Conde Nasty

Yeah, I’m looking at you, Conde friggin’ Nast. Try this again and I’ll ask for a restraining order.

What happened was, I was about to leave the house to buy food, just trying to get through the day, when a last check of my e-mail informed me, via PayPal, “You just sent a payment to Conde Nast,” a notorious publisher of overpriced, useless magazines, for the gulp-inducing total of 89.99. Seriously?

My first thought, of course, was that someone had hacked my account, though God knows why you’d do that just to buy some crappy magazines, and by the time I had tied myself completely in knots, been put on hold, been unable to change the password because you can never change the password when you need to, locked the account and called the associated credit card company on my other phone, a nice man with a delicate Bombay Welsh accent came on the line.

“You do not have to worry that someone has got into your account today,” he said. “I see this was pre-authorized in July.”

And I immediately knew what happened. Because all summer I have been getting rid of broken, frayed, splintering things around the house and replacing them, mostly from a discount site called Wayfair, which I like because they will sell me cheap, attractive rugs with skid-proof backings that I can throw into the washer. When you limp yourself, and have clients so tottery from afflictions like MS that it’s not strange for them to do a full face plant every week or two, you like that skidproof feature, and with six cats around the house, the washing machine thing is primo. Your cat can barf at 9 a.m. and the rug is ready for clients at noon.

And the last time I started getting unwelcome magazines in my mailbox — some stupid damned Southwestern cooking magazine — and the time before that — a really disgusting fashion publication, rife with ads for ten thousand dollar watches and reeking of migraine-inducing perfume — it was because I hadn’t unchecked a little tiny box way on the other side from the order details of a Wayfair checkout form. At least I wasn’t charged, they were “trials,” but both times I lost twelve or fifteen minutes I’ll never get back telling Conde Nast I didn’t want their magazines. Not any of them.

(Wayfair, we’ll get to you. There have to be better ways to keep your prices low than this scam. But first things first.)

Who the hell even reads magazines any more? As far as I can tell, they exist only to leaven the boredom in dental waiting rooms and possibly absorb the goo in the bottoms of kitchen wastebins. They are forty per cent advertising. They harbor loathsome inserts that either reek of synthetic scents, or merely fly everywhere and create litter to pick up. And who in jeebus’ name at Conde Nast thought anyone shopping for a thirty-buck rug was going to make an impulse purchase of a ninety-dollar subscription to some friggin’ thing or other that I will never actually know what it even was?

It’s bad enough you buy a perfectly useful piece of software like a PDF converter or  a tune-up utility and it tries repeatedly during the install to foist some clunky antivirus or toolbar on your machine. Now they’ve honed the art of the involuntary dead-tree subscription.

(Let’s not get started on the paper catalogs you get because you bought something from some other catalog. Ever try to stop them coming? It’s your whole afternoon if you were actually to go through with it.)

“Do not feel bad,” said Bombay Dafydd as he signed off, having cancelled everything. “If you don’t mind my saying so, you need a magnifying glass to see these things they use to sign you up. I cannot see that well myself.”

Now I still have to go shopping, and if it weren’t for the lyric sound of Dafydd’s voice, I would probably be at risk of mutilating some idiot woman or out-of-control child in the grocery aisles. Dafydd knows not whose life he saved today.

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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.

Some Days Are Full Of Stupid

For starters, it was the Christmas decorations. Anyone who knows me knows I am the baby that Scrooge had with the Grinch, but this year, exhausted by the damn election, I did not really have the energy to animadvert. Until:

There were signs of industry around my neighbor’s house early yesterday — yes, those neighbors, the ones who dropped a tree on my house, crashed into my car, leave nastygrams on my friends’ windshields for parking legally in front of my own house. It looked like someone was cleaning the yard or maybe servicing the heat pump and I thought no more of it. Until I got back to the house from the gym.

The bushes were filled with oversized, tacky colored balls, a swag of white icicles depended from the entire width of the front gutter, vulgarly immense pots of poinsettias crowded all the space around the front porch, gigantic red bows sprouted from the roof dormers. A huge sign, about four by five feet, supported between two six-inch treated-wood posts, advised all comers that “DECORATE A VET” had visited and adorned this worthy veteran’s house for the holidays.

