Monday, August 18, 2014

Courting A New Interest

Oh, the tribulations of tennis.

Pardon me for sounding like I'm whining. For the previous five decades of my life, I regarded tennis as an activity whose thrill factor rivaled that of taxidermy. I'm not sure what happened. One day I woke up and felt an overwhelming compulsion to buy a cheap racket, some of Wilson's finest burn-your-retinas-yellow balls, and have at it.

Of course, it hadn't occurred to me to sit for a moment, and peruse over some of the basic rules. That's what led to my overconfidence early on. I tell you I was really slamming them with the ferocity of the finest ever to step on the courts of the US Open. Turns out that you can do that with impunity when you park it midway between the base line and the service line.

To correct my error, I spent another week overcompensating by serving from the chain link fence behind me. I'm still unsure whether or not that's legal. I can tell you that it's a great way to get some pretty quizzical looks from people who have played the game for a long time. "What's that man doing, mommy?" is usually followed by "leave the poor man alone, dear. Obviously he has issues". My racket, purchased for the less-than-princely sum of nineteen dollars, already bears the battle scars of said fence, in addition to the time it slipped from my hand during a serve, cleared the fence, and tried to return prematurely to my car waiting at the bottom of the hill.

I was relieved when my serve finally settled down and allowed me to get the ball into the service box at an apparent speed of five miles per hour. A bright yellow ball travelling at that speed apparently creates an optical illusion to people playing in the next court. Some guy's partner had stopped paying attention to his game, apparently, to watch Wilson's Gravity-Defying Specials wandering lazily across the net, looking for all the world like the back of the head of the "have a nice day" guy. (I still imagine the insipid smile of that character and imagine him thinking, gosh, it sure is a nice day to receive four-hundred tennis racket concussions this afternoon.) While I'm musing over this, the guy in the next court is missing another serve, now transfixed to the rookie whose mission of the day is to develop at least some control over a basic serve.

I'm unsure how, in pro tennis, people are expected to hit a ball, make it exceed one hundred miles per hour, clear the net, and still make it land in those little boxes right on the other side of the net. I began whacking the balls with a lot of force in order to increase the speed. In fact, the speed did increase, dramatically. I know this, because  the net was now billowing as though it were caught in an early wind of an oncoming hurricane. The balls, meanwhile, were returning directly back to me. Actually, ricochet is a better term to use here.

Hoping to finish the afternoon well, I began hitting the balls with a little less force, which helped -that is, until I became aware that I was only paying attention to the net itself. In my zeal to drive the balls onto the opposite side, I became aware that I was actually mortaring a very nice young couple who was trying to slip past and onto the far court, and whose own afternoon shouldn't have included shell shock.

I like tennis. People who play it seem very friendly, The fact that anyone could have forgiven me for my unintentional full frontal assault means that I can return to that court without having to wear a fake moustache and a visor. My serve itself has improved substantially. Can't wait to play with a partner. Fascinating game, tennis.

I'll court it for awhile.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It'll Work Out

What's up with people at the gym these days?

I ask out of concern. I've encountered workout routine behavior, which is completely alien to me, over the past several days.

Not that that's a bad thing, necessarily. I wonder whether or not people read fitness magazines and decide to put suggested exercise routines to the test, hoping to find some "at-long-last" shortcuts to looking like airbrushed models within four weeks. My own routine is a conservative, if stodgy, one; upper body exercises three days per week, and lower body workouts two to three, depending on whether or not I'm bitten with the "let's-look-stupid-on-a-tennis-court-today" bug which has been a personal tradition since, um, Friday.

I don't intend to malign anyone's workout routine. That said, I've noticed some pretty odd behavior around the ol' gym lately. Take last Thursday: Thursday is a lower body workout for me. I was knocking out my one-hundred thirteenth calorie on the treadmill when some young lady, holding dumbbells, slinked past me, "how-do-you-doing" all the way across the club floor while dropping first one knee and raising it again, then the other knee and giving her ACLs a run for their money.

I thought that looked pretty odd, but it there are any fitness benefits to it I might sacrifice my own dignity for the gain.

