The First Month of Living Differently

I have officially completed my first month of Living Differently. It’s been a challenge to come up with new things to do every day and some have been more interesting than others, but it’s been (mostly) fun. I spent New Year’s on the Las Vegas Strip and bet on the ponies at Santa Anita; I saw the Brady House and the Great Wall of Los Angeles; I learned some card tricks and failed (but am still trying) to learn how to juggle; I tried a new (painful) exercise and walked more; I ate and drank new stuff including yummy cheesecakes and frozen spiked lemonade; I took on the mantle of cancer survivor and remembered friends who had died of AIDS; I played with Drag Queens, played games I had never heard of, tried to be spontaneous, tried to stay calm, and learned the names of all the US Presidents and the countries of Europe. Not bad for 31 days. I wonder what the next 28 will bring?

I have been writing all this down primarily so I can remember it and to force myself to be a little more disciplined. If you are reading along (regularly or not) I appreciate it and hope that it is at least a little bit entertaining.

If you are really bored and want to go back and catch things you missed, check the index of all the Days of Differently.

On to February!january

TYOLD Day 31: What in the World?

I’m great with US geography. I can name all 50 states, in alphabetical order, in under 30 seconds primarily because of the 50 Nifty United States song that we did in 3rd grade. I was Ohio. I can also place them on a map and can even, more or less, draw the map from scratch.

But get me out of the US and I start to fade. I know the big countries of Europe and where they are – the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the like. I’m solid with the Scandinavian countries and can hold my own around the Mediterranean. But get me into Eastern Europe and the Baltic states and I am a complete failure. This is especially sad considering the fact that I work for a company that sails all of the major waterways of Europe.

So I used that as my Differently today: I learned all of the Europe countries and where they are. I did it by studying a map and then taking various online quizzes over and over until I got them all correct multiple times.

The first time I did most of these I got around a dozen wrong; better than I thought I would do. Now I’ve got them down cold. Feel free to quiz me the next time you see me. Of course if you do, that means I get to quiz you, too. Do you know your Slovenia from your Slovakia? Your Latvia from your Lithuania? Did you know that Andorra and Moldova are actual countries and not the mother of Samantha on “Bewitched” and the fictional place where the “Dynasty” wedding massacre took place respectively? I didn’t.

Here are links to some of the quizzes I did. It’s worth noting that they aren’t all in total agreement about what, exactly, constitutes Europe. Some include Cyprus and Georgia, some call Kosovo and Vatican City countries, and some call it FYOM while others say Macedonia. But they are all close enough to being the same that any will get the job done.

http://www.purposegames.com/game/countries-europe-quiz
http://www.lizardpoint.com/geography/europe-quiz.php
http://www.jetpunk.com/quizzes/map-quiz-europe.php
http://www.toporopa.eu/en/countries_of_europe.html

globe

TYOLD Day 30: Driving Me Crazy

My commute to work is roughly 14.6 miles, including about a mile of surface streets from my home to get to the 101 freeway and another half a mile from the freeway to the office.  On a normal day, from garage to garage, it takes me about 30 minutes, give or take.

In case you’re math deficient like me, that’s an average speed of 30 miles per hour, or less than half the legal limit on the freeway.

Some days it’ll take 15 or 20 minutes for no apparent reason and it can be more for a lot of reasons (accidents, broken down cars, weather of any kind), or no reason at all it seems.

Today, about two miles past the exit that I take near my office, apparently they were doing some sort of road work and had one lane blocked.  Let me reiterate that… one lane.  1.  Uno.  Singular.

It took me 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to work today.  That, my friends, is an average speed of I don’t give a rat’s ass per hour because it took me an HOUR AND 40 MINUTES TO GET TO WORK!

During my epic slog to Woodland Hills, I saw some of the worst driving I have ever seen in my life.  People went quite, quite mad – driving on the shoulder, driving into opposing traffic, cutting people off.  I witnessed an accident when traffic stopped so a car could turn left into a driveway only some jackass decided to choose that moment to drive in the non-existent lane where cars are normally parked and t-boned the turning car.

I am a pretty good driver.  I will admit that I am an aggressive driver but I think you kinda have to be here in Los Angeles or you will never get anywhere.  I’ve had a few accidents in my life and a couple of speeding tickets but generally speaking I think I’m better than average and certainly better than most of the people I was sharing the road with today.  I’m certain most of them would fail a driving test if they had to take one.

So of course that made me wonder if I could pass one.  I mean, I must have passed one at some point because I have a driver’s license but I haven’t had to take one in decades so I figured this would be a good Differently for the day.

