Landlocked sailing

I don’t like to brag, but I went out on my tricked-out luxury yacht last week and sailed around (and around) tiny Redd’s Pond in Marblehead until I realized it was not the open ocean. This guy in a rowboat was in my way, so I didn’t get very far. Also, a little boy was fishing and I was afraid he was gonna reel me in. Then I realized this was a race of model yachts and that my giant yacht could take out the whole fleet of toy yachts in seconds. I stood at the helm yelling “I will crush you!”

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Dear refs

Dear replacement refs,

You can breathe easy now. I’m sorry everyone felt you were incompetent and let you know it. You’re just inexperienced and maybe in a little over your head. The League would hardly have fared better if the commentators had tried their hand at your job; they only occasionally make the correct call from their lofty stadium box.

Plus, sports fans get a little crazy sometimes. OK, all the time.

It’s hard being a substitute anything, but you guys had it worse than substitute math teachers. You were the fresh young hires at Sterling Cooper scrambling to learn the ropes in an office full of buxom Joans in distracting low-cut dresses. But you made it through and can now go into seclusion and write a book about your ordeal and make a solid 1% of what those guys on the field are making for throwing around a ball.

Sincerely,

A sympathetic fan

Stamina

Around 4:15 p.m. today, the men’s U.S. Open tennis final begins. Andy Murray vs. Novak Djokovic.

I’m wrapping up an interview at work at that time and am out the door at 5:00.

I run into my friend and we take the train home, work on a project.

Walk home.

Make and eat dinner.

Get ready for and drive to yoga.

Wonder if I’ll make it through the 1 1/2-hour class.

Drive home, tired.

Fix myself and snack and turn on the TV to see who won the match.

It is 9:00, and they are still playing. 

Odd lots

^ Where have you gone chiseled swimmers, scary-strong gymnasts, and freakish water polo players? I miss you.

^ In the morning, I walk by a group practicing Tai Chi in the park, slow and quiet in their movements, until their paper fans snap open in unison.

^ On sunny days, a balloon artist sets up shop near the Frog Pond where children dart in and out of the fountain. He readies long, skinny balloons, poised to become animals. After 5:00, this same man appears on my train heading north with his balloon cart. I want to ask him for a giraffe or a hippo, but a balloon pops and everything is still.

^ In a cafe at lunch, I hear two girls talking about me. Except it’s not me, just my name. But for a minute I listen to what this other me is doing: moving to another apartment with more square footage and a washer / dryer, apparently. Good call, me.

^ Did you know you could get faux mink lash extensions? Why not real mink? I bet they have beautiful lashes.

Olympics miscellany

+ The more I think about, the more I realize I’m not ready to win a gold medal. Not because I have no sport or a lifetime of training, but because I wouldn’t want the pictures of me in my defining moment on the podium with a track suit and wet hair.

+ Wouldn’t it be refreshing if athletes spoke their mind before their event, so that instead of the pat, “I just have to go out there, stay relaxed, and do my best” it was more like “I have to kick some serious ass and take what belongs to me.” Instead of the usual post-race response from a silver medalist who says, “I just didn’t get it done and I’d like to congratulate my opponent,” I’d rather hear “I am soooo pissed and cannot believe that chick won.”

+ There’s no crying in baseball, but there’s a heck of a lot of crying in gymnastics, swimming, diving and—I’m guessing, though I haven’t watched it—table tennis.

+ When do the boring sports start? These high-profile events are costing me sleep.

Olympic fever

I love how you can become a rabid fan of a sport in less than 10 minutes during the Olympics. All it takes is a story. A montage. An underdog. I watch supposedly washed up Alexandr Vinokourov from Kazakhstan duke it out with a young Colombian in the homestretch of the cycling road race. I’ve never wanted anyone to win more. The Colombian rookie turns his head for a second and Vinokourov breaks away and wins the gold, jubilant, even though the commentators are calling him the old guy. At 38. And for the record, I had no idea he was this adorable until he took off his helmet.

Was it me or was the tribute to the National Health Service at the opening ceremony a way to say In your face, America?

I wonder if Michael Phelps gets tired of hearing about Michael Phelps.

Yard sale finds, kitchen edition

Maple and I are watching Brit Andy Murray try to win Wimbledon for his country. In other words, I’m spending 4+ hours on the couch.

Well, I’m fitting in a few domestic chores, like washing my yard sale finds: a blue and white striped rug ($3) and some kitchen scrub cloths ($2), which I hope eliminates the icky sponge routine. They’re a great match for some orange and white dish cloths I bought at Marshalls for actual retail prices. But at $3.99, the prices at Marshalls rival those at a yard sale. But first, Maple sniffs the curious new items, applying her scent to each by rolling about.

Satisfied, she then lords her body over them, possessing. I can only hope she’ll tackle the dishes in the sink with the same devotion.

