When I was a child, there was an annual festival in town called Conejo Valley Days. It included a rodeo,  parade and my favorite, a carnival. I loved carnivals! Rides, music, lots of colored sparkly lights (the latter was particularly appealing during my teenage druggie years). I couldn’t get enough of them. Whenever we passed a carnival in the car I would curse my parents under my breath because my pleas to stop, just for a little while, were always met with a resounding “no”.  Such cruelty.

I was always taken by the carnies who operated the rides. Who were these people? Where did they come from? A lot of them were adorned with tattoos. They were mysterious and edgy. I wanted to be a tattooed carny! I wanted so much to be mysterious and edgy, traveling to strange exotic places, staying up all night operating rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl, Toboggan and my all-time favorite The Zipper. Of course this fantasy quickly faded upon the realization that I kinda liked having a roof over my head, regular hot meals and the option to bathe any time I wanted. I also came to terms with the fact that I’m pretty much “Bob the white guy”. I’m not mysterious nor am I edgy. I’m milquetoast.

However, the tattoo fantasy never diminished. I was fascinated by them. As a young adult, I noticed a lot of gay men had tattoos. I was attracted to that. There was something about a tattooed hunk that was appealing to me. I have this thing for men and masculinity.

You can have androgynous David Bowie any day. I’ll take Henry Rollins.

I was never into boys my own age. I liked men and when I say men I mean manly men. (Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?)

The young blond skinny twink who worked at Hanover Shoes in the Oaks Mall (Yes, I just described myself.) never did it for me but the beefy, stubbly-faced UPS driver with thick furry legs and strong tattooed arms caught my eye every single time. How I wished I could be like that. I loathed being a twink.

I became obsessed with getting inked. There were only two problems. One, I wasn’t the type of cool person who could pull it off. Two, I had no idea what to get. I didn’t want some off-the-shelf thing branded on my person. I wanted something that was truly unique. Something that was an absolute expression of me.

This kept me from getting a tattoo for years. By the time I was ready to actually get one, something had changed. Everyone had a tattoo! They were ubiquitous and for me that was a deal breaker. Tattoos were no longer edgy and mysterious. Having a tattoo didn’t set you apart from the rest of the world, it assimilated you into the Borg.

Resistance is futile.

I decided to forget about it…until I moved to the Arizona desert, grew a stache, turned forty, got a motorcycle and started being addressed as “Sir” or “Daddy” by young gay beard boys (so glad that shaved-body-bleach-blond-Ken-doll phase is over). I have to admit I’m kinda digging the Sir/Daddy thing. Even though I’m at the zenith of my mid-life crisis re-evaluation, there are a few perks to getting older.

So once again, getting a tattoo became an obsession for me. I started thinking about designs. I’m a left-handed Sagittarius. Something on my left arm with a centaur would be cool. I came up with a unique idea along those lines but could not think of a way to make it happen. Still working on it — have been for a while now but I’m not in a rush because a couple of weeks ago, I was suddenly inspired for a new idea by a hummingbird.

Ray and I have noticed this summer that we have a hummingbird that appears to have chosen our place for its home. It likes to rest on a little branch high up on the olive tree in our front yard as well as another little tall branch on one of the mesquite trees in our backyard. It’s very territorial. Whenever other hummingbirds come into the yard, it buzzes around making all sorts of noises and chases them away. Contrary to popular belief, hummingbirds are kinda bad-ass.

I have an appreciation for 78 RPM records. I have always been a music fan and have a small collection of 78s that I occasionally play on my old Pathe Brothers phonograph. One evening I was having a cocktail in the pool. I was thinking about tabletop phonographs and how they have the big horn that looks like a flower. Suddenly the hummingbird buzzed past and this totally random image hit me; a hummingbird drinking the music/nectar from the phonograph horn/flower. That would be a cool tattoo.

That would be a cool tattoo!

I went online and started searching for images of tattoo hummingbirds and phonographs. Then I went to work in Photoshop.

Here are the three images I found.

This was my creation (before I added the wraparound banner).

My tattoo artist (Zach) sketched it out and made a transfer. This marks my skin so he has an outline to follow.

