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…

Tripping—Part 2

(This is the second of the series called Tripping)

Our trip from the St. George, Utah airport down memory lane ended as we emerged from the courtesy van in front of the Red Mountain Resort. The usual angst kicked into gear as I considered tipping the driver, reconsidered it and finally succumbed to the basic instincts etched into my DNA; I slipped twenty bucks into Martha’s waiting hand.

We entered the reception area and were greeted by Anne who appeared well beyond almost anyone’s retirement age. My quick evaluation of her feeble stamina proved to be incorrect as she launched into a non-stop dissertation covering all aspects of our stay. It appeared that she was compensated based on the number of guests she greeted rather than the quality of her performance. I was unable to grasp much of anything other than her warning of the impending closure of the lunch hour at the restaurant and the unavailability of food until the dinner hour.

Finally, Anne whipped out a map of the resort and identified the location of the restaurant, spa, fitness center, bike rentals and other soon forgotten sights. Carefully pointing out the location of our room, she ended our visitation and wished us well.

I folded the map, shoved it into my pants pocket and promised myself that I would review it carefully before venturing out on the paths leading god knows where. It was the last time that I fondled that map.

We emerged from the reception center and, of course, had no idea where our room was. We spun on our axis and tried to divine the path to it. Martha, the van driver and a lot more sympatico than Anne the receptionist, noted our discomfiture and offered to drive us to our room in one of the dozens of electric utility vehicles that littered the landscape. My twenty bucks proved to be a worthwhile investment as Martha flawlessly piloted the cart less than a hundred feet and deposited us in front of room 226. I’ll pay better attention next time.

We held our breath, swiped the electronic card into the reader and were relieved when the lock clicked welcomingly. Room 226 was beyond our expectations.

A sleeping area with two large beds, a gargantuan TV, and sliding doors that led to a patio with a view of the mountains and a brilliant Disney designed blue sky. A bathroom with twin wash basins, and a large jacuzzi tub and separate shower suitable for intimate parties. A closeted potty that allows you to hide your most intimate functions while your spouse expels gas nearby, oblivious to your own emanations.

There was more. A short hallway led to a large living room with comfy chairs and an even larger TV (I began to wonder if anyone ever left their room), refrigerator, cooking supplies and yet another bathroom and even larger patio. Further exploration revealed a washer and dryer fully capable of satisfying Jackie’s penchant for perpetually clean clothes.

Believing that some of this expansive grandeur might be shared by the adjoining guestroom, and to avoid midnight surprises from strangers, I sheepishly phoned the front desk, “Is this all just for us?”

“Yes, Mr. Rothenberg, it is for your sole use. You deserve it. Enjoy it. And give our very best to your lovely wife, Jackie”….who was already loading a sweaty t-shirt and a pair of very cute pink socks into the bowels of the LG washer.

It was only 2pm and the adventure got into full gear with a pair of massages intended to loosen up our bodies that had been primarily sedentary since the 4am trip from home to the Santa Barbara airport, a plane change in Phoenix and a courtesy van to our present abode.

Finding the spa was surprisingly easy. It was a domed structure sitting atop a hill as though it was in charge of all the other buildings. Built much like a Pringle’s potato chip container, it had four levels. The usual Covid warnings were posted on the entry doors, windows and any other place that screamed for appropriate artwork. The welcome desk was on the top level, necessitating an uphill climb that challenged our lungs that were already struggling with the 3,000-foot elevation of the resort. I half expected to find Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay at the welcome desk or, as we dubbed it, our base camp.

Instead, we found Suzanne. She appeared much like other young women who register out-of-shape spa guests. Slim, bright-eyed, perfect makeup and impeccable dress, Suzanne looked just like you want to look.

We were relieved when Suzanne found our reservations; the ones we had made two months earlier when we booked the trip. We exhausted the ink supply in our pens as we completed the usual forms prying into our medical history, and dutifully signed the waivers that excused the resort from all sorts of potential disasters, including asteroid collision and volcanic eruption.