Diggin’ it

* Olympics fever. Already the commercials are starting. Did you see the one of the boy who ran for three days to escape being a boy soldier and now he runs for (insert Olympic-size descriptors here: glory, gold)?

* John Malkovich deep in conversation with Siri. Samuel L. Jackson flirting with Siri in his kitchen. Wait, do you think Sam is making gazpacho for . . . J Malk?

* The GE repairman diagnosing my warm fridge issue says he knows how to wield a blow torch. “It’s one of the few things I’m cocky about. I can fix sealed systems and compressors.” Now that’s a man who loves his job—and the opportunity to wield a blow torch. I want to whip up some creme brulee to let him use his tool. Yeah, I said it.

Marathon Monday

Dear runners,

Sorry about heat. No one wants to run in 80-degree weather. Or in the rain. Or snow. Or wind. But that’s Boston. You train one week in thermal underwear and another in your trendy neon short shorts. Then every ten years you get the perfect, 60-degree with a cool breeze. This is not one of those years.

And wise move, you 5,000 runners who took the BAA up on its offer to defer their run to next year due to the heat. No need to be a hero. Which is why I’m sitting this one out. In fact, I’m sitting every one out. I don’t want to overextend myself. It’s hard enough watching you sweat it out on TV, while cranking my fan. The switch is on the other side of the room.

Excuse me while I get a lemonade.

In sympathy,

Non-running Bostonian

Facing fear

What are you so scared of?

Baby.

I just finished an entertaining memoir by a woman who dedicates a year of her life to facing her fears, one at a time, for 365 days. My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock interweaves tidbits of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life (which makes you want to read every biography of this firecracker) with humorous accounts of Hancock’s staring down her biggest obstacles: skydiving, flying, and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, along with some of her smaller fears that were no less terrifying.

Frankly, it left me wanting not only to devour every biography of Eleanor Roosevelt but also to face down the everyday fears that stand in the way of truly experiencing life. Except skydiving. And climbing a mountain where the lack of oxygen could kill you. And performing live on stage. Nope. I’m all set.

However, I have been meaning to face the rock wall at my gym for nearly a year and suddenly, I’m ready to attack it. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of it, but I’m prepared for a challenge. Two good-natured impossibly young men thrill to the sight of fresh bait. I ask a lot of questions, partly out of curiosity, partly to deflect the fact that one is tightening straps around my hips and legs.

“Is it scary?” I ask.

“If you can climb a ladder, you can climb the rock wall,” the older one tells me.

I think about how I don’t much like ladders.

“Sure, the rope frays and there’s lice in the helmet, but it’s usually fine,” the jokester says.

Heh heh.

The older one shows me the easy path up the wall, which I admit does not look easy or like a path. It looks, instead, like a hodgepodge of mushroom-like footholds that seem too small for even my petite feet.

“Those only fall off occasionally,” the other one chimes in.

He’s a funny kid. I tell him so.

“Climbing,” I say, because that’s what you do when you start climbing, which seems kind of obvious, but I don’t want to piss the guy off who’s holding my safety rope, so I say it.

The first two steps are fine, easy to grip, and low to the ground. After that it gets hairy.

“Don’t look down,” the nice one says.

I make it halfway and wonder why facing fear is necessary. Isn’t it healthier to keep one’s blood pressure low and the heart in good working order rather than stressing it unnecessarily?

“I think I’m good,” I say, ready to descend.

“Come on,” says the nice one.

“Look down,” the other one tells me.

I do and freak out.

“Now look up,” he says. “The shorter distance is up.”

I take a few more tentative steps, less because I want to and more to get it over with. Great, great, great; I’m at the top.

“Ring the bell,” they say.

I tap the bell.

“Ring it like you mean it,” the nice one says.

And now I want to kill him too.

“How do I get down? How do I get down?”

This is something that should be covered at the beginning, I realize.

“Sit down and bounce off the wall with your feet.”

I recall an image of climbers on TV doing this smoothly, gliding down a cliff, and I feel the distance lessening.

Until I’m in freefall.

The good guy lets the rope out and I realize he’s playing with me. He saves me at the last second.

Bastard.

So, fear faced. I can’t say I felt triumphant as much as relieved. But I can say I don’t need to climb another rock wall anytime soon. Or a ladder. Ladders scare the hell out of me.

Boot camp recovery

From age six on, I desperately wanted to be like my elementary friend Jessica who took gymnastics classes. Her tumbling classes involved strutting across the balance beam, swinging around the uneven bars, and bounding on that springy ramp up and over the vaulting horse. I was sure she’d be whisked off by Bela Karolyi to train for the Olympics at his magical gymnastics camp.

I begged my mom to sign me up.

“Do you want to break your neck?’ she asked.

