Sunday, October 2, 2011

Vapid Vicki

I know, I know...customer service is dead. Or possibly on life support, but I really think it's dead. Still, once in a while can we get someone in the service industry who doesn't suck?

I went to The Fresh Market this evening to pick up a few things to make for dinner. If you haven't been to The Fresh Market, it's the place where they charge 3 times as much for groceries because they play Mozart and Handel while you shop, and all of the wheels on your shopping cart roll in the same drection. Since the A&P / Super Fresh / PathMark went out of business, it's the closest grocery store to my house by a wide margin. So once in a while I have to peddle myself out to The Prominade, take out a small bank loan, and pick up a few things.

I head back to the meat section, get two boneless chicken brests ($ I'm not exagerating, $11.75. You'd think the chicken would do my laundry for $11.75) some ground beef, and then pick up 3 other items and head to he checkout. Only 2 registers are open (no wonder, who can afford to shop there) and I get Vicki. Vicki is a blonde girl, about 17-18 with big brown eyes and that thousand yard stare. "How are you", I bellowed, because I do like to bellow when I shop. She just looks at me and started ringing up the groceries. I could immediately tell she was confused, one of my items did not have a bar code. Her head tilted a little to the side as she tried to recognize the product....after a minute or so, her brow furrowed and she asked, "Is this a sweet potato?" "Yup", I smiled, "looks like a good one." She went back to scanning my goods. By the way did I mention I was getting 5 things, right, not a whole lot of things to juggle. Anyway...she finishes and while I do the debit card dance paying for everything ($26.69 for 5 items.....and none of them contained gold leaf or white truffle oil). She hands me a bag....does something with her face that vaguely resembled a smile, and I head home to cook dinner.

So...I get home, warm up some pumpkin apple cider, and grate my sweet potato in hopes of making sweet potato pancakes (mildly successful, but nothing to write home about). I heat of the pans and go to break out my very, very expensive chicken,'s not there. In fact the groundbeef is MIA too. Shit! I grab my Galaxy Tab and get the phone number for The Fresh Market, and call.....ring.....ring.....ring. I let it ring for a whole 90 seconds, which is an eternity to let a phone ring, no answer. So...I get my shoes on, knowing full well I'm gonna have to go back there, and call again. This time somebody picked up on the 9th ring. It was idea who Amy is or where she works in the store, but when I told he my plight. She said in a monotone voice, "I'll transfer you to the front of the store.". After 2 minutes, Mary picks up the phone. My luck changed a bit because I actually know Mary, so I don't have someone who could care less if my problem gets solved. Yes, they found my meat (watch it, this is a family blog), yes, they have it. And, yes, I have to get back in the car and get my stuff.

At this point I'd like to mention it was raining. Shocking to all of those people who live in the Lehigh Valley who have determined that we are now living in a Ray Bradbury story. It's not that the rain does anything in this story except make it a bit more miserable to go back to the store and get my gold bricks (I know...that would be silly, gold bricks aren't near that expensive.

I get to the store, and Vicki is there...vapid look and all, checking out another sucker paying $2.99 for honey crisp apples (once again, I'm not making that up....2 apples cost more than a gallon of milk and a new set of white walls for the Hyundai). She looks at me....cocks her head, furrows her brow again, and goes back to her bar codes. Mary sees me, says, hi, and goes back to the meat section to get my items. I purposely stand next to Vicki and smile....looking for her to say, "Hey, I'm sorry I screwed up by not handing you all of your bags, making you have to come back in the rain to the store, buring up 25 minutes and a $1 worth of gas". I would have settled for mumbled apology in my general direction. I mean look..I smiled. I'm not gonna take your face off. But an apology was not coming, just an occasion uncomfortable look, and the stare of a Stepford Wife. Mary asked about the family as she handed me my bag, I exchanged pleasantries, and headed into the rain and back to restart dinner.

