#90: Testosterone, My Religion

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This article is written for Men, or maybe boys who want to be Men. Women are more than welcome to read it, but ladies may not find the value in it that males might. Thanks.

At Age 18, after a Spring/Summer of getting my ass beaten by vicious 21-year old Men, I decided to go to college instead of trying to latch onto a Junior Hockey team for the upcoming Fall season. Getting punched in the face repeatedly by players much bigger and stronger than you is incentive for Higher Education, if any exists.

I ended up at my beloved Duquesne University, and things ultimately worked out. But I almost didn’t make the Duquesne team, largely because I assumed I would walk-on because of my ability to put up points.

While my ability to score wasn’t an issue, the Duquesne coach had major concerns about my ability to play physically. Though I could surely take a beating, there were questions about my ability to dish one out. Duquesne was largely a Hitting/Skating team at the time, and I was told that I would not make the team unless my speed and strength rapidly improved.

Insistent upon making the team, I took a crazed approach to getting my strength/speed up to par, living at Duquesne’s modest gym and pounding enough Protein Powder and sports supplements to give Jordan Belfort pause. I probably was the last man on the roster, but damned if I didn’t work my way onto that team.

For training geeks, I took my body fat down from 12.5% to just over 9% (Bioimpedence), took my scale weight from 179 to 195 (noting that I was all volumized from the Creatine), shaved almost 1.5 seconds off my blueline-to-blueline time, added 60 pounds to my Squat, and generally transformed myself into a raging beast in 21 days. I’m living proof that love and feverish dedication can help you accomplish the seemingly-absurd.

(Note: I didn’t take steroids due to NCAA drug testing and whatnot, but at the time I probably would have considered it. That time period was a blur for me, but I remember heavy doses of ZMA, Creatine, Glutamine, and the now-banned Ephedra by the fistful. Shoot to Thrill, indeed.)

But love and dedication alone didn’t get me onto that team. To achieve my goal of making the team, I used two primary sources of information to guide my nutrition and training:

1) A then-fledgling website called Testosterone.com, or T-Nation, and

2) A book written by two prominent T-Nation contributors called The Testosterone Advantage

I would not have made that team without this information, so this article serves as my sincere thanks to Dr. John Berardi, Christian Thibaudeau, Chad Waterbury, Chris Shugart, Lou Schuler, Dr. Jeff Volek, Charles Staley, Tim Patterson, and anyone else who may have indirectly contributed to my efforts. Thank you all, very sincerely.

Anyway, while I was satisfied (somewhat) in achieving my goal of making the hockey team, the real treat was the change in body chemistry that I had undergone. Three straight weeks of daily high-volume leg training immediately followed by 30 minutes of Sprint Intervals, combined with John Berardi and Lou Schuler’s dietary recommendations, had my hormones gushing.

I am privileged enough to know what it’s like to walk into a 75-seat lecture hall and have every girl and woman in the room turn to gawk at you, which of course contributes to my legendary modesty. It was almost as though the girls, and even an instructor or two, could smell me before they could see me. I would get this prolonged, overtly-sexual eye contact from Women who from appearance would not seem to want anything to do with me.

Once a Man has experienced this high – having lots and lots of Women interested in him on a primal level – he will almost certainly chase the dragon for the rest of his life.

People sometimes talk about what their addictions are, as though everyone must have one. Most people say alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, etc. The tack taken by many is that everyone has a vice. While I’ve dabbled in all of the preceding to various degrees, at eighteen I found an addictive force more compelling than all of the collective indecency in Las Vegas. This of course was Testosterone.

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The Good Lord is my Savior, but Testosterone is my Religion. Since my freshman year of college, I have relentlessly sought more and more natural Testosterone and Growth Hormone, even as years of this pursuit have turned me into a twisted mix of Buddy Love and a Caveman.

In the process, I’ve become a Mentor to other Men who are still finding their way. I covered a lot of this in my satirical article The Sidekick Manifesto, but what I’ve experienced is that a pronounced uptick in Testosterone levels will have both Men and Women flocking to you. Even if they claim to detest or fear you – as is regularly the case with Mad Men’s Don Draper – people are compelled to seek the approval, comfort, and counsel of High-Testosterone (or Alpha) Males on an almost-biological level.

Having said that, it’s been brought to my attention recently that some of the “Men” in Wilmington have taken to asking themselves, “What Would Jack F____ll Do?” While this is somewhat flattering, the impression I get is that the clownish and wayward are not doing what I would do in given situations. They are not heeding Jack’s Rules and they are not Doing the Right Thing. They either lack understanding as to what I would do in certain scenarios, or they are asking the wrong questions entirely.

In fact, I almost titled this article “What Jack F____ll Would Do”, but I ultimately decided that was too self-indulgent and not at all Vague. I touched upon most of the reasons that I don’t want my name all over the internet in my article on Quitting Facebook, but the short version is that I don’t like being stalked on the internet. If anything herein needs clarification, I can be found at a hockey rink in either Wilmington or Greater Pittsburgh. I’m in the #11 jersey.

Instead of a WJFWD article, I decided to compile The Testosterone Ten Eleven Commandments in the interest of both enlightening and entertaining both low-T males as well as intrigued women.

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Before we begin, I will shill for both T-Nation, Coach Schuler, and Doctors Berardi and Volek. I suggest you visit both T-Nation and Precision Nutrition and consider purchasing a copy of The Testosterone Advantage, as I did when I was 18.  I have no financial stake in any of the above, but I find it all to be excellent information.

In addition to citing specific examples on how to be more of a high-value male, this article will also aim to guide beaten-down and frustrated Men by providing them with more general advice on how to live successfully and the beginning steps to take on a path to long-term happiness. Enjoy.

The Testosterone Ten Eleven Commandments

I) Be Hilarious…and Sexy

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(Note: as noted above, I am no longer on the Facebook, but I remain Hilarious and Sexy.)

When people start assigning personality traits to me (more on this below), they frequently acknowledge how Sexy I am, but because I’m not a clown they assume that I lack a sense of humor.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I am Hilarious with a capital H. But there is a big point of distinction revolving around my use of humor.

To be Hilarious and Sexy, a Man must let comedy flow organically, mostly by making smart-ass comments about the Women in his orbit or working as many as 12 Meows into a professional e-mail. Comedy, not variety, is the Spice of Life, and some people make the mistake of thinking more is automatically better.

What a Man should not do is dance for an audience like a puppet. That’s a critical difference between an Alpha and your standard-issue clown.

I am Hilarious, but it’s on my time and the select privilege of my family, friends, and readers. I don’t go into a car dealership and do my best schtick like Chris Rock opening a set, because that’s a business negotiation. I have a gift for comic timing, and I chose to share that gift for people I enjoy being around rather than those I actively despise.

If you want to be a Hilarious Man, I highly recommend you downshift and seek a more subtle approach. It’s Hilarious when Vince Vaughn quietly pokes fun at the obnoxious characters in his life, but it’s only marginally-funny when Ben Stiller rams his awkward idea of comedy down our collective throat. With comedy, Less is More.

In fact, the Dodgeball dichotomy between Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller’s characters is an excellent example on Being a Clown versus Being Hilarious … and Sexy. Find the guy who’s trying too hard in this picture:

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If you are a Man, and if you are trying to be Hilarious/Sexy, my strongest recommendation is that you develop a complete infatuation with yourself. What I’ve found is that Women are fascinated when Men are preoccupied or even self-obsessed to a certain degree. I am not going to breakdown the psychology at play here, but I will link to a wide number of celebrity examples demonstrating attractive women doting on self-obsessed men.

The key is to always walk the line between being serious and bringing the hilarity. My favorite personal example is from many years ago, when I was lounging in my living room admiring my muscles. My female roommate Pickles walked in, and not really sure if I was kidding or not, I lifted my leg off the couch and barked, “Pickles, look at how ripped my calf is,” commanding her to stare at my flexed lower leg.

Was I kidding? Was I serious? It doesn’t matter, because it was Hilarious. Pickles rolled her eyes, but then came and sat down on the couch to listen to more of my outrageous, self-aggrandizing claims.

A large number of people have come to these same conclusions about comedy. Some of them have even attempted to brand my particular style of comedy, to varying degrees of success. But the key is to have a seemingly-unhealthy preoccupation with yourself, mixed with a modicum of self-awareness. Being Hilarious…and Sexy requires having the right proportions of each, used judicially and with practiced restraint.

II) Be an Original

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I will always have a soft spot for Professional Wrestling, as Pro Wrestling basically saved me from full-blown alcoholism. I’ll save the complete story for another time, but the short version is that I had to start locking myself in my apartment on Friday nights because if I didn’t, I would be apt to have 10-12 vodka clubs immediately followed by a tryst with someone’s wife/girlfriend. It was a bad look.

Not sure when you last watched Friday Night television, but the pickings are slim. There’s a healthy amount of Tween porn, white-trash theater reruns such as COPS or Jerry Springer, QVC-type infomercial programs, Pawn Stars mini-marathons, etc. There’s almost nothing substantive.

(Note: Cinemax fixed this problem by putting the Best New Show on Television on Friday Nights. Meet the New Boss is exactly right.)

As far as original programming goes, I can assure you the top of the card used to be Friday Night Smackdown, one of WWE’s signature programs. So, I developed this weekly ritual where I sat myself down with a bottle of lemon-lime soda water and watched these incredibly-athletic egomaniacs scream at each other for two glorious hours and dried out a bit.

I will always be grateful to Vince McMahon of the WWE for providing me with a few hours of mindless distraction on Friday nights, which ultimately prevented me from death by alcohol poisoning or furious-husband stabbing. Maybe Vince can work a “Smackdown Saves Lives!” angle later in the year.

Anyway, one of the signature performers on Smackdown was CM Punk, who has since left the company. Like many other stars who gained mainstream appeal, Punk looked around at the abysmal corporate culture that has killed Professional Wrestling and decided that as much as he loved Pro Wrestling itself, he no longer wanted to be a part of it. Punk has since become a celebrity in his own right, and his personal popularity easily eclipses that of the current WWE product.

Though I’m disappointed CM Punk decided he could no longer reconcile the corporate oppression of the WWE Machine with his personal beliefs, I am thrilled that he was enough of a Man to leave something he loved behind for the sake of his personal well-being. See the 8th Commandment below for more on this.

Punk was willing to give almost everything he had to the WWE, but there were two ways in which he absolutely refused to compromise:

1) Punk was unwilling to sacrifice his personal dignity. He was unwilling to take on a dated, obnoxious Russell Brand-style gimmick or wear a ridiculous bunny rabbit costume for the greater glory of WWE.

2) Punk was unwilling to compromise himself and his personal beliefs. If he was going to be part of the WWE, he was going to do so pantomiming Jesus Christ and playfully forcing his Straight Edge beliefs onto others.

CM Punk is an Original. He took what he personally believed in and made it cool. He did not chase popularity and let it contradict what he knew in his heart to be true. The downside of Being an Original is that you are frequently misunderstood, and that people will tend to denigrate you rather than appreciate you, at least initially.

The mistake would be to copy CM Punk’s attitude and values. Punk is thoroughly counter-culture and anti-authority, and while that can be you to a certain degree, it’s likely you don’t hate authority for it’s own sake.

Instead, Be an Original. You probably don’t think like other people, and if you want to be High-T, you shouldn’t act that way. Being true to yourself and doing things your own way, sometimes to your detriment, is an essential part of being both a Man and an Original.

It’s easy to tell someone to Be an Original, and if it were easy everyone would do it. The problem is that innovators and people who act and think unconventionally are usually not well-received by society, at least not at first. People tend to distill all others in their orbit into concepts and stereotypes that they can wrap their minds around. When someone genuinely unique comes around, it’s our nature to cast stones at them.

It’s also human nature to fear and hate what we do not understand. Part of the reason I am so divisive is that, in my view, I’m fairly original. I can’t really be shoe-horned into the most of the standard categories because my personality is complex and my interests are varied. But I’m both comfortable and confident in living this way, as all Men should be.

Being an Original can and does cause some social strife, but this approach ultimately leads to greater glory. Having said that, in my case it doesn’t help that I refuse to explain myself or my actions most of the time, which leads me to my next topic:

III) Be Vague

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Most people have this burning desire to be understood and to connect with other people. I am no different, but even more than being understood, I don’t want to be misunderstood. It leads to contradictions such as this, in which I will write 9,000 words about my outlook but refuse to offer some of the most basic details about my personal life.

To again cite a recent example, I quit Facebook because it was taking value from my life. While I was mainly using it to keep in contact with friends that live far away, what was happening was that people with agendas were taking some of the most off-base, trivial aspects of my personality and using them to make assaults on my character.

I covered it at length in the Quitting Facebook article, but an example was that people I dealt with professionally would take a Facebook picture of me from New Years 2007 or a profanity-laced post about the 2010 Hockey Olympic Gold-Medal Game and use it against me in any way possible.

Also as noted in the Facebook article, I can’t bring myself to take Facebook seriously, so rather than keep an account and censor myself, I chose to just eliminate the problem all together.

As noted above, people frequently misunderstand me because my appearance greatly varies and my personality traits are so contradictory. One moment I will come across as extremely intellectual, the next moment I will be involved in a fistfight. One minute I’ll be wearing a three-piece suit, and a moment later I’ll be wearing the tattered remains of a $5 t-shirt. One day I’ll have Conan-length hair, the next I’ll have a military buzzcut. There’s usually method to the madness, but to the unobservant it looks like I just do things.

But most people don’t care about your perspective or reasoning. Most people just want to stereotype each other for self-serving reasons. You don’t have to like this about people – I certainly don’t – but it’s a reality.

A high-value Man is not going to be drawn into the sorority-girl scheming and backstabbing that many people love to partake in. People are always going to talk about each other, but there are some people with nothing in their empty lives other than spreading gossip and baseless rumors. Like many Men of value, I consider people like this beneath me.

But people like this tend to create problems for me by constructing erroneous character assassinations, while I will not. As you may know, I am more of a “walk up and punch a guy in the face” type, but I obviously can’t risk going to jail every time someone spreads a rumor that I’m a drug dealer or a male escort.

My suggestion to the like-minded is to Be Vague. Limit your exposure. Your personal and professional business should not really concern other most other people. Plenty of very successful people, including the Greatest Man Alive, play their cards close to the vest. This method simply filters out potential problems, the same way a Spam folder filters junk e-mail.

People are always going to be critical, but you don’t need to give them additional ammunition. I prefer to choose my words somewhat carefully, and present my views on my own forum and in full. I’m a complex thinker with complex views, and I want these views to be fully explained before people jump to judgement.

I hate it when I’m having a conversation with someone and they take two sentences out of a 45-minute discussion and use that to form their impressions of me. But I really hate it when people take something I say or write as an obvious goof and use it to slander me. Being Vague just keeps a lot of the sorority sisters out of my personal affairs, and makes my life less complicated.

IV) Bros > Hos

I love women, to such a degree that it frequently gets me into trouble. I would say I have 80% of my private conversations with women, and surround myself with women by preference. Typically, women are a joy to be around, and I tend to prefer their company.

Meanwhile, I don’t have tons and tons of guy friends because I spend most of my time thinking about ways to beat other guys in competition or otherwise outdo them. For me and probably most other Alphas, male friendship is a rare privilege.

But I’m lucky enough to have 10-12 brothers, scattered across the globe, that I would push most other people out of a moving car for.

Let me tell you about my brother Chuck:

At the end of 2013, my housing development used a small contractual window to unilaterally terminate my lease. In English, they pulled a low-class move to evict me because I was locked in at a lower rent rate than they liked.

Anyway, I was left scrambling for a place to live. Faithful readers may recall that I got robbed at gunpoint that month. Those who know me personally also know that late 2013 was a really stressful time for me professionally. It’s like they say: when it rains, it pours.

Chuck must have seen my temples throbbing especially hard at Hockey one day, because out of the blue he says:

“No worries, bro. You can move in with me.”

