Memorial Day

From Ground Zero, where — though in hopefully decreasing numbers — hordes of motorcycle-loving yobs descend every year hijacking the reverence due people who have died because old men wanted wars.

Just asking of whatever power might exist in the universe. Give the world’s leaders the wisdom to act so that no one ever has to see their son or daughter come home in a box.

You don’t think it’s likely? Yeah. Me neither. But let’s dream.

Eugene Onyegym

I am becoming a gym jilt. It’s not quite the plot of Eugene Onyegin, Pushkin’s classic poem and later Tchaikovsky’s opera, in which girl loves boy, boy rejects girl, boy screws up his life, boy meets girl again and wants her but she says sorry, too late. But sort of.

Constant Readers will remember that after twenty-three years — longer than most marriages last these days, certainly mine — I was pushed to the wall by the retooling of my faithful beloved musclehead gym as a “Planet Fitness,” the notorious gym chain for flabby people who don’t want to push themselves. It was Haydn’s Farewell Symphony executed by lifting equipment: first my beloved glute-ham bench (though it returned, went away, and returned again, disguised in the Barney-colored Planet Fitness livery); then the high pullover bench, then all the dumbbells over sixty pounds. My heart cracked when they carried the deadlift platform out the door; within weeks signs had been affixed to the mirrors proscribing deadlifts, though rogue lunks looked out for each other while they did them anyway, in the alcove behind the locker room entrances.

Finally the hack sled went. Hacks are currently the major leg lift that suits me most, not just a preference of whim: they actually fix the pain in my bad leg, at least for a while. Not being able to do them is like being told to enjoy an extra five or six hours of aching and wincing every week. Supremely bummed, I signed up at the Gold’s nearest my house, keeping the Planet membership so I could go back and see the homies of two decades every so often on chest day, which I could still manage to eke out.

Fast forward three years. Gold’s seems to have lost about half the staff that were there when I signed on. I never see my talented trainer friend any more. Every other time I come in someone tries to sell me something — overpriced protein powder, a workout program, a tee shirt. The proprietary “Gold’s Gym Radio,” which is apparently obligatory, is trashier by the month: frantic, shrill, barking techno-beat garbage that makes you feel like you have the hives. Periodically, it’s interrupted by one of only about four rotating ads for things like girly gym clothes and teeth whiteners, or a raffle for the prize of going to hear a concert in Los Angeles by one horrible sounding pop group or another. That would be bad enough, but the aerobic classes have their own soundtracks, which broadcast all over the gym, so that you get two channels of crap, one in each ear. I’ve already had to fling the aerobic floor’s double doors open once, like Bad Bart bursting into the saloon bar, and bellow at the instructor — it was the only way to be heard — to TURN IT THE F DOWN so the engineer could hear when I needed a spot with a five hundred pound sled.

And from ten till about one, the place is infested with screeching children whose segregation in a glass-fronted room does nothing to suppress their asinine, nonstop noise. When you are lunge-marching across the gym floor with a couple of eighteen pounders held over your head — it doesn’t sound like much, but try it — you do not want to be startled by some festering snot-faced little maggot exploiting the only power it knows it has, that of annoying hell out of adults by screaming at the top of its lungs. News flash: a gym is a place for people to work out. In the process they should not be afflicted with the sight, sound or even a remote reminder of the existence of children.

The second-rate warmup bikes have never been a good angle for my leg, either. Lately, I would have to downgrade that to “excruciating;” I can’t add any resistance worth mentioning without tears standing in my eyes while I pedal. Add Scrubbie the Wonder Boy, the personal trainer who kept trying to be my new best friend until I was driven to snap FU at him, and you have the ingredients for a total meltdown.

One morning last month, I realized I was stalling until the last minute to go to my gym, and then trying to get out of there as soon as possible. Wrong.

I rolled over to Planet Fitness, where there are no amenities, no sauna, no classes, and NO F*CKING KIDDIE NURSERY, said hey to the Minotaur at the desk, cranked the bike up to the “suck wind” setting, and heard the XM classic-rock station kick over into John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good.” Not what I’d listen to for choice, but it was the posing music in my one fairly lame competition routine.

I haven’t been back to Gold’s for a week. Someone may ask me. Or they may not really care. I just have to drop in every Thursday, to do deadlifts or hacks.