I suppose everyone honors service in his own way. I am not sure whose idea this was, but there was more to come, as when I returned again from an excursion after dark, the entire fandango was lit up like, well, like a Christmas tree, including the balls on the bushes, which now burned with a sinister inner light, like one of those cottages in Thomas Kinkade paintings, or the scrotum of some creature that ended up on the cutting room floor of Fantastic Beasts. The icicles were likewise illuminated. There was enough electricity running through that yard to power a field hospital in Aleppo. You could read the newspaper by it. Planes could probably navigate by it.

This morning it was all still there. I had not dreamed it.

Late to the gym, accosted by chatty people who had done their workout, I was finally gearing up in the kettlebell room when a gaggle from the Zumba class began milling about in an odd way, as if trying to find a place for a picnic. Finally they homed in on my vicinity. Of course. An indecently earnest woman leapt into my face and asked “Do you want to be part of a mannequin challenge?”

“No,” I said expressionlessly.

“Great!” she said. “Here, take these ropes and stand like you’re working them.”

(This is the fitness rope that you loop around a convenient upright and work up and down until your arms get tired. It is not a bad cardio thingy.)

I perceived that the subtext involved showcasing one of my favorite in-house trainers, who taught me kettlebells, so I sighed and picked up the ropes, freezing in full flexion. Three minutes and a bicep charleyhorse later, they got the hell over it. I think it’s on Facebook. Possibly the best part is the housekeeping lady aiming a spray bottle of cleaner into mid-air, as if about to neutralize the camera woman with it. I miss The Weight Room, where if anyone had waved a fitness rope at you proposing a mannequin challenge (had such a thing existed in that now-remote era), no one would have batted an eye while you tied them securely to the hack sled.

I did find a way to stack chest flyes onto one-arm rows and alternating shoulder presses, which I will say makes you puff, but not for nearly long enough. When I got home — workout-deprived and flying — my first client had cancelled at the last minute. Again. She’s always good for a check, but, well, fuck.

I guess it takes my mind off politics.

 

Babylon 5

If you are not familiar with this serial sci-fi drama, now would be the time. Specifically, the plotline that chronicles the manipulated accession of President Clark, who engenders the Earth First movement, which demands evidence of Terran loyalty in the context of a great intersection of cultures…

The show examines the impositions on civil liberties under the pretext of greater defense against outside threats which aid its rise, and the self-delusion of a populace which believes its moral superiority will never allow a dictatorship to come to power, until it is too late.[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylon_5#cite_note-28]

I live in walking distance (for me; I am a fucking walking machine) of the White House so this sort of speculation is not trivial to me at this point in history. Is there an Agamemnon and is there a Captain Sheridan out there? Or is everyone in the United States of America prepared to roll over and play dead?

Why Is Anyone Surprised?

The festival of shock and pearl-clutching that followed taped revelations of Donald Trump’s tackiness-to-women-in-his-own-voice astonished me. The man has shown us amply who and what he is, in one recorded utterance after another; really, did it take the word “pussy” to stun the Republican establishment, or anyone else?

More to the point: given the winks and nods to people who behave like Mister Trump over decades of the twentieth century, why is this news?

Oh, let’s go down the memory hole.

For my sins in another life, my French-hornist father wanted me to play the oboe. He got me an oboe teacher from one of his fellow Armed Forces bands. Talented motherfucker. I still have a physical memory of him standing behind me, “checking my diaphragm support,” and rubbing an erection against my hindquarters until I stamped my heel accurately into his instep. I was sixteen. I still have the oboe but I never really enjoyed playing it again. And no, I did not bring this up at home, where I was already apparently the cause of everything bad. Welcome to reality.

I had a piano teacher too, another family friend. She left me alone for a quarter hour with a house guest whose wife was somewhere upstairs. He felt overly friendly. I torqued his hand away from where his hand did not belong with main strength.

Sixteen.

My first “shit job” after college was in a cheese and wine shop, where I learned a heck of a lot about two subjects that interested me and still do, and a good deal about what multiply married and divorced men do when they are in a position to hire underpaid females. Copping a feel in the cheese cooler was not really the worst of J. Numbnuts [not his real name] Carver’s vices; he was just a nasty human being. But, yeah, trying to cop a feel in the cheese cooler. His wife was in the office doing the accounts, a lot of good it did as he never could get the place in the black and spent his afternoons drinking Gallo in a trailer out back. Oh well.

