Shorty

We’re in the middle of moving our gym.  I might have posted about this elsewhere. Only once or twice, probably.

In the midst of this process, I’ve tried to take a few moments to stand back and look around.  You want to remember these things–how you felt when you looked out at empty spaces, the people who have come and gone, the times you wondered if it was worth it or whether you’d make it.

I think it’s important to make a point of reflecting, but sometimes the reflection comes to you.

As I was standing under our pullup rig while my wife backed a U-Haul towards the open garage door, the gentleman who cleans the shop upstairs every Saturday came around to say goodbye.  His daughter runs that business and he had helped us by painting and doing some tiling right before we’d first opened.  He’s a Vietnam Vet whose nickname is ‘Shorty.’

He shook my hand and wished me well.  “You done good, kid,” he said.  “I remember when you just started out, three or four people.  Now look at you.”

I thanked him and told him I would miss our chats about the Celtics.  I hadn’t been prepared for this, that this would be a goodbye, so I was sort of at a loss for words.

“You know, I wanted to tell you something,” he said.  “That painting I did…they said you were going to do it but I said no, let me do it for this kid.  I knew you would stick around, so what I done, that was done out of love.”

What do you say when someone tells you something like that?  I’ve spent the last few months looking at square footage, equipment leasing, big numbers, small numbers, lots of numbers.  I wasn’t prepared to stand there in the middle of a mess biting my lip so it wouldn’t quiver.

This is the kind of stuff that doesn’t make the history books, or even your weekly ledger.  But it matters.  Someone who stands in front of you and cares enough to tell you that you mattered.  For some of us, it’s all we really ever want.

Shorty.  God damn.  That’s my man right there.

Advertisements

500 Weeks

It’s been a crazy ten months for our little gym.  The day before Thanksgiving last year I looked at a new spot one town over.  It seemed like a slam dunk at the time–heading away from a new glut of fitness centers, perched on a main drag between the town library and middle school.  This was going to be good.

We worked hard on a business plan (I mean, mostly on napkins but…), an equipment order, and a layout. As winter turned to spring, I started to get a bad feeling.  Little things weren’t getting done, the process was moving in starts and fits, and I couldn’t really get a handle on what was happening.

So when our prospective landlord called with the bad news that the town hadn’t approved our water plan, I wasn’t totally surprised.  But I was crushed–this was something we’d put online, folks were excited, it was going to be a brand new start, the whole nine yards.  I hid this pretty well, my people were encouraging and understanding, and luckily we’d maintained a great relationship with our existing landlords and were welcomed back, but I remember one day just standing at the bathroom sink looking in the mirror and thinking what a fucking empty suit I was.  Like a little kid playing at being an adult.  Fraud.  Phony.  Fuckup.

A month or so passed and one Sunday night after cleaning the gym I was driving around, just driving, and I saw a For Lease sign in an industrial park about a half-mile down the road.  I called, left a message, and got a return call thirty minutes later.  It was 9:00 on a Sunday night.  This was a good sign.

Fast forward a few months and we are signing a lease for our brand new location, this bigger, better, brighter spot in the industrial park down the road.  It is the middle of October, my wife is at a wake, and so I have our two boys with me.  Our new landlord John takes us into the conference room, gets the boys hot chocolate, and we all sit at a big glass table while the adults go over the lease in projection on the wall and the kids read and color.

When we’re done, John shakes my hand and then shakes the boys’ hands too.  It is one of those things, I don’t know if it’s being a dad, or being a big nerd, or whatever it is, but my eyes tear up having my sons in the room with me.  I’m so proud that they are there, and that they were so chill and just kind of got into the vibe of the whole thing while still managing to spill some hot chocolate and be kids.  I think about where we’ve been and having gotten to this moment and I catch myself thinking, shit, you actually saw this one through.  It meant a lot.

We left the conference room and went back out to the new gym to look a couple of things over.  I told the boys to go stand up against the front entrance and I’d take a picture.  They got into a pose, then gouged at each other some, and then my youngest said something I will never, ever forget.