I

Repartee

He turned up in the gym a few months ago, wearing color-coordinated little outfits (I mean the shoes matched the shorts and the singlet), sporting a coiffure reminiscent of a scrubbie pad like you’d keep by the sink, and jollying up to existing members with the kind of conversation you’d make if you’d known each other for half a year at least. I have a minor fetish for matching up my gym colors myself, so I spotted him the excessive friendliness and worked on developing a sixth sense for his proximity on the workout floor. It looked as if he knew his way around gym equipment, more or less, but had taken enough time out to develop a slightly flabby, pasty dad-bod and was here to put some resilience back in it.

So of course the gym hired him as a trainer. I throw up my hands. I mostly see him training rather tottery elderly ladies who need to forestall atrophy before they end up needing one of those chairs that pushes you up to a standing position, so he’s probably not likely to do much damage, but seeing him walk around in that shirt emblazoned “Fitness Specialist” kinda crosses my eyes. Plus, it means he’s always ricocheting around the gym playing hail-fellow-well-met, and addressing me three or four times a visit; I’m lucky if it’s only “Hi Sled! … Scuse me Sled! … Have a good day Sled!” instead of tone-deaf, companionable joshing from someone I do not, public notice, think of companionably.

Today, I hurt like hell. Ever since I dislocated my left hip in 2012 I have really not had a pain free day; the muscles I tore sing at different times, one grinding out a bass note of dull ache at one moment, another giving me staccato bursts of coloratura, and occasionally, especially when a low pressure zone is moving in, they can all get together like the collected pod-heads of Audrey from “Little Shop Of Horrors.” When this happens it can literally be so bad that I’m hanging onto the wall to get to somewhere that I can sit down, if I remember from one step to the next where it is I’m trying to get to, which can be a problem. The limp ranges from subtle to lurching. I’m supposed to know how to fix stuff like this, but some days it gets out ahead of me; one thing I do know is that if I can drag myself into the gym, serious weights will actually bust through the pain and tamp it down to a dull mutter that I can ignore. Until then, I’m visibly hauling myself along by the arm, and making the “pain face” that Kelly Starrett tells you not to make: anyone in a five mile radius would know that I am on the thin edge of telling the pirates where the gold is hid.

So of course today was the day that — DWEEB ALERT! — Scrubbie was on the only mat in the warmup room that still had some space, where I dropped heavily with a studded massage ball in my hand, determined to unplug at least some of the death-dealing trigger points in my thighs. Anywhere from the butt down to the knee –I can never predict where the critical one is. Just as I sank onto the ball with what I would have to describe as a cringe of relief, a large, dreadlocked denizen in a singlet approached with his water bottle and, turning to Scrubbie, pointed to a towel hanging off the edge of a plyo platform. “You using this bench?” he said.

I glanced over. Actually it was the Engineer’s towel, at the other end of the room from the Engineer; he will do that. I waved my hand in the air. “You can just pass that over here,” I said.

“There you go leaving a trail!” chortled Scrubbie. “Bet you’re an only child! Spread out all over the place!”

I looked up into his chummily smirking countenance, opened my mouth to say “Golly, you’re hilarious,” or possibly even “Actually it’s my boyfriend’s towel,” and somehow, “Fuck you” popped out. I can’t explain it.

He looked as if someone had just shot his dog in front of him.

“I am in excruciating pain from here to here,” I added, “I have been all day, and I am still in here trying to work out. I can barely walk. I can’t remember what I’m doing from one minute to the next — so cut me some freaking slack.”

“I didn’t know, I’m sorry, I apologize,” he said. “Accepted,” I said, and went back to grimacing as I dropped my weight onto the studded ball.

I suspect that he really can’t help it. He is just a social imbecile, tone deaf to normal conversational interaction and completely insensitive to when you can or cannot assume you have shit-giving privileges with a fellow gym rat. On the other hand, maybe “Fuck you” is exactly what he needed to hear.

The Engineer tiptoed out from behind the lat cable machine after a while. I think he is worried that some day I will emit actual flames or possibly jets of napalm. I tell you at times it is close.

AGAIN

Nothing is built to last anymore. Even the repairman said so as he packed up last week, after administering Extreme Unction to my old washer. I dearly hope this one holds up for a while though.

