that number again).

He immediately broke into unrestrained laughter, as if I’d just delivered a totally unexpected punchline.

“Why sure,” he said through his chuckling, “If you’re not paying attention, just take a wild stab in the dark. Who knows? You might make a lucky guess.”

I had wanted to protest that I was paying attention, but by now I’d noticed that the rest of the class was laughing too—as if I had said something really clever, instead of something really stupid. In that moment, I just shrugged my shoulders, and smiled. The guy sitting behind me slapped me on the back. I had become a class hero for the day. I had learned how to recognize an opportunity and play along, to let people laugh with me instead of at me.

I found that if you laugh at yourself first, that it diffuses the embarrassment that comes from doing something bone-headed. Victor Borge, the brilliant concert pianist, would often smack himself on the forehead right in the middle of playing a beautiful piece of music, as if he had made a mistake. He had not. Instead, his rare self-deprecating humor was seen as pure joy, conveying the message that the pursuit of perfection is not nearly as important as enjoying life. Learning to laugh at ourselves is a good place to start.

I’ve been thinking about getting a new scale.

I’ve been thinking about getting a new scale. Not that there’s anything wrong with the old one. Miss Piggy has been twirling her curls, and gazing into her crystal ball for years at our house. I just step on the scale, she closes her eyes, then, magically, my weight appears. Pretty simple. Pretty basic. I’m not even sure where we got that scale. Somebody else may have thrown it out. Can you imagine such a thing?

But, this year I thought I’d do something different. In 2008, I was able to lose 42 pounds by adopting two rules:

  1. Eat only when you’re hungry.
  2. Stop when you’re full.

Nothing fancy. Nothing magical. No grapefruits, no protein shakes, no “bread” made out of soy flour (yuck!), no pills. It worked. I lost weight, felt better, blah, blah, blah (infomercial time).

Then, life happened, and I went back to working swing shift, which requires that you try to fool your circadian rhythm into believing it’s nighttime when it’s not, and vice versa.

“I can go to sleep now.”

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can.”

“No, you can’t.”

“It’s really dark outside.”

“No, it really isn’t.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Yes, it is!”

“No, it isn’t!”

“The curtains are dark. I can’t see a thing.”

“The curtains are glowing, and you can see sunbeams!!”

And so, Sir Cadian would rule the day, but I’d get back at night.


“You are getting sleepy.”

“Ack! Fiend!”






“Caffeine! Caffeine! Caffeine! Caffeine!”

“Just close your eyes.”

“I gotta go.”

“Just take a rest.”

“No, I mean, I gotta GO!”

Swing shift and I did not get along very well. Twelve cups of coffee and a two-liter every time I worked nights. And, what is there about coffee that makes your mind say, “You need a donut”? They’d hang there, salaciously, in the vending machines, calling out, “Charley, I’m here for you. You want me. You know you do.” And, I’d give in. You lose all inhibitions on swing shift.

In grocery stores, I’d find myself wandering aimlessly through the aisles of temptation, for it is there that Ben and Jerry release their sirens of seduction (a.k.a. a “New!” flavor) to lure you towards the promise of flowery meadows; only to leave you crashing upon the rocks, and heavier on the scale. And, that’s another thing. What lying huckster decided there are four servings in a pint of premium ice cream? Yeah, right. First, you buy it, then you find a spoon (or even a fork) in the car, then you sample a little, then you’ve eaten half, then more than half, then, well there’s not enough to save anymore, so… and all before you reach home! So, then you feel guilty (because you are), and you hide the container and all evidence that you bought it, and walk into the house, and say, “Hi, honey. Uh…whatcha makin’? Heh, heh. Boy, I’m starving.”

The best five words of healthy living advice I’ve ever heard from my wife are: STAY OUT OF THE STORE! I can still remember, very vividly, that some of the worst belly-aches I’ve ever known have come while waddling out of an all-you-can-eat buffet, after having determined to get my money’s worth by personally making up for the fact that all my kids did was eat macaroni and cheese, and stuff their pockets with jelly beans.

Which brings me back to the scale. Over the past couple of years, I’ve put thirty pounds back on, and added blood pressure, cholesterol, and anti-depressant pills to my daily regimen. And, I was thinking that a new, more modern, more…capable…scale might help me to return to healthy living and stay on track.

