A Story Of Problems…

A Boy In Flux

I ask myself often, what is the real purpose of exercise?  I can argue all day, and have for many years, about the utility of exercise in the modern world.  In recent years though, I have gotten quite good at arguing against exercise.  I suggest that, the car with the most and the hardest miles on it will go to the junkyard first.  Today though, I’m back on board with the concept of exercise – for now anyway.

The Story Of Problems

Writer’s block had woven its way deep into my psyche and I was trying to think of something – anything to fill the sails of my stagnant thoughts.  A fly landed on my left hand and diverted my attention away from my lack of any attention.  He had been there several times before and was beginning to annoy me. I kept my hand still, that I could prepare my other hand to strike.  I raised my right hand as my eyes locked on to my target.  I was ready to strike when I chose not to… 

He’s just a fly – doing fly things, I thought.  I’m, maybe, millions of times his mass and power, and really, he was not harming me, only annoying me.  I shooed him away.  I would have to do that many times over because he kept returning.  But in all of his returning, his purpose was never to harm me, only to exist doing fly things, and it was only his existence on my skin which annoyed me.

Why is it, I wondered, I first felt compelled to kill him…?  Ten psychologists would have ten different answers to that question, and they would all be wrong.  But I answered my own question immediately, and correctly.  Rather than solve a problem, I simply wanted to eliminate it.  In this case, eliminating the problem involved killing which I don’t like to do, even flies.

Killing notwithstanding, I think this is a good way to be – to seek to eliminate problems, rather than solve them.  In solving a problem, one is really just walking around it, denying it, or bowing down to the power of the problem.  Eliminating a problem is where peace is born, where cooperation manifests, and growth often begins.

The Problems From A Lack Of Fitness

Where do I begin….?  Obesity.  Diabetes.  Hypertension.  Low self-esteem.  Poor balance.  General weakness.  Lack of stamina and energy.  Poor flexibility.  Heart disease.  I’m stopping there, but I could go on – and on.  This list of our potential physical whoas seems to increase as humans socially and technologically evolve.  I’m not a math whiz, but that doesn’t add up.  We’re socially and technologically evolving, but our decreasing physicality flourishes within this so-called evolution…?  I have said before; among the worst unintended consequences of advancement, is…

… is a lack of advancement. 

Minimizing The Problems, If Not Eliminating Them

I’m not a big fan of Western medicine.  I have friends that cringe when I tell them my last physical was my discharge physical from the US Coast Guard – in the 1980s.  I’ve never had a colonoscopy, a bone density scan, nor a prostate exam.  I’m just not wired that way.  If it happens it happens.  Look, we’re all going to die.  This may be naïve, foolish, and outright self-destructive, but I believe my daily movement (can help to) minimize and even eliminate a lot of those kinds of problems.

Strength training.  Cardiovascular/cardiorespiratory exercise.  Stretching.  Balance work.  Plyometrics movements.  Static exercise.  Mindful eating.  Et all, these elements of my weekly fitness agenda may not wage absolute war on the unknown carcinogens and circumstances lurking to enter my body and conspire against my tomorrows, but I can say this very clearly:

I look around at men my age – younger even, and how they live and how they function, and I can say unequivocally that my daily action puts me in much better field position to live a longer, healthier life, and a more active life.  Practicing my daily action, I have served to minimize a lot of potential problems with my health, and even eliminate a few.  I also suggest that with my daily action, I have made a contribution toward eliminating the logistical and economic problems of a clogged healthcare system, high insurance costs, and a need for so many handicap parking spaces at Wal-Mart. 

And I wonder, if everyone took time – just a small portion of their day to exercise and eat just a little bit better – just a little bit, what problems might be minimized, or eliminated…?  But it’s easier I guess, to solve our problems with pharmaceuticals, medical appointments, devices, and other instruments of progress.  But in doing so, are those problems ever really solved, or is the power of those problems just bowed down to…?  Be well.  rc

Oh, and there is this by Tjinder Singh and Cornersop.  Enjoy…

The Long Shadow Of War…

The Convoy

My fitness studio faces onto East Mission Road, in Fallbrook, California.  At one end of Fallbrook, lies the back gate of Camp Pendleton; a Marine Base where Marines train to, among other things, blow things up and to kill.  I’m actually ok with that – the training of how to properly blow up and kill, we need that – just in case.  The actual acts of blowing up and killing, I have mixed feelings on, but I’m not so naïve as to deny the utility of force.

About 90 minutes from Fallbrook is Twentynine Palms, California where there is another base, and another area where Marines train to blow things up and to kill.  From the vantage point of my studio windows, all day long I see Marines transporting their artillery, mobile weapons, vehicles and tanks of all sizes, from Fallbrook to Twentynine Palms and back for training exercises.  Like good Marines, they do it convoy style.

With essentially one road in and out of Fallbrook, getting caught in or behind a convoy might make for some grumpy commuters, though nobody complains too much about it – there is great deal of respect for our Marines here.  I’ll suggest these days that folks caught in one of these convoys are probably more humbled than frustrated.  There is always a good bit of honking, waving, and offering of the thumbs-up sign to show support for our troops.

