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.

I’ve been shot

In spite of many real or imagined misgivings, I got my first Covid vaccination shot last week.

After months of watching TV horror stories about the scarcity of the vaccine, the lack of resources to stick it in my arm, and the uncertainty of when old guys might be eligible, I was sure that I was destined to remain a vaccine virgin for the foreseeable future.

Maybe not. While engaging in my evening sport of reading mindless Facebook postings, my iPhone announced an incoming missive from the County of Ventura.

“Dear Old Person”, it began. “You and the other over the hill citizens are now eligible to get shot. Use your smart phone to contact us and make an appointment. Better hurry, there’s a lot of you old farts out there.”

Since passing well beyond the age of consent, I have learned to pay close attention to directives from the government bureaucracy. It controls just about everything out there, and I find it much easier to do as I am told. Sort of like depending on a wife who lovingly believes it’s her job to guide me through my day and put me down at night.

Dutifully and without hesitation, I found the Ventura County sign-up site on my iPhone and was astonished to see every appointment slot for the next two weeks wide open. Comparing notes with Nurse Jackie, we chose a mid-afternoon slot two days hence at the Ventura Fairgrounds. So far so good.

Jackie is a bit antsy about getting flu shots; I think she may be a closet anti-vaxxer. Last year was the first time that she finally opted to tank up with the seasonal vaccine that’s intended to ward off the run-of-the-mill flu. She survived that encounter without injury and, I thought, was ready for the bigger challenge of the Covid vaccination. Overcoming her multiple bouts of squeamishness required repeated doses of “Don’t worry, Sweetheart, you will be fine. I promise.” A liberal helping of inducements, like bribing a four-year-old, sealed the deal.

A born pessimist, I spent the two days before the vaccination conjuring up various scenarios, all of which were mildly depraved.  I thought, “They will run out of vaccine just before my turn at the needle. They will lose my reservation and, with all appointment slots taken, I will need to wait a month for a new one.” Worst of all, I was certain that I had developed every symptom of the Covid virus, would be disqualified from participation…and, of course, die.

Often feeling fluish and sure that I had a temperature over 101, I made several dozen attempts at taking it with my battery driven instant read thermometer. The bliss of seeing 98.6 popup on the little LCD window soon became my favorite avocation; unfortunately, the bliss was short-lived, and I reverted to my customary misery after only a nanosecond or two.

The big day arrived, and Jackie and I arm wrestled over when we should leave for the Fairgrounds and our 3:40 pm appointment. I was certain that being even 5 minutes late would consign us to the trash heap of no-shows, banished forever due to our chronic tardiness. We compromised and departed almost an hour before our appointment. The trip took only 25 minutes, which Jackie duly noted…several times.

The line of cars on the access road to the Fairgrounds stretched into Santa Barbara County, or so it seemed. We inched along the road without the need of the accelerator pedal. I watched the dashboard clock grind down at cosmic speed until it reached and then surpassed our 3:40 appointment time. I was sure I was going directly to hell.

The entrance to the parking lot was ushered by a very nice man whose job it seemed was to provide information and, secondarily, severely back up the traffic while he shared anecdotes with the drivers. He encouraged us to stick with the program, telling us they were an hour behind schedule and not to worry about being late. Jackie stared at me with that “I told you so” look.

We parked, made careful note of where we were, and headed off in the direction of the inoculation site. We had plenty of company.

This was just the second day following the opening of the vaccination event to folks over the age of 75. I swear that everyone that age in the Northern Hemisphere was at the Fairgrounds. People with canes, walkers and wheelchairs filled the void. It was the first time in years that I was at an event where I was younger than other people.

The blessed volunteers guided people from lane to lane as we moved slowly toward the Fairgrounds’ entry door. For all I knew, inside it might as well have been Valhalla, Shangri-La or any other place of happiness. The eagerness of the elderly to get the vaccine belied the thought that old, chronically impaired people have nothing to live for.

I admit that the secrecy of what lay beyond the entry door played tricks with my imagination. I wondered if we were really being guided to the end of our road, much like those people in the futuristic 1976 film Logan’s Run who were exterminated at the age of 30.

Or perhaps we were signing up to have Charleton Heston turn us into food for the living in the film Soylent Green.

But no, there were only angels behind the Fairgrounds’ door. Angels who took our names, examined our id’s, helped us fill out forms, escorted us to our seats, administered our shots and sat us down for 15 minutes while they made sure we had no adverse reactions.

