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"The Hackiest
Place on Earth"

"Mundane in
the Membrane"

ADAM GROPMAN is a standup comic and writer who lives in Silver Lake, over there where the 101, the Glendale Fwy and I-5 come together.


"Stealth Improvement"

"Be all that you can be," says the Army. Well, Iím not in the Army and I donít know how likely it is I'll ever be all that I can be, but I would like to be more of what I can be. So, I decided a while ago to try some self-improvement regimens. Below are the results.

PSYCHOTHERAPY: A few years ago I tried some weekly therapy lessons here in L.A. I did not have health insurance when I started, and because good therapists can cost 60 to a 120 bucks per hour, I was forced to go to a very affordable discount mental health clinic, in Beverly Hills of all places. Being located in one of the capitals of extreme wealth and extremely expensive psychotherapy, it felt as if we clinic patients got the second-hand-but-still-good therapy that was discarded by the rich and slightly unhappy in the hills above. Sort of like going to the thrift clothing store on the edge of a nice neighborhood full of well-dressed professionals.

The clinic also had wealthy benefactors whose names were on metal plaques on the wall. In a university, museum or library, you know which hall, wing or building was paid for by whose contribution. In the clinic, each major contributor sponsors the treatment of a specific psychological problem: "The generosity of Bernard Goldglass has enabled us to address Father Issues,". "Due to the wonderful gift of Estelle Walters, in 2003 the Maple Center will begin deconstruction on various complexes, including the Napoleonic, the Oedipal and the Body Shape."

I had been sent to a therapist as a youth in Boston and by far my strongest memory was beating the therapist-- Sheldon Miller-- about the face and body with a giant Styrofoam jousting stick. Which meant that I had a lot of excess aggression and resentment and probably could have been one of Robin Hoodís Merry Men.

The discount mental health center was all right, but I think that, due to itís reduced prices, the patient was expected to essentially "locate, bag and process" his own problem. Kind of like a Costco or a food co-op. There wasnít a lot of fancy customer service running around helping you to find stuff or to put it together once you did find it. You could say that this was the Ikea of mental health. I got some stuff to take home with me, but I just didnít know how to put it all together.

Once during a session, my therapist Chuck-- who looked like a sprightly, kind-hearted troll-- blurted out: "The way youíre dressed today... are you serious?". I had come from a long-term temp job where my attire had slipped into extreme casualness, to say the least. I think it was my combination of scuffed, beat up shoes and light socks that particularly offended Chuckís sensibilities. An awkward exchange followed. "Oh, I guess Iím not dressed real well today, huh?" I asked. "Iím sorry!" Chuck eagerly replied. "That was inappropriate. I shouldnít have said that. Are you offended?" I told him that I wasnít really offended but that maybe he could give me some specific pointers on slacks and footwear.

My sessions with Chuck ended when he had to move his office several miles west to Santa Monica, which would have created a difficult, time-consuming post-work drive, had I stayed with him. Thus, it wasnít a lack of compatibility or a failure to acheive progress that ended that period of psychotherapy. It was bad rush-hour traffic.

YOGA: The gym Iíve been going to for years near Hollywood offers various workout classes in the mat room. There is "High-Powered Aerobics," "Super Kickboxing," "Heavy-Duty Spinning," "Extreme Dancercise," "Strength, Stretch and Movement" and "Ultra Mega-Pilates." There is also Yoga. "Beginning Yoga", which is exactly my speed, but is unfortunately offered at seven in the morning. And I will only wake up at 6:30 AM to drive a friend to the airport, drive myself to the airport, or puke out my Jaegermeister and french fries from the night before. So I showed up for one of the "Power Yoga" classes instead, offered at the very reasonable 7 PM.

What turned out to be not reasonable about "Power Yoga" was everything we had to do in the class. It seemed perfectly reasonable for the super-human, plastic pretzel-people who were obviously regulars in there. The regulars-- and they were all regulars except me-- each had their own mats, an ant-like ability to lift their own body weight at will, and more skeletal flexibility than a centipede on Valium.

I tried my best to follow along for an hour and was sure I looked like a clown sent in to provide comic relief-- for an activity not known for itís comedy. Imagine Roberto Benigni, in full slapstick mode, attempting the "Downward Facing Dog." Imagine "Mr. Beanís Ashram Adventure." Imagine "Ernest Saves Yoga." This pretty much describes me that day.

I gained a lot of respect for the physical strength and agility of the Indian people. In fact, no sane country on Earth should ever want to mess with these people. Can you imagine if India sent a wave of one million soldiers walking over the landscape on their hands, rifles held in their feet, backs arched like a perfect bow-- somehow moving their mats with them as they went. Theyíd be reciting their Hindu Yoga chants and theyíd be accompanied by a marching sitar section, playing their instruments with their toes.

They could use relaxation and will-power techniques to allow bullets to pass right through them. Every solider would be carrying an 80-lb. backpack on each earlobe, and in hand-to-hand combat they would be completely unbeatable. Trying to fight an expert Yoga practitioner is like trying to wrestle with a flounder made out of rubber bands.