A number of good questions come from this expereince. Why couldn't someone bring my groceries to me? Why couldn't I get a $5, I'm sorry coupon for having to peddle my ass back to the store? Why didn't someone answer the phone in a timely matter? But my favorite question....If you're charging 3 times as much for groceries, can you pay an extra buck an hour to cashiers so you can get someone with an IQ higher than my shoe size? That might not be fair, maybe Vicki is heading off to Princeton next year to study American Literature (and then would actually get my Ray Bradbury reference), but she has the personality of wall paper paste, and unless someone lines up electrshock therapy, I would guess she's not going to excel in the cutomer service industry. It's not that she made a mistake...everyone makes mistakes, I made at least a dozen of them before breakfast, but how 'bout an "I'm sorry. And The Fresh Market needs to come up with a better service recovery model than let's not answer the phone so we don't get an angry customer call.

Well....I won't be back to The Fresh Market anytime soon, mainly because I' d need to sell an awful lot of plasma to be able to afford their pumpkin salsa...but I do have higher expectations when I'm paying a premium for everyday products, maybe it's time to break out the elctros for Vapid Vicki and we can get them back on track.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is school really that important

I had lunch with an old friend on Friday....and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable 2 1/2 hours I've spent in a very long time. I had not seen my friend since we graduated high school together....and as kids, we were definately friends, but we were never best friends. We played a number of sports together, and hung out sometimes, but didn't necessarily travel in the same circles, particularly once we got to high school.

In fact, that was one of the two things that always impressed me about my friend. He didn't seem to need a specific circle or clique, because he was always very comfortable in his own skin. Even when we were 10 or 11, he knew who he was, and was really happy about it. The other thing that I remember about him was that he was always a pretty positive guy, and that I didn't know anyone who didn't like him. People might not have known him well....but unlike most people I knew in high school...just about everyone thought he was a good guy.

Also...this guy had the coolest parents ever. They divorced while we were kids, but they both always had his best interests at heart. They also didn't freak out at every little thing. I remember that as a teenager he had gotten busted for doing a wippet (inhaling a cartrdge of NO2 which gives you a kinda cool 60 second high). When his Mom was called, she said, "Kids are going to try things, and looking at it, this seems like a good choice. (that's about how I remember it anyway)" My Mom would have literlly beaten me with a belt..... I was glad to hear that they are both doing well.....

These things are important as I considered who he became 26 years later. He is successful...not Bill Gates, Steve Jobs successful, but he has been involed with a number of different business ventures, and they all seemed to do well. His current business is fantastic as it takes an important corporate need and boils it down to it's simplist form. If I was a CEO....I would hire his company yesterday, and I'm not just saying that because he paid for lunch. I have no doubt that this start-up will be a complete home run, and he will retire by his 50th birthday allowing his money to work for him. I know this to be true, because another point he made very clear was that making tens of millions of dollars was not his goal, it was to be successful enough to spend his life doing the things he enjoys. I find that to be a refreshingly perfect goal.

Ok...why am I writing all of this stuff. One thing I remember clearly was that my friend was an incredibly average student....or possibly a little below average. When I was in 4th grade, that meant to me that he was not a bright guy, especially since school came very easily to me. In fact, when the gifted program was first installed into our elementary school....he tested into that class with me and 12 other kids. At the time, it was almost like that song..."One of these things, is not like the others..." as everyone else in the class was in the top reading and math groups and got straight "A's", while he was not. But, he had the traits I mentioned earlier....he was a well-liked, positive, person with a tremenedous amount of confidence in who he was. He was never a good achiever in school, but when we'd talk I never thought he was less smart that I was. And...I don't think I had mentioned that while he was not great at school, he was in fact, very good at many other things....and exceptional at one sport in partcular.

So...all of this lends the question to important is school in the grand scheme of things. I mean, for some people who are obvious academics, it's everything. I graduated high school with a guy named Chris Higgins. Nice guy, good wrestler, very smart, but not out of my league or many others in my class, but he was wired to live in that world. If you had asked me at 14, who was going to be a college professor, I would have said, Chris. And the last time I checked, he was.

