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.

Tripping…final chapter

My twisted leg, ingloriously earned when I fell in the last ten minutes of the last hike of the week, put me at a disadvantage compared to the other nervous passengers at the Saint George, Utah airport. I was no longer my agile macho self, doped up on Tylenol Plus that didn’t seem to be living up to its claims.

I hobbled into the tiny airport from the resort van only to discover mass anxiety displayed on dozens of faces jockeying for position at the two check-in counters that served United, Delta and American. One couldn’t be sure which of the two lines to use since there were no signs nor an amplifying speaker; nothing but the ability of the rather petite agents with matching tiny voices who sought to organize the increasingly unruly crowd.

Barely able to push around my suitcase, I had burdened poor Jackie with my carry-on bag housing my Apple lap-top, Kindle reader, Air-pods, several charging cords, NY Times crossword puzzles, and the NY Review of Books that had gone untouched during the last seven days of our vacation at the Red Mountain Resort.

We watched the digital clock hover menacingly on the wall behind the ticket counter. It moved relentlessly, oblivious to our need to make a super-tight connection in Phoenix. Even if things went perfectly, we only had thirty minutes to catch that connecting flight and arrive on schedule in Santa Barbara.

After what seemed like glacial movement toward the ticket counter, we were greeted by an exhausted agent. She accepted two pieces of our luggage, tagged them and sent them to the mysterious place where all baggage goes, only one miscalculation removed from the surely lost and sometimes found department.

There was still time to get to the gate before the scheduled 3:15 departure. All we needed was reasonable cooperation by TSA and a speedy trip through security. It was as though half of St. George was in line ahead of us. Perhaps, I wondered, is this how St. Georgians spend their Saturdays; a trip to the airport creating mayhem for predatory visitors?

Aging does have its benefits; people over 75 need not remove their shoes when walking through security. I have often pondered the reason for this regulation. Was it because old people are unable to bend down to unlace their triple-wide clunkers? Most old folks wear those glaring white nursing home specials with three Velcro straps; unzipping should be easy. Or do we look as though we are unable to construct and hide a shoe bomb; good thing they didn’t know that I built a Heathkit amplifier right after my college days.

I also was the beneficiary of being led around the scanners and passed through without anyone touching me. Perhaps I looked harmless as I stumbled around on my gimpy right leg. No such luck for cute little Jackie who was flagged down and body scanned three times by some TSA brute who seemed to be enjoying himself.

We cleaned up our carry-on mess and headed for one of the airport’s four gates. It was SRO at all four, but happily the electronic screen announced an on-time departure for American’s 3292 to Phoenix. We had dodged a bullet and only malfunctioning equipment could stop us now. 

And, of course, it did.

We were seated quickly without anyone beating up on the flight steward for enforcing mask wearing. The engines rumbled and the plane backed from the gate. We taxied toward the runway, the plane stopped, there was an overly pregnant pause and we waited for the captain who eventually said, “Sorry folks. We’ve got a warning light that needs to be checked out. Shouldn’t be long. Sit back and relax.”

What he really meant, I thought, was “God knows what the problem is. Never seen anything like it. You will all probably have to exit the plane on the 110-degree tarmac while we nonchalantly see what’s going on. You’re going to miss your connection in Phoenix and your bags will probably get lost too. Hang tight and don’t bother the crew with dumb questions. Oh, and this is the last flight out today.”

The captain finally just unscrewed the offending warning-light and we were on our way, but not before we had lost half of the allotted time to make our Phoenix connection on American 5332 to Santa Barbara. I was sure that the departure gate for 5332 was going to be a day’s walk from where we would deplane. For me, it would be a two day crawl.

Jackie took it in stride when we landed, summoned up her majestic five-foot-one height and got ready for battle. From our location in the way-back cheap seats she called the steward and, citing my inability to do Olympic high hurdles, asked that we be given special priority in exiting the plane. Sure.

Despite her valiant efforts, we gained little in the aisle and then began the long march up the gangway. People passed me as though my feet were in concrete. If I had been a lame horse, they would have shot me.

Arriving at the top of the gangway after what seemed like a full day spent on the Bataan Death March, we were told that flight 5332 had departed on schedule five minutes ago. With a healthy dose of hostility, I wondered why connecting flights are always on schedule when we are late. And why they are always on time when we are early.

The agent at the counter gave us good news; there was another flight to Santa Barbara today. The bad news was that it wasn’t departing until 6:30, three hours from now. No calamity, since I figured it would take me that long to crawl to the gate.