I went on to the California DMV website and found five practice tests, each with 10 multiple choice questions.  I got 46 out of the 50 correct, so suck it most LA drivers, I’m better than you are!

These are the ones I got wrong:

You just sold your vehicle. You must notify the DMV within ___ days.
5
10
15

You are approaching a railroad crossing with no warning devices and are unable to see 400 feet down the tracks in one direction. The speed limit is:
15 mph
20 mph
25 mph

You are about to make a left turn. You must signal continuously during the last ____ feet before the turn.
50
75
100

You are driving on a one-way street. You may turn left onto another one-way street only if:
A sign permits the turn.
Traffic on the street moves to the right.
Traffic on the street moves to the left.

So as long as I don’t have to sell my car, cross a railroad, turn left, or travel on a one-way street, I’m golden!

It hasn't gotten any better since this picture was taken.

It hasn’t gotten any better since this picture was taken.

TYOLD Day 29: Survival Skills

There was some random commercial on that had some dumb guy running from a bear, which made me remember a certain video that I’ll share in a bit, but more importantly it made me wonder what you really should do in case of animal attacks.  I don’t expect to ever get attacked by an animal – I’m neither stupid nor much of a hiker – but I’m guessing that most people who got attacked by animals never actually expected it, so today I took a quiz to see if I knew what to do in case of various animal attacks.

I got 15 out of 20 correct.  Apparently I’m good with bears, random monkeys, jellyfish, dogs, snakes, and certain venomous spiders.  My end, if it comes in animal form, will probably come at the claws, stinger, or teeth of mountain lions, bees, and/or sharks.

Take the quiz yourself an see how you do.

And now, the video on how to survive a bear attack that everyone should watch.  Not because it’ll do you any good but because you need a good laugh today:

TYOLD Day 28: Brains!

Lately, I have been feeling a little dumb.  That’s actually an understatement: I’ve been feeling as though I am kind of an idiot.  There’s a lot of reasons for it that I won’t go into here but let’s just say that I’ve been in the head space lately where it continually surprises me that I have managed to not wander into traffic or electrocute myself while trying to get something out of the toaster with a fork.

So tonight I decided to see just how stupid I am by doing something I’ve never done before… take a bunch of those online IQ tests.

The first one was all about spatial reasoning; it shows a sequence of patterns and then you have to figure out what the next, most logical pattern is.  You can see if for yourself here.  It’s free and doesn’t require that you put in your personal information or give an email address.

I scored a 71 on it.  According to that most trusted, accurate, and completely unassailable of resources, Wikipedia, 71 means that I am “low borderline,” or basically just a couple of points above being considered mentally handicapped.

Best two out of three?

I went on to the next one, which was all logic questions and includes a timer, supposedly, that penalizes you if you take too long.  Some involved grammar, others math.  For instance, “True or False: Nine chickens, two dogs, and three cats have a total of forty legs.”  It’s also free but does require that you give out your email address.  I gave the one that I always use for stupid stuff like this that I never check, so really… how dumb can I be?

On this test I scored 133, which basically means that I am a super genius and all of you should bow down and worship me as the god I very obviously am.

Feeling that to be completely scientific and accurate – because you can be completely scientific and accurate by taking random online IQ tests… no, really - I took a third one, which was a mix of the shape tests, word problems, math, and more.  Here’s one particularly complicated question: “Alice has seven times the amount of pens that Maurice has. Paul has two-thirds of the amount of pens as Alice and Suzy have combined. Dawn has a dozen more pens than Paul. Suzy has half the pens that Maurice has. If Suzy has 2 pens, how many does Dawn have?”

On this one I scored 124, which makes me close to a super genius but not quite there.  The super geniuses wouldn’t let me sit at their table in the cafeteria but some of them might still talk to me if the others weren’t around.

What does all of this mean? Nothing. I still feel like an idiot most of the time so if you see me wandering around near traffic, gently guide me away from the street, would you? Thanks.

barins

TYOLD Day 27: What’s on TV

Kind of a failure today in a lot of different ways but especially in the Differently department.  The best I could do was try to work through some of the junk that was piled up on my DVR and watch things I had never watched before.

The only one worth mentioning is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – the movie with Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and lots of other very British actors and actresses.  It’s a sweet little film, although it tries a little too hard at times to be a sweet little film.   But the storyline that Tom Wilkinson has is lovely and the acting is impeccable across the board so I’ll give this one a solid B+.

I can’t believe they are doing a sequel, though.  Odd.

