Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Treading Water

There I was in the deep end of the pool with my flotation belt on. I was simulating running. All I had to do was keep my head up and my knees pumping.

Thank god no one else was in the pool near me. I looked like a wounded fish flapping around in the water.

At the far end of the pool, in the shallow area, several older woman had entered the water. They stood next to each other talking and bouncing slightly. I guess going up and down on your toes is some type of new exercise. Come on down to the deep end, ladies. I'll show you some real exercise.

Ten minutes had passed. My goal was 45 minutes. The monotony would kill me before the workout. I started doing short laps from side to side. Then I jogged the alphabet. F was quite difficult. Time was still passing slowly.

I noticed that the water had become choppy. I looked toward the other end of the pool and was surprised to see about 30 elderly women now in the pool. An aerobics class was starting. I watched these ladies perform stretches and bobs. It was a geriatric water ballet - without an ounce of precision.

I continued on my path going back and forth from each side, and then started jogging the numbers. 8 was my favorite.

When I got to 13, I heard someone say: "Beep, beep. Coming through."

An armada of wrinkled seniors had invaded. They rode from their end of the pool on the tops of colorful foam noodles that stuck erotically out of the water in front of them. They had surrounded me.

"You should join us," one of them said.

"It's a lot of fun," another said.

I was now in the middle of their exercise class. I navigated left, then right trying to avoid these flabby buoys. "It looks too hard," I politely responded.

Some of them giggled at my retort. A couple of them winked and waved for me to come join in. I just smiled and started pumping faster.

They continued back to the shallow end and then back to the deep. It had turned into a game of Frogger as I tried to steer clear of the doddering fleshy floaters.

Even when they had me pinned in the corner of the pool, never did I stop my knee pumping and arm thrusting. This, I believe, kept them at bay.

Eventually, they lost stamina. Only about 3 or 4 of them were able to continue doing full lengths of the pool. The rest stayed on the shallow side, teetering up and down on their noodles, sliding them back and forth along their bodies. Do not use the noodles in public pools.

The pool emptied out and from my vantage point I watched the women walk along the deck to the changing room. I got a good look at them, their legs - a parade of Italian white marble.

I averted my eyes, kept my head facing forward, worked the knees, and kept thinking good thoughts. Only five minutes to go until I reached my goal.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Small Accomplishments

I'm so proud of myself. I recently fixed two things.

Things that people in my town don't do on their own. They hire other people to take care of it and pay them a lot of money to do it.

I have a five-year old Craftsman snowblower. I know, why do I even own one when people in my town hire snow plows to clear their driveways. I used to do that, too. I just got tired of waiting until midnight to get plowed out.

In five years of owning the blower, I never did much to take care of the machine besides occasionally pouring some extra oil in. This past fall, I finally took it in for a maintenance check up.

Two hundred dollars later I get a cleaned up snowblower delivered back to my house - there goes my amortization! I wasn't sure it was worth doing until I saw on the maintenance report that they cleared out a mouse nest. Imagine firing the machine up after the first snowfall?

Anyway, I fired up the blower after our recent blizzard. Everything worked fine until I reached the last 10 yards of my driveway filled with 22-inches of snow. The traction drive went kaput. I was tits up in a ditch.

I called the bastards at the snowblower repair shop and they told me Craftsman machines are crap anyway, and surely it was nothing they did during maintenance. Bastards!

They said they could come out the following week to get the machine.  I didn't want to wait until next week.

Fuck them! Instead, I downloaded the service manual from the internet. I wanted to see for myself how this traction drive worked. I cleared a space in my garage, put the machine on its end, and then contemplated what I was trying to do for two hours.

What the hell? If I mess it up, I won't feel so bad about paying the repair shop to fix everything. At least, I'll know it would be worthwhile at that point.

I grabbed my socket wrench and easily removed a few screws and the covering plate. As soon as I took the plate off I could see the axle and chain drives. Everything looked solid.

I shined a flashlight into the deeper reaches of the machine and saw a loose bolt sitting in the corner. I picked it up and recognized that it had been sheared off. The other half was sitting on the other side of the machine. The drive mechanism and axle were held together simply by this one bolt!

I grabbed another bolt and nut from some spares I had around my toolbox (yes, I have a toolbox!), dropped it in, tightened it and voila! - I got traction. Fuck you, repair shop!


The second accomplishment may even rival the first one.

My eldest son got his driver's license last year. He crashed the car this year.