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. After I settled in, Chuck and I proceeded to have the best time two non-gay grown men can probably have. I haven’t laughed as hard in years as I did watching YouTube clips of LA Beast or Predator or Starship Troopers for the 80th time with my brother Chuck.

I’ve since moved out and Chuck has since gotten married, but at the time I needed a brother, and Chuck was a brother to me. He’s a tremendous individual, and I’ll always be extremely grateful to him.

Normally, I would dump a full drink on another guy or throw him down a small flight of stairs if he was preventing me from talking to a certain girl. So while for me it may be “Chicks Before Dicks” in most cases, like most High-T Men, my real brothers mean more to me than all the women in the world.

I actually have another very recent story that further speaks to that point, but I don’t think this is the time or place for it. I’ll probably retroactively link to it after the story is told. But the short version is that I picked the happiness of one of my brothers over a girl, because girls come and go. Brotherhood is more important than that, at least to Men of Value.

Speaking of girls coming and going…

V) Get the Girl

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Everyone has “the one who got away.” Hell, by my count, I have two girls that got away, at least as of this writing.

But as a Man of Value, what you want to do most of the time is Get the Girl. Do not piss and moan and agonize about whether she likes you or not. Make your intentions known and aggressively pursue her, outside circumstances be damned.

There’s been this disappointing trend in which weak Men make excuses as to why they can’t get the Woman they want. They tiptoe around the central issues – the biggest of which is that she can probably get someone better – so they mope and wallow and ultimately chase her away with their desperation and neediness.

I’ll get into this more in the section Kill Before It Kills You, but until the time comes in which you need to totally wash your hands of a bad situation or a stiletto-wearing dumpster-fire of despair, you may need to ride things out until a certain lucky lady comes to the realization that you are in fact the Man for her.

This concept segues nicely into the 6th Commandment:

VI) Have a Set or Grow a Set

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This is basically the same as Jack’s Rule #11 (Don’t Be a Coward). But if you want to take things a step beyond being unafraid, you need to Have a Set or Grow a Set.

If you’re going to Be a Man, go assert yourself. If you’re not, live the contented, quiet life of a mouse. But don’t whine about circumstances and misfortune if you’re never going to take a chance or make an ambitious play.

I don’t exactly know where it stems from, but many if not most people live entirely different lives in their head than they do out in the world. I’m a realist and I understand that for most people, family and work take precedence over their personal desires.  However, it also bothers me that most people marginalize themselves so much and compromise their sense of self so easily.

In Men, this reluctance to step on toes can become paralyzing to the point of contempt.  I sometimes want to shake indecisive or timid males and bark in my best Sobe Voice, “You are a Man. Grow Some Fucking Balls.”

This condition – prevalent, diluted masculinity – exists for a great number of reasons, most of which would go past the scope of this section. But the takeaway point is that in 2015, it’s harder than ever to be a High-T Man without being seen as a relic or a social outcast. The ability to navigate socially, rather than aggressively dominate, is a much-handier skill set to possess today.

For me and other High-T Men, it would be an ideal world if one could go around tuning up every amoral, disingenuous, and passive-aggressive coward that we came across. Alas, we live in an unjust, lawsuit-happy era, and it’s not socially acceptable to beat the tar out of every clown that cuts you off in traffic.

I may not act on all of my aggressive impulses – like Johnny Rico says in the award-winning film Starship Troopers, The Mobile Infantry doesn’t make stupid Troopers” – but when I have a strong opinion about something, I certainly make it known.

The Passive-Aggressive approach, i.e. being friendly to someone’s face and disrespectful behind their back, doesn’t fly with High-T Men. If you’re a Man and you have something to say, say it to someone’s face. Don’t wait until they get up to get a Sprite and then start whispering behind their back like a catty sorority girl.

In High-T Men, this mindset endures in all areas. While discretion may in fact be the better part of valor, there is also the notion that fortune favors the bold. As Woody Harrelson’s character Tallahassee likes to say in Zombieland, Nut Up or Shut Up.”

VII) Be Physically Dominant

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Like most High-T Men, I am a Physical guy. Everything I like to do – sports, sex, working out, even the jobs I’ve taken on – is predicated on the use of my body. As such, it’s become my nature to be as Physically Dominant as possible.

Certain people are going to misread this idea and think, “Go start bullying people.” That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. But if you’re ethical and just, it almost behooves you to also be physically dominant so that you might uphold these values. It’s a cornerstone of Testosterone.

I’ve mentioned it several times, but there was an incident recently in which I was suspended from the Wilmington rink because I fought a kid. The kid threw a slew-foot on me, so I got up, and I warned him that his behavior was out of line. He not only refused to apologize or heed my warnings, but he continued to buzz around and say things that offended me. So, I fought him and roughed him up, and very honestly I could have beat him much worse.

People may rightly look at me as the bad guy in this situation, and that’s fair. But even in wailing on him a bit to try teaching him a lesson in respecting those bigger and stronger than you, I protected the kid. I’m a Hockey purist, and I don’t think there’s much honor in beating on a smaller person. But there’s even less honor in kicking out someone’s skates from behind and exposing them to severe injury.

The point is this: if you’re going to be an Alpha, i.e. Simba in the Lion King, you need to be physically dominant. If you are not, there is a good chance you will become a beta, i.e. Skar or the Jackals in The Lion King. As a craven beta, you will have to be the type that has to kick out the Alpha’s skates from behind because you can’t physically-compete with him. You will then you will have to cry out “I’m only 17!” so the Alpha doesn’t maul you. It’s a potentially bad life.

Apologies for mixing metaphors, but I’m a writer. It’s what we do.

Moving along, the more-appealing reason to be physically dominant revolves around a Man’s interactions with Women. I’m going to be as Vague as possible and not incriminate myself, but my  experience has been that most Women want a powerful Man who makes them feel protected. This is hard to accomplish when your girlfriend can out-lift you at the gym and wears the same size jeans as you. Remember what you’re supposed to be bringing to the table as a Man.

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Since we’re talking about being physically dominant…

VIII) You WILL Do Squats

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By my estimate, Mr. Olympia/fitness icon/actor/California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is the most fascinating person of his era, possibly only superseded by actor/martial artist/philosopher/writer Bruce Lee. The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding remains my favorite book and an essential read in the fitness community almost 30 years after first publication.

Arnold’s most-recent book, Total Recall, tells a tale that would be roundly rejected by book publishers as an absurd work of fiction due to unbelievability. Yet the spread of photos in the middle of the book, to say nothing of Arnold’s bodies of work in Bodybuilding, Acting, Fitness, and Politics, are proof of the epic life that he’s lived.

Like many people, I sometimes get very busy, and at the end of a long day the last thing I want to do is go force myself through a workout. But I like having high Testosterone and being good at sports, so most of the time I manage to drag myself in.

On the rare occasions when I absolutely lack motivation and my usual motivational carrots – Hockey, Women, personal pride, etc. – fail to inspire me, I use a photo of The Oak such as this to shame myself into going:

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If you’ve read New Encyclopedia, then you’re familiar with the very distinct manner in which Arnold writes. He has no issue making up his own Austrian/English words (such as Problematical), and uses his unique brand of motivation/humiliation to inspire others. After a few reads through the massive tome that is New Encyclopedia, you can hear Arnold’s voice as clear as day shaming you into being less of a whiner and more of a winner.

Maybe I had a dream about it, but somewhere amidst the meandering 800+ pages of New Encyclopedia is a very basic tenet: You WILL Do Squats.

Squats are non-negotiable, if you consider yourself anything other than a complete girly-man. You WILL do them, under order of the Terminator himself.

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Maybe you aren’t interested in Strength Training, but if you’re interested in Testosterone there’s a good chance that you have an unhealthy obsession with the iron. If you want to make Testosterone your religion, there’s no better building block than a high-volume squat workout. You WILL Do Squats, starting immediately.

IX) Kill Before It Kills You

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I’m not going to get all Darwinian on you or overburden you with scholarly articles, as I’m apt to do. The cold truth of life is that the world is not a terribly nice place most of the time. As they say, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and this is something most everyone will comes to learn as they mature.

While many are able to embrace this savage aspect of human nature, many others who are hard-wired with the instinct to protect others.

I am wired this way. I may be, as one woman famously put it, “a colossal dick”, but at the end of the day my instincts are to protect people in both physical and emotional ways. I am far from alone in this regard, as there are innumerable people who think of the good of the collective before they think of their personal desires.

A notable example from fiction is Rick Grimes, lead character of both The Walking Dead television show and The Walking Dead graphic novels. Throughout both the novels and the show, Rick is described as “a Man of Conscience”, and is frequently shown to have ethical objections to some of the horrible things he must do to ensure the safety of his family and friends.

But in the epic 4th Season finale, Rick very literally puts the 9th Commandment of Testosterone into practice:

The clip from The Walking Dead serves as a metaphor. In life, there are a great number of threats – some insidious, some obvious – that can compromise our health and livelihood. The key is to identify and eliminate these threats before they take a severe toll on you.

There are two particular areas in which I apply this commandment: Women and Work.

As I will discuss below, one of my bigger character flaws/traits is that I am a sucker for a damsel-in-distress. If a Woman appears to be in trouble or vulnerable, I am basically powerless to stop myself from trying to help her. Over the years, shrewd Women have observed this trait in me, and tooled me to various degrees.

While some people may read this and chuckle about what a chump I am, this trait – the need to intervene and help others – is also one of the strongest aspects of my character. I wouldn’t be who I am if I suddenly started turning a blind eye to others in need. I often proceed knowing that I’m being played, because that’s more palatable for me than the alternative.

Acknowledging that, the maturation process for me has been to identify when I am clearly being used, and to kill the relationship before it kills me.

I touched upon it in “On Doing the Right Thing I”, but I ended a close friendship with my former roommate because her toxicity was sucking the life out of me. In addition to being a sullen wench, not a week went by in which she didn’t manipulate me into helping her solve one of her personal problems or self-constructed dramas.

She was usually pretty personable with me, but she would surround herself with these douchebag, effete hipsters who would rightly see me as a threat and passive-aggressively provoke me into confrontation. I enjoyed her friendship a lot, but it was exhausting. One day, I took a deep breath and decided I had to remove her from my life, for the sake of my own well-being. I “killed” our relationship before it took anything more out of me.

That’s just one example, but it’s part of a larger pattern of traditional behavior for me. I’ve written in the past about what a problem quitting is for me, and for the longest time I was unable to separate quitting a relationship from “killing” one. I’ve changed in that regard, and while it may not be progress, but it’s definitely evolution.

The same goes for work. I was raised by a family of farmers, and I am fortunate enough to have a great work ethic and pride in being professional. The downside of this, as I discussed in Jack’s Rules, is that I’ll tend to let my personal pride keep me from leaving a bad job or hostile work environment.

I think everyone reading this can empathize, as they are either like me – i.e. tend to stay too long in flawed relationships because of personal integrity – or they are the sort of person who tries to exploit people like me. Regardless, the lesson is this:

To grow and thrive, a Man will sometimes need to make a hard choice and “kill” a given relationship. There could be any number of factors – money, sex, emotional investment, honor, etc. – that make the relationships seem salvageable, but a high-value Man will identify when a relationship has outlasted its usefulness, and sever it.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because most of the time there is a strong human component to a given relationship. Most of the time, “killing” a relationship will involve putting a weaker person out to pasture for the sake of your own well-being, and as a Man of Conscience, this will wear on you. But as a Man of Value, you will tap into your inner strength and make a hard choice that most other people cannot.

To be a strong-enough Man to accomplish this, you will need to learn the 10th Commandment well…

X) Don’t Beg for Mercy, Work for Strength

cena2

(John Cena Deadlifting 650 pounds, like a boss – don’t dare say he doesn’t deserve his spot)

We were told just to sit tight,
‘Cause somebody will soon arrive.
Help is on the way.
But it never came
It never came

Rise Against, Help Is On The Way

Megatron: [feigning defeat as he reaches for a gun] No more, Optimus Prime! Grant me mercy, I beg of you!

Optimus Prime: You, who are without mercy, now plead for it? I thought you were made of sterner stuff

Let me tell you one thing I’ve learned about Women. Free tip:

For many if not most Women, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Good Man or a Bad Man. What matters to them is if you’re a Strong Man. The rest is negotiable.

This isn’t meant to paint Women in an unflattering light, and there are certainly exceptions.  But my experience has been that Strength – be it emotional, physical, or otherwise – is the critical component Women seek when searching for an ideal mate.

There are some awful Men who do or have done extremely-well with Women. We also all know some great guys who can’t get anywhere with the fairer sex. Unfortunately, the misconception of many Men is that Bad Boys automatically get all of the Women, while nice guys don’t. This leads Good Men to behaving badly in the interest of doing better with Women.

But there are plenty of Good Men who do great with Women, and in fact I think if Women had their way, they would all have a Good Man. But their Man needs to be a Good, Strong Man, both emotionally/mentally as well as physically.

Strength is More than Physical. A Strong Man ideally would provide financial and psychological support when needed, and as noted above should be a pro in making his Woman feel comfortable. If he’s physically-strong to boot, the Man in question should be so busy fighting off Women with a stick that he doesn’t have time to address his other shortcomings, whatever they may be.

(My two cents? You should take care of your Woman, and she should let you. After all, she takes care of you. But I’m traditional.)

So let’s say I can sell you on the idea of being a Strong Man rather than a Good Man or a Bad Man. If you want Strength – emotional, physical, or otherwise – you’re going to have to work for it. Life is largely unfair, and you are not going be magically transformed from weak-willed to resolute. You are going to have to fight for Strength.

Let me tell you another thing I’ve learned: The Only Help is Self-Help.

Not to say that a lot of people haven’t helped me through the years, because I’ve been blessed enough to have had an outstanding support network, at times. But there have been a lot of times when, like most Men, I’ve basically been on my own. It always seems like this happens when the circumstances of life are at their most overwhelming.

Again, life can be brutal. I’ll steal this speech from Rocky Balboa:

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth! But you gotta be willing to take the hits. And not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!

A Man can beg for mercy, but sometimes, there will be no mercy. A Man will need to work to find the Strength needed to Rise against whatever circumstances life has thrown at him. Testosterone will help greatly in this regard.

Lastly:

XI) Be a Hero

beahero

(Props to me for working not one but two relevant Zombieland references into the article)

If there’s an overriding theme to my work, it’s Be a Hero. There is very little in my eyes more masculine than stepping up when no one else will, especially as circumstances grow more daunting.

Anyone who reads my writing knows that I am a big fan of Heroes in all forms and shapes. But if I had to pick one, we all know it’s Batman. Here’s why:

Even the most casual fan is aware that young Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents being murdered, and rather than pout like a little girl or turn to chronic substance abuse, he dedicated himself to ensuring that such an incident would never have the opportunity to repeat itself.  He went on a decade-long odyssey in which he prepared his body and mind for a forthcoming war on injustice.

Being as realistic as possible in looking at the situation, if an eight-year old saw his parents killed before his eyes, he would likely be a fucking mess. Any number of emotional or psychological disorders would have likely crippled any child in Bruce Wayne’s position, and the fact that he was a pillow-soft rich kid makes it all the more likely he would have collapsed under duress. The real-life Bruce Wayne would have turned to drugs and alcohol, and ultimately let substance abuse consume him.

But that’s why the idea of Batman is so special, and resonates with fans as it does. Bruce Wayne, even with irreparable psychological damage, chose to Be a Hero. It would make him a one-in-a-billion type of person considering the circumstances, and that’s why Batman is a work of fiction. But it’s inspirational nonetheless.

batman

It’s interesting to me that both Bruce Wayne and Patrick Bateman of American Psycho infamy are played by actor Christian Bale, because it allows for some interesting comparisons. Both obviously come from a great deal of money. Both have obvious psychological damage. Both exhibit great intelligence and extreme control-freak tendencies. Both show an obsession with their bodies and their health.

Watching the films in succession, it’s almost impossible at times to distinguish between Bale’s Bateman and his Batman. It’s a very thin line between the Man Bruce Wayne became and the one Patrick Bateman became. But that’s the point of the 11th Commandment of Testosterone. Be a Hero, by choice, even if circumstances lead you in the opposite direction.