It was right about that time when another young lady stepped on to the treadmill to my left. Engaging in what appeared to be attention-seeking behavior (and thereby drawing my attention away from the "you're doing pretty well for such an old man, Rob" message scrolling across the readout), the girl opted to begin her treadmill exercise by increasing the elevation until she looked like a Tenth Mountain Division candidate. I watched with morbid fascination while she leaned as far back as she could, hands on hips, and raised her feet, one at a time, until their height was approaching the lower portion of the flight path at Roanoke Regional. I have reason to believe that the only reason she wasn't wearing a shako was that it would have left her too top heavy and toppled her into the oblique machine positioned behind her.

Finishing my own cardio for the day, I decided to sneak in one upper body exercise. It felt good, knowing that I was getting a little extra upper back work in -until Billy Biceps decided to serenade us with either a Cro-Magnon mating challenge or twelve evenly-spaced cries for help. "AARGH! ARRGH!..." became the order of the afternoon as approximately forty-two patrons fell in and counted their reps to his grunts. I opted to vocalize my own reps, lest I lose count and begin grunting myself. That, of course, could have been taken as an acceptance to his apparent challenge, which would likely have led to a viciously competitive "grunt-off" and perhaps a trophy.

In all, I had an excellent workout, and reduced my own stress twice over. I enjoy the people at the club. Everyone is there to make the most of his or her fitness. I love that. Even the how-do-you-doers and the marching band hopefuls are exploring new ways to gain fitness, even if that means shunning more traditional methods of training. People are gaining, or regaining, fitness.

As for me, well, I'm the guy whose first workout there included sitting backward on the seat of  a shoulder exercise machine, accidentally, and nearly causing some lady to burst out laughing when I tried to save face by claiming that I was experimenting with exercising my muscle group from the opposite direction. That didn't work out. But that's okay. We're all learning.

It'll work out.

Monday, July 14, 2014

In The Dark

William Tecumseh Sherman once said "war is hell". That seems an apt description, according to those whom have served under combat conditions. The carnage, the destruction, the families devastated by the ravages wrought by political and economic differences -all of these have bestowed accuracy to the term.

And then there's Hamas.

Yes, that wacky, out-of-step motley gang of misfits who consider themselves "Palestinian", though there actually isn't currently a Palestine anywhere, unless Detroit counts. Their latest gaffe has left me holding my sides from the pain of laughing too hard. Seems that the ersatz commando wannabes fired another rocket into Israel, targeting a power station which was supplying electricity to Palestinians, including themselves, in the Gaza Strip. That's right. Hamas, in its will to "wipe Israel off the map", has left seventy thousand Palestinians without electricity instead.

Now, this whole "Palestinian self-determination" at least sounded noble at one time. Yassir Arafat -they guy who chronically looked like he hadn't shaved for five days- was fond of that phrase. The Palestinian Liberation Organization must be spinning in its grave, trying its best to endure the embarrassment of being so self-determining that its civilian proponents have to rely on Israel for electricity and water. And now, seventy thousand are without electricity, owing to the antics of a terrorist group which seems to have crammed for its Terrorism 101 midterm. I can hear the conversation now. "Jerry, you insect! Thanks to you we can't watch '1,001 Ways To Bomb Israeli Busses on Channel Four!'" The utter stupidity of the Hamas movement, if it can even be called a movement, is so laughable that it makes Monsanto look credible by comparison. Imagine the delight of someone in the Gaza Strip cheering on Hamas, only to be left in the dark. Can you appreciate the delicious symbolism here? Support the wrong side, suffer the consequences.

The Palestinians, as they refer to themselves, are second and third generation troublemakers who have been kicked out of every Arab and Muslim nation in the entire Mideast for stirring up their nasty hijinks. Those folk finally found a piece of land and squatted on it until the Jewish people returned to the land which is rightly and historically theirs, coming home in 1948 and fulfilling Biblical prophecy. Suddenly, the squatters claimed that "Palestine" was being invaded, and they've been committing one atrocity after another against Israel. Everyone needs a nation. The "Palestinians" have had innumerable opportunities to have theirs. And every time, without exception, their response has been to attack an innocent, unarmed Israeli civilian population while hiding behind human shields whom the oh-so-tough guys claim to be standing up for.  I haven't checked the dictionary lately, but I'm pretty sure that "standing up for people" isn't defined by using them to take bullets meant for you. Just sayin'.