Crash may seem too violent. He misjudged a turn and hit some boulders that were near a curb he was negotiating. The plastic bumper got a huge dimple, the kind you just want to pop out but never seem to be able to do.

Some may think the accomplishment I achieved was not killing my son. But, no, I was calm. What I am most proud of was what happened next.

I rented an industrial-strength heat gun (cost: $10). It resembles a heavy-duty hair dryer. I heated up the plastic just enough to make it malleable and pop out the dimple to its original shape (cost: priceless).

Besides a few deep scratches that the boulder left as a reminder, the bumper was restored to near-original perfection.

Voila! Fuck you, repair shop! Yay, me!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Three Pricks and a Finger

I always try to start my year off with a bang. And nothing says bang like fasting, getting no sleep, and seeing my doctor early in the morning all hungry and tense.

It's annual exam time, and I get worked up trying to be as healthy as possible before my visit. No alcohol or red meats for weeks in advance. I hit the gym to get the heart rate in an acceptable range. And I take an extra long shower so I smell minty fresh for the doctor.  Yeah, I'm the same guy who tidies up the house before the cleaning lady comes.

I'm off to a great start, as I walk in to my appointment late. They hand me the cup to pee in but I already went at home.  I would've busted a bowel if I had to wait until I got here. And my heart rate is pumping because I'm nervous I'm going to upset the doctor by being late and incapable of passing water. (Yeah, I know, I'm the customer and he's there to serve me).

"135 over 90," the nurse says. "That's a little high."

Shit. Now, she's holding my urine specimen. "Do you think you can give us a little more. We need to get to this line," she says as she points near the top of the cup. That line looks like a six-pack of beer away.

For some reason, I have always tried to impress my doctor by being an amazing physical specimen. I imagine him remarking about how fit I am for someone my age. He would be in such awe of my results that he would tell the whole office to come in a take a gander at me. "Aw, it's nothing," I'd say. "Just some good living."

But no, my crazy psychosis has me all worked up and the Baumanometer ain't lying.

"Let me look at your veins," the nurse says.

I'm usually pretty good with the blood draw, except when the nurse can't get the blood to come out. The slight pinch of the needle isn't so bad. It's when she starts sliding the thin metal rod up and down my vein fishing for a good spot that I get a little queasy.

"Open and close your fist. Hummph. Nothing seems to be coming out. Holding back on us today, are you?" She shakes her head then looks at my other arm. "How do those veins look?" 

Maybe it was the fear of her running that long needle up another vein that got my heart pumping evening more, or maybe she ruptured enough internal tissue to draw blood, but something started coming out.

"There we go. Nice and juicy. I knew I could squeeze something out of you," she says proudly.

She withdraws the needle which I was sure reached the bottom tip of my bicep and then hands me a piece of cotton to stop the flow of blood that seems to be on a fine stream now!

"Have you had your flu shots?" she asks. I slowly shake my head. "You should. The doctor recommends it."

She could see my look of hesitancy. "The shot is different this year. They've combined the Swine Flu with the regular flu shot so you only need one injection." She says this as if that was going to comfort me. She waves the small vial of vaccine in front of me. She had already come prepared. I would not be leaving without that shot.

"Okay," I shrug. She readies the needle and vaccine, grabs a piece of flesh at the back of my arm and thrusts the syringe in. With her thumb she presses down on the plunger. Her face tenses as if there is a problem getting the fluid to enter my body.  Don't tell me she's wedged into a bone.

"There we go. All in. It'll probably be a little sore for a while," she says nonchalantly. Thanks for the warning. "The doctor will be in soon. Take everything off except for your socks and underwear. And here's your robe." She leaves me on my own.

I look at the giant paper towel with arm-holes. They have a lot of nerve calling this a robe. It's an insult to all the terri-cloth garments found in proper hotel bathrooms around the world. I unfold the crinkly shield, slip it on, and try to sit as casually as possible on the examination table. And then I wait and wait and wait for the doctor to walk in.

Bored from waiting, I get off the table and walk around the sterile room. The magazine selection is of no interest to me, but the plastic model of the heart is intriguing. You can take it apart based upon the different chambers, veins and arteries. The aorta is tightly fitted and it causes some prying but I get it off. Little did I know that this item was the linchpin to the puzzle. Removing it causes all the other pieces to tumble out of my hand and onto the floor.

I squat down to pick up the heart parts trying to keep the paper shield on my body and in one place. I gather the pieces into my hands and stand up. My foot catches the edge of the "robe" and a huge rip ensues leaving the bottom quarter of the cover-up with a gaping hole. I put the heart puzzle on the side counter, disassembled, and quickly sit back on the exam table in case the doctor walks in. I smooth out the creases on my paper robe and try to look casual again.