It’s far more-realistic that a traumatized eight-year old would become Patrick Bateman, i.e. a murdering psychopath, than he would become a Hero. Not even a Man in a Bat costume, but a cop or a doctor or a firefighter, i.e. someone who works for the good of others.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that Bruce Wayne and Patrick Bateman even think in fundamentally similar ways. Not just in terms of control and precision, but also in terms of emotional scarring from trauma during development. In most interpretations, Batman/Bruce Wayne is shown to a borderline sociopath at best and at worst a very disturbed individual.

But that’s why Batman is so revered, even 75 years after the character’s creation. Batman does something that most people are incapable of, which is that he creates something good from great tragedy. He does not let tragedy dictate the person that he is or what he aims to accomplish. Even if Batman’s brain is not a nice place to be, he still opts to make positive, tangible contributions to the world around him.

Two scenes from Batman Begins reinforce this concept:

A Man can choose to benevolent, even if he’s an aggressive or even malicious person by nature. A Man can choose to Be a Hero, because a Man in control of himself. That’s the fundamental difference between Batman and Patrick Bateman: Bateman can’t control himself because deep down, he’s a scared little boy. Batman can control himself, and focus himself in a positive direction, because he’s a Man.

Batman is also the model for those who have had to work for their success, which many Men of Value have had to do. While some Men are born with seemingly-endless gifts and have their own unique struggles – not unlike Superman – many Men have had to build themselves from nothing. They have had to overcome a lack of talent with education and work ethic, and they have had to overcome personal issues on their own. Batman is a choice role-model for Men like this.

As a Man, realize that you have a choice. You don’t have to Be a Hero, but you also don’t have to let tragedy and circumstances outside of your control define you. The one thing a Strong Man can control is himself, how he acts and reacts to the world around him. It’s a great responsibility, but it’s also a tremendous freedom that weaker Men may never get to experience. As a Strong Man, the choice is yours.

Bonus Section

These two extras aren’t Testosterone Commandments per se, but they are both helpful things to know.

Bonus #1) Dictate Your Environment

jacknicholson

“I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.”

– Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), The Departed

This isn’t a full-on commandment, but as a Man you do want to be conscious of how your environment impacts you, and vice versa.

My friends know that “the world is my living room”. I can frequently be seen walking around Hockey rinks barefoot or plugging my iPhone charger into any power outlet within sight because I am, for whatever reason, very comfortable making myself comfortable.

As my friends also know, I am very comfortable forcing my preferences onto other people. I’m a sport and I’ll be accommodating, but if you give me the slightest bit of latitude in making a decision, we are going to end up watching Super Troopers way more often than we watch the latest Sarah Jessica Parker farce/Rom-Com.

It’s the nature of Men to take something and make it theirs, and a Man’s environment is no different. A side effect of ramping up my natural Testosterone levels has been that I have become almost territorial. If you ever want to be embarrassed, come into my Hockey team’s locker room some time without an invitation. I promise no one will belittle and berate you louder that particular day.

You don’t have to be as obnoxiously-territorial as I can be to learn an important lesson in masculinity: Dictate Your Environment.

There is definitely a line between being a bane on society and being a mindless, timid conformist. A Man will dictate his environment to a large degree, as he knows his personal worth meets or exceeds that of the people around him. But a Man will usually not make those around him deliberately uncomfortable for his own sake. The key, as with most judgement calls, is to Walk the Line and show a reasonable amount of discretion without letting anyone else step on you.

Bonus #2) Understand the Nature of Estrogen

Before you get your thong in a twist, hear me out. This is not an attack on women. In fact, it’s a defense:

I’ve written extensively about the benefits of Testosterone, which you can of course read more about elsewhere. The opposite of Testosterone (not the antagonist, obviously) is Estrogen, a hormone that prominently occurs in Women. Estrogen exists in Men as well, leading to a disturbing number of maladies if left unchecked, but offers a number of benefits to Women including:

  • Increasing serotonin, and the number of serotonin receptors in the brain.
  • Modifying the production and the effects of endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain.
  • Protecting nerves from damage, and possibly stimulating nerve growth.

Estrogen is also of course critical in female sexual development and child bearing. But the downside of Estrogen is that it’s an extremely volatile hormone, and that it can cause wild fluctuations in mood irrespective of gender. You can read the entirety of this WebMD article on Estrogen and Women’s Emotions here.

A condition called Estrogen Dominance can occur in both Men and Women, in which Estrogen levels run rampant and unchecked, leading to numerous problems. Here are some of the effects of Estrogen Dominance:

estrogendominance

I am not going to do your reading for you, but you should understand the basic positive and negative effects of both Estrogen and Testosterone. If you’re thoroughly-undereducated, you can start with this scholarly article and work your way through.

Estrogen Dominance sounds like hell on earth to me, which is why I so voraciously chase Testosterone. But I am a Man, and I have the luxury of attempting to turn on my Testosterone like a spigot with smart lifestyle choices.

Women, however, generally have about 1/10th of the Testosterone of the average Man, thus missing out on most of the benefits of Testosterone while combating the Estrogen Dominance conditions detailed above. As an example, the average Woman has to work much harder to lose a few pounds than the average Man, again due to the average Woman’s Estrogen: Testosterone ratio.

Once more, this is not to say that there are no positives to Estrogen. There are many. It’s a hormone not unlike Ghrelin or Luteinizing Hormone or Cortisol and serves a major purpose within both male and female human bodies. But Estrogen Dominance is not a desirable condition for Men, and as noted above, even Women do not want out-of-whack Progesterone: Estrogen ratios.

I included this section for two reasons:

1) I think it’s important to educate Men on how problematical Estrogen Dominance can be, and how it can be contributing to any number of mental or physical problems a Man might be experiencing. I highly recommend that as a Man, you educate yourself on ways in which you can mitigate Estrogen Dominance – if only to limit your chances of conditions like Prostate Cancer – even if you do not wish to aggressively pursue high Testosterone levels.

2) I can’t believe I’m writing these words, but … try not to give Women such a hard time. Lord knows this is a case of “doing what I say, not what I do”, but the reality is that the hormonal deck is largely stacked against Women in many instances, and that’s before contributing factors such as Birth Control are thrown in.

As a Man, you can’t reasonably be expected to know what’s going on with a Woman at any given time. But as noted under the 11th Commandment, you can choose to cut a good girl some slack if she’s acting like a maniac. Educate yourself, adjust your patience accordingly, and make your own determinations.

Final Words on Testosterone

handshake

A brief list of things NOT to be:

Don’t Be a Coward

Don’t Be a Clown

Don’t Be a Crybaby

By now, you’re seeing a consistent theme in Testosterone-based behavior. Pretty much anything that lacks basic masculine dignity is a major no-no as far as this is concerned.

I have a passion for both Strength Training and body development, so it’s hard for me not to push the benefits of both. Do you need Strength Training to be a High-T or high-value male? Absolutely not. But is a passion for Strength Training or body development going to hinder you? Absolutely not.

In closing, if Being a Man were easy, every male would do it. Most take the easy way out and elect to gleefully conform to our current passive-aggressive culture, and generally bend over every time life decides to stick them. Being a Man of Value, rather than just a male placeholder, takes dedication and a stiff spine.

If you decide to rise to the challenge of Being a Man, know that the rewards are significant. But it won’t be effortless. You will need to dig in, and ideally with some support in the form of these Ten Eleven Commandments, you can become a Man of Conscience and Value. Lord knows we could use a few more.

Jack

 

#89: Why I’m Quitting Facebook

donwriting

There’s a great episode of Mad Men in which Don Draper takes out a full-page ad in the New York Times and airs his grievances with Lucky Strike Cigarettes by writing this open letter:

don_drapers_tobacco_lucky_strike_adI am not going to take out a full-page ad in the Times, nor even the Wilmington Star-News, but I am going to use my modest platform to air a grievance in a similar fashion. Like many others before me, I am going to attempt to quit a habit that has become even more detrimental to my overall well-being than cigarettes. This is:

Why I’m Quitting Facebook.

People talk all the time about Quitting Facebook in the same tone that they might use to talk about quitting drugs or alcohol. Facebook has become so ingrained in not only our culture but also our day-to-day lives that the thought of deleting it brings about reluctance bordering on anxiety.

After all, how do we live if there’s no electronic proof of our exploits? It doesn’t count as a trip to the gym or to Whole Foods if there isn’t a litany of photos/posts/tweets documenting the experience.

But most of us understand how narcissistic and self-indulgent Facebook and Social Media at-large tends to be. In fact, I’m not even the first person to write an article with this title:

quittingfacebookUsing Don Draper’s Lucky Strike Letter as a parody is a reasonably-clever idea, but my point in writing this article wasn’t to take credit for it. I’m writing this to serve two ends:

1) To consciously remind myself of why I’m deactivating my Facebook account

2) To encourage readers to ask themselves how much value Facebook and perhaps Social Media in general is adding or subtracting from their lives

With no further buildup, here is Why I’m Quitting Facebook.

The Main Reason

The main reason – and the story is so ridiculous I’m not going to fully repeat it – is that my relationship with a close friend has been damaged severely due to a freaking Facebook post. Adding insult to injury, it wasn’t even a post that I made.

I tried to hold down my temper as I apologized and explained that the Facebook post was taken well out of context, but it was too late. My friend’s feelings are hurt, and as I write this it has obviously damaged our relationship. To what long-term extent, that remains to be seen.

It doesn’t matter that I consider Facebook and similar Social Media a total joke, because reckless Status Updates clearly have the ability to hurt the feelings of people I care about. I apologized to my friend through gritted teeth, because the notion that a Social Media service was causing me a real-life problem was infuriating enough to make me rip my steering wheel off the column, but ultimately it didn’t matter. The damage had already been done.

Facebook claims I have around 210 Friends, but the reality is that I have four or five. I have a bunch of acquaintances that I could happily do without, but in terms of true friends – meaning people I could count on to support me when the chips were really down – at best I have a handful. Now I’m down one because of a Facebook post that I didn’t make.

Something I like to say is that Social Media is Free Marketing. My logic has always been that if you run a business or a service, you should have as many Social Media accounts as possible. If your business or service generates one lead or sale via Social Media, you’ve won, because you invested zero dollars in constructing an account.

But the converse is true as well. If I lose one actual friend because of something ridiculous that was seen or written on Facebook, Instagram, etc., then that particular service has outlasted its usefulness.

I’m Quitting Facebook mainly so that this same situation never has the opportunity to repeat itself. But there are some secondary reasons why Quitting Facebook is a good idea anyway:

Facebook Murders Productivity

I’ve written this before, but I’m retiring Jack Has Spoken at #100 because it detracts too strongly from my other projects. Aside from Reboot Hockey, I think I have a novel or two up my sleeve, and they aren’t getting written as long as I allow myself to write self-indulgent articles about Cougars or whatever.

In a very similar fashion, for me Facebook is a stop-gap activity that impedes productivity. It’s entirely too easy to go home for the night, pull up a combination of Facebook/Netflix/Whatever and call it Living (more on this in a minute).

I would challenge most people to keep track of the amount of time they spend on Facebook or similar Social Media in contrast to the amount of time they spend exercising, expressing themselves artistically, or having actual conversations with other people.

Facebook is ultimately worthless, and if you disagree, ask yourself: what happens if you have the most Facebook Friends or the coolest profile or the most-clever Status Updates? Do you get paid? Do you get an award? Does it make you healthier? Is it truly improving your relationships with other people?

I’m Quitting Facebook because it does the opposite of all of the items mentioned above. It doesn’t pay me, it doesn’t improve my health or relationships, and in the end it builds toward nothing. I would rather disconnect from it and make better use of my time.

Facebook Isn’t Living

any-given-sunday

I’m sure you’ve gone on Facebook and looked at someone’s vacation pics and thought to yourself, “it must be nice to be in Miami/San Marcos/Cozumel” or whatever. Facebook is much less about Living and much more about constant one-upping, with people demonstrating how much better or happier they are living than you through the use of strategic photography and carefully-doctored Status Updates.

Using Photos and Updates strategically isn’t a bad thing if you’re trying to market a product or even yourself. In fact, I’m keeping a ninja Facebook account just so I can continue to moderate Reboot Hockey’s Facebook page. But Facebook is not Living, and it never will be.

There’s a great quote from the movie Any Given Sunday in which Al Pacino’s character, in the midst of a Football pregame speech, refers to Living as “the six inches in front of your face“. He’s not wrong. You can look at as many pictures of the most gorgeous beach in the world as you like, but if you can’t taste the salt in the air or feel the warm sand beneath your feet, what’s the point?

Facebook is unnatural. It’s Sweet-and-Low, Equal, and Splenda, all rolled into one innocuous-looking packet. It does such a good job imitating Life that many of its users stop actively pursuing real experiences.

Real Life requires effort. Facebook offers a cop-out, because it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re interacting with other people and thus Living. But the best Facebook Messaging conversation in the history of the written word can’t compare to the kind of a fulfillment you can get from a good in-person conversation.

I am fortunate enough to know what social interaction was like before Facebook. Thinking back, my pre-Facebook life involved more time at the gym, more talking with women face-to-face, more worthwhile writing, and more actual time spent with real people. Facebook and similar Social Media services are easy and free, and what ends up at happening is that people – myself included – repeatedly forgo real experiences in lieu of electronic ones.

It has gotten to the point where Facebook is detracting from my Life, rather than enriching it. I am Quitting Facebook in the interest of focusing more on Real Living.

damon

Facebook = SkyNet

terminator

Nerds with Calculators will know what I mean by the term “Data Mining“, but for people like me who get laid regularly and play sports, Data Mining is, “an analytic process designed to explore data (usually large amounts of data – typically business or market related – also known as “big data“) in search of consistent patterns and/or systematic relationships between variables, and then to validate the findings by applying the detected patterns..

What this means in lay terms is that an electronic entity – let’s call it Facebook – keeps a record of the websites you view, what type of music you listen to, where you buy those fetish sex toys that you adore so much, etc. Right now, this is used primarily as a Predicative Sales tool, but I personally don’t like having something record every keyboard click I make. I’m pretty sure this is how the Machines take over in the Terminator movies.

To further my point, I would have just deactivated Facebook and been done with it, but a Facebook account is necessary for a number of other Media applications that I enjoy – notably Spotify. If I were a tech geek, I can’t imagine how many other ways I would be inconvenienced by deactivating my Facebook account.

I realize I am not going to take down this infestation by Social Media that some of the tech conglomerates are pursuing. All I am saying is that I don’t want Facebook and their associates to have my personal information via Data Mining.

While we’re talking about personal information:

Facebook Is Not Vague

vaguedrinking

People who know me know that I am a pretty reserved person. I have plenty of reasons for this, but let’s focus on the professional reasons why I am Quitting Facebook:

In every place that I have worked or done business as an adult or a near-adult, there has been some troublemaker who wants to take a Facebook picture from 2005 or an out-of-context Status Update related to my hatred of the Philadelphia Flyers and try to make my life more difficult.

My favorite example was the time I made fun of the local adult hockey league manager’s inability to conjugate a verb properly on my Facebook page. I didn’t use any coarse language and I didn’t call him any mean names, but I did point out that I’ve seen more professional-looking writing in Valentine’s Day cards from my seven-year old cousin.

My little cousin at least knows how to use “Your” and “You’re” properly, as evidenced by the “you’re my favorite cousin” she wrote in magic marker on a red construction paper Valentine card, but I digress.

you're

At the time, my Facebook profile wasn’t set to ultra-private. Someone I probably knew but wasn’t necessarily friends with noticed my remarks, alerted the manager, and it became this huge deal where the adult league manager tried to have me banned from the local hockey rink. Again, the manager of an adult hockey league attempted to ban me from the local rink because I made fun of his misuse of “grammer” on Facebook.