But for my friend, his lack of success in school has not impacted him negatively one iota. If I named 5 traits he exhibits everyday that defines him as a person and in his professional life, success in school wouldn't even be in the conversation. Far more important is his ability to network and cultivate positive relationships. Strength in thinking outside the box and using creativity to achieve his goals. Setting achievable but challenging goals. Having the confidence to take calculated risks. And my favorite, having his life priorities in order. One of my favorite stories from our lunch (and there were more than a few) was when he ended a long time relationship, his top priority was acquiring custody of their dog. Now...the dog was brought into the relationship by her, but he had fallen in love with the dog, so he made that his #1 goal during the breakup, so much so that he took a significant financial hit to make it happen. And the punchline at the end of the story was, best move I ever made bacause I knew I needed the love and companionship of my dog to help me through this....and it did. You don't learn that in school. I'm hammering away on my little 8 year old on doing her homework, achieving academic excellence, and expanding her knowledge of everything...maybe I should kick back and spend more time instilling these other qualities in her. She'd probably be better served in the long run.

And...if you happen to be reading this....Thanks again for lunch!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Stripping off my fur coat

Another fun tire day last week! Weeeee… favorite part is when I went over to the two truck tires he wanted me to flip end over end up and down a 75ft. parking lot. I went over to the smaller of the two, which is 150 lbs, and was the one I struggled with 5 weeks earlier. Obe shook his head and pointed to the huge one.....which was 600lbs. I laughed incredulously….and said, no….this is the one I flip. He shook his head and told me….that’s the girl’s tire.

After the workout I limp upstairs to shower and grab a much needed protein shake. That’s when I met Marvin. He is huge! I mean…HUGE! While Obe is obviously very strong and powerful, Marvin has obviously been a bodybuilder for many years. His biceps are bigger than my calves…and I actually have big calves.

We start talking….and after we chat for about 15 minutes, I sheepishly admit to him that I want to enter the Classic next summer. I know, why be nervous about it since I’ve repeated this goal continuously in cyberspace for months. Well it’s a very different thing to write something down and send it to the unnamed masses (or in my case the 6 people who read this slop) as opposed to telling someone what you want to do who is fully qualified to tell you that you are a total ass hat for even considering your lame idea.

Marvin looked at me for a minute…..smiled very slightly and said, okay. I asked him….what will I need to do to be ready for July. He looked me dead in the eye, and said one word…..that will stay with me until I an either onstage, or I’ve given up on this stupidity. He said…..wait for it…….suffer. Sign me up I say…….I can do that. He told me that workouts with Obe are great, but they won’t get me onstage. He can help me learn to pose, and walk me through the process so I’m comfortable at the Classic. He even can finish me off with my training…once I strip off my fur coat. “Fur coat”, I repeat? He points to my abs……you need to get under 6% body fat…and you’re right now well over 25%. You have time….but I can’t get you there without stripping off your fur coat. Before I can get a word out to ask how the hell I do that, he says, “No more starches”. “You need to stop eating pasta, breads, rice, potatoes, or any other glutens. The coat will come off pretty fast…..but I need to be able to see your muscles to get you there.” I object…I’m going to the beach next week?! He nods….”enjoy your vacation, start the day you get back. And make sure you eat….you can’t get there without eating.”

Now…it’s Obe in the morning, eating 6 times a day, no starches. It’ll be a toss up on what I’ll miss the most….fresh breads, pizza, or french fries.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sprint Customer Service Sucks!

As most people know, I am a total technology junkie! I love my iPad, my iPod Touch, and just about any other device that does cool stuff. I would kill for an iPhone, but I would rather gnaw off my arm than get my cell service from AT&T, so I haven’t taken the leap. This and the monthly service for an iPhone is about $120 per month. If I wanted them to treat me that way…. I would ask them to kiss me first.

