Archive for the 'Health spas' Category

Tripping…final chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, of course, it did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a great vacation.

Tripping…Part 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

First impressions are often unreliable. Joan was an animal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Tripping…Part 4

This is the fourth of the series called Tripping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued.

Tripping—Part 3

This is the third of the series called Tripping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Tripping—Part 2

(This is the second of the series called Tripping)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Tripping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty minutes later we arrived at the Red Mountain Resort.

To be continued….

Elixir of Life

Jackie is at Starvation Palace.

Formally known as Optimum Health Institute, San Diego based OHI is a popular place for losing weight or grappling with an illness that may have defied traditional medicine’s array of high-tech equipment, wonder drugs and a plethora of health care professionals. In Jackie’s case, it is a place where she can escape the mundane and embrace the physical and mental detoxing that cleanses her body and nurtures her soul.

I’ve been there four times and probably rank as one of OHI’s more mundane customers. My two reasons for going there are first, that’s where Jackie is. Second, I like to personally prepare my twice a day servings of wheat grass juice.

You already know all about how she has captivated and seduced me, so let me dwell instead on the preparation and allure of wheat grass juice.

OHI has a preparation room that can accommodate six persons. Each person has access to an industrial strength juicing machine that should have multiple warnings, including disembowelment for the careless. The machine diabolically runs at an almost snail-like pace, lulling the user into a false sense of security. Each year, one or two guests have mysteriously disappeared from the campus, adding credence to the power of the juicer.

OHI’s gardens produce a portion of the dark green grass with occasional augmentation by a masked supplier who, like all suppliers and staff, has been vetted for adherence to the vegan lifestyle, the promise to never use anything stronger than baby aspirin, and an almost Zen-like adherence to the rules of Kundalini yoga.

The raw, dark green grass is stored in a refrigerator. Strongly admonished to wear a disposable latex glove on one hand, clumps of it may be taken for the juicing process. I often forget which hand is gloved and feel ashamed for touching the precious grass with my naked skin. I write it off to creeping senility and the fact that I am usually the oldest, most needy person on campus.

The grass is an elixir that has been credited with relieving nearly everything from teenage acne to stage four brain cancer. The precious harvest is not to be squandered. Unused grass is not to be returned to the refrigerator. One is cautioned to take only what is needed to make two ounces of juice. First year guests are often banished from the juicing room for multiple violations of this requirement.

Some of the juicing machines outperform others and, like a preferred chardonnay, guests usually have a favorite. Finding someone in your spot can be a real downer that may require an extra helping of deep transcendental meditation immediately following breakfast.

The juicer is turned on and the grass is fed into a hopper. A wooden push stick prods the grass into the bowels of the hopper. It is a slow process that occasionally entices the impatient user to push ever more forcefully on the wooden stick. This only aggravates the machine which then, like a three-year-old, refuses to process what has now become a glutinous glump of mashed grass. The guilty party then must find someone who can help alleviate the problem. Failing to find a good Samaritan, the irreverent violator may seek out another machine, leaving the inoperable juicer feeling unloved and abandoned.

The green juice exits the machine in a very thin stream. It is filtered through a metal sieve which rests upon a five cent Dixie cup much like the one that Nurse Ratched used to deliver pills to the lobotomized Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

One must pay close attention as the cup fills. A precise two ounces will do it. Too little will reduce the touted benefits. Too much will cause a biblical flood that will consume precious cleanup minutes that could better be spent on the lawn, doing nothing.

Like a pig, no part of the plant is wasted. The now desiccated grass is collected and often used as a poultice. Applied to any part of the body it can relieve muscle strain, shrink malignant melanomas, and improve sexual performance.

Many abhor the taste of the juice. I love it. When not at OHI, both Jackie and I seek out the green fountain of youth at Rainbow Bridge, Westridge and the Sunday Farmers Market. The Market doesn’t open until 9am but Jackie is an early morning arrival with six dollars clutched to her breast. The young juice seller is infatuated with Jackie and lustily participates in a gross violation of the rules to deliver the two small cups to her lovely hands. I stand well removed from the scene in order not to interfere with this act of love.

Bowing to the Governor’s fluctuating and at times unintelligible Covid-19 containment rules, OHI no longer allows guests to make their own juice. I have therefore cancelled my reservation. A week beyond the no-penalty refund date, OHI money lenders had at first said, “Too late, you lose.”

Invoking an excuse of, “I’m 81 and scared to death of the virus” relaxed their resistance to my request. Using a voice tinged with fear, aged hoarseness, and the inability to find the right words, earned me a full refund and an Emmy.

This morning I remembered my Amtrak reservation that was to bring me to OHI this Sunday.  I called to cancel it.  But that’s another story.

Three Jews on a Treadmill

Sounds like the beginning of a joke…There were these three Jews on a treadmill

Two months ago, I moved from Sulphur Mountain Road in the Upper Ojai to the more gentrified mid-town. Prior to moving, my drive time from the mountain to town was eighteen minutes. After Ila died, I made the thirty-six-minute round-trip to the Ojai Athletic Club every day just to get out of the all too quiet house and find social interaction. It was lonely up on the hill without someone to share my life.

