Archive for the 'Recreation' Category

Careful Where You Step

I wake slowly, stare out the window, and watch the night give way to the dawn. I welcome daylight and embrace it so I can avoid the pratfalls that afflict those whose night vision might better be labeled night blindness.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have the pleasure of being in Robert’s hands at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club. My thirty minutes with him are devoted to strengthening my upper body, working on my balance, and enjoying his wit. I haven’t fooled myself into thinking that I can reverse the aging process; I merely want to take a break from it for a few more years.

Since moving to town, I have been blessed with the ability to walk to the club instead of driving to it. Takes about twenty minutes and gives my cardiovascular system a small nudge in the right direction. Before Covid, my sessions with Robert began at 8am; a respectable start time that lets me walk to the gym in the morning light.

Covid changed all that. First the club closed. Then it was open. Then it was closed. Then it was sort of open, with restrictions that seemed to change twice daily. Robert also had his own health issues that limited his ability to entertain me on a regular basis. Things changed.

I now start training at 7. My walk to the gym begins in darkness and ends in the dim morning light. The first 10 minutes are a thrilling adventure as I stare down at the ground and strain to see what is underfoot. My mind sends me the message, “Watch out, be careful.”

At those times I am reminded of my brother Irv who, like our father, suffered the genetically delivered curse of macular degeneration. I recall walking with Irv when every step brought him closer to a fall. I see him hesitate as he puts one foot in front of the other. I watch him use the toe of his shoe as though it were a cane, probing the next step as though there was a deep chasm in front of him that might send him off the cliff into oblivion. At times like that, I remember thinking, “Poor guy, how frustrating this must be for him.”

Now I’m getting a taste of it, and it makes me feel old. In addition to obstacle avoidance, labels with small print taunt me; surely no one other than Lilliputians can read them. I try to decipher them with my bifocals. Failing that, I try it without glasses. Then I repeat the options without success. Excuses for banging into furniture on my way to bed, like the absence of a full moon, no longer cut it. Thinking that cataract surgery on my left eye will improve things is a fool’s paradise. I probe with my toe, just like my brother did.

Unlike Dracula, I long for the sunrise and try to complete my foraging before dark. Starting a morning hike at 6 is no longer possible. So, like yesterday, when Jackie was already on her way to body management in Montecito, I suited up and began a solo trek just after dawn.

I told Jackie that my plan was to walk through the less challenging Arbolada; a moderate grade trip through residential neighborhoods. Predictable, safe and ambulance friendly. I promised to take my cellphone, since screaming help into the thin air at that time of the morning would only antagonize the neighbors.

Ten minutes into the hike I changed my plans. I felt strong, my aging left knee had not yet offended me, and I was ready for sterner stuff. Shelf Road beckoned and, macho-like, I took the challenge.

Reaching Shelf Road requires a quarter mile jaunt up Signal Street, a thoroughfare that looks benign. Uphill all the way, lungs expand and contract at the speed of hummingbird wings. Heartbeats are no longer separated by intervals; they are, like a firehose, streaming nonstop.

Reaching the beginning of the Shelf Road trail would normally be cause for celebration, but I’m much too busy reorganizing my body into a more coherent machine; one that bears some resemblance to what it was like when I began this death march.

The trail is wide and seems to be continuously uphill. Its composition is shale-like with bits of ankle-twisting rocks thrown in to encourage me to keep my eyes on the road. On a weekday at 7, there are a few hikers with a lot of annoying dogs who seem to enjoy adding another obstacle in my path.

At the half-way mark there are two benches that can give one respite and provide a view of the Valley. I came upon the benches, occupied by a young couple in serious conversation. I waved without panache and mumbled the obligatory, “Good morning. Nice day isn’t it?”

Without waiting for a detailed response, I cruised past them and said soundlessly, “I’m proud of myself. Didn’t die on Signal Street and made it half-way up the trail. The rest is a piece of cake. Home for coffee in thirty.”

As though god hated braggards, I was mightily smitten by the lord for my brashness. The toe of my right shoe clipped the top of a stone which, I am sure, was placed there by an elf for that very purpose. I hurtled forward without a nanosecond of hesitation and found myself laying prone on the trail.

