Man About TOWN

Owning Up

by Man About TOWN

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Oct
1

The Man refines the art of apology

The other day at the grocery store a woman wearing yoga pants and an oversized t-shirt ran over my foot with her shopping cart. Despite reacting like I’d been hit on the toe with a ball peen hammer, the damage was minimal and the woman threw me a quick “I’m sorry” before disappearing down the cereal aisle. This event got me thinking about two things. One, how 90 percent of yoga pants seem to be worn by women who have obviously never stepped foot inside a yoga studio, and, two, how easy it is to say we’re sorry—until it really matters.

For a few weeks in the fall of 1982, Chicago’s “Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry” was the number-one song in the country. It’s a forgettable tune, but I’ve long thought news channels are missing a golden opportunity in not playing it during televised apologies. You know, the press conferences where celebrities and politicians say things like, “I’m sorry if my remarks offended anyone” or “I apologize that my comments were misconstrued” or the granddaddy of them all, “I deeply regret any pain my actions may have caused.” These phrases are examples of what has become known as the “Nopology,” the act of apologizing without really admitting to doing anything wrong.

We are all guilty of the Nopology, especially when the stakes are high. Run over a foot with a shopping cart and “I’m sorry” comes quick and easy. Run over a foot with an SUV, and the apology is much more complicated and couched in excuses. Run over someone’s feelings or trust, and the apology becomes a very delicate and painful operation.

I’ve certainly offered my share of Nopologies over the years. They usually begin with “I’m sorry, but . . .,” which is then followed by all of the excuses for why I did what I did. The first time I tried this with the beautiful blonde who inexplicably enjoys my company, she said, “Everything before the ‘but’ is BS.” Meaning if your statement includes the word but, everything that came before it can be disregarded. As in, “I’d love to go with you to visit your mother, but this sock drawer isn’t going to organize itself.”

Now when I apologize, I simply say I’m sorry, with sincerity and most importantly, empathy. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that what we really want out of an apology, to know that a person understands how their actions affected us? I think politicians and celebrities and others who give Nopologies do so because they believe to offer an apology is a sign of weakness. But actually nothing could be further from the truth. Acknowledging that you’ve hurt someone and taking responsibility for your actions is one of the strongest things a person can do. Chicago was wrong. It’s easy to say you’re sorry. What’s hard is to mean it.

Man About TOWN

Smooth Talker

by Man About TOWN

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Sep
2

The Man analyzes the art of networking

A  few weeks ago I found myself at one of those tedious events where business folk gather to wear nametags, talk loudly, and pat one another on the back. I’d been dragged there by the beautiful blonde who inexplicably enjoys my company. I had not wanted to attend. I find these types of mixers similar to a prostate exam: awkward, uncomfortable, invasive, and all done while standing up. The beautiful blonde said, “Come on, it will be a good networking opportunity.” She should have known that wouldn’t change my mind since I tend to avoid anything with the word work in the title. “Forget it, I’m not going,” I said. She then gave me the look that translates to “It’s adorable when you try to put your foot down.” Finally, she played her ace: “There’ll be free booze.”
The problem with networking is that most people are not very good at it. It’s sort of like a tango: anyone can do it but there is an enormous difference between moving effortlessly and simply following the steps. Over the years I’ve come to realize the people who excel at networking are the same ones who excel at friendships. It comes naturally to them. But why? Is it charisma? Is it charm? Is it something one is born with, or can it be learned?
At one point during this particular event, I became trapped in an endless conversation with a man whose favorite subject was himself. He told me about his career, his golf game, his worldwide travels, his brilliant children, his new home. No matter what I said he somehow managed to bring the topic back to himself. I decided this is what it must feel like to be caught in an undertow. This man was certainly important, but I wanted a piano to fall on him.
On the other hand, later in the evening I ran into a gentleman I had met briefly at another event a month or so earlier. This man remembered my name, asked about my children and my current work, and inquired to my thoughts on various subjects. No matter what I asked him, he seemed to bring the conversation back to my favorite subject, me. This guy was a natural. I was ready to drive him to the airport or help him move.
On the way home I told the beautiful blonde, a networking natural herself, about my two distinctly different encounters. “Being impressed is always better than being impressive,” she said. I’ve since formed a friendship with the second man and have discovered he is far more successful than the self-absorbed undertow. And isn’t that how it should be? Shouldn’t our success mirror our sincerity? Shouldn’t our relationships themselves be a large part of how we define success?
Yesterday I asked the beautiful blonde if there were any more networking opportunities coming up. “There’s one next week but you won’t go,” she said. “Why not?” I asked. She then spoke the two words that always make me cringe: “Cash bar.”