I had used a rowing machine at our mountain home nearly every day. Five thousand meters of rowing in thirty-five minutes, that got me nowhere. A nagging shoulder injury caused a forced migration from the rowing machine to the treadmill and, thanks to Jackie, membership in the athletic club.

My daily routine on the hill was religiously repeated day after day. Up at 5:45. In the car by 6:15 and at the club by 6:35. Flash my membership card at the electronic reader and react with hidden glee at its assurance that I was still welcome.

Exchange pleasantries with the ever-changing person behind the front desk. Enter the men’s locker room. Change into my Lulu Lemon shorts. Grab the headphones that Jackie bought for me…got to be careful what I wish for, or it will surely end up in an Amazon box at my front door.  March up the stairs to the second floor without the aid of the handrail…it’s a macho thing…and deposit myself on one of the six treadmills that line the far wall.

Moving to mid-town replaced my old eighteen-minute car ride to the town epicenter with an eighteen-minute walk. But old habits are hard to break, so I still hop into the car for a three-minute ride to the club. Not enough time to warm up the innards of my car on cold mornings, necessitating the wearing of a wool cap that sometimes draws giggles from the club’s front desk.

Even though my shoulder has healed, and the club sports two rowing machines, I am still on the treadmill. To further cement my place on it, I sold my own Concept 2 rowing machine last week to a nice guy who schlepped to my house from Glendora, a one-hundred-fifty-mile round trip.

The club opens at 5:30 am and draws people who exercise indoors or, god forbid, swim outdoors in near freezing ambient hell, then head for work. When her teaching responsibilities require it, Jackie often prides herself at being first in line at the club’s front door, in the dark, with little to wear but a very pretty smile on her face.

The sweet spot for me is between 6:30 and 7. That’s when the locker room empties, and parking spaces open up close to the club entrance. Finding an idle treadmill is easy. Sometimes I get the pick of the litter, the one on the end in front of the windows that open onto the pool where crazy people do laps. Or, in a pinch, I take the one next to it. My decision whether to turn on the overhead fan is challenging. Shall I suffer a cold draft until my body warms up, or be an overheated wimp.

Each of the treadmills has its own video monitor. I can watch live TV, but I nearly always opt to sign into my Netflix account where I am entertained with mindless comedies, serious documentaries or, my favorite, the Great British Baking Show. I avoid the news which, I have found, generally provokes me to mumbling angry epithets that attract the unwanted attention of those within earshot.

The same faces regularly populate the area around the treadmills and the other, sometimes fathomless, exercise equipment. It’s comforting to see these faces nearly every day. It brings order to an otherwise chaotic and all too often sad world.

My sixty-minute treadmill routine at a four percent grade generally starts before the others arrive. About fifteen minutes into it, Sheila appears. My age, but not yet aging, Sheila is a whirlwind of activity both on and off the treadmill. We are also members of the synagogue where she leads the Friday night service on alternating weeks. Her petite, bouncy, figure and perky cropped hair are a welcome addition to my sixty-minute trip to nowhere.

Norm, also in the octogenarian category, is a lot less bouncy. But he makes up this unfortunate difference with a strong torso, friendly smile and a blessed sense of humor. I relish our conversations which, on occasion, include prolonged inexplicable laughter over a comment that often has its grounding in something Jewish.

Silence, or the soft-spoken word, is the desired state when in motion. This unwritten treadmill rule is often violated by heavy footed young men and women who strive for unattainable recognition by generating massive decibels that offend nearly everyone in range of them. Fortunately, a good pair of over-the-ear headphones tends to mitigate the otherwise mind-numbing racket.

This morning, Sheila, Norm and I find ourselves together on three of the six treadmills. The other three are unused and blessedly quiet. Norm correctly notes, with some humor, that we are three Jews on treadmills, which seemed to me apropos of life as a Jew. Moving with determination to escape stereotyping, and maybe worse, with only a modicum of success.

Ojai has a significant number of Jews who have blended into the community. Except for the synagogue, we find ourselves fully integrated in the life of the town. Yet there is something special when three of us find ourselves on the treadmill. A certain comfort, often indescribable, takes hold. A certain calm descends and allows us to enjoy a moment devoid of tension.

Perhaps it’s genetic. Perhaps it’s our strange customs that have been etched into us over thousands of years. Maybe it’s the same for people of other faiths. Maybe they relish time together on the treadmill. I hope so.

Starvation Palace

I weighed 135 pounds this morning. Four pounds less than a week ago.

A week since the crowded Amtrak train pulled into the downtown San Diego station after nearly six hours on the rails. As the train ground to a halt, I looked for her through the window. And there she was, wearing that floppy black and white hat that reminds me so much of Jackie Kennedy. Only this time it was Jackie Sherman, the woman I love.

The doors opened and I stepped onto the platform. Like a soldier returning from the front, I took her in my arms and kissed that sweet face. I had sorely missed her and was glad that my time away from her smile was finally over. It had been a long week.

