Healdsburg

We spent two days in Healdsburg three weeks ago, a town that I had not visited for over twenty years. Located in Sonoma County, it’s about seventy miles from the Golden Gate Bridge and light years from crowds, traffic and other traumas that make my chest tighten up.

We didn’t just wander into Healdsburg. No, it was part of a plan to soften my resistance to an over-60 community that is slowly taking shape two miles from the center of town.

Called Enso, the senior-living project two miles from the center of town will include 220 apartment style units that range in size from 800 to over 2,000 square feet. For a substantial up-front payment and a hefty monthly fee, Enso promises to house, feed, entertain, and take care of us until our minds and bodies call it quits. With Enzo’s close connection to the San Francisco Zen Center, we should be in good hands. I’m already letting my hair grow into a ponytail and will change my name to something like Whoisthisguy.

We were met at the Enso sales center by Leslie, a low key, pleasant woman whose job is to convince us to join the Enso circle. A three-dimensional scale model of the project rested on a table that reminded me of my friend Marty Kessler’s 4×8 model railroad platform. Using her iPad, Leslie lit up the various components of the project, including the last available living units (95 percent of the apartments are committed). We saw the activity center, dining rooms, pool, and exterior amenities. It was so real that I swear I saw a bunch of tiny Lilliputians sitting in the dining room.

In addition to housing our bodies (including assisted living and memory care), Enso will fill our lucid hours with the usual activities that one expects from an adult community, including a bent toward Zen, lessons in mindfulness, a hefty serving of spirituality…and maybe a pickleball game.

Our visit made me feel much better about Enso. Positive enough to select one of the few remaining apartments and plunk down a ten percent deposit. Enso will not open until construction is fully completed, maybe late 2023. Until then, we can change our minds, get our money back, and find a new adventure that also makes our friends wonder if I should be committed. Meanwhile, I’m wearing this silly Enso ring that looks and feels much like the rubber washer that adorns your bathroom faucet. Now that’s what I call commitment.

When I last visited Healdsburg, it was a sleepy town; maybe comatose is a better description. Sporting a little over 11,000 people, it’s about the same size as Ojai. And that’s where the resemblance ends. The town is surrounded by door-to-door wineries and populated with lots of good restaurants, high-end boutiques, and grocery stores that rival Gelson’s and Whole Foods. The usual citizens’ battle to maintain the town’s sleepy, rural character has been waged and lost. Surprisingly, the result appears well planned and, thankfully, underwhelming.

We stayed at the Trio, a new, slick, comfortable hotel. Jackie, my expert in judging hotel accommodations, found our room pleasing, the availability of extra toiletries exceptional, and the fitness center populated with the right equipment. We used the free hotel shuttle to get to restaurants, an especially useful amenity to avoid the intermittent heavy rain. The free afternoon wine tasting at the hotel was a surprise bonus.

Thursday, we got up at dawn and visited the fitness center. No one was there and I could adjust the thermostat to my liking and dial up Netflix on the treadmill screen. The Great British Baking Show was in its next to last episode of its ninth season. I marvel at the culinary creations of these amateur bakers and love the double entendres offered up by the two judges, Paul (intentionally naughty) and Pru (unknowingly). I completed an hour of treadmill marching without getting anywhere, and Jackie did the same on the elliptical and stationary bike.

It was late morning before we were ready for some sight-seeing. Healdsburg is the home of a gaggle of wineries including the Preston Winery, an older establishment that’s taken a lot of my money because of my membership in its wine club. It’s my only wine club membership, delivering six bottles of wine four times a year. I like their wines, or maybe it’s just because of old mushy memories of my last visit.

Ila and I had accidentally stumbled on the winery many years ago and I hadn’t been back since. I asked Jackie, “Could we go to Preston? I’d like to see if it’s changed since I was there with Ila.”

Jackie is very understanding about my memories of Ila and encourages me to express them, “Of course we can,”, she said. “it’ll be fun.”

Siri said we were only five miles from Preston when we began our adventure. My stomach rumbles encouraged us to find something to eat before we had gone very far. The Dry Creek General Store had been recommended by the hotel and appeared before us at the half-way mark. Its website highlighted the following tasty message…

Health & safety: Mask required · Staff required to disinfect surfaces between visits · Safety dividers at checkout · More details

What could be more appetizing, a bagel with Lysol? We stopped, masked up and found the entry. A fully stocked bar met our gaze. A single unmasked customer was nursing a drink of suspicious origin while having a lengthy unintelligible conversation on his cell phone.

We made good use of the restrooms, as though we might never see another before dark. We followed the path leading to the main store and found gold, or at least a surprising array of food. We went with a safe choice, a cheese-less turkey sandwich on wheat bread. I found the cashier behind the web-heralded safety dividers, paid with a contact-less Visa card, and grabbed a relatively uncomfortable high-legged table outside. The cashier promised she would find us there, but I had my doubts.

Five minutes later the safety-first turkey sandwich arrived, cut neatly in half as though the chef had used a laser ruler. More amazingly, it was delicious. I could have told you that it would be if you’d only asked.

Back on the road we were surrounded by wineries, all beckoning us to drive in, taste their wine and join their wine club. But we were on a mission to Preston that could not be altered.

The two-lane Dry Creek highway made an abrupt left and slowed to 15 miles per hour. We followed Siri’s prompts regardless of how silly they seemed, pssed more wineries, and finally found a sign announcing our arrival at Preston.

It was around noon on a weekday, and we were the only customers. Who drinks at noon, anyway? The buildings had changed from my long ago visit. Bigger and more of them, it all seemed grander than the last time. Too bad.

We spotted the entry to the tasting room and found three masked people, apparently employees, behind the tasting bar. One, a young lady, was writing something in a journal. Perhaps it was her memoir, an activity that obviously could not be interrupted to acknowledge our arrival.

A young man, who we later found out was beginning his employment with Preston, was staring into a computer that could have been displaying something forbidden to employees.

