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.

Hip Hip Hooray

Jackie had a hip replacement last Wednesday. Once done as an inpatient procedure involving several nights in the hospital, it is now performed in an outpatient setting. The patient goes home the same day with a hearty farewell and a best of luck.

Until a year ago, Medicare only covered the procedure if it was done as an inpatient. In an abrupt 180-degree turn, it is now covered only if done in an outpatient setting. Private health insurance, seizing on the opportunity to save a buck, soon followed Medicare’s lead.

Jackie’s odyssey began about a year ago when she began to complain of an uncomfortable feeling in her groin. I suggested that it might be due to too much sex, while she insisted that it was caused by too little sex. Attempting to help, I accelerated our conjugal visitations. Although the increased activity didn’t eliminate her discomfort, we broke new ground in our relationship.

The discomfort increased and casual conversation with others pointed to her left hip as the problem. Verification required a visit to an orthopedic surgeon; glorious recommendations were forthcoming from those who had already dealt with the problem.

Two prominent surgeons rose to the surface. Doctor Golden in Ventura received high marks for both his bedside manner and his technical skills. Doctor Yun in Santa Monica, somewhat younger and located in an area with a plethora of expensive hotels and elegant dining establishments, won the day. Some insensitive wags also suggested that Jackie might get egg rolls if she opted for Doctor Yun.

Instead of egg rolls, Doctor Yun supplied a 50-page binder that reviewed the entire hip replacement process in great detail beginning with a pre-operative Zoom class and concluding with post-operative instructions. Jackie’s eyes bugged out when confronted with the sections dealing with pain, bruising, swelling, urination, dislocation and infection. Her hourly mantra leading up to the day of surgery became “Why am I doing this?” In response I would occasionally offer to resume the now-discarded alternative of more frequent sex.

We arrived at the Ambrose on Tuesday. The Ambrose is a moderately priced comfortable hotel directly across the street of St. John’s hospital. Its location is perfect. Its only negative is the regular arrival of an alarm-blaring ambulance that causes one to muse about the medical condition of the vehicle’s occupant, and reminds you that your turn is coming.

The Ambrose watering hole has a wonderful happy hour with an unlimited supply of free wine and beer. It also provides the opportunity to share experiences with other hotel guests who have chosen the hotel because of its proximity to the hospital. Sharing diagnoses and life-threatening conditions of their loved ones takes the place of watching comparatively boring sporting events on ESPN.

Wednesday morning reveille was 3 a.m. Adequate time for a workout in the hotel’s Covid restricted gym, a hot shower with mysterious antiseptic solutions, and a one-minute ride to the hospital in complete darkness. As hotel visitors were persona non grata, our 5 a.m. arrival meant a tearful separation from each other. The brave girl marched into the hospital lobby and I swear that I could hear her mutter “Why am I doing this?” for hopefully the last time.

It was still dark when I drove back to the Ambrose. My deteriorating night vision hid stationary roadway obstacles, turned the presence of other drivers into a crapshoot, and made entry into the hotel’s underground parking lot an adventure worthy of passage through a celestial black hole.

Trying to go back to sleep was like stuffing a genie back into the bottle. Time passed and I was happy to get periodic calls Doctor Yun’s staff who told me how things were going. I tried doing crossword puzzles but failed miserably at answering some of the easier clues. Even the overused what’s a Dutch cheese, “Edam”, seemed like a trick question.

At 1 p.m. I was summoned to the hospital to retrieve my girl. With the help of a friendly hospital orderly, she managed to hobble out of the temporary wheelchair at the curb and slide her pretty bottom into the passenger seat. I forgot to unfasten my seatbelt and nearly strangled myself trying to lean over and kiss her still beautiful face.

Assuming she was hungry after avoiding food for eighteen hours, I asked her what she’d like. “I want to have my nails done.”

In preparation for surgery, Jackie had been required to remove her nail polish so an oximeter could measure the oxygen saturation in her blood. Done with all that, it was now time to put the polish back on. As I’ve learned, much like a Starbuck’s, there’s always a nail emporium within shouting distance.

My suggestion that she wait a day fell on deaf ears. “Sweetheart, they just removed a chunk of bone from your hip and replaced it with something that makes you a bionic woman. There will be discomfort that needs careful tending to.”

“My discomfort is in my nails. They feel naked. They are thin. They are vulnerable. They need attention. Food, rest and pain can be dealt with after my nail emergency.”

She found a nail shop around the corner from the hotel. Fortunately for the owner, they had an open slot. We drove a thousand feet. Jackie emerged from the car, embraced her walker and rolled into the shop. They coddled her, did her fingers and her toes, became the best of friends, and gave her a discount for daring to do this just seven hours after major surgery.

The end of the nail emergency brought a precious smile to her face. 

