Sunday, October 26, 2008

I've been abducted

It's just another day at the new gym. I try hard to look like I know what I'm doing as I make the rounds of the fitness machines and adjust the different weights, knobs, seats and handles. I really like this part of the workout much better than shaking my booty on the treadmill or elliptical. There's more to anticipate: flexing my pecs, stretching my back, curling my legs, crunching my abs, pressing my chest, and my favorite - abducting my hips. As I read the names of the exercises, I feel as if I'm auditioning for an adult movie. I have to admit that I was taught that a lady never spreads her legs in public but, hot dang, these abductor machines sure are fun!

I even meet another older guy with a mustache; we share the spray bottle as we clean off our equipment. Luckily, he is using the treadmill and doesn't see me nearly fall on my face as I try to climb out of the hip abductor. Maybe I'll meet him again over at the chest press. Be still, my heart.

Do you like the t-shirt? I decided to be bold and advertise my other talents. Just give me a few more weeks, and I'll have those silver-haired Schwarzenegger wannabes treading by my side, panting in tandem.

Tomorrow night, lap tap dancing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

My dinner with Stas

It's been a busy week at school and TGIF. I decide to stop at a local eatery instead of making my own dinner tonight. I like this place. It's small and cozy, nothing fancy, and the waitresses remind me of the hometown diners in Philly. Sometimes I do get homesick, especially this weekend with the Phillies being in the World Series and all.

I settle into one of the back booths, feeling a bit lonely and nostalgic. As I sip my red wine, two gents stroll in and sit in the booth across from me. They are both about my age and, to tell the truth, the guy just a few feet to my right is easy on the eyes: rugged face, silver hair, small neatly trimmed mustache. He catches my attention. Sitting there, staring into my spaghetti, I hear the other fellow call him, Stas, which is Polish for Stan. I grew up hearing a lot of Polish nicknames such as Juziu (Joey), Edziu (Eddie), Stasiu (Stanley), Wladziu (Walter). Everybody in a Polish household has a friendly tag to their more formal name.

I picture myself hopping right over to their table and sitting next to Stas, telling him I grew up in a Polish neighborhood in Philly. He would give me a brilliant smile and wink. Our eyes would meet and lock. We'd have a couple rounds of piwo (beer), salute Pulaski, and get to know each other. At my age, silver-haired, well-toned males don't come around often. Trouble is, I'm kinda rusty in the flirting department. In fact, I never get to practice 'cause when I play Barbies with Sophie and Hannah, they always make me play Diego or Preminger (not Otto). I have to be "the bad guy" who threatens their castle. They get to swish and act coy and do all the teasing. So I'm really out of shape.

Here I am, close enough to a healthy Polish-American specimen to reach out and touch him, and all I can do is eat my spaghetti and eavesdrop on his conversation with his buddy. I soon notice that this guy is not much for words. Eye candy but mute. He seems to be doing all the listening while the other guy goes on about his time in the navy and visiting Russia and something about 14-year-old girls and communism. Oh, and his snow blower is 23-years old.

By now, the restaurant is filling up with the dinner crowd and getting noisy, too noisy. I keep straining to hear what brilliant words will come from Stas and he continues to be the strong, silent type. I get desperate and cast a glance or two his way but he's oblivious to my eye contact, listening instead to his dinner partner who continues to utter Stas before beginning each sentence. I finish my last meatball and my wine thinking that I know a helluva lot about the guy I'm not interested in but nothing about Stas. Another daring glance - no wedding band on his finger. Finally, Mr. Tight Lips asks about "Steve". Steve? And then the other guy shares that Steve has come home to visit "Mom". Holy Hannah, Mom must be about 95 years old and still kickin'. Now I get it ... two old bachelors, catching up.

Then I watch as my sexy, brawny senior leans across the table and speaks multi-syllabic words to momma's boy. I am now practically leaning across the aisle because of all the chatter going on in the other booths. My hunka thunka Stas is having verbal diarrhea and whispering something important.

At last, the body language cuts through the white noise.

I really need to develop better radar. I can't believe it took me a glass of wine, one plate of spaghetti, and two meatballs to figure out they were gay.

Ain't love grand?

Saturday, October 18, 2008


“Mom, come over. We have company.” A simple invitation.

I had already changed into my robe and pajamas, looking forward to just tuning out and going to bed early. Yet, an old friend, the mother of Jenn’s friend, Ali, was in town for Grandparents’ Day and now at my daughter’s house with her clan. We had already caught up with each other over lunch at our grandkids’ school. A lot of family history, hers and mine, has been written since we saw each other last. We both have been feeling vulnerable, responsible, overwhelmed, unsettled, challenged, surprised, euphoric and ... older.

I made the effort, changed clothes, and walked in to a cacophony of barking dogs, squealing kids, and grown-up chatter in the kitchen where Jenn was cooking up an impromptu batch of pasta for a now full house. The energy was palpable: three moms, two grandmothers, a close friend from Grinnell, two dogs and six little girls roaming about.

Ali’s mom and I, wine glasses in hand, found a cozy nook in the kitchen and settled in. We picked up the conversation where we last ended. Suddenly, I realized how much I missed being in touch with this woman. She and I first met almost twenty years ago when our daughters were college freshmen. Through the years, time and circumstance have brought us together. We have been through late-life divorces, daughters’ showers and weddings, births of babies. She came into New York city to applaud my accordion gig at the NUYorican CafĂ©; I attended an HBO film screening for her older daughter. She came to the production of Jenn’s one-act play at the Ensemble Studio theatre; I jumped for joy when her older daughter won an Academy Award, an Oscar for her short-film documentary. All the while, we were living alone, fighting our own private battles around the swirling events of our grown children’s lives. We’ve weathered some health scares and physical changes. Just to be in her company again, last night, was deeply satisfying, renewing. We get it. We may not see each other often, but there is a thread that ties us together. As she was leaving with her crew, we exchanged phone numbers and promised to spend a weekend together soon. I’ll drive down to her house (about a four-hour trip) and we’ll continue, once again, letting each other in. Our daughters have been there for each other; why shouldn’t we do the same?

