Bag It

So all over the Internet, according to my Twitter feed, there seems to be a rash of weeping and hand-wringing because a fashion designer named Kate Spade was found dead. Holy priorities, Batman.

Don’t get me wrong: suicide from depression is always a sad thing. Take it from someone who lost a best childhood friend that way, largely, I’m fairly sure, because her mother loved a bunch of retarded kids more than her own brilliant daughter and continually forced the daughter to interact with them. I remember the hushed explanations, the mealy platitudes reported to me from the funeral service — thanks to dysfunctional everybody, I didn’t know she was dead till she had been in the ground for a month — and the posthumous denigration of someone who was suffering. I remember clearly that the parent who had all the time in the world for the feeble-minded curtly told her own daughter to “do something about herself” when her first year in pre-med went down in flames from her emotional struggles. I have enough bitterness about the way depressed people are treated to curdle the sea.

But all this sentimentality about handbags? There are people online rhapsodizing about the “aspirational” nature of the designer product and what it meant to them — some sort of image of “adult womanhood” — as if a handbag were more than just a fucking container to carry things around in, and as if we need to carry so many fucking things around.

I have two clear memories of people who cared jack shit about handbags. One was an epicene overprivileged blonde skinny woman in a toy job at the first gym where I ever worked, who drawled “I found a wonderful sale on Anne Klein. Are you into Anne Klein?” “I’m heavily into Sears and Montgomery Ward, myself,” I replied, thinking of my $3.60 an hour part time paycheck which for Skinny Blonde was just the garnish on a placeholder gig so she could say she was a real! working! person before going home to her parents’ fancy mansion. The other was a sad matter of someone who had only been able to survive, after escaping an abusive family, by finding generous gentlemen. Things that money bought were earnests of permanence to her. I was nicer to her.

Bags? What the fuck even is it about bags? A nuisance, a drag, a thing to look after, something that no man in history has ever felt he had to own. I went from a backpack to a hip pack to a key wallet over the last thirty years and I never really looked at who designed the things. You use them. You try to find something that doesn’t drag you down. It isn’t your identity.

There are these women at my gym who drag bags around. One day soon I’m going to go up someone’s nostrils just because the idiocy of it ticks me off. You’re in the gym, lady: first off, get yourself some real gym clothes and shoes; second, if you carry something around — I do — it should only be the stuff you need to have with you to work out — this is the US so you came here in a car and the car has a trunk. Stop leaving that horse-nosebag-handbag on the floor for me to trip over. Aside from, it makes you look stupid and focused on things other than the reason you are here. Please get your day tripping self out of my sight.

But here we are, with the world and especially America burning down around us, unjust deaths by the quire piling up among our veterans and our poor people, and someone needs to grieve over a person they never knew because handbags.

America will bullshit itself to death. Been happening for years. Just putting up signposts.

Advertisements

America

I tried to get a photo, but the light was either blazing through or reflecting off the windows of the station wagon. Also I was trying not to be too obvious. With luck I’ll never see the damn thing again, but if I do I’ll have another try.

It was in the parking rank right beside the door of my gym, a beige, battered family-with-kids wagon whose windows had been repurposed as billboards, painted with white lettering in about an inch-high, fussy hand, as dense and intense as a Dr. Bronner’s soap label but not nearly so engaging. “Latinos are the Domestic Terrorists of the West!,” it said, with convergent ramblings about rapists and child traffickers and “Espanole people” (I only found out later the same day that people use that term). Oh, and Califori-something is to be hated and, most inscrutable of all, a column of words: “Celibate/Proud/Jew/Greek/Roman.” Sort of a roster of the civilizations that people usually mean when they say “Western,” but celibate? Not surprised, at least.

Presumably, someone was in there working out, who had driven this mobile hate-fest into our parking lot and would eventually come out and drive away in it, no doubt swelled with pride of some kind.

I wanted to do something and I couldn’t. Vandalism is ineffective and the front desk guys were already checking it out. One of them is deeply black, a sweet guy whose smile always elevates my mood. Our best trainer is Hispanic. I had a sort of heartburn in my bone marrow from it. I let them know how I felt, but was stumped for a better action.