The bench couple ran to me and, believing that I was an old guy without much sense, helped me to my feet and began exploring my body. Normally, inspection by a young woman would be welcomed; however, the blood emanating from my several cuts and bruises put me off.

The inspection concluded without discovery of broken bones, torn ligaments or bleeding that couldn’t be stopped with the application of the three pieces of Kleenex that constitute my first-aid kit.

One of the bloody tissues was nestled between my hat and my scraped skull. Looking like that fife player marching in the painting of The Spirit of 1776, I completed my trek home, washed the blood off my body, and applied several dozen band-aids. I looked a bit like the mummy in the Boris Karloff picture of the same name.

The following day I told Robert my story. He carefully studied my wounds and added shame to my physical woes. He pronounced me a lazy foot dragger. Insisting that I had to learn to lift my feet higher brought on a new series of exercises that consist largely of my stumbling over obstacles he put in my path; much like the dogs did on Shelf Road. Except I was paying for this indignity.

Think I’ll go for a walk…before it gets dark.

No Spitting Allowed

What has baseball come to when it announces that players may no longer spit on the field?

Trying to protect the players from each other, major league baseball is starting the new season about a hundred days late with a bunch of rules that, in my opinion, take the heart right out of the grand old game.

Spitting, “including but not limited to saliva, sunflower seeds, peanut shells, or tobacco,” is prohibited. One wonders, given the phrase “not limited to,” what else the players might have had in their mouths that requires nonstop spitting while they stand around scratching their balls.

chewing tobaccoWatching players and umpires chew great wads of tobacco has been a favorite part of America’s beloved sport. As a teenager I engaged in ranking the players who practiced the art of sequestering a large wad of the stuff in their right cheek. In addition to the size of the wad, my rankings included points for the distance the player could periodically spew forth that glob of viscous brown spit. In later years, sunflower seeds became the object de jure, leaving as much as a ton of shells on the dugout floor.

Hank Sauer, a by-gone home run hitter and porous left fielder for my hometown Chicago hank sauerCubs, was my tobacco chewing hero. His unique style of simultaneously swinging two ten-pound bats produced prodigious homers and endeared him to the crowd. Bleacher fans would reward Hank with dozens of packets of his favorite Beech Nut chewing tobacco when he returned to his defensive post after having just clubbed a home run ball onto Waveland Avenue. Hank would be heartbroken today to see how far the great sport has fallen. Rest in peace, Hank.

Continuing this 2020 march to cleanliness, the League will require pitchers to carry a small wet rag that substitutes for the gross habit of licking their fingers as though they had just consumed a juicy barbecued rib from the Deer Lodge. Licking is intended to improve the pitcher’s ability to grip the ball, and like all useless rules it has gone through several alterations over the years. At one time there was no rule. That was amended to allow licking if it was followed by drying the fingers. Recognizing the silliness of that amendment, the rule was changed to allow licking so long as the pitcher was not on the rubber…something that left a few players confused and their girlfriends pregnant.

Studying the latest Covid-19 data, the League realized that germs could be transmitted by fondling the ball; therefore, the offending sphere will be ejected from the game if it is touched by multiple players. Perhaps needing some further clarification, this rule may require a new ball on every pitch delivered by the pitcher to the catcher and then returned to the pitcher. The only party supporting this ball consumption rule is the Wilson Sporting Goods company. A possible solution to this problem is to eliminate the catcher all together and allow the balls to accumulate behind the plate until retrieved by the batboy; one who is too young to be seriously affected by the virus and who, in fact, is easily replaced.

lou piniella 1990One of the most engaging components of America’s pastime involves arguing with the umpire. Lou Piniella, another Cub for another time, was a master of the art. Billy Martin, the 1988 Yankee manager, won an early departure award for being thrown out of a game in the third inning; hardly enough time to deposit one’s share of seed shells in the dugout.

The goal of the manager rant was to get within six inches of the umpire’s face to show you meant business without being tossed out of the game. This wasn’t easy since the umpire was king of the hill and woefully unschooled in the art of compromise.

