Sunday, April 17, 2011

You CAN'T do anything you put your mind to...

If anyone tells you that you can they are either some type of self help guru looking to part you from your money or they don't have a firm grip on reality. Before you call me a cynic allow me to clear a few things up. First, I'll start with a story from my past...

I was never a great student. Night School and Summer School enrollment was fairly commonplace for me. Although I feel that I'm a somewhat intelligent guy that has a pretty firm grasp on the English language I failed English in my senior year of high school and was not allowed to graduate with my class. I had to finish my schooling that summer and receive my diploma in late July. I did my time in Summer School and refused to pick up my diploma. Now I am friends with at least three high school teachers that still don't know how to use "their", "they're" and "there" or "to", "two" and "too" properly and yet I was too incompetent to graduate with my class. Yeah, after 27 years I guess I'm still bitter. My own damn fault I guess.

My inability to live up to my potential followed me into Junior College where I was a Commercial Art major. All my life I have been blessed with being a pretty decent artist. Anybody that remembers me from school, elementary on up, knows that I was always the kid who was the best artist in school. So, when it came to my college years I never really had to try. I would ace all of my studio art classes without even trying.

One semester I had a Life Drawing class that was two days a week. A three hour class on Mondays and Wednesdays. A good friend of mine got a radio show on a local college station on Wednesday mornings so like a loyal friend I would skip out on most of my Wednesday classes and spin punk rock records for the good folks in the greater Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania. The end of the semester was rolling around and one of the class requirements was to keep a sketchbook throughout the year which was to be handed in at your final review. We were each given 20 minute slots in which we were to meet with the instructor and discuss our assignments and present our sketchbooks. The thing was, I never started my sketchbook. We were supposed to have at least 100 drawings of a variety of still life's and I didn't have one. The night before my review I sat down with an assortment of different colored charcols, pencils, pens and brushes in order to make it look like I completed this over a considerable length of time. Within a few hours I banged out the 100 drawings. I'm sure I could have done better but most of the drawings weren't half bad.

The next morning I strode into my final review with a sense of confidence. On all of my assignments I never scored below a high "B" so I assumed an "A" was in order with the addition of this killer sketchbook I had knocked out the night before. My instructor had all of my assignments spread out on a table in front of us. He picked up my sketchbook and flipped through about five pages, closed it, and threw it on top of the pile of my other assignments. I was shocked. Wasn't he going to check out the rest of my awesomeness that I pissed out the night before?

"Y'know, this is really good. It's a shame." What the hell?! Why shame?! No shame! He then proceeded to show me how many days I had missed his class. Then he lectured me about my unused potential. Frankly that was a speech I had heard a million times before. In one ear, out the other. Then he hit me with it, "What kind of grade do you think you deserve?" Now before coming in here I was thinking A or B but I didn't want to seem arrogant so I meekly replied "C?".

"Nah, I was thinking more a D or an F. In fact, it's real close. Are you a gambling man?" I stood silent not knowing how to answer. He pulled a quarter out of his pocket and flipped it in the air. "Call it." I could barely squeak out the word "heads". The coin landed. "Heads it is. You got a D. Get your stuff and get out of here."

As I gathered my assignments in an awkward silence I felt him staring me down as I headed for the door. He then spoke the words that changed me. "Y'know, Carol comes to my class every day and busts her ass and she will never be half the artist you are." Boom. Direct hit. You see, Carol was this 40 something housewife who probably had some free time now that her kids were in school all day and she decided to follow her true passion and do art. She was never very good. In fact, she was horrible. Me and my young punk buddies would catch a peek of her working on her assignments and snicker quietly behind her back. But Carol really tried. She would stay late after class and was always asking questions and seemed to really want to learn. The sad reality of the situation was that she made very little improvement. Yet she still tried. Every day she tried.

To put this into perspective let's say I had a true passion for basketball. Let's say I happen to have a best friend growing up by the name of Michael Jordan. Growing up we were inseparable, going to the same basketball camps, doing the same skills and drills, playing the same games of pick-up. By the time high school rolled around, and with both of us having equal amounts of court time and knowledge of the game, Michael would, with the utmost certainty, be the far better basketball player. There's also a good chance that I might not even make the varsity team.

