Posts Tagged 'health'

The most precious thing

What is the most precious thing in the world?

What are the characteristics that make it so? A short list might include beauty, timelessness, desirability and scarcity.

Until last week, my most precious list would have included a unique jewel much like the Hope Diamond. At 45 carats, about a third of an ounce, the Hope luxuriates in Washington DC’s Museum of National History. Legend has it that the diamond is cursed and the owner, or anyone else who touches it, will die. Sort of like forgetting to clean your doorknobs of the Corona virus. If the stone was in the Museum’s gift shop, its price tag would be about $350 million plus tax. Not sure if they offer gift wrapping.

The Mona Lisa is also in the running. Housed in the Paris Louvre, the lady with the mysterious smile is estimated to set you back nearly a billion bucks, plus tax. Framing is extra. The Italian noblewoman, believed to be Lisa Gherardini, was painted by da Vinci around 1503. She displays an enigmatic expression that undoubtedly reflects Lisa’s awareness that twenty-first century art connoisseurs would assuredly be foolish enough to pay her over inflated price.

Faberge eggs have captured the imagination since the 1800’s when they were produced in Czarist Russia. Most were made for royalty, but the majority did not survive the revolution, or the misguided melting of the undervalued eggs for their gold. One such egg, purchased at a flea market fifty years ago for $14,000, currently has an estimated value of over thirty million. The ignorant flea market purchaser kept it in his Midwest home located next to a highway and a Dunkin Donuts until an antique dealer spotted it sitting next to some cupcakes on the owner’s Formica kitchen counter.

These three items have at least one thing in common. None have any utilitarian value. If you awoke next Monday morning and discovered that your Faberge was cracked, your diamond shattered or the Mona Lisa looking like DC Comics’ Joker, you would probably shrug and say something like easy come, easy go. Then turn over in bed, snuggle with your sweetie, and your morning would go on as always, without the diamond, the painting or the egg.

The most precious list takes on a wholly different flavor when we are faced with something that can seriously impact how we live. The current Corona crisis helps put things in perspective. Especially at the grocery store. Tough times with real or imaginary shortages of taken-for-granted items, often reveal some of our baser instincts.

In 1967 we lived in Chicago when we had 27 inches of snow in a single day. The freeway shut down and people used it as boardwalk to the nearest market. Gallons of milk disappeared from store shelves, probably into homes where it was never consumed. It surely spoiled before it could be wolfed down by people who hadn’t had a glassful since they were in Mrs. Weintraub’s first grade class.

Moving to Los Angeles that same year to avoid future blizzards, we were welcomed with earthquakes. The worst was the 1994 Northridge quake. No electricity. No open markets. We became a third world country overnight. Hot dogs from our non-functioning freezer were roasted over our still operating gas stove. Candles provided light. Empty fifty-gallon metal barrels appeared on the street; their burning wood scraps providing a place for people to gather. We avoided driving our cars, fearful that we might never find fuel in gas stations that could no longer pump it. Hush hush messages were shared with friends whenever a secret stash of store-based vitals was discovered; we invariably arrived too late to grab anything that we didn’t really need anyway.

The blizzard cleanup and the quake reconstruction were short term impediments to our lifestyle. They were localized, allowing billions of people to be mere TV voyeurs watching the drama unfold without being directly affected by the events. We intuitively knew that our lives would be restored to normalcy before the next Olympics.

In agonizing contrast, the Corona madness has the entire world at its feet. Any permanent respite is impossible to predict with any certainty. At seven every morning we watch ABC’s George Stephanopoulos lean forward in his Good Morning America swivel chair and tell us how god-damn awful this thing is. How the rate of infection will soon fill every hospital bed, the Superdome and all the sea-going Maersk shipping containers with victims who have no ventilators and no hope. How anyone George interviews is deemed crazy by him if they say things are getting under control. We multi-task by staring at the streaming crawler spewing more bad news at the bottom of our TV screen…repeating these disasters every sixty seconds. Like lemmings, we are too paralyzed to turn it off and switch to the fifteenth episode of the fourth year of our favorite depressing Netflix series.