I support Israel. I always have and I always will. I make no apologies for doing the right thing. I would hope that Hamas would apologize to the other anti-Israeli terror groups for being so ridiculously inept, disband in disgrace, and go find a hobby.

And no, model rockets doesn't count. They might commit another misfire, and take out a gas station.



Sunday, July 6, 2014

It Doesn't Compute

I'm going to throw my computer right out the front door.

Check that. I'm going to carry my 'puter, oh-so-calmly, to my Accord, and I'm going to drive, sedately, of course, to some abandoned parking lot, and I'm going to do an NHRA-style burnout on this thing.

I say that in the spirit of having a mess of wires, plastic, and silicone chips which apparently morphed together with the intent of changing my home page to something which absolutely bathes in ad pop ups. While applying for jobs (and the occasional grad school program), something called "Trovi" decided that it wanted to role play Blackbeard and pirate my home page. (Avast ye scurvy dog). According to the net nerds, it's almost impossible to get rid of this crap. Can't wait for Monday Morning, when I call the folks who run that outfit to inform them that I'm swinging by, so to speak, with a baseball bat unless they extricate themselves from anything even resembling my computer. I only wanted to apply to a graduate program. Imagine my delight when some ad popped into my screen, doing its flashing best to induce a migraine over refinancing a mortgage for a house which hasn't been built yet. "Operators are standing by." I hope they're sitting, because it'll be awhile before I get back to them.

The speed at which the ol' Dell moves now is comparable to a Mead No. 2 (aka a "pencil", for those who were born after 1990), and we aren't even talking cursive writing. When I finally do make it to the website I'm seeking, I've aged. I feel that I've overcome yet another of life's many challenges. I've endured.

Long enough to read "script error" across the bottom of the page -again. Why didn't someone tell me that owning a computer should require taking a three hour course at MIT? The frustration of a slow computer which, apparently, thinks its a piece of furniture, is enough to send this grumpy old man back to the kitchen to make a salad while the Dell Villain 4000 plots its next step in what can only be considered psychological warfare against its owner. While I'm making the salad, it occurs to me that I probably have time to make a hamburger and scrub the kitchen, too. I marvel at how the kitchen hasn't sparkled like this for over a year before recalling that it was last July when I actually entered it. By now I find myself wondering whether or not the computer has shut itself off, and, if so, whether or not it was during the football season.

I've restarted this thing several times now, per Dell's recommendations, trekked through Internet Options, clicked on Advanced Tabs, negotiated with Programs And Features, and applied for a grant in order to figure all of this out through the National Science Foundation.

I still have to deal with a computer which now prioritizes ads from companies which I'll never do business with again, but at least that nefarious "stop script" message isn't shutting down what has reliably been a nice diversion from the horrors of cable TV. In all, life is good -even if I do feel grumpy at the moment. Now I'm left with a final issue: I'm not sure where I want to go online. I'm bored with surfing the net. The thrill of mahjong seems to have abated for the moment, and I'm not in the mood to Netflix my way through an hour and a half of rescuing the damsel in distress against four hundred evil Ninjas.

I think I'll go read a book.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

I Have An Axe To Grind

Serves me right.

The other day while buying my usual monthly allotment of toothpaste, deodorant, and other toiletries I came across something called "body wash".

Now, maybe I'm a little set in my ways. I like Dial Gold. It fits well with my comfort zone, even if I do occasionally have to break out the power grinder and weed burner when it's time to clean the shower walls of soap scum.

However, there are times when change is a good thing. The bar soap was a direct throwback to the days when dad would swing my bedroom door open and yell at me to move my butt outside and mow the lawn. Having watched some pretty risqué ads for something called Axe, I thought I'd try it even if women didn't gather en masse, per the advertisements, and chase me into a dead end alley upon catching a whiff of my oh-so-manly scent.

Almost immediately upon return to the ol' apartment I decided to take this stuff for a spin while my Kashi nuked for four minutes and thirty seconds. "Nothing ventured, etcetera", I mumbled as I cranked the water to notify-next-of-kin hot and hopped in.