A third man stood facing me. I felt that he was waiting for me to say something. So, I did. “Hi, I haven’t been here for many years. But I’ve been a wine club member for a long time.”

Silence. So, I continued. “I really don’t know how many years I’ve been a member. And I’m curious. Could you check it for me?’

He moved in the direction of a computer, a good sign that he was still paying attention. Checking the screen, he said, “You’ve been a member for twenty-one years.”

Expecting some sort of trumpet blast, I waited for him to say something like, “Wow, twenty-one years. That’s amazing. Great to see you. How about a free glass of wine?”

Instead, he said, “Your credit card is expired. You missed getting the last shipment.”

I realize that he must have been a busy guy, what with trying to entertain the only two customers in the place. Or maybe he gets lots of people visiting Preston who have been wine club members for say, forty or fifty years. And I was a relative newcomer with only twenty-one years under my belt.

So, I asked him how much Preston wine I had downed in the last twenty-one years, maybe giving him a kick-start that would recognize my importance.

He said, “Let’s see, six bottles every three months for twenty-one years. That’s 504 bottles. Each bottle has six servings. That comes to 3,024 drinks.”

I thought that would shake him up and generate some atom of admiration.

Instead, he said, “Well, do you want me to update your credit card?”

I was going blind

It’s five months since my left eye was relieved of its cataract. After the surgery, repeat visits to the optometrist made life exciting and irritating as I waited for my new lens to find a permanent place on my eyeball. During the extended healing process, the lens had wandered about aimlessly, depriving me of new glasses that would finally correct my vision and let me stop bumping into things like a real-life Mr. Magoo.

Three weeks ago my optometrist, Dr. B, finally declared me stable and did the usual, “Is 2 better than 1…is 3 better than 2?” Satisfied with my answers, he wrote up the new prescription and escorted me to the fancy room where I could spend a lot of money on shiny new frames and lenses.

While Jackie looked on, Heidi took me under her wing and paraded a sea of frames that might suit my manly face and sexy brown eyes. With each pair, I turned to Jackie for a sign of approval. No, not sexy enough, try another. Nope, close, but not quite suitable for a man of my stature. “Wait”, Jackie said, “I think these are perfect for you.” Heidi agreed and started to list the add-ons…anti-scratch, UV protection, etc. She totaled my bill; it reminded me of my first new car.

A week later Heidi called. “Your new glasses are here, come on in.” I went back, put them on and stared at Heidi as she evaluated the fit. “Let me adjust them a bit and they will be perfect. You’ll love em.” She did, and I was. Funny thing though, they looked a lot like my old glasses.

I was a happy camper as I stared out the shop window and focused on distant objects. Bright and sharp. After five months I could see again without trying to force things into focus. My time in purgatory served, I drove home scanning the license plates of adjacent cars and marveling on my ability to read them without squinting.

I wear my glasses like I wear my shoes. Constantly adjusting the fit to eliminate any discomfort, I push the frames up the bridge of my nose to loosen them before they take root. I twiddle with the earpieces to eliminate hot spots. Despite this constant attention, new glasses invariably warrant a trip back to the optometrist for professional tweaking. Trusting me with that task would result in the bungling destruction of the fragile and very expensive frames.

Like other professional services coping with the new world of Covid, Dr. B requires an appointment just to tweak frames. So, I obediently made one three days hence for Wednesday afternoon at 3.

Since I was going, I figured I might as well take my old useless glasses and get new lenses. Just in case I needed a spare due to forgetting where I stowed the new ones, or I was stomped by an Asian Elephant on my way to my favorite Thai restaurant.

Armed with both pairs, I arrived at Dr. B’s before 3. Heidi went into her secret room, did some incantations, massaged my new glasses, handed them back to me, smiled and said, “Looks great.” I yanked on the frames; they stayed in place without jamming the earpieces into my skull. My handsome nose wasn’t pinched. It was all good.

We talked about the old glasses and decided they would do nicely as a spare even with the outdated prescription. Happy that I had dodged another financial bullet, I drove home.

It was late November, and the days were getting shorter. When I got home, the sun was nearly down. I donned my evening wear ($12 Amazon sweatpants and a three-year-old T-shirt from Rains Department Store’s 20% off sale). Time to relax and watch episode 134 of Grey’s Anatomy.

We always watch TV with closed captions. I’ve been doing it for so long that I am fixated on them; sometimes I can’t identify the characters because I’m too busy reading the captions. I’ve tried breaking myself of the habit, but the trauma is too much for me; I’m probably an addict in need of Captions Anonymous.

I was surprised and disappointed with the clarity of the captions. I had been able to decipher license plates today that were as far away as the next county, so what was going on now? I moved my glasses up and down my nose looking for a sweet spot. Maybe I was looking through the bottom of my bifocals. I squinted to no avail. Had I been too easy with Heidi? Too willing to accept less than perfection.

Jackie looked at me and said, “Why are fiddling with your new glasses?”

I told her and she sweetly offered a possible explanation, “Maybe you’re just tired and so are your eyes, what with the poking and squeezing you’ve been through today. After a good night’s sleep, you’ll see a whole lot better.”

I was not a happy camper, but I went to bed hoping Jackie was right, like always. If not, Heidi was going to get an earful.

Up at 6 and onto the treadmill. I switched on ABC-7 news. Tired of watching the weather forecast every three minutes (even if Leslie Lopez is a gorgeous weatherwoman), I focused on the crawler at the bottom of the screen. But I couldn’t read it even though it was on a 56-inch TV six feet from my face. Unfortuantely Jackie had, for one of the rare times in our relationship, been wrong.

I spent the morning staring fixedly at everything, hoping the problem would go away. It wouldn’t, so I called Dr. B’s office and said “There’s something wrong with these glasses, or with me. My vision is ca-ca. I need to see someone, soon. I made an appointment for the next day.

With nothing to do but wait, I focused on the problem. Random thoughts flew through my head. I wondered how quickly macular degeneration could become unmanageable. Or maybe my vision problem was related to my recent vertigo episode. Or maybe it really wasn’t vertigo, but was symptomatic of a brain tumor. I reviewed all the possibilities described in Webster’s Medical Dictionary.

