Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Close Encounters of the Drug Store Kind

One of the things I love about our community is its small town feel. Friends and acquaintances shout a cheery, "Hello! How are you?" when they see you out and about. Neighbors linger at the fence to talk about the weather. Everybody knows your dog's name. Even strangers nod and say, "Morning," as they pass you on the street. The local Starbucks is generally packed with familiar faces. A trip to our grocery market almost guarantees that you will run into someone you know and you'll stop to chat for a few minutes. You might grab a coffee and linger together near the bakery counter comparing notes on favorite pastries. Or maybe you'll wander along in the aisles, grocery carts side by side, as you inspect the tomatoes and squeeze the Charmin. If you see a pal at the check out, you'll hang on until they're done so you can stroll out to the parking lot together. Yep, our neighborhood is about as sociable as they come. 

Except at the drugstore.

The pharmacy is Ground Zero for social avoidance. At the CVS, you'd just as soon be a total stranger, even to your best friends, than run into somebody you know. It's like, uh, oh! There's so-and-so. Glance the other way. Avoid eye contact. Duck behind the travel size toiletries if you have to. Basically, steer clear of everybody. Why? Because you don't want anyone to know what unspeakable health issues you harbor. 

Oh, it's not so bad over by the greeting cards or the toothpaste or the shaving cream. If you bump into somebody in these Neutral Zones, you can say, "Hey, how's it goin'?" And it isn't even  all that awkward to venture into slightly deeper territory of the, "What are you up to these days?" variety. But that's IT! You extricate from the exchange as fast as you can. 

Horrors upon horrors if you should spy somebody you know in the adult incontinence product aisle! If you're lucky, they won't see you, and commando-like, you can scoot into the Kleenex and TP department before you're detected — you know, lest they think, well, you know. Whatever you came in to buy will just have to wait until the next trip because there is NO way you're going up to the cash desk with a package of Poise.

Even worse is bumping into an acquaintance, let's say, over by the Hallowe'en candy display. You chat briefly. "How many kids do you get at your house?" "Oh, that many! Wow! We were down last year. I only bought 300 hundred mini Hershey bars last time and we had left overs. Well, good to see you! Bye!"

But, your excursion today is taking you to the health care aisle — you know, where the icky preparations lurk — where "personal" turns to "intimate." And when you turn toward Deep Drug Store, oh, no, what's happening? She's turning in the same direction! Where is she going? Please don't let it be THAT section!

But it is! She's right behind you! Oh, now what are you going to do? You've missed your chance to dodge out of there. It's too late for guerrilla tactics — you're stuck between Kaopectate and the KY. 

You and she side step each other — edgy, agitated. Words between you become brittle and skittish. You try not to notice the products in her cart. But you can't look away!

"Oh, heh, heh, I'm shopping for my elderly neighbor," she says, "Some toenail fungus cream." 

"Oh, heh, heh, that's nice of you. I'm just getting something for heartburn," lying, as you grab your Metamucil when she isn't looking and bolt to the check out. You frantically plunge your debit card into the reader and spurt, "I don't need cash back, thanks!" You glance over your shoulder and grab your shopping bag from the girl. You make a dash for the parking lot. You scream out of there, screeching your tires, making the turn out of the driveway on two wheels, like a gangster in a get-away car. 

Whew, made it out alive! Do you think she saw? Nah. You congratulate yourself on a successful mission. You clever, nimble Ninja, you! 

When you get home, you knock back a stiff cocktail of orange-flavored fiber, and seriously contemplate online shopping from now on. Wearing dark glasses. 











Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bra Shopping: An American Horror Story

Warning: Some (men) may find the following discussion too embarrassing. Reader discretion is advised.


I find conversations among women at a coffee bar frequently become the adult equivalent of ghost stories at summer camp — designed to frighten you to bits. Accounts of icky diseases. Sagas of ugly divorces. Rumors of crimes in the neighborhood. If you come away from a morning break with the ladies at your favorite Starbucks without a spike in your blood pressure or feeling just a little bit squeamish, you haven't done it right.

One day recently, I do believe I scared the socks off my exercise group when I uttered these two words: Bra Shopping. 

I heard a gasp. One woman shuddered. Someone clapped her hand over her mouth. In the silence that fell upon us, the dread was palpable. 

And so, with my grande, half-caff, soy, no-foam latte with caramel drizzle illuminating my face like a flashlight at a bonfire, I began my terrifying tale.