This is so boring that I’m not even going to post it on Facebook.  So there, nyah.

TYOLD Day 26: Drag Queen Bingo

I have played bingo.  I have known many drag queens.  I have never been to Drag Queen Bingo… until tonight.

bingo

My delightful friend Fred invited me to join him at Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood where they do Drag Queen Bingo every Sunday and Wednesday.

Just in you are unfamiliar, Drag Queen Bingo is pretty much just like regular bingo only its hosted by a drag queen (or two or three).  Much blue humor, catty comments, audience participation, and ritual callbacks (“B2 – Bless You!”) follow.  It’s like a midnight showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” only with bingo instead of “The Time Warp.”

It’s for charity so extra bonus points and they give away some pretty good prizes (lots of booze, some gift cards, and the like).  Continuing in the same vein as my horse racing and lottery ticket Differentlies, I didn’t win jack.

One of these days I’m going to go to the Pride Family Bingo in Las Vegas, where drag queens take over a ballroom at Circus Circus.  Now that’s what I call Sin City.

 

TYOLD Day 25: The Cuban Press

I work out twice a week with a trainer, Sam Page of Sam Page Fitness, who kicks my ass on a regular basis.  It’s the only way I can find the wherewithal to actually exercise; my body’s default setting is sloth.

I had been working out pretty hard before the whole cancer hooha and was in what was probably the best shape of my life.  It’s all relative – I wasn’t a Greek god by any stretch of the imagination – but for me it was not too shabby.

When I got my cancer diagnosis the doctors told me to gain weight because they knew I’d be losing a lot of it after the surgery.  I used that as an excuse to eat everything in sight and ballooned from a fairly muscular 210 pounds (I’m 6’3″ for the record) up to 236 pounds the night before the first surgery in August of 2012.  When I came out of the hospital 2 weeks later I weighed 205 pounds – yes, I had lost 30 pounds in 14 days.  That was September.  By October it was 40 pounds.  In November it was 50 pounds.  By December I stepped on the scale and saw the number 173 come up, a weight I had not weighed since junior high (I was really fat when I was a kid).  After the third surgery in February I went all the way down to 168 pounds, just two shy of a 70 pound weight loss and nearly 25% of my pre-surgery body weight.

Since then I have been struggling to put weight back on, which is so f-ing weird considering the fact that I spent most of my life trying to lose weight.  A year later I am at a respectable 185-ish pounds and the last couple of months I’ve been trying to add some muscle into the mix.  It’s hard, partly because my body is so different now and partly because I’m 47 years old and my default setting is sloth.

Hence the personal trainer.

Today I asked him to direct me in an exercise I had never done before and he chose the Cuban Press.

Naturally I said, “Isn’t that a sandwich?”

No, unfortunately it’s not.  It’s hard to describe this exercise but basically you lift dumbbells up like are doing an upright row until your elbows are at shoulder height with the weights hanging down.  Then you rotate your arms at elbow and bring the weights up until your arms are in “field goal” position.  Then you raise your arms above your head and then reverse it back down again.

For the record: ouch.  Even thought the weights were light, I barely got through the first set and by the third set, Sam was effectively moving my arms like I was a marionette.  I’m so going to regret today’s Differently tomorrow.

Sam took about 20 pictures - this is the one I look the least foolish in.

Sam took about 20 pictures – this is the one I look the least foolish in.

 

TYOLD Day 24: Zoot Suit Riots

When I was at the Great Wall of LA a couple of weeks ago, there were many panels on the mural that depicted significant incidents in Los Angeles history that I knew nothing about. I made a list of them and decided that learning about them would make good entries on my Differently list. Tonight, I learned about the Zoot Suit Riots.

greatwall_14

No, not the song by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, although it was inspired by actual events.

The riots happened in early June of 1943; a culmination of years’ worth of racial tensions and a patriotic fervor inspired by World War II. A wave of Mexican immigrants had flooded into Los Angeles in the early 1900s, driven out of their country by the Mexican Revolution. By the late 1930s, Mexican-American youth had adopted some of the affectations of the jazz subculture to help define themselves, taking on the lingo and the dress made popular by the musical genre including the zoot suit. Unlike most of the clothing at the time, zoot suits were flashy – broad shoulders, narrow waists, baggy pants, bold colors and patterns. Young boys, men, and even some women wore the suits as a symbol of status and felt that they commanded respect. They gave many Mexican youth their first taste of what we call today “swag.”

