Posts Tagged ‘Six Flags’

Fat Andrew: The Third Decade

February 4, 2011

Andrew Hicks

When I got to college, I was in the heart of my isolated-loner stage. I had all kinds of free time and a 20-a-week meal plan at the dining hall. The only restriction was that I could only get two entrees per trip through the line. I could live with that. I ate my ass off. I wore sweatpants for like three years. No belts, no stepping on scales and a personal appearance and demeanor that cried out “purposefully unlayable.”

Red Flag #1 was when I realized I was too big to fit on the Batman ride at Six Flags. I’d waited with a buddy in hot summer weather for almost an hour for the front car, and when we finally got on, I couldn’t get the shoulder harness in reach of the seatbelt clasp. A grunting, straining employee threw her weight into trying to wedge me for almost a full minute while the next train behind us was stopped on the track, riders waiting while swinging their feet. The acne-faced ride operator had to press the button that released everyone’s restraints so I could do the Lardass Walk of Shame. That sucked.

Red Flag #2 was when I finally did step on a scale and saw it tip 300 pounds. I was already not happy with myself in general, which brought me shame and despair. Well, there’s no temporary cure for shame and despair quite like a few Big Macs. One night, after binging on something I don’t remember, a switch turned on in my brain, and I knew I was done eating bad food.

The next day, I cut out red meat, fried foods and processed desserts and made sure to walk at least a half-hour per day. I even remember ordering the fresh fruit platter when out with some friends one night at a Mexican restaurant. It cost the same as everyone else’s dinner, but it arrived on a side plate garnished with leaf lettuce and a plastic flag sticking up that said, “Hey, fatty! I ain’t NEVER gonna fill yo’ ass up!”

My resolve stuck with me long enough to lose almost 50 pounds, then I started to slip. And it was around this time, age 19 and 20, that I really realized I didn’t just have to write down what I thought was funny. I could say it, too, and people would laugh. Some people even liked it when I talked serious.

I got a little self-esteem on my shoulders, made some enjoyable friendships and partied my ass off. Alcohol is chock full of empty calories, but I also lived in a college town that delivered pizza until 3 am. The Texaco was right up the street, offering chocolate pies and as much nacho cheese as you could fit on a plastic tray. Oh, and Mountain Dew slushees. Those were incredible.

I’d put every ounce of those 50 pounds back on by the time I joined Bally’s Total Fitness in February, 2001. My package came with two free personal-training sessions. Kurt, the personal trainer, looked like The Rock if he was white, 5’8″ and couldn’t raise the one eyebrow. What Kurt could raise was the entire stack of weights on the pectoral fly, and he’d make a show out of inviting the nearest hot girl in the gym to push against the top of the stack of weights with all her might, throw all her weight into it, then he’d lift all that. While he was keeping a half-eye on me incorrectly doing lunges across the exercise floor.

Kurt used to put me on this stairmaster/lunge combo machine, crank the resistance up to 20, then walk away while I surreptiously pushed the down button to get the resistance back to 1. And this was like seven years after my last gym class. I wished you could get the free personal trainer sessions after you’d been going to the gym for a few months and had built up a little tolerance and strength.

I kept going to the gym and working out for the next seven years, off and on. More on than off. I dropped an easy 30 pounds at firsst, even though I was eating whatever I wanted to and chasing it with gallons of beer. I’d go to the gym, lose a little weight, stop going and gain it back, but I never got close to hitting 300 again.

On two later occasions — the fall of 2004 and the late-summer of 2005 — I went back to the no red meat/fried food/desserts lifestyle. Each time, I thought it was a permanent change that would stick with me. Each time, I was wrong. In spring 2009, I dropped a bunch of weight because I lost my appetite for months due to depression. People would compliment me on the weight loss, and I’d tell them I wasn’t on a diet or working out. They’d say, “Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it.” I didn’t usually tell them what I was doing was hating myself and hating life in general.