The day and the night passed with no improvement. I slept fitfully and awoke the next morning, squinted at my face in the mirror, saw no improvement in it or in my eyes, and prepared myself for any eventuality.

I had my usual Peet’s coffee delivered by Keurig; this time tasteless despite doubling the Splenda dose. Reading emails, I skipped right over the solution to erectile disfunction, pleas for money from unknown politicians who were trying to save the world as I knew it, and a note from someone who claimed I had just inherited the gross national product of Botswana.

Time to go to see Heidi. I went into the garage, opened the driver side door and, despite my sleep-deprived feebleness, deposited myself behind the steering wheel.

Turning my head to the right, I saw a familiar glasses case on the passenger seat. Must be the case for the new glasses I was wearing, I thought. I picked it up and heard a rattle. Hmmm, not empty?

I opened the case and found a pair of glasses that looked like the ones I was already wearing. I examined them more closely. No scratches, no smudged lenses, no bite marks on the earpieces. What the hell? Could I be wearing my old glasses with the outdated prescription? The ones that made reading closed captioning nearly impossible. Had I been wearing the old ones while my new ones were sitting on my carseat for two days, and I was thinking I had a brain tumor?

And then I laughed.

Went to see Heidi anyway. She laughed too.

Starvation Palace…part 2

“Eat. Don’t lose any more weight. You skinny bones.”

Those harsh but loving words came from Jackie’s sweet lips to my floppy ears as we prepared for our nearly four-hour trip to the Optimum Health Institute.

Fifteen minutes from the heart of San Diego, OHI is the last bastion of greenery in a god-forsaken hodge-podge of garbage trucks, big box outlets, and 99 Cents stores. The single-family homes on Central Avenue verge on extinction, yet command stratospheric prices in this overheated real estate market.

Once caring for mental patients, the buildings on the OHI campus have been converted to housing those who seek rest, a spiritual mantra, the elimination of poor dietary habits, and a cleansing of every crack and crevice in your body, abetted by daily colonics.

The rooms are a cut above those found in a Dickens’ orphanage. A bed, dresser, small desk, and a comfy stuffed chair round out the opulent furnishings. Ventilation is provided by the Motel 6 variety of appliance, generating adequate cooling and heating if you can stand the noise.

Two sides of the complex are exposed to unending freeway noise. The other two sides provide entertainment for  maniacal Central Avenue hotrodders who were not paid enough attention to while in the reformatory, and the barking family dog who sounds like he wants to eat, preferably something human.

To maintain the pristine nature of the complex while Covid runs amuck, the institute frowns on anyone leaving the premises during confinement. Periodic spit tests assure the guests of the purity of the other campers. Gates keep people out but can be easily breeched upon entry if one can pass the famous ten questions beginning with “Have you…”. Forehead temperature is taken with a device that Fox News says may inject a microchip in your frontal lobe.

Hiking trails are foreign to this environment. Daily exercise may be had on campus, but Jackie prefers 24 Hour Fitness a mile from it. Not to miss the exhilaration of a daily hike, a brisk walk beginning on Central Avenue substitutes for the real thing. Alternating between cracked concrete, no concrete and asphalt in need of sealcoating, we parade in front of the homes and their blood-thirsty dogs, make a left on Massachusetts Avenue avoiding drivers who never heard of California’s pedestrian rights, and end the first leg of our trip at Walgreens.

 The presence of Walgreens, CVS and Rite-Aid only 500 feet apart attests to the power of the drug cartel and its influence on our daily lives. Chevron, Shell and a No-Name gas station wave flags announcing budget busting per-gallon prices that once were per-tank prices.  McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Chic Filet provide everything else needed for a happy, healthy existence.

We shade our eyes to avoid the temptation of El Pollo Loco and continue our loopy hike up Central Avenue. We arrive back at the OHI gates where Andrew dutifully takes our temperature to be sure we have not acquired the dreaded virus in the sixty minutes since our departure from the campus.

Food occupies much of our thoughts and our conversations with other deprived souls throughout the day. A detox diet that Mother Theresa would be proud of is designed to eliminate the nasties that have taken up residence in the dark shadows of our gut. Stimulants, fats, flour, sugar, and salt are banished for the duration of our visit. Oils are unseen except in the form of an occasional sliver of blessed avocado.

Raw vegetables are plentiful and plainly identifiable on our plate. Other raw vegetables are occasionally disguised as something else (like Kosher bacon) but always fail the taste test. Cooked foods are shunned as anything heated over 105 degrees is declared dead and of little use in delivering vital nutrients.

The affable kitchen staff enjoys a respite during the middle three days of our visit, as our nutrition is solely vegetable juice. Unfortunately, the variety of these juices is limited to green or red. Of course, you can mix the two and produce one that is sort of brown. I’m particularly fond of doing this since it reminds me of my mother who used to mix red and green Jello to produce an interesting dessert.

A cornucopia of spices is available to flavor our juice but except for cayenne powder seem to have little effect on taste. We can have as much juice as we want. A cucumber slice or one cherry tomato often garnishes each serving. Having several glasses can leave the impression that you’ve had a salad. I particularly like the cherry tomato option since it reminds me of the martini stuffed olives that I have sacrificed on the detox altar.

Being somewhat emaciated, I can’t afford to lose weight while prancing around OHI. As a result, I augment the detox regimen with bananas and organic peanut butter purchased clandestinely at the nearby Sprouts grocery. Without this dietary supplement, I’d soon look like Alec Guinness emerging from the Japanese confinement shed in The Bridge Over the River Kwai. I feel guilty doing this but my death from starvation at OHI would surely put a crimp in their public relations program.

When I’m not eating, I attend classes about eating as though this will fill my belly. I really like the one on fermented foods, like sauerkraut and dill pickles. It offers a glimpse of the world of microbes running wild in my gut. Living inside every person are trillions of microorganisms — bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other life forms. And eating sauerkraut keeps them carefree and happy as they munch their way through my colon.

