Sunday, October 27, 2013

Top 10 (MORE) Scary Short Films

It's almost Halloween, which means it's that time of year again when you desperately search through your Netflix queue for anything scary that you haven't seen yet (and that doesn't look terrible).

Last year, we provided you with a Top 10 list of scary short films that a lot of folks seemed to enjoy. One of you even went all next level with it and hosted a Halloween screening of the selected list at a graveyard.

We also got a fair share of requests to make another Top 10 list of scary short films to enjoy for Halloween 2013. Unfortunately, that sounded like a bit of a daunting/impossible task. 

The original list was called 'Top 10' due to the fact that the selected films were RamblingBeachCat.com's best 10 short horror films out there. Would there really be 10 more films made in the last year (or that I missed) to make up another Top 10 list?

Well, after hours of slogging through lots of crappy videos (and even more well produced ones that piddle around for a few minutes before providing one inexplicable jump scare), the answer is a resounding yes. There were, in fact, some great ones made since last October along with some I missed and a few that I was politely reminded about missing in various internet forums and comment sections.

Besides needing to be good, here was some of the criteria for making this year's list:

-It actually needs to be a "short film." When a movie is set up to be a short feature, the audience goes in with certain expectations of efficiency and a quick resolution. Once it starts to drag over half an hour, my A.D.D. medicine struggles to fend off the unicorns that gallop majestically through my mind.

-No zombie films. Zombies aren't that scary and have also become the lazy filmmaker's go-to genre. If you want to see a Top 10 Zombie Short Film list that's good, click here (and please don't ask me to do it again).

-Jump scares are fine and good, but there has to be a bit more context to them than some girl wandering around a house before a random dude in a clown mask pops up behind her and the film cuts to black.

Each movie has a brief plot summary and a description about why it's great. There will be minimal spoilers, but you should watch the films first if you really want to get the full scare effect. Since I'm a giant pansy, there is also a helpful guide at the end of each entry warning you about the film's moment that is most likely to cause you to empty your bowels.

Fair warning: There is a fair amount of gore and a lot of swearing (since people tend to cuss a lot when they are really scared or badly injured). Now let's start things off with a story about a little kitty who has been very bad.

10. The Cat With Hands

While drawing water up from a well, an old man tells a story to his younger companion about boy who met a cat with human hands...and a desire for much more.

Why it's great
When this one wasn't included in last year's list, I was rightfully chastised by a couple users here and on Fark.com. I definitely will not be making that same mistake twice. A combination of beautiful animation, great story telling, and a wonderful twist ending make this film by writer/director Robert Morgan a real treat.

Moment most likely to induce brick labor
2:27 is when I decided that owning a cat may not be in my future.

9. Vessel

Flight 133 is midway through a cross country flight when one of the passengers notices an alien spacecraft getting closer and closer to the plane. Of course no one believes him...which of inevitably leads to E.T. making very close and bloody contact with the passengers.

Why it's great
After successfully funding this project through Kickstarter, director Clark Baker shoots about one of the most brilliantly uneven sci-fi/horror shorts I've ever seen.

On one hand, the CGI (and some of the acting) are at times dreadful. But the practical effects, camera work, and story (particularly the bone chilling twist at the end) are great and more than make up for the film's shortcomings.

The film has been picked up as a feature by Paramount, so we may get to see a terrifying expansion (and improved CGI effects) on this little gem very soon.

Moment most likely to induce brick labor
At 11:31, the stewardess lays down the law of her new parasitic host pretty hard on that poor little girl.

8. Slash-In-The-Box

A couple starts playing a Jack-In-The-Box the husband brought home. Things go very badly.

Why it's great
Shot in one day on a budget of $2,000, director Nick Everhart is able to take something that has an obvious fear point (the popping up of a jack-in-the-box) and make it even scarier and creepier than you had anticipated.

While the score for the film was a bit generic, it also greatly enhanced the overall mood and served as a great backdrop to the eerie and out of tune rendition of 'Pop Goes the Weasel.'

Moment most like to induce brick labor
4:12 definitely had me yelling 'WHAT'S IN THE BOX?!' at my computer screen...I wish I hadn't asked.

7. Click

A bunch of foul mouthed kids are running around an abandoned building and acting like brats. But before you can start to wonder why there seem to be no adults (or another living thing) are anywhere in sight, the group decides to play a game in which they see who can stand in the dark the longest before getting scared and turning the lights back on.

Unfortunately for them, an unseen entity has decided that it would like to play, as well.

Why it's great 
Director William Prince takes a very simple concept and masterfully builds an impending sense of dread for the first half of the film with great camera work, ambient noise, and a haunting score.

From there, the simple act of lights going on and off ratchets up the suspense each time a different child inexplicably disappears. The lack of a solid resolution may frustrate some viewers, but the tense journey we take to get there is  well worth it.

Moment most likely to induce brick labor
11:47 isn't that scary, but you really do feel for the one and only likable character once it becomes apparent that she's about to die.

6. The Sleepover

Keeping with the theme of putting children in mortal danger, a pair of kids at a sleepover argue back and forth about whether or not the legend of a community's "slasher" is real.

As you might have guessed, he is. But that also means that the way people prepare and react to one might be a little different in this world, as well...