Why is life that way? I'm not sure. Some may think that we are born with certain talents and abilities and it's up to us to figure them out. Sometimes I'll watch those sad people in line at Walmart and wonder if that person is the World's Greatest Pogo Stick Champion but they have no clue because they've never been on one. Kinda makes you see a little good in everyone. Once again though, I digress.

The gist of my little story is this... The person who is great is not the person who does something a few times and becomes great. The person who is great is the person who does something many times, sees little to no improvement, yet keeps at it day after day. That my friends is TRUE strength. I can only hope that Carol is out there somewhere making masterpieces that put my stuff to shame.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Comments on my Men's Health interview...

First off, if you missed the interview I did, here it is...

Overall I am extremely pleased with the piece. I have been interviewed several times before about my career in animation and the martial arts and there are times I've been misquoted and things have been taken out of context. After reading this it was obvious to me that the interviewer had recorded our conversation and printed them word for word. I appreciate that.

First thing I want to address... I like "Sienfeld"! I really do. I think it's a funny show and I may think it's in one of my top ten shows of all time. Also, I don't hate TV. How could I? My job for the last 15 years has been working on television cartoons. BUT, I don't think I have to go into the whole "wasting your life in front of the TV" spiel. I'm sure you all get it. TV can suck you in boy. I once heard a comedian do a bit about walking in on his girlfriend one night and he asked her what she did all day. She said there was a 6 hour marathon of "Cupcake Wars" on. And then a slow realization of watching six hours of a show about fucking cupcakes crossed her face.

Secondly, I KNOW whey protein is made from milk, but it's NOT milk is it? It's a powder. Not even recognizable to me as milk. I think milk has to go through some heavy ass processing to look like that. They could say "Oh, well we do that to extract all the important nutrients". Well maybe those nutrients don't want to be extracted. Look, I'm no treehugger but in my old age I'm starting to trust nature in certain ways and mistrust mankind in more ways. I don't think nature is trying to play a cute little game of "hide the nutrients" from us. I mean, how have we survived all these years without ingesting all these hidden nutrients? And now, is my life that much better that I am ingesting these newly extracted gems? I don't think so. If I want vitamin C I'll eat an orange and not drink a gallon of Sunny D or pop a 500mg pill. I have a lot more to say on this but I'll save it for another time.

Lastly, I don't hate wearing a mustache. That last line about Curly made it seem like I do. I have the good fortune (or horrible curse) of being able to grow hair quickly. I'm not a white collar guy so I shave once a week if that. If I feel like shaving I will, if not I won't. I don't want to feel pressure to have to look a certain way, that's all. I have this weird personality disorder that when I feel like I'm forced to do something one way I'll flip my middle finger and do it the opposite way out of spite. Guess I'm just a rebel.

That's all, thanks for listening.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bear Creek Tough Mudder Report

If you are expecting to read how this old tough guy went to the Tough Mudder and kicked ever-lovin ass all over the mountain I hate to disappoint. I think it's safe to say that nobody kicks the Mudder's ass. The Mudder ALWAYS wins. If not, they most likely wouldn't be able to call it "probably the toughest event on the planet".

First, a little background. This was my third Mudder. Along with my good friend Ramon we did the very first TM ever held at this very same spot, Bear Creek, last year.

Look at our faces. Not for nuthin', but after that first Mudder we felt pretty tough. But to be honest, it really wasn't that difficult. Apart from having to scale a few black diamond ski slopes it was pretty much a piece of cake. The obstacles were still being worked out and there really wasn't much mud and even less snow. Several days after that first Mudder the evil geniuses at Tough Mudder HQ sent out an email questionnaire concerning the event and the overall difficulty and what they could do to improve. Myself and I'm sure hundreds of others laid it on the line, telling them to step up their game if they wanted to live up to their cute little slogan. Talk about kicking a hornet's nest. By the time November rolled around virtually all of the bugs were worked out and the Jersey Tri-State Mudder was a monster.