And speaking of colons… OHI’s detox arsenal includes optional colonics. Those of us who were members of the Mickey Mouse Club and watched The $64,000 Question, probably remember that brown rubber bag and hose hanging on a hook on your parents’ bathroom door. That enema of old has been replaced by a more high-tech version with the same objective, complete with an infusion of wheat grass juice. What?

So, I bet you’re wondering, “Why does he spend a week at OHI when he could be anywhere else?”

You might also ask why he’s done it six times.

Or why he’s thinking about doing it again?

And I’d say, “Good question.”

Cash is not king…

I have a cute box on the kitchen counter. It’s four inches wide, six long and four deep. Made of exotic woods, it contains much of what I need to sustain life in the event of an earthquake, fire storm, or a visit by unfriendly alien beings.

As my ability to locate things diminishes with age, I have used the box as though it were a lifeboat in hurricane battered waters. Realizing that, like the lifeboat, the box has just so much space, I am choosy about what goes into it. Once assigned a seat in the boat, the survivor can always be found in its assigned space. Time that would have been spent searching the house can now be spent watching more TV.

The principal occupants of the box are my keys, including our house, her house, and my car. Another space is reserved for my thirty-year-old wallet that Ila and I bought in Scotland. It has a Gaelic phrase on its face, the meaning of which has been long forgotten. The indestructible wallet has my driver’s license, auto club card, insurance coverage, and that registration thing I must give a highway patrolman if he stops me for driving like an old man.

The wallet also has my credit cards which, if used at their present stratospheric speed, will require replacement before my old wallet does.

The final occupant of the box is a wad of cash that includes ones, fives, tens, and twenties, all neatly arranged numerically and folded in half. This neatness was inherited from an old friend who not only arranged them numerically but also made sure they were all facing in the same direction. A shiny money clip kept everything in place. I asked him why he took such pains with his cash, and he said, “You treat your money well and it will treat you well.” I never really knew what that meant, but he was serious about it.

Other odds and ends litter the box but have no assigned seats. They linger in the box until I get up enough energy to file them away where they will never again see the light of day or toss them in the trash…same result but with less respect.

I will always have a seat for my wallet and my keys until the government, Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk find a better solution. Maybe a chip embedded in your armpit or a laser beam spilling forth from your eyeball will open doors or flash an electronic version of that thing you hand to the highway patrol guy.

I don’t think that cash has the same staying power as the other things. “Cash is King” will be a forgotten phrase that kids will think has something to do with that guy who used to sing Folsom Prison Blues and look a lot like Joaquin Phoenix.

Money was mostly unknown until about 1,000BCE when metal coins showed up. We bartered before that time, maybe like a cow for a shirt. Paper money arrived around 800CE and remained the currency of choice for over a thousand years until in 1960 someone said, “Why don’t we use a piece of plastic to buy things?” Sounded a little funny then, even funnier than a cow for a shirt. There are now 2.8 billion credit cards in use and the companies offering them fill up most of the space in my mailbox.

For sixty years I stuffed my pants pockets with credit cards and greenbacks; I needed both forms of payment since many merchants displayed signs saying, “Cash Only”. I used my credit cards infrequently since, like my immigrant parents, I avoided any kind of debt and the misery that would surely include putting me in the “poor house”.

As the years passed, my purchases using plastic began to exceed those involving cash. The recent pandemic accelerated the use of plastic as we avoided touching dirty money that might be carrying the dreaded virus. We did more on-line shopping that could only be transacted with a credit card. Coffee shops, including the cute one at the Ojai Valley Inn, would no longer accept cash for a three-dollar cup of brew.

Even the way we use the card has changed. Early on, we handed our card to the merchant who performed a series of steps to enter the transaction. Later we earned the privilege of sliding the card ourselves, hopefully with the magnetic stripe facing in the right direction. Current high-end technology allows us to simply “tap” the card on the reader.

These improvements have forced us to learn new tricks and on occasion feel frustrated as we fumble with the card, try to read the screen with our aging eyes, or wonder what the youngster behind us must be thinking as the line begins to back up.

Isn’t America wonderful? We can spend our money at the speed of light with an accompanying 18 percent rate of interest.

Feeling a growing confidence in digital technology, keeping cash in my pocket has diminished from a wad of papers that ruined the sexy lines of my expensive jeans to a single $20 bill for use in emergencies; I have yet to find that emergency. Yesterday, Jackie and I walked to the gym with only my Visa card; it was very liberating and I’m sure the women at the yoga class eyed me with greater admiration.

Now I understand there’s something called a QR Code that doesn’t even need a card reader to take your money.

Pretty soon we can just assign our paycheck or Social Security benefits to Visa or American Express at the beginning of each month and let them decide how to spend it.

Simplicity

The most obvious is often the most elusive.

Occam’s razor is a hypothesis that suggests we peel or slice away unnecessary things to solve a problem. Largely attributed to the work of the English friar William Ockham around 1300, he said “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”. Obviously, this recommendation has had little impact on the construction of churches nor on the proliferation of on-line dating services.

Others have also received commendations for promoting simplicity, including Ptolemy around 150 who stated, “We consider it a good principle to explain the phenomena by the simplest hypothesis possible.”

Not to be outdone, Isaac Newton while waiting for the apple to fall in the 1600’s said, “We are to admit no more causes of natural things, than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” Duh?

Variations continued unabated until we simplified the idea by stating, “The simplest explanation is usually the best one.”

I was reminded of Friar Occam while working out at the gym today. Ever since my long-time trainer Robert went on medical leave, I’ve placed myself in David’s capable hands. Their approach to training differs; Robert is a “let’s do everything that won’t kill you” kind of guy, while David is more focused on the things that may really be killing you. I find both approaches equally capable of inflicting pain and I occasionally wonder if I’d get the same results laying on my couch watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Since my bout with vertigo, I’ve focused on improving my stability through odd exercises. For example, shlepping 25-pound kettle bells in each hand and marching around the club’s second floor has brought me stares. Occasionally I feel like a delivery boy from Ojai Pizza.