She worked in the ER and had seen too many kids hurt doing gymnastics—millions if she were to be believed. Every kid in our neighborhood must have broken her leg or sustained a beam injury at some point because she made it sound like there were broken collarbones parading through the hospital door in leotards.

In 1984, when I was 12, Mary Lou Retton won the gold medal, and even my mother was excited. I was sure I was next, even if 12 was middle age for a gymnast and I could barely manage a straight cartwheel. Still, mom refused.

These days, when I’m at the gym, complete with a gymnastics center for kids only, I’ve been known to stare wistfully through the window at the eight-year-olds tumbling across the mat, landing dismounts from the high beam. So when I spotted a blurb about a gymnastics boot camp for adults at the gym last month, I couldn’t fork over the cash fast enough. I signed up and I didn’t tell my mom.

I entered the temple of gymnastics on that first day at 8 a.m. sharp with the hope of a medal still lingering. I scanned the bars, beams, and horse with awe and restrained myself from plunging my hands into the chalk barrel. I saw a glint in the eyes of the other half dozen adults that said childhood dream deferred.

By 8:10, I was eyeing the exit.

Those uneven bars I had dreamed about? Swinging on those really hurts your hands. We used them less for swinging and more for pull-ups anyway—or half a pull-up in my case. The floor exercise mat was a canvas for lunges, push-ups, sprints, and overall hell. I wondered if you could die from sweating. In the corner was a rope  hanging over a pit of foam that brought back memories of gym class. Rope burn still stings.

Each week—the class ran for five weeks—was a medley of sprinting, jumping, lunging, and crying, repeated in an endless circuit. When the instructor demonstrated a move on the trampoline on day one and injured herself, I realized, Hey, this sport is dangerous. How narrowly I had escaped Bela Karolyi’s camp.

On the last day, I was chatting with a woman in the class, saying our goodbyes.

“Are you gonna take the class next session?” she asked.

“Oh, God, no,” I said.

“Me neither,” she said. “It’s just not a workout for me.”

Losing and winning

I think it was a considerate move by the networks to air the Golden Globes directly following the playoffs so that at the moment when you realize the Patriots’ loss is inevitable, before a funk even sets in, you can switch to the glitz of the red carpet and get swept up in the cattiness: Annette Bening’s hair looks like a porcupine! and Wait, The Tourist was nominated? The one with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie? Seriously?

And you can almost forget that your team isn’t going to the Super Bowl, and it’s no big deal, right, because there’s Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon lookin’ fine, and so what if they came with other people; you know they would have taken you if they could have, and you would have been a charming date after taking out a loan to buy a dress; and hey, there’s Aaron Sorkin telling girls that’s it’s good to be smart, and Ricky Gervais is ripping people to shreds in a biting but truly hilarious way, and you’re glad you’re not famous because you’re not sure you’d want to hear what he’d say about you, but then it would hardly matter when you’re on the arm of Mr. Damon who’s whispering in your ear: I’ve got this locked up and you have to tell him, gently, Honey, you’re not nominated this year, and when the water works come, you wipe his tears and tell him you’ll make it up to him later when you’re alone.

Loser. Winner.

In this corner: boxing movies

In this corner: country music singer movies. I wouldn’t order the pay-per-view.

It appears there’s only one formula when it comes to making a movie about a country singer: said singer must be down and out (drugs or alcohol will do) but have one last shot at a comeback. See: Walk the Line, Crazy Heart or Country Strong. Well, don’t actually see that last one.

Strangely, boxing movies employ the same formula: down-and-out fighter is on the ropes but has One. Shot. At redemption. See: Rocky V, The Wrestler (what, are wrestling and boxing different?), The Champ, and The Fighter.

I don’t know what this means, aside from lazy movie making, but I do know that if they went at it in the ring, Stallone would take Joaquin, Gwyneth Paltrow would pummel Mickey Rourke, and Jeff Bridges vs. Mark Wahlberg is a fight I’d pay to see.

Fair fight?

Confessions of a curler

Back in the 90s when curling was the hip new Olympic sport (what?), I saw a sign in my hometown inviting people to come and try it out for free with the local curling club. I was so there.

I arrived at the festive lodge in a bulky coat ready to step out onto the ice, until one of the members instructed me to first strap this plastic slider onto my shoe; apparently, the ice was not treacherous enough. The idea was that you’d grip a round stone with a handle and glide it as accurately as you could toward the target on the other side of the pitch. With an extra-slide-y shoe, it was easy to tip over.

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, another member said, “Great, now let’s try sweeping!” with an enthusiasm that made me wonder if he was talking about the same domestic task that I did every week in my kitchen—the task that in my mind did not deserve an exclamation point.