It was a dark and stormy day. Lightening flashed and thunder rolled as the glass door of the lingerie shop creaked open. Two shadowy figures at the cash desk looked up with sinister expressions that made my flesh crawl. They seemed to cast a spell over me. I tried to turn and run, but their gaze fixed me in my spot.

"How can we help you today, my pretty?" one of them croaked. The other returned to her ceaseless folding of underpants too small for a Barbie, a zombie-like glaze cast over her hollow eyes. 

"I'm looking for a..a… bra," I managed to choke out the words. "You see, my car broke down outside your store, and I.…" Sweat beaded up on my forehead. Words caught in my throat.

"Come. Come in, my dear. We have what you need." 

I felt my legs stumbling forward though my feet were like concrete blocks. 

"What kind of bra do you want? You see. We have so many." She wheezed a maniacal, breathy "uheha, uheh," a simpering laugh not unlike Peter Lorre in a mad scientist movie. 

"Well, you know, I, uh, oh, I don't know, um, what do you recommend?" The cat had my tongue. There wasn't a cat on the premises. This is a metaphor.

"The older gals seem to like this one," she thrust a giant, padded structure toward me, its back and sides clearly meant for full coverage and shaping. 

I was too stunned to react to the pejorative "old lady" remark.

"Come, my sweet," she beckoned me to a fitting room, "Try it on. You'll see."

Meekly, fearfully, I followed her to the back.

"Let me know when you have it on and I'll come and check it for you. Uheha."

My heart raced. My mouth went dry. Panic was setting in. I removed my T shirt and discarded the pathetic rag of a bra I had on. I slid the monstrous cup-shaped garment over my shoulders. 

"Do you have it on?" she cackled from the other side of the fitting room drape. "I'll CHECK it for you."

My survival instincts kicked in — not a moment too soon — I threw my T shirt back over my head and shivered it down across my torso —  bosom now encased in foam gathered up firmly and pointing skyward. I stepped out before she had a chance to push the curtain aside. 

I gasped at my reflection in the mirror. "OH! It's too much!" I said aloud, "I look like I'm all boobs in this thing!" The "girls" were up around my collarbone.

"Isn't that good?" she asked.

"Well, I don't know. Maybe for dressing up. But for everyday, it's a little pretentious."

And then, she hit me with the magic words — the hex to which I surrender every time — "It makes you look slimmer, dear."

I bought the damn thing. Curse you, Bra Lady! I escaped the store by the skin of my teeth.

When I had finished, the ladies at coffee sat quietly for a moment. Then, one of them broke the silence, "Yeah, bra shopping. The worst!" she paused, "But we should be grateful for healthy breasts."

Amen to that, Sister!















Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Where Will YOU be for Totality?

I plan to squeeze in a short vacay and a few too many glasses of wine before the end of the world next week.  

Oh, you haven't heard? August 21st apparently. That's the day that the moon will eclipse the sun.

"Some" folks are predicting that the solar eclipse is a sign of the coming apocalypse. (Hey! "Eclipse" and "apocalypse" rhyme. Maybe that's where they got the idea.)  

Anyway, they are going to be SO disappointed to wake up on August 22nd and find things pretty much the same as the day before. 

Or, at least, that's my prediction. I'm proceeding on a reasonable assumption, based on having actually LIVED through a total eclipse of the sun, that another day is coming. Sure, anyone can get hit by a bus, which I suppose could justify taking precautions against armageddon, but are we all going to snuff it because of the moon passing between us and the sun? I'm guessing not.

And besides, the Calamity Crew are going to miss out on all the fun! (By the way, what WILL people who are expecting the end of days DO next Monday? I'm guessing they aren't shopping online for solar eclipse glasses and setting up folding chairs on the lawn, or organizing viewing parties along with the thousands of others staking out spots in one of the cities under the path of "Totality." Maybe they will all join hands and chant something, like, oh, I don't know, "We flunked Science. We flunked Science.") 

Already there is considerable buzz about the eclipse in the media. And why not? This is a huge deal — the first time in 99 years that the path of Totality will pass entirely within the US. 

Solar viewing glasses are sold out anywhere I've searched locally — and we'll only get 90% of the full show where we live. I can't even imagine the excitement where they will see 100% darkness.

But, wait a sec! Yes, I can! Because, as noted above, we lived through Totality! It was February 26, 1979. Winnipeg was directly under the path of a total solar eclipse. We were about to witness an honest to goodness, 100% coverage, full daytime-turns-to-night solar event, and the whole city was lit up about it. 

