Friday, March 21, 2014

LIVE IT!

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

FIFTEEN INDISPUTABLE RULES OF DINING (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER).

One must never eat at:

1. Any restaurant that claims to be “Pan-Asian.”
2. Any “Bistro” that’s not French.
3. Any “Tapas” restaurant that’s not Spanish.
4. Any “Grill” that’s not a steakhouse.
5. Any restaurant that has a human first name and a gimmicky surname. (If you’ve ever eaten at Johnny Rockets, you’ll understand)
6. Any restaurant whose menu tells the “story” of the restaurant.
7. Any restaurant whose wait staff claims that “everything is good.”
8. Any restaurant whose wait staff says the word “enjoy-“ in every sentence.
9. Any restaurant whose wait staff says the word “whimsy” in any sentence.
10. Any restaurant whose TV commercial features a voice over with an Italian accent. Or, for that matter…
11. Any restaurant that advertises on TV or radio at all.
12. Any Mexican restaurant that offers lettuce as an option.
13. Any Thai restaurant whose menu crows, “We don’t use fish sauce!” (Really…I can’t make this shit up)
14. Any Chinese restaurant…
15. …except for the ONE Chinese restaurant in each major metropolitan area that’s actually pretty good.

Unless you’re drunk, of course. Then, pretty much anything will taste good…except that fucking Thai restaurant.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

MISSION I’M POSSIBLE.



To make people laugh and learn through clear, concise writing that is entertaining, engaging, intelligent and informative.


Given that this Virtual Tapas Bar (“VTB”) blog—neglected as it has been over the past five years—is my life’s second most proud creation, it seemed prudent that I should post something before the end of 2013.

Prudent for two reasons.  First, to convince myself that I can still string together a series of coherent sentences after months of embarrassing, literary sloth.  And second, to prevent Blogger from deeming my account “abandoned” and sending in the Dalek’s to EX-TER-MIN-ATE the VTB before the twelfth chime of New Year’s Eve.

So today I’ve decided to write a wee bit about…self-discovery.

My own journey into self-discovery has been brewing for years.  Or, more accurately…my initial preliminary thoughts about possibly someday considering making a good-faith effort to motivate myself to perhaps take the first step toward exerting some of the time and energy required for starting the process of a journey of self-discovery.

Prior to last month, I’d gotten no further than “preliminary thoughts.”

But in 2013, things changed for two reasons.  First, I realized that the grey chest hair in my bathroom mirror was attached to a body that had just turned 46.  And second, Acme Low Carb Tongue Depressors, Inc.—the company for which I’ve worked the past seventeen years as a successful yet somewhat uninspired transactional attorney—was acquired by a private equity firm.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, (a) I’m in pretty good shape for an old dude, and (b) I’m not 100% certain that my job is in jeopardy.  But I’ve never been one to waste a good opportunity for hysterics.  So I logged onto Amazon.com and bought a Kindle copy of “What Color is Your Parachute” in order to figure out how I might make the second half of my life a bit more satisfying than the first.

“Parachute” (as we in the mid-life crisis business like to call it) is a self-help classic that has sold millions of copies and helped generations of confused, career wanderers figure their shit out.  Its original copyright dates back to 12 B.C., and it is well-documented in my imagination that the book was instrumental in convincing the Apostle Paul to ditch his career as a tax attorney for a higher calling as VIP wine taster. 

I was given a copy of Parachute when I first graduated college in 1989, and proudly displayed it on my bookshelf for years thereafter.  The problem, however, is that I never actually read it.  I mean…it’s a really thick book.

But when I downloaded my new Kindle version of Parachute from the cloud last month, I plowed through it without hesitation.  That was easy, because you can’t tell how thick a book is when it’s downloaded into a Kindle.

The heart, soul and genius of Parachute’s methodology is a series of seven, precisely-structured exercises designed to make the reader think—really think!—about who he is and what he wants out of life and career.  These are not simple exercises that you’d start and finish while watching an episode of Duck Dynasty.  No…some of them involve multiple steps and require page after page of list-making and brain-dumping. 