Because of the level of poverty and unemployment in Los Angeles through the 1930s, Mexican youth in their zoot suits were often associated with crime and gangs by both the white citizens of the city and by older Mexican immigrants. The association wasn’t completely without merit – the suits were popular among Pachuco gangs of the era. Wearing the suits may have generated respect amongst their own subculture, but amongst the larger citizenry they were viewed as suspect and anyone who wore one was probably going to cause trouble.

When America entered World War II, many items were rationed including wool used for making suits. Strict guidelines were enacted that dictated how much material could be used and the end result was that zoot suits were effectively banned. This didn’t stop them from being made, of course, and the Mexican youth culture embraced their “bad boy” aesthetic even more firmly.

Many white American servicemen, who often took leave in Los Angeles, were offended by the suits, casting anyone who wore them as unpatriotic.

In 1942, a sensational Los Angeles case dubbed the Sleepy Lagoon Murder gained nationwide attention when a young Mexican man was found beaten and later died. Believing it to be the result of Pachuco gang wars, the police rounded up hundreds of young Latinos, many of whom wore zoot suits, and eventually charged 17 of them with murder – 12 were convicted (they were overturned in 1944). This cemented the concept of the zoot suits as being worn only by thugs and hoodlums.

On May 30, 1943, a group of servicemen on leave in on Main Street in Downtown Los Angeles got into an altercation with a group of zoot suit wearing Mexican youth. One of the servicemen wound up unconscious with a broken jaw.

Seeking retribution, about a dozen sailors took to Main Street on the night of June 3, 1943 and began harassing, taunting, and in some cases beating young Mexican men, especially those wearing zoot suits. The police responded and wound up arresting the Mexican youths instead of the sailors.

The next night an estimated 200 sailors took taxis and buses to Main Street and began a coordinated effort to “clean up” the neighborhood. The first two victims of the riots were a pair of boys, 12 and 13 years old, who were beaten and stripped of their suits, which were burned.

Over the next few days, thousands of servicemen joined in the violence, marching through heavily Mexican parts of Los Angeles. Unable to find enough zoot suiters on the streets, they began smashing their way into businesses including bars, restaurants, and movie theaters where people were dragged out of their seats, stripped, and beaten while the sailors urinated on their zoot suits. The police made hundreds of arrests… of Mexican youth. No servicemen were arrested.

During all of this the public openly encouraged what was going on. The Los Angeles Times ran editorials and stories blaming Mexican gangs for the riots and the Los Angeles city council passed an ordinance banning zoot suits (although it was never officially made a law).

The violence spread to other cities and began to ensnare other minorities. Similar racially driven riots took place in the predominantly black neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles.

After four nights of rioting, the navy issued an order banning servicemen from taking leave in Los Angeles, which stopped most of the violence. Although sporadic incidents broke out in the city and around the country, it had mostly come to an end by mid-June.

 

TYOLD Day 23: Juggling

I’ve always wanted to be able to juggle.  So tonight, for my Differently, I decided to learn.

I should have known it would end poorly when the instructional video started by saying, “It’s easy!  All you need is dexterity and patience.”

If I had dexterity and patience, I wouldn’t be single and alone at 10 o’clock on a Thursday night trying to learn how fucking juggle.  But I digress.

Here’s the thing…  I have never been what you might call “athletic.”  I was one of those kids that would close my eyes and recoil in horror when a ball was coming at me in whatever sport I was being forced to play.  I just never understood the point.  You catch a ball and then throw it back?  Why?  If you throw something at me the great likelihood is that it’s going to smack me in the face and leave a mark, but if, by some miracle, I were to actually catch it… I’m not giving it back.! I’m going to take it with me while I go find something to eat.

But I was a pretty good dancer; I actually trained in ballet and jazz a bit when I was in acting school nine billion years ago and I can hold my own on a dance floor today.   Of course dancing rarely involves catching balls.

Go ahead and make your own jokes.

So the video encourages you to start by throwing one ball back and forth.  That didn’t go well and I probably should have accepted my limitations and moved on but I was determined.  Next, unsurprisingly, was the two balls part, and that was even more embarrassing but I managed to do it, kind of, several times in a row, so I figured I was ready for three balls.

Yeah, no.  I get the concept I just can’t get my hands to cooperate with my brain.

Now granted I only worked on it for about 30 minutes but I never even came close to catching three balls.  Total, wretched, abject failure.

But I state this now, with absolute conviction: by the end of The Year of Living Differently, I will be able to juggle three balls.

I hereby officially apologize to my downstairs neighbors.

Oh sure... that'll happen.

Oh sure… that’ll happen.