I’ve been doing without a smartphone for about 2 years. I do like my Samsung Rant, but besides talking on the phone and texting, it’s not that helpful. The one thing I do love about it is the sliding QWERTY keyboard that enables old guys like me to effectively text. Kids can text on a regular phone pad blindfolded which being chained to a log and submerged underwater. I’m up to texting around 4,000 per month, so the slide and type has become very helpful.

Last month I discovered that Sprint was putting out the Samsung Epic 4G. This is a souped up smartphone with a 4” AMOLED screen, 5 megapixel camera, and an HD Video Camera. If what I just typed seems like a different language....just trust me when I say it's very cool!!! It’s part of Samsung’s new Galaxy S line of smartphones, powered by Android. While I have been loyal to Apple, I have noticed that Android is making headway. The best part is that while all four major carriers will have a Galaxy S handset, Sprint is the only one that is including a sliding QWERTY keyboard. Jackpot! I need this thing yesterday……

I start following a bunch of technology mags to try to get a handle on the release date. Finally I find out that it’s coming out on August 31st, and that as a Premiere customer, I will have first shot at reserving a phone to be picked up at my local Sprint store. So…as so as they start taking reserviations, I jump on line and sign up. Awesome! The phone will be waiting at the MacArthur Rd. store at 8am on Tuesday, August 31st. May cut my workout short so I can get there early.

A few days later I realized…..I’m gonna be at the beach on the 31st…..until the night of the 2nd. Sprint will release my phone when I’m not around to pick it up. Shit! I can’t wait to go to the beach, but I want my phone, dammit. I wouldn’t be so upset, but Sprint’s first 4G phone, the HTC EPO is about 30 days backordered. You can’t get one without bribing a Sprint Representative. Ugh!!!

Wait a minute I figure.....this will all be ok. I’m a Premiere customer, right. I call the store and tell them my story. I ask them if they can hold the phone for me until I get in on the 2nd. No shot. I offer to pay for it in advance so they won’t be taking a financial risk. Can’t even sell the products until the 31st. Can I have someone pick it up for me? Nope….the phone has to be active when it leaves the store, so my current cell would be dead. Nope….sucks to be me. Ok….I call Sprint Customer Service. They tell me they can’t make the stores do anything…I am at their mercy. She suggests going to the nearest Sprint store or Best Buy to the beach, which is about 30 miles into Salisbury, MD. I politely decline as I would probably be decapitated if I tried to take ½ day of beach time to get a new cell phone. At the end of a very frustrating conversation, the operator (who was at least very nice), asked me if she was able to help me. I said….what do you think?

So….please someone tell me. You have a 12 year customer who wants to buy your new product and is willing to pay now and take delivery later….couldn’t we work that out? Nope.....because they're bastards!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Meet Obe

So…..the last time we heard from our brave hero, he had decided to do something completely kooky, like put in writing that he was going to enter the 2011 Bill Grant Classic (bodybuilding for the uninitiated).

The first couple of weeks went well…cut my calories down to around 1,200 a day and dropped a quick 20 lbs. But let’s be serious, that only made me less fat. And really hungry.

One day I actually started looking around Planet Fitness and realized they had about 65 lbs. of free weight total, so if I was going to actually give this plan a shot to succeed, I may need to think about an alternative place to train. Oh…and I almost got thrown out of PF for wearing a do rag. It seems that putting a bandana over my bald head intimidates the casual gym goer. Really? I mean, I’m 5’9” and 260….and my bandana is all of a sudden going to put Margie into a tailspin. I know….maybe they don’t want to see me flying my gang colors….but I digress.

A day or two later I’m driving by 15th and Sumner for the millionth time, and I see the signs for Colisium Gym in the old sewing factory. I’d seen the signs before….but this time I decided to stop and take a look. If you like the look and feel of Human Performance Center at OAA, this is not the gym for you. You climb three flights or stairs, all the while noticing the dirt and dust along your path. When I got to the gym floor, I saw tons of free weight, cables, a few machines, and six treadmills from 1978. The first thing the owner informed me of as I toured the facility is that they were an A/C free zone. The clientele were all serious juiceheads, loud rap music pumping, and the smell of sweat and pain. I immediately knew this was my new gym, as I pulled out my credit card and signed on for the first month.