Suzanne smiled, mispronounced my name, and said we were all set. “Just go down two flights to the massage rooms. You will be greeted there.” Somewhat disappointed at having wasted a walk up two flights, we accepted her directive and looked for the stairs.

The Pringle’s design of the building included a circular stairway running through the center of the can. It was much narrower than any other circular stairway that I had encountered, and definitely was in violation of the building code even in the madcap construction frenzy rampant in St. George.

I sent Jackie ahead of me so that she might break my fall that was sure to happen.  Balance is not my strong point, having demonstrated my proclivity for falling off bicycles and collapsing in a heap while hiking Shelf Road. Looking like a whirling dervish while descending the spiral stairs only increased the probability of severely broken bones. But crap, I had already paid for this massage and I was going to get it even if it included a full body cast.

Despite having to duck my head because of stationary objects impeding my descent (surely another building code violation), we made it to the massage level where we were treated to a mediocre body thumping by women who seemed to be more interested in another job.

We exited the Pringles can and began the trip back to our room. With only two wrong turns and the addition of a thousand unexpected steps to Jackie’s FitBit, we found room 226 and swiped the magnetic key into the 21stcentury door lock. Nada. No welcoming clicks.

As we all do under these circumstances, we stared at the room number prominently displayed on the door frame to verify that this was indeed room 226. And then we swiped again. Nada. Perhaps we had disappointed Suzanne or one of the upwardly mobile massage therapists and we were being punished for our misdeeds.

To be continued…

Tripping

St. George, Utah is in the southwestern part of the state, about 450 miles from Ojai, California. Sometimes, under the right circumstances, it can feel a whole lot farther.

The city is only 118 miles from Las Vegas, making it easy to lose the money you had planned to tithe to the Mormon Church. Fortunately, Zion National Park is close by where you can sleep under the stars after you lose your home at the craps table.

 According to the census folks, there are about 90,000 people in the city; in 2005 it had the dubious distinction of being the fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S. Based on what I saw during our trip last week, it still is.

My first exposure to St. George occurred when I took my two sons on a fishing trip to Panguitch Lake, about 120 miles north of the Saint. My older son, David, was about 19 when we went to the lake; we were both much younger and hardier 38 years ago. Driving was the only option open to us then and St. George was merely a pit-stop for a pee break, leg stretch and something to eat.

We made that trip twice, and each time we ate at Dick’s Diner, the Copacabana of St. George. We enjoyed the food; it was cheap and flavorful, with lots of fat, salt and sugar. Although the food was enough of a draw, the menu took top billing. Ignoring the dried-on food detritus, we laughed at the misspellings. For example, cigarette smoking was acceptable, but cigars were a no-no. In big print the menu shouted “No Gisar Samoking”.

We even butchered the diner’s name, by associating it with all its food offerings. Dick Burgers, Dick Fries and Dick Cokes was just the start of it. Then there was Dick Toast, Dick eggs and Dick Coffee. Our favorite, Dick Dogs, is still invoked with laughter and warmth whenever I am fortunate enough to spend a little time with son David.

We would have our fill at Dick’s, empty our bladders, fill our tank and speed right through the rest of St. George in about three nanoseconds heading north to Panguitch. Not anymore.

Being much older and less robust than when I last visited the Saint, I got down on one knee, clasped my hands together in prayer mode and implored Jackie to have pity on me by taking a plane from Santa Barbara. And we did, arriving on time even with a very short layover to make the connection in Phoenix. I congratulated myself on what then seemed like a good idea.

The Saint’s airport is a three-gate affair and is humbly designated a Regional Airport, having years ago abandoned its somewhat strained International Airport status when it stopped delivering the mail to Tijuana. 

Located in the middle of something that looks like the movie set of Flight of the Phoenix, it is surrounded by mega-hectares of sand. Our friendly Red Mountain Resort van driver, who looked a bit like Jimmy Stewart, had little of interest to point out until we had placed a reasonable distance between us and the desolate land of the dinosaurs.