Similarly, as you may or may not know, I worked for a number of years as a personal trainer. I was actually very good at this job, but one thing I couldn’t reconcile with the profession was that I did not live the Globo Gym lifestyle. I would be a complete pro at work, but after work I wanted to go out, have some drinks, and talk to some girls. Nothing out of the ordinary for a 24-year old guy.

Most of my fellow trainers despised me because I was both in better shape than them and not a money-grubbing scumbag like they were, so they dug around the internet to find anything they could use to assail my character. They never managed to find anything that could stick, but they did like to use the Facebook Tags placed by our mutual Facebook friends – Jack’s at Cabana Bar with Missy and Rachel again!to depict me as an alcoholic.

The issue here isn’t how a fitness trainer should spend her or his free time. The issue is that in a competitive professional setting, many people are more than eager to use information they find on the internet, and Facebook in particular, against you.

I’m a grown man, albeit one who occasionally likes to make fun of people on the internet. I just don’t have a place for this brand of high-school nonsense in my life any longer. For whatever reason, I can say whatever I want on Twitter or Tinder and no one aside from Brandon Sutter cares, but if I call someone a clown on Facebook it becomes newsworthy. By Quitting Facebook, I’m cutting off the problem at the source.

Speaking personally…here, I’ll be as Vague as possible ….

mystery

All I’m suggesting is that Christian Grey, James Bond, Batman, Prince Charming, and pretty much every desirable man in the history of the human race doesn’t have a Facebook account. If women want to get in touch with me, the traditional ways still work well.

And lastly …

Facebook sends the Wrong Message

I am Quitting Facebook because it is communicating all of the wrong things about me to my family and friends, which is exactly the opposite of what I intended for it to do. Aside from the falling-out with my friend described above, here are two other recent examples:

My sister and I are far apart enough in age that we have not spent a lot of time together since I was 18 or so. When I went to college, she was starting high school, and when she was in college, I was out in the world, etc. She loves me and we have a familial closeness, but there are a lot of things about my Character that she misunderstands because of the age difference. I’m almost more like an uncle than a brother to her.

We also live far apart, so she has kept tabs on me mostly through Facebook. This has become a problem for me because again, pictures and updates posted on Social Media come without much context. What has happened is that she and other people who don’t see me every day have taken some of the least-relevant aspects of my Character and made them my defining characteristics.

Here are the facets of my Character that I consider most-relevant: I am a Hockey Player, through and through. I am intelligent and thoughtful. It’s not always obvious, but I am a good person who cares deeply about his friends. I am not a coward and I am not a quitter. I usually Do the Right Thing. I am not always easy to get along with, but I am reasonable and usually open to discussion. Once I lower my guard around people, I have a great sense of humor.

Here are the facets of my Character that my sister takes from Facebook: I am a drunk and an obnoxious prick. Also, for some reason she seems to think I really like GNC. Those aren’t really the impressions I want her to have of me.

Like many people, I occasionally go out and drink too much. At this point, this happens no more than two or three times per year, usually after my hockey team wins another championship. I like to have a few drinks in a low-key setting, and maybe chat up a lady or two. I’m the definition of a social drinker.

But thanks to some indiscriminate Facebook Tagging, there were a number of pics of me looking like Lindsey Lohan clogging up my profile. Sure enough, for every flattering photo of me helping an old lady cross the street or laughing with my friends, there are five pics of me flipping someone off after having a few tequilas.

Both personally and professionally, this just isn’t the image I want to project. In recent years I’ve gone ultra-private on all things Facebook-related, but I’ve finally reached the point where the hassle outweighs the reward.

I have another close friend, a girl I grew up with, who has also developed a misunderstanding of the kind of person I am due to Facebook. She rarely logs into Facebook, but of course the one time per year that she logs in my Status is something like, “Going to Rue21 to hit on high-school girls” or something.

An out-of-context Facebook picture or Status Update becomes like a punchline without a joke. Acquaintances, or family and friends who aren’t around you on a regular basis, can get this warped impression of who you are based on this lack of context.

I write articles like this because I can give some context and depth to my actions. If you read my writing with any regularity, it becomes apparent that I have my head screwed on straight and that most of the ridiculous things I’ve said or written on Social Media are complete jokes.

In person and in real writing, I choose my words quite carefully, but I consider Social Media such a joke that I will get mad watching the Penguins play, post something like “Brandon Sutter is a no-good cocksucker” and think nothing of it. Without fail, it always becomes a major ordeal.

To wit, Sutter himself keeps an eye on my Twitter to make sure that I don’t write 10,000 words pointing out how he’s bad at his job. Social Media is a much smaller playground than we realize, and people are so hyper-sensitive that one can’t write something in-jest without potential real repercussions.

Most people don’t know me very well, because I don’t say a lot about myself. I try to offset that by writing articles like this, but most people don’t have the patience to read something longer than 160 characters. What has happened is that many of the people in my life have taken my Facebook profile – which I have not been careful with – and used it to entirely shape their impression of me.

Maybe Facebook is an insight into a person’s Id, or maybe Facebook is the greatest impediment to true understanding working today. Regardless, it has sent the wrong message on my behalf, so I’m done using it on a personal level.

 I’m sure I’ll be back on at some point – after all, Facebook has it’s dirty little hooks into many aspects of my day-to-day life – but I’m looking forward to starting 2015 without it. Maybe you should consider a similar approach.

Jack

#85: America Does it Right (or “Jack Loves America”)

americafuckyeah

(This article was originally part of another article, but get me talking/writing about my Country and I’ll gush like a proud grandmother talking about her grandchildren. It’s short by my standards, but basically summarizes why I’m infatuated with the U.S.A.)

America Does It Right

Hulk-Hogan-is-a-Real-American

Forewarning: I am a Real American. I have an uncommon love of my country. I’m a borderline Nationalist, and I’m perfectly fine with it. If you have read much of my blog, you’re well aware of my affinity for my country.

Not to get all political, but one of the reasons I love America (and there are many) is that when push comes to shove, America as a country tries to Do the Correct Thing. There are obviously conflicting points of view, but most would probably agree that America Did the Right Thing by injecting itself into World War II and Preserving Democracy for the Free World. I think I could get four out of five respondents to agree that if given a choice between Democracy and Totalitarianism, Democracy is the way to go.

I am not going to specifically cite more-recent examples, because some moron whose life revolves around C-Span or Fox News and the happenings in Washington is going to turn my article on morality into CNN Crossfire. My point is that America has done some Right Things and some Wrong Things over the course of its glorious 238-year existence, but the reason we Fat Americans are able to sleep soundly on our beds made of money is that, as a Country, we have never stopped striving to Do the Correct Thing.

Nothing quite chaps me like people who look longingly at France or Peru or wherever and take for granted all of the privileges they enjoy by simply being American. Even in this declined economy, the American Standard of Living is so far above that of most other countries that it’s barely worth discussing.

It’s almost embarrassing how much the average American citizen takes certain privileges and Rights for granted. I mean, there are still countries that limit how many children you can have. America is certainly not perfect, but America is Great because we take everyone’s input into consideration, then we try to find a way to resolve myriad opinions, many of those in direct opposition.

People will argue this, and that’s fine. But America is a country in which the citizens are allowed to continually express their frequently-moronic political opinions, whether those opinions are exceedingly-liberal or ultra-conservative. Hate the political leanings of your fellow Americans as much as you would like (I certainly do), but give great praise to America Herself for maintaining a system in which half-wits and in-breeds alike are allowed to express their convoluted politics.

America is a melting pot. We do not all get along, and that’s fine, because our diversity is what ultimately allows us to be great. While you may or may not like some of America’s policies (the legality of Marijuana and the legality of same-sex marriage leap to mind), keep in mind that America is built upon keeping diametrically-opposed people happy. America does not force Communism or Fascism or Kimism down the throats of our citizens. To the contrary, America strongly encourages dissenting opinions and civil discourse.

America. We take the best of what the rest of the world has to offer, and then in most cases make it better.

You know what’s better than Pizza? Well, nothing, but humor me. The only thing better than Pizza is being able to order Pizza at 2AM from an App on your Fuckphone and then paying for it with the press of a button because your Fuckphone has your ATM Card Number stored. I realize things like this happen in some other countries around the world, but nowhere else do so many live so well.

America. We take a good idea and turn it into a fantastic idea. It’s the premise the Country is predicated upon.

So, I will forever love my Imperfect Country because we, more than any other nation, try to Do the Correct Thing. We do not always succeed, because like anyone else, we Americans are inherently-flawed. But I do believe most of us try, and that to an Individual, we regularly succeed.

America Does It Right. Try to remember that the next time you’re tempted to look longingly at the practices of another country.

Jack Loves America

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I’m not married, and I doubt I ever will. I haven’t had much success with long-term relationships, as I always manage to find some asinine reason to self-destruct the relationship as soon as it starts infringing on my goals and my lifestyle. This level of honesty and self-awareness makes me both a phenomenal friend and a shitty boyfriend or potential spouse.

The fact is that I’m already in love. I’ve loved Hockey since I was seven years old. I have eagerly – gleefully, even – turned down love, money, sex, and any number of other opportunities in the interest of playing one more Hockey game.

When people earnestly talk of the depths of their love for someone else, it approximates the way I feel about Hockey. I do crazy, irresponsible things in the interest of continuing to play Hockey. It governs almost all of my actions and motivations. I don’t regret this in the slightest, and in fact take a special zeal in how preoccupied I am with my love of the sport.

If I ever need to have a good cry (which I never do, because my Total Testosterone is >750 mg/dl), I watch one of these two clips:

I watch those clips, and I understand why women burst into tears at the end of The Notebook.

Hockey is my first and last love, but not my only love. Ironically, in my devotion to Hockey, I also developed this manic affection for my Country. Here’s what happened:

When I was a high-school senior, I was weighing the Pros and Cons between playing Junior Hockey versus playing College Hockey in America. I was a clueless eighteen-year old kid who was having a really hard time making a decision.

I had a scholarship offer from a school in Wisconsin called Northland College, but I had major reservations about living that far from my family in a desolate tundra surrounded by “girls” who looked like Pam Poovey from Archer. Going to college somewhere closer/warmer always weighed on me, even if I did have a roster spot waiting at Northland.

Like many kids, I also wanted to take my Hockey career as far as possible. So, the prospect of putting off the College decision for a year or two and going to play Junior Hockey became increasingly appealing.

So, I spent the Spring/Summer of my Senior Year of high-school attending these Junior camps. Two or three weekends a month, my mother or I would drive me to Cincinnati or Cleveland or wherever in the interest of latching onto one of the local Junior teams.

This was an eye-opening experience as an eighteen-year old. Previously, I had never been exposed to people from drastically-different cultures or mindsets. These Junior camps were filled with players from not only North America, but also Russia, Sweden, etc. But like most things Hockey, these camps were predominantly filled with Canadian players.

If you are unfamiliar with Hockey, you need to understand that Canadians take a Tremendous amount of pride in the sport. Hockey is Canadian as far as the average Canuck is concerned. It’s their sport, and the rest of us are poorly imitating how the sport should be played.

That obviously does not account for every Canadian Hockey Player, but it’s a stereotype I’ve largely found to be true. Many  Canadians are passionate about the sport to a point that even I find obsessive. An extreme example is CBC Broadcaster and Canadian Icon Don Cherry:

Again, Don Cherry is an extreme example. But many, if not most, Canadians defend the integrity of their sport with a fervor that dwarfs how Americans feel about Football or Basketball.

Meanwhile, like any American, I like to take the best of what the world has to offer and put my unique spin on it. My favorite NHL Players growing up were in order: Jaromir Jagr (Czech Republic), Alex Kovalev (USSR), Sergei Fedorov (USSR), Peter Forsberg (Sweden), Mike Modano (USA), Steve Yzerman (Canada), and of course Mario Lemieux (Quebec). Jagr was clearly my biggest influence at the time, but I tried to take aspects from players throughout the world.

This is as American a mindset as I can conceive. The American Way is to take a great idea, such as Pizza, and put their unique twist on it. My presentation as a Hockey Player was to take Alex Kovalev’s shooting style and mix it with Mike Modano’s skating style, then package those with Jaromir Jagr’s distribution and puck-protection skills to make something entirely different. Frankly, this way of thinking has served me pretty well.

Meanwhile, the Hockey Canada mentality is all about respecting traditions and that which came before you. That’s all wonderful, but it can and does lead to closed-minded or provincial thinking.

Long story short, the entire time I tried to make my way up the ranks in Junior Hockey, I was a misfit and an outcast. I did not do things the “Canadian” way. I shot from my back foot. I skated awkwardly. I almost never took Slap Shots. My style of play was picked apart and denigrated to the point that I was basically fighting off my own teammates as much as opposing players.

For the first time in my life, I was condescended for being American. Even when I would launch a shot past a Canadian goaltender with my gorgeous Kovalev-style Wrist Shot, at a minimum there would be angry muttering. Most of the time the comments were much more vocal. I’ve written this before, but I once had a Canadian coach call me a “useless American f____t” because I chipped one of my “Snap Backhands” over his prized, sprawling goaltender.

(Note: I realize Paul Kariya is Canadian, but he’s also had to scratch-and-claw for every inch of respect. I remind you Paul took the American Collegiate route to the NHL, which is baffling considering he’s one of the more-skilled players to ever appear in the NHL. For the record, Paul spent four years bending Hockey East over the couch and decimating College Hockey in a fashion unseen until American-born Johnny Gaudreau rewrote record books for Boston College in 2013-14. Gaudreau, despite being the best American Collegiate player seen since Paul Kariya, fell to the 4th Round of the NHL Draft before real American Brian Burke and the Calgary Flames scooped him up. I will be anyone $50 American that John Gaudreau is a breakout star in the NHL within the next two years.)

The point was that I had never before been made to feel bad about the fact that I was American. Combined with the fact that this was happening at the Hockey rink, my one safe haven, and this permanently altered my view on being an American Hockey Player.

Since that time, I have been aggressively Pro-America. I am honored – repeat, honored – to call myself both a citizen of the Greatest Country in the World and a USA Hockey Player. I know for a fact this grates on people from time-to-time, but I genuinely feel immense appreciation for the privilege of living in the United States, as well as the sacrifices our Armed Forces have made to ensure our personal liberties.

If that reads in a cliched or even hokey way,  like something Benjamin Franklin would write, then I could not be more pleased. I am a member of the United States of America, and I could not be more proud.

People sometimes ask me what my favorite type of cuisine is. Without batting an eyelash, I say “American”. These people scoff, I guess expecting me to say something like “Indian” or “Thai Fusion” or whatever. No kidding whatsoever, my favorite meals are US Sirloin Steak, Pizza, Mac and Cheese, and char-grilled Hamburgers or Hot Dogs. The people who ask me this question tend to look aghast, as though I am supposed to say “Croissant” or “Curry” or something similar.

The same sentiment applies to vacation choices. People like to ask me where I would like to travel. I reply that I would like to see Hawaii, Alaska, more of Texas, Las Vegas, more of Miami, San Francisco, etc. An international destination would not crack my Top 10. Would it be cool to go to Paris or Stockholm? Probably. But there is so much beauty and diversity in America that I have yet to experience that I wouldn’t consider traveling abroad until I saw more of what America had to offer.

This applies to most topics of conversation. People will bait me into romanticizing the rest of the world, but frankly, I am in a perfectly-happy relationship with the Land of the Brave and Home of the Free.

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Jack Loves America, and that’s all there is to it. You can disagree with my logic, but you can’t tell me I’m wrong to love my Country.

BK

MERICA

 

#88: On Excellence

mariohart

“The grit, the character.” – Mario Lemieux

I had a version of this article ready to go about two weeks ago. I sat on it because it was … OK. It was fine. It may even have been good.

But it wasn’t Excellent. It was funny and insightful at certain spots, but at other points, it rambled. Lord knows I have a tendency to get off-topic, and while that can be entertaining, it does not always make for a congruent read.