I started lifting the next day, pulling out my old workouts from college. Pecs, delts, and triceps one day, back and biceps the next, followed by legs. Moderate weight, everything 3 sets of 8. Hello strength training 1985

On Maggie’s birthday (July 14th), I went to the gym in the afternoon after her birthday party instead of the morning. I was in the hip sled, pushing some weight when I very large African American man came over and introduced himself to me. Hi, my name in Obe, and I’m the head trainer here. I knew he was Obe as his picture was littered all over the gym, but meeting him in person, I could tell he probably lift my car over his head. He asked if I needed some help, and I told him I was all set, so he walked away.

I finished my workout and found him over at the registration area. I told him I wanted to talk to him in about a month, once I was in good enough shape to even consider working out with a personal trainer. He smiled and told me he could take me from where I was to where I wanted to be. He knew how to work with people in less that terrific shape and challenge them to achieve their physical goals. He was willing to help me as I was.

And stupidly……I believed him. I bought into this theory that he would consider my current shape and take me on a journey at my pace. So, I told him I would start with him on Monday morning, 7am sharp.

I knew I was fucked when I got there and he paired me with Anthony, I motivational speaker about 10 years older than me, who had obviously been working with Obe for a little while. Obe took us over to a flat bench press, and put 95 lbs. on the bar. I was thinking to myself, That’s cool…I can bench a lot more than that. This will be great! Obe looked at me and said, ok….warm up. Give me seventy. I tried to unclog my ears and said, 17? No….70. Without stopping. Who’s going first? Anthony jumped onto the bench and whipped out a quick 50. Took a miniscule break and finished up. During this time, I was looking for a possible way to find the exit without looking like a total puss…..but didn’t see the opportunity. I laid onto the bench, hammered our 46 until my chest just shut down. After a minute I pushed out the next 24, sweat running down my face. Obe smiled, and informed me that we were cracking the shell. That’s what they call the first week of workouts, when you may experience a little muscle pain. So, Obe starts giving me different exercises, mostly with lighter weight that I’m used to, but with a ton more reps. 4 sets of 20. 3 sets of 25. My favorite was when he decided we were going to be German one day…..10 sets of 15. Pull ups, then inclined bench presses. No end in sight….just keep moving the iron.

By the third day, I could barely walk. Sitting down became a challenge, and many of my coworkers could occasionally hear me whimpering in my chair. Obe liked to crack shells with a sledge hammer.

Speaking of sledge hammer, my fifth day was tire day. Obe laughed when he informed me that he never told people when tire day was coming because 30% of his clients would be sick that day. Have you ever dragged a truck tire up and down a 75 ft. parking lot with a rope? It’s an experience for sure. Don’t even think your arms and shoulders will help you…it’s all hips and butt. The above sledge hammer was used to try to put a hole in another truck tire. Nothing like 2 minutes of swinging that hammer for me to thank god I wasn’t a railroad worker in 1868. That was the day I realized Obe was one sadistic dude. He just sat in his lawn chair under an umbrella drinking an ice coffee, telling me to pull hard, swing harder, keep working.

By week 2, I was no longer popping 8 tylenol a day; and while the workouts weren’t any easier, I had become Sisyphus, pushing the rock up the hill everyday. Oh, and did I mention I had to get up at 5:45am to accept my beatings? In case you didn’t think this was painful enough, I was giving up 2 hours of sleep a day so I could get my beatings.