These days, I’m happy, I eat healthy sometimes, I eat crappy most of the time, and I’ve been recovering from a broken ankle since September. I’m ready to be physical. I’m itching for nice weather and talking walks and playing outside with kids. The best news is, I don’t drink anymore, and I have a beautiful wife who thinks I’m beautiful. I’ve got a handful of lingering problems with self-image, but they don’t seem tied into a weird food-based shame cycle.

Enough of this. I’m gonna go make dinner now. Probably nothing healthy.

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

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My fat, lazy childhood

February 3, 2011

Andrew Hicks

I was ahead of the curve, a major trendsetter. By which I mean, I was fat before America was.

I spent my first handful of years as a skinny kid, but there’s a picture of little school-age me looking all groggy and sugar-shocked, with a sucker in his mouth and the cookie jar to his left freshly raided. Early episodes like this formed the genesis of an addictive personality with an only marginal sense of moderation.

By fifth grade or so, I was a little husky kid. I think my first attempt at a diet was the summer I was 11. I was raised by a single mom who worked, so my brother Matt and I spent all our weekdays at a summer day camp. I remember packing my lunches and counting calories on my baggies of Teddy Grahams and pretzels and lunchmeat sandwiches. I was already one of those fat kids who’d pig out on diet soda, too.

The diets I’d go on were pretty much starvation diets like that — a thousand calories a day until I’d go crazy and binge out. I never lost more than 15 pounds. I’d spend more time off diets than on, and both parents would indulge me and Matt (who was skinny as a rail until well past his teenage years) in the inexpensive excesses of drive-thru fast food, delivery pizza and buffets.

My childhood involved a lot of trips to the park and Six Flags, baseball in the backyard and bike riding through the neighborhood. When adolescence set in, and self-esteem problems and worry problems, my lifestyle got more reclusive and lethargic. We had a small family, three people, and we kept to ourselves. Lots of movie watching and mom working at home and me crudely drawing comic strips and writing “Batman” fanfic stories (a good decade before I ever heard the word “fanfic”).

Once I reached my mid-teen years, I was physically so far out of the loop that gym class was often humiliating. I liked that the teacher would put us through a strict ritual of stretches, jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups and laps, though I often hated it at the time. I really hated the Presidential Fitness Test, because all I could ever really qualify on was the stretching stuff. I’ve never done a pull-up in my life; I hope to before I die.

I didn’t want to join any sports teams because the jocky kids seemed so much more bold and put-together than I did. And because I was lazy and afraid of everything. Also, I knew you had to take group showers, and there was no way in hell I would’ve let all the buff kids see me naked, soaping up.

So, more pizza nights at home, compulsive TV watching, homework and personal writing. I did manage to drop something like 25 pounds before my junior year, which brought me back under the 200 mark and saw me accomplishing the previously unattainable feat of running the mile in under ten minutes. I beat the kid with the baboon heart by, like, a full lap.

But then my small Christian school closed down, and I spent senior year in public school with the misguided notion that I should keep my head down, write down all my funny stuff instead of sharing it with people, and basically stay at home as much as possible. For one glorious quarter, I got to school early for A-period honors world history and was then done with classes by like 11:30.

Every day, I’d walk past the guard at the gate, continue walking a mile home, and spend my afternoon watching sitcom reruns on cable and binging on Doritos and day-old Hostess products. I had the house to myself for hours, I could take naps at will, and I didn’t have to endure the humiliation of voluntarily excluding myself from social activity in the lunchroom.

Oh boy, that’s when I truly got fat. In another year and a half, I weighed myself on some pseudo-classy novelty scale at Sharper Image and saw the scale tip 300 pounds. It depressed me more than ever at a time when I felt like a super-freak isolated from my peers. But after wallowing for a few strange months, I finally got motivated to do something.

TO BE CONTINUED

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Silas is awake, and he's grabbin'.