Why it's great 
Using child actors in a short film, particularly for horror, can often times lead to some pretty bad (and overdone) results. But director Chris Cullari and writer Jennifer Raite managed to find a couple of kids (Josh Feldman and Gus Kamp) who do a great job portraying two sides of the reaction to a possibly true urban legend.

It's also a bit shocking to see a kid get brutally offed, but much of that is dissipated by the film's wry sense of humor, particularly in the way that it ends.

Moment most likely to induce brick labor
3:21--The kid may have been a complete douchebag, but he still didn't deserve to die like that.

5. Blackout

When a nationwide blackout hits, a group of criminals takes advantage of it to rob an antique warehouse (?). They manage to tie up the inept security guard and even plan to kill him, but something in the dark starts killing the group first.

The heist then becomes a fight for survival as the former hostage and one of his captors must work together to stay alive and escape.

Why it's great 
The cinematography is beautiful, but pretty pictures alone don't make for a good horror movie. But writer/director James Bushe does a masterful job of balancing some great scares sprinkled with a few laughs to create a very entertaining story (that also just manages to clock in at under the 30 minute time limit).

The great chemistry between actors Dan Wheeler and Genna Fodden also helps to make the funny moments (of which there are many) work to enhance the movie's overall atmosphere rather than detract from the terrifying premise.

It's worth noting that the practical creatures effects in this one are absolutely superb...which unfortunately is made even more apparent by the very subpar CGI effects used at the very end of the film.

Moment most likely to induce brick labor
11:37--No way that hell-spawned abomination was going to leave behind such a large meal.

4. Don't Move

A bunch of attractive British people get together in an apartment and try their luck at summoning forth a demon via ouija board. As you might imagine, this does not go well, bringing forth a murderous creature that can only track its victims by movement (kind of like a hellspawned version of the T-Rex from Jurassic Park).

Each individuals only hope is to stay completely still long enough that the others will move and be brutally slaughtered before them.

Why it's great
The obvious reasons are the incredible creature effects, lighting, and sound design. For a film that was shot on a very low budget, director Anthony Melton was still able to make this thing look like a million bucks.

There is also an undercurrent of subtext and purely human drama played up excellently by Rachel Bright and Jake Hendriks. It all comes together to form one of the best PSA's imaginable for not trying to dabble with black magic. 

Moment most likely to induce brick labor
Probably going to have to go with 10:30 when poor Rachel gets her face ripped off.

3. Luna

A young girl who witnesses her family get brutally slain by a lone gunman must find a way to survive inside her own house while the killer turns his attention to finding her.

Why it's great
After being successfully funded through Kickstarter, writer/director Antonio Perez didn't just blow the funds on a pimped out food truck and nice business cards. 'Luna' is gorgeously shot and tense right up until its shocking conclusion, which completely flips the film's premise on its head and makes you want to go back and watch it again.

And while actress Arlene Santana might be the most recognizable face to some, Danieal Leon as the film's "victim" does a great job with some very demanding (and brutal) material.

Moment most likely to induce brick labor
9:49--You gotta call for back up quicker than that, sweety.

2. Suckablood

Suckablood is a fairy tale about a parent cursing their child to be attacked by a demon when she's caught sucking her thumb. But before Social Services can be called, it's already too late...

Why it's great
The story, which was written by directors Ben Tillit and Jake Cuddihy, is engaging enough on it's own. But some amazing prosthetic/make up work combined with a surreal mix of animation and live action shoots help to give the film a truly terrifying ambiance.

Actor Robin Berry's work as the demonic Suckablood is fantastic, but Tillet's narration of the fairy tale is by far the best part out of many different quality aspects that can be found in this film.

For a great behind the scenes look at how the movie was made (and to see Suckablood not being evil while having his make up applied), click here.

Moment most likely to induce brick labor
3:07--Clever girl...

1. 2AM

Reddit has various forums for just about everything, including one where users share their allegedly true encounters with various creepy and stalkerish folk.

This story by redditor bluetidal entitled The Smiling Man seems like a late night encounter with your run of the mill weirdo at first...until things go from awkwardly uncomfortable to downright terrifying.

Why it's great
Whether this story is true or not, it's incredibly chilling. Michael Evans of Go For Broke Pictures does amazing work with camera angles and sound (both incidental and through the film's score) to create an impending sense of dread that crescendos to a point that we're feeling the same fear as the stories lead character.

The two actors, Sean Simon (Roamer) and Paul Foltz (Smiling Man), are fantastic. Simon never goes into melodrama territory (when he very easily could have), while Foltz brings life to a character that will probably haunt your dreams for a while.

Moment most likely to induce brick labor
2:42 when that creepy bastard starts sprinting.

And there you have it, folks. Hope this makes for some good Halloween season viewing when you're lying awake at night and hear a strange noise outside.

If you feel I missed any, then please leave a comment below. I'd definitely like to see more (when I don't have to work the next morning).

Until then, sweet dreams...

Please feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter. 

To get updates on when new articles or podcasts are published (and occasional random musings) 'Like' the official RamblingBeachCat.com Facebook page. Every time someone does, another person decides that walking alone in the city at 2:00 AM might not be such a good idea.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rambling Beach Cat Fitness Challenge Days 9, 10. & 11: The Wrath of Tracie (and Fitting Into Old Pants)

Day 9

I was still a little sore from the intense workout from the day before, but a good night's sleep and an afternoon of watching football helped give me enough time to recover and get back at it in the gym that evening.