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When you do massage for a living, you inadvertently become an expert on other subjects, to wit, sheets and washing machines. I remember washing machines the way some people remember addresses where they’ve lived or schools they’ve gone to. There was the economy Kenmore that lived at my former landlady’s house (for some reason, she insisted that its top always be daintily protected from any drifting dust or cellar grime by an old beach towel). There was the exhausted relic that came with the house where I live now, which started widdling on the floor like an incontinent old dog almost as soon as I moved in. I replaced it with a scratch-n-dent from Best Buy, which churned along for several years until I took a flyer on one of the first European style front-loaders to hit the US market, the “Neptune.” I got fond of Neptune. His door gasket eventually became mottled with black mildew stains, but he got things clean and didn’t use very much water. After nine years of spinning two or three loads every day, though, he began to make an alarming racket, suggesting one of the bearings was finally wearing down or that a small private plane was preparing to take off in my basement, directly under the massage room.

I hied me off to the showrooms, where I made the worst decision of my householding life. Neptune had cost a bucket but worked like a champ, so I decided that spending more wasn’t a stupid idea, and I sprung for an upstyled front-loader made by a company which might have made your phone or monitor. They make pretty decent electronics. Their large appliances, so far as I can tell, are for shit.

At first I thought the weirdly stiff sheets and towels were in that condition because the deliverymen had transposed the cold and hot water intakes. Oops. But no, even after that was fixed, things came out of the dryer looking kind of like origami. You can certainly design a washer that uses less water if you want to save water, but just a flea in the ear, there has to be enough water to actually wash things, I mean, if you take this to its logical conclusion, just don’t wash your clothes at all. Oh, and the bleach was meant to go in a little pull-out drawer positioned just exactly so as to drip bleach on your black work pants. Three pairs. Goddammit.

After a while the dark loads acquired a composty, funky smell that rose up from my person whenever I got hot and sweaty, which I do a lot.  It wasn’t stale sweat, it was actually mold that appeared to be forming inside the washer.

I prayed for the thing to break. There had, I learned, been a class action suit by a cohort of other moldy-smelling householders, but no joy. Fourteen hundred bucks before the discounts. You could do better pouring Tide in the bathtub and doing a grape-stomping number with the sheets.

So when the thing finally stopped draining, one crisp October evening in 2014 — pouring a black, viscous sludge over my basement’s concrete floor — I was delirious with joy and sped to Home Depot to buy a top loader with no agitator, very cool, and with a glass lid (it was $20 extra, but I don’t have a TV and it seemed like good entertainment), guaranteed not to fester.

It died last week.

Mike

Now you need to understand that when I say died, I don’t mean with a sigh or a whimper, nothing so unremarkable as press button = nothing happens. Oh, no, no, no. This washer was Violetta in the last act of Traviata, commencing on a Wednesday to utter incomprehensible “error messages” stating per the manual that the lid could not open, or could not close, though on these occasions neither action was required of it. It beeped at me, shrilly, in the dramatic soprano registers. I did some resets, also per the manual, and it performed for a while. Nonetheless, I sensed a need for a service call, especially as the whole small private plane sound effect seemed to be recapitulating itself. Wednesday went into Thursday, I was busy, I looked up my repair company’s website, I ran another load. Friday came around. I plunked a load in the washer. It beeped. CANNOT OPEN LID.  Wtf. It beeped. Unless unplugged, it beeped, harshly, piteously, importunately. I picked up the phone.

Mike was available, I was told. On Tuesday, he showed up and avowed that my machine was one of the greatest, generally speaking, he had one himself, but that I must have gotten one built on Monday, whose tub leaked and whose bearings and drive shaft were likely corroded, and that is before you get into the motor control responsible for all those merciless beep, beep, beeps. He actually got on the phone with Maytag, who were not going to budge on paying even a pro rata compensation for the parts he would need or, alternatively, comping me part of the cost of a new unit, unless I took a number and stood in line for one of their repair people to come look at it. This is how corporations wiggle out of paying for any of their fuckups.

Mike left me with a list of the models he regarded highly. He pulled the plug back out before he left. We had almost gotten used to the beeping.

Diane

Diane entered my life, briefly but meaningfully, an hour or so later in the local Home Depot showroom.