I really need to pay closer attention to things.

I had already squeezed out the equivalent of several large dollops and slathered it all over myself when I was hit with an aroma reminiscent of a French Quarter brothel. Turns out that what I had mistakenly assumed was liquid soap, dyed in Viking Battle Blood Red or something, was actually "Axe Anarchy For Her". "Ugh!" was my only response while it occurred to me that the next twenty-four hours were possibly going to be lonely while this stuff wore off. No getting chased by gorgeous women. No irresistible ninja appeal. While reaching, desperately, for a good old bar of Dial, I read the marketing blurb on the back of the bottle about searching for some "spark". I don't know about spark, but I can tell you that at least I wasn't going to smell like a shrimp boat for awhile. Not with these "fun and fruity florals". While reading further about how my new scent would "unleash chaos", it occurred to me that that might have referred to my friends never letting me live this down if they caught a whiff.

Oh, well, I thought. Maybe I'm overreacting. I'm sure I wasn't overreacting while standing in line at the car parts store while at least three other guys gave me the "turn in your man card, dude" look normally reserved for married guys who get stuck pulling purse-holding duty while their wives hunt for bargains at Dottie's Scarf Emporium. How I got out of there without catcalls, a few hey sweeties, and a phone number is testimony to Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training imparted at  Lackland Air Force Base to a twenty year old version of me. By now I was almost hoping that the Armor All would spill over me and remove this artificial fruit salad pheromone.

The fragrance, defined by Unilever as "fragrance", was assisted by prunus serrulata extract and is a marketing division's way of saying "you're going to smell like cherry flowers because you weren't paying attention when you bought this crud". Live and learn. I'm back to Dial Gold, back in my I'm-a-guy-and-I-sit-around-in-my-shorts-watching-tv comfort zone which not even Axe For Her can invade. I've since tossed the bottle out in the hope that this whole near-ptsd-inducing trauma will quietly evaporate like the smell which brought it into my life like a pink sledge hammer. I'm almost certain the odor is gone now. If it isn't, I have a weapon for it.

Tetrasodium Edta, you're on point. Induce sweat and ask questions later.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Coming Soon

I used to love going to the movies.

"Used to" is the operative term. I recall a time when the show began right after a couple of previews, a "thank you for not smoking in the theater" (!), and a "let's all go to the lobby and get ourselves a snack" -sung by a small gang of anthropomorphic candy bars, hot dogs, and boxes of popcorn weighted down with enough butter to challenge the surgical skills of the finest heart surgeons in the land.

Those days have been replaced.

Now we're inundated by at least twenty minutes of "He was a happy-go-lucky software engineer- until..." , "In a world of evil, one man is fighting back... Based on the shocking true story", and movie quizzes designed to take our minds off of the fact that we've been waiting so long for the movie that the seats which we've now taken up residence in have become ergonomically form-fitting to our Lee jeans.

Pardon me for being so grumpy. Dang it, when I pay to see a movie, I don't want to count the wrinkles my aging body is growing while sitting through previews of "The Sound of Music" remakes, even if the score is all disco. I have my seat. I have my snack. The pimply-faced kid in the red vest and bow tie has taken the ticket I paid approximately nine thousand dollars for. We're all happy now. That's why I feel foul when the first twenty-seven or so previews indicate that there is, apparently, no end in sight. Or isn't there?

 I decide to stand up, stroll out to the lobby, and ask for the calendar date -the approximate day when the movie actually begins. Even as my fast twitch muscle fibers begin to tense, the lights grow dim. I'm skeptical at first, dismissing it as my eyes playing tricks on me and chalking up such dimming to mere wishful thinking.

But now a stir occurs around the theater; other patrons are either sensing the same thing or are finally waking up from the incessant drone of "Captain America Does His Nails Part 2: Taking Back Oregon" as we all realize that the lights are, in fact, dimming. And, as we breathe a collective sigh of relief, the main attraction is further delayed by an ad -a commercial- for that headache powder plugged by Richard Petty for the better part of forty years. This, it seems, is more than many of us can bear, except for the five guys in the front row, all of whom have entered the theater wearing "75th Ranger Battalion" tee shirts -guys who have endured training sufficient to deal with the kind of grueling mental torture we're all enduring at the moment. (Did I say "moment"?) I'm kind of hoping for the irony of a preview for an animated story about "The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf", but instead we're treated to a warning not to use our cell phones during the movie -a warning which, as it turns out, is moot since the volume of the movies is sufficient to induce leakage of cerebrospinal fluid from our ears. I'm sure the speakers will cause no small amount of concern among residents of nearby subdivisions, some of whom are perhaps worried that the sound waves might wend their way among Lily Garden Boulevard and crack the foundations of their half-million dollar patio homes.