I also stepped on the scale and discovered that I was holding steady at 218 lbs. But despite my current weight loss plateau, my 38 waist pants were beginning to require an extra notch or two on my belt (depending on the last time I pooped). 

I also felt stronger through my core, a feeling that had eluded me for a VERY long time and that I did not anticipate experiencing again so quickly. Good times.

Day 10

Have you ever said something that at the time seemed completely harmless, but later came roaring back with a vengeance to cause you large amounts of pain and suffering. Well, here is my story for your amusement/schadenfruede.

You may recall that back on Day 8, I went to Francesca's soccer game after my session at Long Training Studios. Being the supportive and awesome mom that she is, Tracie was there as well. As we talked on the sidelines, I told her about how the workout with Jared that morning was the most intense one I'd had yet. It was SO intense, in fact, that for the first time since I started exercising again, I would be unable to do cardio that evening.

"Oh...that's good," she replied.

It was at that moment that I realized a couple of things:

1.) What I said may have sounded as though I were implying that my workout was better without Tracie. This was not the case at all; in fact, there is no way I would have been able to even get through it if hadn't been for all the great work she had put in with me so far.

2.)...but I do tend to over think things a lot and get way too paranoid over what the folks I care really care about think. This is probably why I shrugged it off when for a brief moment, Tracie got the same look on her face that Dave Chapelle as Prince did after being insulted by Charlie Murphy before they played basketball (sans the sound effects).

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a clip.

If you haven't watched the entire sketch, you really should. The story (which is true, but a little exaggerated) ends with Prince and his crew opening a gigantic can of whoop ass on the Murphy brothers and their friends.

My story, on the other hand, doesn't end with laughter (on my end, anyway). Instead, I had unknowingly challenged a woman who could kick my ass ten times over to deliver an even more grueling work out than the toughest one I had previously experienced.

Tracie later insisted that she wasn't mad at me or trying to prove anything, but the gallons of sweat pouring off of my body during today's session tell a very different tale. It also contradicts a statement by Jared, who claims that Tracie said "I'm going to kick his ass on Monday."

Mountain climbers, step explosions, those cursed kettle bells...they all came together to put my body through more work than it had done in a very long time. At one point while I was trying to summon the strength to hold a plank for 30 seconds, Tracie asked if I felt I was ready to do a plank exercise while using the stability ball. Instead of verbally answering, I turned my face towards her and gave a very clear expression that said "Please put me out of my misery."

This must have meant "yes" in Traiceland, because she immediately rolled the ball over to me like the boulder that chased Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (only I didn't try to run from it because that would have been embarrassing...and my legs were dead).

At one point I turned to her and cried "Holy crap Tracie, what did I do to piss you off?!" I knew good and well what I'd done, but I still needed to ask.

"Nothing," she cheerily replied. "Let's go; 10 more reps."

"Kicking your butt is FUN!"

But despite all my whining, Tracie was able to get me to do an exercise (the stability ball plank) that one week ago would have seen me falling flat on my face and rolling comfortably onto my pillow of body fat. Instead, I was actually doing this and feeling it work the heck out of my core/ab area. 

I'm not going to sit here and lie by saying that this workout felt great while I was doing it (except for the occasional relief of delirium brought on by endorphins). But when it was done, I honestly felt really good about it. I mean sure, I cut my reps off a little when I could get away with it (sorry Tracie), but I really did feel good (once it was over) to have pushed myself that hard and know that I had gotten some great work done.

And as evil as I am making Tracie sound in this post, she really did keep encouraging me and helping me push myself way past what I thought I could do. In that one day I was able to do things that on my own I would have paced out for weeks while wondering why I wasn't getting results quicker.

That's why having a personal trainer is much more beneficial than just having a workout program. Without Tracie's encouragement/prodding, I would have backed off most of the exercises much earlier and simply patted myself on the back for trying my best. Now I knew I was capable of a lot more. This whole 1 month timeline for some serious weight loss was beginning to actually look more and more like it might actually happen....

...which was good, because after sitting still for a few minutes, my body ceased to feel anything for a while.

Day 11

I was having trouble sleeping last night before for a variety of reasons. Part of it was my depression acting up and making me think too much. Another factor was that my energy level was still a bit jacked up from the beastly workout session earlier that day.

While laying in bed and trying to get my mind to shut off, I finally decided that if I was going to be awake in the wee hours of the morning, I might as well try something out I'd been wondering about (and that was one of the things keeping me awake).

I went upstairs, opened the attic storage doors, and dug through a pile of old khaki shorts that I had not been able to wear in years. This was due in part to the well known fact that clothing can shrink significantly over time, but it was mostly caused by my ever-expanding waistline. I was currently wearing shorts with a 38 waist, which was beginning to feel a bit loose.

I took out a couple pairs of 36 waist pants, tried them on...AND THEY FIT. It was a little snug, but not tight at all...and definitely not in danger of turning the front button into an airborne projectile. Unfortunately, I also seemed to have stored these over 5 years ago without washing them, meaning they smelled strongly of shame and ball sweat. These shorts would definitely need a run (or ten) through the wash before they could be worn in public, but it was still a moment for personal celebration.