Man About TOWN

Mixing Drinks

by Man About TOWN

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Jul
30

The Man boldly shakes up his signature pour

I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis.” Those are the last words of Humphrey Bogart, who after years of heavy smoking and hard drinking apparently decided it was gin that finally did him in. Unlike Bogie, and despite a noble effort on its part, gin has yet to get the best of me. But Bogart’s lament got me thinking. I’ve been a devout martini drinker for years and have never really acquired a taste for whiskey. Did he know something I don’t? Is it time to change my gin-drinking ways?

I’ve always placed whiskey in the same category as sushi and bluegrass music: things I can endure for about fifteen minutes before getting sick. Generally after a night spent drinking gin, I awake feeling a little groggy but more or less human. After a night spent drinking whiskey, I wake up with a head like an aquarium and a mouth like a litter box. Dark liquors have never been kind to me, which could stem from a very traumatic teenage incident where, on a dare, I stole a dusty bottle from the back of my parent’s liquor cabinet and chugged a quarter of its contents. Even now just typing the word Kahlua makes me queasy.

We do tend to find a drink we like and stick with it. I have some friends who drink nothing but red wine and others who confine themselves to Scotch, beer, bourbon, or vodka. Some go a step further and drink nothing but Pinot Noir, or single-malt Scotch or small-batch bourbon. Pretentiousness aside, obviously one’s palate plays a major role in what we imbibe. Recently at the Trappe Door I overheard an obnoxious young woman, perplexed by the restaurant’s extensive Belgian beer list, ask the bartender where she could find “something that tastes like Bud Light.” I wanted to suggest she try the faucet in the restroom. But who I am to judge?

Scientists say our genetic predisposition for certain tastes plays a very small role in our food and drink preferences. I find that hard to believe since I’ve despised salmon, cantaloupe, and turkey since I first shoved them off the tray of my high chair. Then again I was well into my twenties before I learned to enjoy oysters, blue cheese, and anchovies. Do our preferences in alcohol work the same way? If one tries hard enough, can one acquire a taste for Ouzo or Pernod or even Fluffed Marshmallow–flavored vodka?

But in truth it’s not just Bogart’s words that are making me consider switching from gin to whiskey. It’s also the words of Richard Overton, the oldest surviving American World War II veteran. In an interview, Overton credited his longevity in part to his habit of mixing a little whiskey in with his morning coffee and sipping a little more at night mixed with soda. Bogart died at 57. Overton just turned 108. I think that’s a story worth its liquor.

Man About TOWN

Hip to Be Square

by Man About TOWN

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Jun
27

The Man About TOWN sees the benefit of age in L.A.

Oh, to be cool.” I remember my father saying those words as he drove me to my first day of ninth grade. My father, who wore khaki pants, a button-down Oxford shirt, and a blue blazer every day of his adult life, was commenting on my outfit. Up to that point, and for several years to come, I thought of his clothing as ridiculous, yet here I was wearing red Converse high tops, red parachute pants, a Frankie-Says-Relax t-shirt, a red bandana tied at the neck, and, the icing on the cake, a mullet I had groomed to glorious new lengths over the summer. My dad was right: there were two people in the station wagon that morning, and one of them was not cool.

Now, some thirty years later, I often find myself sarcastically muttering “Oh, to be cool,” under my breath. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I practically chanted the phrase. L.A. is the most diverse city in the country, and that diversity breeds and fuses all types of trends. Take dining out for example. L.A. restaurants are a maze of paleo, gluten-free, ancient grains, coconut oil and kale, with offerings such as $7 artisanal toast leavened with ambient yeasts and served with locally-sourced, organic apple butter. As a chef friend once told me, “When the menu has more adjectives than nouns, you know you’re in trouble.” From the bartender “hand-chipping” ice while dressed like an extra from Oliver Twist to the bespectacled woman in a pilgrim hat crafting items for her Etsy store while drinking a “single-origin, fair-trade, low-acidic, mocha macchiato,” there is a palpable anxiety to be cool in L.A. And those are just the hipsters. L.A. is also full of new-age hippies, young punks, trust-fund fashionistas, and a dizzying number of old men in Ferraris. And they’re all writers, and they’d all rather be in New York.

