Sunday, January 25, 2009

550 Calories

Raving fans and gentlemen,

My name is Chris Lauer and I disgust myself.

Today, I committed the cardinal sin of yuppiedom: I ate a double quarter-pounder with cheese. Plain. No ketchup, no onions, no damned pickles. Dripping with guilt and grease, I wolfed the fucker down faster than you could ask for two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun. I guess I should feel proud about myself. I guess.

As an omnivore, it's my natural duty to munch on everything that comes my way, my physique be damned. Equally important is my dedication to behaving like a good son. So when Mom takes orders for McDonald's, what kind of self-loathing, arugula-eating ingrate would I be if I turned my poor mother down? On the filial piety front, I swung for the fences. But in every other way, I waged a war on decency. For starters, no self-respecting human being should eat McDonald's fast food, let alone inhale a burger in a few short seconds. Arteries cinch tight, arms go numb: this is the stuff hospital visits are made of.

Clearly, because I'm 21 years old and invincible, only the most immediate health concerns--flesh-eating bacteria, spiders, gunshot wounds--faze me. Seeing as no substantial part of my anatomy threatened to fall off or stop working on account of a miserably unhealthy lunch, I refused to let health issues bother me.

My environmentalist friends know all too well that the American meat industry dumps extraordinary quantities of methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Like the wife of a dictator, I'm an enabler, and for that I apologize. If the difference between climate correction and the heat death of the planet boils down to half a pound's worth of ground beef, I will personally assume all responsibility for global warming.

For whatever reason, I can't get Dave Brubeck's "Suicide is Painless"--the M*A*S*H theme song--out of my head. Could it be that I've had a small stroke and these are the last guilty paroxysms of a dying subconscious? Did a brick of cholesterol get sucked straight into my bloodstream and go on a demolition derby through my cerebellum? The smart money says my higher brain is imploding and it's taking everything down with it. I give myself a few minutes to test the hypothesis. Both sides of my body still work. Memory is still solid. Dave Brubeck is still stuck in my head. I resolve to watch fewer reruns.

Convinced that renegade blood clots pose no imminent danger to my person, I loosen up a bit. I'm not out of the woods yet; a bad hamburger can do strange things to a guy. Fifteen minutes after my bout with gluttony, I'm filled with something my guidance counselor said I'd never have: initiative. I tell my sister to get in the car because we're going for a workout. Before the angels of my better judgment can save me from myself, I'm at the gym pounding out reps on the rowing machine.

100 calories later, Larry King and John McCain are shooting the shit. The owl man asks standard questions, Mac parries like a good beltway insider. The squirming is political and hollow. Fun, but still political and hollow. This is how drug users start bad trips. As I break the 200 calorie mark, the pain in my knee informs me that my days as a rower are numbered. Time to hit the elliptical.

Something is wrong about this workout. My face isn't beet-red, I'm not gasping for breath, and I... I enjoy it. What's wrong with this picture? Shouldn't I be vomiting blood in a urinal in the men's room? 300 calories. I've lost my front row seat to ogle Larry King's strigiforme features. Instead, I have the luxury of watching snowboarders compete in the X Games. I confess, I've never given two shits about snowboarding or the X Games, and even in closed-captions the sport fails to impress me. I've convinced myself that the commentators are morons.

"He was totally steezin' down that pipe 'til a bogus slip-up ruined his day," said one burnt commentator.

"Totally, brah," said the other, "he was straight illin' and then the lip was all 'fuck your day, bro,' and he was like 'you aren't my real dad,' and then the mountain totally slapped him in the face like my jerk step-dad who thinks weed is a crime."

The first anchor offered words of consolation and commiseration. "Totally, brah."

To be fair, I didn't read the captions. At all. After 450 calories of strenuous exercise, everything from the shoulders up shuts off. Hallucinations set in. These anchors could be Oxford scholars for all I know. But frankly I don't care: snowboarding bores the urine out of me. 500 calories, and my second wind is all but exhausted. For however much I bought into the hagiography of the Unites States' favorite illiterate swimming star, my body is no blast furnace like Saint Michael's. There's no pain, only exhaustion. Nothing but sheer inertia pulls me to the magic number of 550.

There has never been a good reason to vacuum up a fast food burger and hit the gym in the same 30-minute span. Oddly enough, my stomach never bubbled up, cramps never overtook me, and I came out of the exercise session like a bat out of hell. But all isn't roses for the self-abusive exerciser. After toweling off my sweat and downing some much needed water, I caught up with my sister and we set off for home. Katie has a funny look on her face. She sniffs the air and winces.

"Chris, you smell like McDonald's."

"Are you fucking kidding me?"

"No, dude. You're like a deep fat fryer."

This is the kind of scent that takes painful scrubbing, powerful deodorant, and numerous herbal cleansers to evict from the body. I knew better, you should know better, and there is no call for ever making the same mistakes I make.