Following Occam’s advice I start with the simplest yet most difficult balancing routine, standing upright with both feet parallel. Eyes closed, I try to maintain that position for 30 seconds with minimum wobble. No big deal, and I congratulate myself for not falling on my face. 

Then I position my left foot directly in front of the right, heel to toe, eyes closed. With wobbling akin to that experienced during the Northridge earthquake, I struggle to maintain the heel to toe position for 30 seconds; I succeed less than half the time. Then I reverse position putting my right foot in front; I succeed without serious injury most of the time.

David and I wonder why I do well with my right foot in front, and poorly when it’s my left foot in the lead. He believes that a tight muscle may be the problem; I believe it’s just the way I’m built. David wins and begins to experiment, hoping to find the offending muscle.

David has memorized the names of every bone and muscle and always impresses me with his ability to point them out. I have no idea if he’s fibbing since I have never progressed beyond knowing the difference between the ankle and the thigh.

Seeking the answer to my deficiencies often includes a series grabs and pokes looking for a “hot spot”, defined as a place that is more painful than the surrounding area. Working on the hot spot with hand massage, or a wooden dowel that looks suspiciously like my mother’s rolling pin, produces even greater pain.

I think pain excites David and amplifies his sadomasochistic leanings. Thankfully, the pain passes, probably because my brain has had enough and has blessedly injected an organic drug directly on the hot spot. Or maybe David just tires of my screams.

Completing the torment, we repeat the heel to toe routine to see if there is improved stability. In an ahamoment we discover a modicum of success. Wild cheering ensues. But it is short-lived when I wonder if I must endure hot spot torture each time I need to maintain my balance.

Which brings us to the “What good is this anyway” routine. A combination of kneeling, stretching and pulley yanking, this procedure screams for a specimen like me. Kneeling my left leg on a foam pad, the right is stretched on the floor behind me. A rope is attached to a pulley whose resistance can be adjusted from Wussto Don’t even think about trying it. My hands hold the rope in front of me and stretch it side to side while maintaining my balance. I think David made the whole thing up for Halloween.

The hardest part of the routine is switching legs. I try to swing my right leg forward and…nothing. My right leg refuses to move to the front of the foam pad. I’m stuck, so I grab my leg like it was a piece of meat hanging on a hook and sling it to the proper position.

We both wonder why I can effortlessly swing my left leg forward while my right leg balks like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum. David thinks it’s because my thigh muscle is too tight, so he once again begins a series of grabbing, squeezing, and rolling actions like those made popular during the Spanish Inquisition.

Completing the effort, we check for improvement. But there is none. My right leg is still stuck. We repeat the process, reversing the actions. No good. Still stuck. I know what’s coming and search for a way out.

I ask for a five-minute sabbatical so we can do some research without all the grabbing and squeezing. I look at the position of my left leg on the foam pad; it’s about three inches from the edge of the pad. Then I look at the right leg. The right leg is about six inches from the edge. Armed with this knowledge, I move my right leg three inches. I have an aha moment when it swings effortlessly to its proper position.

Three inches. What could be simpler?

Ockham would be proud of me.

Esalen

The young woman slipped past me as she entered the hot tub, her shapely right hip nearly grazing my shoulder.

The water was warm as she immersed her naked body and took a seat opposite me. I lowered my eyes and quickly glanced at her breasts hoping she wouldn’t notice, even though I was sure she was fully aware of my interest.

Esalen was founded in 1962 by two Stanford graduates who focused on alternative methods of exploring human potential including experiential sessions involving encounter groups, sensory awakening, gestalt awareness training, and related disciplines.

Named after an Indian tribe that inhabited the area, Esalen was sometimes described as “a hippie place where people go to smoke pot and get naked.” Pot smoking and other playtime drugs are now forbidden, but nakedness is encouraged as an option in the communal tubs warmed by natural hot springs.

Jackie speaks glowingly about Esalen, a place that she has often visited. My interest heightened; we booked a weekend that included a workshop whose description was a bit murky. I didn’t worry about the description since my primary motivation was to see the Esalen grounds situated on a hillside overlooking the Pacific. And maybe naked women.

Five hours from Ojai, the last hour is a beautiful stretch of Highway 1 running along the ocean. Only two lanes, the road can be intimidating as it commands one’s complete attention while negotiating the blind curves that slow your progress. Jackie drove like a pro while I enjoyed being a wide-eyed passenger.

We arrived at the center, checked in and found our cottage. One bedroom, a living room and bath, it had an ocean view from the patio that made the half-day trip worthwhile. With two hours to spare before dinner, we stripped and put on the complimentary robes for a ten-minute walk to the hot tubs.

I’ve had one other experience with nude bathing about two years ago at Ecotopia Hot Springs near Ojai. No tubs there, we had to settle for a comfortable rock surface in a watery stream. Shedding my towel and scanning the bathers, I was convinced that they were evaluating my penis which made me somewhat shy and inadequate until I slowly relaxed and went with the flow.

I’m convinced that evaluating private parts, much like dogs sniffing one another, is part of the nude bathing experience that never fully dissipates for both males and females. Ecotopia has been closed due to the drought or we might have made more visits.

A classier version of Ecotopia, Esalen offers several fashionable tubs accommodating just one or as many as six people. Selecting a tub involves a quick survey of the current occupants. I look for a nice mix of males and females, a good mix of ages and preferably no one wearing a bathing suit.

Most people immerse themselves in the hot water up to their shoulders. But there is no guarantee of anonymity since the water is crystal clear. Multiple conversations are common in the same tub, names are sometimes shared, and stories told that might otherwise be withheld if it were not for the nudity and communality.

The water temperature varies and is regulated by an ancient wooden plug inserted in a spout through which fresh hot water can enter the tub. Tub residents are careful to poll the other bathers before removing the plug or replacing it in the spout. Newcomers like me steer clear of the plug, allowing more seasoned bathers to wrestle with its occasional fickleness.