Houses leaped at us from every direction; most looked as though they had just been unwrapped and were awaiting their owners. Condos littered the landscape. This was still the land of the great expansion. An expansion that produced multi-million-dollar homes in places formerly occupied by your retired Uncle Sid and Aunt Marge. House trailers were definitely not the in-thing. This was no longer the home of Dick’s Diner.

All manner of architectural styles were on display. Most of it built to resemble the shadings and hues of a land that is deprived of standing water. Whatever moisture I retained from living in Southern California was instantly sucked out of me by humidity levels that were well below zero. As my Ukrainian mother would say, “It may be hot, but it’s a dry heat”. There were no flies; even they need water.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at the Red Mountain Resort.

To be continued….

Drops and Pokes

If my eyes were formerly feeling lonely, I have now moderated that condition by letting a horde of strangers in white coats peer into them, flood them with all manner of drops, and poke them as though one were testing the ripeness of an avocado.

In previous episodes, I chronicled the events that precipitated these invasive activities and eventually concluded with my optometrist, Dr. Brockman, announcing that I was now “ripe”, a euphemism that conveyed his conclusion that I was primed for cataract surgery.

Live long enough and you too will experience at least one, and probably two, such surgeries.

In addition to cataracts, I am keeping glaucoma at bay. Once a rampant blindness provocateur, it’s controllable with multiple medications dropped into the eyes one or more times a day. Untreated, glaucoma will damage the optic nerve leading to loss of vision. The malady is precipitated by abnormally high pressure in the eye, called ocular hypertension, that inflates your eyeball like a balloon and squeezes the life out of your optic nerve.

Squeezing drops into my eyes is a hit or miss activity that normally results in much of the liquid dripping down my cheek. I have tried different approaches including tilting my head way back to where it almost touches my butt, experimenting with the distance between the dropper and my eye, and soliciting Jackie’s assistance. Employing Nurse Jackie is the most reliable method, but she often is preoccupied; lately she is focused on watching all 356 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

Theories abound as to the causes of glaucoma. Some folks recommend avoiding headstands; however, I have learned that eye pressure is independent of blood pressure. Other soothsayers blame bananas, coffee, and banging your head against the wall (my mother did a lot of that and did not suffer from glaucoma.)

Most eye practitioners put the entire blame on our parents for passing on the dreaded ballooning gene. Thank goodness for that; at least I can continue standing on my head.

Easily discernable symptoms of glaucoma are generally absent. Eye pressure is measured with numbing drops placed onto the eye, and then a tap or two on your eyeball transmits a pressure reading to the observer. I consider myself an expert in evaluating the skills of those who tap on my eyeballs, having been subjected to the process by optometrists, ophthalmologists and retina specialists.

Almost anyone in the doctor’s office, from a board-certified physician (whatever that is) to the newly hired receptionist is apparently authorized to attack your eyeball with a vengeance. Additionally, I have found that occupational status has little to do with the efficiency and comfort attendant to the process. The receptionist in my ophthalmologist’s office gave me the best balloon job I’ve ever had.

Completing the trifecta of eye afflictions is macular degeneration. Like cataracts and glaucoma, the disease runs rampant through my family. My earliest recollection of it begins with my father’s mother who, like my parents, was a Lithuanian refugee. Skinny, just short of five feet, and wearing a sheitel (head covering used by orthodox Jewish women), she moved like a specter through her kitchen, never uttering a sound. Perhaps I was too young to remember but I’d swear she was a mute. Her eyes glistened in a way that made her appear sightless. All in all, I was too frightened of her to ask.

Macular degeneration results in severely blurred or a complete loss of vision in the center of the field of vision. Peripheral vision remains, so that you can spot someone creeping up on you (unless glaucoma is part of the daily double.) Seeing faces, driving, eating and other daily activities are featured challenges in most Mission Impossible movies.