“We have to put our hands on each other’s heart,” he said to his brother.  So they did, and I took the picture.

With love, smiles, and a commitment to family and full hearts, we are moving on up.

The Christmas Tree Shop

Life is funny–the days you remember.  Maybe at the end of it all, when it flashes back in 24 frames like Jason Isbell sings, the things you’ll see are mostly things your eulogist wouldn’t give a second thought.  The way the baseball program curled up in your jacket pocket.  The first time your dad put his hand on your shoulder and led you through a crowd.  One fall afternoon, a Friday in the town square: your son capering around a park bench while you sat and smelled the leaves, and then the soap in his hair.  The card your mom sent for your birthday, her handwriting and the words ‘I’m proud of you…my son’ on the bottom of the insert.

Maybe these are the things life knits together, and at the end of things you look back at this quilt of small moments and true intentions.   Maybe it’s not the promotions, the trophies, the raw wounds and silences.  Maybe it’s just those times where you were a person on this earth and what you wanted–all that you really wanted–was to love and be loved, to give and to be given to, in small, tight globes of reciprocity.

I remember being nine, ten, something like that, and being in a Christmas Tree Shop on summer vacation.  (If you don’t know what a Christmas Tree Shop is…well, basically it’s this shop of things that are not really fun for kids.  Like, I would not necessarily equate the Christmas Tree shop to a Frosty from Wendy’s or how awesome it felt when “Photograph” by Def Leppard came on the radio.)

Anyhow, I was wandering around and there was this kid I ran into.   I don’t remember what he looked like or what he was doing, but I remember having this immediate feeling that I was looking at a kid who was just getting beaten down by life.  As time went on, I would come to understand that this is something you can just sense sometimes, but at that age this was an unfamiliar feeling for me.  I didn’t know the kid, I didn’t really get what was going on, but I just wanted things to be better for him.  Maybe even right there in the store, like if someone he loved–he had to have been there with family–found him and gave him a hug, that would have been awesome.  And then maybe a Frosty at Wendy’s because who doesn’t love one of those on a perfect beach day down on the Cape?

I think back and I still don’t really get why that was the day these sorts of things started bouncing around my head.  But it’s one of those days I come back to every now and then.  In my business I meet lots of folks who are coming to strength training from places of sadness, or discomfort, or sometimes abject fear.

And I try to remember that feeling and I try to think, okay, we are just two kids in the Christmas Tree Shop.  I know there’s a Wendy’s someplace close, and I try to think, okay, we can find our way together.

I wish I’d said something nice to that kid, that I knew the words back then.  Just to say, hey, it’s going to be alright.  But maybe I’ll meet him someday and get that chance.  Or maybe I already have.  I think about this stuff, and I think we all have different ways we can be our best selves in the world.  For me, the chance to pull someone in, and take care of them, quietly and without a lot of bells and whistles–that’s when I can operate like the person I hope I was meant to be.

But like anything, you look back at the end of the day and wonder if you were aiming your heart at the right places.  All you can really do is take your boots off, put them under the bed, and hope you helped people find some Frosties more often than not.

Hustle and Grind

Got your attention, didn’t I?  In the fitness industry, there is nothing we romanticize more than “the grind.”  Hell, I’ve done it myself.  It’s seductive–post a picture of yourself at the end of a workout, or in an empty gym late at night, and hashtag it #thegrind or maybe #wontbeoutworked (I’ve done both), and you will get likes, clicks, and a few comments maybe about what a badass you are.

It’s great but here’s the thing: EVERYONE can do this.  Can you delay gratification while suffering through the pain of your last set or a hard workout for a few minutes?  Almost all of us can do this buuut…’Grats–instant hero.  Are you willing to torch your health and some relationships in service of late nights (and, let’s be honest, the adrenalin rush that comes with that grind…guilty as charged)?  Welcome to the Hustle.  You will never be short of acolytes so long as you attend to your social media profile with the necessary breathless dispatch.  (Again, guilty as charged.)

