Monday, January 25, 2010


Back in the year 2000, I probably would have tried to tell you that Tom Green was a comedic genius. And no, I'm not ashamed to admit that.

First of all, I was a slightly spastic, socially inert 14-year-old... part of Mr. Green's ideal demographic. Secondly, with the YouTube-aided gift of hindsight, I must ask: was Tom Green as viciously unfunny as society labeled him?

Exhibit A:

Now seriously... could you not see Zach Galifianakis performing this exact role today to widespread critical acclaim? Green, in his own bug-eyed, pathetically exhibitionist way, paved the way for an oddball savant like Galifianakis to win America's heart 10 years later. Chew on that thought for awhile. (And, you know, try not to think about "Freddy Got Fingered" or "Stealing Harvard" while you do).

This revisitation of Tom Green's film career is an entirely unrelated lead-in to my own "road trip" plans for next week. The week-long journey will carry me from St. Louis to Perry Point, where the AmeriCorps experience officially begins. The unofficial schedule, below:

Feb. 2:
  • Motor from St. Louis to Nashville (311 miles)
  • Sightsee in Music City
  • Nashville Predators vs. Phoenix Coyotes... greatest NHL matchup ever?
Feb. 3-4:
  • Nashville to Atlanta (249 miles)
  • Revisit/annoy old colleagues at Paste Magazine
  • Local tour of museums, vintage clothing stores
Feb. 5:
  • Atlanta to Asheville, N.C. (198 miles)
  • See Of Montreal live in concert at the Orange Peel
Feb. 6:
  • First leg of Asheville to Washington, D.C. (470 miles)
  • Travel north through the Appalachian Mountain region, narrowly escaping from inbred, cannibalistic hillbillies while taking pictures of the pretty scenery
Feb. 7:
  • Finish drive to D.C.
  • Hang out with a.) an ex-college classmate/bandmate, b.) a second cousin, c.) one of my dad's old college buddies, d.) all of the above
  • Blend in with group of German tourists, tour through a gauntlet of asphalt monuments and memorials
Feb. 8:
  • Wake up early for Washington, D.C. to Perry Point, Md. (81 miles)
  • Check in with AmeriCorps at the VA Medical Center gym, prepare for 10 months of hardcore service

That's 1,309 miles (not including the extra rubber that I'll burn while fleeing from the Appalachian boogeymen). WILL I SURVIVE? I'll be broadcasting at intervals throughout the journey to let you know.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Church of Exercise

I've visited the JCC gym enough times now that I'm starting to recognize faces. At least a couple of folks have given me a wave on occasion. I am becoming "a regular," if not a full-fledged gym rat just yet.

Despite that growing familiarity with the building, I don't feel as if I'm making much progress. I always begin my workouts by sprinting up the stairs to the weight room, two at a time. About 45 minutes later, I stumble down those same stairs, sweaty and gassed. Oh yes, I know, it's not supposed to be easy to get in shape, but... why can't it be?

The big problem here is that gyms have always made me uneasy. Chalk it up to lingering emotional residue from high school, when I endured the ritualistic PE humiliations that are a fat kid's lot in life. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm over it now. But there's a strong association in my mind between workout machines and feelings of inadequacy.

That, and the damn things bear a strong resemblance to medieval torture devices, don't you think? Have a seat, grunt out some reps, hyperextend your joints, strain your muscles and you'll walk away feeling better... supposedly. I'll tell you what, though: I've heard some sounds at the gym that could have come from suspected heretics during the Spanish Inquisition. Confess, sinner, or it's back to the vertical chest press with you!

Exercise-as-religion is an apt metaphor, though. The gym is where we do penance for the little sins of poor diet and laziness... each squat to atone for that unnecessary chocolate muffin, or that afternoon spent draped over the couch. Look at a workout room from a distance, and it's a host of devout believers committing acts of self-flagellation.

So I'm getting through my sessions by not getting too down on myself. Really, a trip to the gym is just a lesson in physics. Gravity is a constant. Weight values do not change. My muscles, atrophied as they are, can only exert a certain amount of force before they give out. So why bitch and moan about it when the mathematics come out against me? If I can't lift that 100-pound barbell, I just can't.

And really, the workout routine was not meant to whip me into a chiseled specimen by February. I only hope to get a head start, to get the ball rolling on improving my strength and endurance before my service begins. I'm not certain if I'm meeting even those modest goals, but that's not going to stop me from making the trip every other day.

I'm a believer.

Monday, January 18, 2010

AmeriCorps FAQ

So from reading the first two comments on the blog (thanks, Sarah and Andrew!), I realize that I might have jumped the gun on things a little bit. Already, I've blasted off into cross-eyed ramblings on cats, childhood memories and freaky dreams, but I haven't actually explained what this whole AmeriCorps thing is about.

Here, then, are some basics for you to gnaw on...

Q: What the hell is Jeremy doing with himself?

A: Jeremy, misguided dreamer that he is, will be serving in the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). The program, for ages 18 to 24, places participants into small teams that complete a variety of service projects over a 10-month period.