In week 3, I hooked up with my two workout partners. Anthony had become a regular with me and I had decided I liked his Marine barking whenever we got a particularly hard exercise. Pat is a chiropractor with two small kids and the same kind of desire / fear as I have. They have become friends, kindred spirits and my partners in sweat and pain. That Wednesday, Obe told us we would not be lifting weights, to do 24 minutes of solid cardio on any machines we’d like (not that they have many to choose from, and two of the 8 they have are broken), and meet him at the treadmills. If you’ve never had the pleasure of doing a 30 minute structured workout on a treadmill being run by a psycho, you haven’t lived. 5 miles per hour at a 4 degree incline for 3 minutes. 6 miles per hour at an 8 degree incline for 90 seconds. 3.5 miles per hour at a 10 degree incline for 2 minutes….of and that’s backwards. 22 minutes into the workout, I left my treadmill, staggered into the men’s room and promptly threw up into a sink. With spittle and bile still on my chin, I went back out and got back onto that instrument of death. Obe smiled….wandered over as I was running up the 15 degree incline and told me things would be easier since I should feel lighter. I got my unspoken acceptance into the gym that day, not because I tossed my cookies, but because I finished the workout. I was now a true member of Colisium Gym.

After 4 weeks in the middle of a Friday guns workout (Obe likes to tell me I won’t be able to fly anymore because they won’t allow my guns on the plane. I laugh as I look at a few of the guys in the gym who’s arms look like my legs), Obe tells us that next week is Core-dio week. I repeat, Cardio?...and he says, no, core-dio. A week of nothing but working the core. “That sounds, great”, I lied. My core has always sucked, just check out my gut if you weren’t sure about that assessment. On Monday, he gave us one abs from hell workout after another. My favorite was the one involving knee pads and the bottom of a rolling trash can. The one exercise he gave us he said confidently, 4 sets of 20. I could literally do three. It was perhaps my most frustrating day…and the only one when even for a second I considered bagging it. But after spending the rest of the day on a liquid diet since eating solid food hurt like hell, I dragged my ass back to the gym at 6:30 the next morning for another round of beatings. I tried, and sweat and cursed every morning. Anthony was traveling, so he only did Monday and Tuesday. Pat had a golf tournament, so he missed Friday. I did take a small amount of joy in the fact that swinging a gold club brought him a bit of groin pain.

I have become a disciple of Obe. He is sadistic, and he has given me some of the most unconventional and difficult exercises I’ve ever tried. He even introduced me to the “lane of pain”, which could be a whole other blog. He has also helped me become more muscular and put me in far better cardio vascular shape that I’ve been in a long while. I have done things in 6 weeks I never thought I could ever do. I feel so much better about myself, and what I can achieve. Oddly, I have not lost any weight in my time with Obe, but my clothes fit much differently. The Bill Grant Classic may not be a total pipe dream after all….at least I have put myself in the position of being able to really make this happen.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Farewell to Facebook

Goodbye Facebook…’s time to go.

Really…..Facebook has outlived its usefulness in my life. I mean…it was cool when I first joined it. I connected with many people who I hadn’t heard from in years….decades even. I learned that Ham and Eggs had been posted on You Tube, and that many of my friends from high school had kids, and live lives comparable to mine.

But the novelty has worn off…and now I see Facebook for something that does little good, but can be very painful, while allowing people the opportunity to waste a ton of hours. At one point I had 460+ friends on fb, but the reality is that about 20 of them communicated with me in any real way. I sent a few messages back and forth with the people I reconnected with from high school, but then they became what they were before….faces from the past on a page. I never played any games like Farmville, or Mafia Wars, or Yo-Ville (Yo-Ville….really. Does anyone want to be associated with a network that would host a game called Yo-Ville?)

Over the past few months, I’ve observed people sniping back and forth, people unfriending other people which created hard feelings, and today I saw a woman hijack her husband’s account and post horrible things on it.

Facebook has become the new newspaper…..a way to publish things that can go viral very easily. When used for good… can be a phenomenal way to communicate to a mass of people, but that can also be used to hurt people, to avenge wrongs, and to bully people.

So….I will be leaving Facebook about 24 hours after I originally post this blog. The people who want to communicate with me still can by email, or by following my twitter account @jptoner50. Many of the things I hate about fb are eliminated by limiting the messages to 140 characters, while still giving me the ability to get information about events, news and humor.