So this is where we’re at. First a pickup truck that hated refugees, now this unhinged window decoration. And this is in the deepest blue part of my state.

Dear God, make it stop.

Safety

OK, this is bullshit.

IMG_0571

Background: It is now high tree pollen season in the Tidewater, a beautiful time of year distinguished by blowing blossom, temperate breezes and the complete impaction of my sinuses. For a month now, I have been practicing the disgusting morning ritual of boiling water, mixing a solution of baking soda and Himalayan salt, putting about a quart of it in an old fashioned red rubber douche bag, sticking the hose up one nostril and letting it rip, swapping nostrils half way through. We will not discuss the precise nature of what emerges. It’s the only way I can get through the day, but it works a treat — no sneezing, sniffing or stuffiness.

The magic bullet of this is a quick douse of decongestant spray a minute or two before you open the sluice — trickled into your nose, not sprayed, with head tilted back. Believe me the stuff tastes disgusting, but it opens all the crevices, and the immediate rinse keeps you from getting the rebound congestion that is a problem with these nostrums. Of course, this goes through a lot of it, so yesterday I opened a new three-pack of the stuff. The outer box instructed me to Push Down And Turn on the Safety Cap, which I presume is there so some kid does not go through a whole bottle of the stuff at once and decongest to death — it’s impossible to imagine someone actually drinking it.

I pushed. The neck of the plastic bottle bent, and the lid went round and round fruitlessly.

The Engineer wandered by, and gave it a try. “Design flaw,” he said, which is something engineers like to say when they can’t get shit to work. I had to agree though.

After a few more tries he went to the utility room and brought back a large and small channel lock wrench, a strap wrench and a pair of pliers. A few struggles using the small channel lock got the outer lid off, leaving the inner clear plastic lid, which was too small and slick for the channel lock and required the pliers. The spray nozzle popped off with it, but snapped back in after the Engineer retrieved it from across the room.

So there it was, ten minutes  and two different tools for an engineer and a weightlifter to get into a bottle of SAFETY SEALED… nasal spray.

I can see a bottle of prescription Valium maybe, or a drowsy nostrum like Benadryl, needing a safety seal, But Afrin? Really? This has gotten out of control.

Seriously, in general, I have mostly scorn for this habit of kid-proofing everything. I shout curses inside my car every time i have to stop for a school bus with the flashing red lights and Stop sign that bring traffic to a  halt in BOTH directions at every stop, not just because in These Our Times every mommeee has to come meet the bus, greet her child, greet the driver and ask how Precious’s day was before the next mommeee steps up to the bus door in turn and does the same thing, while your hair grows. FFS if they are old enough to ride the bus, they are old enough to know to look both ways before crossing the street, and if they don’t, I’m a firm believer in Darwin in such instances. Same with all these safety sealed mouth washes and God knows what else. If some child is enough of a dimwit to chug it, let nature take its course, I say.

When I was eight, we lived next door to a family with three children — a girl about my age with the lively mind of a sweet potato and the mean streak that usually goes with that kind of drab intellect; and fraternal twins about five years younger, who were bluntly dumber than a box of rocks. I don’t think I ever heard the boy say anything but “Huh?” My father was heard to remark to guests that “the people next door have retarded twins” — this was the 1960s when no one expected you to use precious circumlocutions — and I don’t know if they were, clinically, but there didn’t seem to be much upstairs but cole slaw. One day the boy was found eating a box of moth balls and apparently actually did utter the words “Good candy,” leading to drama on the block with an emergency rush to get his stomach pumped. Though this is possibly an argument that some kid would, if left to it, drink a tot of Afrin, I defy anyone to argue that the world would have been a poorer place if they had left him alone with the moth balls.

So for crying out loud, Bayer Healthcare. And Bristol Myers and all you other people. Give us a break. I shouldn’t need a toolkit to get into a bottle of allergy medicine, which, by the way, I now can’t exactly seal again, though it will be OK as long as it sits upright. Just, if I ever meet the guy that designed this travesty, something is going up his nose, and it won’t be decongestant.

 

 

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.

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.