Hey, everyone. How’re y’all? My knee hurts.

It’s my own fault. In my never-ending quest to deny reality and change my workouts around, I signed up for a conditioning class at a local circus school. Just one day a week, figured I’d get some tips on improving my balance before the next surfing expedition. I didn’t think for a minute that we’d work on any of the apparatuses, as they call them, but to my surprise the main part of the class involves clambering around on trapeze fabric and a couple of round things called lyras.

Nothing like trying a new skill to make you realize how much you have to learn. It turns out my core strength is fine, but upper body? Let’s just say the Cirque du Soleil will not be calling; I can barely hoist my body weight off the ground, although I managed one good inversion on some fabric, after I’d wrenched my ACL-free left knee, trying to swing it through the lyra.

Success on one did not balance out failure+pain on the other, but it helped. I’m sticking with the class.

I’m told lyra work is a big thing in high-end strip clubs these days, but I wouldn’t know anything about that, first-hand.

And this is the sort of thing you do when your husband consistently works late on Tuesday nights.

Bearing down on the holidays, I only have a million things to do. Three of us went out for a couple beers after work yesterday, the closest thing to a holiday party we’ll have this year. Bill told a great story about being an altar boy 50 years ago, and talking to one of his fellow servers about what he did during his, the other kid’s, considerable alone-time with Father in the rectory.

“Try on diapers,” the kid said. “You should try it sometime. They’re really comfortable.”

Bill wrote about this when the priest abuse scandal was breaking. Father was transferred around from church to church, of course. The other kid? He developed a drinking problem.

So, then. Some bloggage as we go forward? I’ll do my best:

Working-class jobs in the area, especially those previously filled by unskilled men, have largely disappeared. In the late 1970s, 786 people worked in well-paid union jobs in the timber industry; now that number has declined to six. The population is ageing. Incomes have declined. White-collar jobs have drawn people to Oregon’s cities, whose demographics mean they dominate the politics of the blue state. Harney County has a limited economic and demographic future – but if federal lands were handed over to local control, Bundy argued, perhaps the area could be great again.

That paragraph, from this interesting essay about the alt-right and “new patriotism,” could be written about northern Michigan, rural Ohio/Indiana and probably dozens of other regions in this country. Still working my way through it, but so far, so good.

One of my Airbnb hosts on my California sojourn worked on this show, “Generation KKK.” I no longer have cable, but I’m sure it’ll be available through one of the streaming services, eventually.

This douchebag again. When is someone going to sue him?

Happy Thursday to all.

Posted at 10:05 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 103 Comments

The coast.

The week, the month, the year has reached its crescendo — annual review done, story memos done, shopping done. More or less. (Just a few bottles to buy. The Christmas equivalent of phoning it in.)

So now I can relax, work on some longer-term projects, look at the Christmas tree, wrap presents. Coast. Chill. Enjoy.

And drive. A lot. This weekend is the Nall Family Christmas ™ and the Columbus Dispatch Alumni Holiday Party ™, which replaced the booze-soaked Up on the Housetop Party ™ of my era. The Dispatch party is Friday night, and of course I have a training on Friday, in Lansing, which means I’ll be leaving from there. Driving distance between the two state capitals? Four hours and 25 minutes, thanks for asking.

I used to love a long drive. Now it just hurts my back. I recently came to the realization I’m what’s known as an active sedentary person, i.e., someone who exercises for one hour a day, then sits on her ass for the remainder. Not good, but I don’t see an alternative, until I perfect the art of writing-while-walking, and no, I’m not getting a treadmill desk.

I enjoy this time of year, working for Bridge. We go dark for two weeks, which never happens at a daily newspaper. I believe I’ve written before about the torture of the holiday interval in newspapering, which is sort of like anesthesiology — hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer terror. You sit around waiting for a disaster, hoping the pages won’t come up from advertising with more news hole than the canned year-in-review stories can fill, because then you’ll be sent out on a holiday nothingburger, about new year’s preparation or the returns desk at some department store. Those all suck.