Raving fans and gentlemen, my name is Chris Lauer and I smell like French fries.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Acting your age

Raving fans and gentlemen,

My name is Chris Lauer, and I am freezing. For the last two weeks, nature has visited a bone-shivering cold snap on Alaska, of all places, and us unfortunate denizens of the 49th chamber have had to suck it up and deal with the sub-zero temperatures. To celebrate the blistering cold, I went for a midnight run in minus-35 temperatures: my eyes froze shut. The heater in my car stopped working. 400 miles away, in hyperboreal Fairbanks, my friend Brett froze his hair at a hot spring.

To celebrate the season, I'm loading up a shopping cart with aerosol spray cans and investing in a sturdy beach chair.

While we're on the subject of ozone depletion and summer recreation, I'm leaving the hemisphere. Don't take it personally: you're all fine people with interesting lives and dirty secrets, and I'll be back to see you all again in early July. But, starting Feb. 9, I'll be communicating with the northern world between spider bites and late nights from Brisbane, Australia.

I'm terrified of poisonous things, which makes Australia a great place to hyperventilate and die. Even the mammals are poisonous in Australia (specifically the Platypus, nature's felony). Despite my deep fear of Australian fauna, I'll be roaming into all corners of the outback to test my mettle and confront my fears. Or be murdered by them.

I worry too much.

When I was four years old, I was scared shitless of growing old and dying. See, I watched "Bambi" for the first time and was forced to deal with the grim reality that even timeless, anthropomorphic cartoon deer--mother deer!--die gruesome, violent deaths. Naturally, I was distraught. Luckily for me, mom and dad were around to offer words of consolation, if not encouragement. "If we lived in Australia, you could get bit by a spider and *bam* be dead before you felt the bite," said dad. Mom slugged him in the arm for sewing the seeds of many nightmares to come. Ever enamored of slapstick comedy, I croaked pulses of hysterical laughter before remembering the awesome gravity of my situation. As a little boy in Alaska, thousands of miles from the nearest poisonous animal, I convinced myself that I was in immediate danger of sudden death by funnel web spider. In my teen years, "Arachnophobia" and its cinematic ilk would not help matters.

Years later--when I was six--I saw a commercial for an energy utility. "The sun will last another eight billion years. So... you should buy energy from us." The advertising message was thin, but the prospect of not living to see the end of the sun--or worse, being consumed by the resulting supernova (I knew of such things at this age)--was simply too much for my precocious little ass to handle. There were tears.

More recently, I developed an obsession with house prices and average salaries. See, for every five college students who become hopeless idealists, one becomes a statistical fatalist. Fatalists are addicted to figures and will site case studies at the most socially inopportune times. We fatalists are the meth addicts of the intellectual world. They're gaunt, thin, have bad dental hygiene, and smell like cat urine. Determinism is a cruel mistress. Statistics have become a touchstone for normalcy and have done too much to inform my notions of success. Though I can't say I've lost weight, chewed through my lips, or ever smelled like a litter box, I do care waaay too much about statistics and place an inordinate amount of faith in them.

Or at least I did. A week ago, I brushed up on an old staple of parental wisdom. Usually meant as a frustrated admonition, the adage "act your age" gave my 21-year-old self pause. Have I been acting my age? When I answered this question, while driving on the highway, I slammed on the breaks. Holy samoleons! For better or for worse, I'm guilty of not acting my age. I don't do the things 21-year-olds do. I don't think like a 21-year-old. This must be the reason I'm never pleased with myself. A sedan screeched around me on the right, horn blasting, the driver no doubt muttering all kinds of colorful expletives. Fuck him: I just found enlightenment. For the last 21 years, I hadn't been acting my age at all. See, I insist on simultaneously being 15, 30 and 45. Obviously, I am none of these ages. And I was never particularly good at being 15. What I realized, parked in the fast lane of the New Seward highway, was that I'd been importing stress from all over the span of human life and processing it into the contentious little cancers of anxiety. That night, I dumped those stresses: the fear of sudden death, of the eventual heat death of the universe, of the small mortgage I'm taking on to finance my education, of the much larger mortgage I'll one day take out to buy a house, of the family I'll one day have, of the job I'll one day hate, of the money I'll one day make, of the place to where I'll one day retire, and of the ailment that'll one day end my life. All of it, gone. Not to say that I've gone all Tucker Max on you: I still care about more than booze and pussy, but now I get to busy myself with the life of a 21-year old college student. No more will I export the moment: I'm here and my life isn't going anywhere without me.

However, the baggage of anxiety is still terribly real. I need to convince myself that I will not be tied down and gang-raped by a legion of funnel web spiders, which will not be easy. I need to delete my list of potential retirement destinations, which will be ridiculously easy. I need to go on dates, which is less difficult than warding off horny, drug-crazed arachnids but much harder than deleting links to overpriced beach front property. I'm sure I'll manage

Raving fans and gentlemen, I'm Chris Lauer, and I will write you all again very soon.