While one team member released a stone, our instructor showed us how two other team members get out  in front of a stone and start shuffling along and sweeping the ice. Huh? This would smooth the ice, he explained, encouraging the stone to go farther. The key was learning when to stop sweeping. Usually, the team captain would yell, “Sweep!” or “Stop!” which all too often sounded the same to me. Turns out I was an enthusiastic sweeper.

With the firm belief that this was a sport I could handle, I signed up and got my league assignment. I was the only woman on a team of four, all encouraging guys who made me feel like I was a natural. I was not. Despite my lack of skills, we ended up in first place that season and celebrated with drinks in the clubhouse afterwards. The country club feel was not for me, but I had enjoyed that rare moment when I placed the stone exactly where the team wanted me to place it, even if what they thought was skill was really luck.

So, adopting the brilliant idea for an Olympic Persona Generator app over at Kim’s Tour of No Regrets, I declare myself Ingrid Bing, Olympic curler. After a devastating sweeping injury, I came back this year to win a team silver medal. We might have taken the gold had my teammate not dropped the stone on his own foot in competition.

In a sport that gets no respect—curlers spend half their time saying It is NOT shuffleboard on ice!— you have to hand it to this year’s Norwegian curling team. Their loud pants are bringing attention to the mild-mannered sport in a way that says, yes, this sport is a little ridiculous, and we embrace that.

Ready for the backcountry

A few years ago, I frowned on winter sports. I mean, it’s cold and windy outside, and inside is so very, very warm. Leave it to the winter Olympians, I thought. But then I discovered walking in the snowy woods (I’m a slow learner) and how if you actually just layer up like your mother tells you, you can be outside without crying. These days, I walk every morning unless it’s a blizzard. I draw the line at driving snow pelting my face. 

Today’s chapter in Embracing Outdoor Activity featured a stab at cross-country skiing. The strong sun, smooth trails, and patient teacher who piled on the positive encouragement (he’s my boyfriend, so he had to), conspired to make a believer out of the former I Prefer the Lodge Me. 

Somehow, I found myself gliding down one bunny hill after another, never wiping out, despite the feeling that I was in a runaway train careening toward a ravine. I did, however, master the art of falling down while just walking from one spot to another. 

The best part? Skiing makes you super tall…

Mostly though, my view was of my feet, marveling at how skis have a mind of their own despite me swearing at them to Go to the left! Go to the left!

Tyson

Early on in James Toback’s documentary Tyson (yup, it’s about Mike Tyson), I found myself warming to the big galoot. Sure, he was violent, but the poor guy was bullied as a child. He was afraid. Other people hit him. He was a lover, not a hater. All he needed was a hug.

Then my boyfriend reminded me that he went to jail for raping a woman and that he bit a guy’s ear, not once, but twice.

Oh, right. 

Tyson, who sports a Maori tattoo on his face still looks menacing, but he’s surprisingly self-aware and articulate. Well, maybe more talkative than articulate. Though he did blow me away by using the word “skullduggery.” Who knew Tyson could one-up me in the vocab department?

Anyway, even if, like me, the last thing you think you want to watch is a documentary about an unstable boxer, check it out. It’s a well done, revealing portrait of a man who just wants to be loved. And who occasionally gets angry and bites off a chunk of a guy’s ear.

Observations by the Charles River

Observations made from a bench on an afternoon by the Charles River

1. Scuba diver in full wetsuit and flippers diving for treasure or possibly just fixing the dock. 

2. A hawk so still and high in midair that it looks like a UFO.

3. Traffic on Storrow Dr. and the Longfellow Bridge, a pity on such a beautiful afternoon.

4. A man with webbed feet that, upon closer inspection, are those water shoes resembling socks.

5. A Community Boating newbie headed straight for the bridge.

6. Busy river traffic: a kayaker dodging the sailboats, a colorful Duck Boat, and a no-nonsense State Police boat.

7. The requisite runners, rollerbladers, and cyclists in shorts. Finally.

8. Ducks gliding in for a river landing like tiny planes.

sailboats at longfellow

Football in the great outdoors

   


grandma’s porch.

Originally uploaded by endlessrevolt

I had a dilemma on this gorgeous almost-fall day: watch my beloved Patriots while stuck indoors or get outside and soak in the fleeting summer sun. Unwilling to choose, I camped out on the porch, dragging an ancient TV set with me; football, is, after all, meant to be enjoyed outdoors.

Sitting in the sun made me feel like I was at Gillette Stadium–not that I’ve ever been to Gillette Stadium, but how different could it be from watching football on my porch? The traffic whizzing by was loud–not unlike the sound of 68,000 cheering fans; there was tailgating (OK, some half-stale chips and salsa), and the sun was streaming down as if I were baking on the 50-yard line, kind of making it hard to see the plays, actually, but no matter. Then, when it was evident the Pats were going to lose spectacularly, not unlike the way they used to crush other teams, I packed up early and went inside to beat the traffic.