All projects fall into five broad categories: natural and other disasters, infrastructure improvement, environmental stewardship and conservation, energy conservation and urban and rural development. Each team completes about four to six projects during the year.

Q: Oh. Uh... my condolences. Where will he be doing all of this stuff?

A: Jeremy will be stationed on a campus in Perry Point, Md., which lies halfway between Baltimore and Philadelphia. That campus serves the "Atlantic Region," which includes Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont... and — what the hell? — Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For service projects located farther than 60 miles from campus, Jeremy and his teammates will go out "on spike," staying at accommodations provided by the project's sponsor. These commitments can last several weeks at a time, meaning that members usually spend more time on spike than at the AmeriCorps campus.

Q: When does he start?

A: His term runs from Feb. 8 to Nov. 18, 2010.

Q: Does he have to pay his own way?

A: Not really. Jeremy will be living comfortably off of your hard-earned tax dollars, enjoying complimentary room and board, a biweekly living allowance and an education award of "more than $5,000," assuming he competes the required number of service hours.

Q: Is Jeremy going to come out of this thing brainwashed?

A: Possibly. Reprinted below is the AmeriCorps Pledge:

"I will get things done for America, to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps Member, and I will get things done."

So, yeah... he might be a bit insufferable and self-righteous the next time you see him. Just humor him, nod your head sympathetically as he sermonizes about "renewing our commitment to America," and back away slowly. SLOWLY.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Freudian Trip

I worked as a reporter at the Gillette News-Record from March 10, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2009. Not that I had a prison cell-style tally going on in my apartment, or anything.

Once I have a few years of hindsight under my belt, I believe my time in Gillette, Wyo. will go down as a very strange, frustrating and ultimately enlightening period of my life. But for now, I can't really talk about the one year, nine months and three weeks I spent there without foaming at the mouth. Sorry.

But I did have an odd dream last night that brought some of my feelings about Gillette and its newspaper to the fore.

In the dream, I've returned from St. Louis to the familiar News-Record office. A few things have changed since I left. Several new people sit at desks in the editorial department — interns, I later discover. One of my ex-colleagues has shaved off his trademark facial hair, and looks remarkably younger. Oh yeah, and there's a sprawling, well-stocked bar now occupying one side of the building.

If you know journalists, you'll realize that last detail isn't as bizarre as it seems.

Anyway, I sit at the bar. And the education reporter is apparently working as the bartender. I give him a familiar nod and a smile, but he looks the other way. That's odd.

Then I'm floating between desks, seeking out my fellow reporters and trying to say hello. But everyone's busy on deadline, and no one pays me any notice. Finally, I introduce myself to one of the newbies, and she acknowledges my presence. Excellent... this means I'm not dead or invisible.

But still... no one from my time before recognizes me. I'm upset and unsettled. Finally, I end up outside the office, tracking down one of the paper's photographers. He's out shooting on the side of the interstate, but I interrupt his work.

"Hey! Do you remember me? Jeremy?"

"No." He doesn't hesitate in responding, but he looks doubtful, as if he's considering whether or not he's done a story on me before.

I try to explain that I worked at the paper, but he's not buying it.

"This is so 'Twilight Zone,'" I say... before I snap my fingers with a sudden realization. "And that's because this is all a dream! Ha!" I glance to the photographer with a smile. "Now you can do whatever you've always wanted to do."

Shortly thereafter, just as I'm preparing to fly away into the sky, lucid dream-style, the photographer stabs me in the side with an X-Acto knife.

So I'm not sure what that last part is all about, but this dream seems like your typical exercise in narcissistic self-doubt. Did I make a difference during my time in Gillette? Will anyone remember my contributions? Tough to say, but I don't think it's quite as grim as the dream portrays.

But that also brings up a big point of why I opted to join AmeriCorps. For me, working as a reporter was both empowering and paralyzing. It came with a sense of being out in the community, of making a difference for the lives of locals, but the journalist's professional creed still held me back. Look, don't touch. You can observe the people, even empathize with them, but you're not quite one of their number. You are the narrator, looking down on everyone from a cloud.

There were times... particularly during meetings of the incompetent, corrupt and viciously unpleasant Campbell County Cemetery District... when I wanted to stand up, express my opinion and take some decisive action. Perhaps it's a good thing that I had my journalist's hat to restrain me in those situations. Without it, I would have slapped a cemetery trustee, in all likelihood.

But joining AmeriCorps is a pretty obvious attempt at wish fulfillment: to toss myself into life headlong without regard for "objectivity" or professional distance. To leave the realm of words for the realm of action. To build things that will last, not articles that will be discarded and forgotten tomorrow.

Will it meet those high-flown standards? Well, I'm trying not to be too idealistic about it. AmeriCorps will be hard work. There probably are going to be days when I wake up cursing about something... the service projects, the training, the regulations. But even that thought excites me.

Even if the AmeriCorps experience proves as bipolar as my hitch at the News-Record, I'd argue that it would still be worth the time and effort. It's something new, challenging, and very, very unknown. I can't wait for the ride to start.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Death of Nostalgia

Every time I've visited St. Louis over the past two years, I've felt irresistibly drawn to revisit scenes from my youth.