Although the class was made up mostly of white Americans, they had clearly absorbed the skills of high-level Yoga and probably could hold their own in any class in India. I, however, could not. I did my best to lift my body with my hands, bend my back, reach my toes, and stay stretched out in an elongated pushup position until I felt as if my upper body was being ripped apart by dinosaur claws.

After the class ended, the pretty blonde, but athletically intense, instructor commended me for even lasting through the entire hour. She said that many people couldnít or wouldnít even have tried to follow along. I didnít tell her this, but I was just glad that I didnít crash into the person next to me or have my underwear rip wide open.

Although it requires the strength of a gymnast or ballet dancer and the focus of a zen monk, Yoga, above all, requires flexibility. I am not very physically flexible. And I may never be. But I am flexible in the sense of being up for going to almost any restaurant, bar or movie, or in my ability to get a good nightís sleep on a futon, a couch or somebodyís linoleum-tiled back hall. And maybe thatís the only kind of flexibility I need.

ACUPUNCTURE: I have a fairly common condition called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This means that at times I have a physiological reaction to my stress and anxiety and I experience a sensation of numbness and detachment. It also probably means that I could work on making my anxiety a little more specific. A medication called Paxil helps a lot with it, but not wanting to rely solely on a pill made by science to attack the anxiety, I recently sought acupuncture.

I had tried acupuncture many years ago in Boston for an eye problem. As a side effect it gave me this refreshing, invigorating feeling as if electricity from a wall socket was shooting through my veins. I wanted to experience this sensation of well-being again, but was told that itís not safe to recreate it by jamming a butter knife into a wall socket.

I found a great college of Far Eastern medicine right here in L.A., and because they have advanced students doing the treatments as part of their hands-on medical training, the price is incredibly reasonable.

Some people in treatment hate the needles. They find them extremely painful. Often the mere idea of their skin being punctured freaks them out. I donít mind the needles at all. In fact, I kind of like them. When people ask me if it really hurts I tell them that it doesnít sting that much compared to, say, when a friend betrays you or a girl you just met doesnít return your calls.

The clinicís professors and students are almost all fairly recent immigrants from Korea and China, and when they speak their native languages in my presence, it makes the experience feel even more authentic and reassuring. What may sound precise and scientific in English sounds completely mystical and magical in the gutteral tones of Cantonese or Korean.

They have to check various physical indicators on the patient before each and every treatment, and I have learned that my tongue is always purple and my Chinese pulse is "weak." It does bother me a little when the supervising doctor pronounces "Pulse a weak," when he could just as easily say "Pulse a not overpowering," "Pulse a subtle," or "Pulse a sublime." I guess I do give him credit for being a straight shooter.

Several sessions into my treatment at the college clinic, the doctors made it clear that they were going to be adding a new puncture point that I had not had before. They began to talk animatedly amongst themselves about "P-8." Each point has a name in Chinese and in English, and I was hearing them say things like "Heís a getting P-8? I havenít given a P-8 before!" and then just "P-8!" followed by nervous laughter.

I wondered where this P-8 point would go. Would it be in my eyeball? In my eardrum? Into my scrotum? It turned out not to be so bad. P-8 goes through the middle of the palm. After the initial shock of having large pins jammed through the centers of my hands, they asked me how it felt. I said it was OK, not bad. In fact it felt better than all right. It felt good. I felt like a king. To be specific, I felt like the King Of The Jews. They didnít quite understand my little religious joke, but they said they understood how King Of The Jews could be a stressful, anxiety-inducing job.

I am staying with the acupuncture and finding that it is still helping me to achieve a feeling of general well-being a good deal of the time. It is also helping me to withstand having needles stuck into almost any part of my body. And for twenty bucks a week, thatís not a bad skill to acquire.

MEDITATION: I am barely qualified to write about my meditation experience, because I have basically never meditated. But Iíve come close enough to be able to write about why I am unable to meditate. Plain and simple, meditation requires sitting there, doing nothing and not thinking. Iím good at sitting there and good at doing nothing, but horrible at not thinking. Thatís probably one of my biggest problems. My brain is like one of those two-stroke motocross dirt bike engines that revs really high and needs special oil to not overheat and burn itself out. The gears of my mind constantly spin like a steam-powered turbine, chewing up things that have happened, that didnít happen, that could happen, will happen, wonít happen, probably might not happen, should happen, on and on and on. Meditation would be perfect for me. I know that. Itís just that Iím unable to meditate.

Because whenever I would start to meditate, I would think about all the things I was supposed to not be thinking about. And then I would think about the people who were really good at meditation because they were able to actually not think about anything, and Iíd find myself not thinking about actual things, but thinking about how jealous I was of the people who didnít think about things. And thatís not good.

People have given me meditation tapes. And most of them Iíve never even listened to. Because when I write at home or organize my apartment or do any such task, I put on music to help me relax and concentrate. And before I put in the meditation tape, I go put in my favorite CD and crank it up, figuring that this is pretty good meditation background music. And then I realize I canít have both on at the same time. I canít crank The Verve Pipe or Ben Folds Five and meditate in the same moment. I mean, physically itís impossible cause I only have one tape player. For the record, Iím not ruling out ever doing meditation. Iíll just have to think about it. HOME Back to the Top