It’s really not fair to pick on L.A., as Brooklyn, Portland, Austin, and Asheville are just as guilty of embracing, and glorifying, trends. Even Greenville is not immune. For proof just spend a morning at the TD Saturday Market. But for every new trend that is born, an old one dies. Oxygen bars become vaping stores, 10Ks become Tough Mudders, low-carb beer becomes high-gravity ale. The undercut fades, and selvedge jeans of today are the mullets and parachute pants of yesterday.

After working my way through new-wave, hair metal, and finally grunge, I gave up on fashion-trend-following in my early twenties and settled on a look my dad had perfected years earlier. A look that is as classic today as it was fifty years ago. Now, when I see a bearded twenty-something in suspenders or a young woman in high-waisted, cut-off denim shorts, I can’t help but wonder if one day they’ll look back and say the same thing I say when I see old photos of myself: “What the hell was I thinking?”

Man About TOWN

Road Test

by Man About TOWN

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Jun
3

The Man lives out a fantasy and realizes the thrill of his own life

At no place is the inner child of a middle-aged man so obvious than in the driver’s seat of an automobile. No matter what we may drive, from mini-van, to sports coupe, to SUV, every man sits behind the wheel thinking the driving skills of James Bond live somewhere deep inside him. It was March of 1986 when I received my driver’s license and the keys to a 1979 Buick Estate Wagon, complete with artificial wood trim. And since that day, and through many vehicles, I have known with certainty that I could outmaneuver and outrun any bad guys who may suddenly give chase. Of course, this is coming from the man who thinks 60 in a 55 is “pushing the envelope.”

To test my theory, I called my friend Matt Mullins, the chief driving instructor at the BMW Performance Center, and asked if he would take me out on the track. Some would say Matt is living the dream. He’s a professional race driver and has worked as a stunt driver on films such as Talladega Nights. Plus, he looks like a movie star and gets to fly around a test track in BMWs all day long.

When I arrived at the Performance Center, Matt started with a short PowerPoint presentation about seating and mirror positions, braking distances, and where one’s hands should be on the wheel. (It’s 9 and 3 by the way.) Then we went out to the track and hopped into a 2012 BMW M3.

As we approached an area called the Skid Pad, Matt punched some buttons on his walkie-talkie and an irrigation system sprang to life, shooting water across the donut-shaped cement. “We’re going to work on drifting,” Matt said, as I tightened my seat belt. We circled slowly with the front left tire close to the inner edge of the ring. Then Matt “tapped” the accelerator bringing all 414 horses to life and sending the back end of the vehicle into a fishtail. He compensated with continual and lighting-fast adjustments to the steering wheel and accelerator, performing a perfectly controlled drift around the entire circle.

When we came to a stop, Matt looked at me and said, “OK, your turn.” I stared ahead blankly. He then asked if I was ok, saying I looked pale. I told him that was because all of the blood had just gone to my trousers.

For the next half hour, Matt let me burn up the tires on a $60,000 BMW. I never got the hang of drifting, and it finally occurred to me that maybe performance driving is not inherent, but something cultivated over years of training and practice.

Later in the Performance Center Café, Matt and I sat over plates of German sausages and sauerkraut (when in Rome) and discussed his driving career. Listing his accomplishments, Matt seemed most excited to tell me about the time he wrote an article that was published in an auto magazine. “I really wish I could write,” he said. “I wish I could, too,” I responded, attempting to show him that I’m prone to bad humor and that the trousers comment was not meant literally. He said he’d love to get more articles published, and I told him I’d love to get paid to drive fast. For the next few minutes we ate in silence, lost in our thoughts. Two men on either side of a fence, admiring the other’s greener grass.