I tend to avoid long term immersion in warm water and usually finish my bath while others remain more durable. So it was only twenty minutes into my freshman reverie that I slowly exited the tub on all fours, careful to avoid a nasty spill that could have been chalked up to my vertigo or my advancing age. I made it safely, though without grace.

I searched for my colored towel among the others lying on the perimeter of the tub but quickly realized that I had forgotten which color was mine. Deciding that a fresh towel was needed, I marched uncovered to the spa entryway and walked up the steps to the opening.

I found myself surrounded by about a dozen bathers who were either leaving or coming to the tubs. All of them fully clothed. I initially felt out of place and on display. After what seemed like an eternity, I adjusted to my situation, straightened up, acted normal even though naked, asked for a towel, and walked back down the steps to the dressing area.

I decided to do it again tomorrow.

Pismo-Part 1

My grandsons, Morey and Isaac, invited me and my credit card to a weekend in Pismo Beach.

A city of about 8,000 permanent residents on California’s central coast, summer visitors swell the population to more than triple that number.  The name Pismo is Chumash for tar, a natural substance that has diminished over the years, as has the once famous Pismo Clam. Monarch butterflies now take center stage in winter as they hang out in a grove of eucalyptus trees, escaping colder weather in the north.

Clamming was a serious business until the 20th century. Like most of our natural resources, humans believed that the Pismo Clam was indestructible and that its many millions of offspring would quench the hunger of future generations of clam diggers. Photographs of horse drawn multi-pronged rakes churning up the sand and collecting boatloads of clams can be found in the Pismo archives.

When I was a young man, my family took up the tools of clamming and spent a weekend in Pismo. All that we needed was a common pitchfork and a pail. Jamming the pitchfork beneath the surface of the wet sand often resounded with a tell-tale clink announcing the presence of a clam about six inches below. A scooping action sometimes produced a clam; more often it produced a lot of wet sand.

A measuring device in the shape of the letter C was taped to the pitchfork. The lucky clammer would slide the clam through the device. If it passed through, the clam was deemed a juvenile and required careful replacement from where it came to wait for adulthood. Park rangers with binoculars were often found in the surrounding hills spying on the diggers hoping that a hefty fine might result. There are still clams in the surf, but their fate is mostly in the hands, or the flippers, of the resident otters.

Help may be on the way. Due to the laziness of the X generation and the seeding of juvenile clams, the clam is making a hard-fought comeback. Yet too small for harvesting, and with increased Clam Ranger surveillance, we may once again see the mighty Pismo Clam filling our buckets.

My Pismo trip began Friday afternoon on the 101 Freeway heading to grandson Morey’s digs in Santa Barbara. Road construction on this monster has been in progress for the last two generations, resulting in Caltrans jobs being passed from father to son with no completion date in sight. I hope that the workers will maintain their virility so that the work can go on.

An alternative approach would be to hire 300 Amish men and women who would surely complete the project in a single weekend…without power tools.

From Casitas Pass to Montecito, about 25 miles, the 101 creeps along. Creep is an overstatement of the speed of the traffic as it passes by father/son Caltrans workers who seem unaware of our presence. Squirm, wriggle and writhe are more appropriate considering the agony that is prominently displayed on my fellow drivers’ faces.

Even Siri was confused. Periodic messages spewed forth from my iPhone. “Accident two miles ahead. You are still on the fastest route.” There was no accident, and I was on a route with no viable alternative.

Five minutes later, “Accident a quarter mile ahead. You are still on the fastest route.” No visible accident and no other route available other than circumnavigation of the globe. And on it went, repeating the mantra every mile or so.

Earlier in the day I had filled my tank at my neighbor’s Chevron station in midtown Ojai; normally enough gas to make the round trip to Pismo and back. But schizophrenia kicked in as I was bombarded by Siri who insisted that I was on the fastest route. I was sure that my tank would empty in California’s first permanent gridlock. I visualized a place of honor on the freeway with a plaque that announced, “On this spot Fred ran out of gas because he foolishly trusted Siri and refused to find an alternate route.”

Construction had narrowed the normally spacious passage by closing the shoulders on both sides of the road with tall concrete barriers. It was like going through a tunnel without a roof. Drivers moved from one lane to another as they sought the faster one. There was no faster one. I often met the same driver coming and going as we alternated our search for the holy grail.

Aging by the moment, I awaited nature’s call to empty my bladder. Exiting the freeway and seeking a place to do so is a challenge even in good traffic conditions. At 4 on a Friday afternoon, it was a challenge of the seventh magnitude. Focusing on the pressure in my groin, I evaluated my options. Leave the freeway in an uncharted realm and seek a depository only to be informed of its unavailability due to Covid was one option. Gutting it out until reaching Morey’s digs was another. Feeling no pressing need, I calculated the approximate time when one might occur. Twelve miles to Morey at an average speed of ten miles per hour was doable. I relaxed and listened to Siri. 

I stared at drivers who sometimes stared back. A young man driving a shiny black Tesla pulled alongside me. We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders like comrades in arms. I thought I could read the expression on his face which seemed to say, “This is getting serious. I think my batteries are about to give up their last few watts.” Maybe he was thinking about a plaque too.

Amazon delivers everything…even Vertigo

Two months ago I was working out at the gym under David’s tutelage. Ever since Robert’s illness, I’ve relied of David to guide me as I stretch, bend, and lift myself hoping to retain some of the muscle and other manly components of this once glorious body.

My routine includes grabbing a twenty-five-pound kettlebell in each hand. I walk the length of the gym trying not to fall on my face while gazing at the lovely ladies who make the morning so much more enjoyable.

According to Google…Kettlebell use will cause your forearms to be visibly stronger, upper arms and shoulders more defined, legs and rear tighter and shapelier, and posture improved. You will appear balanced, stronger, and more graceful with a general air of healthy athleticism. Right now I’m working on gracefulness; the rest can wait.