Alas, the virus has put an end to this traditional arguing by requiring the combatants to remain at least six feet apart during the altercation. This restriction might eventually turn the event into something like Muhammed Ali doing a rope-a-dope around Sonny Liston while flitting around home plate. To bone up on their body language skills, major league managers and umpires will undoubtedly attend choreography classes hosted by the likes of Gower Champion and Tommy Tune.

Speaking of umpires, they have adamantly refused to wear Covid-19 masks while behind home plate. They insist that the standard metal birdcage mask intended to keep foul balls from climbing up their nostrils is adequate protection from the virus. After team owners petitioned President Trump, scientific evaluation of the umpires’ claim became top priority at the Centers for Disease Control.

Recognizing that the changes may lengthen a game that annually bores more people toGroup of ball players death than the Corona virus, the League has made several changes in the hope of concluding a nine-inning game before Yankee Stadium is overrun by the Mendenhall glacier.

Attempting to speed up extra inning games, the following head scratching rule has been adopted:

Each extra inning will begin with a runner on second base. The batter (or a substitute for the batter) who leads off an inning shall continue to be the batter who would lead off the inning in the absence of this extra-innings rule.

Or a more lucid rule:

All pitchers — both starters and relievers — must face at least three batters (or pitch until the inning is over) before they come out of a game.

This new three-batter rule will eliminate the use of multiple pitchers who only throw a single pitch and are then yanked for a new pitcher who throws only one pitch, etc. etc. consuming valuable time that could better be spent watching Gilligan’s Island reruns. The old rule often found managers running out of pitchers. They were then forced to wander through the stands looking for anyone who might have at least played Pee-Wee ball.

Live fans attending the games are now a thing of the past. Replaced by virtual electronic media, you can stay home, sit in your ratty easy chair, drink two-dollar instead of ten-dollar Budweiser, and not have to stand in line at the urinal (unless your wife makes you do some weird stuff.)

To compensate for the loss of the real thing, you can watch the game and punch computer icons that show whether you’re cheering, booing or clapping. And just like on Gilligan’s Island, technicians in the TV studio will add canned noise to match the icons of your choice.

Presumably, there will still be a seventh inning stretch. But Take me out to the ball game will have a whole new meaning.

A Bike Story

My first bicycle was a Schwinn. Black and white with shiny fenders, it gleamed in the sunshine as it stood waiting for me in the alley behind my folks’ second floor porch in Chicago’s Albany park, a mecca for transplanted Russians and other Jews.

I walked around the bike that my father had brought home the prior evening and had placed out of harm’s way in one of the darkened basement sheds allocated to tenants. I had whined for weeks about wanting a bike, so its appearance on my birthday was not a shock.

At eleven, I was not yet aware of my parents limited financial resources. Surrounded by family, friends, and other neighborhood denizens, I was primarily exposed to people living in similar circumstances. In retrospect, I’m sure that the bike took a healthy bite out of father’s paycheck.

SchwinnThe Cadillac of bikes, its company was established 1895 by Ignaz Schwinn, a German immigrant, and his meat packer partner Adolph Arnold. It survived the Great Depression and continued producing bikes in the U.S. under various corporate guises until it finally succumbed to the allure of Chinese productivity. The Paramount, Stingray, and Schwinn-Twinn came and went. Advertising kept Schwinn in the public eye; the company was an early sponsor of TV’s Captain Kangaroo.

I walked around the sturdily built bike with fat balloon tires and its lever-actuated bell mounted on the handlebar. In 1950, this bike would have been called snazzy, flashy, and sleek. I daydreamed about where it would take me while I built up my confidence. Finally, I lifted my left leg over the horizontal bar that announced the bicycle’s gender as a “boy’s bike.”

Swinging the kickstand up from the asphalt, I brought the left side pedal to its full vertical position and placed my foot on top of it. I pushed the pedal forward. The bike moved a few feet. I tried to hop up onto the thickly cushioned seat. And then I fell over.

The bike shivered as it came to rest on its left side, the front wheel spinning slowly for what seemed an eternity. Then it stopped and all was silent. I had scraped my knee but, in comparison to the shame I felt, it was no big deal. The bike had escaped relatively unscathed except for a scratch on the chrome plated handlebar near the bell. It was a reminder that stayed with me each time I mounted the Schwinn that took me through my college years.