Last night’s gathering at Jenn’s house wasn’t just two grandmothers enjoying each other’s company. It was everyone finding something they needed.

I drove home thinking of one of my favorite poems,
Plainness by Jorge Luis Borges:

The garden’s grillwork gate
opens with the ease of a page
in a much thumbed book
and, once inside, our eyes
have no need to dwell on objects already fixed and exact in memory.

Here habits and minds and the private language
all families invent
are everyday things to me.
What necessity is there to speak
or pretend to be someone else?

The whole house knows me,
they’re aware of my worries and weakness.
This is the best that can happen.
What heaven perhaps will grant us:
not to be wondered at or required to succeed
but simply to be let in
as part of an undeniable Reality,
like stones of the road, like trees.

Indeed, what heaven will grant. We are such fragile creatures.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chicken soup for a grandmother's soul

Sophie and I had a date tonight.

A few months ago, I won a silent auction for a music lesson with a local professor. I bid on it because I thought Sophie might like the experience. She was eager to go when I picked her up after school. The college is only minutes away. As we walked across the leafy campus, Sophie exclaimed, "I bet I'm the first seven-year-old to go to college!" I laughed and said that, for tonight, she would probably be the only seven-year-old on her way to a percussion lesson.

She took everything in - the classic Greek columns and the students milling about. "Babci, how old are they?" I got to tell her about college life, a subject dear to my heart since I spent almost twenty years in administration, teaching and advisement.

The professor, not much older than the students, greeted us in a small studio filled with a grand piano (which took up most of the space), drum set, and marimba. Sophie told him that she liked all kinds of instruments. He took her over to the piano and showed her the sounding board and she placed her fingers over the strings as he struck the keys. She was totally engaged and could tell the difference in the tones as he told her to press firmly and then more lightly. Her initial shyness wore off quickly and soon he was leading her around the room, letting her try out the drum set and the marimba. She played a basic rhythm pattern with her foot on the bass drum and her hands on the snare, tom-toms and cymbals. He then played a riff around her drumming. I was so proud of her because she kept a steady rhythm as he joined in. He taught us about the history of the drums ranging from Africa to Europe to Turkey and the United States. Sophie managed to answer him back later when he quizzed her about the percussion instruments and their evolution.

My smile just widened as the lesson continued. From the drums, they moved over to the marimba, a beautiful instrument with a mellow tone. Sophie was given two mallets and shown hand positions and how to strike the center of the keys. I played a scale on the piano while the prof duplicated the notes on the marimba to show her how both instruments use the same tonal structure. Then he showed her how to play a simple melody and she soon recognized what she was playing. He even showed her how to change keys when she started on an alternate note. I was impressed - Sophie was really getting into it. Finally, he invited me to join them on the marimba and, before you knew it, Sophie was striking a bass rhythm line and the prof and I were playing a melody above her. The three of us played two songs together, Sophie staying in tempo all the way. He and she hit it off quite well. She was excited when he told her that he would invite us to one of his performances at the college in November.

As we walked back to the car, she told me that she was going to write about her music lesson in her diary. Since it was our special date night, I asked her where she'd like to go for dinner and she chose her favorite Asian restaurant. We had miso soup, steamed dumplings, ginger and green-tea ice cream. We shared fortune cookies, lucky numbers ... and girl talk, lots of girl talk.

The chicken-soup photo was taken four years ago. Sophie has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Her tastes have grown more sophisticated: miso soup and dinner out with grandmom instead of grandmom's homemade chicken soup.

What a joy she is! What a joy it is for me to watch her bloom.

We ended the night with homework. She loves math and spelling. Funny, I loved math and spelling when I was her age too.

Thank you, Sophie, for being you. May learning new things always bring excitement, like tonight.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Use it or lose it

I lost it. A few years ago, I used to love going to a gym and doing cardio and strength training ... until I hurt my back and had an MRI and was told that I had some lower-back stuff going on. I actually went to physical therapy for awhile and did some maintenance work but never got back into a regular routine. Then I had a rotator-cuff injury two summers ago and did PT again, worked the soreness out.

So here I am, heavier than I've ever been and leading the life of a couch potato. Tap dancing is probably not the best kind of exercise for a damaged back but it's gotten me paying attention to and moving my body again. This is good, all good. And just plain fun.

On the way home from work tonight, I upped the ante. I stopped at a new gym in town and joined a crowd of people signing up for a special offer. I saw more people tonight then I've ever seen on the streets of the town. Maybe the tanking economy and the strain of a much-too-long political season have made everyone get up off their couches and seek stress relief in exercise. Who knows? Who cares? For $10 a month and an open-ended membership, I'm thinking about toning up and tuning out. I do remember how I liked the routine of "a routine", carefully setting up the weight machines and making notations on my exercise chart. There was a consistency and security in going to the gym, especially as I was working through my divorce. Now I can work through the worries about my 401K at Planet Fitness.

I'm posting this on my blog as a reminder that a) I have made a healthy choice tonight and b) I now have to follow through. This means that I hunt up my old exercise charts and re-introduce myself to a weekly routine of lateral pulls and ellipticals and stretches ... when I'm not tapping.

Let the games begin! The diet will come later.