The ink caps. Lots of colors!

Two hours into it. Outline is done. Touching up on the shadowing.

Does it hurt? What do you think?

All done!

I decided to get this one on my right arm. It took four and a half hours. It really didn’t hurt much…at first. The last hour was, well, needles jabbing into an open wound repeatedly at a high rate of speed. What the fuck do you think?

I’m very happy with it. It’s mine. I made it. It’s very, very me. By the way, Lopaka is Hawaiian for Robert (my first name). Lopaka Lounge is not only the name of my website (which wasn’t always a blog), it’s the name of my studio where I create music, photography and other multimedia projects. I still plan to have my other arm tattooed with my other design. It’s in the works. I’m not in a hurry. Hell, I waited forty-something years for this one. In my opinion, the key thing about getting a tattoo is to take your time. Make the right design choice. Try to come up with something original. At one point during my tattoo, we overheard some woman come in the shop and say, “Oh my God! Tinkerbell! I want Tinkerbell!” I looked down at Zach and said, “I bet you fucking hate that.” He stopped, looked down shaking his head and said, “Yeah”.

Many people warned me about getting a tattoo. “You’re going to regret it when you get old!” These were all people who don’t have one. The only regret I have ever heard about a tattoo was the style or design not the tattoo itself.

I went to Zach at Sacred Art Tattoo in Tucson. He was awesome. I plan to have him do my next tattoo. Oh yeah, one other thing: Tip your tattoo artist. This is how they make a living.

The other day, Ray made a pot roast in the slow cooker. When I got home with the smell permeating the house, I bounced around like the happy puppy I knew I was. Is it just me or does anyone else love the way the house smells when dinner is cooking?

I’m not a good cook but I’m a great eater.

It’s kinda like moaning during sex. There are certain audio signals you give your partner to let he or she know they should keep on doing whatever it is they’re doing. If you’re a good cook and I have the privilege to sample what’s on your table, you’ll know that you’re, in my culinary world, bringing sexy back. (Think Meg Ryan in When Harry met Sally — “I’ll have what she’s having.”)

As a young adult, I was tall and rather slight. When I got older and started to “fill out”, I came to the realization that what I ate was important. I also concluded that exercise was equally important to maintaining not only a trim physique but a comfortable quality of life as well.

I eat very well. I have to give credit to Ray for that. He’s an exceptional cook. We both shy away from processed foods and things that require a flavor pak.  I run and I workout too. Nothing gets me more pissed off when people say, “Must be nice to be so thin.” I smile real big and tell them, “Thanks! It’s fucking awesome!”

Some people address my physique as if it’s this self-maintaining thing that I was blessed with. It isn’t. First of all, if I do carry extra weight, it’s in my neck and my belly. Nothing is worse than a poor distribution of fat. Some people can carry a few extra pounds and no one notices. Not me. 10 pounds and my head looks like Jabba the Hut. 10 more pounds and I’m a toothpick with an olive in the middle.

So I run, workout and limit my alcohol intake. (Now that’s hard!) I don’t eat dessert, shy away from French fries, hardly ever touch soda and avoid partially hydrogenated anything, MSG and high fructose corn syrup.

It isn’t easy. I want a third martini! I want a bacon cheeseburger (swiss) with extra mayo for my fries! I want to LIVE at Taco Bell!! I want to polish off a bag of Doritos and chase it down with a Big Gulp Dr. Pepper (unleashing Satan’s belch from hell afterward) and don’t give me any of this diet crap. Tastes like shit! Give me the real deal.

Can I just say that there is nothing, nothing I love more than dipping steak fries into a large blob of mayonnaise?

Maintaining a healthy diet is hard. There are so many overweight people in this country. When we were traveling through Europe last September, twice, other European travelers mentioned (in a rather shocked tone) that we seemed so thin for Americans.

I used to turn my nose up at all the overweight people in the US. I used to think that these paunchy peeps were just too lazy to maintain a healthy diet. Then something eye-opening happened.