Each of the seven exercises focuses on one important aspect of self-discovery:  1) your fields of interest; 2) the kinds of people you prefer to work with; 3) your favorite transferrable skills; 4) your favorite working conditions; 5) your required salary range; 6) your preferred place to live; and 7) your mission in life.

I limited myself to just one exercise per day, in order to keep the mind sharp and boredom at bay.  And although each exercise was bloody hard work, each—without fail—yielded a golden nugget of self-discovery that was self-evident yet surprising at the same time. 

But it was the seventh and final exercise—the “mission in life” exercise—that made me sit-up straight and say, “Fucking hell.  There it is!”

So…what is my mission in life?

To make people laugh and learn through clear, concise writing that is entertaining, engaging, intelligent and informative.

And that, my friends, is the roadmap for the second half of my life.  A roadmap that I wouldn’t have in hand without the assistance of What Color is Your Parachute?

Where’s your roadmap?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER, TOO!

After years of resisting, the allure of 140 character workweek finally proved too seductive.

As such, you can now following me (actually, us...it's a tag-team effort with my wife) on Twitter:

@saltybananie


Monday, March 18, 2013

SYLVIA PLATH

Damn, I'm loving this song!

Impossible to find a download to buy.

Friday, February 08, 2013

MIAMI VICE


A half-marathon is a great excuse for a trip to Miami!

But let's be honest. An unanaesthetized root canal is also a great excuse for a trip to Miami.  It's Miami, for god's sake! The excuse part is strictly optional.

But an excuse is an excuse, and there's no reason to waste one.  So, kudos to Coaches Joe and Suzy--owners of the triathlon club, "ET," to which my wife and I belong--for spotting the marketing genius in leveraging Miami as a destination to get us ET'ers off of our expanding, off-season asses and into our race gear.

When all was said and done, 35 ET athletes and cheer crew members treked southward for the ING Miami Half-Marathon that took place on January 25th.  Certainly, a far better outcome than last year's failed attempt to organize an ET outing to the East St. Louis "Run For Your Life! Half-Marathon."

Team ET stayed at The Albion Hotel.  What the Albion lacked in functioning wifi, air freshener and in-room coffee makers, it more than made up for in location, location, location.  Just three blocks away was South Beach! 

Or was it Miami Beach?

 It doesn't really matter, I suppose.  It was January, it was warm, and it was a beach.  We'll just call it "ET Beach." And it was in our back yard, baby!

ET Beach was lovely and inviting, with white  sand and silicone spanning as far as the eye could see.  Everywhere you looked, fit and shapely Latinas demonstrated picture perfect breast strokes. Some of them even went swimming.

Framing ET Beach were an endless line of whitewashed, Art Deco hotels sporting beautiful outdoor bars where famished athletes could enjoy four cocktails and a Caprese Salad for $87. Truly, paradise on earth!

But let's not get lost in all this decadence. We were in Miami for serious business.  The business of kicking some endurance sport assification!

First up was was a new ET member named "Flecky."

The day before the half- marathon, Miami hosted a 5k race.  It was Flecky's first 5k, and she was pumped  for the challenge.  

Rising that morning at 5:30am, she prepared for the battle by meditating at ET Beach while the sun rose.  Raising her arms to the heavens, she dedicated the race to the Greek god Apollo, kicked a snoot full of sand into a sleeping vagrant's face, and then leaped into the back seat of Coach Joe's studly Chevrolet rental car.

The outcome exceeded all expectations. She not only finished her first 5K race with vigor aplenty, but also took first place in the "Runners Named Flecky" category!  

Great job, Flecky!...if that IS, in fact, your real name?

After flagons of mead were drained in honor of Flecky's triumph, thoughts turned to the following day's half-marathon.  