Again, I wait and wait.

I get up to explore the cabinets above the counters. Unopened boxes of medium and large latex gloves are in there, along with one of those reflex hammers. I take the hammer and start banging the counter lightly to feel the recoil. Nice spring. Then I start banging different parts of my legs and arms. Nothing much was happening. I test it on my head. Suddenly the exam room door swings open.

"Hello, how are ..." the doctor starts. He doesn't need to say anymore. I put the hammer down on the counter and jump back on the table. He looks askance at my gown and then puts his file of papers on the counter. I could tell he notices the heart - the jumbled pieces of what was a perfect model of circuitry.

He looks over his notes. "Shall we try the blood pressure again?"

I nod approvingly. I take several deep breaths and let them out slowly in hopes of calming myself down.

"123 over 60. Much better," he says. A new feeling of confidence comes over me. Maybe I will impress him yet. He walks over and opens the door. Oh, man he's going to ask the staff to come in. "Nurse, can you bring me the other vaccine." What??? Where's the grand celebration?

He tells me there's one more shot I should get. It's the vaccine for whooping cough and tetanus, also one of those two for the price of one shots. He says there's been a new outbreak of this virus going around and that it's time for a booster on the tetanus. "You really should get it," he says as he waves the vial of medicine in front of me. I won't be leaving here without that one either.

He gracefully administers the shot in the other arm and tells me that I will probably feel some soreness in that spot as well. Whatever, I've already been reduced to a push-pin doll.

And now for the final invasion. He snaps on a latex glove, dabs a finger with some KY jelly and tells me to lie on my side, knees to my chest. Hello!

By the end of the exam, I finally feel relaxed. Heart rate is down. And I have three new holes in my body and another one that's a little greasy. Bang! Happy New Year!

Oh and those vaccine cocktails I had, well a few hours later I developed body chills and aches. I spent the rest of day and evening in bed shivering. Perhaps someone forgot to tell me about the additional flu-like side effects? Only 12 months to go to feel this again.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Happy and Healthy"

I promised my 90-year old uncle that I would look into upkeep issues at the family cemetery plot. He didn't like the looks of the family headstone. The marker was a bit weathered and he wanted it cleaned.

He said, "If I'm going to be laying near that thing I want it to shine." He says this as he stamps his foot on the grass where his grave will be dug. "I'm going to be right here. See how close I am to it?"

The plot has been used since the 1960s. My grandparents are there, my parents are there, a few cousins and eventually my aunt and uncle will be there. It's a sad looking place about a 2-hour drive from where I live. I try to go out once a year, usually to accompany my uncle.

Each time we plan to visit the cemetery together I tell him I'm only going in if he promises to also come out. I'm not sure he gets the gallows humor.

I'm quite sure I won't visit the cemetery too often after my uncle dies. I certainly will not be buried there. There's no room for one thing, but I think it's the giant landfill off in the distance that makes the place really unappealing. Perhaps, that's why my uncle insists on trying to beautify something in his control.

The great thing about cemeteries is that many of the supporting services are typically nearby. The flower shop, the guy who sells grave blankets (not sure what those are), a diner, and, of course, the monument maker.

I got the number of a storefront that had the nicest display of headstones. I'm not sure how else you pick these guys out.

I called a couple of days later and was greeted by a cheerful voice. "Hello! Morty's Mausoleums and Stone Cutting. How may I help you today?"

I suppose every time the phone rings at one of these places, it means they have a good chance of a sale. I'm sure most people call out of desperation and just want to check off this part of the grieving process, so they go with the first place they reach. I mean who really wants to spend a lot of time shopping around for this stuff.

I told the vivacious greeter I neede a family headstone cleaned. That's when the tone changed: "It's the middle of the winter. You gotta call back in the spring. Louie takes care of that stuff and he's out. He's the only one who can give a quote."

Wow, I found a specialist. This guy Louie must really know the ropes. I gave the person my name and plot location, and then asked: "You CAN clean headstones, right?"

"Yeah, yeah. Louie acid washes them. Cleans the dirt right off."

"And are the chemicals harmful to the ground?"

"No one's complained yet."

I figured I would not tell my uncle how they clean the stone, just that I took care of it. I thanked the person on the phone and before he hung up the sunny voice reappeared: "Have a happy and healthy!"

"You, too," I said in knee-jerk response. And then I thought how strange it was to be wished such a greeting from such a place.