Angels who did everything efficiently, kindly and with a smile. Angels who put themselves at risk by exposing themselves to us.

Even though the process took nearly three hours, it was a model of good planning, dedicated workers and friendly faces. We all took it in stride. No one butt into line, no one complained, and everyone followed instructions. People helping people.

It was dark when we left the building, and with the aid of our iPhone flashlights we found our car. As we drove to the exit, we found the same happy usher who had guided us at the beginning of our journey. He smiled and asked if we were ok.

“Sure”, I said. “Thanks to you and the other angels.”

I’ve only got another two weeks before I get my second shot.

Better charge the batteries in my thermometer. 

I’m on sensory overload

Normally a placid, accepting person with a don’t rock the boat mentality, my patience has been worn dangerously thin by the pandemic. So thin that I physically react to sharp sounds, like the shutting of doors and even the clink of new ice cubes as they exit the freezer cube tray and drop into the awaiting receptacle. I’m convinced that I no longer require my hearing aids since I hear everything within a three-block radius.

We’re in a race. A race featuring two competitors, the Covid-19 virus and the County of Ventura. Winner take all.

I’ve adjusted my life to the pandemic. I’ve tightened up my exposure to situations that seemed to almost dare the little Covids to bite me.

I can be seen wearing a tight fitting, blood clotting mask at 6am while I walk down Montgomery Street to the gym in the dark without encountering another soul.

I’ve have worn several layers of skin off my hands as I meticulously scrub them with soap and sanitizer, even though I have touched nothing but the inside of my coat pockets.

I now religiously launder masks that were previously left alone to accumulate substantial quantities of food particles in the belief that the stoppages caused by my meal detritus would produce a significant barrier to the entry of the virus.

I don’t touch door handles as I enter or exit business establishments. Instead, I use my well insulated upper arm to deftly shove the door open in a manner that offers me enough time to navigate through the opening before the door can slam itself into my fragile body.

I avoid using cash. Paper currency surely harbors the virus in its green ink. I always leave my coins on the counter as a tip, even at the dry cleaners, the pharmacy, and the grocery; I get a lot of smiles that way.

I created an Excel spreadsheet that records any encounter with a living being…including animals.  I carefully monitor the 14-day incubation period during which I wait to see if a confrontation can be dropped from my active list. It’s a sobering exercise that reveals the heart-stopping volume of such encounters and which does nothing to tame my blood pressure.

I visit with friends only via iPhone and Zoom, but I’m not totally convinced that the Covids haven’t found a way to participate clandestinely in the meetups. I have toyed with the idea of wearing a mask during these calls but decided that my friends would not understand and would strongly suggest that I seek professional help.

I’ve signed up to receive notices from the Ventura County Recovers website. Valuable information is communicated daily that includes new case counts, deaths and my favorite…where I stand in the pecking order to receive the vaccine. Old guys like me have been assigned to Phase 1B, Tier 1, right behind the phase that includes mortuary and cemetery workers. So, I can either get the vaccine or die in the process and be disposed of by my betters.

Veterinarians are treated no better than I, which is probably a mistake. If we lose veterinarians to the virus, Fido won’t be able to get his rabies vaccine, leaving the door wide open to a rabies pandemic. It offers me a double whammy: the option of dying from rabies-caused muscle paralysis or suffocating due to the diminished lung capacity offered by Covid.  Poor Fido, poor me.

None of this irritates me. What does make me want to leap from my chair and strangle someone is the unbelievably shoddy way that the vaccine has been produced, distributed and administered.

It’s not like we just heard about vaccines from some extraterrestrial source. No alien being rang the White House doorbell at the 11th hour and said “Surprise, here’s how you make vaccines…go for it.” We had fair warning; we weren’t left alone with just a three-day weekend to work out the details. We had plenty of time to whip out an Excel spreadsheet and document a viable plan. My newly retired daughter could have done it in a week, by herself, with a long lunch hour and without help.

Now we find ourselves dependent on quickly producing the vaccine and efficiently sticking it into 350 million people. We are dependent on each county doing the right thing. Dependent on each bureaucracy to treat people fairly. And, as a result of this Three Stooges planning method, what we have is a very mixed, everchanging, irritating comedy show.

Three days ago, at 6pm. I received an email from the county updating me with the latest bad news…You’re out of luck…no vaccines for you ancient beings for at least two, maybe three, weeks. Find something to do with your spare time.

Unwilling to leave my life to a chance encounter with an asymptomatic virus carrier for the next three weeks, I considered holding my breath for that period of time or laying low at the bottom of my jacuzzi to avoid ingesting any new Covids.

