Odd lots remix

> Am I the only person who doesn’t get s’mores? The marshmallows take forever to melt, the graham crackers are dry, and the chocolate melts all over you (well, that part is OK). They never come together in the sandwich promised land and you end up with white marshmallow lips.

> I’m at the gym this week when the irresistible aroma of fresh-from-the-oven cookies wafts by. Let me repeat that: my gym smells like a bakery. Now, I’m not saying I’d prefer the alternative (sweaty man, dank towel, chlorine), but whose idea of a cruel joke is this? You spend an hour lifting stupid little weights and running on a conveyor belt only to have the image of a chocolate chip cookie assault you when you’re vulnerable. I caved, and I’d do it again.

> I’m cat sitting this week for a friend and I have a whole list of things to do with his Maine Coon, Seamus. Oh, the places we’ll go! First, I hear there’s a jacuzzi in my friend’s building; perfect: I can relax while Seamus treads water and sheds some pounds. We’re hanging out on the 4th of July, too, so maybe we can learn the words to Yankee Doodle Dandy (all the verses), while watching the fireworks and waving an American flag. I’ll have to get a basket for my bike for outings and a leash in case we want to walk along the beach. Oh, and we’ll get manicures (he’s a male, but easygoing) and eat pizza and watch movies and maybe even color our hair.

Yoga with a heart full of hate

I often walk in to yoga with a 50-something woman who has glommed onto me. I am flypaper.

Into a sanctuary of quiet, she arrives most nights complaining, in full volume, about the parking. She does not take my cue to whisper. She does not seem to get yoga.

This time, we run into each other outside before class, in the outer regions of the parking lot. It is far, but it’s on the highest hill in the area, the view is vast, and the moon is almost full.

“Could we park any farther away from the building?” she says.

“We are at the gym for exercise,” I say.

She talks about her dogs and her husband and the yacht club (it’s that kind of town), but it isn’t until the moment before we enter the hushed yoga studio that she asks a most penetrating question.

“I’ve noticed a lot more minorities at the gym lately. Have you?”

Just in case you were wondering, this is said not in a way that celebrates diversity at our local Y, but in the most disparaging way possible.

I am floored. I answer honestly, but inadequately.

“No, I have not noticed that.”

With that, we enter the studio where I unroll my mat as far away from her as possible and spend the class seething, mulling what I might have said.

“Do you have a problem with minorities?” “Are the minorities taking your parking spot by the door?” “I sure hope the minorities aren’t clamoring to get in your bastion-of-white-people yacht club.” “I think you are an ignorant b—.”

I realize then that this is Rick Santorum’s choir. She probably prays for Rick Perry. She will settle for Mitt Romney if she must.

I let it go while I unwind on the mat, but I hope to continue our conversation next week when I will enlighten her about race, diversity, and harmony as we make the long walk back to our cars—before I get in mine and run her off the road.

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.”

Kids’ birthday parties: torture?

I was at the gym the other day when a line of parents walked by trailed by their progenies carrying balloons and presents. One of the little people was having a birthday party. In the gym. Now, it’s true there’s a kids room with toys and games, but still: it’s a gym.

I guess the good thing about having a 5-year-old is that they don’t realize that they’re celebrating their birthday at a place where people sweat. The bad thing about having a 5-year-old is that you have a 5-year-old. And you’re obligated to arrange a birthday party to entertain other 5-year-olds. And you think having it at the gym is a good idea. And you know what, it probably is, given that the alternatives are Chuck E. Cheese and your house full of breakable stuff.

Still, isn’t going to the gym bad enough?