But acolytes and clickers aren’t members and partners.  It’s certainly not because I scream Fortune 500 or even 200, but being in this business I get the chance to talk to a lot of younger people who are interested in a career in fitness, and almost all of them are ready to work their fingers to the nub.  Laziness is a vastly, vastly overstated trait in the younger generation.  They’re ready, and in many ways they’re ready to kick our asses out of the driver’s seat.  Good. They should be.

The thing is, it’s not about the grind.  It hasn’t been for a very long time, if we’re being truthful.

It’s about the embrace.  You may be willing to work eighteen hour days, but are you willing to say “thank you” to every person who tells you good job?  Are you willing to look someone in the eye, even when you’re tired, even when you’re sick, even when you’re in a bad mood or HANGRY (Jesus take the wheel and make that word go away), and ask them how they’re doing and…here’s the kicker…wait around and actually LISTEN to them when they answer?  Are you willing to take the chance on making every person you come into contact with feel like you might possibly care very deeply about them when it’s all said and done?

Are you willing to embrace others and allow them to know you and embrace you back?

That’s the actual grind, and I can tell you it takes a hell of a lot more genuine energy and heart than it does to sit in front of a computer until your eyes squeeze shut with sleep.  It’s a hell of a lot more challenging and, going with this guilty as charged theme, I fail just as often as I succeed here.  Probably more often most days.

But I know what’s at stake.  Someday, technology is going to do the lion’s share of our assessments and generate the lion’s share of our workouts.  Our phones and basements will be our gyms and our coaches.  (If you doubt me, google “Sam Waterston SNL Robots”)  And someday, for that matter, it’ll be much easier for you to hook into inexpensive recovery protocols and downsize the time you spend training if that’s what you want.  (I won’t link to that stuff, but it’s out there. Five, ten minute workouts.  It’s there.)

And when the smoke clears, the hustle will be like a single footprint hugging the shore, and we’d better be able to embrace the people who are left standing there after the wave takes everything else out to sea.

It’s about the embrace.

I Am More

Wrote this for a pretty cool project I was asked to participate in.  Thought I’d share.  Even when things get rough, we’re much more than we realize.  Hope this helps if you need a hand today:

I’ve been good with words since I was a kid.  When I was five, I wrote a letter to Senator Ted Kennedy wishing him luck in his Presidential run.  That summer I went back and forth with my kindergarten teacher, Sister Roberta. She thought it’d be good for us to be pen pals.  Words don’t usually fail me when I can hunt and peck from a remove, and more often than not they provide the comfort of distance and perspective…

Of control.

Maybe I’ve been good with words, but I’ve also been pretty good at being afraid of life for just as long.  Sometimes this has manifested itself in relatively harmless ways, but during other periods of my life, it’s been like a rock on my fucking chest, like I’m not sure I’m going to make it another day.

I remember being six or seven and absolutely terrified that my ride, five minutes late for pickup, would never arrive–and that would be it, school would close, I’d be left in the parking lot by myself, and I’d just sink into hell through a crack in the pavement.  I remember being twelve, going to a new school, and sitting in Latin class every morning for six months thinking about whether it’d be better to die before or after my parents died, whenever that would be. Every morning.

Being sixteen and afraid to drive, being eighteen and afraid to drink.  Twenty-five, delivering wine in New York city, convinced I was being followed by scam artists and creditors, catching my reflection in a store window and being horrified by what I saw: hollow, dead, wide eyes.  Like they couldn’t see anything but debacle. So many long, shitheaded nights in a big empty city, because the morning fears wouldn’t abate until after supper and it was like I had this window of four or five hours to attenuate by any means necessary.

And being forty-two and convinced I was dying, for a good six months.  Standing at the computer on the worst morning I hope I will ever have in my life in July 2016 and writing my family goodbye letters.  My sons were 7 and 5 at the time. Jesus. I had a doctor’s appointment and thought I wouldn’t make it home. Thank goodness I was wrong.