It’s times like this that I wished I had the platinum American Express card that would welcome us to American’s Admirals’ Club lounge. There I would be pampered and get moderately smashed at no additional cost beyond the annual AMEX card fee (reputedly equal to what I paid for my first house.)

Jackie did her best to do a hail Mary around the menacing hounds guarding the entrance to the cushy VIP lounge. I admire her boldness but find it hard to watch; as a result, I usually lower my head and turn away from the spectacle as though I didn’t know this woman.  Shamefully, I did my part by imitating a Viet Nam veteran returning home with a war-torn leg. But they had seen that ploy before and sent us away to lick our wounds. In retrospect, maybe a row of medals on my sweatshirt would have done the trick.

The adjacent Escape Lounge beckoned us. No need for the platinum card as it was only $35 a person to enter this non-sectarian Valhalla of airport lounges. Well, maybe not Valhalla, but better than the airport’s blue plastic seats designed by Torquemada for the Spanish inquisition.

We paid the lounge fee, settled into our chairs, ate bite-sized mystery sandwiches and drank as much wine as needed to mindlessly pass the three hours before our 6:30 flight time.

We faced a wall displaying airline departure times including our new best buddy, American 3677 coming from Cleveland. With great trepidation, I occasionally raised my head from my glass of cheap wine to assure myself that our departure time had not changed.

It did. As if punishing us for our unpatriotic attempt to surreptitiously enter the Admirals’ Lounge, our Cleveland connection was now delayed; two more hours were tacked on resulting in a planned 8:30 departure.

The plebian Escape Lounge was closing at 8pm, thirty minutes before our new departure time. Bidding it a fond adieu, we dragged ourselves to our new digs, gate 12, and waited for the Cleveland express.

The Greek god Hermes, in furtherance of his assignment to deal with travelers, determined that we had not been punished sufficiently for our lounge indiscretions and tacked another hour onto our fickle departure time, now 9:30. The advancing electronic clock became our enemy, and the airport began an ominous path toward complete silence.

The only remaining airport passengers were huddled around gate 12. We were really alone, feeling like Ernest Borgnine and Shelly Winters struggling to escape a capsized ship in the Poseidon Adventure. Would the airport shut down completely, discarding us on the street and leaving us to find our own salvation in some depressing motel with thin towels and a broken air conditioner?

But salvation was at hand when Air Cleveland arrived much like Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill. We were unceremoniously stuffed into its bowels and lifted off at 10pm, seven hours after our original departure time. I almost didn’t care where we were going as long as we got there on time.

Miraculously, both our bags and our bodies arrived together in Santa Barbara. A tired Jackie drove us home where we poured ourselves into bed at 1:30am.

It was a great vacation.

Tripping…Part 5

It’s Saturday, the seventh day of our Red Mountain Resort adventure; by Jewish biblical standards a required day of rest.

Oblivious to that standard, Jackie had asked me the night before, “So what’s your plan for tomorrow? I’m going hiking, how about you? Maybe you should rest and get ready for our departure. It’s ok, I won’t think any less of you.”

I had given serious consideration to skipping the morning hike. After all, I had done the six previous daily death marches and had survived to tell the tale. But her question was really a challenge, one that I was determined to accept. No slouch, me. I’m going to be at the front of the pack, setting the pace even if I’d prefer hanging out on the patio with a latte and bagel with cream cheese.

We were scheduled for a 1pm bus ride to the St. George airport leaving us just enough time for a three-hour hike, a shower and packing up all the complimentary toiletries that Jackie had cleverly accumulated during the past week.

Our morning began benignly. We had our usual dish of six pieces of cut-up fruit and limited our coffee intake to half a bladder full. After a precautionary trip to the rest room, we proceeded to the Gazebo where we found our hiking guides, Julie and Mark.

In contrast to leader John, yesterday’s father figure, these young people were barely out of diapers. Kind and welcoming, they nevertheless had a frightening air of repressed confidence and a “let’s get on with it” attitude. One other person, a matronly shy woman named Joan, completed our band of adventurers. It was a small group in comparison with prior days and eased my concerns about any impetuous daredevil hiking. The prognosis for my survival until our 1pm departure was good, and I felt reasonably smug about taking up the gauntlet thrown at my feet by Jackie.

First impressions are often unreliable. Joan was an animal.

As she shed her matronly demeanor, Joan urged our guides to traverse steeper terrain at a faster clip. My confidence level moved toward the red zone; I should have opted for the bagel.

