The Ministry Of Silly Walks


I was halfway through the first giant set on the TRX, a bondage exercise device that allows you to either work with or offset your own bodyweight, when I felt a looming presence at my left shoulder. I was already burning it up hard enough that my arms looked as if I had just hoisted myself up out of the pool, but I could sense the radiating body heat of another large person. Arnoldo was checking out my form again.

I have written elsewhere about Arnoldo. He is as harmless as they come for a former Salvadoran guerilla who once hid out in the jungle with a machete in his belt and sports an array of jailhouse tattoos. No, really. He apparently met Jesus in the Salvadoran jail (I hear Jesus hangs out in jails a lot) and became a man of peace, a giant, thigh-armed pussycat, the sweetest-natured motherfucking jacked side of beef ever to scare the crap out of a spindly gym manager just by walking in.

“You getting better,” Arnoldo said.

We go back years. People who speak good Central American Spanish tell me they can barely understand him, he comes from so far back in the woods where the cradle tongue is Quechua or something.  He likes everybody. He greets everybody. When I explained by simple word and gesture that I was having surgery, he was concerned and gave me a hug. When I came back, leaning on the walker, he met me in the free weight section, grinning like a pumpkin. It would give small children nightmares.

He always asks after the Engineer, who only works out with me on Sundays. If he sees the Engineer without me, he’s concerned. Arnoldo is a role model.

I explained I was finally able to handle some real intensity (“I can work hard now”), and he watched carefully as I got through the rest of my giant set and nodded approval.

This is going fairly well. I am not real zippy getting down on the floor, for example, like if you drop something that rolls under the desk, but I can clock nearly three miles in an hour and kill a hill that is about a one in three grade without stopping. Then I have to apply ice packs, because my thighs swell up, but it’s worth it to see my heart rate dropping and feel the exhilaration, the sky-riding buzz that comes with every limb asking if you maybe want to stop this and your heart saying Fuck No. The physical therapist seems all over it. Last time she had me display my speedwalking gait and gave me exercises to expel the irregularities in it.

She gives me assignments about gait in general. This results in a Python-esque neighborhood spectacle that probably already has various folks in the local civic associations keeping an eye out in the mornings; first I walk sideways, then I perform a zigzag lurch that unplugs the tendency of the inner thighs to clench against instability, then I do it backwards, which requires a scouted stretch of even sidewalk and the absence of, for instance, dogs.  Probably the most amusing of these is the high-stepping march which I do with my walking poles balanced before me like a kid playing at being a Wallenda. I am all ready to explain that I am from the Ministry of Silly Walks.

The other day the trash collection guys spotted me sidewinding and one remarked “Never thought of walking like that.” “New hips, breaking them in,” I explained. “Lady told me to do this.” He gave me a thumbs up.

I am aiming for the Hill Of Death, a nearly one-in-two with a heart-sinking switchback that fools people into thinking they are at the top instead of about to angle onto an even steeper incline. Secret path up from the parking lot at the nearby nature center. The lot is actually adjacent to the place where my PT winds up in two weeks, and I am having thoughts about showing up for my appointment straight off the effort. Probably won’t quite make it, but wish me luck.

What’s your stretch goal this week?



Substance P, or, There’s An App For That

When I heard that Endgame, the wrap-up movie in the Avengers franchise, was going to be three hours long, I blenched and crossed my legs.

I don’t quite get the current zest for filming movies so long that no one’s urinary tract can survive them. Back in the day, we went to films like Cleopatra or Lawrence of Arabia and there was always an intermission, so announced by a bold caption on the screen, so you could get in the line for the Ladies and visit the water fountain and buy some jujubes if that was your thing. It was civilized. No one was moved to imagine himself as the Earl of Rochester up in the “gods” of the seventeenth century theater, crying

Modesty says no
But nature says yes —

Look out below,
For I must piss.

And yet here we are, in the advanced, generally unflinching twenty-first century, when we can talk about our sexual identities in cheerful public forums and YouTube has videos of golf balls being flushed down toilets, but movie makers have no mercy on the battered, beleaguered public bladder.

I love stories. I love riding their continuity and losing myself. I also have only so much capacity.