Spurred on by a tangible piece of progress, I upped my cardio intervals that next evening another 15 seconds. I also had a strange incident that morning when I felt my cell phone buzzing in my pocket...which made no sense due to the fact that I was holding it in my hand. It was then I realized that the tingling sensation I had felt was actually my hamstring.

So yeah...there's still some pain, but definitely some very good gain happening, as well.

Except for our poor washing machine, which 
must now tackle is most horrifying challenge to date.

If you want to cheer Tracie on while she kicks my butt on a weekly basis, you can find her on Twitter. If you live in the Charleston area and would like to have your butt kicked into shape like mine has been, then take a moment and check out the Long Training Studios website.

Please also feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter. To get updates on when new articles or podcasts are published (and occasional random musings) 'Like' the official RamblingBeachCat.com Facebook page.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Rambling Beach Cat Fitness Challenge Days 6, 7, & 8: The Joys of Complaining and My First Workout With THE VIKING.

(photo @ cartelthemes.com)

Previous Entry

Day 6

When I woke up this morning, I did not want to get out of bed. It wasn't just that I abhor mornings (which I do), but also because my leg muscles felt as though they had been repeatedly beaten with a baseball bat.

I was eventually able to will myself out of bed and stumbled into a warm shower, still incredibly sore from the day before. Despite the fact that I had been working out for a while now, this was by far the most aches and pains that I had felt the day after.

But I had to admit, there was something very satisfying about this feeling, as well.

I usually just dismiss people who talk about getting a "good pain" from exercising as dropping a subtle hint towards their secret love of sexually deviant behavior. But now I think I'm beginning to understand it a little. I could actually feel a slight tightness running through my entire core/abs which I had never really felt before (even back many years ago when I was working out consistently). I also knew that this was a sign I was getting things done.

And as an added bonus, I get to self-righteously complain to my co-workers, friends, and family about how much all the work I was doing at the gym was killing me. You just can't put a price tag something like on that.

Day 7

When I got home from work at around 4:30 on this glorious Friday afternoon, my body refused to let me do anything but climb into bed and pass out. I missed a comedy show I had been planning to go to and an invite from my friend Jeff to go out that evening.

But the rest was definitely needed. I woke up around 10:30 (!), got dressed, and headed out to the gym for some light cardio. Tomorrow morning brought another session at Long Fitness Studios, so I needed to take things easy.

Day 8

Today marked my first session without Tracie at Long Training Studios. I was more than a bit worried going in; not about the quality of her staff, but about whether or not Tracie had informed them of what a giant pansy I am and not to push me too hard.

The morning was also already off to bad start when I arrived to my 10:30 AM session at 10:40. This was primarily due to a couple of factors:

-As embarrassing as this is to admit, I got stuck in the the drive thru line at McDonald's. In my defense, however, I was only getting a chicken biscuit WITHOUT any hash browns or soda. If you know me, than you also know the extreme amount of self control that had to be summoned to make such a sparse breakfast order at the Golden Arches. The drive thru line was also terribly long and I was past the point of no return (i.e. my car can't make it over the curb to get away once I'm boxed in).

-The traffic problems in Mount Pleasant and Charleston aren't due to there there being too many cars on the roads. They're are caused by idiots who like to drive slowly in the left lane. I know that everyone says their city has this problem, but if you live in Charleston long enough, you'll start to think that passing people on the right is the way that it's supposed to be.

When I got to Long Fitness Studios, I was greeted by two instructors. One was Erin, who I had met before and appeared to have been genetically engineered from the womb to be a personal trainer. 

The other was Jared, who looked like a viking warrior that also cared about his personal grooming.

Fortunately, I wasn't the latest person to the class. Unfortunately, the last one in was one of the fitness model-looking girls from a few days ago, which meant I would once again have my manhood kicked squarely in the balls for the next hour while this chick destroyed me on every exercise.

As we got started, I could tell this was going to be rough. The circuit was a series of very different exercises and movements. None of them were too complex, but all of them were designed to work the hell out of you. The one that really got me were the sliders.

Instead of the delicious TGI Fridays mini-burgers that I had come to associate with that name, the sliders referred to in this exercise go under your feet on a mat. While positioning yourself like you are going to do a push up, you slide your knees up into your chest and slowly bring them back to their starting position while trying not to let anyone hear you quietly sobbing.

This...this is what hell feels like

Jared and Erin continued to run us through the intense workout while I struggled to keep up. I must admit that on one of the strength band exercises, I shaved a couple of reps off my last set when they weren't looking. I felt bad about it, but also figured it was a better alternative than puking on the floor.

But for all my internal whining and outwardly profuse sweating, the workout was actually great. For the first time ever (including when I was in shape), I really felt like I was getting something done with my core and legs. My upper body and arms weren't being neglected at all, either. 

Jared and Erin constantly circled around the group, helping us to maintain our form and offering words of encouragement while also joking around with everyone and putting us all at ease. They also genuinely seemed interested in helping us exercise better with their form corrections rather than using it as an excuse to take out pent up aggression on a weak fattie like myself.

During the final "burn out", I talked to Erin about my health scare over the summer and how it helped motivate me to get back in shape. I felt bad for dumping all that on her so soon after we'd met, but like I said before, she genuinely seemed interested in my health and well being. I was also stalling for a longer break during my wall sit bicep curls. (Sorry, Erin).