My father, Morris, had macular degeneration. One of my embedded memories is of him sitting sideways on a folding chair in front of the TV, watching a White Sox game out of the corner of his right eye. Glaucoma complicated the process of defining the images and required that the players on the TV screen move very slowly so he could tell what was going on. Baseball easily filled this requirement; watching the Bulls or the Blackhawks was out of the question.

Irv, my brother, suffered from all the aforementioned maladies and, like Mr. Magoo, tended to bump into stationary objects. As I have begun to do, he walked very tentatively in darkened areas, sticking his toe out well ahead of the rest of his body to feel for objects that might be on a collision course.

My cataract surgery was relatively uneventful except for the complete loss of vision in my left eye. My hysteria abated over the next 48 hours as my AWOL sight gradually returned. However, lack of significant improvement in my visual acuity over the next week or two resulted in a follow-up trip to the surgeon. Further drops, pokes and machine games resulted in a highly sophisticated diagnosis of “Looks good to me.” And a referral to a retina specialist.

The retina maven resided in the largest office of the three specialties (who knew that the retina could be so important). I dutifully filled out several reams of forms that asked for everything but my preferred coitus position. I was then interviewed by a young lady who seemed on the verge of asking that question, but I was put at ease when she only asked for my bank account and social security numbers.

The anticipated drops and pokes were accompanied by the largest array of eye testing devices I had seen in any office. One of the devices looked much like the evil storm trooper featured in a Star Wars movie. A human sized, white rectangular device, I half expected Darth Vader’s breathy voice to emerge from it.

My face was squashed into the front of the trooper and my head positioned in ways that were not intended by our Creator. The technician, obviously dissatisfied with my eyelid, lifted and jerked it in order to get really good photos, ones that would no doubt be one day found on a list of Facebook Favorites.

Finished with the activities that were intended to offend my eyes, I was escorted to a nice room that could, in a pinch, be called a home away from home. Several impressive computer screens lined the shelf in front of me displaying the photos taken by the storm trooper.

The door opened slowly and I half-expected to see Darth Vader. Instead, I met the Marx brothers. The first, using his given name, introduced himself as Damien the ophthalmologist and leader of the band. The second, Susan, was apparently the only one who could make the computer screens come to life. The third, who reminded me of my grandmother who could not speak, was introduced as Roberta, the medical student. It almost seemed like an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, without the blood.

Damien was a slap-happy sort who seemed to enjoy giving me bad news. He did, however, display good judgment by starting with the good news. He gleefully announced that my being 81 put me in the pediatric section of his practice; most of his other clients had survived the sinking of the Titanic.

He went on. “You’ve got a lot of macular degeneration. Not enough to be concerned about…yet. And there’s a bunch of other stuff that you won’t understand so I’ll not get into it. Go home, eat olive oil, nuts, fish, and the other things that Italians like…but maybe not so much pasta and watch how much wine you slug down. And maybe take those pills you’ve been taking for the last two years; they’re probably good for you. Ok, we’re done. Come back in six or eight months. Oh, and happy almost birthday.”

I split the difference with the receptionist and made an appointment seven months later. I exited the building with dilated pupils the size of basketballs. Jackie drove up and I plopped down in the passenger seat. “How’d it go?” she asked.

“Not bad, same old drops and pokes. But at least I met the Marx brothers.”

French Fries

The snack bar at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club is not known for its vegan dishes nor for any self-imposed limitation on the saturated fat globules served up to its otherwise health-conscious members.

The Club recently began a Tuesday dinner soiree that continued its happy-go-lucky diet of mind-numbing weekly specials that featured burgers, fries and, just in case you burned too many calories in the lap pool, a hearty pile of macaroni and cheese.

This heart stopping road to perdition was sidetracked this past Tuesday with a surprise offering that included a garden salad and salmon.  Jackie brought this dietary turnabout to my attention and offered to treat me to a night out two days later. Jackie’s daughter, Sammy, rounded out the guest list with her youthful friends, Esmerelda and Sergio.