While I was weighing the benefits of each option, a second email from the county tooted its arrival on my iPhone at 7pm.  Good news…pay no attention to the bad news delivered by our 6pm email. Salvation has arrived! You old farts who have managed to be a burden on society for at least 75 years can sign up for your vaccination. Move your fat ass off the couch and make an appointment before we change our minds. More emails to follow.

As a dutiful ward of the state, I made an appointment for 3:40 today.

I’ve spent the last 36 hours worrying about them running out of vaccine at 3:30.

Well Donald, you’ve finally done it

Well, Donald, you’ve finally done it.

Your ego and lies have taken root in the unfathomable depths of the minds of many of your most ardent supporters.  Your unwavering need to satisfy yourself at a dire cost to others has brought us to the scene I am currently witnessing in our most sacred of places, the Congress of the United States.

Heeding your calls this morning to get tougher, hundreds left your rally and stormed the Congress. Here is what one observer, Washington correspondent Michael Schmidt said…

They said that throngs of Trump supporters left his rally to head directly for the Capitol, marching down Constitution Avenue, chanting “U-S-A” and shouting insults to Biden.

Few of the Trump supporters were wearing masks and many had American flags in their hands. In an odd twist, some of the protesters were blaring the song “Y.M.C.A.” from speakers as well as Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”

Although you promised those at your rally that you would accompany them to the Capitol, you went back to the comfort of the White House where you angrily Tweeted…

Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!

Vice-president Pence, being faithful to the Constitution, spoke loudly this morning when he rejected your demands that he illegally reject the results of the election. You must have been enraged, especially because your attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had assured you that Mr. Pence could follow your directive and toss the electoral votes of your choice. Given Mr. Giuliani’s lack of any success in convincing the courts of anything, you should have relied on someone else for advice…Maybe one of the convicted felons that you recently pardoned, like Michael Flynn who urged you to declare martial law a few weeks ago.

Your willingness to sacrifice the basic principles of our country to satisfy your insatiable ego is half the reason why we find ourselves a tragically divided nation. The other half of the reason can be traced directly to the elected representatives who were doing your bidding in an effort to advance their own careers.

Led by Senator Ted Cruz, they demeaned the efforts and thoughtful conclusions of state legislatures, election workers and the courts, all of whom testified to the accuracy and fairness of the votes cast by their citizens. Instead, Cruz and his cohorts continued their lying and the grandstanding they hoped would gain favor with enough of their constituents to keep them on the public dole, and maybe run for President.

They knew they were wrong. They wanted a spot in the limelight and never thought it possible that what they were doing would result in violence or rip through the very fabric of this country. 

Some less faithful to you were strong enough to recognize the truth and said so…

“This is what you’ve gotten, guys,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, yelled as the mayhem unfolded in the Senate chamber, apparently addressing his colleagues who were leading the charge to press Mr. Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.

Representative Nancy Mace, a freshman Republican from South Carolina, described seeing protesters “assaulting Capitol Police.” In a Twitter post, Ms. Mace shared a video of the chaos and wrote, “This is wrong. This is not who we are. I’m heartbroken for our nation today.”

Even Mitch McConnell rose at the debate and sternly warned his colleagues of the dire consequences of the tactics used by Cruz and Company.

But there were more to blame. The self-dealing political leaders led by Cruz were accompanied by other, less prominent, co-conspirators. They are those among us who supported conspiracy theories, believed without evidence that the election was rigged, and refused to criticize you when they knew full well that you were lying, obstructing and violating the rule of law. Perhaps their original motivations were benign, but in the face of the facts they have been unable to say I was wrong, and even doubled down as your image, like that of Dorian Gray, deteriorated.

They have had the opportunity to call you out. They have chosen instead to luxuriate in the benefits of your presidency…their 401k, the stock market, freedom from burdensome regulations and a laissez faire attitude. While others have suffered greatly during your time in office, your supporters loved your policies and excused your behavior as an inconsequential aberration that was worth tolerating while you showered them with their every wish.

I’m continuing to watch the scene unfold. Where are you; shouldn’t you be there with your supporters? Are you hunkered down? Is your hair mussed, even a little?

Your co-conspirators are hiding under their desks, getting nervous and Tweeting the need for calm, and law and order.  In a curious twist of fate, they are protesting against the lawless protesters. It’s a little late for that. You’ve created the beast and he is now attacking the trainer.

Good job, Donnie. You’re the center of the universe.


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