We had government-issued viewing goggles — scientist-approved, safety lenses mounted in cardboard — and some enterprising designer created handsome commemorative buttons that everyone wore for the week prior to the eclipse. 



For weeks afterward, the conversation each time you saw someone you knew, went something like this, "Where were you for Totality?" And you'd reply, "Oh, I was (fill in location)….wasn't it incredible? Where were you?" This awe-inspiring, celestial event united one and all.

And where were WE during Totality, you ask? 

Well, the Mr worked for Manitoba Theatre Centre and acted as company manager to escort a mime troupe on tour around rural Manitoba on a Greyhound. They stopped the bus at the side of the Trans-Canada and everyone tumbled out -- silently, of course — because it was a group of six mimes who were not speaking to each other either on-stage or off — a deeply ironic fact that has always amused me — and the Mr took this picture. Note the viewing glasses and the parkas. It was February in Manitoba — mind-numbingly cold.



As for me, I worked in a three-story, flat-roofed building downtown. Our entire office crew, along with about a hundred other folks, trooped up the fire exit stairs to the rooftop, a few minutes before the Big Moment. We all gazed skyward, freezing our Canadian toes and tuchuses off in the -30 degree air, and fell as silent as six touring mimes when the daytime twilight of the partial eclipse lapsed into darkness. The sun became replaced by a black hole in the sky, its corona glowing outward like radiant beams from a angel's halo. 

Where I was standing, only the snow on the roof lay behind me. I glanced back to witness two phenomena that we had been hearing about. Birds raced across the sky as though startled from their regularly programed activities, in a sudden hurry to find a roost as darkness set in. And then I saw the "shadow bands" — the ripple of the moon's shadow — a fleeting display scooting across the snow, perfectly contrasted on that white canvas. It was magical.

And so, I say to all those nut bar predictors of doom, "Get your heads out of your butts and enjoy this! This ultimate of astronomical displays! This most wondrous of natural phenomenon! You may not see another total eclipse of the sun in your lifetime — especially if there is no tomorrow!" 


Me? I have lunch plans for the 22nd. Ever the optimist.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Let's Dish, OR, A Brief History of Dinnerware I Have Known

Most nights, the Mr and I eat our evening meal at the dining room table. It's our little ritual effort to elevate midweek meals to the "wine and dine" category; also designed to keep us from noshing out of take-out containers on our laps while watching TV, like characters on "The Big Bang Theory." Conversation is important at dinnertime — much of it along the lines of, "How was your day, dear?" We listen to music. During winter months, I might even light a candle or two. On ordinary days, we use the kitchen dishes — "ordinary" being the operative word here because this is our "everyday" set of serviceable plates and salad bowls. The "good china" is reserved for guests.  

I was "dishing" about this with a good friend recently. It was a Proustian remembrance of things past.  Well, maybe it wasn't THAT brainy a discussion, but it certainly took us both on a nostalgic journey back to childhood — and beyond.

In my mother's generation, a bride received pieces of her chosen — possibly "registered" — china as wedding gifts. They would be displayed at her "Trousseau Tea" so everyone could admire her good taste. Or a newly wed might save up for items in the set, purchasing them one at a time with cash that was left over after all other necessary expenses had been paid. Some families inherited dishes from previous generations. Regardless of acquisition or provenance, fine china was among a family's most valued possessions; showcased in glass-fronted hutches; brought out for Sunday dinners when "company" came over. A dinner table laid with grandma's crocheted tablecloth and "the best set" announced that the folks you invited over mattered enough to get the good dishes down from the curio cabinet. It created a festive air appropriate for family celebrations and major holidays. 

Ours was not a wealthy household — comfortably middle class, maybe — but not rich. Regardless, "good" dishes were important and my mother treasured hers. As a child, I was fascinated with them, exhibited as they were in the china cabinet — a mini, curated museum of plates inserted into little slots that supported vertical displays, cups stacked one into another set upon the saucers, vegetable serving pieces carefully placed as accents, delicate sugar bowl and creamer arranged just-so. 