A warm, soft, east wind surrounded us as we emerged from the club and stepped onto the stone-age designed back patio. Three young women were participating in a mind-bending yoga class designed for those who seek new ways to challenge how nature has constructed the human body. I felt a bit guilty thinking about food while they huffed and puffed, so I decided to think of them as part of the evening’s entertainment.

Jackie had ordered our meals in advance. We retrieved them from the pickup window, got two glasses of chardonnay and sat down at the indestructible wrought iron table. Opening the Covid-induced ubiquitous cardboard box revealed a leafy salad that had been blessed with a few microscopic bits of salmon.

Having just met Esmerelda and Sergio, I restrained myself from complaining about the relative absence of fish and went to work on the salad. Sammy had mystically anticipated the non-caloric salad and had compensated for it by conjuring up two large tubs of fries; I attacked them with little regard to the needs of our dinner companions.

We filled the air with words that smoothed the raw edges caused by making a first-time contact with relative strangers. One’s physical appearance became less important as our conversation continued. We discovered some commonality in our backgrounds and, though unsaid, I was sure we shared similar political views.

Prompted by Jackie, the vaccine moved front and center. “Have you had your shots?”

“No.”

“Do you plan to get them?”

“No.”

“Any special reason?”

“I don’t want anything put in my body that’s likely to cause a problem. For example, I’ve heard that…”

And then Sergio launched into a litany of the negative effects suffered by the millions who have already embraced the vaccine…or for that matter, any vaccine.

The salad wilted and the fries congealed.

I found it useless to pursue the matter as I had no facts to contest his claims of the danger of government supported vaccines, nor of a miracle Asian compound that had been shown to prevent Covid from entering the body and alternatively cure anyone who already has the disease.

In retrospect, I wish I would have said that the Federal Trade Commission regularly sends warnings to companies advising them to stop making unsupportable claims about curing Covid…or the absence of any deaths due to the vaccine…or the rise in the incidence of the disease attacking younger people…or…

And then I thought, “What the hell, it’s a beautiful evening, I’m here with very nice people, I ate some delicious French fries…and I’ve had both my shots. They’ll figure it out.”

At least they’re not Republicans.

Browsing

It was 8 am and we were on the 101 headed to Santa Monica for Jackie’s follow-up visit three weeks after her hip replacement.

I had been congratulating myself for inadvertently scheduling the visit to coincide with Cesar Chavez Day when the rush hour traffic would surely be lighter. That bit of profundity was quashed as the freeway abruptly shut down at the Topanga exit.

Years of freeway driving tend to impart one with a sixth sense as to whether a freeway stoppage is only because of traffic volume or whether it bodes an air of finality when it refuses to move at all. The specter of a missed doctor appointment often adds to the excitement as you realize that you might as well sit back and suck it up.

Sitting there with little else to do, I began to fidget and wonder why my eyelash seemed to be bumping against the right lens of my glasses. Or maybe, I thought, it was my eyebrow that was the cause of the annoyance.  I tried unsuccessfully to smooth the brow above my eye and pluck at what might be a dislodged eyelash that had taken up residence in the usually vacant space between my eye and the glasses.

I reminisced while the traffic remained glued in place and recalled that my eyebrow trimming had become more frequent in the last few years along with the accelerated appearance of other hair in my ears and nose. Curiously, the disappearance of hair on other parts of my body, legs and arms, seemed to conflict with the lush vegetation that required continuous attention above my eyes and in my ears.

Having failed to find and disposed of the errant hair, I looked over at Jackie and interrupted her immersion into the emails that had flooded her iPhone overnight. “Can you take a peek at my right eye and see if you can find a hair floating in its general vicinity? I think it might be an eyelash.”

She leaned over, squinted and dutifully examined the area. “There’s no lash. But what I do see is an abundance of disorganized hairs of various lengths that claim to be an eyebrow. Whoever’s been trimming your brow should be ashamed of himself.”

