Posts Tagged 'health'

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.

Mysteries of the Mask

I think that women are more mysterious when wearing a mask.

Women need no help to look more mysterious since I have consistently found them to be unfathomable as well as beautiful. I do not wish to demean their intellectual powers by focusing on their appearance. Their intellectual prowess is legendary as they have proven time and again that they can outmaneuver me with a calculated blink of an eye or a kind word.

The mask merely adds an additional element to the mystery. Before Covid-19, I was challenged only by what lay beneath the usual items of female garb. Slinky pants and strategically buttoned blouses regularly beckoned my curiosity. Always mindful of the prohibition against ogling or leering, I averted my eyes and let my mind do the gawking.

The mask adds yet another opportunity for exploration. It seems to invite a prolonged glance and a peek-a-boo invitation to linger. The eyes are the thing. They, as Shakespeare said, are the windows to the soul. And the Roman philosopher Cicero said, “The face is a picture of the mind while the eyes are its interpreter.”

The masked face does little to hide the emotions of the wearer since they are transmitted by the eyes. When unhappy, we signal it by furrowing our brow, making the eyes look smaller. When happy, we raise our brows making our eyes look larger or bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Thoughts that may be erotic are also revealed by focusing on the eyes.

The wearing of a mask is perhaps most notoriously depicted in the 1953 film Salome. Although the plot line is somewhat muddled, Salome, as portrayed by Rita Hayworth, performs the Dance of the Seven Veils before the hopelessly in love King Herod, played by the chunky Charles Laughton. This is a prelude to the beheading of John the Baptist and the presentation of it on a platter, merely to satisfy the desires of the lovely Salome. The film, based on a story in the New Testament, takes great liberty in revising the bible. But no one notices since Rita is captivating in her see-through veil.

My personal mask experiences fall far short of the one suffered by John the Baptist. Since persistent ogling of masked Ojai women could cause Jackie to don a veil and shine up a platter, I have assured her that seeing her beautiful brown eyes appear just above the bed covers in the early morning light is a lovely mystery that will never be solved.

I keep an all-purpose mask hanging around my car’s turn signal wand. I also have two or three in a kitchen drawer. And more are on their way from Amazon. But no matter how many I own, I will more often than not forget to put one in my pocket when I leave the house.

Like today. Jackie and I went on our Bataan Death March at seven this morning. A ninety-minute, five mile hike that passes through a middle class neighborhood like ours, a somewhat seedy part of town where tear-downs sell for thirty times what a paid for my first house in 1962, and the Arbolada where no one can afford to live.

Despite her diminutive stature and lovely legs, Jackie sets a quick pace that I feel compelled to emulate. At 81 I need a bit of encouragement and Jackie supplies it in spades. “You are amazing. There is no one like you. You’re faster than me. When I met you, you couldn’t even roll down Signal Street.  Now you fly to the top of it.”  And other white lies to keep me from staying home and watching Netflix at 7am.

I thought we had ended the hike and were on our way home when I heard Jackie hum the first five bars of a Sousa march. I instantly knew the hike was not over and I waited for her instructions.  “Sweetheart, how about we walk over to Java and Joe for some coffee?”

More in need of an IV than a cup of coffee, I nevertheless said, “Sure, can’t wait to add another mile to our walk. Only pussies would think that sore feet and chest pains were justification for skipping such an opportunity.”

Unlike Red states where they believe the battle against the alien virus has been won or maybe never really existed,  we are compelled to wear a mask everywhere except mortuary embalming rooms, crowds made up solely of twenty-somethings, and persons old enough to remember who Mussolini was.

The re-opening of Java and Joe following a three-month hiatus was accompanied by Ventura County rules that I am sure were designed to make the coffee experience less joyful. Walking up to the glass entry doors, we are presented with signs that cover fully 95 percent of the available surface area. Welcome Back, But Don’t Loiter made me feel warm and fuzzy. Another, Forget About Cash, It’s Dirty, left a peculiar taste in my mouth.

I reached for my mask in my back pocket and, as is my custom, found none. Jackie, bless her type A personality, had two. I was granted temporary use of the spare and, despite our 24/7 sharing of breaths and a few body fluids, wondered what was hiding in the folds of the mask.

We entered the shop, found no one ahead of us and placed our order. What once seemed a trivial task, is now fraught with challenges. Masks on the faces of both the buyer and seller increase the probability that my coffee might be something other than what I ordered. And, it also makes me appear older and more senile when I constantly repeat the phrase, “What did you say?”