I stowed my bags in her car and we took the fifteen-minute trip to Optimum Health Institute in Lemon Grove, a town that is the antithesis of its San Diego neighbor and sorely in need of an interior decorator. It was my third time at the OHI health retreat and I found myself unexpectedly looking forward to my visit.

My first OHI visit two years ago was filled with apprehension. The recurring thought during my seven days there was, “What am I doing here?” I had felt surrounded by people who wanted relief from real health challenges or who simply wanted to drop unwanted pounds. Neither of which seemed to match my needs. Regardless of the goal, the principal solution professed by the institute was the same; a change in your eating habits. Coupled with meditation and non-denominational faith, the solution seemed obvious.

Careful to avoid claims of miraculous cures of incurable maladies, OHI simply focused on the elimination of much of what I enjoyed. Salt, sugar, oil, animal products, alcohol and caffeine topped the list of the greatest offenders. In addition to the acceptable foods, a strict protocol prescribed the way in which they should be combined during mealtime so not to offend each other as they proceeded from your mouth through your gut.

Wheatgrass juice is a staple component of the OHI diet. Its legendary benefits are accepted by all and we are expected to slug down a two-ounce serving twice a day. We process the wheatgrass in a room specifically designated for that purpose. Great handfuls of what appears to be Kentucky Bluegrass in need of mowing are carefully run though a juicer that could, if one is careless, add some human protein to the mix; an OHI diet no-no. One’s juicing skills are honed over time and the process takes on an almost religious bearing. Drinking the juice takes some practice as its taste has been occasionally compared to motor oil and other unmentionables. As for me, I love the stuff.

After three visits to OHI, I consider myself quite adept at the processing of the grass. As an added benefit, extracting the liquid leaves behind a poultice that has, by itself, been deemed to cure aches, pains and a plethora of sexual inadequacies. But then, I wouldn’t know anything about that.

The elimination of tasty foods and the imbibing of the holy juice are intended to cleanse one’s system which contains rotting food and other nasties that have lived in us for years. They hide in secret, otherwise unreachable, places in our gut, especially in our colon. Toward that end (no pun intended), multiple colonics are a featured component of the cleansing process. Generally unmentionable in polite company, OHI participants are gleefully verbose about the process and its benefits. Four ounces of freshly processed wheatgrass juice are a vital element of the colonic. Only this time the magic elixir is squirted up one’s butt to lay down a coating that is sure to destroy the pests that have been living quite happily somewhere in the dark. Those campers who are seen toting the precious liquid in a see-through plastic container are readily identifiable as being on their way to the very popular colonic ladies.

The OHI carte du jour features a basic assortment of simple food that would be familiar to anyone who has spent quality time in a Siberian gulag. Raw vegetables are featured at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Occasionally, something composed of raw vegetables tries, without success, to appear tasty. But like kosher bacon, one is not fooled for long. Six salad dressings of different colors are available; however, lacking oil and salt, I was hard pressed to taste the difference between them. Cooking vegetables is prohibited as anything heated beyond 105 degrees is determined to be substantially lacking in nutrition.

The elimination of anything that might cause fluid retention, such as salt, results in the elimination of prodigious amounts of body fluid.  Multiple trips from one’s bed to the bathroom becomes a nightly occurrence. Banging into unfamiliar furniture and the inability to find the correct light switch only adds to the festivities. Drinking four quarts of water during the day exacerbates the nightly adventure. I often believed that I would become totally dehydrated, much like that misbegotten bad guy who drank from the wrong cup as he searched for the holy grail in that Indiana Jones movie. Needless to say, I lost weight.

OHI leaves any claims of miracle cures to the participants, many of whom are all too happy to let everyone know about them. During my first OHI visit, I was highly skeptical of the entire proceedings. However, unwilling to be ostracized and banished from my sweetheart’s loving arms, I avoided snarky smirking as I sat through the classes and the testimonials of those who had been cured..

My second trip to the institute was easier. I knew what was in store for me. The classes were a bit more advanced and the food regimen unsurprising. Forsaking any hope for a more pleasing diet led me to clandestinely bootleg a daily cup of Starbuck’s dark roast and create a room stocked with bananas, peanut butter, grapes, nutritional shakes and chewy power bars. Careful to maintain appearances, all these were in addition to the OHI supplied Bugs Bunny diet of raw greens. I lost more weight.

And so now we come to my third and most recent trip. I found myself looking forward to it; a revelation in itself. Now an upper classman, my apprehension was gone. The food was no better, but it met my low expectations. Starbucks was still on my diet along with the other frowned upon supplements. What did change dramatically was my understanding and acceptance of the health improvements attested to by my fellow campers. I no longer smirked. I listened attentively. I heard them praise the program and describe the changes that had improved their lives. These were sane, intelligent people. And I thought, who am I to judge them? Who am I to demean their beliefs? Who am I to doubt their truthfulness?

And who am I to risk missing another trip to Lemon Grove with the beautiful lady in the black and white Jackie Kennedy hat?


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