The tragedies suck worse — the man who went to midnight mass, missing the fire that broke out and killed his wife and children; the old rummy who robbed a bank, then walked to a nearby bar and waited for arrest, so he could have a warm place to sleep and reliable meals. The underwear bomber was a Christmas Day story. Exploding water mains if it gets real cold, another holiday perennial.

Much better to be off. I clean closets, a deeply satisfying task. I’m also going to find time to watch “Hypernormalisation,” a BBC documentary by Adam Curtis, which is getting insane buzz at the moment, but can only be found on YouTube. I’ll give you a report.

Of course, a lull won’t necessarily arrive this year, as we count down to our nation’s transition. Neil Steinberg referred to these days as being akin the clack-clack-clack of a long climb up the first hill on the world’s most terrifying rollercoaster. I think that’s right.

In North Carolina, they’ll be covering the Calvinball leagues.

In Washington, we’ll be waiting for the first daughter to be first lady, while the woman who would normally fill that role remains separated from her husband in another city. And there’s the new diplomatic corps to look forward to.

Unrelated, except in the what-fresh-horror-is-this file, Lenny Pozner, one of the bereaved parents of Sandy Hook, continues to fight the good fight. What a heartbreaking, infuriating story.

Don’t mean to bum y’all out. I’ll be back after the long weekend.

Posted at 11:32 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 71 Comments

Monday’s Monday.

I don’t know what it is about me and Mondays. I had an action-packed day today, if you equate “writing things” with action. I got a lot accomplished, is what I’m saying. At the end of it, I walked the dog and thought about pouring myself a big glass of wine. Then remembered: Trying to minimize my drinking. So I made soup — curried butternut squash-apple. Cutting up the squash put me in a lousy mood, because what a fucking vegetable, amirite? You practically need a chain saw to get to the good stuff, which is just wrong. Vegetables shouldn’t play so hard to get, considering lots of people have to force them down the old gullet.


Got a bit of a snow day, I guess. No swimming, no boxing, slept clear until 6:30 and lolled abed until 7, at which point I got up and went directly to work, because I had to do some interviews with people far overseas, whose days were already well along. Drank coffee and watched the sky go from black to gray to lighter gray. Monday.

Somehow, this blow-by-blow doesn’t quite have the best-seller ring of “My Struggle,” does it?

So, a couple of announcements:

MichaelG! Your sbcglobal email address was hacked some time ago, and I’m getting almost daily spam messages from it. Check/change your password, eh?

I used Google Voice / Hangout for my interviews today, and cannot praise it enough. Better than Skype, better than your calling plan. The internet has disrupted and destroyed many businesses, but I’m old enough to remember doing a story on some young Fort Wayne brothers who were living in Jerusalem during one of the intifadas. Because of the time difference, we did the phoners from home, well before I went into the office. One call went for 30 minutes and one for 40 minutes, and the phone bill was $179. I called to see if I could get it adjusted. Why yes! I could. If I signed up for a $5/month international calling plan, they’d retroactively bill me for what I’d have paid to call Israel under the plan. The bill dropped from $179 to $18 and if that doesn’t tell you what shit does and doesn’t cost, I don’t know what does.

Today my calls to Cypress and London were a penny a minute. Literally.

It was sunny in Cypress. Gray bowl here. Mondays.

I’m sorry I have no links. Maybe tomorrow.

Posted at 9:58 am in Same ol' same ol' | 31 Comments

Brandy, you’re a fine girl.

I don’t know why, but I think this belongs here:


It’s one of those nights, folks. Too much work, a trip tomorrow — to Kalamazoo, perhaps my favorite city name in the whole state — and too much miscellanea in the One of These Days file. Like this list, not the top 100, but the first 81. So many songs that should never be played again, and yet, I probably know every word, because if there’s ever an effective memory-cementing device, it’s a 14 year old and a transistor radio. Alan digs up “Troglodyte” on YouTube every few months, just to torture me. “She was one of the Butt sisters!” he crows, and justlikethat, the song is re-embedded in my frontal lobes, along with…pretty much everything else on this list. There may be two songs here I couldn’t sing beginning to end, and I don’t think I want to learn them.

More fun fotos! The royal family before the annual Diplomatic Reception:


I love the fam’s official photographic record. Those knickers, the heir, the heir’s heir, the consort and the young commoner-turned-duchess. Do you ever wonder if, while getting dressed, maybe Bill and Cathy Cambridge sing “Duke of Earl” to one another?