Another component of my Summer Olympics preparation is the weightlifting bar. These come in several sizes including Mini, Midi and Well Beyond My Wildest Dreams. Devoid of added weights, I pump the Mini bar as though I were drawing water from a well. I admire my form in the strategically placed mirrors until I notice that the same lovely ladies are pumping iron equal to their own body weight.

Improving my balance is an important component of my training. I have previously described my balancing mishaps on the pages of this blog. Multiple falls from my electric bike and tripping over two-inch high devil rocks while hiking Shelf Road have taken up much space. Until a few weeks ago, these acts of imbalance happened exclusively outdoors. However, they have now sneakily moved into the confines of the gym.

Get-ups are designed to test one’s balance while delivering a workout that can leave you breathless. Lying flat on the floor with arms and legs raised, I look like I’m hugging Smokey the Bear. I roll to the left while Smokey comes along for the ride. I then lift myself on one elbow, then on one hand, and finish this Cirque du Soleilfeatured event by standing erect, to the applause of those who have taken the opportunity to view the majesty of the maneuver. Try that move six or seven times and you’re ready for a Grande café-latte and a prune Danish.

Until six weeks ago I had regularly conquered Get-ups without any visible calamity. Confidence reigned; I was the master of all I surveyed. And then, as I rose from the last Get-up in the series, my brain decided to take some time off. You probably know the feeling if you’ve stood up rapidly from your comfy chair while watching the Bachelorette on TV. You experienced a moment of light headedness and involuntarily plunked yourself down for another episode of this enlightening ABC network series.

Except, unlike the Bachelorette seconds-long move, my dizziness did not stop. I tried walking and wound up looking like Foster Brooks, the comedian who did a pretty good imitation of a falling-down drunk. It lasted two days.

While the intensity of the dizziness decreased over the next week, it did not end. A trip to the doctor, a couple of tests and some follow my finger exercises resulted in a diagnosis of vertigo and a suggestion that I go home and see how it goes.

Until now, my only vertigo experience was watching Jimmy Stewart play opposite Kim Novak in the Alfred Hitchcock movie called Vertigo. Jimmy’s vertigo stopped him from climbing flights of stairs or looking down at the ground. My vertigo has kept me off my bike…probably a good idea even without vertigo.

The Mayo Clinic has this to say about my problem…Vertigo is the false sense that your surroundings are spinning or moving. Your brain receives signals from the inner ear that aren’t consistent with what your eyes and sensory nerves are receiving. Vertigo is what results as your brain works to sort out the confusion.

Stuck on the road back to full functionality, I visited Kathy Doubleday at Balance physical therapy. My wanderings through the internet had prepared me for her recommendation that we attempt the Epley maneuver. Simply put, Epley loosens up the magic balancing crystals in your head that have become dislodged and moved to wrong place in your inner ear. Named for Dr. Epley who developed it in 1980, the procedure generally corrects the disorder for 90 percent of the afflicted in a single visit. Sure they do.

Lying on my back, Kathy repositioned my head up, down, and sideways. My immediate response was a recurrence of the condition that made my eyes believe that the room was rotating 360 degrees, much like a speeding merry-go-round. The rotation slowed gradually and then stopped. I paid to ride again, and we repeated the process with the same result. And, not satisfied with the nausea that accompanied the ride, did it twice more. It had all the attributes of a stomach-turning county fair ride, without the cotton candy.

Weak kneed and overly cautious, I returned home and gradually recovered without any more vertigo induced rides. The morning ended and afternoon kicked in. Busy writing a blog, I didn’t notice the arrival or departure of that ubiquitous brown van with the upturned penis on its side.

It was mid-afternoon when I emerged from my office, walked past the front door, and through the side glass noticed three brown boxes nicely stacked just outside the entry. Jackie and I are habitual Amazon over users. Ordering independently of one another, we often receive mysterious boxes which only heighten our expectation of what those boxes might contain.

Forgetting about my morning adventure, I opened the door, lifted the two smaller boxes, and took them into the house. I returned for the third much larger box, bent over fully to grasp its bottom, and immediately experienced what Dr. Epley had sought to cure.

I had no time to enjoy the ride. I fully lost my balance and collapsed in a heap, leaving a fair portion of my scalp flapping in the breeze having been detached from my skull by the unfriendly stucco of the exterior wall.

I’ve never seen a pig bleed, so I couldn’t fully appreciate the expression he bled like a stuck pig. But I have a better idea now. The floodgates had opened, and my precious fluid was seeking a new home. I was sure that not even Doctors Bailey and Webber of Grey’s Anatomy could save me. I expected to faint away when I was down to my last quart; Jackie would find me cold and lifeless, still clutching that unopened Amazon box.

David, my neighbor with a Porsche, risked blood-stained seats and took me to the hospital emergency room where I spent four hours, mostly waiting. I eventually returned home with Jackie, my head covered by a bandage bigger than Texas.

I can’t remember what was in the big box. All I know is that Amazon delivered it. With that kind of responsibility, the least they could do is put a warning label on it.

Happy Birthday, Nanny

Dear Nanny,

60 years? I could say where have they gone, but I remember them. Not every one, but enough to know.

You made your presence acutely known well before your birth. Bouts of morning sickness regularly filled your mother’s day; I’d often come home from work, look at her bloodshot eyes, and know that she’d had a tough time.

She was 20 and I was 21. Your arrival nine months and two days after we took our marriage vows was unplanned, unexpected, and overwhelming. Our ignorance of the nuances of birth control was soon followed by a display of gross incompetence dealing with a newborn. It’s surprising you survived your first year.

We lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor on Chicago’s north side. It was small with ridiculous blue carpeting in the living room. The dining area was big enough to seat four people, but we had few guests.

During her pregnancy, mom tackled all 1,711 pages of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. She read it diligently. At night she’d balance the book on her expanding stomach; you’d go along for the ride as she breathed in and out. I attribute your own voracious reading appetite to that ponderous German history book that rested not six inches from the top of your head.