Man About TOWN

Stroke of Genius

by Man About TOWN

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May
7

The Man taps into his inner Picasso

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I was tagging along with the beautiful blonde who inexplicably enjoys my company when I found myself watching a princess create a masterpiece. We had stopped to visit the beautiful blonde’s niece, an award-winning children’s book illustrator, who lives in town. The niece’s daughter Helen is three, and on this particular day was dressed as Belle, or it might have been Ariel, complete with plastic slippers sporting a modest heel. Helen sat at the dining room table and with intense concentration, along with a bevy of crayons and paper, created what can only be called modern art. If interested in viewing this work, I’m afraid it’s tastefully displayed at a private gallery, known as the refrigerator.

Watching Helen color with pure joy made me wonder why all kids have crayons and all adults don’t. If you color, finger-paint, build with blocks, or run around the house singing and dancing as a child, you are just a kid. But do these things as an adult, and you are immediately labeled as someone to be closely watched, or worse yet, medicated.

Visit any kindergarten class on any day, and you will see kids immersed in the arts. They will be painting and sculpting and designing, and the halls will be covered with their works. But as kids rise through school, art takes less and less precedence. By the time a student reaches high school, art is constrained to “elective” classes, or where I went to avoid gym. Picasso once said that every child is an artist; the problem is to remain one. By pushing art to the fringes, schools are telling children that art is not as valuable as other disciplines. That it is a hobby, not a career. We are stripping kids of their natural creativity in a race for higher test scores.

But in some, the creative spirit is too strong to break. In fact, the beautiful blonde who inexplicably enjoys my company frequently draws and paints in her free time. Despite being an author, speaker, and president of a company, she is the happiest and most focused sitting on the porch with a blank canvas and tray of watercolors. To her, painting is a release and more about the process than the end product.

I’ve never been able to draw. My interest in the arts always skewed toward drama and music. But in an attempt to impress the beautiful blonde on her birthday, I bought a pack of colored pencils and painstakingly hand-crafted a card. I Googled “How to draw a pirate,” and followed the instructions to what ultimately, at my hand, became a crude cartoon character with what looked like a pineapple on his shoulder. On the inside, I drew a treasure chest overflowing with coins and jewels, above which I wrote, “It’s your birthday, how about a little booty?” It’s the only card I’ve ever given her that made her cry. That, my friends, is the power of art.

Man About TOWN

Free Wheelin’

by Man About TOWN

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Apr
1

The Man About TOWN embraces a childhood desire

Whenever someone compares the relative ease of relearning a task to “riding a bike,” it is safe to assume they have never seen me ride one. I grew up on a mountainside in western North Carolina where there were no sidewalks or bike lanes, and the roads were narrow ribbons of blind curves with low shoulders. Riding a bike in this area was nearly impossible, so the kids rode go-karts and ATVs and in certain cases lawn mowers. To be fair, the riding lawn mower was an acceptable form of transportation in this small community, especially for those who’d lost their driver’s license. It was not unusual to see a John Deere or Troy-Bilt parked next to Fords and Chevys at the convenience store or laundromat. Driving past such a scene, my mother would usually point and say, “Looks like Randy got another DUI.”

But as a child, even one with access to a riding mower, I still wanted a bike. Each Christmas morning, I would rush downstairs, certain that a shiny new Schwinn would be sitting next to the tree only to discover in its place a saxophone or chemistry set. The closest I came was on my fourteenth birthday when I unwrapped a unicycle. My parents seemed to be working on a theme because just three months earlier they had given me a pair of stilts for Christmas. Perhaps they felt my poor grades and disinterest in sports warranted a suggestion toward circus life.

But I’ve long since left the mountainside and now live just steps from the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail. From my kitchen window, I see all types of bikes and all types of riders. From the logo-covered, spandex-wearing road cyclists on their $5,000 Cannondales to the bearded hipsters in sport coats and selvedge denim pedaling their antique “fixies,” it seems everyone has a bike, except me.