And when I hold you
You’ll be my Duchess, Duchess of Earl
We’ll walk through my dukedom
And a paradise we will share

I hope so, anyway.

Finally, pro tip: “Pumping Iron” is on Netflix this month. You should watch it. I did, the other night, for the first time since the 1970s. It holds up, with young Arnold Schwarzenegger displaying all the charm that took him to fame and riches. He’s smart, confident and a real competitor in this bizarre sport. Plus, it’s 87 minutes long, which strikes me as pretty perfect for a documentary.

Into the weekend we go.

Posted at 9:56 pm in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 91 Comments

The year’s homestretch.

The weekend flew so quickly I have to think what even happened. Oh, right — workout market Christmas tree lunch book Noel Night sleep breakfast cleaning schvitz decorating. I think that’s everything. The schvitz may be the most memorable, in that I stayed in for longer than usual, and when I came out, I felt a little weird and dizzy and heart-poundy. I guess some serious blood-flow shenanigans happen when you’re sitting in a million-degree room. It’s almost like another workout. No wonder the Russians swear by this stuff.

I was busy enough today that I only gave the Sunday papers a short skim, which seems to be better for my mental health, although I can’t afford to be one of those people who simply checks out. And I have Twitter, which means I am made aware every time this happens:

And when this happens:

And suddenly, Sunday night seems a lot like Monday morning. Oh, well. Chili’s on and my basement is almost clean. Bloggage:

Comments are disabled for this video from Sandy Hook Promise, and of course we know why. Still, it’s a great one.

The fire in Oakland is absolutely horrible. I expect it’ll happen here one of these days — lots of after-hours spots with similarly casual attitudes about fire safety.

And that’s it for now. Happy Monday to all.

Posted at 7:12 pm in Same ol' same ol' | 65 Comments

Soup and nuts.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, we don’t eat canned soup in our house. Alan once spent a summer working the Campbell’s soup factory in Napoleon, Ohio, an experience that put him off canned soup once and for all. (He also worked in a pizza factory for a spell. Don’t get him started.) Because I really like soup, this led to me having to learn how to make it from scratch. The good news is, homemade soup is so much better than the canned variety that the bad news — yes, it takes longer than opening a can and heating it on the stove — is entirely eclipsed. We eat soup throughout fall and winter and into the spring, and I don’t resent any of the time and effort spent to make it myself.

Which brings me back around to Blue Apron, which we chewed over a few weeks back, and something else that bothers me about it.

I poked around on their website for a bit, which is the extent of the research I’m willing to do about it. Here’s a vegetarian offering, for cauliflower “steaks” and farro salad:

This dish highlights the delectable potential of one of autumn’s most abundant vegetables: cauliflower. We’re roasting thick slices until they develop a crisp, golden crust and a tender, sweet interior. Our “steaks” get an elevated topping of juicy grapes, toasty hazelnuts and fresh rosemary quickly cooked in a brown butter sauce, which also lends its incredible flavor to a hearty farro and arugula salad. A pinch of fennel pollen (an intensely aromatic spice with notes of citrus and sweet anise) completes the dish with sophisticated flair.

Sounds delicious. But if Blue Apron and similar services are being used as a crutch, or an intermediate step by young and busy people toward actual kitchen independence, they are going about it all wrong, in my opinion. Fennell pollen is not an ingredient that should be in a beginner’s kitchen, or even, it could be argued, any kitchen.

You want to cook more at home? Start with soup. Easy-peasy. You have the stuff that gives the soup its name (tomatoes, squash, chicken and noodles, whatever) and the stuff it floats in (clear broth, cream/milk), and that’s pretty much it. You can mash up some of the first stuff to make it thicker, but that’s up to you. Play around with it, figure out what you like, and move on from there. No need for fennel pollen.

So, we can discuss cooking today, or we can talk about the business genius involved in throwing a few more millions of taxpayer dollars at a company, so it’ll make a show of staying in Indiana. And all this from the party that said government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers. All bets off.

Posted at 9:47 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 70 Comments

Cans to the curb.