Sometime during my junior high years, Mum got a new set of china. I have no idea what happened to the old set, or why she made this radical change from the fussy, Olde English maroon floral pattern that I adored in the dining room display. It might have been a style shift for her or perhaps she heard of a good deal at Eaton's. My aunt worked in the Eaton's catalogue "China Re-Buy" department and, although we never had any idea what that meant, I suspect that she came across some robust bargains. In any case the new dishes were Minton, in a pattern called "Blue Symphony." They were oh, so elegant in a light, frothy turquoise with silver rims, a fluted edge, and a delicate leaf pattern laced around the inner circle. These new artifacts took their place in the cabinet to be admired and handled gingerly on Sundays. The way my mother said, "Minton" in hushed tones when asked what lovely new pattern she had bought made me think that they must be pretty high-class — a status symbol beyond our means.

Eventually, it was my turn. My mother and the aunt from Eaton's China Re-buy discussed my "hope chest." At 17, I certainly hoped that one day I'd be endowed with a "chest," but that's not what they meant. And seriously, why would they think that all of a sudden I needed a set of dishes? I had not had a single date throughout my entire high school career, so, I'm not sure why they thought I should be planning a wedding trousseau, but I guess hope springs eternal. Or maybe it was another steal of a deal at Eaton's. In any case, they encouraged me to pick a pattern. Absurd as that was, I did as I was told. It was a nice fantasy. I picked something befitting a modern miss in grade 12. It had white on white embossed flowers around the edge and a gold rim. Classy. Right away I got critique from the aunt about having to get gold flatware to match that rim, and wouldn't that just be a total nuisance?

Before I ever got a chance to use these dishes, I met the future Mr, and also went to Interior Design school. The times they were a'changin'. My modernist, Bauhaus-inspired, architecturally-based design education sent me spinning into a world unknown to a kid from the west end of Winnipeg. Danish, Finnish and German designs appeared on my radar — sleek, undecorated, simple, elegant, functional. I fell in love with the Mr, and almost simultaneously with a glossy white set of china, flatware and stemware from Rosenthal, called "The Plus System." A SYSTEM no less! Be still my modernist, total design heart! I registered these wondrous place settings at Eaton's when we announced our wedding date. My aunt took great exception to this rebellion against traditional bone china. She was incensed with the design, but more to the point for her was that I could put Rosenthal in the dishwasher. "Of course, I'll put them in the dishwasher," I said. "Who ever heard of such a thing," she griped, "truly GOOD dishes are always washed by hand." My mother understood and we sold the white on white florals.

Mum continued to use "Blue Symphony" until she no longer had the energy to wash it all by hand after a family dinner. She bought Corelle dinnerware that accompanied her to her tiny assisted living apartment. I continue to adore my Rosenthal and love bringing it to the table. 

Now that Mum is gone, I have her "Blue Symphony" packed up in a box in the basement. She tried to sell it on two different occasions — she knew it wasn't my taste and never insisted that that I take it. Toward the end of her life, I agreed that I would and that seemed to make her happy. Her good dishes held special meaning for her. 


I understand that the market for fine china has dropped dramatically. Apparently, "young people these days" buy at Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn. Serviceable every day dishes. I say, good for them! It's surely an evolutionary thing. And better than eating from take-out containers.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

LG Elegy: A Fridge too Far

To think it was only such a short time ago when I wrote this love poem to my new LG fridge. Where DO the years go? There wasn't even time to say goodbye! We were away. On vacation when LG passed on. Alas, dear fridge, we hardly knew ye.
Here is the welcome it received when it came into our home, lo, these short five years ago.

Ode on an LG Fridge; 2012
O rectangular shape! Fair fridge! With doors
That ope’ double wide to welcome deli meats and Tetrapaks with ease,
And ice maker that doth quietly not scare the dog; 
Thou, slim form, with bottom freezer deep, doth harbor frozen peas.
And doth thy upper chamber shelter milk?
Aye, whole gallons by thy adjustable shelves and door holders!
And when old age shall this homeowner waste,
Thou shalt remain, scarce past your warranty. 
Then, fridge, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is fridge, fridge beauty, — that is all 
In truth I pledged to this century!”
 (apologies to John Keats; Ode on a Grecian Urn)

