Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On Reunions, Dancing, And Cornbread

I love my high school classmates.

Specifically, I love the occasional (and all too infrequent) get-togethers several of us enjoy for lunches and dinners. The camaraderie, the moral support, the remembrance of the good old days.

The social dynamics of the dance floor during our thirty-fifth reunion.


Anyone who knows me knows that I majored in psychology. That's convenient when recalling lectures from social psychology class I took during the Reagan era.

While the band began warming up with something not-too-disco, no fewer than twenty-nine thousand women made a beeline for the dance floor. That was pretty interesting in light of the fact that there were no husbands/significant others accompanying them. That piqued my curiosity; am I the only guy who's agonizingly self-conscious about dancing, which in my case probably resembles Herman Munster trying to walk off a foot cramp? Scanning the entire main ballroom, I only saw five or six guys. The rest, as I discovered momentarily, were hiding around the corner, having placed themselves, strategically, near the bartender and the food. Hey, two birds, one stone.

In all fairness, there were quite a few ladies back there as well. Turns out they were the reserve unit to replace the original Dance Platoon.

This was a pretty interesting phenomenon; as the evening progressed, the second troupe hit the floor with all the gusto of Ethel Merman at a state fair. This second group was even more interesting to observe than the first. I say that in the context of how they danced. Whereas the first group of classmates strolled out to the floor and displayed good fast-dance form, the second took the field, as it were, and did a circle dance which seems to have closed in on some guy who made the mistake of using the area for a shortcut.

I'm not making fun of anyone, nor would I want anyone to think that. People were simply having fun. Well, except for that guy who looked for all the world like he was going to panic if he couldn't escape and evade back to the food line, not that I blame him. (They taught us to practice empathy in psych classes. I taught myself "you're on your own, pal" as I made my way to the baked beans and cornbread.) I'm reasonably certain that he survived the ordeal. I speculate that he made his escape somewhere between some soft rock song and "Disco Duck". (Note: they didn't actually play that song, but had I ascribed a Barry Manilow tune here, we'd all have sought escape.)

The final main dance, not taking into account one couple who danced a slow dance alone, and who are obviously in love, plus two guys who joined perhaps eighteen ladies for three minutes, formed either a wavy line dance or half of the Electric Slide, depending upon my eyesight and the sobriety of perhaps one or more people on the floor. No one got trapped in that one, but when two sides of the dance tried, momentarily, to move in opposite directions it made me realize how light-hearted the whole thing was, and it reminded me not to take some things as seriously in my own life. (I'm the guy whose first Little League experience was to assume that because I'm left-handed that I should run to third base. I was called out about halfway across the pitcher's mound, by the way. Am I judging anyone? What, are you nuts?)

I considered taking dance lessons, but decided that my own self-consciousness would relegate me to the line serving beans and cornbread.

That line trapped me at the pasta salad.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Snow, Ruminations, And Tennis

I have no idea how it happened. One day last winter, while digging my car out of the snow it occurred to me that I needed to play tennis.

That was a pretty random thought for a guy whose afternoon would be defined as productive if he could locate the name "Michelin" on his right rear tire. Anyway, the more I worked to liberate my car from the clutches of what looked almost like a typical January afternoon in some place like Rochester, Minnesota, the more my mind wandered.

I engaged in various ruminations while freeing the other three tires from solid ice -a workout which prompted me to escape to my happy place. I guess my most immediate problem was that I didn't actually have a happy place. All I had was ice, gray skies, and "watch that snow shovel, dude" issued by a neighbor whose car I was absentmindedly covering with the snow I was clearing from my own car. Ruminations became the doorway to any number of happy places. Actually, the ruminations became more of a hallway at a Motel 6. I think I had gotten to the locks on the car's doors by the time I had begun weighing the pros and cons of visiting Deming, New Mexico, and renting a duck for the duck races. Oh, sure, you never know what kind of a duck you'll get when you rent one. The best way to win a duck race is to throw yourself into the sport with absolute passion and go for it. That means raising a duck from a duckling, and training him or her to outperform every other duck on the circuit. It means getting up at five-thirty every morning for duck calisthenics and stretching. And really, encouraging ducks to stretch themselves until their beaks meet their little duck knees has got to be challenging.

Ducks were out, then. That was clear -as clear as the windows I was now dusting the last bit of snow off of. Maybe I should return to school. Hmm. The problem there is that, while I'll eventually do exactly that, it's a serious challenge to have letters of recommendation sent by professors who have moved to unknown addresses in foreign countries, died, or, in one case, been incarcerated for stealing computers. In any case, I have more than sufficient time to formulate a good plan to return to school.

One thing I learned from behaviorists is that life is largely about having something to do. The fact that I was now clearing off the moonroof with the precision of a neurosurgeon overdosing on Dexedrine drove that point home. Maybe I could start a self help group of some kind. Maybe contracting with a church to borrow one of its rooms once a week was the way to go. Heck, even I can afford to buy coffee for the clients, and I ain't rich. In the end, I nixed that idea by the time I got to the headlights. Turns out that the valley has so many self help groups that one more added to the mix will spread the self help population so thin that none of us would actually get any help -or coffee.

While I expounded to myself on the idea of a niche self help group -maybe something like people with mood disorders (like me) who worry because someone elses blue eyes might be prettier than mine, and who experience profound anxiety as a result. That idea, too, was tossed aside as I experienced a panic attack due to having almost broken the car's antenna while thinking deeply about what it would be like to suffer from blue-eye anxiety.

And then it hit me: what I needed to do was play tennis. A game which I had played perhaps five times prior, and which I most recently played in 1982. As the weather grew warmer, the days longer, and the car freer from the last vestiges of precipitate, I began thinking frequently about what it would be like to play the game again. There I was, in my mind's eye, with four percent body fat, lean, sinewy, and with a Burt Reynolds-esque moustache, meeting with friends for a rousing afternoon game with friends, with my brand new 1978 Dodge Magnum GT (black, because this is a macho daydream) parked outside the courts so that everyone could see that I had arrived, baby. Looking for all the world like a composite of any number of other guys, I was really playing the game like a one-time US Open hopeful whose potential pro career had come to an end due to a tragic racket stringing accident. It was in that moment that I felt strongly compelled to buy a cheap racket and nine tennis balls, and see how close to that ideal I could come to before the onset of the next winter.

 Let me tell you, while my daydream version of me was really making the ladies swoon, the real version of me was making them run and duck due to my very erratic serve. In fact, one of the balls ended up on the bottom of my car's windshield, which was parked backward at the bottom of a steep hill. Thus far I've only had one partner on the courts, though a good friend says he'll play me. I look forward to that. Maybe in October, when the temperatures drop a bit and my serve is reduced to Southwest Roanoke. The serve itself is decent now. What I want to be able to do is sustain a volley which will be entertaining enough for whoever I play against. "Sorry about that -are you okay?" shouldn't be included in the tennis lexicon.

I'm getting better at this. The ball is landing, about thirty percent of the time, solidly in the service box. Occasionally I go for a Wimbledon-type of serve: a hundred miles per hour and as much felt as I can bust off of the ball. I don't know what it's like playing on grass. I do know something about ricochets. When playing against someone, I won't serve that way.

Unless I'm ruminating about firearms.


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.