Well, that was a much-needed break. Saw some movies, read a novel, celebrated my birthday, had a Thanksgiving dinner of tofu and vegetable stir-fry. And it was a productive one. The end is in sight for the Great Basement Clean-out; we should be mightily slimmed down by Christmas, our most precious basement stuff high off the floor and much old junk taken to the curb on trash day. The precipitating event for this project was a flood in nearby neighborhoods, caused by a heavy autumn thunderstorm. The city claimed it was simply too much rain for the sewers and pumps to handle, so it ended up in people’s basements. While there is a counterargument to be made, it’s undeniable that climate change is giving us more such rain events, so I feel good about being prepared. It’s only a matter of time before our number comes up; this is a low-lying area.

Among the things I unearthed was a pile of 20-year-old News-Sentinels, most with columns of mine somewhere in them — journalists used to save clips like relics. Into the trash they went. One edition puzzled me, until I noticed a story at the bottom of the features front, written by an intern. It was a puff piece on some woman who’d written a book for younger women married to older men. She’d grown up in the Fort and was in town for her high-school reunion and had worked a book signing in there. I suppose I was taken by two passages:


First, that someone born Margaret can become Beliza, and second, the blithe way her marriage is described in the story. I recall a colleague dropping this on my desk with a witty note: “In other words, she broke up a family and now we’re writing about her self-congratulatory book.” Oh, well. They’d been married 25 years at the time the story was written, so it wasn’t an entirely Trumpian match. I wonder more about how Margaret became Beliza. I’m suspicious of first-name changers, like the woman who broke up John Edwards’ marriage, born Lisa Druck and morphed into Reille (pronounced “Reilly”) Hunter. Beliza sounds like it might have been the product of rather determined self-reinvention, but what do I know? Maybe she fell in love in Belize.

Or it’s a mashup, like Elian Gonzalez. I don’t speak Spanish and don’t know the culture of Latin America all that well, and when I first heard the name just figured it was one I didn’t know, but then I read it was one of those late-20th-century one-offs that his mother came up with…why? Why? Yes, to be “unique,” because if there’s one thing every inhabitant of planet earth has a right to, it’s a name like no other. There are only 365 possible birthdays (366 in leap years), but you needn’t share your name, not anymore.

Which brings us to the big story of the weekend, the death of Elian’s patron, Fidel Castro. I made up my mind to read just one major piece about him this weekend and decided on the NYT obit, on the strength of Anthony DePalma’s byline. He spoke to the Knight-Wallace Fellows way back when I was one, and I was impressed at the depth of his understanding of Cuba, and his encyclopedic and unsparing knowledge of Fidel. It’s a very long obit, so I’ll break my three-paragraphs rule for just this marvelous passage:

He dominated his country with strength and symbolism from the day he triumphantly entered Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, and completed his overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by delivering his first major speech in the capital before tens of thousands of admirers at the vanquished dictator’s military headquarters.

A spotlight shone on him as he swaggered and spoke with passion until dawn. Finally, white doves were released to signal Cuba’s new peace. When one landed on Mr. Castro, perching on a shoulder, the crowd erupted, chanting: “Fidel! Fidel!” To the war-weary Cubans gathered there and those watching on television, it was an electrifying sign that their young, bearded guerrilla leader was destined to be their savior.

Most people in the crowd had no idea what Mr. Castro planned for Cuba. A master of image and myth, Mr. Castro believed himself to be the messiah of his fatherland, an indispensable force with authority from on high to control Cuba and its people.

He wielded power like a tyrant, controlling every aspect of the island’s existence. He was Cuba’s “Máximo Lider.” From atop a Cuban Army tank, he directed his country’s defense at the Bay of Pigs. Countless details fell to him, from selecting the color of uniforms that Cuban soldiers wore in Angola to overseeing a program to produce a superbreed of milk cows. He personally set the goals for sugar harvests. He personally sent countless men to prison.

But it was more than repression and fear that kept him and his totalitarian government in power for so long. He had both admirers and detractors in Cuba and around the world. Some saw him as a ruthless despot who trampled rights and freedoms; many others hailed him as the crowds did that first night, as a revolutionary hero for the ages.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a dove land on me before, but maybe that day is coming.