And now? The LG has shuffled off its cooling coil. Oh, faithless friend! How cans't thou betray thy promise? What of thine warrantied lifespan? Nay, only five years? Speak to me not of Built-in Obsolescence! I will hear thee not!
Well, that's it. I am done singing praises to this refrigerator. You can only imagine the sinking feeling to return home with bright, fresh, new groceries after your week's vacation to find lukewarm dairy products lurking in the upper cabinet and soggy, thawed casseroles in the freezer. A deceased fridge takes on an ominous, dank atmosphere when its light is extinguished — gloomy and sinister. Bacteria may be invisible to the human eye, but you know they're in there, like ghosts in a graveyard.
Throwing out food was an operation reminiscent of the olden days when fridges needed to be defrosted periodically. Remember that? Twice a year, my folks would make a full day project out of it: removing every last bottle, jar, and wax-paper-wrapped leftover, gambling on whether or not any potential hint of botulinus indicated keeping or tossing. Perishables got tucked away in a red and black tartan ice chest. Jars containing sketchy, but probably safe condiments were lined up along the kitchen counter. A bath towel got wadded up at the back in the space where the vegetable crisper was removed for cleaning. The door got propped open. And then began the long process of watching the 12-inch thick coating of hoar frost drip, drip, drip onto the towel below — a glacial pace that took an ice age. My family never stored anything in the freezer compartment, except a can of frozen orange juice concentrate and an aluminum ice tray that was always stuck to the freezer floor — wet metal on ice, duh — because there was simply not enough room for anything other than frost — building up over time in geological layers.
Fridges these days are hardly that much fun. 

Everything in the LG got tossed, save a jar of gherkins that I hadn't opened yet.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Summer of '67

CA-NA-DA!
One, little, two, little, three Canadians
WE LOVE THEE 
Now we are twenty million!

CA-NA-DA!
Longue vie!

North, south, east, west,
Church bells will ring, ring!
It's the hundredth anniversary of 
CON-FED-ERATION!
EVE-RY-BOD-Y sing TO-GETH-ER!

If you know it, sing along! (Bonus points if you know it in French.)

To my American friends, be glad you DON'T know this little ditty; it is a persistent ear worm at 3 am.

And why do we know this song so well? How is it we remember every word after 50 years? Because it was everywhere that summer of 1967. Every school kid across the nation learned it for Canada's Centennial celebrations. In Winnipeg, we marched in a giant parade; a sea of kids, all singing Bobby Gimby's Canada song, all waving little Maple Leaf flags, all wearing red and white. I was 14. It was a big moment in a kid's life.

Now Canada is celebrating 150 years since confederation. I don't know if there is a Canada 150 song, but I do know that celebrations are planned nationwide for the July 1st, Canada Day holiday, and I understand that Peter Mansbridge is retiring from The National on Saturday. (Say it isn't so!)

Even though we live in the US, we will hoist our Canadian Maple Leaf into the flag holder on our front porch and go out for dinner. We know a place here in Dayton that serves a righteous poutine

The summer of '67 was a stand-out year for me as a 14 year-old. There was that parade I mentioned above. I have a clear picture of walking along Portage Avenue with my school mates, beaming with pride at the cheering crowds lining the sidewalks and center boulevard. 

Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, came in July to open the Pan-American Games. I remember being so impressed that my brother was volunteering as a driver to pick up athletes at the airport in a fancy convertible. He met people from all over the western hemisphere. 

Mostly, I remember my trip to EXPO 67 in Montreal. 

My Dad arranged the entire trip — and looking back, although he didn't accompany us, he did treat Mum and me to the very best — and I ought to have been a bit more grateful. It was my first flight on an airplane — an experience that cemented my fear of flying for a lifetime. We landed in Montreal during a thunder storm that made my short, pre-teen life flash before my eyes. 

He booked us a room at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel — one of Canada's premier CPR Chateau hotels — luxury accommodations then, as they are now. (And a couple of weeks later, the scene where French president, Charles DeGaulle's declared, "Vive le Quebec LIBRE!" It was a news event that my 14 year-old self could actually engage with because I had been in that same spot where he threw out this inflammatory remark.)

That week of EXPO 67, I got my period and was miserable the entire time. (Thus setting a precedent for my cycle to arrive in time for every vacation thereafter, until menopause finally kicked in.) Poor Mum had to put up with a sullen, moody girl whom she had to drag away from the hotel room TV, where I was watching kids slow-dance to Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale," to go experience the wonders of the World's Fair. 

I do remember some of it: long lines to get into pavilions, many oddly-shaped buildings, multi-screened films, people-moving conveyors, and entire seating banks that saved you the bother of walking from one exhibit zone to the next as they actually took you on the journey. I woke up one night in the QE hotel with motion sickness. (Such a joy of a child.) 