You slept in a small port-a-crib next to our bed. It had a bumper pad that wrapped itself around the inside. One of my favorite memories is seeing your tiny hand squeezing its way under the pad and through the crib slats. It was as though you were saying “I want out of here.” A sure sign of your need to get things done without messing around.

We soon bought a small house in Highland Park. You had your own bedroom, and mommy and daddy had some privacy…just enough to present you with a little brother. You were a good baby. Quietly, but with purpose, you sucked your thumb with a vengeance; a sign that you would become a highly analytical and very contemplative grown-up.

You had a little pink blanket that you dragged around the house and took to your bed. I love the photo of you sitting in a small rocking chair asleep, sucking your thumb, and holding tight to your precious bankie. A sure sign that you would save most of your money and not spend it on shiny toys or bad investments.,

The blanket shredded piece by piece, eventually leaving only a three-inch-wide, twelve-inch-long strip of satin that had once bound the edges of the blanket. You wound the strip tightly around your fingers. One day you simply decided you’d had enough and consigned the strip to its final resting place. A sign that you would stick with projects until they were completed to your satisfaction.

On your fifth birthday you had a fairy tale dress-up party. You wore a Little Bo Peep shepherd’s dress and carried one of those sticks with a curved end used to herd sheep. A sure sign that you were going to be a good manager who kept things running smoothly.

We had a basement in the little house with steps that led from the kitchen down to a bare concrete slab. You were only a toddler when you fell off the last step, hit your jaw and bit your tongue. You still have a tiny scar on top of it. Never one to waste a lesson learned, you developed a keen sense of safety and became a good listener, one who only says what needs to be said.

Your baby brother, David, was quick to learn that you were someone to look up to. He followed you around the house intoning, “Where’s my Nee. I want my Nee.” It was only much later that he developed a penchant for chasing rather than following you. More often, others fell in line behind you, a leader.

You learned nearly all you needed during your first five years. You simply developed more fully as you grew older. A sense of fairness mixed with truthfulness touches everything you do. Not one to casually give compliments when undeserved, you easily offer them when earned. Never one to shirk responsibility, you freely offer your time and skills to anyone who needs a hand. Things you learned as a child are now well spent as an adult.

As I age, you become more the adult and I more the child. I value your thoughtfulness and your concern for me. Maybe I can also learn more about life from what you’ve taught me.

Happy sixtieth, Nanny. I love you very much.

Daddy

No longer Eden

The man and the woman stood motionless on the crest of the hill. It was hot, too hot for the beginning of November. They wore thin faded shirts, brown shorts and wide-brimmed hats. Their scuffed hiking shoes had seen better days.

The man reached into the backpack at his feet, retrieved a dented water bottle and offered it to the woman. “Here, take this. Be careful, it’s all we have until we can find more.”

The woman took the bottle from the man as if it contained something breakable, unscrewed the plastic cap and put it to her lips. She drank slowly and longingly. Maybe a quarter cup. Then she handed it back to the man.

The man hefted it, guessed it was half full, and then taking it to his parched lips, he drank. A warm, almost too warm, liquid ran over his tongue and into his throat. He capped the bottle, held it for a moment, stared at it as though remembering something, and then put it in the backpack.

Spread out before them was a landscape devoid of greenery. Even the chapparal was brown and lifeless. A large black bird appeared overhead and flew aimlessly looking for something and seeing nothing.

The man and the woman scanned the horizon and remembered the rows of sweet orange and tangy lemon trees that had once been prominent. No tree had been spared. Even the silvery olives were gone, their hundred-year-old branches devoid of life. Their mouths, though aching for the saliva prompted by their thoughts, remained dry.

It seemed that only a few years had passed since the great drought had begun. Perhaps deceived by the incessant, mind-bending heat, the years had been compressed in their minds. The man and woman were not alone; the entire world had joined them in their misery.

First, it was the western states. The great, seemingly eternal Colorado River had stopped, like someone had flipped a switch. Castaic, the smallest lifegiving source, had gone quickly revealing the old structures that had once been covered with fifty feet of water. The great California reservoirs had emptied, puddled, then disappeared. Folsom, Shasta and Oroville, once full now gone. 

The mysterious underground aquifers with hidden treasure troves of liquid gold had ceased to send water regardless of the depth of wells. Huge irrigation pumps now stood idle and silent, rusting. Farmers had abandoned the fields that the man and woman now looked upon.

Home water use had been severely curtailed. Saddled with huge penalties for overuse, people did what they could, but not enough. Food supplies dependent on water dwindled. Farm animals unable to adapt became a novelty, then disappeared completely.

Air conditioning except when medically prescribed was forbidden. Red rectangular placards were placed on entry doors instead of on cars signifying the use of authorized coolers. Some remembered the days when no one had air conditioning, but no one had ever experienced this nonstop debilitating heat.

When the dams went dry, electricity was reduced to a trickle. Conversion to diesel powered generators was temporary because the pollution only worsened the heat.

Homes in once desirable communities were like albatrosses. Like the Okies of Dust Bowl days, people packed up and moved to places with water. Communities with resources blocked the entry of the migrants who were forced to live on the open road. But this too was short lived; climate change and annual increases of one-degree centigrade eventually produced perpetual droughts for everyone.

Unemployment soared as companies slid into bankruptcy, then closed. Like the Great Depression, the jobless begged. The government, with its feet stuck in concrete before the great drought, took over the distribution of food. We had finally achieved equal status with other countries; except we were now all third world.

The man and the woman had often talked about this. How could a once great county fall to its knees because of water? Surely everyone knew what needed to be done. Why had this opportunity been squandered?

No matter, it was too late now. The problem continued to feed upon itself. The future was undeniable. Our time on earth, like that of the dinosaurs, was ending. Not in a cataclysmic event, but rather a slow glacial slide to oblivion while we sat on our hands.

The man and the woman began to walk. Slowly, so as not to tire before finding some water over the next hill.


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