So, going into this years Bear Creek event I really wasn't sure what to expect. Yeah, Jersey was hard, but we're back to the place where we virtually pounded the Mudder into submission. This was our home turf. I stepped up my training considerably and was more than ready.

After enjoying a night out at an all you can eat Asian buffet with Ramon and his family the night before I hit the hay around 10pm and fell into a light sleep. I awoke around 3am and drifted in and out of consciousness until around 4:45 when I finally decided to just get up and start preparations. Breakfast was my usual green tea and a bowl of my homemade granola with a sliced up banana. The forecast called for temps in the mid sixties which seemed downright balmy but right now there was a slight chill in the air and the sky was gray with a light mist falling. To the chagrin of Mr. Weatherman I don't think it ever got out of the 50's and the sun never made a single appearance the entire day.

 Ramon picked me up at seven and then we picked up our other teammate, "Slim" (in 6) Jim. He's another warrior who is a West Point grad and a Mudder vet who completed the Tri-State Mudder with us. Along with Ramon, Jim has caught the Mudder bug and I think it's safe to say our little core group are Mudders4Life. We then met up with the three other members of our group; my nephew Tony, Ramon's co-worker Huie and Jim's co-worker Tom. All of them marathoners and all of them a little apprehensive being first time Mudders. Together the six of us made up Team Vatos Locos.

Our start time was the first wave at 9am. As we made our way through the crowd we'd hear rumblings, "That's the guy from the video" and "Hey Mustache Guy!". Unfortunately we were running late and had no time to socialize. We heard them announce "Last call for the 9am wave!". The starting line was halfway up the mountain so we all had to hightail it. Now I had never made it known publicly, but I had been in contact with some people at TMHQ and we had planned to make the 9am wave the Mustache Wave. I was to carry a marker and give out mustaches to all takers. It never quite worked out that way, probably due to my late arrival and the organized chaos of the event. To be quite honest, I'm really not comfortable in the spotlight and felt really uneasy about running up to the TM rep who was making the announcements (who did have a beautiful stache and day glo headband!) and saying "Here I am! Notice me now!" I just sat back as an equal with my fellow Mudders anxiously awaiting the countdown.

Ramon can be seen a few rows back as we all demonstrate the universal signal for "man down, help needed". After all of the legal flight attendant type announcements were made it was on to the pledge...

...and yes, that's a real tattoo. After that, high five's were given, good luck wishes were shared with teammates and strangers alike and the countdown commenced.

Braveheart Charge - The start of the event begins with the blast of an air horn, a handful of noxious smoke grenades and hundreds of screaming Mudders careening wildly down a mud and snow covered ski slope. Adrenaline engaged.

The Gauntlet - At the bottom of the hill a complete U-turn is made where we rushed back up the hill to be met by a powerful blast of a snow maker cannon spewing an ice cold mist on this lovely gray morning. Another U-turn and another trip to the bottom of the hill is made followed by a U-turn again and the...

Death March - I can't tell you how much I was dreading this one. You basically start your run at the lowest point of the hill and end it at the highest. Last year I wasn't prepared for this so leading up to this years event I did plenty of hill sprints. Every weekend I would head to a crappy section of Allentown that made hilly San Francisco look like a prairie. My trainers Obe and Chris would have me run hills and stairs sideways, side-to-side squating, backwards and every other variation you can imagine to run up an incline. This still kicked my ass!

Sweaty Yeti - Just before the top of the mountain we had to crawl up the black diamond incline under a cargo net that forced you to be in intimate contact with the gray/brown snow and slush. Just getting started.

Devil's Beard - Another under the net crawl obstacle only this time we were going downhill. Once again, I trained for this one doing "gator crawls" up and down the stairs on Saturdays in Allentown as seen here...

I felt OK with this obstacle, my training definitely helped.

Cliffhanger - This was the steepest part of the course.

The trick was to follow the path of the Mudders before you that wore footholds into the mountain or you were doomed to go tumbling wildly downhill like some ABC's Wide World of Sports highlight reel.

Berlin Walls -  To me, these walls are no problem. I really don't need any assistance here but it is certainly a beautiful sight to see as demonstrated by these lovely ladies here...