Those not on twitter, and who don’t really communicate with me, trust me when I say you won’t miss me when I’m gone.

Good Luck!

Monday, May 31, 2010


I think I may be one of the only people I know that thinks bodybuilding is cool.

Most people look at these unproportionately enourmous guys and think they're freaks. Thy're drugged up 'roid boys who shoot up with enough testosterone and human growth hormone, and the juice from a bull's testicles and whatever else fits into the syringe and become that way. While's there is a bit of truth in that (always wanted to try bull testicle juice), there is a lot more than that involved.

The #1 thing it takes to be a successful bodybuilder is disciplne. And I'm not talking about doing your homework afterschool and take out the trash without being told discipline, I'm talking about Navy Seal discipline. You have to get to the gym five times a week no matter how you feel and push really heavy weight around....and that's the easy part.

It's all about your diet. If you want to look good on stage in front of hundreds, or perhaps thousands of people, you must have a clean diet for months. And that's only if you haven't completely let yourself go....then it's years.

I have never been the most self-disciplined person on the planet. I have at times in small spurts shown the ability to focus enough to achieve something....but I have never committed to something that took intense personal focus over an extended period of time, like it would take to become a bodybuilder. Maybe that's because when I was young, I never had to study, and maybe its because i'm inherently a little on the lazy side.....but even when I lost a lot of weight 5 years ago...I never got below a certain point....and I knew it would be a matter of time before I gained it back. my infinate wisdom I have decided to publically make this decree:

I will enter a bodybuilding contest in 2011. In fact, the one I'm targeting is the Sportfest contest that happens in July in the Lehigh Valley. This gives everyone I know an opportunity to show up and ridicule me as much as they want. Although I would understand that the idea of seeing me wearing one of those banana hammock shorts things may be too much for many of them. is this going to happen? Anyone who has seen me lately certainly knows I should not be shirtless anywhere. I weighed in 2 weeks ago at a shade under 280lbs., which would be perfect if I was 7' 2", but is just ever so slightly overweight on my 5' 9" frame (and I'm being generous on those 9").

I'm looking at three different phases to make this happen.

Phase 1 - (Now until Halloween)

Lose the initial 60+ lbs. Believe it or not, I'm looking at this as the easiest of the three phases. I've lost that kind of weight before, although this time I'm looking at a little less working out and a lot better diet. If I can get down below 220, I actually look and feel pretty good, although the doctor would tell you I'm still obese at 220. This will take me living in the realm of the 1,500 - 1,800 calorie diet, while exercising 5-6 days a week with both strength training and cardio. Anyone who sees me at a fast food restaurant or eating some pie in the next 5months needs to hit me with a baseball bat.

Phase 2 - (November 1 - February 28)

While still lessening my body fat, gain some significant size. I'll increase my calories to around 2,500....mostly protein, while really pushing some big weight around. Hopefully during the first phase I can get some of my strength back, so when it's time to grow....I'm ready. I have a classic endomorphic body, so gaining size was never a problem for me. The trick is to not keep the layer of fat while building the muscle. Can anyone say....hours and hours on the eliptical?

Phase 3 - (March 1 - contest)

This is what will either make me a laughing stock....or perhaps a contender. I need to get incredibly lean....while keeping the size I built. You see...if I'm still 200+, I'll be carrying 12-15% body fat....and I'll need to get down around 6%. I can put my body into ketosis for a while.....eating only protein and fat, but you can only do that for around 6 weeks. This is the part I'll need some professional help with.....but it's pretty far away, so I have some time to do my research.

So...why do this? I need a goal. Something to focus on. I haven't achieved anything in a while...particularly of a physical nature, so this sounded like a good challenge. was either this or a triathalon, and I HATE running, so bodybuidling wins. And entering a Masters 40+ Novice event, I won't need to look like Arnold, just bigger and a LOT less fat than I currently am.

Wish me luck.....or make fun of me, I'm up for both.