The hike almost over, I was congratulating myself at surviving the demands of the she-devil Joan. Only ten minutes remained before I could shed my macho exterior, remove my fake water bottles and shelve my hiking shoes for the next decade. While I would secretly lick my wounds, Jackie would tell our experiences to all who would listen, especially about how she had transformed a 78-year-old wimp into an 82-year-old Hercules.

We were 200 feet from the end of the trail descending a ladder-like cluster of rocks that the angel Moroni had surely placed there to punish the wicked. I stepped down to the next level, slipped, and my right foot attempted a dance move that was popularized by the Royal Ballet’s Margot Fonteyn in The Sleeping Beauty. Perhaps it could be best described as a pirouette on top of an arabesque.

I failed to emulate Ms. Fonteyn as my leg tried to complete a 180-degree turn. My right knee was now at the back of my leg. For an instant I thought that my right foot was facing in the opposite direction of my left foot.

Having little experience with this move, I adopted a survival mode and skipped forward on one leg, pirouetting in a manner that would have been unrecognizable to Ms. Fonteyn. Failing that attempt, I slammed into Jackie who had miraculously been positioned to keep me from falling on my ass. Fortunately, my leg remained attached to my hip, but my ligaments were screaming something other than encore, encore.

My companions stared at me as though they had never seen anything like it. Reasonably solicitous, they asked me if I needed help. “No, I’ve done this before. Piece of cake. A little sore. It’ll pass. Let me walk it off.”

In reality, I felt that even the surgical prowess of Christina Yang and Derek Shephard of Grey’s Anatomy couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Far from experiencing the reputed benefits of walking it off, hobbling back to the van only intensified my discomfort.  Adopting the well-used role of the suffering hypochondriac, I envisioned amputation as the probable result of my refusal to stay on our patio with a warm latte.

We hobbled back to our room where I assumed a fetal position on the bed while Jackie finished packing. We called the tram that shlepped us 200 feet to the visitor center. I found a couch and tried to find a comfortable position that let me believe that my leg still was attached to my hip. Carefully attended to by Jackie, who offered a non-stop course of Tylenol and bottled water, we waited for the 1pm bus to the airport.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 3:15. We were assured by the resort mavens that two hours were more than we needed to comfortably make our flight from St. George to Phoenix where we had a connecting flight to Santa Barbara.

Our bus left on time. No traffic. Piece of cake.

Tiny St. George airport welcomed us with open arms and a horde of passengers waiting to check-in. I watched the processing of the passengers at the counter and calculated that the rate at which this was happening would delay our departure until the passing of Halley’s Comet in 2061.

To be continued…

Tripping…Part 4

This is the fourth of the series called Tripping

Hiking is an activity that requires a belief that the effort is worth it and, for octogenarians, exceptional bladder control. For example, breakfast coffee intake must be limited because it seems to double in volume as it passes rapidly through my system. A bottle of water can be carried in a backpack but drinking it must be strictly avoided unless heat stroke is imminent.

The hiking terrain near the Red Mountain resort resembles that of Mars. Very dry, very barren, and devoid of any privacy screens for those who might want to watch you do your business. This may be acceptable to those less shy, but it becomes a Maginot Line for those whose early toilet training precludes any thought of exposing oneself during the performance of normal bodily functions. Ergo, keep water consumption under control; you will probably recover from severe dehydration in a couple of days.

Hydration planning clicks into gear at breakfast and accelerates at 7:30am under the gazebo adjacent to the restaurant. The resort’s guests number about 200 souls and half, including Jackie and me, are assigned to the morning’s array of hiking adventures. Ours is called the Explorer Hike; a fairly basic foray into the surrounding hills that requires enough energy and working muscles to travel about five miles up and down the firmament in about two hours. Another hike, the Challenge, is the same as the Explorer but is done in less time, proving that Challengers are tougher, maybe dumber, than Explorers.

I hadn’t done much hiking until I met and wooed Jackie. A major component of my wooing was learning to hike more than 100 feet at a 4% grade without sustaining a stroke or heart attack. To date I have survived without either, but am keenly aware of the laws of probability.

The early demise of the runner and fitness book author Jim Fixx may have been an aberration, but I have always been suspicious of the claimed benefits of exercise, especially walking, jogging, climbing hills and participating in marathons. If running is so good, why did the cave man die young? After all, he spent most of his waking hours chasing or being chased by predators. Unfortunately, Mr. Fixx did not adequately cover this peculiarity in his bestseller, The Complete Book of Running.