So, I did a little googling, and started researching. Okay, here’s a nice looking scale. Hmm, here’s a body fat scale. That’s cool. Google. Here’s a body fat scale that will give me my BMI too. Google, google. Wow, a scale that will measure body fat percentage, BMI (with a twelve segment bar display to tell me if I’m underweight, normal, overweight, or obese), skeletal muscle (as opposed to…what?), and visceral fat (I don’t even know what that is, but here’s a tool that’ll measure it for me). Google. Double Wow! The King, a scale with all of the above, plus body water, resting metabolism, and body age (18-80)! It comes in stainless steel, and it’s bundled with an exact ECG heart rate monitor that will record my average and max rates, beep at me when I’m over or under my training zone rate, monitor my calorie consumption in K cal and my fat consumption in g/oz, is water-resistant, and it’s a watch! All for only $213, batteries included (that’s a deal maker).

Of course, I’ll have to upgrade my $10 hand-pump and stethoscope blood pressure monitor with a digital one that’ll do it for me, tell me if I’m sitting right, measure morning hypertension, and wi-fi upload everything to the internet, where I can I can chart my progress in mega-dissected detail. There’s an app for that!

I’ve tired of the Wii Fit balance board, and besides, I don’t like it when I put on a few pounds, and the first thing it does is grunt at me. Google again. EA Sports Active 2.0, with wireless control link, leg and arm straps, motion sensors, a heart rate monitor, and online help for tracking and sharing. It has a virtual trainer, and I can do biceps curls, running, and boxing. All without leaving my living room. It’s even available for the iPhone. And then, there are accessories. Whew.

This was getting confusing (and expensive), so I googled some more and found “10 Tips for Using Body Fat Scales”. There, I found out that “body fat scales don’t actually measure your body fat percentage.” What!? Turns out all they can really do is track changes over time. They take an electrical resistance reading, and then perform a series of complicated algorithms and formulas to “predict” what they display. Heck, Miss Piggy can do that!

The final straw was when I read tip #8: “Buy the most expensive body fat scale you can afford.” No conflict of interest here, right? So, I started adding up the cost. As somewhat of a techie, I’ve been burned before. I’ve decided that the “tech” in tech toys stands for time-wasting, ego-boosters, costing hundreds. I’ll probably forget that acronym tomorrow, but it felt pretty clever when I came up with it : ) So, what happens if I buy all these things, and then give up in a month? The only thing lighter will be my wallet. And I’ll have more stuff sitting around the house, like the treadmill/coat rack in the mudroom.

2011 has brought with it a new slice of life. After three more nights, I will be leaving the land of the zombies to take on a dayshift assignment for a year. Sir Cadian is pleased. So are my wife and kids. I think. Since I am an electrician, maybe I’ll just add electrodes to Miss Piggy (I’m thinking aluminum foil, here). I’ll hook up my digital multimeter (electricians own such things), and track my own “changes over time” on a piece of paper. True, I won’t be able to do any live streaming metabolic index monitoring for all my fans who love to sit in front of a computer screen, watching the moment by moment changes in my heart rate, hydration level, and visceral fat, but I’ll save some time and money within the confines of familiar surroundings. Miss Piggy has been a reliable prognosticator over the years. She’s modest too, in her own way. She always closes her eyes when I step on the scale.

Wait a minute. This is Miss Piggy, here. Maybe that’s just her way of grunting. Hmmm.

I’ve been thinking about getting a new scale.

Fitness Challenge, and other ramblings

I told Sandy I wanted to start a team to participate in the LiveHealthyIowa 100 Day Wellness Challenge.  I said we’d call ourselves the Iron Butts.  She just laughed at me and said, “more like the Lead Butts.”


So, okay, while we’re on the subject, Sandy was talking to granddaughter Anna, when Anna pointed at their little beagle, Ladybug, and stated, “She doesn’t have a butt.”

“Ladybug has a bottom,” said Christianly-correct Sandy.

“No, she doesn’t have a butt.”

“Well, what is this, then,” asked Sandy, pointing.

“That.” said Anna, “is a tail.  It’s not a butt.”

Anna’s mother, who’d apparently had this conversation before, , then joined in with, “What are underwear for, Anna?”

“They’re for butts.”


I’d go on, but…