So the article sat while the wheels turned. I picked and picked at it until I realized the problem: I was trying to write three articles at the same time. After putting this article aside for a few weeks, it eventually occurred to me that I had three interrelated-but-separate points to make. Trying to mash all of them into a single article detracted from each of the respective points, and didn’t make for outstanding work.

After that realization occurred, the knots became untangled, and the second version of the article flowed much more cohesively. This article is On Excellence:

Excellence is Out, Emo is In

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I don’t know if it’s my environment or just a sign of the times, but I have seen a cultural shift in which Personal Excellence and the habits that go along with it have been continuously denigrated. Mediocrity is the new normal, and people want awards simply for showing up to work. The current generational trend is one of entitlement and narcissism.

National Basketball Association fans are well aware of this cultural shift. As recently as 20 years ago, it was commonplace in the NBA for a franchise to build their team around one superstar player: Larry Bird on the Celtics, Isiah Thomas on the Pistons, Charles Barkley on the 76ers, Hakeem Olajuwon on the Rockets, etc. This ethic of hyper-competitiveness, individual achievement, and personal-pride-bordering-on-egotism was culturally pervasive across the NBA.

In fact, it took a revision to the Olympic Games to get more than a pair of the elite basketball players of the early-1990s, many of whom openly despised each other, on the same team. Even then, there was so much animosity between some of these elite players that several were left off the ’92 Olympic Team entirely.

The model at the time – and the cultural mentality – was for one elite player to prove he was better than all of the other elite players by winning with “his” team. Aggression, Competition, Dominance, and Rivalry were core values of the era. The values that are currently more revered – Cooperation, Equality, Passivity, and Social Acumen – were almost frowned upon, or seen as signs of weakness.

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No player or team better represented this model than Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the late 1980s/1990s. Even the most casual sports fans know about the iconic Jordan, who won six NBA championships and a litany of personal awards despite taking a three-year hiatus in the middle of his prime to pursue a professional baseball career (or to accept a secret suspension for gambling). Michael Jordan is almost universally regarded as the Greatest Basketball Player of All-Time.

Meanwhile, Scottie Pippen – a Hall-of-Famer and an all-time great in the NBA – will forever be remembered by many fans as Michael Jordan’s sidekick, so much so that the phrase “the Pippen to his Jordan” is more-or-less commonplace. As great a player as Scottie Pippen was, there was never a question about who was the face of the ’90s Bulls, due to the charisma and magnetism of Michael Jordan.

The state of Western culture at the time was for an individual or small group to demonstrate their superiority by dominating all comers. Having to partner up with a true equal was seen as a sign of inferiority or weakness. This attitude was prevalent in everything from big-budget motion pictures to Professional Wrestling. Life was all about rising to the top and beating the other guy.

But times have changed. Society seems to prefer collaborations and ensembles to individual transcendence.

For example, the modern NBA is defined by “super-teams” in which multiple superstar players finagle their way onto the same roster. This is best represented by LeBron James, who in 2010 opted to join two other elite NBA players on the Miami Heat. The Heat went on to win consecutive NBA titles in 2012 and 2013. LeBron James has since returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the current culture is still one of Cooperation rather than Dominance.

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The criticism LeBron James will likely endure for the rest of his career, unless he somehow takes the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title, will be, “You couldn’t do it without Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. You needed help.” While it’s perfectly fine to accept support, this trend – this current tendency of the Excellent to revert to the mean – concerns me quite a bit.

I am not going to go into a tangent about why Western society has gotten less dominant and more cooperative, other than to say that cooperation, getting along, and protecting everyone’s feelings all the time has become the new norm. I think this is an observation something most reasonable people can agree upon. My concern is that the current trends of coddling and collaboration are directly leading to less personal excellence and individual accomplishment.

Like my favorite basketball player Kobe Bryant, I am a remnant from the “Michael Jordan” generation. I have an unhealthy obsession with Winning. I think dunking in someone’s face is Awesome. I want to see an NFL team go 15-1, not see 12 teams finish 9-7. My view is that Parity is a direct antagonist of Excellence, and that people that put in the extra effort to excel deserve to see their efforts rewarded. I see competition as serving the greater good.

I adhere to a mentality of Dominance, often to my own detriment. It’s not enough for me so simply work hard and have a place in the hierarchy. It’s ingrained into me to beat the other guy. As you would expect, like Kobe Bryant, I step on a lot of toes as I make my way.

At this point, I can’t be reprogrammed. In fact, even if I could, I wouldn’t want to be. I hate having to go around and choose my words ultra-carefully or risk offending someone with hair-trigger sensitivity. I’ll spare you my full tirade on the current state of hyper-sensitivity in America for the moment, other than to say that I am not thrilled with how things are “progressing” socially.

Moreover, I hate – Hatewhen less-ambitious types try to make people like me feel bad or uncomfortable for striving to be Excellent. It aggravates me so because all Excellence really takes is dedication, hard work, and perseverance. But it’s easier for the lazy and uninspired to tear down people trying to make the most of themselves than putting in the effort necessary to succeed.

People frequently ask me why I’m always working so hard at the gym or on my writing, or why I do so much extra conditioning and technique work for beer-league hockey. I almost never have a response for them, other than “Why are you not doing extra work?” Overreaching and striving to be better is a self-evident proof for me, yet many others need to be coached or persuaded into working to improve.

I don’t think I’m better than most other people, but I sure as hell try to be. I want to be a great person, not a mediocre one. I don’t simply want to be a good writer; I want to the Best Writer. This mentality – striving to be better than other people – is almost the verbatim definition of an Elitist:

1. (of a person or class of persons) considered superior by others or by themselves, as in intellect, talent, power, wealth, or position in society

While almost everyone lauds Excellence – which is frequently attributed to positives like hard work and sound choices – most people detest elitists. Some of this is likely due to how elitists carry themselves, but an equal measure of this disdain comes from the preconceived notions of the apathetic and mediocre.

The elitist mindset generally involves bruising the ego of someone resigned to wallowing. Meanwhile, it infuriates someone who blames her or his own lack of success on circumstances within their control to see someone else excel. This has led to our current culture in which Excellence is almost frowned-upon.

A terrific, personally-close-to-home example is the almost-irrational hatred people tend to show toward Duke University, which has done nothing but routinely excel in College Basketball for the last 30 years. Alas, Duke University is one of the country’s most-selective colleges, nestled in the middle of both a state and a region that abhors all things pretentious.

The Duke University Basketball program is a prime example of Excellence and Elitism being almost indistinguishable. The main question revolves around the general impressions of “elitist” institutions such as Duke versus actuality, as well as the impressions the “elite” have of themselves.

Is everyone who Excels an Elitist? Not necessarily. But Excellent People are certainly Elite, and a lot of traits that are mindlessly assigned to Elitists and Egotists are also commonly seen in the Exceptional. It’s worth considering the value of self-acutalization before tearing down someone who wants to make the most of her or himself.

I’ve concluded that my views are probably those of an Elitist, plain and simple. I will leave that to you to judge if I am a Good or Bad Person, but I will continue to explain my perspectives on Elitism and Excellence below.

On Elitism

2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship

“You cannot be a team of common men. Common men go nowhere.”

– Herb Brooks, Gold Medal Winner, Team USA Hockey, 1980

A teammate and I were talking about how expensive it to play Amateur Hockey. He was telling me that a parent of one of his Amateur teammates kept receipts, and totaled all costs – equipment, ice fees, hotels, travel expenses, etc. – at just over $10,000 for a single year. I nodded in agreement.

“Sounds about right,” I replied, doing some rough math in my head.

My teammate referred to Hockey as an “Elitist” sport, which I initially disagreed with. I cited the roots of Hockey being played on frozen ponds by poor Canadian farm kids, though acknowledged that the cost to propel an aspiring player higher up the ranks in America was astronomical. After a bit more consideration, I came to agree with him.

While Hockey may have humble origins, this is the reality of Amateur Hockey in North America: the kids whose parents have money have a tremendous advantage. They get better equipment, better ice times, and better opportunities. If a pair of parents can afford to put their son or daughter on a AAA Elite team, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, the player is getting more exposure and likely sharing a locker room with the sons or daughters of former professional players. As with everything else, money factors prominently into predicting future success.

While in theory Hockey Players are some of the most Down-to-Earth, self-deprecating people you could hope to meet, again reality paints a different picture. Hockey Players, generally, are not a bunch of impoverished kids sharing a $15 basketball or soccer ball on some rundown court or field. The cost just to outfit a Hockey Player is often hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

There are programs in many cities such as Hockey in Harlem that encourage inner-city kids to pick up the sport, but the cost just to participate in Hockey is a major mitigating factor. Hockey is also not recession-proof, evidenced by several years of declining enrollment at the Amateur levels.

As an example, for tax purposes I recently totaled the receipts for my hockey-related purchases in 2014. This was somewhat easier than in the past because I play most of my Hockey at a single rink, allowing me to estimate costs much more accurately. I’ll spare you the details, but here I spent a total of $5435 (!!!) on league fees/ice-time purchases and an additional $1670 (!!!!!!!) on equipment-related purchases. 

I am not rich, and I figured on the low-end of all expenditures just for the sake of simplicity and my own sanity. I assure you that figure is extremely conservative, and if it were up to me I would play much more frequently, which of course would drive up all of the above figures.

Now, Hockey is my Love and exclusive interest in life. I don’t ski, I don’t go to concerts, I don’t do drugs, I basically hate electronics and other expensive toys, and in most respects I am value-conscious bordering on miserly. But that does not negate the fact that I conservatively spend over $7000 per year on my chosen sport.

More over, this is not even close to being an all-time high for me. God bless my mother, who somehow found a way to outfit both my brother and me and put us both on multiple amateur teams. I’m sure there were years in which she spent $20,000 or more in total to allow the two of us to play. Soccer certainly would have been cheaper.

And honestly, I didn’t even play for the “Elite” teams. I was the pond hockey kid who skated funny and tried out for second and third-tier teams and had to play my way up to the “Elite” teams year-after-year. While the mentality of constantly having to “try-out” has helped me to build a lot of character, it does not change the fact that more money would have paved a much smoother path.

So speaking socioeconomically, Hockey is absolutely an “Elitist” sport. The larger questions are, “Does Hockey Produce Elitists?” or “Do Elitists Gravitate to Hockey?” I’ll attempt to address those questions next.

Winning Fixes Everything

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Mark Messier, as with Michael Jordan in the NBA, is one of the Greatest Hockey Players of All-Time. Ignoring all of his individual accomplishments, Moose is best-remembered for two team-related accomplishments:

1) The Guarantee, in which Moose promised a victory in a 1994 Eastern Conference Final elimination game against the New Jersey Devils. Moose made good on his promise by scoring three goals in route to a Rangers’ win. The Rangers would of course go on to win the 1994 Stanley Cup in what is remembered as one of the greatest Cup Runs of all-time.

2) His six Stanley Cup Rings, including Captaining the depleted 1990 Edmonton Oilers (sans Wayne Gretzky) and ending 54 years of frustration in leading the Rangers to the ’94 Cup.

Moose is also remembered as one of the bigger egotists in NHL history. But this alleged character flaw, for which players such as Alex Ovechkin are highly criticized, is the foundation upon which Moose forged the most-impressive resume of Team Accomplishments in the history of the League.

The lesson? Winning Fixes Everything. While poor Alex Ovechkin – despite being a three-time Hart Trophy Winner and 60-goal scorer-  is hailed a me-first diva by the assembled Canadian media, Mark Messier so revered as to have the NHL Leadership Award named after him.

Most athletes, and Hockey Players for sure, are taught to believe that they are better than their competition, or capable of being better. So it may be true that Hockey Players are in fact Elitists, or at least raised with an Elitist perspective, because the Elitist view literately serves a greater good: Accomplishment as a Team.

As established above, Hockey is absolutely an Elitist sport, and to make it in the higher levels of the sport a player needs to have a certain dedication to Personal Excellence. But eventually, when a player’s Personal Excellence is given up wholly for the greater achievement of the team – as is the case with NHL Hall-of-Famers and Stanley Cup Champions such as Steve Yzerman and Mike Modano – the player is revered, or even immortalized.

Egotism, or perhaps the Elitist perspective, is simply a means to an end. While arrogance for the sake of self-satisfaction is basically worthless, Ego in the name of Excellence – and ultimately Team or Group Success – not only worthwhile, but noble.

Excellence in Writing (?)

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While I write in part to air my grievances with the world, as noted previously I also write to teach and pass information along. My view is that if I am going to take the position of an Author – as an authority on a given subject – I need to not only know what the hell I’m talking about, but also present my points in such a way that they can be understood. This need of mine to put forth an outstanding product is usually just attributed to my massive ego.

But there’s an alternative view to dismissing this need of mine as egotism. It’s possible I spend so much time editing and honing these articles of mine because I want the work to be Excellent. After much thought and reflection, my view is that my pursuit of Personal Excellence has fed my self-confidence, not the other way around.

And suddenly, there’s a nobility to these self-aggrandizing articles I write. While most of these articles are about me, they aren’t really about me. The articles are about the life lessons I’ve learned, which I try to pass along to readers. I try to use my experiences and personal growth as a template – in both negative and positive ways – for others to follow or reject, but ultimately to learn from. All of this is done in the name of producing something Excellent, not putting myself on a pedestal (yet another reason I’m retiring the blog at #100).

Writing, as with all other forms of art, gains or loses value dependent on the writer’s dedication to the work versus her or his personal agenda. When the writer or the artist makes the work about the work itself, rather than the name on the bottom of the work, I think the quality of the work increases exponentially.

If you want to be an Excellent writer, make the writing about the work – as Bruce Lee did with Jeet Kune Doand not simply a vehicle for ego fulfillment.

A Final Lesson in Excellence

As you may or may not know, most of the Jack Has Spoken articles double as therapy for me. If I am annoyed or dwelling on something, I don’t generally go and vent to my friends or family. I often spend significant time alone, and try to look at whatever is bothering or distracting me as objectively as possible.

In fact, I have always been kind of a loner. Even though I have made a team sport my religion, I have always been kind of kept to myself and more recently used writing as a means of curing what ails me.
In any event, I have taken a lot of quiet time to reflect and think. Here are two absolute truths about I know about myself:

1) I Give a Fuck

I will get into this more in a future article. But the truth is that I do care, deeply. You know those people who are always spouting about, “no fucks given” before they do something reckless or short-sighted?  The people who use the phrase “You Only Live Once” as an excuse to be an obnoxious bane on society? Those are the people that are doing YOLO wrong.

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The people who truly understand how fleeting and fragile Life is Do Give a Fuck. My favorite example from fiction is Rick Grimes, lead character from the best-seller novels/smash-hit TV series The Walking Dead.

Here is a great misunderstanding about Rick Grimes from the Meme crowd:

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Like me, Rick Grimes Does Give a Fuck. In fact, Rick Grimes gives many, many fucks. He cares so deeply about the safety of his family that he can will himself to rip the throat out of another man with his teeth.

Some people – usually losers who secretly hate themselves – think being dedicated to your goals or the people you care about is lame or a weakness. It’s exactly the opposite of that. Caring about something or someone provides you with inner reserves of strengths that you did not realize existed.

Rick Grimes gives a fuck, and so do I. One of my biggest character flaws is that I will go through extended periods of time when I pretend not to care. I even lie to myself about it, and in the past I’ve tried to drown that truth in binge-drinking. But the truth is that I do care.

(Critical Note: I am not turning my back on Alcohol, my One True Friend. Unlike the rest of my friends, Alcohol has always been there for me. Having said that, there is a huge difference between having a few pops to celebrate your Hockey Championship versus using Alcohol or Drugs to dull the pain of a battered soul. I speak from experience on both counts.)

2) I May Be an Elitist/Egomaniac, but it’s because I’m a Competitor/Winner

noexcuses“Rule #76: No Excuses, Play Like a Champion!”

– Vince Vaughn, The Wedding Crashers

People frequently point out that I am a dick, a snob, arrogant, cocky, SMOFO, (Smug Mother Fucker) or some variation therein. Half the time these people have never even exchanged words with me, but that’s another story altogether.