The movie does arrive, finally. By now, of course, my candy's "fresh until" date has come and gone and my "small" soda has all but evaporated -fortunate in the sense that that has effectively saved me at least two trips to the restroom during the action scenes.

An hour and a half after we enter elderly adulthood, the movie ends with "But the money bag is in the taxi!", followed by a freeze frame and groans from an exhausted audience. As we spill out into the lobby, which we recall fondly as having had darker carpet when we arrived, we're inundated by several movie posters. And, we decide shrewdly, better to wait a year or so and rent. In fact, I've already placed several in queue with one movie rental company. Best of all, I can skip past the previews. I can hardly wait.

According to the company, they're coming soon.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

On Cars, Feet, And Life

I love expensive cars.

Let me qualify that. I love expensive cars which are driver-friendly. I'm not the wealthiest guy around, but I've been in some swanky automobiles which redefine ergonomic convenience and comfort. From the heated seats of the Lexus to the steering response of the Porsche 911, cars with price tags which could keep my bills paid for a decade have occasioned my life with grace, quality, and style.

Most recently, I was given an opportunity to drive a rather stately Jaguar. The four-passenger sedan definitely has the "come hither" look reminiscent of that forty year old woman I worked alongside with when I was twenty-six. The coach, much like its "cougar" counterpart, exudes aplomb.

That's why my mother and her good friend Marvin were taken aback the other evening when I screamed while getting behind the wheel. First of all, let me say that it's an honor to drive a car like that. So few Jaguar models of this caliber are to be found anywhere. What might have been mistaken by some as shouts of ecstasy turned out to be my response to my ankle twisting as I attempted to place my right leg first under the narrow gap between the steering column and the seat, and then my foot on the gas pedal. The popping sound coming from somewhere inside of my shoe indicated that I was doing it incorrectly.

While that experience didn't make me happy, it did make me think. I wonder where one goes in order to learn how to enter such luxury cars? Apparently, one doesn't simply park the ol' Buick and hop on over. One first endures flexibility exercises best performed by British Special Air Services. When one has finally mastered the flexibility of Lazaro Gitu, he then attends a four year training program at Jaguar, in which he masters coursework on proper under-the-driver's-seat vehicular entry; during this program he attends both classrooms and laboratories, the latter reproducing real-life types of situations. Learning not to use the parking brake as a support handle is a lesson commonly overcome by freshmen.

It is only when one has attained mastery of basic entry and exit that he's scheduled for debriefing. It's here that he learns of the steering column's tilting abilities. Once informed, he is subjected to both oral and written exams, enrolled in a two week ergonomic survival course, and issued certification as a person who's fully capable of driving such a car.

I wasn't privy to that.

I had to learn hard way.

Being a big guy at over six feet and weighing approximately the same as Boulder, Colorado, I discovered that one can scream one's way both into and out of a Jaguar, though that can be off-putting to one's family. If kiaps are excellent for directing energy to moving physical objects, they're even better at causing people a good deal of concern. "What's wrong, honey?" issued from the back seat as my mom possibly wondered whether or not I had caused grievous injury to myself before I could even sit in the seat. I explained, amidst frustration that I was sure my foot wasn't broken while Marvin taught me how to adjust the seat in order to counteract the low-slung steering column which, as it turned out, tilts upward at the command of a secret button known only to Marvin, Jaguar, and the NSA.

But learning curves -even those which are admittedly as platykurtic as mine- do occur in such situations. The next time I'm anywhere near a Jag, I'm going to speak authoritatively to a hopefully enraptured audience about the ins and outs, so to speak, of Jaguar drivers' compartments.

I'll be sure to include a few catty remarks.