There is a theory that it’s best to shop mostly around the perimeter of the grocery store. That’s where the produce, bakery, meats and dairy sections are. Ray and I hardly ever buy something pre-made or in a can.  All that stuff tends to be in the center aisles.

One day, we were at Safeway. Ray was making the rounds and, out of curiosity, I started roaming the center aisles. I picked up a jar of McCormick® Tartar Sauce and read the ingredients. It contained high-fructose corn syrup! I started inspecting the items on the shelves. Most everything either had partially hydrogenated oil, MSG and/or high fructose corn syrup!

When did MSG come back into fashion?

According to the Mayo Clinic’s website,

“Over the years, the FDA has received many anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG. These reactions — known as MSG symptom complex — include:

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Numbness, tingling or burning in face, neck and other areas
  • Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

However, researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms.”

WTF?? Hi, I’m Cobban and I’m going to be your definitive evidence for the evening. MSG makes my head throb and my face turn red. It’s nasty shit and I’m floored that it’s back in our food.

In the book, “The Slow Poisoning Of America” authors T Michelle Erb and John E Erb claim, “there currently may actually be a chemical responsible for America’s obesity and diabetic epidemic, and that chemical might just be MSG….”

Now, before I continue, I want to make something very clear. I’m not saying just because someone wrote a book about about how bad MSG is makes it a valid fact. I had a hard time finding evidence online against MSG however, I had no problem finding tons of info on how it’s “harmless” and “researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and MSG symptom complex.” In this case, I do have one valid fact on MSG — I can’t eat it, makes me sick.

My point is this: MSG is made from an industrial fermentation process. Partially hydrogenated oils are oils infused with hydrogen. High-fructose corn syrup is…yikes, it’s too complicated to explain in a single sentence. It’s this. (Recent studies have shown that cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation.) Stay away from the things that have been produced in a lab.

I remember when Splenda (sucralose) hit the shelves and its manufacturer, McNeil Nutritionals marketed it as, “made from sugar”. Yeah, it’s made from sugar by moving some atoms around on the sucrose (sugar) molecule to make sucralose. The sucralose molecule is not absorbed into the body, so there are no calories.

Do you want to eat sugar or a molecule that’s been modified in a lab that your body wont absorb?

Remember Olestra? It had the same taste and feel as fat, but passed through the gastrointestinal tract undigested without calories or nutritive value to the diet — and gave people the shits.

I now have a whole different viewpoint on the obesity factor in our country. Foods that are labeled healthy and nutritious are full of modified organic components. We shouldn’t be eating things our bodies can’t absorb. We shouldn’t ingest modified molecules, oils infused with hydrogen and salt substitutes that produce headaches and heart palpitations.

Here’s the hard part where I now realize that I’ve kinda been an asshole. Ray and I are just Ray and I. It’s easy for us to eat well. We — thank GOD — don’t have children. It’s hard to feed a family in today’s face-paced world.

My mom raised six kids. Did we have fresh, home-cooked meals growing up? Hell no. Everything we ate came from a bag or a box. When I think of mom’s biscuits, I don’t have memories of her with an apron, mixing bowl and a cutter, I think of her whacking a cardboard tube against the counter top.

I’m trying to be more tolerant and non judgmental when it comes to our obesity problem. Some things in the American diet are just out of our control. I also have to accept the fact that most of the “natural” stuff I eat has probably been genetically modified, sprayed with pesticides or (in the case of poultry) pumped full of antibiotics and hormones (and fish) filled with crude oil or mercury. The key thing is to try and eat the best food that I can.

The only thing about the procedure that was painful was the fact that they couldn’t get a good vein for the IV. A nurse and the anesthesiologist poked me four times before they got the drip going. Gotta love teamwork. Naturally, when it comes to anything regarding medical procedures, needles are at the bottom of my list but this time, I handled it. Why? Because I wanted it. I paid these people to poke me. I also paid them to slit my throat.

I had a neck lift/platysmaplasty.

I’ve never had much of a jawline. If you look carefully at the B&W  your host photo on the right, it appears that I have a rather pronounced chin. I don’t. I took the picture (at an angle, pressing my tongue to the roof of my mouth to tighten my neck).