In the quest to avoid transfer of germs that may have taken up residence on the Splenda paper packet or the tiny half-and-half single serving container, the barista is forced to prepare your drink. The procedure eliminates the passage of germs from multiple users to your cup. But it does little to avoid transferring the barista germs to you. Especially given the other duties engaged in by these short timers.

It also removes some of the most satisfying do-it-yourself steps in the preparation process; the exact measurement of the sweetener, the pouring of the languorous creamy liquid, the perfect rotation of the wooden stirrer, and the proper click-sure placement of the black plastic top on the completed masterpiece.

I sorely miss my perfect coffee, however I will gladly suffer its indignities as long as I can freely indulge in the mysteries of a woman’s mask.

Too much separation

Made margaritas last night. My special recipe calls for Jose Cuervo ready mix (it includes a modicum of tequila), another half-jigger of straight tequila (any old thing will do nicely), a wedge of lime and lots of ice.

The ice lends a cooling feel to your hand on hot late afternoons, except when it is poured into a cheap cardboard Dixie cup. Which is how we served it to four friends at 6pm yesterday on our patio in the waning heat of the afternoon. These Covid-19 gatherings have become more frequent since the virus became our guest… and progressively more inebriating.

Abiding by the rules of social distancing, we maintain six feet of separation, sort of. The first of our meetings was held in a school parking lot where space was plentiful but where the surroundings resembled East Berlin before the wall fell. We have since advanced to our participants’ backyards. To avoid depositing the virus in the sanctity of the home, we enter through a side gate. Lack of access to the host home during the patio party requires a degree of advance bladder planning.

Picking a seat on one’s patio is an adventure that involves thinking about the needs of your companions. Those who have some physical limitations are granted the seat of their choice. Seats are often reorganized after getting settled, sometimes more than once.

We began our parties by bringing our own snacks and beverages to avoid cross contamination as we foraged through piles of chips, a bucket of guacamole and freshly popped corn. That requirement has been less firmly applied of late as we bring snacks to share. That chink in the armor has been extended to the serving of alcohol. The use of  ever-increasing volumes of alcohol has loosened our tongues and our ability to maintain the six-foot rule. We brush by each other as we grab food and have difficulty remembering which paper plate is ours. Unlike glass, Dixie cups are never refilled; a fresh one is provided to minimize the mixing of the host’s germs with those of the guests.

A single cough or sneeze from one of our participants often quiets our otherwise noisy group as we mentally analyze the implications of this violation. Sheila, our host two weeks ago had, in addition to providing some lovely snacks, coughed twice and said, “It’s only an allergy.” To which I responded with Walter Cronkite inflection, “Six people were found dead on the Cohn’s patio this morning. The only survivor, Sheila, was heard to say, “But I was sure it was only an allergy.”

Regardless of the level of alcohol in my brain, I am sharply aware of all these risky moves. I used to calculate the number of days that I had to wait after each violation before my Covid-19 symptoms might appear. But there were so many of the violations that the practice was abandoned when I realized that an Excel spread sheet would be needed.

In addition to the peccadillos occurring on the patio, there were other less joyful opportunities elsewhere for virus mating. Around the home, door handles, car steering wheels, my computer keyboard and the mailbox were all highly suspicious and required enough hand soap to make Proctor and Gamble my new best friend.

Westridge market is a veritable cornucopia of opportunities. Selecting bananas, squeezing bagged loaves of olive bread, or reading the ingredients in a jar of avocado mayo was the least of it. The simple act of grabbing and dragging a shopping cart from a reluctant stack was enough to send me to the ER…regardless of whether it had been drenched in disinfectant.

Eating prepared meals to support local eateries was a crapshoot. Buying a Greek salad at Rainbow Bridge was unassuring despite its claim to being gluten free, organic, vegan and free range. Ordering take-out from Hakane Sushi was like participating in a Zombies Overrun New Jersey movie when I visualized the helping hands that had caressed my California roll. No amount of sake could erase that thought from my frontal lobe.

Pumping gas, a now infrequent event, includes the use of a paper towel kindly provided by the local Chevron station. Trying to wrap the towel around my hand is akin to tying my shoe with one hand. But then I forget about the germ-laden keyboard as I enter my zip code.