Images of food shortages race through our frontal lobe. Some of us remember World War 2 ration books, victory gardens and meatless Mondays. We mentally inventory our available foodstuffs. We have no idea when this worst of all flu seasons will end. We see the Vons’ parking lot filled from six in the morning into the night. Cars sliding snail-like up and down the aisles looking to catch a break. We think they must know something we don’t. So we join them.

We grab an available cart, ladling germs onto the palms of our hands. We enter through the automatic doors, thankful we don’t have to touch them. We grab a disinfectant tissue and wipe our hands and the cart’s push bar. We dispose of the tissue on top of the overflowing garbage can.

Once fully inside, we stop. Where are we going? Left or right? So much to choose from. Better make up our mind quickly before someone else snatches our number one item while we procrastinate like Lot’s wife. We finally decide.

We stare at the overhead signs. And then we spot it. Paper Goods. We move quickly. Our heart is pounding. We look down the chosen aisle. Our eyes shift right. A sea of off-white metal meets our gaze. Having never seen an empty Vons display rack, we are momentarily stunned, unable to move. How is this possible?

Now we know what the most precious item is. What will change sensible shoppers into glutinous hoarders. What we can’t do without. Names that had little importance two weeks ago have come to the top of our most precious list. Northern, Charmin, Kirkland, Angel Soft, Cottonelle, Scott. All gone.

The Hope Diamond, the Mona Lisa and Faberge eggs are still available. But who gives a shit?

I’ve had enough Corona

Went to the board meeting at the synagogue Monday night. It’s a once a month thing that lasts about two hours. I generally last about one hour and then begin to fidget.

The chairs are reasonably comfortable but even the cushiest Ethan Allen lounge chair begins to grind into my butt after about thirty minutes. Jackie tells me that I have no meat on my fanny; I trust her judgment since she’s had ample time to explore the terrain.

Fidgeting can also be accompanied by pen twiddling, paper shuffling and tiny facial grimaces whenever I think the speaker has outworn his welcome. The face thing began earlier than usual that evening when one of the board members launched into a dissertation on the ravages of the Corona virus. Although a physician with access to the latest medical advances, I found his warnings akin to what the dinosaurs must have discussed as they anxiously awaited the giant meteor that ended their 150 million years reign on earth. We’ve only been around for 300,000 years, so we’ve got a lot to learn. Especially since learning from history is not one of our strong points.

Although there is overwhelming scientific support for the meteor theory, there are also believers in a virus borne plague that may have decimated the dino population. Dead animals who contracted the malady, let’s call it the Budweiser virus, were in turn eaten by the survivors. Then they succumbed to the virus that had ridden the coattails of their ingested friends. And then there were none.

My doctor friend did not predict a dinosaur-like event. But visions of prophylactic measures ran through my brain as he itemized what we should do to assure our survival. High on the list was hand sanitizer. But would there be enough Purell to save us from the Corona virus? Or would we emulate our luckless T-Rex ancestor by wandering down Ojai Avenue like zombies, seeking the flesh of former friends to assuage our hunger.

The following day I attended my Creative Writing class. The room was packed with senior citizens who were ideal Corona candidates. Old, a bit klutzy and with already compromised immune systems. Not to worry, since some of us had come armed with the now ubiquitous life-saving Purell elixir. However, my comfort level dropped several levels when one of my classmates announced that Purell was to be avoided because it causes cancer. She assured us that she had confirmed this on the web.

Terrified, I was left with a choice. Risk the Budweiser-like elimination of all human beings or suffer an oncological nightmare rendered by the emperor of all diseases. I fidgeted in my seat, fumbled with an over-sized paper clip and was inattentive while my colleagues audibled their heart-felt essays. The class ended and I wondered if an afternoon martini might restore my confidence.

A trip to the athletic club temporarily put off the martini. Peter was on the neighboring treadmill. Of similar ages, we greet each other, review yesterday’s news and share thoughts about how this country should be run. Realizing the futility of it, we move on to more important things. Surrounded by a sea of Kleenex and sanitizer wipes. Peter’s treadmill is gleaming from his efforts to keep it clean and germ free. He feels impervious to the virus.