As Ramon was about to scale the wall I said, "Alright pal, out of the way!" and I vaulted up and over unassisted. We all laughed. With me feeling like a ninja, I was completely unaware that that was to be my final act of bravado that day.

Boa Constrictor - Then came the obstacle that I felt was a complete joke. Last year at Bear Creek this was pitiful. At Tri-State it was a small inconvenience. This day at Bear Creek it was one of the worst.

These tight tunnels were filled with cold water, mud, gravel and sharp rocks. Between sections it spilled out into a puddle of freezing water where you were again blasted by a snow making cannon spewing icy mist followed by another jagged rock filled tunnel. My knees and forearms today display the souvenirs I got from this obstacle.

Log Bog Jog - This was a long trail run through the woods. If there was anything my training was not prepared for this year it was the distance running. I neglected that over building strength this year and I started to suffer for it at this point. Being last in my team I was determined to make up for it at some point. About three miles in there was a lonely banner hanging between a few trees that referenced a rival "mud run". Here's a pic...


Blood Bath - If Tough Mudder called me up and said, "Hey Andy, design an obstacle that is a piece of cake for you but really difficult for everyone else", I would have come up with Blood Bath. See instructions below...

Now everyone that knows me knows I love hot and spicy foods. All kinds. I make my own hot sauce out of 2lbs of habeneros, garlic, carrots, red onions and a few other ingredients boiled in vinegar and water and then thrown into a blender to make a toxic elixir that I slather my food with daily. For instance, last night I put it on some pizza and this morning I put it on my eggs. I love it. As I confidently trotted up to the girls handing out the hot peppers I saw a red pepper. "That's not a habenero" I scoffed "Where's the hot ones?". She pointed me to the table where I grabbed the bright orange habenero pepper and chomped hungrily. I was even temped to grab a second. The actual blood bath was a dumpster full of ice water and red dye.

Where many Mudders spit out their peppers after a few chews I confidently swallowed mine. On my way to the next obstacle things started going bad. My throat was on fire and felt like it was closing. "What the hell? I do this all the time!" I thought. I was running and screaming out in pain and I think my teammates thought I was being a drama queen. They were all smart and took a few chomps and spit it out. Not me, Mr. Hot Stuff. Huie offered me his GU pack and I declined. A few yards away was a large pond and when I reached it I dropped on all fours and stuck my face in the water like a thirsty dog. Anything to alleviate the searing pain I was feeling. "Don't drink the water!" yelled a TM worker from atop the hill. I never did swallow any water and the small mouthful I did take in and spit out helped very little. Next came another "Devil's Beard" type, under the net, hill crawl and the pain moved to my stomach. At the top of the hill I doubled over and began to retch. My teammate Slim Jim was also retching after swallowing some of his pepper. After ten minutes or so the pain was completely gone but the memory remains. What I thought would be the easiest obstacle had turned out to be the most difficult. Fuckin Tough Mudder man.

Walk the Plank - This is a jump off of a high platform into the cold water. Last year at Bear Creek this was laughable. More like a jump off a fishing dock. This was more like jumping off a three story building. Check out the most badass pic from the weekend...

To be honest, Jersey Tri-State was much worse only due to the brutal temperatures. In November the water temp was around 42 and the air temp was around 47. This was slightly warmer. NOT warm mind you, just warmer. The thing is, when you hit water this cold your heart immediately begins to race. When your pulse quickens your breathing gets shallow. You really have to keep your cool. Plus, when you hit the water from such a height you sink to quite a depth before you come up for your first breath. Those few seconds underwater seem like an eternity. Many people panic here. Two of our team members needed assistance from the floating lifeguards stationed nearby.

Twinkle Toes - After a short walk and an optional heat sheet came this obstacle. For some unknown reason (most likely injuries) it was altered from the previous day. Simply, it's a balance beam made up of two by fours spanning the water. You fall, you get wet. Today it was changed to an underwater obstacle where you had to swim under planks of wood. Not very difficult but I was starting to get very cold.

Ball Shrinker - Two parallel ropes that stretched across the water. Many people held onto the top rope with both hands and put both feet on the bottom rope like so...