Sarah’s birth day

November 3, 2010

Andrew Hicks

November 3, 2008
7:57 am

I’m standing in scrubs at the doorway of a hospital room. My mom and in-laws are in a family waiting area across the hall. About a half-hour ago, one of the nurses told me she’d be back for me in five minutes. The commotion of several pairs of feet starts to rattle up the hallway. I stick out my head just in time to see a handful of hospital techs and nurses dart by, and I overhear enough to know they’re scurrying to the room where my wife is under spinal anesthesia.

A nurse stops and addresses me: “Dad? You ready?”

It’s one of the first times I’ve been called dad. It sounds foreign. I follow the nurse, who assures me everything is going great so far, down the hall and into a service corridor. She makes sure my Michael Jackson face mask is in place and pushes the button that swings open the double doors to the surgery room.

I step inside. Bright lights overwhelm my vision. I hear the gentle hissing and beeping of machines. I hear the organized chaos of team communication between doctors, nurses and a slightly creepy anesthesiologist with a clipped German accent. The nurse directs me to a stool on wheels. I slide into place next to my beautiful wife, whose caged eyes flash from overwhelmed and pensive to surprisingly calm and cognizant. She takes my hand as I remark how crazy this all is.

Her face, looking over at me with a faint smile, fades into hospital gown-covered shoulders and an abrupt blue sheet-curtain. Beyond the curtain, the Caesarian is well underway. Tiffany asks, “Baby cry? Hear a baby cry?” I tell her not yet, they’re still getting her out. German Anesthesiologist tells Tiffany she “vill feel a lot of press-shaw.” The doctor and the nurses start to calmly repeat the same mantra, “A lot of pressure, a lot of pressure,” as if these are the time-tested magic words that will bring forth baby.

I tell my wife I love her. She tells me the same, then asks about the baby cry again. I think of it as a delirious response to the spinal block, but she’ll later tell me it was the one thing she was focused on. She’d had worries about bad reactions to anesthesia and Sarah being stillborn. She knew if she heard the baby cry, everything would be fine.

Someone announces that they see a head. The curtain is blocking all the action. I look into the reflecting glass of a medical cabinet on the wall to my left. There, I can see the flurry of movement by well-trained hands, then the silhouette of a tiny body being lifted from its mother’s womb. A quiet, quick second passes, then… we hear the baby cry. A stuttering, hesitant billy goat bleat that soon escalates into a full-blown, hyperventilating wail.

“Baby’s crying?” Tiffany asks me. Yes, I tell her happily, choking back tears. The baby’s crying. A voice on the other side of the curtain announces that it’s a girl. Another voice announces the time — 8:06 am. I squeeze my wife’s hand and brush her left cheek. I’m also in charge of making sure her drool gets collected in the maroon plastic kidney-shaped bedpan. Side effect of heavy anesthesia, the drool.

“You might wanna get your camera out there, dad,” says the head nurse, a lady whose name I’ll soon find out is Victoria. Over the next few hours, she’ll embody the patient but wizened stance of someone who spends most of her work week giving basic parenting advice to people who mainly don’t know what they’re doing and don’t listen. Victoria kind of reminds me of an infant caretaker version of Michael Caine’s character in The Cider House Rules, minus the abortions and ether addiction.

I feel overtaken by emotion but somewhat numb at the same time, like I’m watching something happen to somebody else. I snap photos of the cleanup, the weighing, the measuring and the fingerprinting. I take mental note of the vital stats: 8 pounds, 1 ounce; 22 1/2 inches long.

Victoria asks if we have a name picked out. I tell her Sarah Grace. She indicates that she approves. All this time, my wife’s midsection is opened up behind me, and I try to avert my eyes. I’m just too curious, though, and I take a couple long stares at her exposed organs and intestines. A year and a half ago, I’d never met even this woman whose insides are all mangled from giving birth to my baby. This is intimacy.

Newborn Sarah has stopped baby-crying by the time she’s in her first diaper, wrapped in a hospital blanket and deposited in her mommy’s arms. German Anesthesiologist obliges us with a photo of mom, dad and baby. I get the camera back and frame mom and baby. A notice comes on the display screen, telling me the batteries are as good as dead. I have no backup Energizers in the pockets of my scrubs.