Once we were done, I did some stretching on the foam roll and posture ball, got some water, and drove back towards Mount Pleasant to watch my Kentucky Wildcats play. I could actually feel my abs burning while sitting in the driver's seat, which was definitely a first.

When I got to the bar to watch the game with Karen, I could feel that day's workout more than any I had gone through before during this time period. When UK looked like they had the game well in hand, I went home and collapsed. After sleeping for a few hours, I got back up to watch Francesca's soccer game (where she's an absolute beast on defense) and planned on doing cardio later that evening...

...which totally didn't happen. I guess I technically had already done some since we didn't really stop moving much back at the studio. But this would be the first night in a couple weeks that I hadn't done cardio on my own at the neighborhood gym. I was just too worn out...and that actually (and strangely) felt pretty good.

 ...but I would still rather deal with these sliders any day of the week.

If you want to cheer Tracie on while she kicks my butt on a weekly basis, you can find her on Twitter. If you live in the Charleston area and would like to have your butt kicked into shape like mine has been, then take a moment and check out the Long Training Studios website.

Please also feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter. To get updates on when new articles or podcasts are published (and occasional random musings) 'Like' the official RamblingBeachCat.com Facebook page.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Rambling Beach Cat Fitness Challenge Days 3, 4, & 5: Losing weight, losing valuables, and getting destroyed by a couple of girls

Previous Entry

Day 3

Aside from a few upper body exercises, today was my first day doing Tracie's exercise regimen by myself. I walked into my neighborhood gym with my foam roll and mat and proceeded to open my email to pull up Tracie's warm up exercises.

Unfortunately, the foam roll stuff was linked somewhere and our gym is allergic to all forms of phone and wifi reception. This resulted in me attempting the foam roll stuff without a point of reference, which had the embarrassing side effect of making it look as though I was furiously (and unsuccessfully) attempting to mate with an inanimate object.

The other exercises, however, were all described in detail and with pictures on a previously downloaded document. I was able to get through most of them pretty well, although the one I struggled with the most (Spider-Man push ups) was ironically named after my favorite superhero.

As the exercises wore on, I could feel myself beginning to get tired. The planking exercise Tracie had taught me (for upper legs and core) caused caused sweat to pour onto my mat.

There also might be a few tears on there, too.

When I finally finished, I was exhausted, but also incredibly proud of myself. My upper body days seemed easy compared to this, but I had gone through all the exercises that Tracie had mapped out for me and felt like I had really gotten something done.

Tracie had requested that I give her a report that evening, so I called to tell her the good news. I also asked to make sure that the number of sets for each of the exercises was correct.

"Oh yeah, I didn't put that on all of them," she replied. "You should be doing three sets of each."


I had done 3 sets of 10-15 for about half of them, but not all. This workout program was going to be even harder than I thought. 

Day 4

Today it was back to my "easy" day of upper body weight lifting and basic cardio (although I did increase my high intensity intervals). I must admit, however, that I'm actually starting to feel a lot better. 

My emotional state also seems to be improving. I don't think it's some weird thing with endorphins or fat melting away to reveal layers of happiness, either. Each day I know I'm doing some positive and beneficial for myself. 

One negative thing that happened, however, was that I somehow ripped a hole in one of my favorite t-shirts. It claims that I am property of CTU, a fictional counter terrorism unit from the show '24'. In spite of the terrible last 2 seasons, it's still one of my favorite series ever...and now the shirt I had proclaiming my love of the series has a giant custom ventilation spot right on the armpit.

...but honestly, I'll probably still wear the shirt, anyway.

Day 5

Today was another day back and Long Training Studios with Tracie. I was supposed to go on Saturday, but I had a rare Wednesday afternoon free. This was as good a reason as any try and get some more work done.

As Tracie exchanged pleasantries with me before we got started, two very attractive girls walked into the gym. I may be a happily married man, but I'm also still a guy...which is why when it slowly dawned on me that I would be working out with these girls in a small group, I began to feel an impending sense of dread.

Both girls (who looked like fitness models) instantly began going through the warm up routine while I stood there frozen like an obese deer in headlights. After being walked through the warm up by Tracie, we started in on the various exercises...all of which involved the girls completely ripping through them while I labored behind like an injured rhino that had been tranquilized.

But to their credit and Tracie's, no one really seemed to mind (or openly laughed me at). I went through the (easier, lower rep version) exercises, once again feeling the burn in muscle areas that seemed to be slowly awakening up from years of hibernation.

My man card finally convinced me to try an exercise that one of the girls was having a little trouble with. I was actually able to pull it off a little better than her...if by "better than her" you take into account it was an upper body intensive exercise...and I did two sets of 8 with the right form while she did around a million sets of 10 trying to perfect hers.

I was also fully introduced to the kettle bell. These evil little abominations look pretty benign at first due to their bright and cheerful colors. But the fun and games come to a screeching halt once Tracie starts having you do squats and carry them around the gym with your elbow extended like you're being forced to participate in some sort of twisted beauty pageant.

By the time we were done, I never wanted to see or pick up one of those cursed things ever again.

Giant candy gumballs...OF DEATH.

I must admit, however, that when Tracie asked how I was feeling, I actually felt...good. Sure, my body felt like it was on fire, but the temperature was definitely lower. I was also starting to feel more mobile, stronger, and even a bit lighter. This whole exercising thing was actually starting to make a difference.