In Jersey last year this one was no problem and we felt nary a drop of water. Both times at Bear Creek we were all but submerged here. A volunteer Marine instructed us to grab the top rope and lie flat on our backs in the water pulling ourselves along quickly. It worked out great except for Huie going into a giggle fit in front of me and Ramon and causing a backup. It was here I started getting the shakes from the cold and I yelled for Ramon to move his ass. That's when he told me about Huie and his giggle fit blocking our way. That caused me to start laughing all the while approaching hypothermia. As brutal as these water obstacles were the decision to go shirtless was the right idea. After 5 minutes out of the water we were bone dry and working up a sweat again while people that were all bundled up still had that cold water trapped against their bodies.

Cool Runnings - Another trail run. When you picture a trail in your mind you are probably thinking of a nice calm scene with an expansive wide path sprinkled with cedar chips and birds singing in the trees. Not here. These trails are filled with jagged rocks, twisted roots and puddles of mud and if you are not on your game they will take you out. Also, being a minimalist runner and running in my Vibram Five Fingers if my form isn't perfect and I am not light on my feet I could bring my foot down too hard on a jagged rock and my day would be over. Luckily my form was cool and I felt nothing more than a nice foot massage. Unfortunately it was here that I started to get cramps in my calves. For some reason I decided to wear calf compression sleeves. I wore them at Tri-State and had no problem so I didn't expect one today. Looking back I am wondering if they were constricting the blood flow in my lower legs. I told my team to go ahead without me and I stopped to stretch out. A couple of Mudders showed up and recognized me from my video and offered me a beer from their backpack. As I hobbled up to join my team again they laughed as I was taking my dear old time sipping on a cold beer.

Before I go any further I want to thank each and every person that recognized me and said such nice things about my video and how it inspired them. I am flattered by all the pictures that were taken, the hands that I shook and the people that I met just by making my silly little video. Thank you all so much.

Mud Mile - A long stretch of water pits with jagged rocks at the bottom. This guy here was just in front of our group...

I'm bad at distances but this must have gone on at least 50-75 yards or so. The tricky thing is you couldn't see the bottom so you were constantly twisting your ankle and losing your balance while attempting to stay above water (and not spill your beer).

Underwater Tunnels - Misleading name. More like "Log Duck Under". See below...

There were about five or six of these logs which you had to go over and under. A guy behind me joked that my Bud Light was now a Guinness.

Funky Monkey - An A-frame monkey bar over cold water. I look forward to this one each time.

My upper body strength is pretty good and I completed the TriState version fairly easily. Slim Jim wanted revenge after failing this one last November but alas, today was not his day. Tom and Tony also suffered similar fates. Huie and Ramon completed it with ease with both of them knocking out a few pull ups at the end for good measure. The bars tend to get very slippery with all the mud so I always take off my work gloves on this one. Much to delight of the spectators and Brightroom photographers I stuck my beer can in the waistband of my Muay Thai shorts and made it across with ease. Can't wait to see those photos.

Greased Lightning - A big slip and slide that spills out into a trough of cold water. Fun but besides the freezing cold, zero challenge. Not everything has to be designed to kill you.

Kiss of Mud - One of the days hardest. Belly crawl under barbed wire.

You've probably seen Marines do this drill when they crawl along on their bellies as fast as a snake, usually with a hail of gunfire inches above their heads. The thing was, you couldn't belly crawl on this obstacle. The mud was full of insanely jagged rocks and gravel and the mere thought of sliding your baby soft belly across this induced nightmares. Moving mere inches at a time many people resorted to a sideways roll technique like this beauty here...

After spending far too long in a plank position and barely making progress I decided on the hot dog roll myself. In my head I could hear a drill sergeant yelling somewhere, "What's you're major malfunction Gomer Pyle!"