We simultaneously complete our workout. I blithely pick up my germ laden cellphone and am about to walk down the stairs to the locker room. Peter calls to me. “Take this cleansing wipe, spread it out and use it to hold onto the stair railing.”  Not wishing to offend, I gratefully accept the moist tissue and make my way to the locker room. I immediately violate any benefit of the rail wipe when I dial the combination lock and collect a boatload of happy, invisible germs onto my fingers.

I enter the shower stall and wonder how much scrub time I should devote to each part of my body. God knows what’s invading me through the soles of my feet. The soap dispenser is particularly nettlesome. It’s a twelve-ounce bottle that requires a downward push on a plunger to dispense a marble sized glob of soap. I wonder who had been there before me. Did they deposit alien germs on the plunger? Am I to be undone by someone who is ignorant of proper shower etiquette? Why is there no Purell sanitizer in the shower stall? Doesn’t the club know that failure to sanitize could spell doom for all humankind?

Newly sanitized, I listen to KPCC as I drive home. Generally interesting, this NPR station normally covers a wide array of stories. Of late, the mind-numbing focus has been on Corona where statistics abound and are updated every nanosecond. Interviews with health professionals fill vacant airtime. Their message universally includes the case count, the death count and the don’t count on any vaccine for a year mantra. It concludes with an admonition of “don’t panic.” All of which causes me to panic.

I now listen exclusively to KUSC, the classical music station where, blessedly, Mozart never heard of Corona, or any other virus, while composing The Magic Flute.

Jackie and I plan to marry on March 22. Seventy-five invitees have decisions to make. Should they risk virus oblivion or throw caution to the wind, drink wine, eat good food and laugh with friends. Thoughts about my own well-being regularly enter my consciousness. It is not a fear of contracting the dreaded illness. It’s being physically unable to attend my own wedding. An event that includes flowers, photos, a cake, a harpist and, potentially, a bunch of forfeited deposits.

I lie half awake this morning and wonder what would happen if I am sick on March 22. I decide that nothing short of a meteor direct hit will keep me from it. I see it now. Although bed ridden, I arrive at the wedding venue speeding down Ojai Avenue in a white LifeLine ambulance with sirens blaring. We have a reserved parking space right in front. I’m wheeled from the vehicle on a gurney. A drug infused IV is embedded in my right arm. I sign the Ketuba. I’m under the chuppah with lovely Jackie hovering over me. We recite our vows. Rabbi Lisa pronounces us married. I’m happy.

After all, who needs Purell when you’re in love?

Plays, Cemeteries and Dinner

Sunday was our day at the Ahmanson.

Daughter Nancy and I have been series subscribers since Ila died. Ila loved musicals and we often found ourselves several rows back from the stages at LA’s downtown Music Center, the Ojai Art Center and the Rubicon in Ventura. Before we moved to Ojai and the schlep became a bridge too far, we had great seats at the Hollywood Bowl including coveted reserved parking.

As her illness progressed, Ila found the noise, regardless of the decibel level, and the milling crowds too much to handle and we stopped attending live plays and movies. Even a simple visit to the band shell in Libbey Park was, for her, like living through the height of the Luftwaffe’s 1940 London blitz.

Our final venture into entertainment was a trip to Hollywood’s rococo Pantages Theater to see Beautiful, the musical about Carol King. Ila lasted less than five minutes into the performance. Signaling her discomfort, she covered her ears. We rose from our center section seats and excused ourselves to each of the fifteen people we trod on as we slogged past them. We then spent quality time seated on a lobby bench while daughter Nancy remained through the first act. Mercifully, we left the confines of the theater before the second act and drove home.

My day for the Ahmanson routinely begins with a trip to Conejo Mountain Memorial Park to visit Ila in the cemetery section reserved for Jews. Authors of bereavement guides are quick to remind me that Ila really isn’t there under a blanket of Saint Augustine grass; rather, she lives in our memories. To which I respond…how do you know?

With ten dollars, I buy cut flowers at the Park office, picking a bunch that I think Ila will like. I arrive at the grave site and arrange the flowers in the container embedded at the foot of the grave. I clear some dead leaves from the site onto a currently unoccupied neighboring plot. I stand and look at the inscription on the grave marker…We love you up to the sky and beyond.  I speak to her and ask how she’s doing, knowing there will be no audible response. I remind her of my upcoming marriage to Jackie and I feel guilty. I remember the bereavement group facilitator saying that Ila would want me to be happy…and I wonder.