A little googling on Elian turned up this great Gene Weingarten piece from when it was going on, 16 years ago. I bet Weingarten likes his old clips better than I like mine.

Also this weekend I tried to stay…not away, but maybe an arm’s length from the news, just for a while. It helped, although I couldn’t avoid this piece, about magical thinking among some Trump voters:

Dalia Carmeli, who drives a trolley in downtown Miami, voted for Donald J. Trump on Election Day. A week later, she stopped in to see the enrollment counselor who will help her sign up for another year of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“I hope it still stays the same,” said Ms. Carmeli, 64, who has Crohn’s disease and relies on her insurance to cover frequent doctor’s appointments and an array of medications.

Yeah, sure, why wouldn’t it? More:

More vulnerable are people like Gerardo Murillo Lovo, 44, a construction worker who never had health insurance before signing up for a marketplace plan in 2014. He pays $15 a month and gets a subsidy of $590 for a plan that covers his wife, as well. When he renewed his coverage last week at the Epilepsy Foundation, he learned that the price would not increase next year.

“I’ve heard that what he wanted to do first is get rid of Obamacare,” Mr. Murillo, a Nicaraguan immigrant who is a citizen but did not vote, said of Mr. Trump. “But my personal opinion is that he will discuss it with other people who will convince him that we can’t get rid of this. I think it’s going to be maintained one way or another, and I’m going to keep it as long as I can.”

Thanks, low-information voters.

OK, then. The week ahead will be the week ahead, and it’s time to take it on. Break’s over, back on your heads.

Posted at 6:06 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 91 Comments

Leftover mashed potatoes.

One of those days today. It was our family Thanksgiving/birthday dinner. Alan is working on the holiday itself, and we have no guests to invite to an evening feast, and with Kate now a vegetarian, it seems silly to make a turkey for two people. So it’ll likely be grilled cheese sandwiches and a couple of movies on Thursday. As the sole cook and baker, I can tell you it was a real shitshow. Every pot boiled over. I neglected to add baking soda to the cake, and the resulting pair of rock-like layers had to be pitched. The ensuing mess was epic — I think I did dishes five times — but it finally wobbled from the kitchen to the table. Fat roast chicken, mashed potatoes, Asian green beans and a big side of mac and cheese (for the vegetarian). And a lopsided, but homemade, birthday cake.

Plus a bottle of champagne. You really can’t wreck a dinner utterly and completely if there’s champagne. That might be the only smart call I made.

And now it’s Sunday night. The president-elect was up at 6 a.m., tweeting about “Hamilton” and “Saturday Night Live.”

I’m so far past the can’t-even stage, I don’t know what to say. Except maybe this: When Axl Rose is a voice of reason? I can’t even can’t even:

And now I’m kind of depressed, but it might be the end of the champagne talking. Or it might be that I just realized how long four years really is.

Posted at 8:31 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 64 Comments

Our best friends.

I think it was last week, when I was running around lower Ferndale on this and that errand, that I started thinking about how we treat our dogs. There’s a small hobo encampment under an overpass, and not far away, a pet boutique on Woodward called Fur Babies or something, a term I’m always struck by.

I coo and baby-talk to Wendy as much as anyone, but I never call her a fur baby, although I refer to myself as her mom, Alan as dad and Kate as sissy, so I can’t really talk. The biggest gift you can give an animal in your care is to simply try to understand them, to the best of your ability, knowing you’ll never get it all the way right. And while they show their devotion to us in many ways, our relationship is not parental. At all.

I think back on the way we treated my first dog, which we got when I was in junior high school, and want to cringe. Housebreaking was done by rubbing their nose in their accidents. You corrected chewing and other slights with a rolled-up newspaper across the nose. Crate-training was unheard-of; while you might confine a dog to the kitchen or another room with a baby gate or something, for the most part, when you left the house the dog was simply left to its own devices and expected to figure things out. If they didn’t, if they chewed up a sofa pillow or magazine or something, we applied the rolled-up newspaper. This was a commonly accepted training practice; everybody did it.