I fully admit I was a raging prick throughout college and a few years afterward. Many men go through a maturation period in which they realize they have greater responsibilities than themselves, and I am one of them. I have spent recent years atoning for mistakes I made as a younger man.

But here’s something I learned: without that extra edge and that drive to compete that I’ve traditionally had, I’m an inferior person.

My father had me playing baseball before I could put one foot in front of the other, and I’ve played Team Sports nonstop since. Without realizing, I was raised to adopt the traditional values of an Athlete – Aggression, Cooperation, Dominance, Fair Play, Work Ethic, Refusal to Quit, and ultimately Excellence – as my Core Values. I can lie to myself about it, but the fact is that I want to beat the other guy, not get along with him.

As I’ve explained, my Core Values have become a limiting factor as I’ve gone out into the world. As an example, I recently described myself to a friend’s wife as having “an aggressive personality”, and she replied sincerely, “oh, that’s too bad.” The point is that while I see Aggression not only as something to aspire to, but as a Survival Necessity, most people view Aggression as a highly-undesirable trait.

(Note: My friend’s wife also likes to say, “You catch more bees with honey.” My response? Who the hell wants to catch bees?)

My mistake in all of this has been attempting to apologize for who I am and what I believe in. It’s fine that I am aggressive and cocky and competitive, because the world takes all types to revolve. Moreover, being surrounded in recent times by mostly-complacent people led me to forget why I was raised to be this way:

Sports are ultimately about defeating competition and/or reaching new peaks in performance, in a controlled environment. Sports are thoroughly noble. Sports have a beauty and a purity surely unseen in War and Politics. If I were King of the World, I would use the Olympic Games to settle disputes between countries. But I digress.

Without competition, without the possibility of someone taking your job or getting a better opportunity than you, a person will atrophy. Having the drive to outdo someone – not all the time, but when needed – is what has protected our race since the dawn of time. It’s simply Darwinism: the better hunter gets the antelope, and the weaker hunter starves.

My view is that getting too far away from the competitive mentality ultimately damages a person’s ability to survive, which I covered at-length in #87:  Challenge Yourself. Cooperation has immense value, but so does having the ability to excel.

I am a Hockey Player. To my core, I believe that Collectivism and Unity achieves much more than Individualism. But I also believe, in my core, that my family/friends/teammates and I are the ones that deserve to achieve, and like Rick Grimes I will go to extreme lengths to see the people I care about prosperous and/or victorious.

There is room to strive for Excellence and the Elitist approach, just as there is room for Compassion and Cooperation. All of these ideals are best achieved while conducting yourself with both Character and Class. The trick, as usual, is using a measure of discretion as you navigate the minefield.

My closing piece of advice is to refuse to let the dissatisfied and the mediocre drag you down. If like me you instincts are to Rise and to aspire to greater things than yourself, do not let the bitter and the vindictive sway you.

BK

Jack

 

#87: Challenge Yourself

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Not long ago, I had the opportunity to play in a local Fire vs. Police Charity Hockey Game. At the time, I was in the process of becoming a Firefighter with the local department, and the veterans were kind enough to include me. Being asked to play was a big personal thrill.

While I’m extremely grateful that I was asked to play, months later I am still too salty to fully appreciate the experience. Predictably, the Cops cheated and brought a line full of ringers, and Law beat Fire 8-5. Not that I am at all biased.

You need to understand that Fire and Law have a mostly-antagonistic, Dogs vs. Cats-type relationship. Last February, I had a New Hanover County cop pull me over and hand me a $160 ticket for “No Seatbelt” as I was leaving the Fire Station. My experience has been that Fire and Law cooperate when absolutely necessary – such as legitimate crises or life-and-death situations – but otherwise squabble like siblings.

Fire won last year’s game 10-0, and really it shouldn’t have been shocking if I saw Alex Ovechkin deputized for the day and skating for Law. Understandably not wanting to be drubbed again, the cops enlisted a few overqualified players with loose connections to the local departments. Fire got manhandled on a number of shifts by this unit of players, the three of whom appeared to be a regular line on an upper-tier amateur team.

It would probably be much more sound politically for me to not publish this portion of the article, but as you know my ethics as a Hockey Player supersede everything else about me. As a Hockey Player, I don’t think what Law pulled was particularly classy. Fire beat Law badly in the 2013 game, but all of the guys skating for Fire in the 2013 game were Firefighters or EMS personnel. I am ruthlessly competitive, but I don’t play D-League to sate my ego because there’s no honor to it. As the iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger says in the epic film Predator, “No Sport.”

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I know for a fact that Fire could have had a much stronger roster for the 2014 game, but the Captain of the Fire team rightly pointed out that the game was “so people could watch the firefighters in their community.” He very respectably stayed within the spirit of the game, even though he could have beefed up the roster with players loosely connected to Fire/EMS. This entire scenario seems to play into my view on how some people look to break rules in order to Do the Right Thing while others do whatever they want as long as it’s within “the rules”. I’ll let you figure out which groups most cops and most firefighters respectively fall into.

While I’m salty, admittedly irrationally so, that Law brought in a group of 18-year old Junior players to win a Charity Hockey Game, that’s not the issue at hand nor the point of this article.

Months later, I am angry about how I played. I played…OK. I had a Goal and an Assist, won 90% of my Face-Offs (as I am wont to do), and competed hard. But outside of the Face-Off dots, I was not dominant, at least not in the way I am accustomed to being. Fire lost, so in my view, I did not Rise to the occasion. My view is that it doesn’t matter if Law brought half of the Carolina Hurricanes in to play for them, I should have made a better account of myself. I did not play to my ability at an opportune time, and that clearly continues to bother me.

(Jack’s Note #1: I am may not have been “Tiger Mode” dominant, but I’m still Jack Farrell. See Alan in the red jersey cutting behind me? I also see him, even though I’m looking at the net. He’s about to get a pass under Blue’s stick as soon as Blue bites and tries to knock the puck off me, which he won’t because I’m teasing him with it as Mario, Jagr, and Kovy taught me. God, do I love Hockey.)

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(Jack’s Note #2: Not to further detract from the point, but I am able to sleep at night knowing that I had blown rivets on my skates for the Fire/Police game. Notice the glorious USA Hockey soakers on the Modano Tacks. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, but holders coming off the boots will knock any Hockey Player down a peg or two. Here’s a picture because I don’t lie about this sort of thing. Keep reading though, there’s a lot of helpful stuff later in the article.)

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As with most aspects of my life, it takes failure in Hockey to force me into personal or psychological growth. I did not elevate my level of play in a situation that really mattered to me because I had become too accustomed to playing at half-speed. The root of this problem, like many of the other problems that plagued me in 2013 and early 2014, was not my lack of effort or Will, but the fact that in several ways I had become complacent, or worse, resigned.

I am not entirely sure how it happened, but at some point I began to routinely accept mediocrity in my life. If you know anything about me, you know how completely out of character that is for me. I am an Elitist that borders on being snobby. Like MLB Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, I hate to suck. My disdain for personal incompetence trumps my desire for Excellence, a trait you commonly see in those of us with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s almost more important to not be bad than it is to be good.

Also, if you consistently read my blog, you know some of my core tenets are Rising and using Willpower to get through almost any conceivable scenario. But there is an underlying concept that enables Rising and Will, the same way spark plugs enable engine ignition, and that concept is Challenging Yourself.

Challenging Yourself is the road that leads to Rising. You cannot be expected to swim the English Channel if you can’t do fifty laps in the community swimming pool. Continually overreaching and exceeding your limits is what allows you to Rise to a given occasion, when needed.

A Simple Lesson Lost

At some point, like so many other people, in a number of ways I stopped Challenging Myself. It becomes frighteningly easy to stop striving and to embrace the relative comfort of complacency. When there are a cacophony of external stresses – Financial, Mental, Physical, Psychological, Sexual, Social – it becomes very easy to cut corners, or worse, put particular areas of your life on Cruise Control.

The problem is that at times Life is like pushing a boulder uphill: it gets more and more difficult, especially if you lose momentum.

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If you are familiar with Greek Mythology, you will know the tale of Sisyphus, King of Thebes. An arrogant, clever cat if ever one existed (my kind of guy), Sisyphus continually mocked the Greek Gods, at one point cheating death by tricking Thanatos, Death Himself, into releasing him from bonds in Tartarus.

Anyway, as punishment for his gall and hubris, Zeus eventually condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of pushing a boulder uphill, only to watch the boulder roll back down as soon as Sisyphus neared the top. Wikipedia sums it up very nicely:

“…an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration. Thus it came to pass that pointless or interminable activities are sometimes described as Sisyphean…”

Going back the Boulder analogy, this is what happens when you cease to Challenge Yourself on a consistent basis: useless efforts and unending frustration. There becomes a recurring pattern of falling a day late and a dollar short. Sisyphean activities. How much you care and how hard you try become irrelevant if you have not properly conditioned yourself for adversity. Almost all of us can identify with this.

I’ve given a lot of thought to why 2013/early 2014 was such a rotten time in my life personally, and I think I have traced the problem to the source:

A few years ago, I was doing very well in all of the areas mentioned above – Financial, Mental, Physical, Psychological, Sexual, Social – and like Sisyphus, I had perhaps grown a bit too arrogant for the gods’ liking. Shortly after college, I decided that I had enough of my bar manager at the time stealing from my register to fund his on-the-clock cocaine habit, so I became a Personal Trainer. Obtaining the PT Certification was a Challenge, but my work habits were strong enough that I was able to accomplish it with a reasonable amount of dedication and effort.

I took a job at the first place I applied, the endlessly-greedy and corrupt LA Fitness, despite the fact they were offering me slave wages and nonexistent benefits. I made more in an hour fondling the waitstaff and letting drunk girls flash me than I would make in a day at the vaguely-French LaFitness, but for whatever reason I decided to…settle. It was easier to let LA pay me pennies than to continue searching for a job that compensated me properly.

As they say, Fortune Favors the Bold. The inverse is true as well. Because I settled for the first employer that said ‘yes’ rather than continue to beat the bushes for a better opportunity, I set myself up for failure, and in the process managed to take a very bad perspective: Good is Good Enough. I’ll explain why this mindset is not only flawed, but potentially self-destructive.

 Unlearning Bad Habits

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Regrettably, one of the things most of us learn is how to stop striving. We encounter professional situations in which nothing in our power can compel an employer to increase our pay grades or in some way show greater appreciation. Rather than continuing to press or finding a new employer, we most often yield and accept that things are the way they are. We don’t just accept, but embrace, mediocrity.

This leads to a litany of undesirable effects, not the least of which is a cloud of negativity that not only follows you around, but permeates to everyone in your vicinity. Resignation is a slow, painful death by atrophy, and the emotional erosion is in many ways worse than the mental and physical tolls extracted.

I have always been a worker, and as an adult my confidence has usually bordered on arrogance. As such, traditionally I have never needed motivation to strive for accomplishment. For most of my Life, I have wanted to be excellent at everything simply for the sake of being so. Challenging Myself was something that came naturally and thoughtlessly.

Unfortunately, the decision to take the LA Fitness job taught me an awful habit: to accept mediocrity, from others and eventually myself. A heavy toll was taken on all of those areas – Financial, Mental, Physical, Psychological, Sexual, Social – in which I had previously expected accomplishment and progress.

One thing that will always stick with me about the LA Fitness experience was how thoroughly unprofessional most of my coworkers were. I would sit for hours at night coming up with innovative training programs for my clients, and treat all of my clients – even the absolute train wrecks – like they belonged to the President’s Cabinet. Meanwhile, my coworkers couldn’t be bothered to stop playing on their phones long enough to ensure that their clients weren’t dropping weights on themselves, or to look at their clients while they were speaking. The contrast was jarring.

At first, this didn’t change anything in my approach, because I was dedicated to excelling. But the combination of the atrocious employee treatment, nonexistent pay, and catty glares and whispers from my indifferent, lazy, resigned coworkers began to grind me down, again in all of the areas of competence mentioned above. A poisonous professional situation such as this is one most anyone reading can identify with.

The first thing to give was my body. Because my employer was more than happy to drive me into the ground without compensating me properly, my ability to Challenge Myself physically went by the wayside. If I managed to force myself through a workout at the end of a 12-hour day, it was almost certainly a half-assed one. I gradually lost the ability to stave off the daily physical stress I was putting on myself.

One of my major character flaws is that almost everything I like to do is Physical. I have tried to round myself out to a certain degree, mainly through writing, but my favorite activities, in no order, are fighting, working out, having sex, and playing hockey. I actually like farming and doing chores around the house (ladies, take note). Every job I’ve ever sought – bartending, landscaping, house-painting, stripping, training, construction, Fire/EMS – has involved the use of my body rather than my mind, and not by accident. My version of Eternal Torture is being forced to sit still.

So, it was a catastrophic blow to all areas of my well-being when I severely injured my knee about four months after taking the LA Fitness job. I was playing a hockey game at Bethel Park in Pittsburgh, made a routine turn, and something just snapped in my knee.

I did not have Health Insurance at the time – thanks again for the employee benefits, LA Fitness! – so I never had an MRI nor the surgery that those results likely would have recommended. I still haven’t had an MRI, so Lord knows what’s happening down in my right knee. All I know is that I walked with a noticeable limp for nearly a year, and had disability and intense pain for nearly two. The knee still flares up if I am not diligent with my training and nutrition.

I might have still injured my knee if I had not taken the job with LA Fitness. However, I have a hard time envisioning a scenario in which I would be more employer-raped and physically run down for less money. As I detailed in Jack’s Rules, I made a major miscalculation by putting pride and the wants of people who did not care about me above my own needs. Had I made the more Challenging decision to put my own well-being above that of a ridiculous, underpaying job, I likely would have saved myself a lot of future turmoil.

Because I did nothing, I not only embraced but endorsed a culture of mediocrity. My advice for you is to refuse to do the same, both now and in the future. If you have learned how to underachieve and how to do the bare minimum, Now would be an excellent time to reverse that line of behavior.

Challenging Yourself vs. The Challenge of Others

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As I wrote above about my experience with LA Fitness, an insidious Challenge becomes when you have to differentiate between Challenging Yourself and the Challenges others present to you.

Let’s say you are a talented, goal-scoring soccer player. You work your tail off, you’re gifted physically, and you have a great mind for the game. Yet, you are failing to reach your potential on your current team because the moron playing Center Midfield refuses to pass you the ball.

When you have controlled all of your personal factors – your commitment, your conditioning, your work habits, and so forth – and external factors begin limiting your personal success, the Challenge of Others comes into play.

This is an experience I personally understand very well, because I have spent my life playing Team Sports. While many athletes are naturally cooperative and team-oriented, quite a few thrive despite being relentlessly selfish. A unique frustration sets in when the selfishness of someone else undermines your personal success, and this idea is never more prevalent than with Team Sports. One indifferent or lazy player can often derail the efforts of 10 or 20 committed, hard-working ones.

The Challenge of Others is one area in which I have to admit writing is superior to Sports: in writing, the Writer becomes the only true impediment to his or her success. All of the brainless editors and bureaucracy in the world cannot stop you if you properly hone your writing ability.

Anyone who has spent considerable time in the Dating Scene will also know what I mean by The Challenge of Others. The ongoing Battle of the Sexes, and the continued unwillingness of most Men and Women to admit that they need each other, is a Biblical-era classic. Men and Women present continual and never-ending frustrations for each other because their genetic goals are diametrically-opposed. It’s the oldest rib in the history of the human race, and it’s hysterical.

One thing that most of us will agree is that you cannot force other people to be attracted to you. There are ways in which you can influence others and enhance your own attractiveness, but I’m sure all of us have that “one that got away” who we seemingly couldn’t seduce under any circumstances.

The Challenge of Others in this case is that there is only so much we can do to make another person attracted to us. If you Challenge Yourself properly, it’s possible to climb Mount Everest or lift 500 pounds, but most of us have yet to unearth the secret to making someone special fall in love with us. It’s like trying to use a net to catch a mist.