Nurse Victoria shoots me a look of death when she realizes baby’s first photo shoot has come to an abrupt, premature end thanks to dad’s inadequate planning. Eight minutes into fatherhood, and I’ve already earned a permanent slot on Vickie’s extensive shit list.

We get back to the hospital room, and Sarah — already taking her first nap — gets passed around to three grandparents. I change batteries in the camera, and along with everyone else, I take as many pictures as possible. Then I excuse myself to call my dad and a few close friends, wandering up and down the hospital hallways while I spread the news.

My mom finds me minutes later. Tells me I should get back to the hospital room because Tiffany’s about to breastfeed Sarah for the first time. It’s just me, her and our new baby in the room. Sarah latches right on, a true natural.

Now, I come from a small, reclusive family. I only have one brother, two years younger than I am. I didn’t grow up around babies, and I never really planned on having my own. Older couples I befriended would always tell me I’d change my mind when I met the right woman, and I shrugged it off until I did in fact meet my perfect counterpart.

We were barely boyfriend and girlfriend when Tiffany and I took her best friend’s 2 1/2 year old to Six Flags with us one afternoon. Watching Tiffany act so tender, patient and maternal with a cute little girl changed my mind in an instant. I knew she was the only possible mother for the children I never thought I’d have.

That said, on Day One, I hold my baby like she’s a glass grenade that will self-destruct with any contact or movement. I’m still a week away from changing my first diaper. I’m about a year from feeling like I remotely know what I’m doing as a dad. But when I collapse on the couch in our hospital room, with an hours-old Sarah sleeping on my chest, I feel an overwhelming, proprietary love I didn’t know was inside me. This newborn girl has changed me in an instant.

I love you with all my heart, Sarah. Happy second birthday, sweetie pie.

Exit through the gift shop

October 28, 2010
Tiffany and I moved from a big city to a medium-sized Midwestern town just after we got married. There’s only one legitimate comedy club around, a Funny Bone franchise, and they only host open mic once a month. Supply and demand in microcosm.

"Happy birthday, Jesus. Hope you like crap!"

My first time up was last December. I had a Christmas music routine ready to go, and I didn’t want to wait another entire year to make jokes about the Captain and Tennille’s holiday album. With each successive year, jokes about the Captain and Tennille get exponentially less timely. Scientists first observed this phenomenon in 1981, and it’s only snowballed from there.

It took me five open mics before I really grabbed ahold of an audience and shook the laughs out of them. On the strength of that performance, Funny Bone booked me to open three weekend shows for Kenny Smith. I’d never heard of Kenny, but I had a plan. I was going to Google and YouTube him then, shortly after shaking his hand, casually reveal myself to be very familiar with his amazing work. I’d like to say I abandoned this plan because it was cheap and disingenuous, but really, I was too lazy to pull it off. Insincere flattery was unnecessary, though. Kenny instantly proved himself to be a super-cool dude, funny onstage and off, and eager to encourage.

I learned a few things working those three shows. One, take every opportunity to interact with the audience. Two, if  a quarter of your act is about the oral prowess of a dentist named Mike Hawk, and you invite your mother and in-laws, make sure they don’t sit five feet away from the stage in the glow of the spotlight. Three, don’t wear shorts.

The “no shorts” rule is one I’d never heard before I showed up wearing shorts. Then and since, any time I bring this up to anyone, they’re like, “Oh yeah, no shorts. It’s common sense. Comedy, acting, music, public speaking — no shorts on stage.” I was used to open mic etiquette, where the club owner hosts the show in a T-shirt and cargo shorts. I should’ve known something was up when I got there for the weekend show and the owner was wearing Godfather, “How’d ya like waking up next to that horse’s head?” getup. Thankfully, my very pregnant wife was able to bring me some actual pants before the second show.