She didn’t say “Why am I doing this”….for a whole day.

Gone fishin’

My son David is an avid fisherman who is at his happiest when wetting a line. I give myself some credit for that flaw in his character because I introduced him to the often-frustrating sport before he could think for himself.

Showing little respect for his aging father, and to punish me for this early indiscretion, David often includes me in fishing trips better designed for young men who have not yet learned the skills associated with the creature comforts of old age. I play along, smile and minimize any complaints just to keep my child happy.

In furthering his revenge, he called me a few weeks ago and announced, “Dad, I’ve booked three sessions with a fishing guide on Lake Casitas. Just you and him. You’re gonna love it.”

As his words sank in, I thought of the excuses I might employ in an effort to extricate myself from this intrusion on my otherwise comfortable existence. But my fatherly instincts warned me of the serious consequences of declining his offer, including my premature placement in any one of several undesirable Ojai nursing homes.

“All you need to do is call the Ojai Angler and set up the dates of the sessions. You’re gonna love it. Call ‘em now, before you forget.”

I expressed my lukewarm appreciation for David’s gift and silently wondered how long how I might delay that call until David’s memory matched the dwindling status of my own. Rejecting that misguided idea, I waited a respectable week and then called the Ojai Angler.

I spoke with Amy who informed me that my guide would be Marc. Teaming up with any guide is fraught with uncertainty and I silently wondered if I had a choice; the question was answered when I cruised the Angler website and saw that Marc was the owner, operator and only guide. I relaxed and accepted my fate.

The big day arrived with little fanfare and much trepidation. I was to meet Marc at the dock at 7am. At 6am my iPhone informed me that the outside temperature was a balmy 36 degrees. No problem, I thought; surely the temperature would rise to a more respectable level before embarkation.

I dressed as though I was heading to the snow laden slopes at Mammoth Lakes. A base of wool socks, thermal underwear and a sweatshirt was covered by my thickest winter jacket. My head was encased in a scruffy wool hat that came down over my ears. Gloves completed the costume. I wondered if Admiral Byrd had had it so good in 1926 when he came within 80 miles of the North Pole.

The trip to the lake brought me to the dock at 6:45 where the temperature had indeed changed; it was now 32 degrees, four degrees colder than when I was in my warm bathroom wishing I could stay there. I scanned the lake in search of an iceberg or, at the least, an ice floe with a polar bear on it. All I found was Marc.

A happy young man with a boat of his own. Fishing gear neatly arranged on top of the immaculately cared-for deck. An experienced guide with thirty years plumbing the depths of Lake Casitas. All in all, a setup that screamed fishing success.

Completed in 1959, Casitas is a reservoir that supplies drinking water to the Ojai Valley. I ingest several glasses of the lake every day and ponder what it would be like if the lake dried up; a thought that becomes more troublesome with the current drought conditions.

The lake harbors several varieties of fish with largemouth bass topping the list of most desirable. Planted when the lake was finished, bass are not regularly stocked as they are omnivorous, eating many of the lake’s other denizens including trout which, due to their inability to fight back, are regularly restocked.

Every angler is often reminded that Casitas is known for its production of trophy bass. In 1991, Robert Crupi landed a monster 22 pounder which was the third largest one caught in the U.S. One’s salivary glands work overtime just thinking about the possibilities.

Marc put the boat in overdrive, the wind blasted, and I pulled my jacket over my face as I wondered how long it would take for frostbite to dissolve my nose.

We cruised to our first stop, which looked to me like every other stop. Marc unsheathed a rod and explained the finer points of bass fishing. “You hold the rod like this. There’s a plastic worm at the end of the line. Toss the line as far from the boat as you can. Let it sink to the bottom. Then reel it in verrrry slowly. When you feel a tap-tap, give the rod a stiff yank and hook the fish. Boat it.”

Simple enough, I thought. My first cast landed ten feet from the boat in a spot the opposite of what I had intended. “Maybe there’s more to this than I thought.”  My second cast was longer but still off target. I decided to forget about targets and just assume that I was in the right place.

I reeled in slowly, attempting to mimic an earthworm crawling on the bottom. This procedure had three advantages. First, more time was spent in the water than untangling faulty casts. Second, I didn’t have to do much casting. Lastly, I could close my eyes and recover lost sleep while I waited for the tap-tap.

Twenty minutes passed without a tap-tap for either Marc or me. Certain that somewhere else was better, we took our icy seats and gunned the craft to our next stop; it looked no different than the first stop. More casting and slower reeling produced the same result, no tap-tapping.

Sensing no need to be totally vigilant, Marc offered me a bottle of water. A dangerous act when given to a man who makes frequent visits to the toilet. Marc assured me that we would stop at one of the lake’s floating toilets to relieve the pressure and, good to his word, our next move took us to one.