The only thing you can really to combat the Challenge of Others is to stack the deck in your favor as much as possible. You may not be able to make anyone fall in love with you, but it certainly helps if you’re a handsome, talented, wealthy actor. The freedom comes in knowing that there are external factors that you can control, if you Challenge Yourself appropriately. Focus on yourself, and do not let the Challenge of Others frustrate you to a debilitating degree.

Grow or Die: the Atrophy Principle

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In Exercise Science, there are a number of terms that refer to the state of Muscle Tissue. Muscles, like all tissues, can grow (Hypertrophy) or they can wilt (Atrophy). Homeostasis, a state defined by little or no change, is possible in Muscle Tissue, but many factors make it uncommon.

Meatheads like myself are obsessed with Hypertrophy, not because we are obsessed with growing to the size of gorillas (most of us), but because of how unpalatable the alternative, Atrophy, happens to be.

“Muscle Loss” will make a fitness enthusiast break out in a cold sweat. There are many fitness-minded people, myself included, who would rather lose a job than consistently lose muscle. Atrophy, or the idea of erosion and wasting away, is powerful enough to compel people to go to the gym at 5:30 AM or to eat Protein Powder by the spoonful.

Speaking of fitness-minded people, as noted above one of my all-time favorite people is Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s safe to say that he played a heavy influence in my decision to pursue a degree in Exercise Science. In my estimate, Arnold Schwarzengger is the real Most Interesting Man in the World, having had such a variety of experiences that encapsulating them would go beyond the scope of this article.

If you want to talk about someone who never stopped Challenging Himself, take Arnold. All of the details are in his outstanding book Total Recall, but here are some of his accomplishments:

* Went from being poor as a boy in Austria to being a five-time Mr. Olympia, champion bodybuilder, and fitness icon

* Parlayed his bodybuilding career into an acting career, in which he was one of the highest-grossing box-office stars in the history of entertainment

* Parlayed his acting career into a political career in which he was elected and re-elected as the Governor of his adopted state, California

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More recently, Arnold has returned to his roots and become an Action Movie and Fitness icon. He is absolutely revered, and rightly so. If you were to ask Arnold the key to personal success, I strongly suspect he would cite the fact that he never grew complacent, and never stopped Challenging Himself, a concept he largely drew from his experiences as a bodybuilder.

One of Arnold’s first films was called “Stay Hungry“, an idea he frequently acknowledges in interviews. I think most would agree that a big reason for Arnold’s success is that he has continued to evolve and grow as a human being, if only because the alternative – Atrophy – was completely unacceptable. Again, I think Arnold would agree that this was a lesson he learned moving heavy weights and subsequently applied to other arenas.

This lesson applies to you and I, as well. Grow or Die. If you fail to Challenge Yourself, you will assuredly regress. Embrace competition and reach beyond your comfort zone, in all areas of your life, and always pursue growth.

Areas of Challenge

I could describe specific examples, but I believe those of you still reading will know how to Challenge Yourself in all of the following Areas of Challenge:

Challenge Yourself Intellectually

Challenge Yourself Mentally

Challenge Yourself Psychologically

Challenge Yourself Physically

Challenge Yourself Sexually

Challenge Yourself Socially

What you may or may not have articulated or considered are specific methods of Challenging Yourself, or that you have become complacent or worse, resigned, in certain areas of your life. My suggestion to you would be to consider the Areas of Challenge I listed above, and to seek balance, as in my view they are all interconnected.

As a fitness trainer, I came to know many people who would endlessly Challenge Themselves physically, but would not pick up a book or strike up a conversation with an attractive stranger. Like bad bodybuilders, some people overdevelop certain areas of competence while completely ignoring others. As written above, failure to regularly Challenge Yourself in all areas will lead to Atrophy, compromising the Areas of Challenge you are striving to hard to enrich.

The Final Lesson

Writing is not a major challenge for me, at least under most circumstances. I have a clear voice, and I love the sound of it, so I am almost never short for ideas or material. My Challenge becomes making my writing more and more worthwhile.

Any idiot with Microsoft Word and a stolen WiFi Connection can compose an article that looks and reads adequately, but fewer writers can consistently entertain, invigorate, or motivate their readers. At this point, simply putting words to paper is not an adequate Challenge for me. My Challenge as a writer is to write exceptionally, rather than just passably, because I’m capable of doing so.

However, obtaining my EMT-Basic certification was a major, major Challenge for me, for reasons I’ve written about. There were people in my class who I was pretty positive could not read the nutrition label on a box of Ritz Crackers or operate a can opener, but were excelling while I was floundering. But as I wrote in the EMT article, I was extremely proud of myself for leaving my comfort zone of Barbells, Hockey, and MILF Porn long enough to complete something that I do not have a natural aptitude for.

The Final Lesson is to keep Challenging Yourself. I separately and deliberately underlined those words so they sear into your brain. What Challenges me may or may not Challenge you, and vice-versa. Do what Challenges YouIf you are lacking for inspiration, consider and evaluate the Areas of Challenge I’ve suggested. Look for Challenges every where and in everything. Upcycle. Do whatever it takes to continue evolving and growing, for the alternative (Atrophy) is not just undesirable, but unacceptable. Grow or Die.

Jack

#84: Jack Reviews: AAA Car Care – Oleander Drive, Wilmington, NC

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Almost all of us need a reliable, trustworthy Auto Mechanic. This was something I had  taken for granted, as my cousin is a Mechanic. Paying for extensive Auto Repair in exchange for beer or my mother’s baked goods was a major perk for most of my life.

After relocating to Wilmington, NC, it became an immediate necessity to find a Mechanic, as I could no longer just dial up my cousin every time the car started acting funny. The move from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, which involved multiple 900-mile jaunts each way, put a lot of very hard miles on my Honda CR-V.

I had long been a AAA Roadside Service club member, but had never used a AAA Car Care Center prior to moving to Wilmington. My first experience with AAA Car Care was memorable, though: as I detailed in my article “The Walking Dead Diet“, on the Saturday before Memorial Day in 2012, I was driving down Military Cutoff Road in Wilmington when the front passenger wheel flew off my CR-V. The most of the studs on the rotor had broken off, largely due to the insane amounts of travel I was putting my poor car through. Driving excessive highway miles with only two intact studs on the rotor is obviously not an ideal condition for your vehicle to be in, and it’s the definition of a major safety issue.

One of my minor claims to fame is that I have twice survived having a wheel fly off my car, the other time being when a front wheel came off my Eagle Talon while I was driving down I-79 in Pittsburgh at 85 MPH. Fun stuff, but I digress.

Almost as if by fate, my car came shrieking to a halt in front of AAA Car Care on Military Cutoff at about 3:30 PM on the Saturday afternoon of a Holiday weekend. Somehow, for the second time in my life I had the presence of mind to “guide” the car off the road while sparks flying from the rotor threatened to detonate the engine. Looking around after my CR-V mercifully slowed to a stop, I had both a Dunkin’ Donuts and a AAA Car Care Center within my immediate line of sight.

After briefly collecting myself, I sighed, calmly turned off the engine, and did the only rationale thing I could think to do: I walked to Dunkin’ Donuts and got an iced Hazelnut coffee. While I drank my coffee, I  found the number for the nearby AAA Car Care Center, and had my CR-V towed to the soon-to-close facility.

Long story short, AAA repaired my car. I must say that I have nothing to complain about, as none of the wheels have fallen off the CR-V since AAA on Military Cutoff did the work. However, the repair bill was so egregiously-high – the figure $843 is permanently seared into my brain – that I was discouraged from using AAA Car Care Centers for future service.

I ended up using a small shop in Wilmington called Performance Auto for a great number of repairs in the interim, including a complete engine replacement. I am going to hold off on most of my thoughts on Performance Auto for the moment, as their irresponsibility in not detecting  major safety issues on my CR-V warrants a separate article.

In any event, recently my CR-V needed extensive work, which I entrusted to Performance Auto. Not only did Performance Auto fail to diagnose the main issues I brought to their attention, but they let me leave their shop five times under the pretense that the CR-V was fine to drive on an extended road-trip. Meanwhile, in actuality the CR-V was one hard turn away from something truly catastrophic happening. My contact at AAA literally winced when I assessing the condition of the CR-V’s front suspension, which told me all I needed to know.

Speaking of which, my contact at AAA was Mike Coyle, to whom I was referred by a guy I play Hockey with. The Hockey Locker Room is my go-to resource for legal and medical advice, financial planning, computer services, etc. I trust my teammates implicitly. My teammate Kevin was kind enough to refer me to Mike, and having become completely disgusted with the arrogance/incompetence over at Performance Auto, I went to see Mike at the Car Care Center on Oleander Drive.

I am pleased to report that Mike did everything in his power to mesh my demands – and I assure you, I was very demanding – with the work that he deemed necessary to make the car safe to drive. My experience with AAA Car Care on Oleander Drive, on the whole, was extremely positive.

This is my Review of AAA Car Care Center on Oleander Drive in Wilmington, NC. This location is not to be confused with the location on Military Cutoff Road. Wilmington residents are aware the same stretch of road is called Military Cutoff Road on one end and Oleander Drive on the other, but this may confuse people visiting or otherwise new to the area.

Pros

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One of my favorite things about dealing with AAA is that they have a hierarchy of Mechanics, all of whom are ASE Certified. After Mike took a quick look at my CR-V, he realized that he would need his “A” Mechanic for this particular car. I greatly appreciate that sort of honesty over the fast-food mentality some shops take. I would rather wait an extra day and have the best guy for the job examining my car, rather than the first guy available.

AAA does a full Diagnostic examination, the details of which can be found here. In a situation like mine, in which my CR-V was coding for a “Random Misfire”, this sort of Diagnostic scan is much more effective than the ol’ “let’s try a Valve Adjustment at your expense” tack that the geniuses at Performance Auto had chosen to take. My view as a moonlight medical professional is that doing a Valve Adjustment (or whatever) when it’s nothing more than an educated guess on the Mechanic’s part is like amputating a patient that needs Heart Surgery. The depths of stupidity at play bother me too much to discuss further.

(Note to Mechanics: What was causing the Random Misfire on all four cylinders? A loose bolt on the Distributor housing that was causing the Distributor to shake back and forth like a Shakira/Rhianna Twerk-off. Again, much thanks to Performance Auto for wanting to perform expensive, major surgery on my CR-V for a problem that was fixed with four turns of a hex wrench.)

After I authorized the Diagnostic (the cost of which Mike ultimately waived for me), Mike gave me 15-20 minutes of his time to discuss options. The Diagnostic scan made me much more confidant in eventually authorizing the work, which ties into my absolute favorite part about dealing with Mike Coyle at AAA:

Mike gave me the proposed Work Order up front, clearly itemized. In my experience, this is a drastic departure from how many Auto Mechanics operate. Many Auto Shops give the consumer a vague description of work that they may or may not do, generally putting the consumer at a severe disadvantage in negotiation. At AAA on Oleander, I had a complete understanding of all of the work that could or should be done on my vehicle, complete with a straightforward breakdown of prices.

This is a major Pro in favor of AAA that you absolutely should not overlook. It’s critical as a consumer that you know exactly what you’re paying for.

I impressed upon Mike in my inimitable way that the only work that would be done on the car was the absolute minimum that would make the car drivable to Pennsylvania from North Carolina. While Mike may not have agreed with the minimalist work that I ultimately authorized, he spoke to me like an adult of reasonable intelligence and respected my decision. That fact in and of itself makes someone like me about 500 times more likely to deal with him in the future.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that each and every member of the staff at the Car Care Center was unfailingly polite. By itself, this would not affect any of my purchasing decisions, but it is a nice feather in the cap of the Care Center on Oleander Drive.

Cons

AAA has locations all over America, and as such is subject to Common Denominator pricing.

For example, on the CR-V’s latest work order I noticed that the standard cost for a four-wheel Alignment at AAA was $89.99. This is about $20 more than the average cost in the Wilmington area (and believe me, I heavily researched the local cost of a four-wheel alignment).

While Mike was prepared to discount this cost to $69.99, putting it more-closely in line with local prices, the fact remains that some of AAA’s costs are generally going to skew high.

It’s not my intent to go on a complete expose, but what I found was that in some cases the price for Parts at AAA was oppressively-high. To use one example from this latest Car Repair adventure, I ended up purchasing Spark Plugs and Wires. as well as a Distributor Cap and Rotor, and doing a self-install because AAA’s quote on those Parts with Labor was prohibitive:

plugs

Most people are not dime-squeezing Control Freaks like I am, and would thus be amenable to having someone else do the work at a reasonable cost. AAA’s quotes were certainly not outrageous, but again my goal was to do this round of work on the CR-V at a rock-bottom figure.

It’s worth mentioning here that AAA’s overall Labor Rates were surprisingly low compared to the few smaller shops I price-compared them to. It’s also worth mentioning that their Hourly Shop Rate was significantly lower than the rate I had been given at Performance Auto, which I had given a very healthy amount of recent business.

Other than AAA’s company-wide mandates on Parts pricing, I have no complaints. I was given a very clear, detailed Work Order prior to a single screw being removed, and I was thus able to pick-and-choose which Services I wanted and which I wanted to decline. Even knowing that some of the Parts prices were more than I was willing to pay, Mike Coyle worked to Add Value to my overall Work Order in a variety of creative ways, which I greatly appreciated and detail in the next section.

Value

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This is the area in which I give the most credit to Mike Coyle at AAA.

Mike had the distinct privilege of meeting my alter ego Jack the Ruthless. As many of you likely know, my years spent working in Asset Management have made me an absolutely barbaric negotiator. Mike was kind enough to call me “extremely demanding”, but the fact is that I am blood-on-the-lips savage when it comes to business transactions. I have literally made grown men cry dealing with the negotiation of gym memberships or the return of defective Hockey Equipment.

Mike is the friend of a teammate, so believe it or not he actually got the PG-13 version of Jack the Ruthless. However, I am the type of guy who would blackmail his own father-in-law if it made sound business sense, so be certain that I made Mike Coyle work for my business.

Some aspects of this recent Repair job were non-negotiable. For example, there were Parts of the Front Suspension that were in such terrible condition that Mike and his Lead Technician had strong reservations about me driving the car off-premises after the Diagnostic scan. I don’t speak Car Repair fluently, but from what I understand, one wrong turn would have led to the front of the car collapsing on itself.

Both Mike and his Lead Tech were good enough to walk me through all of the car’s major safety issues while the car was up on a rack. All of my regular readers know that I love full disclosure, and despite being dense with mechanics, I had a good grasp on the major issues with the car. The work on the Front Suspension was mandatory, meaning it should have been detected and done by Performance Auto months ago.

Working around the mandatory chuck that the Suspension job was going to take out of my Checking Account, Mike did his best to provide strong Value wherever else he could. For example, my vehicle needed two new Tires (due to the front end’s hideous misalignment), and not even my cousin could beat the price on Tires that Mike gave me on behalf of AAA. As noted above, he waived the $100 Diagnostic Fee for me. He even cleaned my headlights, which had become so cloudy that my business partner Randy refused to ride with me after dark, free-of-charge. In short, Mike Coyle added as much Value into my investment as he could, which was music to my Business Accountant ears.

Due to the damage to the Front Suspension, my CR-V could not be properly Aligned. Rather than attempt a failed Alignment and irresponsibly bill me the $70 (as a competitor I won’t again name might have), Mike Coyle very openly told me that I would not be billed if an Alignment could not be done. He kept his word and did not bill me, which I greatly appreciated. He very easily could have failed to properly Align my CR-V, told me otherwise, and just tacked an extra $70 onto my final tab. I would have known no different. He instead chose to earn my trust and future business.

This situation speaks to the advantage of dealing with a National company such as AAA: the local shop has a National reputation to protect. Even if he were so inclined, Mike would not have authorized the billing of a failed Alignment simply because that would have reflected poorly on every other AAA Car Care Center across America. This speaks to the two distinct advantages Big Businesses have over Mom-and-Pops: Consistency and Standardization.