The only real drawback to this lifestyle change so far is the fact that I have gone through 3 sets of headphones already. I seriously have no idea how I lose them or why it happens so much. As usual, I'll  just blame mischievous gnomes instead of my own disorganization.

If you want to cheer Tracie on while she kicks my butt on a weekly basis, you can find her on Twitter. If you live in the Charleston area and would like to have your butt kicked into shape like mine has been, then take a moment and check out the Long Training Studios website.

Please also feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter. To get updates on when new articles or podcasts are published (and occasional random musings) 'Like' the official RamblingBeachCat.com Facebook page.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rambling Beach Cat Fitness Challenge Days 1 & 2: The Unfatting Begins

Below is an account I wrote during the first two days of my fitness program with Tracie Long at Long Training Studios. To read what lead me into this insanity, click here.

Day 1

The night before my first workout at the studio, I sent Tracie pictures of my neighborhood gym so she could see what type of equipment I would be able to make use of on my own. She also reminded that we wouldn't need much at first since most of the exercises would be utilizing my own body weight. This was good news since I had plenty of that work with.

The next afternoon, I headed over to 145 St. Phillips Street for my first session. Aside from being put at ease by my familiarity with Tracie, I also really liked the feel of the studio. It had lots of space and equipment/various amenities, but also managed to not be the typical gym studio model that resembles an over-sized European dance club.

We began with some basic foam roll exercises and stretches. Despite the fact that these were designed to simply be a warm up, I was already sweating and beginning to breathe heavily. After resting for a minute, we went through a series of different exercises that were designed to work my legs and my core. Tracie also tested me for my range of motion (terrible), strength (embarrassingly terrible), and flexibility (worse than a rusted iron rod).

Tracie also stressed that developing mobility and flexibility was also very important. Our main goal wasn't just weight loss, but also to help me feel better. The "feel better" part, however, was definitely something that was going be felt in the future.She wouldn't let me give up early or cheat on repetitions like I often (and desperately) wanted to. When I was working out by myself, I could easily justify that I had "done my best" and stop. Tracie, on the other hand, was having absolutely none of that.

Another thing I noticed (besides my desire to pass out) was how different this workout felt. Even back when I was in shape, leg and ab/core exercises had always felt very light compared to the days I did upper body work. But today I was feeling muscles awaken to scream "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!" that I hadn't felt in many years.

We finally finished off the session with some upper body exercises. I then struggled to hide my desire to collapse onto the floor while Tracie explained that she would email me a work out program I could add to the weight lifting and cardio I was doing at my neighborhood gym.

But although I hurt everywhere and was completely exhausted, I actually felt...good. Even when I was in shape I hadn't been able to work my core and lower body like we just had; now I felt like there was a real plan in place to help push me towards getting back to being healthy again and beyond. 

I drove back to my neighborhood gym in Mount Pleasant and did some cardio. My body promptly responded by passing out in bed way too early for a Saturday night.

Day 2

After a very long hot shower to help ease my muscles back into being able to move, I headed to the gym and lifted weights followed by some intervaled cardio. 

Later that day, Tracie's family had me over to their house for a cookout. Once we were doing eating, everyone headed down to their neighborhood dock to watch the sunset. I sat by the lake and talked a while with Tracie's husband, John (who is also a good friend and a fitness instructor), about how far I'd fallen from my earlier fitness benchmarks and abilities.

"That stuff's stupid," he said. "Don't worry about how much you can lift or how much you weigh. Just work out and start feeling better."

Keep in mind that he was saying this to me while sitting comfortably by the river with his shirt off and looking far more ripped than a man his age has any business being. When I sit down with my shirt off, it makes the surrounding area instantly resemble Jabba's palace.

But I got what he was saying. The goal was good health, not some arbitrary number or benchmark (although if I could be in as good a shape as John is, I'd wouldn't mind that one bit.)

As the sun set behind Shem Creek, I was able to put aside the depressive fog I had been in lately and finally experienced a glimmer of optimism and thankfulness. I already have a wonderful wife and family, but I also realized just how lucky I was to have friends in my life like this that wanted to help me...even if one of them was making me doing exercises that caused my butt muscles to feel like they were on fire.

If you want to cheer Tracie on while she kicks my butt on a weekly basis, you can find her on Twitter. If you live in the Charleston area and would like to have your butt kicked into shape like mine has been, then take a moment and check out the Long Training Studios website.

Please also feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter. To get updates on when new articles or podcasts are published (and occasional random musings) 'Like' the official RamblingBeachCat.com Facebook page.

Weird Crime Wednesday: Mad Crapper Done In By His Own Creation

(photo @ Appellate Sky)

Indiantown, Florida

Morning shift employees at the Seminole Country Inn had a serious problem that needed to be dealt with (besides the music on their website's flash intro). Someone was leaving a daily deposit of turd in the parking lot.

An extra police patrol was dispatched to try and catch the dastardly defecator in the act...and on September 30 of 2013, they finally caught a break. At approximately 6:20 AM, a deputy rolled into the the parking lot and observed 28-year-old Elee Medina "fidgeting with his trousers" while walking away from a giant pile of crap and soiled wet wipes.