I've gone back to the Science Center, to see the same animatronic dinosaurs that used to terrify me as a child repeat the same five-second loop of movement unto eternity. I've retraced the steps of my solitary walks in Malcolm Terrace Park, where I'd retreat to the woods during my high school days, lost in high-flung thoughts.

So as I was trying to find a place to exercise for the next few weeks, magnetic currents of memory predictably pulled me back to the Jewish Community Center in Creve Couer.

That's the place where my Grandpa Bernie would take me weekday afternoons in a noble but futile attempt to mold his pudgy grandson into something passably fit. We'd go swimming in the Olympic-sized pools, jog along the donut-shaped indoor track, and he'd watch as I romped over some of the center's padded gymnastics equipment.

He was a respected doctor around town, and he always seemed to run into ex-patients or synagogue comrades at "The J." He'd present me as a sort of personal mascot: "My grandson, Jeremy." And I'd bashfully nod before shaking the hand of Bernie's old friend.

In the end, my inherent laziness won out. I never became the spindly young athlete that my grandfather had been, before arthritis of the spine stiffened his entire figure from the waist up. But over those years, I developed a great fondness for the man, and the quirky old facility that he'd drag me to every week.

To this day, even 10 years after I stopped visiting, I could walk you through a detailed mental map of the J as it once was. But it wouldn't matter. That version of the Jewish Community Center is no more.

I discovered this unsettling truth yesterday, when I visited the J to rejoin as a member. Trying to walk in through the old main entrance, I found the former lobby refurbished beyond recognition. Fresh walls and new furniture had boxed in the space. A coating of displaced paint chips seemed to cover everything. "Under construction."

So I walked along the sidewalk, down a hill to the hulking new addition that had sprung up at some point during my decade-long absence. I had hoped to ignore the shiny expansion area (the "Staenberg Family Complex"), but it looked like I had no choice.

Once inside, I saw the new face of the J. Where there were once hospital-ward linoleum floors, there was now splashy carpeting to distract the eye. Claustrophobically low ceilings were replaced with a towering, two-story atrium. No more dust, no more creaky hinges. Everything slick, powerful, new.

As I filled out my membership paperwork, I described it to one of the J's staff members as feeling like Rip Van Winkle. The quaint old world that my grandfather and I knew had been swept away in the name of something terrifyingly modern and convenient.

A kindly young staffer named Anna led me on a tour, humoring my disbelief as she showed off the workout equipment and pool. The new building had come to life over the past two years, she said, paid for by an ongoing $40 million fundraising drive. The old campus, the seat of all my cherished childhood memories, will reemerge as a "cultural arts center" later this year to compliment the new athletics complex.

At least they aren't tearing it down.

For the last stop on our tour, Anna insisted that I check out the men's locker room. Inside there were wood-paneled lockers with electronic locks, personal hygiene stations that dispensed complimentary aftershave and a built-in sauna. There was also a sizable herd of hairy, half-naked old men lumbering about the room.

And would you believe it: that was a comforting sight for me. One thing about the J, at least, conformed to my old memories. Maybe one of those guys even knew Bernie from way back when.

So I exited the building on a gust of fresh confidence. Things change. Time to let go of the safety blanket of nostalgia. Time to get to work.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Destroyer of Worlds

Pictured above (circa summer 2007) is my family's cat, Lucky. As you can see from this photo, she does not suffer fools lightly. Also, she can blot out the sun simply by sitting her fat, furry self down in front of you.

Damn her eyes.

Initially, Lucky was intended as a birthday gift for my younger sister, who had always pined for something small and squeezable to call her own. But once Rachel moved off to college, it fast became apparent that Lucky was my mother's pet project.

Taking ownership of Lucky released all of the maternal affection that had she had dammed up for years as Rachel and I aged into cynical teenagers. With the human children now grown and fled from the nest, Lucky became the surrogate third Goldmeier child. Mom showered her in affectionate coos, head rubs and food. So much food.

At a certain point, probably around when Lucky began to develop a turkey-esque form and waddle, we all realized that something had to be done to whip the spoiled feline into shape. But alas, we were too late. Even after scattering Lucky's food allotments throughout the house, even after feebly encouraging her to play with her toys, even after viciously mocking her in an attempt to shame her into weight loss, she remains a fat cat.

Why do I mention all of this back story? Well, with my parents both working crazy hours and my sister now semi-nocturnal, Lucky will be my main companion for the next month. And it is imperative that I avoid the corrosive, nihilistic influence of this terrible cat in my attempt to get into shape for AmeriCorps.

So, step one: stop grazing at that massive vat of Puppy Chow that now sits on the kitchen counter. It's hard to imagine a less healthy snack than those scrumptious little cereal bits, gently flavored with peanut butter, coated in a tender milk chocolate envelope and smothereeeeeeeeddddddddddd...


Oh... sorry. I blacked out there for a second. Where was I? Oh yes, as I was saying... uh... oh... oh God... my clothes are covered in powdered sugar...

I'm... going to leave it at that. More to come!