Ethnic food of every variety was available in every pavilion, presenting a severe challenge to the mother of a confirmed fussy eater. We wandered for hours, hungry, one afternoon at the Fair, searching for something to feed a kid that had grown up on a decidedly bland, Canadian Prairie diet. How on earth, then, did we end up with Naan bread and Chicken Tikka Masala? Maybe Mum thought it looked like chicken soup. I remember liking the Naan. (Rotten kid.)

I don't recall if I ever gave up my ill-tempered EXPO 67 sulk — I was likely too stubborn to let on that I might be having fun — but I do recall being so proud in the Canadian pavilion, the inverted pyramid by preeminent architect, Arthur Erickson. A lasting impression.

I think I cheered up a little when Mum and I departed on a train bound for Toronto. Dad came through on great accommodations here, too. We stayed in the then-brand-new Inn on the Park, a luxury resort in suburban Don Mills. It had a pool and Canada's first discotheque, although we availed ourselves of neither. Mum in a disco! Ha ha ha!  (I find it something of a marvel that my dad would have found out about these places without the benefit of hotels.com or Trip Advisor. How did anyone make reservations in the olden days before the internet?)  

We toured the city's highlights, finding our way around on transit. We ate safe, sane Canadian food in the hotel restaurant. My aunt and uncle came to pick us up after a couple of days to take us out to Newmarket to stay with them. Before leaving Toronto, they took us on a drive to show us any city sights we might have missed. One was Yorkville, "to see the hippies." Yes, in 1967, the Summer of Love, Toronto's Yorkville was a hippie hang-out — the Canadian version of Haight-Ashbury. The adults in the car gawked and tsk-tsked about long hair, "I don't mind if it's clean!" and colorful clothing, "How do their parents let them go out looking like that?" But my eyes were as wide as saucers. I was overcome by the sudden need to be a hippie. I was instantly desperate to trade my sensible shift dress with its daisy appliqué for bell-bottoms, a fringed leather vest, and a headband. "You don't want to be like THEM," my uncle said. Oh, yes! Yes, I do! I thought it, but didn't say it out loud.

The summer of '67 — it was my turning point. From impossible pre-teen to impossible teenager. I went into grade 10 that fall. High school. I used my clothing allowance to buy bell-bottom jeans in a neon turquoise and an equally garish orange sweater to go with them. My mother said, "Well, if that's what YOU think looks nice…" her preferred passive-aggressive comment that meant, "How DOES your mother let you go out looking like that?" Thus, my teen years began.

The summer after grade 12, I went to EXPO 70 in Osaka, Japan, where our school choir sang at the Canadian pavilion. Hippie values informed my high school and university years, although I never ran away to join them; to hitchhike to Vancouver as so many kids did. 

I grew up to appreciate luxury hotels, great food, and interesting fashion. I worked on design teams for the Canada and Yukon pavilions at EXPO 86 in Vancouver and wrote design proposals for EXPO 92 in Seville. World Expos ended up being components integral to my life; those experiences leveraged later career choices. 


And now, it's the summer of '17. Fifty-years since that amazing summer. I hope there is at least one little, two little, three little, Canadian kids of 14 for whom Canada 150 is their amazing, memorable turning-point summer. Happy 150! Happy Canada Day!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Creaky Chronicles OR: When WAS the last time you touched your toes?

My bad knee, thanks for asking, has improved considerably due to a combination of ice, Ibuprofen, physical therapy, and the passage of time since the original injury. But limping for the better part of a year has left me with poor balance, tight hamstrings, and an old lady shuffle. Walking past shop windows, I catch myself looking elderly. The reflection I get is my mother at 92, wearing her mammoth white Easy Spirit runners, wobbling across the carpet in the Assisted Living dining room. I'm not prepared to go gently into my senior years just yet, certainly not lurching — and definitely not wearing Easy Spirits. Time for action.

My physical therapists recently added a personal training business. Great idea, I thought. The on-site trainers have the advantage of working alongside the very therapist who knows your history, which means that, you know, they might not hurt you. Plus, the clinical environment is focused on healing rather than on Spandex and S'well water bottles. Far less intimidating than those pilates studios where the women look like they work out with the International Body Building Association. Those gals terrify me.

I prepared a list of my goals in advance knowing they would ask. Goal #1 — walk like a twenty year old. I want to put some strength in my stride. A little pep in my step. A little giddy-up in the gait. And…well, that's it, really. (I'm not by nature a goal-driven person. Okay, Goal #2 — I want to live to 100 and look good doing it.) 