I place a small stone on the corner of the grave marker. I had carefully selected it from the array in front of the house. It was smooth, a pleasing brown color and about two inches in diameter. There are several Jewish theories why a stone is left behind. Flowers are rarely put on Jewish graves; I’m an exception. Flowers are impermanent while stones, like memories, are lasting. My personal belief is a bit selfish; it’s a tradition that tells others I was here.

I took a photo of the grave and the flowers. I take one during each visit. I occasionally send one to the kids with a note that tells them that Nana says that she loves you. Some I just keep in my iPhone memory, helping to keep track of my visits. I say good-bye and tell her that I love her.

On the way to my car I pass Naida’s grave. Naida and Ila shared illnesses, became an odd couple of fast friends, and now lie together twenty feet apart. I bid Naida good-bye but am out of stones.

It took thirty minutes to arrive at Nancy’s Calabasas home where coffee and deli stuff waited. Finished downing a combination sandwich of Gelson’s corned beef and hard salami, we left for the Ahmanson, got there with time to spare and, despite murmurs about the Corona virus, found a packed theater waiting to see The Book of Mormon. We had seen it years ago, and although laden with some embarrassment at its rapid-fire jokes about a little understood religion, had thoroughly enjoyed it the first time.

As usual, our seats were centered, ten rows back from the stage where the scenery was highlighted by a horn blowing statue of the angel Moroni calling people to the gospel of Jesus. Early in the performance, it became apparent that I needed more than a golden horn to hear the lyrics of the show’s now familiar tunes.

Although fitted with hearing aids, more than half of the spoken words were a great mystery to me. Laughter rose throughout the theater while I too often sat idly by wondering what was so funny. Nancy tried to lessen the impact of my affliction on my psyche by assuring me that she too could not understand everything. Yet whenever I leaned toward her and said, “What did he say?” she was able to tell me, albeit too late to enjoy that joke while the audience had moved on to another unintelligible phrase. Resigned to the inevitable, I sat back, clasped my hands in my lap and settled for half a loaf.

Like senses competing for attention, my eyesight in dimly lit settings is no better than my aging ears. As though encouraging pratfalls, the Ahmanson puts a half height step at the end of the darkened aisle and another one at the foot of the exit ramp. My recourse is to slowly shuffle my feet while seeking those challenging steps. I sometimes lose the contest and half hurtle forward into the waiting arms of a stranger.

My adventure with senescence continued after the play with a dinner trip to the Wood Ranch restaurant in Agoura. Once again, my reading skills were tested by a dimly lit environment intended to create a relaxing atmosphere for everyone other than Mr. Magoo. Although a light beamed from the ceiling, it focused like a laser beam on the tiny center of the table. It required that I lean forward with my elbows in the complimentary bread bowl to stand a chance of capturing some lumens.

Dinner conversation was highlighted by the possible whereabouts of my misplaced hat and concluded with the realization that I had lost my Visa card. Capping my Emmy winning performance, I gracefully rose from the table and unknowingly dropped two napkins from my lap onto the floor. Perhaps a bibb next time.

Nancy and Kevin were unwilling to allow me to go solo to locate my car for fear that I might be found at dawn, frozen in the parking lot. Better safe than sorry has become the law of the land. I drove home without causing a pile-up on the 101 and, displaying an as yet intact smidgen of independence, refused to call the kids to let them know I had arrived safely.

I suppose I enjoyed the play.

The Eyes Have It

It’s a good thing he liked baseball.

My father, Morris, was a victim of macular degeneration. Not the treatable kind, it slowly robbed him of everything but a bit of peripheral vision and the ability to discern light from dark.

He’d spend nearly all his time indoors in their West Rogers Park two-flat that my folks shared with my Uncle Max and Aunt Jenny. He avoided restaurants as though they served nothing but e-coli. A proud man, he felt embarrassed fingering the food on his plate in order to tell the difference between the mashed potatoes and the green beans. Unable to cut his brisket without the aid of a compass, he relied on my mother to create those bite sized pieces that somehow found their way onto his fork and into his mouth.