So it was with wonder that I discovered something called the RunPee App. You load it onto your phone, and by spending a penny — excuse me, a PeeCoin — you are made, ahem, privy to the app creators’ judgement of where the best three moments are in the film to beat feet to the restroom, without missing anything your friends can’t summarize, or anything plot intensive at all. If you want a more real-time experience, you can silence your phone and set it to vibrate, and tap a bar on the screen when the film starts, setting a timer that will alert you a minute ahead to listen for the line that opens the four or five minute window for a restroom sprint. You get two free samples and then you have to buy coins for a dime apiece or watch a bunch of ads to bank them. The Internet is a wonderful thing.

RunPee: app that tells you the best time to run & pee during a movie so you don't miss the best scenes.

I tried it out. Two people arose into the aisles at the identical moment I did, clearly fellow users, and I thought of striking up a conversation as we all moved with deliberate speed toward the crucial doors in the lobby, but it would have wasted precious time.

(Note to Regal Theaters: Your crip restroom stalls are spacious, granted, but your customers with recently installed bionic hips ask why the fuck the toilet seat is practically below the water line. I have always deplored people who, typically in a frenzy of germophobia, hover over the bowl, spraying everywhere, but in some cases there is no alternative. Please discover the Comfort Height option.)

It seems to have worked. The Engineer said simply “You didn’t miss anything you didn’t already know from seeing Thor Dark World and Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy.” I was left to ponder how easy it is to get sucked into a brilliant yet unquenchably commercial narrative franchise.

So until the Great Illumination comes and film makers remember that we are, at the end of the day, organic beings, I can recommend this gizmo. At some date in the near future, I envision all rows of the theater rising as one. Maybe that will get their attention.

Fox News

Not that Fox News, thankfully.

The Engineer took a video. Grainy iPhone zoomed to max, but still, adorable. I don’t know what Blue Thing is.

UPDATING: Just to orient you, this is happening in a back yard separated only by the house from a four lane road. That’s the hum of traffic noise you hear. The enormous structure behind the fence is a backyard workshop built by my late neighbor Daryl, landlord of my beloved Neighbordykes, who moved a few miles away when he informed them belatedly that he was being foreclosed. Apparently he spent all his resources building this colossal workshop with a sheet steel roof and cupola, which I don’t think the current occupant uses. The foxes could be denning in there, or in the shed.

We had a brief appearance by Mama and one kit around midday. The kit is still nursing, but Mama is getting testy and walked off, the kit trotting behind her saying “Mom! Not done yet!”

Dinner Delayed Due To Foxes

The Engineer usually gets out of bed before I do. I’m still at a point where my body, eleven weeks out from a double surgery, periodically says “You WILL lie down now” and there’s not much I can do about it. And I don’t wake up zippy some mornings.

But when a big bearded man yells “Oh my GOODNESS!” and kind of squees, even if seven a.m.  feels too early, you really have to haul yourself up.

“It’s a family of foxes,” he said.

And there on the lawn behind mine — the back of my lot faces the side of hers, which is a little down the slope, so I get a full view — was a big gingery mama fox with a riotous litter of kits, already grown to about the size of our smaller cats. Like kittens, they were tumbling, wrestling, pouncing, bouncing, literally pronking, and chasing each other around the neighbor’s shed. I suspect they were born there. Mama was hanging out in a mulched but unplanted garden border by the far fence, and periodically they all rushed her, nursed for half a minute or so, and went back to what looked like a furry multiplex espresso jag.

It was very hard to tear ourselves away and get dressed.

“Foxes are crepuscular,” I remarked. “They’ll probably be back out there in the evening.”

Which they were. I had been about to mention it, and then the Engineer, who was putting a light collation on the table, stopped in midstride and squee’d again. We had thought there were four kits, but now we could clearly see five in the fading light, even more coked-up than they had been in the morning, with Mom nowhere in sight. Hunting? Watching from behind the shed?

After a bit of frustrated searching I finally found the binoculars that someone gave me one year at Christmas because he was sure I would enjoy birding. I consider birdwatching right up there with watching beige paint dry, but seeing the little black tufts on the fox kits’ ears and trying to make out the white tail tip the farsighted Engineer swore he saw, now that is worth delaying dinner. We watched till the light went bad.