Each of the gazebo-sheltered hiking groups is guided by two resort employees. One is the leader while the other is the tail. The leader leads while the tail picks up any dawdlers who are either seeking a place to pee or who have simply lost interest in the adventure and would rather be back at the resort, sitting on their patio drinking chardonnay, even if it’s only 9am.

The ages of our hikers is the usual…everyone is younger than me. My ability to guess one’s age deteriorates as I get older. For example, I think Jackie looks 42; but she claims I’m biased. I even think Mitch McConnell is younger than me (turns out I was right on this one, by three years). And nearly all of the Supreme Court justices are younger than me; only Stephen Breyer is older (by nine months) and the Democrats are already telling him to retire. When he does, maybe I can hike with him.

John is our leader this morning. He’s no spring chicken, working full time at the resort, hiking, biking and greeting arriving guests. Gregarious and knowledgeable, we often stop during the hike for a drink of water (I generally fake it so as not to upset John) or a story about the surrounding fauna and flora. This morning’s hike was nearly over and I found myself at John’s side near the head of the pack; I decided to ask him how old he was (you can do that when you’re my age.)

“Eighty next week”, he said. I was surprised he was that old, in light of his agility, strength and stamina. I figured I’d one up him and said “I’m two years older than you.” I hesitated and half-hoped he’d say something like, “Wow, I’m shocked. You are astounding. Your stamina is amazing. You are stronger than most men half your age.”

Instead, he said, “Wow, you’re the oldest guy I’ve ever had on a hike. Wait til I tell everyone back at the resort. Oh, and don’t forget to drink your water.”

Hiking is only one of the resort’s fitness activities that interferes with my sitting, drinking and eating. Water aerobics that invite third-degree sunburn, yoga classes designed to rearrange bone structures, and e-bike riding while avoiding a skull fracture are just a few of the other delights.

We purchased two e-bikes nine months ago and had ridden them regularly (like once a month), and had wrestled them to the ground occasionally (like once a month). The resort offered a two-hour e-bike trip that sounded kind of neat, even given my lack of enthusiasm for the bikes that sat mostly idle in our garage.

We booked the e-bikes when we made the resort reservations three months before; I then spent most of the intervening time in a state of high anxiety. I even developed a mantra to calm my nerves. “Now, Fred. You are perfectly capable of riding a bike. So, get your manhood back in your pants and quit fretting about falling and breaking your femur. It has nearly a zero chance of happening.” It was the word “nearly” that had kept me awake at nights.

Arriving at the designated bike pool, we were greeted by four other riders, all bouncy, bright-eyed young women who had far too much energy and far too little regard for their physical well being. Just what I needed, a ready-made audience to view my Evel Knievel leap for death.

Jackie had been enthusiastic about taking the ambulance provoking rides, leaving me alone to worry about the outcome. Five of the six bikes were properly sized for those with average stature while one was for the more petite. Perfect we thought, until Jackie tried mounting the beast and discovered that she was sub-petite. She wrestled with it, twisting her legs and hips in ways that bordered on the obscene.

Tired of waiting for us, the young, nubile women reved up the bikes and practiced wheelies in the adjacent parking lot. The super-charged bikes scared the crap out of me. Adding to the Nightmare on Elm Street feeling was the resort supervisor’s twice repeated caution. “Never touch this button. You’ll activate the turbocharger and the bike will throw you over the handlebars and into the ditch.”

Jackie, unwilling to simply say that she was scared shitless, said, “I just had a hip replacement and I never ride in or on a vehicle without my handicapped placard. I’m sorry I won’t be joining you on this adventure.”

And then she added, “But Fred can go if he wants. He should go. I don’t want to be an impediment. I’ll just go sit on our patio, recover from my surgery and drink a margarita.” Coming to my senses I told the supervisor, “She needs a lot of help. I’ll go make the margarita”.

We hated missing the Evel Kneivel opportunity and spent the next few hours visualizing the possible joys of flying over handlebars. In addition, we took umbrage to the fact that a bunch of Amazon women could do something that we were too chicken to try. So, we began hoping for the worst news upon their return. A feeling of schadenfreude enveloped us that fell just short of wishing bodily injury on perfectly innocent strangers.

To be continued.

Tripping—Part 3

This is the third of the series called Tripping

We last left our travel weary young couple in front of room 226 at St. George Utah’s Red Mountain Resort. The electronic key had failed to work, it was 95 in the shade, and the dinner hour was rapidly approaching. What to do, what to do.