For reasons that could only be understood by the Spanish Inquisition, race organizers decreed a 6am start time. But Coach Joe was unperturbed.

He wisely counseled all ET athletes to carb up at a 5pm Italian dinner, abstain from all forms of alcohol, and get to bed no later than 8:30pm. And every single ET athlete heeded the sage coach's advice.

Except for four.

Lamentably...your author, his wife Anne, our good friend Sue and her sherpa, "Eric with a 'C',"felt it prudent to indulge in two bottles of wine over a multi-course, multi-table, Indonesian feast that lasted well into Coach Joe's sixth REM cycle. 

Now, there are those who might dispute the wisdom of this culinary lark by noting that the country of Indonesia has never--in its entire history--produced a single world-class endurance athlete. 

To which I respond, "Neither has Italy. So fuck off!"

The 4am wake-up call arrived with a BOOM!!! 

Actually, the call arrived with a whimper. The BOOM!!! occurred when Anne launched the hotel phone at the adjacent wall.

This is the point where Hotel Albion could have scored some large-scale brownie points by fitting our room  with a Mr. Coffee. Or even a jar of Sanka and an empty tuna tin!  But alas, opportunity lost. We were required to guzzle a pair of cold Cuban coffees purchased at...ahem...11pm the prior night as we stumbled out of Ristorante Indomania and into our waiting cab.

The Cuban coffee did the trick. Within thirty minutes, the trickle of blood had ceased flowing from our eye sockets and we were comfortably seated on the athletes' shuttle bus. Downtown Miami bound!

The race site was adjacent the American Arena, where the Miami Heat plays. It was a crush of bodies in search of the one, elusive, microscopic entrance into the race corrals. Most runners chose to simply hop the security fence when they located the corral that was theirs.  Or that wasn't. 

I was placed in Corral C--where each athlete is expected to sustain a 7:30 to 8:00 minute per mile pace for the duration of the race--and quickly found myself surrounded by "runners" from an orthodox religious charity that, for the sake of this essay, I will call "Team LifeLemon." Apparently, they mistook Corral C for Corral ZZ.

The  Team LifeLemon race wardrobe required its women athletes to wear knee length skirts, long sleeves and head scarves. Not exactly the most appropriate attire for a runner  facing 13.1 miles of south Florida humidity. But then, as became apparent from the very first mile, nobody in Team LifeLemon was much of a runner at all.  Including the woman pushing a baby stroller.

A baby stroller. In Corral C, for fuck's sake!

After the national anthem, the race director got on the bullhorn and--at 200 decibels--encouraged all athletes to power up their iPhones and tweet and Facebook at regular intervals throughout the race.  This was a request that, absurdly, far too many runners fulfilled.

As we waited for our turn to approach the starting line, I took a moment to take note of my fellow runners.  They truly were an eclectic and multi-national crowd.  There were athletes from Guatemala, sexy Brazilian women in skimpy spandex, runners from Mexico, sexy Brazilian women in skimpy spandex, triathlon teams from Puerto Rico, and sexy Brazilian women in skimpy spandex.

Boom, went the starting gun, and we were off.  The first mile was not so much a run, as it was a steeplechase.  We bobbed and weaved over, under and around Team LifeLemon's endless array of slow-moving human obstacles--a task made more difficult because it was still pitch black outside.

Two-thirds of a mile into the race, we climbed a long bridge spanning the harbor where three cruise ships were docked.   Whether it was their blistering 13 minutes per half-mile pace or the bridge's dispiriting .00001 percent incline, the vast majority of Team LifeLemon athletes hunched into an IronMan death shuffle, further bottlenecking the course. 

My gorgeous wife, Anne, further reports that one of the cruise ships blared its fog horn as she crossed the bridge.

And now for a personal message to Royal Carribbean cruise ship Captain Knut Fargstrom:  Listen up, Fargstrom! I don't know how you do things up there in Scandinavia--you know, with that Socialist free love thing and all. But down here in the USA (particularly in the deep south), we don't take kindly to having our wives honked at by lonely, blonde haired sailors. So the next time you see my wife running across a bridge...with her clingy Lycra and rippling, muscular thighs, you best keep Norwegian Wood inside its dust jacket.  