I bought a ten-speed racing bike when our kids were safely in school. For not much reason other than it seemed like the thing to do. Like all bikes of its genre, it was fitted with a seat that produced pain at the same level as the Spanish Inquisition’s torture rack. The seat was a combination of metal tubing covered with some animal skin. That’s it. No padding. No springs. Not a good combination for a guy with a skinny ass and a low tolerance for pain.racing bike seat

When I began riding the bike with the Torquemada designed seat, I complained to whoever would listen. Some people commiserated while others said, “Keep at it. You’ll get used to it.” And I thought, “Why should I?”

My bike riding consisted largely of shifting gears that never seemed to do what I wanted, and repositioning my ass trying to share my discomfort equally with the various pressure points in my butt and my tailbone.  And so, unlike my dear Schwinn, the ten-speed ended up in our Northridge garage, gathering dust and losing air in the tires until they were flat. I finally sold it to someone with a highly cushioned ass, for a whole lot less than I paid for it. Good riddance.

Twenty years passed in Northridge while I avoided a further encounter with a bike. The next move to our Ojai home high up on the hill put an end to any thought of mounting one. The terrain was much too steep; merely walking up Sulphur Mountain Road required the skill of a gazelle and the lungs of a blue whale. People with bikes who tried it were known to stop mid-way, cry unconsolably, and admit defeat.

I moved to town almost a year ago. To a house without steps, on a flat lot, in a flat neighborhood and with a flat one-mile walk to the Ojai Post Office. Surrounded by scores of bikers, Jackie and I talked about being part of that in-crowd. We were particularly attracted to electric assisted E-bikes. Not a fully operational motor scooter, the E-bike merely compliments one’s own pedal power with an array of assisted options. Given my age, I felt no shame with the idea of sharing the load with a lithium ion battery.como ebike

A week ago, we called the MOB bike shop and found that they would be happy to have us try the E-bike that afternoon at 2. Choosing to ignore the current 99-degree temperature, we jumped at the offer. Arriving at the shop, I casually informed Jackie that my car thermometer was recording the first triple digits of the summer. Consistent with her penchant for following through with commitments, she said, “It’s an electric bike. We’ll go slow. Only for ten minutes. Don’t be a pussy. You’ll be fine.”

Tim took our temperature to rule out Covid-19; I was mildly disappointed when I passed the test. Handing us over to young Melanie, we signed the usual waivers relieving the shop of any liability including the crime of wantonly exposing octogenarians to bodily harm. She gave us general instructions that I immediately forgot, fitted us with fashionable helmets, and adjusted our seat heights to a position based on information only known to her.

Jackie was the first to fall from the bike not ten feet from the shop’s front door. Light as a feather, she landed unscathed. I figured I could do better. Mounting the bike, I depressed the left pedal. Moving forward I brushed against Jackie, lost my balance, and fell stage-right while the bike attempted a quick escape by falling stage-left. I scraped the same knee that was a victim in the Schwinn incident seventy years ago, including my embarrassment.

The shop owner, who had been watching this Marx Brothers routine, came closer to me than Covid-19 precautions allow and said, “You know, while the bike is valuable, the safety of our customers is our top priority.”

Translated, he meant, “Don’t you think you’re a little old for this? You’ll probably kill yourself. Be smart. Get your ass out of here before it’s too late.”

Rising to my full five-foot-eight and a half inches (I used to be five-ten), I thanked the owner for his concern, assured Jackie that I was in full control of my senses, and reclaimed the wayward bike.

We walked the bikes across Ojai Avenue, mounted them and rode with some trepidation to the bike path. We entered the path, dodged oncoming fearless bikers, and were successful at avoiding further mishaps.

We returned the bikes, once again walking them across the Avenue. I glanced at the owner and with some smugness said, “Thank you for your concerns but I’ve got everything under control.” Lying does not become me and I think he knew better; but, sensing a possible sale, he nodded his agreement.

My knee is nicely scabbed over. We’re going riding again tomorrow. Think I’ll wear long pants.


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