My neighbor has a senile Dachshund that never goes in the yard without her, so I’m not really concerned for it, and you would hope she knows the Dionne Fox Quintuplets are living in her shed, but maybe I should say something? Only I’d hate for her to get all salty and call some Critter Getter outfit. The kits will be off to stake out their own territories pretty soon, and everyone knows the hood has foxes, you just don’t see them often. I feel bad for the bunnies, but without Brother and Sister Fox we would probably be hip deep in rabbits like the Australian outback.

I couldn’t get photos at that distance, but about this age and color. Sort of a muted ginger.

I think dinner is going to be late for a while.

David Trusts In The Lord

The Engineer came in from putting his bicycle away. It is a phenomenon of Spring in this house: my sweetheart gets out his bike and starts tooling over the landscape, rabbits erupt from the shrubbery, daffodils bloom, David the voluble gardener appears and begins to dig his three rows in my backyard, filling the compost bin with weeds and improving the soil with peat and lime.

“I had a lengthy conversation with David,” the Engineer said — is there any other kind? — while divesting his socks and shoes and scratching his shins in my office chair. “I would assume so,” I said. “About his lymphoma,” the Engineer added.

Shit. I was afraid of that.

David has sported a grungy beard in all the years I’ve known him, a dubious frame for his four-dimensional row of obliquely angled West Virginia teeth. When I spotted him in the yard for the first time a couple of weeks ago it was gone. Well, people sometimes go random. But when he took off his baseball cap to mop sweat and exhibited a shaven cranium I had a bad feeling.

To recap. David came into my life when I was married to my mentally addled, heartbreakingly childlike late and ex, who claimed he was willing to mow a lawn but clearly had no clue what he was doing and suggested he could go out with scissors and take care of the matter. David happened to drop a flyer in my doorway about that time, adorned with a crude line drawing of a man with a mower who appeared to be vomiting the words “I have a great lawn service.” I was struggling with pollen allergy vivid enough to give me barotitis, and did not need another blast of ragweed in the face, so I hired him. Apparently we are only a few months apart in age, but I didn’t come from a family of nine, or spend my shank years drunk and dysfunctional, or have to pay child support, and I’m not judging, I’m just saying: some people get born in a place that doesn’t have easy roads through life leading out of it. I’m sure he thinks I’m sort of rich because I own a house, which I’m not, but I am safer than he is, and that is fool luck.

Twenty some years on, he cuts my lawn, plants three rows of organic vegetables on my back lot and drones on to me whenever I unwisely give him the chance about the provenance of each variety of tomato, the purity of his organic gardening aids and the mercy the Lord showed him when the Lord took away the desire to drink. Mention has been made of occasions when he woke up on someone’s front porch with no memory of how he got there, and the like. He has the leathery complexion that goes with such adventures. There are worse ways to fuck up in life.

According to what he told the Engineer, anyway, he had this mass in his abdomen which was caught when it was already pretty large, and he was set up on a schedule of chemo treatments, of which he’s had seven, the eighth to come on May second. The mass has shrunk radically. David is sure the Lord wants him to live since the Lord saved him once already, so he has faith. More pertinently, he got on a waiting list years back for a free clinic sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Hospital (up the road a piece) which is covering his treatment.

“I’ve been kinda tryn to work up my nerve to tell Miz Sled,” he told the Engineer, as if there were something to be ashamed about. I mean does he think I will write him a ticket?

But it makes me strangely abashed too. I always hate starting a conversation with David because you never know when it will end. Now I have to pick a time when I can listen to everything he has to say about this, because it is a giant fucking deal and he could be months from death or be set to live another two or three decades, lymphoma is a very big menu, though he says that his is one associated with the Roundup that may have been sprayed on half or four fifths of the lawns he’s mowed for years. I know for a fact that the people who sold me my house “didn’t like the grass they planted” and “killed it with Roundup” before planting a different grass. I didn’t touch the goddam lawn with anything at all, ever, and it was seven years before David broke ground in my back yard and planted his first tomato. Other customers may not have been so purist.

The Lord wants him to live, though. He has garlic and onions already set in the turned earth, broccoli ready to dig in, I don’t know what the rest of the plantings are, but they are faith beyond anyone’s religion in another cycle of seasons and another year of life. In the end it may be all we have.

The Unbearable Darkness of Being Trump (ish)

I go back to work next week. One has mixed feelings about this, because it’s been over two months since I did a session (I’m not counting the experimental skinny lady I asked to critique me last week), but at least the first month of that was spent in approximately the same state you’d be in if someone, the Incredible Hulk say, threw you hard against a wall and let you slide down it. I am going to start slow, to allow for walking, now that I can.