When the officer first questioned Medina about the rogue stool sample, however, he claimed not to have even noticed it until it has been pointed out to him. But to anyone with a modicum of detective skills. something just didn't smell right (terrible pun intended).

After getting a good look at the poop on the ground, the officer turned his attention to the white shirt Medina was wearing. On it was a reddish brown stain that the official police report claims "was consistent with the color of the defecation on the ground."

Realizing that he was caught brown and red-handed, Medina proceeded to try and explain why he took his daily morning constitution in a hotel parking lot. According to him, his commute from the town of Greenacres to Florida Light & Power Company in Indiantown was so long that he had no choice but to drop a deuce in that very location before heading into work.

This seems like an unlikely explanation. But being the thorough and curious person that I am, I decided to map out Medina's route and see if there was any more appropriate location for him to do his business before clocking in for the day..

The fastest and most direct route from Greenacres to Indianatown takes about 53 minutes with traffic. It's got plenty of places he could stop, but it also involves toll roads.We'll give Medina the benefit of the doubt here; just about anyone would be willing to poop in a parking lot if it meant skipping a toll.

The alternate toll free route, however, only takes a few more minutes.

It also passes by multiple strip malls and gas stations, meaning that Medina's compulsion to drop anchor in the Seminole Inn Parking lot was born out of something much more malicious and/or disturbing than simple necessity.

Elee Medina was charged with one count of criminal mischief. He was also arrested on an additional drug charge when the officer found marijuana in his boot.

Why the officer (or anyone) would dare to bend over near 
Medina's rear end look to look for something is beyond me.

H/T to Will Greenlee of the TCPalm for obtaining and scanning the actual police reports.
Please feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter. 

To get updates on when new articles or podcasts are published (and occasional random musings) 'Like' the official RamblingBeachCat.com Facebook page. Every time someone does, a person who had a bad experience with a hotel still has the decency to poop in a toilet instead of on their parking lot.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Rambling Beach Cat Fitness Challenge: Prologue

The following is the start of my (way too long) account about how I recently began to lose a lot of weight. Well...that's actually cheating it a bit. I've gone through a lot of changes lately that both involve a shrinking waistline and an expanding ability to feel good (or at least not feel like crap nearly as much as I did before).

Since I am not at all in the realm of being a fitness expert (or any expert on much of anything, for that matter), hopefully I can provide a perspective on trying to get myself into shape that will feel a bit more realistic and obtainable...or give you plenty of chances to laugh at my shortcomings. Either way, I hope to inform and entertain a little while also keeping myself from an early grave.

This following series of entries are about how my friend Tracie (who is the same woman pictured above who looks like she belongs on American Gladiators) aided me not only in overcoming some potentially lethal health issues, but also helped bring me out of a terribly depressive state of mind...all while completely and utterly kicking my ass from here to kingdom come.

Our story begins this past summer, which was one of the worst ones I've ever had.


I'm fat.

And not the "cool" type of fat where you're either very intimidating or instantly recognized as someone with a huge personality to match. I'm skinny fat, which is a nice way of my genetics loudly proclaiming "If we were in a survival situation, this would be the first guy you should give cannibalism a go with!"

There was a time that I actually used to be in really good shape. I weighed about 185 lbs., had ab muscles, and could bench press around 220 lbs. That was over 10 years ago. I now weigh a little over 230 lbs., have what I like to refer to as "a giant fuel tank to power my awesome" for a gut, and I can barely bench press the heavy blankets off of me when I get out of bed during the winter.

But all failed attempts at self deprecating humor aside, I had actually become pretty okay with my fatness. I figured that my mind and occasionally sharp sense of humor was the real important thing to draw my self worth from. I had even somehow managed to marry a great girl who loved me for who I was in spite of my chunkiness.

 ...and who loves University of 
Kentucky basketball even more than I do

I also had a great job and my hobby of writing, which really seemed like all I needed.

But a few things happened before the start of this current school year that snapped me back out of being content with my poor physical health. There had always been signs before that I needed to do something, but I tended to just rationalize or explain them away:

-High blood pressure? It runs in my family.
-Getting tired after walking the dogs for less than a mile? I'm getting old.
-Buttons on my pants repeatedly popping off? Shoddy workmanship by the clothing manufacturer.

But two events (which are also possibly related) finally convinced me that it was time to do something about my deteriorating physical state. The first was an odd illness I suffered this summer during which anything I ate caused me to instantly need to sleep. I didn't matter if the food was healthy or not or if I had slept enough the night before. Any type of meal would cause me to feel terrible and instantly fall into a deep slumber.

I knew things were really bad when I went to see Pacific Rim with my wife and was unable to stay awake for the finale after eating one of the Cinebarre's delicious burgers. When it becomes impossible for me to stay awake while giant robots and monsters beat the hell out of each other, something is definitely wrong.

This should not make you feel sleepy.

The problem then compounded itself due to the fact that I didn't want to eat so that I could stay awake...which also made me feel really bad. I went to the doctor and had all types of tests run on me. I expected the worst: Diabetes, cancer, or some type of allergy to my new pet gecko, Apollo.

Little life sucking bastard...

Instead, the only thing that they came up with was a severe vitamin D shortage. This could be due to me staying inside all day and watching every episode of The West Wing on Netflix, but I did go outside enough that the deficiency (and its severity) was very odd. No one really seemed to know what was going on with me.