Don’t get me started on spaying and neutering. OK, go ahead. Only female dogs were ever sterilized, but often only after a litter or two — people spoke of “letting” their dog have puppies first, as though reproduction was a matter of personal happiness for the animal. Males were never neutered, because it was an understanding that no male would willingly inflict castration on another, even in a different species. And so lots of mutts happened, because here was the other thing: Dogs were generally free to roam. Not every dog; some were confined to a yard or tied out on a long line. But an amazing number were simply let out in the morning and did their dog thing in the great outdoors all day, at least in good weather.

Alan’s dad had a pair of Irish setters that lived in the garage, year-round. The cat stayed out all night long. Sometimes she brought home a frog.

Some exceptions: Cats were routinely neutered, because tomcats spray, but the females were more often left to go in and out of heat. But cats were hardly ever confined to a house.

There were consequences to this, of course. Dogs getting run over by cars was a thing that happened, a lot. Stepping in poop was another thing that happened, often, because no one carried bags on walks. Dogs and cats defecated where they wanted and it was left to the property owner to clean up or step in. Oh, and lots of dogs ran away and were never seen again.

This was just pet culture.

When did it change? Hard to know; I went through a long pet-free phase, but when we got Spriggy, everything was different. He was my birthday present in 1991, and Alan bought a book by the Monks of New Skete, who are known for their beautifully bred and trained German Shepherds. From them, and others, we learned just how wrong we’d been doing it. Housebreaking was learned through routine and reward, with messes cleaned up quickly and without incident. We used a crate. He was neutered promptly at six months and needless to say, never roamed free. When we walked him, we carried poop bags. The world was different.

Things seem to have shifted a gear again. I can’t tell you how many people I know who share their beds with their dogs, and not little dogs, either. Sometimes multiple dogs. Those cushy dog beds Orvis sells — my first dog slept on an old blanket on a concrete floor, in the basement — are only for when the family, “the pack,” isn’t sleeping together in the king-size. It’s routine for people to expect to take their dogs everywhere, on vacation, out to the bar, even to work. I’ve known people who get insulted when told their dogs aren’t welcome at a particular place, because of allergies or whatever reason, including because it’s a dog. People do DNA tests on their dogs, expensive surgeries for conditions that would have suggested euthanasia just 15 or 20 years ago. Aging dogs get assistive devices, slings to help big ones up and down stairs, even diapers.

You can see why I think of dogs when I see homeless camps. Most middle-class dogs live better, eat better and certainly sleep more comfortably than a great many humans.

It’s not just household pets, either. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are way out there on the fringe, but the fringe has a way of working its way to the center. Today I saw this ridiculous PETA video about what normal people call selective breeding and PETA calls “rape.” Yes, rape. Of animals. “I am you, only different,” one woman says, holding up a photo of a cow.

No. Sorry, but you’re not. This is what I mean about understanding animals, about their essential nature. What are they about? In many ways, the dogs of my childhood, turned out to sniff and poop and hang out at the bitch-in-heat’s house, may have had a better life than the pampered, bed-sleeping ones of today, provided they could avoid getting hit by cars. I don’t believe dogs want to necessarily live like humans. I think they want to be dogs, if a dog can be said to want anything so abstract as the experience of being themselves.

Here’s Wendy, not minding the floor one bit:


And woo, looky here — another whole politics-free post to take us into the weekend.

One piece of bloggage: Farhad Manjoo states the obvious, that we’re living in a fact-free world, and in posting it I’m dedicating it to everyone who clogged my social media with the “news” that the Chicago Tribune was calling on Hillary Clinton to step down, when in fact it was one Tribune columnist, and the jerk one at that.

Happy weekending, all. Not much longer now.

Posted at 9:48 pm in Current events, Same ol' same ol' | 84 Comments

Pimping iron.