I apologized for my slovenliness, accepted her conclusion, and went back to watching the traffic remain motionless while my dashboard clock continued to move at the speed of light toward the time of our doctor appointment. Visions of remaining motionless in our allotted freeway spot for the rest of the morning danced through my head as I nervously reviewed various futile solutions for what would surely soon become a demanding bladder.

As usual, my fears were unfounded. After what seemed like enough elapsed time to melt the Mendenhall glacier, traffic began to move, we avoided further catastrophes, and arrived at the doctor’s office fifteen minutes early. Of course, he was 30 minutes late.

Following a successful doctor visit that allayed Jackie’s fear of permanent disability, we checked into the Ambrose Hotel, dusted ourselves off and found an accommodating employee who graciously opened the complimentary happy-hour bar 30 minutes early.

We sat outside with our wine and thought about the day. As I was entering a state of bliss, Jackie moved closer to me, put her hand on my arm, looked into my eyes and said “Ya know, you should get some eyebrow threading.”

I wondered if my brow had perhaps fallen off.

She spritely continued, “I just checked my iPhone and there are a bunch of places walking distance from the hotel. I bet I can call them now and make an appointment for you tomorrow morning. It’s really cool and you’re gonna love it. You will be so handsome.”

When Jackie accepts an assignment, you might as well just get out of her way and let it happen. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was her zeal. Anyway, I just grunted, she made the call, locked down a 10 am appointment and sat back contentedly.

Eyebrow threading is centuries old and has increased in popularity of late, displacing traditional tweezing and waxing while spawning a horde of threading salons that rival Starbucks.

I Googled it and found that there’s not much threading in threading. In fact, the hair removal tool in threading in nothing more than thread held between a technician’s hands (and in some cases, their teeth as well) in a twisted configuration. As the technician moves their hands, spaces open between those twists and then tighten again, grabbing and holding onto hair, and pulling it free, root and all. Ouch.

Despite my inability to stand any pain above a 2 on the Richter Scale, we awoke the next morning and walked the half mile to the corner of 26th and Arizona where we found Namita’s Eyebrow Threading Salon. I was surprised to find a salon devoted to eyebrow threading with six reclining chairs ready for action.

I later found out that you can get the hair on your arms, legs and face threaded. Other unmentionables as well. Double ouch.

Escorted by Namita herself, I plopped myself down in a comfy recliner and awaited my fate. Namita promised not to hurt me too much. Little did she know that I need a Percodan just to get me through the morning.

She came at me with a vengeance. The cotton thread looking like a battle axe, she began plucking. It felt and sounded like a rasp being drawn across my brow. The little rasps were the hairs being yanked from where they had peacefully resided for many years. Rasp, rasp, rasp.

I was glad I only had two eyes.

In the background I heard Jackie laughing with another technician. Never one to give up a spa treatment opportunity, she was having a similar threading experience. A true soldier, she is impervious to any pain that accompanies a beautification.

Namita completed my transformation and presented me with a mirror. Amazing. Damn right. I am more handsome.

Where’s the nearest Botox salon?

The Eyes Have It

I had cataract surgery on my right eye a few years ago. It was a relatively uncomplicated procedure that didn’t hurt, wasn’t life threatening and, I think, improved my vision.

Cataracts have been around since ancient times, ever since humans began to live longer than their prehistoric ancestors. It’s a disease that afflicts at least half the population by the age of 80. If you have good genes and live to 95, one hundred percent of you will be victims.

Cataract disease causes the lens of the eye to cloud over; eventually you will think you’re in a London fog. If you’ve never been to London, think of driving your car down Highway 99 in the Central Valley through a Tule fog, same thing.

Factors, in addition to aging, that affect the formation of a cataract include diabetes, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and, sadly, unbridled alcohol consumption. Injuries, like having your spouse fist you out, can also speed the formation of a cataract.