And yet, I am more than that. I have to be.  I am a husband and father and I love my wife and sons more than anything. I am a brother and a son.  I am a business owner. When I think of all of the things that I already AM, it reminds me that I don’t have to have all of the answers; I don’t have to be afraid of life anymore or all of the time but I can wake up every morning and resolve to let my ACTIONS define who I am in this world.  I don’t have to control all the minutes of my day or every interaction on the docket. I can countenance worry but I can move forward. I can respond instead of react. I can do the next right thing. I can run the next play, and let that be enough. I can be movement and strength and kindness and let those things tell my story.

And I am a weightlifter because when I get under that bar and take it into the hole, it doesn’t matter how much weight there is, or what face I make, or anything really other than this:

Will I stand up?

Father’s Day 2018

It is a weird time to be a dad.  I suppose it was always thus, but I am feeling it pretty hard this year.

We strut and fret the actions of one particular man on the world stage, and yet we jog on by simplicity and a normal speaking voice to fete braggarts, loudmouths, and bullies in our own smaller sphere of influence.  Because they’re our kids’ coaches sometimes, or it’s not a wise political move to ruffle feathers, or it makes us feel good when we say “you’re amazing” to people when they pat themselves on the back, over and over again.    We want kindness and calmness but we happily countenance and usually recognize noise and self-promotion.  It doesn’t compute for me.

We say we want men who treat people gently, who listen before they speak, and yet we spend inordinate amounts of time online arguing with people about ridiculous shit, shouting in big fifty-point font and hectoring folks who don’t agree with us at first yell.  We use the cover of anonymity or groupthink to say truly bizarre things, personal things, fucking deeply weird things.  We cry crocodile tears about what the world is becoming while treating people who don’t agree with us like ineducable pieces of shit.  I don’t get this.  It’s paper-thin.

More and more I have no idea what to tell my boys other than to just keep your head down and work.  Maybe that’s always been the best advice, but I guess it’s usually struck me as a little short-sighted and maybe a little tendentious.  Shouldn’t you slow down, look up every once in a while to see how things are being received?  Wouldn’t that help you correct course if things are going wrong and provide some positive feedback if things are going well?

Then again, would it?  Maybe the better course is to find your people, do your thing, and act like you’ve been there before.  Shut out the noise, cultivate 3 or 4 folks who just get you, who would go to bat for you and you for them, do the best you can, and hope like hell that good work ripples out into the world.  I don’t know.  That’s what I’ve got this year.

To the dads out there who are putting their heads down, getting it done, and especially to those trying to raise good men, here’s to you.  To those who have or have had dads like that, here’s to them.

Happy to let Ronnie have the last word in these and most matters.  He knew what’s up.

You Matter

Kate Spade, now Anthony Bourdain.  There will be others.  Some will give us pause, and some we will truly mourn.  Bourdain, past the bluster, past the persona (or maybe because of it), seemed to me to be a truly genuine soul, intent upon deepening his life by seeking to understand others.  We need more of that.

But ultimately, we know these stories because we know these names.  And we hear these stories about these names when they end so dramatically, without warning, in pain and found spectacle.

I’m not a doctor or a mental health professional–of course I’m not.  I know enough to know that I don’t know very much.  What I can write, however, is what I’ve observed: we make decisions every day in which we tell ourselves how much we matter.

The small things, the things that might seem inconsequential–they add up, and they can start to tell you how you should treat yourself and be treated if you let them.

Sweats instead of slacks.  Skipping the gym.  Eating the leftover chicken nuggets off your kid’s plate.  Sitting in front of the computer, not shipping, not producing, nothing.  Just because.  The picture is pointillism, and eventually from a vantage it reveals itself as a lack of care, a lack of attention.  What do I matter?

These are examples and they are mine intermittently so they may not resonate with you, nor should you take them on for your own.  And I’m sitting here, relatively content and able to write about these things clinically.

But they are the whimpers.  Listen to them.  Before they become bangs, remember that you matter.  Nothing else matters more, in fact.  And every little choice you make is a chance to remind yourself of that.