The floating toilet is the lake’s solution to keeping people from peeing in it. Meticulously maintained, I wondered if we could just play out the balance of our four-hour safari by sitting on the platform and gazing at the beauty of our surroundings.

Marc said this was a no-no and we headed to the next look-alike spot. More casting, worm hardly moving, and no hoped-for tap taps.

As though god had heard my prayers, Marc announced that our time was up. He apologized for the absence of the bass and extolled the views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. He slipped up a bit when he told me that yesterday’s client had actually caught one fish, a fact that made me wonder why he thought today would be any better than yesterday.

I could have bitched but thought better of it. I silently congratulated myself for never uttering a word of complaint. Instead, as though consoling Marc, I said we’d get ‘em next time.

We rocketed to the dock in much warmer conditions and I congratulated myself as I exited the boat without falling in the water. I walked back to my car and thought about the benefits of engaging a guide; no boat of my own to care for topped the list and somehow made the day much more enjoyable.

I called Amy and booked my next outing.

Thank you David…I’m gonna love it.

Countless Days

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clearer again
So let’s sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again

I was sitting on the couch enjoying a giant Wagamama bowl from Hip Vgn and watching CNN’s Chris Cuomo berate some poor guy whose only crime was that he mistakenly thought Chris would be in a more benevolent mood after months of venting his anger by stomping Republicans.

Eating on the couch has become an enjoyable habit even if the poor lighting and my declining night vision make me sometimes wonder what I’m eating. I must often wait until morning when the spots on my sweatshirt reveal what I enjoyed the night before.

Jackie was downing the last vestiges of her Ashram bowl and looking forward to another episode of the Netflix thriller, The Sinner, with Bill Pullman who does a good imitation of Peter Falk’s Columbo including the sloppy unwashed garb, minus the comedy.

Fixated on Cuomo’s ever tightening facial muscles, I was surprised when Jackie turned to me, flashed that devilishly cute smile and said, “It’s our anniversary today.”

Huh, what? I went into a catatonic state of guilt and quickly chronicled February events searching for something that I had forgotten. Had I missed an important one? Let’s see…no birthday, no first date, no wedding anniversary, not the flowerless Valentine’s Day that had been celebrated at the Torrey Pines Lodge.

“Our vaccination, sweetheart. It’s fourteen days since we got our second Pfizer shot at the Fairgrounds. We’re immune.”

I was relieved but surprised that I hadn’t thought of it earlier in the day. Counting days from one vaccination to another had become an annoying habit. Like a cult, our friends and relatives had joined in their own counting, discussed it at length and mused about what would be different in our lives once we were all aglow with the vaccine.

I had started the counting exercise when we made our appointment to get the first shot. I hoped I could avoid the dreaded virus while waiting for shot day to arrive; it would be a shame if I contracted Covid on the tail-end of the countdown. Better sooner than later, I inanely thought. To speed things up, I tried to make the days pass more quickly; the shortened winter daylight hours were a blessing; sleeping ten hours a day cut into the time for mental gymnastics.

Following the first shot I pondered its possible effects. Three days after the injection was I now 3/14 more immune than the day I got it? I even factored in Dr. Fauci’s daily reports; my mind became an unfathomable data depository. Just when I thought I had it figured out, Dr. Fauci unceremoniously altered his assumptions. The troubling announcement of new virus variants was too much; I decided to ignore them since differential equations have never been my strong point.

The day of our second shot dawned. We arrived at the Fairgrounds expecting large crowds and an appropriate acknowledgement of our two-week survival; unfortunately, we were disappointed to note the absence of any festive Fairground signs like, Welcome Back, Fred or Way to Go, Jackie. We accepted anonymity, got our booster shots and began the next countdown.

I continued the daily countdown to full immunity in a less frenzied manner. The presence of a full load of vaccine loosened our defenses. Hand washing declined from an hourly ritual to a more manageable interval. Masks were loosened from their usual blood-clotting state to a less painful fit.

I no longer worry schizophrenically about the lack of social distancing at Agave Maria or the Topa Topa Brewing Company, nor do I needlessly wonder why I must cover my face when I use the restroom while diners at the tables go unmasked. I’ve stopped moving to the opposite side of Montgomery Street when others are approaching me in what I had previously considered my private space.

I marvel that I have arrived at this point unscathed given my Perils of Pauline attitude that seemed to fly in the face of recommended safe practices. Friends have been cloistered while I have been more available. Trips have been limited only by our imagination. I have dared the virus to interfere with the help I have provided to others.

The liberating feeling seems to be catching on. A declining lack of seriousness permeates the town. The County reports that some vaccination appointment slots are going unfilled. Pfizer and Moderna seem to be successfully arm-wrestling new viruses to a draw.