And here, as if summoned by the Mormon Angel Moroni’s trumpet, came Martha, our own angel with the golden golf cart. “What’s up kids…oh, the key thing. Not a problem, I’ve seen it a couple of times today. Remember real keys? Bet you wish you had one right now.”

Unreservedly placing herself in Martha’s hands, Jackie plunked down her cute tush next to our angel, and they drove off in what I presumed was the way to the front desk. I remained on guard in the shade, temporarily casting aside my manhood in favor of allowing the women to assume full control of my destiny…like always.

I hardly had time to finish my stand-up nap when they returned with a new key card that clicked and opened the portal to our sanctuary. Martha bestowed a motherly smile on us and reiterated the caution offered by the caustic Anne when we had registered. “Don’t put the key card next to your credit card or you will again be exiled from your room. I’m not on duty all day just to make new keys for you.”

With that benevolent reminder, a sneak peek at Martha’s somewhat limited patience, and a blast of a heavenly trumpet, we bid her good-bye. I collapsed in a comfy chair on one of our two patios where I resumed my nap and awaited our first exposure to the much anticipated dinner hour.

Dinner at the resort featured a grab-it-where-you-can table of your very own (Covid rules) and the typical services offered in most restaurants. The menu offered five etched-in-stone entrees that we became quite intimate with during the next six days. A featured special or two spiced things up even when they were no longer available due to our usual tardy appearance at dinner. We killed a lot of salmon during the week, drank our share of alcohol and prepared ourselves for the grueling mornings to follow.

I never set a morning alarm. My diurnal cycle is like the battery powered clock settings on an irrigation system. On, off, on, off with annoying repetitiveness starting around 3am. I wake, wonder whether I need to pee (usually) and resume my feeble attempts to doze off. Around 5am dozing has morphed into a half-sleep where I think foolish thoughts, complain about life in general, try to focus on my breathing, and wait for a signal from Jackie that the day has begun.

Unless one is going fishing or catching a global flight to some fun place, nobody my age, with a diurnal cycle better suited to a bat, needs to get up before 6am. So, you see, there is no requirement that I set my alarm. Doubly so when Jackie has the com, never misses a beat, and is ready to go even if the weather is shitty or she has a day in front of her that challenges her considerable capabilities. She is my time clock hero.

The resort comes alive around 6am and readies itself for the hikes that occupy most of the morning. Breakfast is a buffet with different foods well hidden under covered, stainless steel, chafing dishes. There are ten of them, each with a breakfast mystery in its depths.  Covid rules require the wearing of masks in the buffet line which adds a bit of adventure to the selection process.

The two-foot in diameter chafing dish top weighs as much as my old bowling ball and must be tilted upward to reveal the contents of the dish. Even then, you cannot always rely on your eyes since it is dark (no one has thought of installing a light over each dish) and some of the food is immersed in a strange liquid that effectively obliterates the identity of its ingredients.

This combination of darkness and primeval ooze is further enhanced by the absence of any sign next to a chafing dish that would give you an inkling of what it contains. Therefore, each lid must be raised for viewing the contents and then replaced when you realize you don’t want any rubbery scrambled eggs.

If you do want rubbery scrambled eggs, a three-pound stainless steel serving spoon is provided for scooping or dipping. If you arrive toward the end of the breakfast feast, the spoon has been thoroughly coated with several layers of the aforementioned eggs, restricting the amount that can be placed on your dish and requiring several scooping and shaking motions to satisfy your egg requirements…while the person on your right is mentally shoving your ass down the line.

Breakfast isn’t a staple of my diet, but I do make occasional exceptions. In this instance, some protein and glucose are called for as the morning hike is next on our schedule. Uncovering a dozen or so chafing dishes had left me with little appetite (but much larger biceps) so I settled on fruit chunks, a half-scoop of the rubbery eggs and a cup of coffee. But not too much coffee.

As I age, my ability to consume liquids is progressively limited by my bladder’s ability to store them. I am focused laser-like on the amount consumed and the span of time during which expelling it is fraught with uncertainty. For example, auto trips involving traffic snarled freeways are a particularly difficult situation. Being stuck without a reliable exit and an easily accessed toilet-blessed facility will wreak havoc if too much liquid has been consumed prior to the beginning of the trip. Draining my bladder immediately before embarkation is a necessity; drinking any kind of beverage during the trip is, of course, out of the question.

To be continued…


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