Neither am I much of an athlete. I hid in the high school locker room on volleyball days, hoping to escape the scorn heaped upon me by more adept players and the gym teacher — a woman who elevated torment to an art form. I tried jogging once but it was more fun to skip — and I broke my ankle. I liked the Jane Fonda aerobic era until I joined a gym with huge mirrors and suddenly realized that, not only am I short, but I look ridiculous in leg warmers.

As predicted, at my first appointment the trainer asked, "What are your goals?" Standing  before me was a handsome young man, maybe mid-30s, muscular, arms like a stevedore, glowing with good health. I'll call him "Gary." And there I was. Old enough to be his grandma. A little too heavy. A little too saggy. A little too creaky. 

I sucked in my gut and tried to look fit. And taller. I mentioned "core strength" to impress him. "Hop up on the bench," he said. It wasn't so much a "hop" as a slither. And let's face it, sitting on an exam table with your feet dangling over the edge erases any "cool" you think you might have walked in with.

"Let's see, your chart says, knee issues, sciatica, posterior tibial tendonitis, flat arches, Achilles heel. What else?" I was starting to get depressed, like the first time I slipped orthotic inserts into my shoes and understood, well, it's downhill from here. 

"Let's watch you walk," said Gary. 

I stumbled along the carpet, away and back to Gary. Bad start. (The soles of runners always catch on carpets, don't they?)

Next "we" tried a couple of mobility tests. Gary set up a low barricade and demonstrated how he wanted me to step over it, touch my heel to the floor, and then step back on the same foot, all the while holding a long bar across my shoulders. Warning. Do NOT try this at home. This exercise is designed to throw you totally off balance in utter embarrassment. "Don't worry. I got you!" says Gary. He calls it the "hurdle test." I call it the, "Let's see if the old lady can step out of the bathtub without toppling" test. 

After that, Gary asked me if I could squat. IF I could squat. Ha! I got this one. I've practiced at exercise class. I bent my knees and thrust my derriere back as if about to sit, and I'm thinking, "See? I can get pretty low!" Nope. Not what Gary was after. "Let's try again with this bar held straight up over your head." What the heck? "And now turn sideways for me. Let's see it from the side." Alright, now he's torturing me. I don't know about you, but my figure goes all pear-shaped bending over, butt stuck out there somewhere, doing the port-a-potty squat. Not a flattering pose. And holding that bar just makes everything go all spasmy. Good grief. Can it get any more humiliating?

"That's all I need to see," says Gary. 

OKAY. NOW WHAT THE HECK DOES THAT MEAN?!?!? He's got all the information he needs about my limitations? Or that he's simply had enough of watching this old lady contorting like a hippo giving birth? 

Or maybe he's of the same ilk as my gym teacher and those Amazons at the pilates studios, metaphorically stuffing non-athletic nerds like me into lockers. Where's the sport in it? Why bother -- it's too easy.

"Great," said Gary. "We'll work up a program for you and have you come back next week. You'll be working with Karly." 


Thank goodness. Maybe Karly will be a nice girl who respects a grandma-type with groaning knees and flat feet — like me. I'll wear my new Nikes. You know, just to look athletic. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Curmudgeon 101: A Short Course for Finding your Inner Grouch

Do you suppose the word, "curmudgeon," is gender neutral? I associate the word with old men. Don't you? Merriam-Webster's definition certainly does: "a crusty, ill-tempered, and, usually old man."  In spite of that, I have long worried that I was destined to become "curmudgeonly." I'm already cranky, so I wondered if advancing age would finally tip my scale over to full-fledged, look-it-up-in-the-dictionary-and-there's-a-picture-of-me status. I found out last night. 
Before sharing my story, let me backtrack a bit. I come from a long line of grouches. If being a crabby so-and-so is an inherited, genetically-programmed trait, then I'm doomed. My father's favorite movie was "Grumpy Old Men." He fell over laughing at Walter Matthau's orneriness. This was a man who hoped his grandkids would call him, "Grumpy Old Gramps." For my father, grousing was an art form, everything from finely tuned rants of the "You kids get off that lawn!" variety, to well-crafted letters to the government of the "Your Post Office is a disgrace!" ilk. Nobody in our house dared make the slightest peep when dad was napping — which was most of the time. When the Mr and I started dating, he'd pick me up and call out to my dad whose head was stuffed into a pillow facing the back of the couch. "How are you tonight, sir?" the Mr would say. And dad would reply, "Mmmmmpppphhhfff." 

