Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Guiltiest Workout Plan Ever

The good news is that I have an exercise plan for the first time in many years, and it's working better than any such plan ever has. Since January, I've lost three inches around my waist and something like forty pounds. There have been a number of factors that have combined to enable this:

1.) I was fired in January and living on unemployment for the next six months, so I suddenly started learning to cook lots of very inexpensive vegetables--which turns out to be easy to do (saute everything in extra-virgin olive oil) and remarkably healthy.

2.) I discovered I was allergic to alcohol (stomach rumblings often lead to bad breath), so I cut out alcohol and went from two shots of whiskey a day to zero. (I still write in bars, and I'll have a hard drink on occasion when there's something to celebrate, but mostly I have seltzer and cranberry juice.) With whiskey as hard as I was drinking, that's a drop of about 250 calories a day right there. More on the weekends.

3.) I also developed a weird reaction to vinegar, and that meant cutting out a host of foods like mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, relish, barbecue sauce, and all the other things that make hamburgers so great--and this further pushed me toward a steady diet of brown rice and veggies.

Most of all, however, I started riding my stationary exercise bike. And since I had all the time in the world, I was riding roughly 88 minutes a day. I say 88 because that's the length of two average hour-long TV shows once they go to DVD. I needed to watch a DVD while riding because that's the only way I can not die of boredom. (And I can't go outside and ride a real bike: too much real-world preparation, and I always get distracted by something outdoors in the unpredictable world. To be consistent, I need to have a completely controlled environment, and it has to be as easy as waking up, putting on slippers and riding away.) When I did this in grad school I discovered that one episode quickly wasn't enough time, so I started watching two. When I resumed it this time, I started at two already, since I knew I could do it.

So far I've gone through three seasons of The West Wing, Season 3 of 24 (never again), Season one of Veronica Mars and Mad Men, every episode of Friday Night Lights, Lost and House that's currently available, 2 seasons of Arrested Development (for comedies, I do four episodes a day), and the first season of Heroes. I'm sure I'm missing a lot of other stuff I've seen, and I did a few movies in there too (It turns out most 1950's-era noir films are exactly 90 minutes long). But mostly it's just been TV, TV, TV.

This is, of course, ridiculously expensive. I've justified it up till now by telling myself that $75 every month (which is what buying new shows averages to) is about what I'd be paying for a gym membership anyway, only this I'm actually using and getting results from. And yes, I've thought of doing Netflix, but the problem with that is that you can't guarantee you'll get your season in the proper order, and it also makes it VERY difficult to watch the best dramas--HBO's hour-long shows tend to come two to a DVD--so I'd get a DVD and need it to be replaced immediately. Not even Netflix is that fast. And soon I'd have no room for movies.

So I've been looking for alternatives, and just this week I hit on idea that I'm afraid works beautifully. I'm almost ashamed to say it, but since it might help someone else, I'm swallowing my pride and fessing up.

The only real splurgey thing I did when I moved into my new apartment was to buy an XBox. (XBox, despite the "ring of death" problem, because they have Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan and I'm just that big of a boardgame geek). Then I bought "Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion," which is basically a dumbass adventure game of mind-boggling scope. You can wander almost anywhere, do whatever you like in whatever order you choose, and have it all happen in a pretty beautifully rendered world with constant new challenges, side quests, and the requisite overall epic feel. For just the right breed of geeky magpie, this is like an endless field trip to Shiny Objects 'N Things.

Until recently, I actually hadn't played all that much, because--well, it's really silly and pointless. But last Friday, when Deadwood breathed its last and I was looking around for something new, I did an experiment and discovered that the controls on Oblivion are just simple enough that you can, in fact, operate them while on the exercise bike. And so all week I've been playing Oblivion while pedaling away.

Oblivion has, they say, 100 hours of gameplay. That's the equivalent of 136 episodes of a TV show, or 73 days worth of biking. (Actually more, since after distractions I really only bike two days out of three, depending on the breaks). And it cost me $50. For sheer bang for the buck, that knocks Season Four of The Wire into next Thursday.

But it gets better. Because although it may CLAIM to have 100 hours of gameplay, like any role-playing game, it actually has at least twice that much, because they probably don't want to count all the times you have trudge back into town to go sell your loot at the local merchant (for reasons I won't go into, it profits you to sell 100 arrows one at a time), or wander in utter confusion (it's often better to take a slow winding route to a location), or summon a skeleton a hundred times in a row to get your skill levels higher. For that matter, you can simply futz around with your character's completely customizable face if you like. (And you can change everything: eyebrow height, eyebrow width, eyebrow protrusion, eyebrow angle, eyebrow color...and that's just the eyebrows.) It's all utterly meaningless but so compelling in the actual moment. The minutes fly like webisodes.

Today I hit a new personal record: because I only permit myself to play the game if I'm on the bike, today I rode for two hours because I was trying to close the Oblivion Gate in Leyawiin and I couldn't find the damn Sigil Tower. (Don't you hate when that happens?) "Just let me get the hell out of this dimension," I told myself...and before I knew it, two hours had passed--and I emerged, exhausted but happy and about four hundred calories lighter. Tomorrow we'll see if I collected enough allies to prevent the daedra hordes from overrunning Bruma. I am electric with hope.

This has resulted in an odd disconnect. I find myself passing the mirror in my new 31-inch bluejeans and thinking, "Damn--I look better than I've ever looked in my entire adult life." Then immediately another part of my brain says, "And yet, I am also, this very moment, a seventh level high-elf wizard." If fuckability worked like matter/antimatter, I'd have imploded days ago.

Anyway, I submit this for everyone's consideration. If you can profit from it, do so with my blessing. But if not, may I add one other thing I've learned? The West Wing has eight episodes per disc. Eight! If you're renting them one at a time from your local Blockbuster, that's the exercise regimen to start with. And you know what else? riding an exercise bike is a great way to watch any film that has subtitles. You weren't going to hear all the nuances of the voices anyway, were you?

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3 Comments:

Anonymous The Dating Guru said...

You mean I re-joined a gym when I could've bought an exercise bike and fun DVDs instead -- for better results? D'oh!!

10/01/2008 10:11 AM  
Blogger Ellen said...

Netflix is really fast, though I negate its value by keeping the DVDs forever (like months, making them the world's most expensive DVDs). If you own DVDs that you decide you don't want to keep, you can trade them on titletrader.com

10/01/2008 1:18 PM  
Blogger Jason Rohrblogger said...

"If fuckability worked like matter/antimatter, I'd have imploded days ago."

Funniest. Line. Ever.

10/01/2008 6:06 PM  

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