I had berthed in front of a Samsung washer with a hundred bells and whistles, amazingly discounted from something over a thousand to $548 large, and was trying to figure out what all it actually did (grill hot dogs? translate from the Sanskrit?). Diane, in her orange apron with name badge, sidled up beside me, caught my eye and shook her head slowly from side to side.

“You don’t want that one,” she said, sotto voce.

I like an honest salesperson. “It was a recall,” she elucidated. You remember all those Samsung phones that were exploding and catching on fire and they wouldn’t let you on a plane with one? Well they also succeeded in manufacturing exploding washers. (No, seriously, click on that link. You know you want to.)

I told her what I needed and she looked in her computer, and found the last year’s model of one of Mike’s picks, in the warehouse for about forty per cent off the original price. Somewhere in the system there was a ten per cent coupon floating around and she applied that too. It was Tuesday and they couldn’t deliver till Saturday; I counted the sets of sheets I had left, looked at the client schedule, and figured I’d come out with one to spare. If no one else called, which would have left me back with the prospect of stomping sheets in the bathtub with Sudso. Damn if I am going to a laundromat and listening to other people’s kids scream while the sheets tumble, I already have enough tsores.

Henry

So Friday night the phone rang. A robot lady told me that this was the Home Depot delivery service and my delivery was scheduled between TWO and SIX pm tomorrow. An hour later the call repeated. And again, an hour after that. I felt pretty sure I could expect that washer between two and six, and I was done at three, so that was pretty promising. At twelve-ten the next day, just as I was settling a client on the table, the phone rang. I was going to ignore it because it was a Hispanic name unknown to me and I am always getting butt dials from local Hispanic guys, but then the hair prickled up on the back of my neck and I picked it up. “Hello, this is Henry from Home Depot. I’m on my way now with your washer.”

It is nice the Engineer is living with me now for a lot of reasons. He met the guy, signed for the washer, and made sure the hoses were connected to the right pipes. A younger me would have called up Home Depot and bitched, but everyone’s just trying to live, and at least I had the frigging washer.

Here is how the laundry room looked once I had the first two loads in progress.

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I didn’t come up for air till last Tuesday. In case anyone was wondering where I’ve been.

Tonight

I don’t know anyone who was born in Syria, needless to say, I don’t know anyone who has had to flee Syria since it became, so far as I can tell, the battleground of a tyrant who intends to cling to power no matter what and regional powers who want a piece of the action and fundamentalist militants and fuck knows what else. Who can tell any more.

I was born in the palmy aftermath of the Second World War, when in America at least — my Brit friends have acquainted me with a less swimming narrative — suburbia was thriving and people who had survived deployment were fathering families and going to school on the GI bill and slapping down the down-payments on houses and saving to send their kids to colleges which wouldn’t bankrupt either generation. No Fortune 500 company hired me, but I had the platform in an increasingly unequal economy to scratch, claw and clobber my way to a house. I love my house. My house cares for me. It protects me.

No one (yet) has any reason to bomb my house or the neighborhood where it sits.

No one (yet) has dropped anywhere near me chemical agents that sear lungs, blind eyes, execute whole families.

I get up in the morning and I bitch about the people I have to deal with performing my everyday errands. The sky is blue, when it isn’t raining the blessed and gentle rain of the Tidewater. Nothing evil falls from it.

I live in Paradise. I have a few dollars to send to the UN refugee aid, after making sure my future is taken care of. No one has yet ripped it away from the sky.

I don’t know what to say or think about the state of the world, or Tomahawk missiles. I do have to think that we in the United States can take the chance on people who are running away from a sky that, on a random day in a random place, can rain hell on the home you have worked for your whole life.

I am lucky. So lucky.

V For Something

Victory, possibly. Or Vendetta. I am not quite sure.

What it was, I was driving down the main drag of South Arlington to the gym, an experience always fraught with idiocy and mundane perils, like the construction site where I turn out of the hood (festooned with a gigantic banner engrossed with the initials ED, which means Ellis-Dale construction but given the humongous crane perched on the hillside, the last thing you want to see suffer Erectile Dysfunction, all I can say is it is a bit unnerving). People weave in traffic. They look cell-phone-dazed. It is half a mile of quotidian horror.