Happy days are here again…countless ones, I hope.

Snow Story

If I only knew how much fun downhill skiing could be I’d have started it years ago, long before my 81st birthday.

But let me start at the beginning when Jackie said “Let’s go to Big Bear and play in the snow, drink hot toddies, sit in front of the fireplace, and cuddle.”

The cuddling thing was enough to sell me. Jackie took over and made reservations for three nights at a moderately priced hotel in Big Bear, about a four-hour drive to Southern California’s skiing mecca. 

Aware of the fashionably responsible thing to do, we dialed up Amazon and bought ski pants, funny hats, insulated underwear and amazingly inexpensive gloves that looked thick enough to work next to a Bessemer furnace.

Amazon delivered the next day, a feat that continues to amaze me. My ski pants were wonderfully warm and heavy. If the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had these Chinese-made pants in 1928, he would not have died in the Barents Sea after eating his sled dogs. I was confident we would survive Big Bear, a destination undoubtedly populated with multiple Starbucks and chichi pet stores offering a myriad of dog food products.

Jackie also selected a rather effeminate set of bright yellow tire chains. Living in Chicago gave me some familiarity with tire chains. They are supremely obedient when lying at ease in the dark bowels of your garage. Applying them in the midst of a snowstorm on Highway 18 is another matter best left to the local chain jockeys along the road who offer their services at a price that is non-negotiable. I decided to rely on the hired help if needed, and to practice an ancient Jewish incantation that has been known to ward off bad weather.

Things were moving along smoothly until I told Jackie about a friend who said, “Ya know, if you’re willing to drive four hours to Big Bear you might as well go to Mammoth Lakes, only another two hours away and 2,000 feet higher. A much cooler place that makes Big Bear look like a Girl Scout camp.”

Hearing this, Jackie did her own investigation and pronounced Mammoth “the place to be.” She set her sights on the Westin. Directly across the street from the gondolas that ferry skiers to the chair lifts, the Westin is considerably more expensive than other alternatives; a product of its location and the fact that there was only one room remaining. “Must be really good” she concluded and booked it.

Three days later we began the odyssey. Our plan was to devote our full attention to cross country skiing. Downhill, with its reputation for broken bones and instant paralysis brought about by head-on collisions with trees that fool you into thinking they are your friends, was out of the question.

On the first morning of our stay, we grabbed seats on a bus and headed to the Tamarack Lodge which was rumored to have all the equipment we needed. They provide groomed trails that are easy and others that are to be rigorously avoided by those who wish to survive the experience.

Cross country is what Amundsen would have done if he had more dogs to eat and a way to walk home on packed snow instead of water. You hop up on thin skis, grab a couple of ski poles and shove yourself forward on level ground until you find a downward slope. If you do it well, you look very competent and sure of yourself. If you do it poorly, you look like me.

There are no gondolas or ski lifts. You do everything under your own power. If you prolong the adventure, you breathe ever harder and become overheated. You remove most of your clothing and leave it on the trail in order to avoid a heat produced stroke. If you’re like me, you feel like you’ve been cross country…California to New York.

My second rocket-propelled fall of the morning found me flat on my back. I was sure I had cracked my skull but was strangely encouraged by the thought since it would be an acceptable excuse with which to end my misery.

Jackie had fallen only once and, while I decided to judiciously remove and carry my skis back to the lodge, she pushed on taking tiny steps that seemed to move her backwards at a glacial pace. I urged her on hoping to get our money’s worth.

We finished our sojourn about one o’clock and were able to get some very thin, taste-free lentil soup at the lodge. Eating it was a challenge as there was no indoor dining nor any outside tables or chairs. I did not complain in light of what Amundsen must have endured.

We were determined to get back on the trail and snowshoes seemed a viable option. The lodge kindly supplied them; we strapped them on and began a walk on packed snow. Looking more like a waddle than a walk, we found them of no practical use that consumed more energy than simply walking in our street shoes. We wrote off the adventure and went back to the Westin for more appropriate winter snow events, drinking hot toddies.

Having conquered cross country and snowshoe challenges, only downhill skiing remained to complete a successful trifecta. The next day we grabbed the free gondola across the street from our hotel and took the five-minute trip up the hill. It was early afternoon, and hundreds of skiers were taking the chair lifts and whooshing down the runs.

The sun was intense, and the temperature was mild. The absence of wind allowed us to bask in the warmth of mid-day. We had found the place we had been seeking.

Jackie grabbed two unoccupied chairs that we dragged to the end of a run near the common area. We bought two cans of alcoholic beverages, mine a surprisingly delicious White Russian. Sitting and sipping produced a euphoria that allowed me to feel like I was the one on those skis. Sliding effortlessly downhill, snowplowing to a stop and congratulating myself.

I should have started this sport sooner.


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