I don’t know what got me thinking about the Mr. Olympia contest the other day; probably saw a reference to it in the zillions of words that fly past my face in a typical crazy-ass day. The contest was held in September. In Vegas, natch, but for years it was held in little old Columbus, Ohio. In the early ’80s, before the internet, when personal fitness was barely getting started and bodybuilding was a weird subculture with a seriously gay vibe, I attended one. Alone. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was working at the Dispatch, a rookie, in the women’s department, when the press people for Mr. Olympia came calling. I’m sure they’d started with the sports department, and struck out, because as far as the sports department was concerned, bodybuilding was not a sport. It was a weird subculture with a seriously gay vibe! No one wanted to be associated with that; no one in sports, anyway. And so somebody with Mr. Olympia called my editor in the women’s department and pitched a really crazy idea: Women who lift weights and train and do bodybuilding contests. It so happened that the reigning Mr. O, Frank Zane, was married to a beautiful woman named Christine, with whom he trained. We could interview them both at the Sheraton down the street that very evening. I got the assignment.

Thinking back, I’m amazed at how strange this idea seemed — a woman pumping serious iron. A friend of mine was working at the time at a fitness studio called Spa Lady. She wore tights and a leotard and leg warmers to work, as did all of the customers. They had dance classes and a few pieces of equipment, and if any weight was lifted, it was no more than one or at most, three pounds. You’d move more pounds putting away your groceries. Women didn’t lift anything heavier because, conventional wisdom maintained, she would get grotesque, Popeye muscles, just like the guys in Mr. Olympia. And if she for some crazy reason wanted such things, and then quit, all those muscles would “turn to fat.”

These are some of the things I knew to be true as I walked to my interview with the Zanes.

A publicist opened the door to their hotel room. This is approximately what they looked like, only they had more clothes on. In street clothes, she was a slender beauty and he, a guy with really broad shoulders. Charming, down-to-earth people. They told me what we now know about women and weights — that we lack the hormones to put on bulk, that a muscle cannot actually turn to fat, etc. And so on. I took notes, the photographer took pictures. As I left, I asked Frank to “make a muscle,” as people said then — flex his bicep. He did, and a bowling ball rose on his upper arm. I gave it a little squeeze. It felt like a bowling ball, too. The publicist handed me a couple passes to the event that upcoming weekend.

My story was just a lame advance for the contest, on a page that approximately zero people who were interested in it would read. But I started noticing more broad-shouldered people around town that week, of all colors, speaking languages I could only guess at, as they arrived to compete and watch. Probably a few thousand of them all told, from all over the world, and my dumb story on page D6 was the only notice the paper took of an internationally famous event.

When the contest came, I asked some friends if they’d come with me. None were interested. So I went by myself, carrying my Nikon with the longest lens I had, a paltry 135mm. Veterans Memorial was sold out. Let me tell you, it was an experience. The gay vibe became a full-throated roar during the pose-offs, hundreds of muscle freaks screaming like banshees as Frank and the others turned and flexed their lats and delts and so forth. Real appreciators of the human form, this crowd. I walked down the aisle and took a few shots as close as I could get, most of my new friend Frank. Who repeated as Mr. O, in the end.

The next day, the photo editor came out with a worried look on his face. The AP was calling, wondering why the biggest paper in town hadn’t covered this international sporting event, and could we give the co-op anything in the way of photos? It so happened I had the roll of film I’d shot, and handed it over, black-and-white Tri-X, my favorite. They ran it and brought me a contact sheet. Is this the guy? the editor asked. Yep, that’s Frank.

And that, my friends, is how young Nancy Nall got her first and only photo on the AP’s sports wire. Or any wire.

The Zanes are still together, and are still adorable.

I think this is what got me thinking about Mr. Olympia; I must have glimpsed a promo when it ran a few days ago, but just got around to reading it today, a profile of Phil Heath, who is …startling-looking, at least in the performance photos. This guy trains, eats and sleeps. Just like Michael Phelps, only his food bill probably isn’t $1,000 a week. And like Zane, he seems more or less normal. Not crazy, anyway.

What draws people to such things? The same instincts that push us up mountains, I imagine.

No more links today, because everything good I read today was posted by you guys in the comments yesterday. After you guys went off on a tangent about barfing, I was going to link to Atul Gawande’s magnificent 1999 essay on nausea, but it’s back in the paid archive. I reread it a few years ago, when Kate Middleton had hyperemesis of pregnancy — that’s the through line — but they locked it back up.

So no politics today! Woo! Just a few more days…

Posted at 6:12 pm in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' | 56 Comments