Somewhere around here was another treacherous downhill run where if you make one wrong move and slip on the snow or mud they are carrying you off the hill on a stretcher. At this point my right calf had had enough. I collapsed and slid down the snow on my ass. But not the fun kind of sliding you used to do when you were 8 on some fresh fallen snow. Jagged rocks tore into my ass and my pulsing calf had me crying out in pain. As I limped over to my team I told them I needed a second. As I sat down I felt like I was becoming a burden and I wasn't sure if they even believed me about my calf pain. When I pulled down my compression sleeve my calf was pulsating like two cats were fighting just under the surface of my skin. I had never seen that before. I could tell by the horrified looks on the faces of my teammates that they hadn't either. At least they now knew that I wasn't being a pussy. Tom immediately knelt down in front of me and began vigorously massaging my calf. I screamed out in pain but knew that it was helping. "OH YEAH, JESUS THAT'S THE SPOT! DON'T STOP!" I yelled. All at once I think we realized what this scene must of looked like to the other Mudders making their way down the hill. With me seated and my back to them shouting out in pain/ecstasy and another guy working vigorously between my legs and surrounded by a bunch of shirtless guys. Biggest laugh of the day right there. At this point I was done with the compression sleeves and I handed them off to my family who I was lucky to spot on the sidelines. Needless to say, no more calf pain after that.

Fire Walker - Always a fun one.

Heat and smoke are always nice when you are already gasping for air after running ten miles. A teammate in Jersey last year closed his eyes and nearly ran right into a flaming hay bale.

Hold Your Wood - In this one you can either carry your own log or grab a large one with a few team members and make your way up and then down a hill. Before I go on with this description I want you to take a minute and drink in this next photo.

Now maybe you won't complain how shitty your day was today. Anyway, we decided to team up for a big log. Three on one and three on another. Jim, Tom and Tony picked the smoothest and kindest log which was most likely some form of balsa that floated down from the heavens. Ramon, Huie and I chose a waterlogged mutant that was determined to leave us scarred and broken. The three of us awkwardly made our way up the hill shouting out confusing directions and attempting to get comfortable which was impossible. This log had the sharpest bark and sawed off knots that dug into our neck and traps. At the top of the hill the turnaround was slathered with mud and that's when we lost our footing and dropped the log. Ramon got a nice cut across his face. We decided to try and strip as much of the bark off of the log as we could for our trip back down the hill. Our descent went better and instead of carrying it on our shoulders we held it low by our waists to avoid the knots digging into our skin. By then our other teammates had finished and like a true Mudder Tom had run back up the hill to help us the rest of the way down. Check out the pic of us below if you don't believe me about the description of the log...

Spider's Web - A cargo net hung vertically that you had to go up and over. There were two there and you were only required to go over one. We decided to do both. Nothing hotter than a Tough Mudder girl...

Evel Knievel - This was a ramp type obstacle that was supposedly impossible to scale without assistance. Below is another shot of our team navigating this one...

Huie decided to go it unassisted and got right up with no problem. As he reached the top I asked his about his technique. He looked back over his shoulder and started explaining when he started to fall backwards from a height of about 10 feet. "That's it, our first casualty" I thought. Luckily he landed on his feet and another Mudder was there to prevent him from rolling backwards down the hill. After that we both scaled Evel Knievel unassisted and looking like champs.

Hay Bale Pyramid - A huge mound of hay bales that we had to go up and over two times. Ramon's wife snapped this shot of him and Huie that I love...

Electroshock Therapy - You probably have heard about this one. Dangling wires hang overhead delivering 10,000 volts as you run through mud as fast as you can while attempting not to fall and suffer more shocks like this poor sap...

My wife and kids were there to witness this as our team gathered in front of the obstacle determined to fly through as a single unit. My man Huie was amped up and he turned back to us, "Ready? LET'S GO!". Only the rest of us weren't ready. As he went on his solo run we all laughed as he caught himself mere inches from electrocution. Eventually we all blasted through suffering only a few shocks which feel much like a hornet's sting. Extremely unpleasant.

After that it was across the finish line, get your coveted orange headband, and the best tasting fucking beer you ever drank in your life. We met up with our family members and took some pictures, drank some more and hung out. My wife dropped our digital camera into a beer she was holding for me and my son started sliding head first through the mud with all his clothes on. "Dad can I jump in that mud over there?" Yup. "Can I throw this clump of mud at my sister?" Yup. See, today was different. On any other day I would have asked him if he was crazy but today was special. Do it yourself and you'll see what I mean.