A New Toy For Uncle Hulka

One type of vehicle which I have seen going back and forth a lot lately is the LAV25 (Light Assault Vehicle).  The LAV25 is piloted by an exposed driver behind a small windshield at the lower front of the vehicle.  Several other crewmen also ride exposed, stationed at the top of the vehicle, with several more inside.  The new Chevy Camaro be damned, the LAV25 looks to me to be “the most powerful convertible on the road”.


It must be a great relief to the crewmen to ride on one of these through the gorgeous aesthetic of the Fallbrook hills, and be in a place of peace.  A far cry I reckon, from the stress of turning a corner in Iraq or Afghanistan, and not knowing what apocalyptic mayhem might be waiting on the other side.  Though I enjoy watching these vehicles and these men travel back and forth, it forces me daily to take a moment and contemplate the sacrifices they and their families have made – regardless of my feelings on imperial war.

I often marvel at these vehicles as well as the larger, scarier killing machines for their size, their power, their rugged off road capabilities, and of course, their ability to destroy.  But in a moment this morning that “marvel” turned to fright as I remembered that these aren’t just training vehicles and weapons.  These vehicles have been beyond Fallbrook and Twentynine Palms – far beyond.  That at some point, most of these vehicles I see from day to day have probably been used in war – to kill and to blow things up, and that men might have died on or in the very vehicles that I marvel at as they drive by my gym.

I wondered as I watched several pass by this morning, was there once human blood and guts and body parts strewn across the camouflage surface, and subsequently squeegeed away with some soap and water from the very deck I was looking at…? Where there shots fired by those very men stationed at the top of that vehicle, into a crowd of combatants, or worse yet – into a crowd of civilians…?  These vehicles began to cast a shadow on me and my gym door – the shadow of a war reaching 8,000 miles away.

Something’s In The Air, And Over The Hill Too

It happens when I look up too; the instruments of war appear.  In addition to the convoys rumbling through town, Fallbrook locals see attack, survey, and supply helicopters flying overhead all day long.  We hear explosions from the heavy artillery firing range on the other side of the hills concuss to the point of rattling the windows and even shaking pictures on the walls – sometimes for hours at a time, and into the night.  It’s like living in a war zone but we locals all wear the immunity necklace.

Tanks on the roads.  Choppers in the air.  Explosions heard into the night.  I’m lucky, I live in a beautiful area, surrounded by good people, and I have plenty of anything – including freedom, and with no fear for my safety when I see the machines of war.  These machines though, they have seen other streets and other airspace, where the people who have seen them have feared them, and for good reason.  The people who have seen these machines on their streets and over their air 8,000 miles away just hoped for the best – or dropped to their knees and prayed.  And at the end of the day, I know these machines have closed their ears to those hopes and to those prayers, and just done their job.

It’s hard to live in Fallbrook without seeing – without feeling the shadow of war cast over our town – it’s everywhere we look.  I wonder on this day, what machines out there will ever cast a shadow of peace…?  Be well.  rc

Oh, and there is this from Daniel Lanois.  Enjoy…

EM2 Linder…

A Simple Twist Of Fate

I was deckhand on the Coast Guard Cutter Acushnet in the mid-1980’s.  I didn’t want to be a deckhand.  I applied to be the Yeoman Striker in the ships’ administrative office; an apprentice Yeoman. To my surprise, and to the shame of the Coast Guard, my request to strike for Yeoman was actually approved.  I would then work my days, not on deck chipping paint under the hot Yucatan sun, but in the ship’s air conditioned office under the tutelage of the Yeoman First Class. 

My administrative abilities would be cultivated and I would become a pusher of papers, an organizer, and a correspondent. This was in the early days of personal computing – pre-Microsoft.  The Convergent Technologies C3 word processor and data storage system was the technology which the Coast Guard implemented. 

The C3 had a small CPU, and a 13” monitor with a green LED display.  Inside the CPU was a slick combination of voodoo, witchcraft and a floppy disk-drive that enabled the manipulation of words.  I was able to cut, paste, and re-form my paragraphs as well as my thoughts, in ways which I could never do on a legal pad or with a typewriter – it was like having a pallet and an array of brushes for my words.   

EM2 Linder

Petty Officer Jim Linder was and Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class on the Acushnet.  He was from El Paso, Texas and of Native American ancestry.  Jim was diminutive, quiet during working hours, and generous to a fault.  I have no memory of ever speaking with, or even seeing Jim when he was not smiling – not one.

Sometimes It Just Sneaks Up On You

I had just finished having dinner with a shipmate and his wife at their apartment just a few miles from the pier where the Acushnet was moored. It was a hypnotic May evening in Gulfport, Mississippi.  I rode my motorcycle slowly from my friend’s apartment back to the ship so I could enjoy the charm of the night.  My moon-lit trance was momentarily broken as a fire engine and a few police cars headed toward the apartment building I was leaving.  Still, I thought little of it, stared back up at the pines on one side of the road and the coastline up ahead and continued my ride home.