Until it too failed him, his limited peripheral vision allowed him to focus on a hand of cards in his weekly gin rummy game with Cousin Harry. The cards were large and he held them to the side of his face so he could see them. The game moved slowly but he never lost his card playing skills and managed to best Harry most weeks.

Morris wore bifocal glasses even when they were no longer of any help. He really couldn’t tell if the lenses were dirty but that made no difference to his penchant for keeping them clean. He ran through packs of Sight Savers, those crinkly two by three sheets of tissue that miraculously clean lenses without streaking or smudging. Now pre-moistened, they were originally dry. He kept a pack of them in his pants pocket and often used them despite being unable to view the results of his efforts.

He was a rabid White Sox fan and listened to Bob Elson and Harry Caray doing the play by play on the radio. But, even with his affliction he dearly loved watching the Sox on TV. We had an RCA console that sat on the living room floor. My father would drag a padded folding chair to within a foot of the screen and turn it sideways. He’d then position himself on the chair so that he could watch the TV through the corner of his right eye. Looking at him you might assume that he was ignoring the game.

Always a baseball fan, he had tried football and basketball when he was younger but found them wanting. Perhaps the complexity of football was too much for a former Ukrainian. Maybe basketball too infantile. Baseball was his milieu.

His peripheral vision was not without its limitations. He could not follow images on the screen if they moved rapidly; baseball delivered what he needed. Images that seemed to be stuck in place. Chunks of time between batters that accommodated his need to refocus. Trips by the catcher or manager to the mound that were performed without a hint of urgency. A never-ending array of statistics thrown at the viewer to fill the down time while the other objects on the screen got their act together. On Sundays a double header consuming as many as eight hours provided the stimulus that was otherwise absent for my father.

He knew all the players and the scores of yesterday’s games. He’d criticize plays on the field even though he probably didn’t see the play or the offender. He’d rag on me about the Cubs who hadn’t won a World Series since the Bronze Age. I felt his agony when the Sox blew one in the ninth inning. I occasionally pretended to share his joy when they came from behind and won the game.

My brother Irv suffered the same afflictions…being a Sox fan and having macular degeneration. Unless pushed, he avoided restaurants and their wide array of traps and pitfalls. He didn’t watch much TV and relied on audio books. He gave up golf when he couldn’t see the ball on the tee. I sat with him through every minute of the 2005 World Series when, after 88 years, the Sox won it in four straight over Houston, while my Cubs still languished in the Bronze age. He died before the Cubs won it in 2016 and I have never forgiven him.

I’ve never been as much of a baseball fan as they were. But since I share my genes with them, thoughts of macular generation occasionally enter my mind. Like the other night at the restaurant.

Nocciola is a high-end restaurant with prices to match. We hosted my daughter Nancy and my faux son-in-law, Kevin. A lovely setting, it was dimly lit. Menus of a weight befitting the restaurant’s stature were passed. My initial exploration of its Italian focused offerings revealed that the Italian names of dishes including Crescione, Quaglia, Plin and the one dedicated to Old Blue Eyes, Anatra, were large, bold and plainly visible. The English language describing the content of the dish was not. For all I knew I could have been reading the menu upside down. Fortunately, Jackie’s smart phone provided much needed light and I was able to avoid starvation.

The food arrived and my selection appeared to be floating at the bottom of a dark well. I told the waiter that I had hoped to enjoy a last meal before succumbing to hoof and mouth disease. Accordingly, it would be nice to see the food I was eating. A kindly soul, he elevated the lighting a few lumens and I was able to conclude the task at hand without the necessity of asking Jackie to cut my food.

When I was nearly finished, the lights dimmed. Perhaps the manager concluded that the old man had eaten enough to get the idea of where each element of the dish was located. And, not wishing to offend normally sighted guests, had returned the lights to their Devil’s Island setting.

It’s too bad I don’t like baseball.

I am my brother

My brother would have been ninety-three today.

Irv was born in 1927, two years before the Great Depression. I waited another twelve years for the economy to improve before emerging from my mother’s womb.

A twelve-year age difference was a bridge too far. We never played baseball together, developed sibling rivalry or did mischief that one would expect of brothers living in a Jewish ghetto on Chicago’s north side. I don’t know what he looked like as a teenager, nor do I remember hearing his voice echoing down the long wallpaper covered hallway in my parent’s second floor, two-bedroom apartment. I might as well have been an only child.