I began taking a vitamin D supplement and eventually started feeling better. But that entire episode (which basically took all summer) combined with fearfully anticipating some worst case health scenarios made me feel like I had dodged a bullet.

The other thing that happened was a terrible relapse of my clinical depression, which I had managed to keep in check for a very long time. I'd been doing great just one year ago, but a series of triggers (including the whole "eating food makes me feel like crap" thing) sent my mind into a David Lynch movie-like tail spin of confusion and sadness.

It was at this point that I decided I needed to exercise; not just for my health, but also to get away from the awful thoughts and feelings swirling around inside my head. I'm not at all saying that I thought exercise could cure my depression; I just needed an escape.

And to be honest, I'm still struggling to deal with where my head is it to this day. But I know that I'll be okay. And mental health, although a very important issue to discuss, is not the focus here. If you want to know what a person with severe clinical depression goes through, go read Allie Brosh's post about it on her blog, Hyperbole and a Half. It's the best explanation you'll ever read (and the illustrations will make you giggle).

But any quest like this is always easier to start if you have help. Luckily for me, I had help in spades. My favorite student I've ever taught, Francesca, had just graduated from 8th grade. Fran was one of the few kids that could make fat jokes about me without it hurting my feelings. But a few months ago (and during the weird eating = coma health scare), she began to carefully express a real concern that I wasn't taking proper care of myself.

The first way she did this was to point out that I took better care of Apollo the gecko (who her family had given to me) better than I did myself. This was actually quite true. I would make sure that everything about his habitat and food was prepared just right for optimal living and nutrition while I single-handedly helping the McDonald's near my house to consistently beat their monthly sales quota.

...but in Apollo's defense, he is pretty darn adorable.

She also sent this picture to me captioned "Motivation".

The picture on the left wasn't even  from when I was anywhere near the best shape I had been in...and it STILL looks a million better than the slug I that I have become on the right.

This was also the first time that Francesca had really gotten on me about my weight. Her mom Tracie, on the other hand, had been trying to get me to take better care of myself for years. In addition to being an amazing band parent and great friend, Tracie is also a well known personal trainer/ass kicker in the Charleston area.

She had offered to train me before, which I always politely turned her down in favor of gorging myself on whatever food I wanted and sitting in front of my computer/television all evening. But now the band family I held closest to my heart was finally pushing me to do something about my health.

The onset/relapse of my depression made the decision much easier; it was time to unfat myself. I called Tracie and told her I was ready to do this.

One quick note before we start: I never did one of those stupid "before" pictures where I'm supposed to look sad so I can smile in the "after" picture and look happy. But I do have one photo from June of me and Francesca at my school's 8th grade graduation that should give a solid perspective on how monumental the task ahead of me is.

Two things should be pretty obvious when you look at this photo:

1. Francesca is an adorable kid.
2. I appear to be about four months into a very healthy looking pregnancy.

...or as Francesca stated once after giving me hug: "You feel like a giant marshmallow."

I've definitely got my work cut out for me.

Pre-Fitness Challenge Training

Before I began training with Tracie, I gave myself a little over a week to get a head start. That wasn't me taking the bull by the horns as much as it was not wanting to embarrass myself and/or die.

Tracie has always been nothing but a great band parent and an even better friend. She's one of those people who has a really big personality, but can still get along with everyone due to her kind disposition. I think a lot of that stems from the fact that in the back of her mind, she knows that she could kill you with her bare hands if she ever really needed to.

But this was a soccer mom who was also in MMA fighter type shape...and she was about to start training me, a fat middle-aged band director.

"I will break you."

When Tracie's younger daughter, Makayla, asked why I wasn't working out with her mom, I explained that it was because I needed a bit of a head start so that I didn't completely embarrass myself. That was supposed to be the part of the conversation where she replied with something like "You won't embarrass yourself. I'm sure you'll do great!"

Instead she just said: "That's true. Good luck."

For about one week I worked out and got a good jump start on my upcoming 30 Day Challenge. My depression was also at one of its worst point back then, so my appetite  its normally huge self. I still ate plenty, just not the enormous amount I usually do when things are going well. That's a pretty dark silver lining to draw from feeling like things would be better if you didn't exist, but hey, you take the victories where you can get them.

I also tried to make sure that my meals were healthier. Not healthy, necessarily, but not the feast of wanton gluttony that I often embraced a few times a day. All of this lead to those first 10 lbs coming right off.

So yes, I totally cheated. But if "cheating" means eating healthier and losing weight, than so be it. And besides, the first 10 lbs are always the easiest. Think about how many people you know on weight loss programs who brag about losing their first 5-10 lbs for weeks until they finally go to Golden Corral and burn it all to the ground.

But on Saturday, August 31 of 2013, the day of reckoning will finally arrive. That's when I head over to Tracie's studio and begin what I expect will be 30 of the most intensive and transformative days of my life.

 I should probably eat some McDonald's one last time before I go in there.

                              Continue to Days 1 & 2

If you want to cheer Tracie on while she kicks my butt on a weekly basis, you can find her on Twitter. If you live in the Charleston area and would like to have your butt kicked into shape like mine has been, then take a moment and check out the Long Training Studios website.

Please also feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter. To get updates on when new articles or podcasts are published (and occasional random musings) 'Like' the official RamblingBeachCat.com Facebook page.