At the pier and off my motorcycle, I approached the quarterdeck to board the ship.  On my arrival, the Officer On Duty advised me that shipmate, Jim Linder, had just been shot – an apparent suicide.  I was told that he might have been fighting with his girlfriend, and leaned his chest into a shotgun or a rifle.  This action had taken place in an apartment not too many feet away from the one where I had just enjoyed dinner with my friends.  Now, the fire engine and police cars made sense, though I never heard the gunshot.

Thoughts From A Couple Of Shipmates

Mark L:  “I used to tease him that it was an old Indian legend that if someone took your picture, they stole your soul.  I don’t recall if he confirmed or denied believing that.  He had a short-bed fleet-side Ford pickup, about a 1977 model, painted white.  He scraped up both sides of it, front-to-back on an exit ramp late one night on the way home.  To keep the scraped areas from rusting, he sprayed them with primer which made the truck look like a palomino horse, or a jersey cow, depending on your perspective.  An Indian needs a horse, right?  We had a lot of laughs about that”

Cliff T:  “I relive that night over and over.  Over the years I have lost other friends under tragic circumstances and each one has made me flash back to Jim.   Jim was one of the best electricians I ever worked with.  I learned so much from him in the short time I was on the ship with him.  If Jim had not taken his life he would have become legend in his abilities.  Jim was a smart and generous individual.”

Slight Of Hand

We were to get underway for a 30-day patrol within several days of Linder’s death.  With the exception of the confines of the EM shop where Linder worked, little was spoken among the crew about Linder’s death.   Nothing was done by our command to celebrate his life.  There was no grief support offered to the crew.  A few words were said, we got underway for our patrol, and it seemed that Linder’s life would just be a thing of the past – so far as our command went. 

Several weeks into our patrol, our commanding officer hand drafted a letter to the family of Linder.  He wrote to let them know what a good a good shipment Linder was and that we, as a unit, were sorry for their loss.  The Captain brought that letter to me in the ship’s office, that I would enter his words into the new word processor, print it up for his regal signature, and mail it to the family of Linder on our return to port – nearly a month after Linder’s death. 

I was embarrassed reading the letter my Captain had written. Though his intentions were good, it was clearly written out of obligation.  The letter was clumsy, awkward, and lacked any grace whatsoever.  He was good leader, but not much of a wordsmith.  At a great risk to my job in the ship’s office, and my future in the Coast Guard, I would re-write the Captain’s letter, that Petty officer Linder’s family might feel a legitimate sense of loss by our crew. 

Somewhere Between Voodoo And Witchcraft

With the help of the modern word processor I wrote, worked, and molded what I thought to be an exceptional letter to the family of Jim Linder.  I cut, pasted, and re-worked the letter again and again – until it was near perfect, and it was near perfect. The problem was…

… the only words on the letter written by my Commanding Officer were his names on the signature line.

With a lump in my throat, and a knot in my stomach, I printed the letter and took it to my Captain’s stateroom for his signature.  My hope was that he would glance at it, sign it, and send me on my way – his usual way of handling correspondence.  He did exactly that.  As I was about to exit his stateroom, he called me back.  Shit.  He took the letter from my hand and read it again.  I stood with sweat on my forehead and my knees trembled as I watched the pattern of his eyes confirm that he was reading it word-for-word.  He paused, and stared into space for a moment.

He then looked at me and said, “Thanks Cohen, you did a good thing – you have a gift.”  I swallowed hard and said nothing.  He then (jokingly) told me to “get out” before he had me put in the brig for undermining his authority. It was at that moment, I knew I could write.

Coming Full Circle

In a month without technology, the only thing I truly missed was writing with help of my computer.  Writing, as much as exercise, is what does it for me these days – what connects me to the essence of who I am.  I may earn my keep as a fitness trainer and gym owner, but writing is what I do – even if it never earns me a penny. 

I have known too many people who have taken their own life – a few I have been very close with.  Most of them I knew much better than I knew Jim Linder.  Despite this, Linder’s death has haunted me more than any other.  In part, I suppose, because of how poorly my Command handled the situation.  Jim Linder deserved much better – he was a class act.

It was in part due to Linder’s death that I discovered I could turn a good phrase. I would like to turn a few tonight in his honor:

The act of suicide is often referred to as ‘selfish’.  Those who are left behind are often resentful of, and bitter toward the departed.  I don’t subscribe to that belief, and if you are one who does, I ask you to reconsider. 

We who remain behind in the wake of suicide, have no idea what thoughts may have been colliding, nor how hard or how long those collisions might have been taking place inside the head of someone that desperate to end their life. That is a judgment no living person is qualified to make.

There can be no way to understand that moment – that chaotic moment when a life, a future, a legacy, and the all the relationships that go with it, no longer hold any value.  It must feel, in that chaotic moment, like the universe has not yet begun, or has already ended, and therefore there is nothing to lose.

I scarcely knew Jim Linder, but I have thought about him nearly every week since his death over 25 years ago, and I will continue to think about him because, regardless of how he died, he was a good man and he was always kind to me.   Be well.  rc


Please check back in two weeks for my 2,000 word diatribe on the value of moving weights more slowly.  Oh, and the is this from George Harrison, for Jim Linder.  Enjoy…