I played to probably 400 people total, and it was a very different atmosphere from open mic. They even had the crowd-control ropes up to route exiting patrons directly into the open bar and dance floor area. It reminded me of those Six Flags rides that make you exit through the gift shop. Whoever came up with that idea was a genius. Otherwise, I never would have considered buying a $30 T-shirt depicting Wile E. Coyote riding the Runaway Mine Train. I was supposed to use that cash to pay my car insurance, not buy a beach towel rendering of Yosemite Sam on the Log Flume.

Guess whose very pregnant wife didn’t buy the argument of, “I was trying to come straight home, but those crowd-control ropes routed me into the bar, so I had to drink a few more free beers.” For the curious, the answer is, this dude’s very pregnant wife. It was my big weekend, though, so she let it slide. Love that woman.

I’ve been sidelined since The Event, 100+ miles from home and unable to walk until the past week. Last night, I ended the standup dry spell. I strapped on the old Aircast, left the kids with my in-laws and ventured out to the weekly open mic at the Funny Bone franchise here. I’m in the big city right now, remember, and this open mic had me feeling like a medium-sized fish in a large pond.

There were 21 open mic comedians, and some of them were really good. The audience had about 125 people, at least 50 more than were at the Mike Lukas show I went to last month in the same venue. After every four or five open mic comics, a professional ringer would pop up and do ten minutes or so. I got my turn in the middle of the lineup, directly after Mike E. Winfield, who was working out material for his Letterman appearance next week. He was the most electrifying, hilarious performer of the night, and he delivered me an audience ready to laugh.

The four minutes was up fast, but I got lots of enthusiastic laughter and applause. Some of that might have been thanks to the host’s introduction — he said it was my first time doing open mic, when I’d written on the signup sheet “first time here.” I didn’t take any of my precious four minutes to point out that I wasn’t a complete rookie, just a semi-rookie. But that crowd was digging me.

Oh, by the way, before the big-city open mic started, the host was running through some house rules with the open mic comedians. He got to the end of his speech and asked, “No one’s wearing shorts, are they?” Wear shorts onstage? What kind of freaking idiot…?

DELETED SCENES

I did a lot of partying in my twenties. Like George W minus the cocaine. Like Charlie Sheen minus the hookers. Like Snooki minus the eating disorder. Seriously, Snooki used to battle anorexia. I don’t think anorexia put up much of a fight.

Marriage and domestication saved my life. Of that, I am sure. Going home to a wife and kids every night instead of going out to bars has added years onto my endgame and given me a true desire to live to old age. It’s also inspired me to resume creative pursuits. I’m back to writing publishable material on a regular basis, and after 15 years of saying I was going to, I’ve finally made forays into standup comedy. Five to ten minutes at a time.

Getting five minutes of standup ready each month is like being in school again. Even down to the fact that I wait way too long to do the work and then half-ass it last minute. The worst example I can think of was in tenth grade. I failed to start my science project until the night before it was due and, when I realized there was snow coming down, gambled that I could put it off until the next night.

It was a lazy kid’s ultimate deus ex machina — that winter storm bought me a snow day on Thursday and another on Friday. We usually had two snow days the entire winter, and when my big, unstarted science project was due, we got an unprecedented two in a row followed by the weekend. I had an extra four days, a completely undeserved gift, and I still put off all the work until Sunday night. Panicked, stressed and sloppy, and I still pulled out a B on that science project.

Even my most bastardized efforts in life have been worth a B, traditionally, but there’s always an A+ in there begging for sunlight and water. Occasionally, it gets out.

It’s hard to hone material and learn to build rapport with an audience when you only get five minutes a month. I’m never as prepared as I could be onstage, and years of bar karaoke have taught me that I have a far better microphone presence than stage presence. I’d do great in radio, I think, and that’s something I’ve wanted to pursue for years and haven’t. Another married, kid-filled year or two might change that, too. Who knows?

Those are the negatives, as I see them, but let’s not forget I’m in a medium-sized town and I’ve been writing comedy for most of my life.

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY

POV shot of Sarah and Silas sitting on the couch with me.