I’m up to a bit over two miles, just at the point where the D.C. area experiences its annual apotheosis of mild breezes and drifting blossom, daffodils bursting up together like the rows of angels in early Renaissance paintings flourishing their little trumpets, hyacinths, every variety of cherry, and my favorite, the understated little blue flower called veronica grass.

How to Remove Your Grass Lawn | my woodland garden

As far back as I can remember I’ve been looking at little growing things, the unexpectedly graceful weeds that pop up by the roadside, the lichens on old stone walls. When I was nine or so I used to dig in an eroded gully near my house to expose layers of differently tinted clay, some of it infiltrated with silica or mica so that when the sun came around to just the right angle, the earth sparkled. I was dumbfounded enough to laugh the day that a schoolmate said she “felt sorry for me playing out there all by myself.”

And what in the Dear’s name does that have to do with the title of this post?

Well, only that I missed this last year entirely because I was in too much pain, and going out every day to see what bloomed overnight, seeing all this beauty for free every ten or  twenty feet, has literally made me cry a few times, and it occurred to me: our angry, grudge-ridden president*, and all his rich kleptocratic sycophants, and all the furious, aggrieved people who see him as a savior. must never see this. I may be naive, but it just seems to me that if you could take in the fleeting, precious exuberance of the earth reviving, this profligate avalanche of color and delicacy, you could not expend all your resources scheming to get more money, or competing with other people to prove who has more money, or power, or toys. You wouldn’t live in tacky gilded houses or draw energy from making people want to burn things down. You wouldn’t sell your soul for a political appointment that you could skim for fancy furniture and private jet flights, nor would you drive long distances to wave torches and shout hate-chants. You might, instead, be thinking about how much it means for people to just breathe and see the spring, to have time for it instead of working until they drop or worrying about what they’ll do if they get sick.

It must be unbearably dark and lonely, there in the minds of people who derive all their meaning from having more things than they need and clutching at power they don’t know how to use except for destruction. I mean, for fuck’s sake, I’m a grouch who’s allergic to babies and children and I probably dislike more people than I like, but I can’t imagine using up my life to make things difficult for them.

There is a lot of hand-wringing these days about what brought us to this point, how acrimony, suspicion and ambition saturated our national spirit. I don’t know how we fix what’s already happened. But maybe, for the sake of the generation that comes next assuming we survive, the people who keep having those kids that I’m allergic to should skip the pressure for achievement or busy-ness and leave them the hell alone to look at a flower.

Night Songs

I think it is being out of pain that gives me interesting dreams. Nice ones, actually. I have experienced on more than one recent morning a desire to go live in the dream I just woke up from.

This one was especially vivid. About a week ago I was one of the first donors to a political candidate for a nearby Senate district in my state lege. I have been following this Qasim Rashid fella on Twitter for a while, because he’s articulate and handles assholes with more grace than I could ever muster. In the dream, he and one of his fellow social media activists had arranged a piano concert at a nearby conservatory showcasing two young Muslim music students, and along with some standard repertory, which the boys were running through when I arrived at the dress rehearsal, they were going to take turns playing accompaniment while I premiered a set of my own vocal compositions. We were really at the eleventh hour and hadn’t practiced together whatsoever, and I was on edge, but when I arrived it was hard to feel anxious because the very beautiful, rather intimate venue was soothing merely to exist in. The two pianos were on an only slightly raised parquet dais, and there was a glass wall around about a quarter of the high-ceilinged polygonal hall, admitting late-afternoon light from a wooded area innocent of buildings and providing a direct underwater view into the first two or three feet of a large pond, into which the building extended. Fish and other critters were swimming around, frogs were sunning on boulders outside the glass, watching us curiously, and large butterflies were living dangerously by flying in close to them.

I don’t remember which of my songs we were going to do. I composed a handful in my twenties, including settings of Donne’s “Lecture Upon The Shadow,” a pair of cantrips from Peter S. Beagle’s “Last Unicorn,” and the entirety of T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” for literally vindictive reasons which are too silly to go into. I still have the pipes but I’m glad the dream provided the pianists. I couldn’t stumble through the keyboard part now if you had a beanshooter to my head.