Lying about his age, Irv joined the army in 1944, never saw action but managed to develop a life-long relationship with tinnitus, one of several genetic dysfunctions that I shared with him. His army service was brief, some of it spent in Japan and Korea. He learned photography, took those skills home after the war and relied on them for years by chronicling life cycle events for others. I remember a picture of him in his army uniform and jauntily positioned cap. He was this handsome, bright-eyed guy who wore a natural smile as though it was ingrained in his DNA. He was better looking than me. People constantly mistook me for the older brother. He never corrected them.

He disdained the free college education offered to veterans, instead opting to get married, have children, divorce twice and finally land Jeri, the love of his life. In the early years, my parents were uncomfortable with Irv’s lifestyle, lent him money, but never offered advice that would have been immediately forgotten. Comparing me to him often led them to believe that I must be the older one.

At twelve, I baby sat for his daughter, Sharon. At seventeen, I regularly borrowed Irv’s Studebaker, that quirky looking, bullet nosed, dimly remembered two-door coupe with a stick shift. Four years later, he was in the bridal party that joined me with Ila. I still hardly knew him. Meaningful conversations were non-existent, and togetherness was largely a function left to family events to which he was usually late.

Irv’s second marriage was done on the rebound. Like the Studebaker, Anna-Marie was quirky. If he had asked me, I would have said don’t do it. But he didn’t ask, and life went on until the quirkiness lost its glamour.

Irv was a salesman who was honest and compelling. He sold mirrors, a process that was dependent on being invited into the customer’s home to measure walls and select styles. It was during one such adventure that he met Jeri, promised her unbounded love and did so for the rest of his life.

Ila and I moved to California and visited our Chicago relatives two or three times a year. My father became ill and was hospitalized. Irv was there to help our parents. It was as though he had turned a corner in his life, met his elder brother responsibilities, and took them on without looking back or complaining.

I was in California and of little help. My father died and our mother was alone. Irv visited her daily. He ran errands and delivered groceries for years until dementia took its toll on her. She entered a succession of facilities that included independent living, assisted living and fully assisted housing. Irv continued to watch over her while I made limited appearances. Her death finally freed him from responsibilities that he had willingly endured, while I continued to feel guilty by my self-limited role.

He aged and, like our father, developed macular degeneration. He gave up golf, driving, reading and other daily activities that we take for granted before they are taken from us. He needed assistance walking. His trips with Jeri to visit us in California became more difficult. During those trips he gradually displayed a loss of memory and an inability to perform certain functions. Sitting with him while he tried to add a column of numbers proved too much for him. He cried and I saw my brother in what had once been the role played by our mother.

The years he spent caring for our parents had also developed a closer bond between us. Our age difference now meant nothing. Conversations became more meaningful. Aging and illness were freely discussed. We looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking just by the expressions on our face, the tilt of our heads or the rolling of our eyes. We liked the same foods. We both lost our hair. Our laughs were identical. People still thought he was the younger one.

Luckily, I had chances to pay back the kindnesses that he had heaped on our parents. And I took them. I also aged alongside my brother and caught glimpses of what our parents must have suffered.

I look in the morning mirror and see Irv. I see his handsome, smiling face. But like Dicken’s Scrooge visiting the future, I also see what may yet come. I am concerned about my eyesight and daily test my ability to read road signs. I lay in bed in the early morning and silently count backwards from one hundred by seven; I dread making a mistake. I add columns of numbers without a calculator. I have more difficulty completing the New York Times crossword puzzle and wonder if maybe Will Shortz just made it tougher without telling me. I stupidly transform minor irritations into complicated medical cases that can only be treated at the Mayo Clinic.

I am becoming my brother… and I love him even though he will always look younger than me.

Happy birthday, Irv.

I nearly died

I nearly died.

I woke at 5 am, having been summoned by the alarm on Jackie’s iPhone. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Although I could sleep a bit longer, the too-early awakening lets me inhale the remains of last night’s memories before she leaves. If I’m lucky, I get a kiss before I brush my teeth.