So suddenly there is the staccato blatting of a car horn obviously intended to attract attention, and a black sedan pulls alongside me in a meaningful way. At the wheel is a lady of A Certain Age — and I mean only a tad more certain than mine, I would say high sixties, with the stringy gray-white shoulder-cropped I-quit-giving-a-fuck hair you see on some women her age, waving at me and making gestures that at first I thought added up to flipping me off. Really? Is she a Trumpie who doesn’t like my Hillary Bernie Planned Parenthood bumper stickers? What did I do?

She gunned her car, which I could now see was a Mercedes thanks much, and seemed to be getting the window open, worked her arm out and began waggling it high in the air, the first two fingers of her left hand sprouting into a V sign. The arm thrust, danced, pirouetted with insane zest until she accelerated out of sight.

I can’t think it was just the candidate stickers. The Cthulhu religious fish? The DUKAT 2016 sticker subscribed “Make Cardassia Great Again”? Grumpy Cat?

Either she was a nutter, or someone I’d like to know. Ships in the night.

Critter Crises

Just before we start, no one was ever anything but fine. Except me. I think I had my last heart palpitations this morning, just thinking about it.

What happened was, about a week ago I asked the Engineer if he would make me just a giant bowl of braised mushrooms for supper, as I frequently do. Normally he does these bad boys (shiitakes and baby portabellas) with a whack of shallots, along with thyme from the front yard and dry vermouth and some garlic, only we were scandalously out of shallots, so he doubled up on the garlic and the whole house smelled like Lucy Westenra’s bedroom. In the end there were more mushrooms than I could eat and I left my bowl on the table while I did the washing-up. And forgot about it.

In the cold dawn I awakened and remembered with horror that garlic (like onions and all their relatives, including lilies) is toxic to cats. And that four of our six had had the run of the first floor all night. And that my dearly beloved Mr. Ferguson is the one who likes to get up on the table.

The Engineer was off to work early so he wasn’t around for me to cling to as I approached the table and saw the mushrooms, with their visible festoon of garlic chunks, nosed about and looking nibbled-on in the ceramic bowl. We had sprinkled them with cheese. The cats love cheese.

Everyone looked okay. I called the vet and asked. They punted and told me to call the Animal Poison Control Center.  Veterinarians who know their toxicology are standing by, they said.

I have dealt with “toxic to cats” before, at least in a mild way. Once, back in my old house when I was married to my Late and Ex, Apricat of blessed memory ate some azalea blossoms. I found him chomping away and seized my veterinary manual, which advised me that azaleas caused nausea and irritation and that I should cause the cat to vomit them up by placing a quarter teaspoon of salt at the back of his tongue. I am a good cat wrangler and had the salt in there faster than Mr. Zip can spit; Apricat, released, took a couple of steps away from me, turned his head back with an expression that clearly said “You swine!”, put his head down and urked a wad of melon-colored blossoms onto the beige carpet.

Here, however, I faced the possibility that the garlic had gone down the hatch anything up to eight hours ago. I tried to add up the number of cloves the Engineer had minced and divide by the poundage of mushrooms corrected for the water they had released.You get the idea. The best the Poison Control people could say is that there was a low risk of a toxic dose and that I should watch all the cats for the next five days for signs of weakness, nausea and locomotor ataxia. (They said wobbly gait, but I was busily looking it up online and reverting to the medical terminology that I find exact.) Garlic damages the red blood cells, so that the liver and spleen can be slammed with busted erythrocytes that overwhelm the normal clearing functions of both organs. It sounded perfectly horrid.

Everyone was okay all that day.

And the next. And the day after that.

And, well, everyone was okay. Either someone pushed the shrooms around and said “Blargh,” or ate some and went off and barfed in a corner which I have yet to find, or it just wasn’t enough garlic to do damage. Back in the day, some people would tell you to worm your cats with garlic. Never tried it, happily.

Anyway, don’t leave garlicky things out where your cats might eat them. And for god’s sake never let them near lilies, which pack enough of the critical chemicals that a little pollen can kill a cat. They smell like rotting ragout anyway.

The Poison Control Center wanted my Visa for more than I would charge for a half hour appointment. The workman is worthy of his hire and I paid it, but some people don’t have that to pay. I wonder what they do.

In other news, hawthorn extract  alleviates heart palpitations. Verb. sap.