The outpatient procedure is pretty straight forward; under a local anesthetic, the ophthalmologist surgically removes the clouded lens and replaces it with a nice plastic one from Ben Franklin. The best thing about the procedure is that you can watch the doctor stick you in the eye while a glorious light show is playing in your brain. Anxiety reducing Valium pills are an added treat.

Cataract replacement, like LASIK surgery, can also improve your vision and eliminate the need for glasses. I am often reminded of the late comedian, Dick Shawn, who self-billed himself as The Second Greatest Entertainer in the Whole Wide World. His old standup comedy routine included the following prediction, “Ya know, pretty soon you won’t need glasses; they’ll just grind your eyeballs.” I thought he was just being funny, but maybe not.

Eye problems run amok in my family. Glaucoma and macular degeneration are like visiting relatives who don’t know when to go home. Accordingly, I visit my optometrist, Doctor Brockman, every three months to see what else we need to do to protect me from their onslaught. He often delivers a line that would have fit quite nicely into Dick Shawn’s routine, “My job is to keep your eyes working until you die.”

My latest visit to Doctor B included the compulsory reading of the ubiquitous eye chart. I always wear my glasses when reading the chart since we long ago determined that trying without them is a waste of time. Recognizing the inanity of it, I also gave up trying to memorize the lines on the chart; now I only do that when I visit the DMV.

Doctor B has prepared me for the eventual need for cataract surgery.  It was no surprise when I couldn’t find the eye chart, much less read it, that he said, “It’s time.”

Given a choice of ophthalmologists and noting the surprising absence of any Jewish names, I lofted a dart at the presumed location of the eye chart and selected Doctor Shabatien. I guessed that he or his ancestors probably came from the Middle East near Israel, a hotbed of Jewish doctors. Close enough.

Doctor S was very busy and, as I was in no hurry to have my eye sliced, booked an appointment for an evaluation four weeks out. I figured I could just use my right eye in the interim, enlarge the Netflix movie captions, ask Jackie to read the small print on my meds, and have her to guide me through the darkness of the hallway leading to my bed…a place of refuge where eyes are superfluous.

The day of my evaluation came and we scurried to Doctor S’s in Ventura, arriving 20 minutes early. Jackie and I share the same annoying habit of arriving everywhere ahead of time. I’ve tried being late to no avail; the best I’ve ever done is 12 minutes ahead of schedule. I often arrive a day early just to avoid the traffic.

I was promptly escorted to one of Doctor S’s exam rooms. His assistant, Rita, was pleasant and efficient. She began with the dreaded eye chart; I became ecstatic when I actually saw it on the wall in front of me. Reading it was another kettle of fish; I might as well have been blind, a condition that I might have acquired on the elevator to Doctor B’s office.

Rita tried to coax enough vision from either of my eyes to avoid declaring the operation a failure and labeling me as untreatable. Squinting and silent prayer eventually produced enough vision that allowed me to identify two of the four characters on the fourth line of the chart. Rita congratulated me on my perseverance and gave me a cookie.

Other tests were performed; I had no idea why nor how I scored. It seems that Rita was capable enough to perform the tests but was not permitted to discuss the results. As this prohibition was hopefully not life threatening, I did not press it and lamely decided to wait for Doctor S to arrive and give me the bad news.

Rita applied eye dilating drops and then left me to pursue other adventures. I sat in the rigid exam chair designed by Barcalounger rejects and visualized what the world would look like when I ventured outdoors. With pupils as big as Ford F-250 hubcaps, light is unimpeded, and you feel like you have Superman’s x-ray vision.

Time passed and Rita returned. “I’m really sorry but the doctor is going to be late. He went to his Lancaster office by mistake. He’s on his way here, maybe an hour and a half. Would you like to stay, come back later or maybe reschedule for another day?”

I thought about the other times I’d waited for doctors. But never because they went to the wrong office. I thought about his honesty in saying that he just screwed up. No emergency, no my dog ate my schedule, no traffic was a bitch. So, I decided to stick around and think of him as just being a little tardy. And I got a free cup of coffee.


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