Second shit job: Southwestern jewelry store with a family connection. Run by a couple employed at the Pentagon. She was a full blooded Native American who would go out on the rez and negotiate for amazing works of craft. He was a double-dipper colonel who was never more than two drinks away (and there was always booze in the back of the shop, and no one questioned that business model) from sticking his hand up a skirt and into underpants. Family connection, as I said. I quit wearing skirts at all, good decision, actually.

Third shit job: trade association where I was told I would do dogsbody work in the office, not any accounting, and was immediately given a petty cash box to reconcile. My supervisor was a preening bitch who took against me and immediately announced she would make it her business to run me out of the office. Larry worked across the hall and was the only person who was nice to me — a mature married man. The day I left the job a month later, not being interested in office girl fight crap, he wandered in as I was cleaning out my desk, grabbed me and pinched my nipple, and tried to stick his tongue in my mouth. He must have never cleaned his teeth; they had fur on them. I just walked and kept walking.

Fifteen and some years later, in business for myself, I had a fresh-faced Libertarian lawyer as a client — someone who had pled cases before the Supreme Court. Anita Hill was in the headlines, and I remarked in response to his scoffing, “Of course, all we have is he said and she said, but I know how it feels.” He sat bolt upright on the table. “Something like that happened to YOU?” he said.

“And every other woman I know,” I answered.

And let’s think about this: since adolescence I have been, conspicuously, someone who can chuck folding chairs off the back of a truck or heave packing cases all day, someone who could arm-wrestle a younger man to a draw. Because that was something I liked. Other people like other things. What do less physically ambitious women do?

People are shocked, shocked — on either side of the aisle — about Trumpy Gropeys? Really?

Neighborliness

This is just stupid.

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poor Lua-Vanessa

The Engineer’s office just moved, so instead of driving halfway around the Capital Beltway to some office park in the asshole of creation, he will be working downtown, near the subway hub. Boy Scout that he is, he asked if I would drop him at the subway the first morning, so that he’d be sure to be on time, after which I gather he plans to figure out the buses. So I poured cold water on my head and off we went.

I get to the nearest station by driving north on the four-lane divided that passes one side of my lot and hanging right at a signal in the middle of the nearby garden apartments. I don’t do it in the mornings, usually. This morning there seemed to be a  ridiculous number of people turning right a block before the signal, into a side street lined with parking bays, meaning people who lived there were trying to get out of their spaces, well, bottom line, bottleneck. I crawled forward inch by inch, riding the brake, until the last blivet in front of me managed to get himself into the side street (I later figured out this was an evasive cut-through used to avoid the traffic signal, because, horrors! How can you ask people to wait at a signal?). I took my foot off the brake and started to roll forward at about sven miles an hour, and

PRANGGGG!!! some random gobshite in a red pickup truck takes a right turn out of the left lane, athwart my bows, across the part of the asphalt I am already rolling into, his passenger-side rear tire hooking my front bumper so that it flies up in front of my eyes and then clatters back into the roadway.

I exit the car, shaking like Hitler in the last scenes of Downfall.

The Engineer gets out of his side.

The other driver gets out.

It is the ninety-three-year-old geezer who lives next door to me, the family who had the Oak of Damocles until I implored them to take it down, the ones that leave nastygrams on cars parked at my curb, yup, THOSE PEOPLE.

What have I done ever to them that these bozos have it in for me?

I don’t drive a lot; I’m a timid driver with bad eyesight and I know my limits. I haven’t been in a real accident — two cars moving, BANG! — since I was on my learner’s permit and an old babe in a beater sedan with four bald tires and a dead dog in the front seat passed me at forty in a 25-MPH zone over a double yellow, just as I was turning left. It was too eerily similar for words. (Yes, a dead dog. It’s a long story.) It just did for me. I tried to dial my auto insurance company while the Engineer called the cops, I got a non-working number message because my hands were shaking too badly to dial the number right, I finally got a robot that I started to scream at and then a live person on whom I melted down, and then the cop showed up, took information, handed the geezer a summons for making an unsafe turn, and loaded my bumper into my hatch.

Fortunately I can still drive her. I mean she goes. I’m not sure about me. No one hurt; that’s pretty big.

“I’m really sorry,” the old geezer kept saying.

“Maybe his family will stage an intervention,” mused the Engineer as we went the rest of the way to the Metro station.

I came home and drank an IPA, I don’t give a fuck what time of day it was. The adjuster is available on Wednesday to look over poor Lua-Vanessa Aspasia Himmelblau. As I understand it, the geezer’s insurance carries the full liability.

I’m going to go lie down now.