When I was young and skinny, it wasn’t that noticeable. Over time, as I got older, it really started to bother me. In my mid thirties, there was a short period where I gained a lot of weight discovering the first place fat accumulates on my person is right under my chin (accentuating my already blobby neck). Even though I lost the weight, my jawline stayed the same.

One of my predominant “Nordic” features is a long face and a rather large head. (My motorcycle helmet is XXL. I look like The Great Gazoo when I wear it.) Imagine the combo of a long, large head with a chin that just slides down into your chest. Now imagine being a neurotic, mildly insecure, recovering actor. Welcome to my world.

Now, this is the part where most people say, “Oh it’s not that bad.” or “So what? You should love yourself the way you are.” I tried all that bullshit and it doesn’t work. My blobby neck was a glaring imperfection that revealed itself every time someone snapped a photo and posted it to Facebook.

Oh sure, we all have our imperfections — try wearing yours on your face. Try having love handles on your face or misshapen boobs — or even moobs! On. Your. Face.

I lost weight. I ran and lifted weights. I did those exercises where you make funny faces and go EE EE EE OH OH OH AH AH AH. I tried really, really hard to ignore it. For years…I ignored it.

A couple of months ago, a fifty-year-old female colleague of mine told me she was going to get breast implants. She’s pretty and has a great body. (She does that P90X® WORKOUT). She said with all the work she had done on her body, she was tired of the way her breasts looked and decided at her age it was not too late to do something about it.

That got me thinking. Last December, my dad passed away. He worked very hard in life and left his estate to his children. Was it a lot? No, but it was enough. My birthday was right around the corner and I had some inheritance funds left over so…why not give the gift that keeps on giving?

Here is my before and after photo. The latter was taken three days post surgery. Tomorrow makes it three weeks. I told my surgeon I wanted “The Hollywood” and she gave it to me (and no, I did not have a chin implant).

I have a defined chin and an actual neck! They meet in the middle all tucked up tight! No more 45 degree skin slope turkey gobble blobby neck! So how do you think I feel?

I feel like shit.

For now at least. I was unprepared for the psychological component of this experience.

I had my throat cut! Part of my neck muscle was cut out, leaving the remaining parts stretched together and sewn shut. Same with my skin. Part of my skin was removed, pulled tight and sewn back together. All the fat under my skin and under the muscle was violently sucked out. I spent the next two weeks wondering what I had done to myself. Why would I want to hurt myself like that? Such vanity! I became depressed and kinda angry. The person looking back from the mirror wasn’t me anymore. It took a few weeks to get used to it.

Then there was the whole physical component.

I didn’t even consider what recovery would be like. Oh sure, I knew my neck would be sore and puffy for a few weeks. I knew that I would have limited mobility for about a month. What I didn’t know was that my entire body would react to the trauma from my neck. Oh my GOD! All that cutting and pulling and sucking and sewing has sent my back, spine, arms and legs into a tizzy. My whole system is out of whack but that’s OK because, A) It is actually healing just fine. It will get better, and B) Didja see the after photo?? Holy shit! I’d do it again in a heartbeat! Why did I wait so long? Sure I’m not quite 100% but it’s only been three weeks.

So…I’m glad I did it. Call me crazy, vain, weird, stupid — I don’t care. Besides, it’s done. I can’t change it back. Three days after the procedure, I turned forty-five. I celebrated the day by purchasing a turtleneck — something I could never wear. By the end of the month, I can start working out and running again. I’m very motivated to reach my training goals now. The funny thing is the fact that no one noticed. They noticed once they saw the before and after photo. I didn’t expect anything big but I did expect people to say, “Something looks different. I can’t quite figure it out.”

Not one person.

The key thing is that I notice. I did this for myself and now that little thing that used to bug the shit out of me will never ever bug me again. I’ll post photos when it heals a little more.

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my father’s death. As evidenced by my minimal blog posts through this period, I kinda checked out. Well, the year is over, it’s time to move on. I have a new look (as well as a new outlook) and a new year ahead. Cheers to the act of moving on. I promise to attend to my blog again with more frequency.