And now, back to the race.

Once we cleared the bridge and medical personnel cleared away the lifeless corpses of Team LifeLemon athletes,  the sun began to rise and the race opened up.  For the next twelve miles, the course was flat and fast.

As is my custom while running, my brain wandered into Teletubbie land and to be honest...I have almost no recollection of the remainder of the race. I do recall, however, that we ran past ET Beach and a few interesting sandwich shops.   I also witnessed two face-plants, a medical team lifting the legs of a passed-out runner, and our friend "Bill J" in the midst of a gastro-intestinal crisis.

Some time later, Tinky-Winky waved goodbye and my brain emerged from the BBC ether. It was at that point that I looked up and spotted the finish line. 

Throwing the hammer down, I made a turbo-charged sprint to the finish and crossed the line with lungs in throat.  And as I waited triumphantly for a pretty Latina to place a crown of olive branches on my head, I noticed that my fellow runners kept on running. WTF!?

I looked at my Garmin watch. "12.4 miles."

"Damn you, false finish line!!!"

Dispiritedly, I resumed running for what seemed an eternity. When I finally crossed the finish line...the REAL finish line...my watch read "13.2 miles."  Which, I guess, makes me an ultra half-marathoner.

Shortly thereafter, Team ET congregated at the finish.  Coach Joe's dreadlocks were drenched with sweat, a sockless Annie Bananie sported Steak Tartar for achilles tendons, our friend "Chili Pepper" somehow sunburned her ankles, Bill J assumed the fetal position for the following four hours--but all were happy.

Team ET athletes all agreed that the Miami Half was a great one. We would certainly do it again.  

But next time, only one bottle of wine.

Monday, July 30, 2012

GUPPY KLATCH: Tips for Beginning Swimmers from a Somewhat Battle-Tested, Almost-Beginning Swimmer

Human bodies and bodies of water go together perfectly.   But only if the body of water is a Jacuzzi.  In all other cases, the two are wholly incompatible.

I learned this first-hand. 

I had been running quite contentedly for years until I started dating (and ultimately married) Anne, an IronMan triathlete.  I quickly became intrigued by this sport of hers—triathlon.  By all accounts, triathlon seemed a perfect way to up the ante on my running passion. And Anne was happy to facilitate my enthusiasm.

So in January 2011, she plopped me into the LifeTime Fitness lap pool and told me to swim fifty meters so that she could assess my stroke.  And I was happy to facilitate Anne’s enthusiasm. 

Or, at least, I would’ve been…had I been able to swim fifty meters. 

But alas, I splashed, churned, chugged and sputtered—my hips scraping along the pool bottom—for perhaps twelve meters before I had to stop and stand-up because my heart and lungs had taken residence in my throat.  The rest of our swim session only got worse. 

Yes…Swimming was clearly going to be an obstacle in my quest to humiliate Craig Alexander.  And in fact, swimming proved to be one of the most difficult and frustrating challenges I’ve ever undertaken.  Ask Anne or any of my Facebook friends.  I’ve been quite vocal in my misery.

A year and a half have passed since Anne first tried to kill me in the pool, and things have gotten better.  I’m still not a great swimmer, but I did improve enough to complete Ironman Kansas 70.3 in June 2012.  And funnily enough, the swim in Kansas seemed the easiest part of my day. 

So, I’d like to pass on some thoughts, tips, observations and musings that I’ve amassed while swimming a very steep and difficult learning curve. 

I may not be an expert swimmer.  But I *am* an expert on being a beginning swimmer.