His sister was even worse. My aunt threw monumental snits if ever she were to be denied her full allotment of two-dozen-for-the-price-of-one, 8-pack toilet paper rolls on sale that week at Eaton's. For anyone crossing her path on her way to the bargains she would produce emphatic huffs of indignation. Nobody could do anything nice for the woman. My dad severed ties with her one fateful, sunny Sunday afternoon when he and Mum took her out for a scenic spin and she couldn't stop croaking on about how the windows in the back seat of the car were too small to allow her to see anything. 

Then there was my mother. To meet her you'd think she was a sweet little old lady. But our phone conversations were peppered with loud complaints about everything and everyone, especially once she got into the Assisted Living facility, where, "These people are so old!" and, "That (fill in the blank) is too big for her boots! Doesn't she think she's something!" and, "They gave us green beans for dinner again! I hate green beans!"  So, I figured it was only a matter of time before I became a crusty complainer too. Obviously, it's in my DNA.

For most of my life I have worked hard to keep this affliction at bay. It hasn't been easy. But I wear a witches hat, ironically, and give out candy to kids at Halloween. I bite my tongue when the Mr watches a Sunday game of golf on TV. I avoid conflicts like they're Bubonic Plague. I resist writing letters to the city complaining about the choking smoke from myriad back yard fire cauldrons, JUST when the first spring evening comes along when we can open the windows. I look away as dog after dog after dog leaves pee-mail for Riley at our front gate. And as much as I want to scream at the endless roar of lawn mowers, weed whackers and leaf blowers growling away all Saturday afternoon, even at MY NAP TIME, I try my darndest to invoke a uneasy, ill-fitting mantra of, "Live and let live." 

Something snapped last night. I don't know what came over me. I was out for a walk with the dog. I greeted passersby. I waved a cheery hello to a police cruiser that drove past. Feeling fine. I was just about at the high school, when a giant, Kermit-the-Frog green, tropical-island-themed ice cream truck screamed around the corner on two wheels, its tinny, steel-drum playlist plinking out, "It's a Small World After All." I gasped. It wasn't so much its appearance out of nowhere, like a ghost ship on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. Nor was it the garish, kitschy-ness of its color scheme slamming up against the soothing Oakwood palette of brick houses and hardwood trees. It wasn't even the obnoxious soundtrack that took my breath away. It was the out and out surprise of seeing a mobile conveyor of frozen confections right here in our strictly by-lawed, overly-regulated, fuss-budget community. They are not permitted here! 

I spotted a neighbor coming along with his kids. We greeted each other with, "What is that doing there?" 

"I don't know," I answered, "There's a by-law against them." 

"I know," he paused, "Ach. I have no problem with it." Of course not, he's got kids.

"Hmmph," I griped to myself. I did have a problem. I've always appreciated the Code of No Ice Cream Trucks in Oakwood. If this was allowed to persist, I could see the future and it had a metallic "It's a Small World After All" musical score, grinding over and over again all day Saturday and Sunday every weekend for the rest of the summer driving me crazy and interrupting MY NAP TIME!!

My better nature told me to walk on by. But the devil on my other shoulder pulled me across the street where the smiling, good-natured driver was thrusting a cup of ice toward me with a dog biscuit on top. "Would your doggy like a treat?" I turned it down. She was distracting me from my mission. 

"I don't know if you are aware," I tried to be polite and pleasant, "But ice cream trucks are banned in Oakwood."

"OH, don't I KNOW it!" she chirped, too cheerily, "I've been pestering the city for years to let me do this! There's an event here at the school tonight, so I got to come out and park here."

I had to correct my stance. "Oh, well, that's okay then. It's just that I saw a police car a minute ago, and I didn't want you to get a citation." It was a lie. I said it to save face. I wanted her off the streets. 

I could not believe I had done that. Have I turned into such a crabby old lady that I've forgotten one of the iconic joys of childhood — running into traffic with a few coins in your clutched fist to get a Fudgsicle or a Sno-cone or a Klondike? When did I get this old? Was I becoming, gulp, a curmudgeon?

Continuing my walk, I only got a block away when the young lady ice-cream purveyor had packed it up and was speeding past me, disappearing into the gathering dusk, her theme song fading into the distance. "Good," I thought.

After all, the moral of this story is, don't underestimate some old crabby crank to turn you in if you park an ice cream truck in Oakwood. And, more importantly, don't mess with a senior citizen's NAP!