Face masks do little to comfort my anxiety. Wearing an NP-95 mask left over from the Thomas fire riddles me with guilt as I consider all the first responders who may be doing without. Wearing a home-made cloth one, while attractive, is surely unsuitable to keeping the virus from flying directly through my nostrils or embedding itself in my welcoming brown eyes. Much like Woody Allen in Sleeper, waking to a world that embraces smoking and banana cream pie, I assuage my concerns by fantasizing that the use of masks was really the cause rather than the prevention of the problem.

Our next patio party is Saturday. It’s one of the perks that come with pandemics.

Who Was That Masked Man?

If you haven’t spent all your time violating social distancing rules and fingering the cops in Newport Beach, you probably know about Mr. Trump’s carefully thought out cure for Covid-19.  His willingness to experiment on others with ultraviolet light in combination with the injection of household disinfectants, proves that he is indeed a modern day Jonas Salk, and an expert in dreaming up innovative techniques that will allow us to get back to what we were doing before the virus. Like watching TV and boozing it with the neighbors, eating triple-decker Carl’s cheeseburgers in the comfort of their yellow plastic seats, and having sex with strangers who don’t wear masks.

I also have it on good authority that Mr. Trump is convinced that there are untapped benefits to the revival of other drugs and procedures that were once believed to cure many challenging conditions. Accordingly, he has ordered Dr. Deborah Birx, the president’s corona response coordinator, to research possible solutions for eliminating the virus.

You may recall seeing Dr. Birx on TV, head down and looking for a place to crawl under, as Mr. Trump described his enthusiasm for the Bright Light and Lysol Solution to Covid-19. Her less than enthusiastic reception to Mr. Trump’s scientific dissertation last Thursday was replaced on the following Sunday talk shows with a more nuanced response; one that undoubtedly resulted from a hastily convened private chalkboard presentation to her by the president.

Since then Dr. Birx has focused exclusively on the president’s priorities. Her plate is overflowing as she wades through trepanning (drilling holes in your skull to allow the escape of evil spirits), bloodletting with leeches, electroshock therapy, beneficial maggots, and frontal lobotomies like the one performed on Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Not to be upstaged, the vice-president, looking for something to do, has formed a special task force dedicated to the evaluation of the benefits of wearing face masks. A true American hero, Mr. Pence has established two volunteer groups. One in which everyone wears a face mask and a second which includes only him. Over time, Mr. Pence will compare the number of infections in the masked group with those of his own. He has studied the creation of double-blind tests and is convinced that his methodology is likely to produce one of the most exciting outcomes of the pandemic.

During a trip to the Mayo Clinic on Tuesday, Mr. Pence identified a further benefit to keeping his face uncovered. Doing so allows him to “look workers in the eye” while thanking them for their efforts. When reminded by his aides, who were all wearing masks, that a mask does not cover the eyes, Mr. Pence said “Really?” Asked by reporters whether his lack of a facial covering was a knee-jerk reaction to the president’s disdain for face masks, the vice-president reiterated the importance of his double-blind test and said that putting a mask on would invalidate the results, waste taxpayer money, and keep him from fulfilling god’s plan.

Mitch McConnell, who took time out from suggesting that cities and states declare bankruptcy rather than take federal government handouts, joined the face mask discussion. A frequent guest on Fox News Sunday, he took nearly all his allotted time with Chris Wallace to thank the president and vice-president for their leadership and their unselfish willingness to die because they refused to wear a fifty-cent mask.

Mr. McConnell then revealed that being patriotic, he had joined Mr. Pence in his double-blind test and was fully committed to seeing it through despite the probable dangers of wearing a face mask. He explained that he would religiously wear a mask, even while eating. When Chris noted that Mitch’s approval ratings had suffered a thirty-point drop in the latest polls, the Senator opined that the mask might have the additional benefit of helping him remain hidden from view and thereby retain his Senate seat.

Struggling to keep political pace with the president’s call for more virus research, Joe Biden had mixed feelings about wearing a face mask. Queried by Chuck Todd on this Sunday’s Meet the Press, he said he doesn’t want to look like a pussy and so he makes his on-screen appearances unmasked. Concern about contracting the virus coupled with his advanced age, inability to complete a sentence, and his questionable hair style, Mr. Biden admitted to being torn. Helpfully, Mr. Todd suggested that Joe might consider joining the vice-president’s double-blind face mask trial and so put the blame for wearing one on the rules of the trial.

To which Mr. Biden responded, “Why don’t you say something nice instead of being a smartass all the time?”

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?


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