So, ignoring my rule to never do anything that requires wearing a helmet, I decided it was time to purchase a bike. A friend suggested I visit Kip at Lucky Bike (2 Sidney St, Greenville) just off of Poinsett Highway. Kip gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up when I told him I was in the market for my first bike and showed me his inventory. Kip collects used bikes and refurbishes them, replacing most of the parts: tires, tubes, gears, etc. It’s like buying a used car from a reputable lot run by a top-notch mechanic. Kip said that if I planned to ride mainly on the Swamp Rabbit I should consider a “hybrid” bike, which is a cross between a road bike and mountain bike. I took Kip’s advice and am now waiting for my “hybrid,” which should be ready in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime I have borrowed my friend’s bike a few times to explore the trail and get the hang of riding. Despite never owning a bike as a child, I’ve found each time I ride, I feel like a kid. I swerve and hop. In one brief moment of enthusiasm, I leaned back and jerked the handlebars up in a feeble attempt to perform a “wheelie.” And this is the appeal of the bicycle, to young and old alike. A bike is freedom. No motor, no noise, just a quiet means of escape.

Man About TOWN

City Love

by Man About TOWN

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Mar
1

The Man didn’t realize how good he had it until he’d gone

A couple of weeks ago the beautiful blonde who inexplicably enjoys my company invited me to accompany her in New York while she attended a business conference. I was hesitant at first because I had just completed a record-breaking six weeks of temperance, exercise, and clean living, and Manhattan is hardly conducive to any of those bad habits. But then I remembered the wise words of Oscar Wilde who said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” So I packed my bags and prepared to rekindle my love affair with food, drink, and good-natured debauchery. I was to be the Man About TOWN in a different town.

Despite being born and bred in the South, I have spent a lot of time in New York City. My father was from Long Island and lived and worked in the fashion industry in Manhattan for many years before moving to a small Southern town and falling in love with my mother. He would often take us to New York and drag us to all of his old hangouts: P.J. Clarke’s, The Bull & Bear, The Oak Bar at the Plaza. During one of these trips, I asked my father what he missed most about living in Manhattan. “Anonymity,” he replied, noting small towns were full of people interested in your closet and what skeletons might reside there.

As the beautiful blonde attended her conference, I snuck away to revisit some of my father’s old haunts and raise a fork and glass with his ghost. A gin and tonic and a hamburger at PJ Clarke’s, a dry martini at the Oak Bar, a medium-rare filet at the Bull & Bear. Each time I visited these places with my father, he seemed a little disappointed, remarking at how much they had changed in the years since he’d move away. I found the same to be true now, realizing it wasn’t the food or drink or decor that had formed my fond memories, it was spending time with my father that made these places special. They just weren’t the same without him. I believe the same held true for his return visits—it wasn’t the places that had changed, it was the faces that were different. He hadn’t loved living in Manhattan because of the anonymity; he had loved the familiarity.

Maybe this is why our visits to the city became less frequent as the years went on. And maybe that’s why I found myself longing for the comforts of my town and understanding why I frequent the places I do. It’s not Soby’s or Rick Erwin’s or Davani’s or American Grocery that I love. It’s Carl and Michelle and Rocky and Darlene. It’s people who greet me by name and ask about the kids. No matter how large the city or small the town, what we love is the feeling of community. That was what my father was always trying to recapture when he returned to New York. Just like the old theme song says, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.”

Man About TOWN

Shape Shifter

by Man About TOWN

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Feb
3

The Man About TOWN diversifies his modus operandi

For each of us there are times when bad ideas seem like good ones. For me that time usually occurs in the company of like-minded friends somewhere between the third and fourth drink. That’s when the clear thoughts of rationality start to become opaque, and ridiculous pronouncements such as “we should open our own bar” or “let’s all buy a vacation house together” are actually given consideration. It was during one of these times that I announced I was going to get in shape. To make matters worse, last month I committed this declaration to print in this magazine. I’m not saying that getting in shape is a bad idea, quite the contrary, I just wish I’d kept my intentions private since I now notice friends and colleagues glancing at my mid-section, silently assessing my progress, of which as of this writing has been scant. Worse yet is when they actually comment, usually saying something like, “So, when are you going to start?”

Like any good procrastinator, I began my fitness plan by immersing myself in research in an attempt to discover the most efficient workout program. After days spent scouring the Internet and fitness magazines, I came to the conclusion that there isn’t one. But one thing everyone agrees on is the importance of working out safely to avoid injury. My research found that one of the best ways to minimize the risk of injury is to undergo a functional movement screen (FMS) to identify any tightness and weakness in the body.