For all the perceived Biases working against using AAA Car Care Centers (described below), a major advantage is that I can walk into a AAA Car Care Center in Des Moines, Iowa or Atlanta, Georgia and expect a similar standard of quality. Even if the prices fluctuate somewhat, a consumer can purchase confidently knowing that at least their vehicle will be repaired properly, lest the shop in question tarnish AAA’s sterling reputation.

Personal Biases

I am not biased against AAA, as I am actually a AAA Platinum member. Every year, I gladly pay the $60 membership fee, as I have had more automotive breakdowns in recent memory than I want to recount.

Having said that, AAA is among the last places I would have previously considered for Auto Repair. While this bias may be somewhat unique to me, my view as a someone with a strong understanding of Brand Building and Marketing is that AAA is a stale brand. Concepts such as “Consistency” and “Dependability” are not sexy sells, especially when the sticker prices for work at your average AAA Car Care Center are higher than those at your average small shop.

When asked to compare AAA to another Brand, after a moment of consideration, the first Brand that came to mind was Sears. Here is the comparison: both AAA and Sears are so established as Brands that they have lost a lot of their luster. AAA, like Sears, is your father or possibly your grandfather’s go-to place for Parts and Service. They have been around so long that both brands have become “quaint” to a certain degree. And while both Brands are synonymous with “Quality”, neither are typically associated with rock-bottom pricing.

I believe the general impression is that while the quality is high, the prices of both Brands are somewhat inflated compared to small shops (some of which can cut corners due to lack of Standardization) without seemingly offering the exclusivity of a Dealership shop. My view as a Marketer is that both AAA and Sears are trying to recreate their niche, as both have lost footing to cheaper alternatives in recent years.

I also have to recount that I had a relatively-expensive experience getting my CR-V repaired when the wheel came off back in 2012. “Wheel flying off car, extensive Rotor damage” is not an easy order to price-compare, but the final bill – which again totaled $843 – kept AAA Car Care off my radar for several years. I take full responsibility for that bias, as the total likely would have been similar regardless of which shop provided the repair. But still, that number…ouch.

Final Thoughts

As I sit here writing this in early September 2014, I have to wonder exactly how much money I have cost myself in-sum by deferring to a cheaper alternative in Performance Auto. I will save much of that line of thought for my Review on Performance Auto, but this is the lesson:

My preconceived notions about AAA prevented me from utilizing them sooner. Had I done my homework and given them the opportunity to win my business earlier, I may have saved myself a good deal of time and money. I certainly couldn’t have spent more using AAA, as my receipts from Performance Auto read like a Greek tragedy.

The truth is that Mike Coyle worked tirelessly to complete the work needed on my car while whittling the total cost down to a number that I deemed acceptable. While my main problem with using AAA had always been their pricing, I sincerely doubt I could have gotten as much Value at a similar cost. In short, Mike Coyle gave me everything I asked for. The car drives much better, and I have nothing to complain about whatsoever.

If AAA Car Care on Oleander can make a satisfied customer out of me, they should have no problem meeting the needs of a less-demanding consumer. In short, AAA Car Care on Oleander Drive comes Highly Recommended.

My advice to you is to strongly consider using AAA Car Care on Oleander Drive, and to do so without any preconceived notions. You may be pleasantly surprised at how low the final bill dovetails with the quality of work.

Jack

Jack Reviews: X-Men Days of Future Past

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I’m writing under the assumption that you are interested in seeing X-Men Days of Future Past and have an idea of what’s going on, since it’s a novel Sequel/Prequel/Spin-Off concept. I will write without giving away too many spoilers, but I will indicate if a spoiler looms at the onset of a given paragraph.

I took in the Thursday night early premiere of X-Men Days of Future Past with Mike and Kacey, neither of whom are huge fans of the source material. It’s useful to go with people who aren’t big fans, because it allows you measure how well the story is relayed to someone experiencing it for the first time. It also lets you know which plot devices are confusing or poorly-explained.

In contrast to my pals, I am a lifelong X-Men fanatic, and have been mostly-disgusted with the films to date. I thought the franchise finally got it right with 2013’s The Wolverine, which I fully credit to the fanatical dedication of actor Hugh Jackman to both the character and the source material, but on the whole the films having ranged from “brutal” to “dumpster fire”, in my humble opinion.

Regarding the prior X-Men films, I’m in that situation as a fan where you try to like the films because you love the characters, lying to yourself about the quality of the movies and unable to form an unbiased opinion. Most of the films, especially 1998’s X-Men and 2008’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine hold up about as well as tissue paper in a rainstorm, but thankfully DOFP doubles as a soft reboot to the franchise, which I will get into below.

The setup is Crazy Time Travel Plot Device, which made my friend Kacey’s head spin. I knew what was going on, but as someone who has only seen the films and not read the comics, Kacey couldn’t figure out if the opening sequence was happening in the far future or an alternate present or what. It was apocalyptic and dark and ominous, but somewhat VAGUE as to the approximate time-frame. I can absolutely see where this would be confusing to a non-fan.

But non-fans are not going to come out in droves to see this film, or maybe they are. Regardless, the film should be a box-office smash because the nerds are going to pay to see this thing multiple times. Bold point: It lacks some of the finish and the mainstream appeal of the Avengers franchise films, but with DOFP, Bryan Singer has made an outstanding period-piece film.

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Most of the film takes place in 1973, and this is where both Singer and the franchise finally get it right. The biggest problem restricting the X-Men franchise, other than the absurd stories used in X-Men I and III and especially Origins, is the ridiculous miscasting and awful characterization. The franchise’s strengths on-screen are in Jackman (who is insanely committed to the Wolverine character) and in the X-Men: First Class cast, most notably the off-and-on bromance between James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto.

Singer wisely puts McAvoy and Fassbender (and Jackman) on screen the majority of the time. Their use takes the film away from awkward, geeky sci-fi fest into something the mainstream audience can enjoy. Firmly setting the film as a 1973 period-piece, complete with Richard Nixon as President and the conclusion of the Vietnam War, solidifies the absent core that plagued most of the prior X-Men films. Like The Wolverine, DOFP is actually a high-quality movie, rather than just a nonsensical, soulless blockbuster. DOFP is basically the opposite of Michael Bay’s Transformers films, in that the substance greatly outweighs the style.

Not that DOFP lacks style. I thought numerous times while watching the film how much more credibility and depth Fassbender gives to the Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto character. Rather than just making him a genetic elitist and genocidal maniac (which is played up in the prior films), Fassbender makes Magneto extremely charismatic and likable. He continues the portrayal he started in First Class, playing Magneto as more of a slick James Bond-type than recycling the tired evil-villain concept.

Most of the performances are outstanding, again in a tasteful and understated way, rather than, “ME AM MAGNETO, ME AM EVIL”. Jennifer Lawrence is great as Mystique/Raven. Nicholas Hoult is perfect as young Hank McCoy/Beast. As I’ve stated a number of times, Jackman is beyond committed to the Wolverine character. Props to Singer for putting these people on screen most of the time, even though it might have been more attention-grabbing to have the Sentinel robots in repeated battles with the X-Men in the apocalyptic future.

Much credit to the writers for modernizing and layering a two-issue X-Men story from the early-1980s. For example, the X-Men decide to send Wolverine/Logan back to 1973, rather than Kitty Pryde (as in the comics) because A) Jackman is the star of the franchise, but also B) because Wolverine regenerates and could potentially withstand something as catastrophic as time travel. It’s a tweak that makes a ton of sense on all levels.

Similarly, they use Mystique in a central plot device, to A) highlight mega-star Lawrence but do so in a way that B) explains why the Sentinels – giant robots that the X-Men ordinarily have no problems smashing to pieces – managed to subdue not only Mutantkind but also humanity. The film makes the Sentinels menacing for the first time ever, while paying homage to the source material.

Ok, that was a sufficient tongue-job in praise of the film. Now time for nit-picking (Warning: Foul/Insensitive Language because this part gets me worked up. It’s 15 years’ worth of pent-up aggression over how bad some of these movies suck):

Since we are now spoiled by the unbelievable quality of the Avengers franchise films, the retarded casting and characterization of the foundation X-Men films really looks bad here, especially compared to the First Class casting of Fassbender, McAvoy, Lawrence, Hoult, etc.

See, in 1998, before we established what a good Comic Book Movie was supposed to be, roles were cast based on looks alone with almost zero thought to how a given actor would fit the character. Here comes a franchise-long tirade on how bad the prior movies were miscast:

Storm: Halle Berry is a prominent actress, and you can talk yourself into thinking she would be good as Ororo Monroe, but Storm is a freaking African Goddess. She’s a strong-willed leader with a surprising mean streak, but in the films Halle Berry (on orders) plays her like a Gap ad. She looks and sounds like she just walked out of a suburban Starbucks. The problem is so bad that they barely let her speak in DOFP.

Cyclops: Don’t get me fucking started. James Marsden, the ultimate beta male, plays Cyclops like a complete twat. He basically consents to Wolverine fucking his wife, then blogs about it on MySpace or whatever the fuck while crying ruby-red tears. He’s the central character in the X-Men comics, a concept the comics themselves have mercifully corrected. He just got done kicking the Avengers’ collective asses, actually. However, he’s such an afterthought in the film franchise that he gets killed in the first 10 minutes of X-Men III with zero fucks given. People are happy to see him die in the films because he’s such a malcontent pussy.

Here is Cyclops as he should be, beating Captain Freaking America’s ass:

cyclops2Here’s Cyclops having just given Emma Frost 10 orgasms, yet too preoccupied with being Awesome to look at her:

Emma_Frost_and_Cyclops_bed

Here he is beating on Wolverine:

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But here is how the movies want to present Cyclops:

sadclops

You think I’m done? I’m not done.

It’s not a rivalry if Wolverine is constantly tooling Cyclops and banging his wife. I like Wolverine plenty, and I understand that Jackman is the franchise and rightfully so. But Cyclops is the X-Men. A main reason why these movies have sucked so awful up to point is that Cyclops is written and played as this emo douchebag, which I pray will be corrected when the franchise is fully reboot. But I digress.

This is one of my favorite comics of all-time, Classic X-Men #44:

classicxmen44It’s a recap of Cyclops burying his dead wife, banging random chicks, punching Wolverine in the dick, and telling Professor X to blow him before gunning off on his motorcycle to go grief-bang the Pacific RimThat is how Cyclops is supposed to be depicted, not bringing Logan extra lube and massage oil to use on his cheating fire-crotch wife.

I’m done with Cyclops. Moving on.

Beast: Hey, it’s Frasier! Fuck off and die.

kelsey_grammar

Thankfully, Nicholas Hoult does a great job in the role, but the ass-jockey that cast a man named Kelsey as Beast needs to be drawn-and-quartered.

Magneto: he’s a fine actor, by why the fuck did you cast 8,000-year old Ian McKellan to be Magneto? He doesn’t look like a very-imposing Master of Magnetism when his jowels are quivering in anticipation of the early-bird special. There is nothing enjoyable about beating up on Grandpa.

Jean Grey: Famke Janssen was too old for the role when she was cast in 1998. Of course a woman in her mid-30s would rather bang Logan than her inept 23-year old boy toy. But again, Janssen was cast in 1998, when the logical process was apparently, “dude, the Russian chick from Goldeneye would look hot as a redhead.” The lack of forethought is obnoxious.

Also, having Janssen, who plays a terrific cheating, manipulative skank in most of her roles, cast as the puritanical Jean Grey was a major swing-and-miss. Too late now though, as the 48-year old Janssen will be playing Jean Grey in the next X-Men film, presumably next to the 109-year old Ian McKellan. Normally, I would be fully behind the concept of Jean Grey: Insatiable Cougar, but it looks and plays ridiculous within the the context of the character.

X-Men III: I am lumping all of the casting of X-Men III into one category, because it was all just rotten. I like Vinnie Jones, but the thought process apparently was “WOW! A limey accent! Let’s make him Juggernaut!” I’ve blocked most of the movie out of my memory, but the fact it caused me PTSD says most of what you need to know about the casting/plot.

Gambit: LOOK! Shiny!

Sabretooth: Replacing whatever was going on in the first film with Hugh Jackman’s secret lover Liev Schrieber was not progress. He’s like a big cat, you see! So he growls and hisses, you see! And has the fingernails of a bag lady!

Deadpool: is Awesome, and Ryan Reynolds gets it, so why was Origins the biggest disappointment that’s ever happened outside of your bedroom? They gave the Merc with the Mouth NO FUCKING MOUTH. Thankfully, they are going to act like none of the prior films, especially Origins, ever happened.

Will.i.am: was in an X-Men movie, as some kind of gay Country-Western bouncer. I want to scream.

I could go on, but the obvious point is that the first four or five movies in this franchise sucked something terrible. DOFP does the world a great, great service by soft-rebooting the franchise, so we can live in a world without Singer’s errant S&M leather exo-suit experience as well as whatever the fuck was going on in the non-Singer films.

Luckily, the franchise got the casting right in First Class (aside from vapid wench Betty Draper Francis as Emma Frost), and the producers wisely toned down the S&M uniforms in lieu of something a non-sexual deviant would wear in public.  This trend further improved in DOFP, as all of the decor and outfits were very time-appropriate without cutting into the plot.

The next issue is the continuity. Havok (Alex Summers) and Toad were in Vietnam? What the fuckity fuck. And didn’t Wolverine fight in Vietnam? Why does William Stryker keeps radically changing ages and appearances? What year did Wolverine get his Adamantium, 2009? Why are there two fucking Toads? Why does Jean Grey’s face look like a withered baseball glove? GOD I HATE THESE FUCKING MOVIES.

My buddy Kacey was tripping balls trying to logically-integrate the prior movies, and I don’t blame him. This is not a criticism of DOFP, which goes to lengths to try to corral the nonsense logical inconsistency of the prior films, but a main reason the X-Men franchise lost steam was that things normal people notice – like dates, times, and ages of the participating characters – were all over the fucking place. It’s like they let a five-year old storyboard Origins on a piece of yellow construction paper.

In a practice that hit it’s nadir in Origins, the producers just threw a bunch of CGI at the screen and expected to hit a $100-million domestic box while insulting the audience’s intelligence. This practice was so obnoxious that is greatly damaged the gate receipts for The Wolverine, which in my view tied DOFP for strongest film in the franchise.

Anyway, know that going forward that the X-Men movies will be story-driven, which makes sense because the films have 60 years of excellent material to draw from.

(This concludes the disproportionate-outrage portion of the review.)

Thankfully, Singer fixes most of the aforementioned problems by effectively ret-conning all of the previous films. You see, because the X-Men changed the timeline, it’s like X-Men 1, 2, 3, and Origins never happened. This would be wonderful news, except that Singer brought back the entire principal cast from the prior films in a series of one-line cameos that peppered the film.

In that respect, DOFP ties a nice bow on the franchise while setting up a partial relaunch. (SPOILER!) Because the events of DOFP essentially cancelled-out all of the terrible decisions that were made in the prior films, Singer and friends have a brand-new playpen from which to create some strong X-Men films. Since The Avengers franchise (as well as the Chris Nolan Batman franchise) reset the bar for acceptable Comic Book Movies, the next wave of X-Men films will likely feature both considerate casting and strong storytelling. (END SPOILER).

So, in closing, pay the $12 to see DOFP? Obviously.

It’s a really strong film that will likely get better upon repeated viewings. Unlike a film like Origins, i.e. a cringe-inducing atrocity that you want to pretend never happened, DOFP is the kind of film that you will always stop to re-watch when it’s on HBO or TBS or whatever. Rather than beat us over the head with CGI and too many character, Days of Future Past focuses on telling a unique story, which will ultimately make the film hold up better over time.

Again, the worst thing you can do is compare DOFP to a Marvel film like Avengers or the recent Captain America 2. Those films were well-ahead before the race started. What DOFP does is wash the stink off of a nearly-ruined franchise, and it does so in a very measured, tasteful fashion. Go see it.

Jack

 

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