1.      Get a Swim Coach!  Really, this is priority one.  The swimming that we learned as kids at the YMCA bears no resemblance to the swimming that is required for triathlon success.  You will likely need to break a lifetime of bad habits and *completely* re-learn how to swim.  A swim coach will get you there in the quickest and least frustrating way possible.  And here’s the good news.  A couple hours of pool time with a swim coach need not be a large investment—especially when compared to a Kestrel Airfoil. 

2.     Never Underestimate the Value of YouTube.   It’s more than just water skiing squirrels.  Every conceivable swimming question, problem, drill or lesson is addressed many times over on YouTube.  Want to generate more power from your pull?  A swim coach from Tokyo has an instructional video on YouTube.  Having trouble mastering front-quadrant swimming?  A swim coach from Uzbekistan has an instructional video on YouTube.  Can’t get the hang of a two-beat kick?  Seriously…go to YouTube.  It’s an amazingly deep resource.

3.     Keep Your Eye *OFF* the Big Picture.  Learning to swim is the anatomical equivalent of herding cats.  Far too many body parts need to engage in far too many coordinated movements that feel far too unnatural.  Chin down…neck straight…eyes looking down…blow bubbles…press chest…turn head…one goggle in the water…bilateral breathing…lead with elbow…relax hand…don’t cross center line…rotate core…don’t bend pelvis…kick from hips…relax those ankles…CALGON, TAKE ME AWAY!  Until you’ve achieved “muscle memory”—which, by the way, takes a bloody long time and a lot of practice—you can’t possibly keep it all straight in your head.  So do yourself a favor.  Don’t.  When swimming a pool length, focus your attention on *just one* element of your swim stroke.  Do it right, do it well, then focus on a different element.  Sooner or later, it will all feel like second nature.

4.     Drill, Baby, Drill!  This goes hand-in-hand with the tip #3.   Any swim coach, book, magazine or  YouTube video can provide you with countless different swim drills.  Pick a good one that focuses on a weakness in your stroke (in my case, it was balance), drill the hell out of it, then move on to another.  Drilling is dreadfully dull, but you’ll thank yourself in the end. 

5.     Consider Splurging on a Total Immersion Seminar.  No, I’m not on the Total Immersion (TI) payroll…but I am a believer.  The two-day TI seminar that I attended last Winter completely turned my swimming around.  TI is not everyone’s cup of tea, so do your due diligence on YouTube…then decide for yourself.

6.     Get an Underwater Video Camera.  The swordfish-like swimmer in your mind’s eye likely bears scant resemblance to reality.  Have a friend record your swim stroke underwater, then sit back and enjoy the show.  You’ll be amazed at all the blatant mistakes you didn’t realize you were making—which you can *now* start to correct.  Knowledge is power, my friends.

7.     Catch Your Breath.  I spent months stubbornly breathing on every third stroke…and consistently gassing-out within fifty meters.  It wasn’t until I swallowed my pride and started breathing on every second stroke that I started seeing significant distance gains.  Bottom line: I simply needed more oxygen. You may, too.  So breathe when you need to breathe (just be sure to do so bilaterally).  And don’t worry about building lung capacity.  It will come with time and experience.  

8.     Rejoice The Small, Incremental Gains!   They come in dribs, they come in drabs.  Oftentimes, they seem few and far between.  But every now and then, you’ll have an “Ah ha!” moment in the pool.  Perhaps you’ll discover, quite by accident, that tucking your chin this way or lifting your elbow that way feels kinda right.    It’s usually something small.   But these things add up.  When you stumble upon a small, incremental gain, write it down and do it again next time. 

9.     Solicit, Solicit, Solicit!  Swim with many different people.  Encourage each one to critique your stroke.  Keep the useful advice; discard the rest.    Even average swimmers can offer above average observations.

10.  Tiiiiiiiiime Is On My Side.  Yes, it is!  It takes a long time to become a good swimmer.  It could take years.  So, be patient.  Your goal should not be, “I want to be a good swimmer.”  It should be, “I want to be a better swimmer.”  Go back and re-read tip #8.

11.  Don’t Quit!  We are, after all, triathletes.