My friend Mark Murphy at Premier Physical Therapy and Personal Training offered to conduct the screening at his facility just off of Pelham Road in Greenville. After completing a fitness and health questionnaire, Mark handed me off to trainers Keith and Patrick. Keith led me through each test while Patrick, clipboard in hand, observed, assessing and taking notes on my form. For the first test, Keith handed me a rod, similar in size and weight to a broom handle and told me to hold it directly above my head. I was then to preform a deep squat, keeping my knees in line with my feet. As I lowered my body I could feel tightness in my back and shoulders, and my torso automatically leaned forward. I glanced at Patrick for some sort of feedback, but during each of the tests his expression never changed. He looked as if he were sitting at the final table of the World Series of Poker.

I won’t bore you with the details of the other six tests except to say they included phrases such as “active impingement” and “rotational stability.” Each test is graded on a scale of one to three, one being bad, three being good, with a total perfect score of 21. My total score was ten, which meant my body, once a cooperative employee, had at some point become unionized and now works only through a series of negotiations and accommodations. Keith and Patrick identified my weak points and led me through a series of stretches to perform daily at home to improve my mobility and prevent injury.

I made an appointment for five weeks out to gauge my progress and left with a stack of papers explaining the recommended stretches. Mark promised to help me set up a strength-training routine upon my return, which will fall just shy of my 45th birthday. For a self-described procrastinator, I’m making pretty good time.

Premier Physical Therapy & Personal Training
1310A Garlington Rd, Greenville
(864) 288-2998, premierptupstate.com

Man About TOWN

Back to Good

by Man About TOWN

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Jan
6

The Man About TOWN vows to undo the harm of his indulgences

Upon opening my closet door one recent morning, I experienced an embarrassing hallucination. As I stood there selecting what to wear, I saw my wardrobe come to life. The pants and shirts began to quiver, and the belts coiled up tight in an attempt to conceal themselves. T-shirts and underwear scurried about and a stack of sweaters slowly retreated to the rear of a shelf like a hiker backing away from a slumbering bear. I even noticed one slim-cut Italian dress shirt waving a white flag. I felt their pain.
You see, over the past twelve months, your Man About TOWN has been dutifully being, well, a Man About TOWN. Which, if one is to do properly, requires a significant appetite for food, drink, and charm-filled socializing, which invariably leads to more food and drink. The problem is, all this carousing has increased my waist size from a respectable 32” to a measurement I’m reluctant to commit to print. My clothes have gone from fashionably covering my body to now struggling to keep it cylindrical. In other words, my wardrobe has become a closet full of sausage casings.
For some men, the first line of defense in dealing with a newly acquired spare tire is to adopt what I call the “diagonal waistline.” A physics-defying anomaly where the front of the pants are pushed down and worn several inches lower than the rear. The upside is it saves the wearer from having to purchase bigger pants; the downside is you look like a high school football coach. No, the only true fix for a spare tire is to deflate it.
When a man reaches middle-age, certain things begin to happen to his body that are both confusing and disturbing. Hair goes missing from the scalp then suddenly reappears, seemingly overnight, on the top of the back or peaking out of one’s ears like a follicle version of hide and seek. We begin to make audible sighs of relief when we sit down and groans of stress when we attempt to rise. And the calorie-rich food and drink once burned easily by our youthful metabolism now smolder along our waistlines.
This January, I have finally decided to accept the fact that I am no longer in my twenties, or thirties for that matter, and that my body is now what car enthusiasts refer to as “vintage,” which requires a little more care and upkeep than a newer model. So, for the next several weeks I will eschew the barstools and romantic tables of my favorite haunts and experience the physically active opportunities Greenville has to offer. I will experiment with diets: slow-carb, low-carb, raw, paleo, vegan—and dip my toe in the world of yoga, Crossfit, Zumba, spinning, and martial arts. I will harness my willpower and commit myself to one of the harshest words in the English language: moderation.
I will report my experiences and progress here and let this page serve as a formal record of my commitment to turn back the clock. I can already hear cheers of support coming from my closet.