A working girl, Jackie easily exits the warm bed, performs some rudimentary magic on her cute body and then heads into the darkness and drives to the athletic club. This inviolate routine brings her there precisely two minutes prior to its 5:30 am opening. She selects a parking space that might as well be reserved for her and assumes the prime position at the club’s front door. First in the gym is a badge of honor that she covets.

I, on the other hand, have not worked in twenty-one years and believe it is my right to sleep late. Not willing to flaunt or take advantage of my enviable position, I arise at 5:45am, toss the warm covers and immediately feel the stabbing chill of a house that has been deprived of fossil fuels for the last eight hours.

We have a treadmill, an elliptical, a stationary bike and a weight machine. Our third bedroom is devoted to these devices and, with its cool rubber flooring, looks like a display at a fitness store. A creature of habit, I disdain these home-bound devices and drive five minutes to the club where I socialize with others who habituate the establishment. I occasionally cross paths with Jackie, and proudly give her a kiss for all to see. I wish her well as she heads to her Pilates session, squeezes in an hour of hot yoga with twenty other female masochists, drives thirty miles to Camarillo and manages to get to work looking refreshed and radiant. I tire merely thinking about it and consider a nap.

I have a key-less locker at the gym that sets me back twelve dollars a month. An extravagance that could be avoided if I were willing to use an unassigned keyed locker. But that would require handing over my car keys to ensure that I return the locker key. It also means playing locker roulette since I would have a different, though indistinguishable, locker each day of the week. An exhausting thought.

My locker alienates me. It’s just a bit too small and, often without warning, regurgitates some of what I have put in it. Especially prone to this phenomenon is my shaving kit which seems intent on painfully landing on the toes of my left foot as it cascades to the floor.

I often prematurely lock it, requiring re-entry of the combination; something that I shall surely forget as I age. I have visions of marching bare-assed to the front desk to beg Erin for the now forgotten three numbers that will admit me to the locker and its assortment of clothing that will mask my embarrassment.

It accumulates unwanted items including a spare pair of ugly, baggy gym shorts, weight-lifting gloves that have their own sewn-in pain inducers and an orphaned metal shaving mirror that Jackie gave me two years ago. I dread discarding it for fear that she may one day ask about it.

As I put on my gym stuff, I banged my left index finger on the sharp edge of the locker door. Thinking nothing of it, I proudly walked without the aid of the railing, up the stairs to the treadmills. As I began my one-hour routine I noticed a drop of blood on my locker bitten finger. And then another drop. Was I going to bleed to death? I staunched the flow with an old used tissue that had resided peacefully in my shorts pocket. Gradually, thoughts of life’s passing cascaded through my mind.

Should I stop my routine and get some antiseptic from the front desk? Maybe a band-aid. Was this hole in my finger the easiest route for the Corona virus? Would I be the first in the county to be diagnosed with it? An eighty-year-old man close to death in the Ojai Valley Community Hospital. The club shut down tightly until everyone is screened. The media will have a field day. All that treadmilling, twice a week work outs with Robert, and healthy, tasteless food. All for naught.

Admit it. You’re a hypochondriac. The older we get, the more we see death in everyday events. The grim reaper standing ready to announce our demise without prior notice. Home in a two-bed window-less room, our last earthly habitat. Caregivers, friends and relatives tending to an almost lifeless body.

An insatiable desire for candy portends diabetes. A nagging cough, a symptom of tuberculosis. A momentary stab in the belly, stage four pancreatic cancer. A pink tint to your stool, hemorrhoids, colitis or worse. Feeling not quite right, kidney disease run amok. A headache, a debilitating stroke. Momentary tremor, Parkinson’s. A spot on the nose, malignant melanoma. My god, it’s a wonder we have time for anything else.

I gutted out the last forty-five minutes on the treadmill and thought about all the things that I had yet to accomplish. A promising life snuffed out by a locker door. Failure to take it seriously enough to seek emergency medical treatment. I could have asked Erin for a second opinion but was too proud to admit that I had ignored impending doom until it was too late.

I took a longer than usual shower. Shaved before the water could warm to conserve whatever time I had left on this earth. But then, dressing slowly, I figured why rush? It’s a done deal. The virus had already embedded itself. Whatever will be, will be. Take it like a man. Suck it up. Handle it with your usual grace and self-confidence. Nobody lives forever.

Then again, who says so?

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.


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