Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Gecko Chronicles - VII

Note: The Gecko Chronicles are not posted sequentially, but you can find them all batched in a tidy little group at the left.

Technically, Scott is now in charge of getting crickets. But it’s cold out. And he doesn’t drive. And all the cricket vendors are a long bike ride away. So when I have an errand to run and I’m driving near Petco, I either take Scott along, or I just buy the crickets myself.

I consider it a temporary situation. When the weather warms up, and it’s neither raining nor humid – that is, during those seven Good NJ Weather Days we get every year – I’ll be totally off the hook for cricket retrieval.

Scott and I had to go to Staples recently to get a presentation printed for his trip to LA. Petco is right next door. For reasons that still aren’t entirely clear, the “superstore” was not able to provide Scott the services he needed, so we left Staples, bought crickets and went to one of the local printers closer to home.

“Don’t put the crickets in the back seat,” I told Scott as he twisted his body around to put the crickets in the back seat. “I’ll forget them if they’re back there.”

“I’ll remember,” he said.

The printer needed a full day to make Scott’s presentation binders, so it was my job to remember to pick them up the following day. Before Scott left for work he said to me, “Please, please, don’t forget to pick up the binders.”

He also said, “Guess what’s in the back of the car.”

I truly had no idea where this was going.

“The crickets,” he said.

He brought them inside and shook their frozen carcasses around the bag like maraca seeds. He felt just terrible that they’d frozen to death overnight. I felt terrible that I now had to make a whole separate trip over the mountain to get another batch.

“I think I can bring them back to life,” he said as he retrieved the crickets and transferred them into one of the quart-sized containers we get when we order Egg Drop Soup.

“You’re not going to microwave them, are you?” I only asked because that seemed especially horrifying.

“No,” he said. “Just wait.”

A few minutes later he came back and tilted the plastic container toward me. “Are they moving?” he asked.

“Only if you consider their sliding from one end of the container to the other 'movement'.”

“Wait. I think I can do this,” he said, and ran off with them yet again. After twenty minutes I yelled a polite inquiry up the stairs. “I flushed them,” he called down, an unusual sound of defeat in his voice.

For better or for worse, the frozen cricket incident illustrates the main difference between my and my husband’s approach to life. His ability to remain hopeful and optimistic in the face of almost any circumstance, no matter how improbable or dismal. And then mine.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Gecko Chronicles - VI

Note: The Gecko Chronicles are not posted sequentially, but you can find them all batched in a tidy little group at the left.

I initiated the Great Gecko Exodus with a simple statement to my family:

“I’m thinking about getting rid of the gecko.”

The reaction was not one I was expecting.

The kids couldn’t have cared less. “Really? Why? Ok.” Not much more than that.

But my husband surprised me: “Really? Why? Really? Really? Really? Why?”

It only took that much dissent for my sons to jump on the Save The Gecko bandwagon. We agreed that the care and feeding of the gecko would revert back to the boys. They would scoop the poop, fill the water, flick the lights, change the sand. They readily agreed. I think it lasted three days.

“I’m sorry,” I finally told my husband, “but the gecko’s gotta go.”

In the back of my mind rolled around that line from The Little Prince, the one where the Fox is about to leave the Prince after he went ahead and instructed the Prince to “tame” him.

“’Men have forgotten this truth,’ said the fox. ‘But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.’”

From the very first time I read that book, I was never completely sure what Monsieur de S-E meant by “taming.” If he meant teaching a wild creature not to bite you on the finger when you picked him up out of his tank – even if he was very, very hungry – then the quote would really have no bearing on my husband’s relationship with the gecko.

But if it meant: that which you tend takes up major real estate in your heart, then I knew I was asking something much bigger of my husband than simply helping me load the gecko tank and the heat lamps into the car one day.

But, unlike me, I guess my husband wasn’t hearing that line in his head at all. Because he said, “Ok.” And for that one little moment, I began to feel free.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Walk the Walk

A little bit ago, I was asked to write an entry for Laurie Lico Albanese's excellent blog: My Big Walk. (One woman. One year. One thousand miles.) When she first told me about this project I was nearly insane with jealousy. I could do that: one thousand miles in a year. That's only three miles a day. Chicken feed.

Well, my commitment to walking has waned as the weather's gotten colder. I used to be intrepid. Now I'm a wimp. The truth is, as soon as I wrote this piece about how I walk every single Sunday, I started blowing off the Sunday walk and opting for a nice, warm spin class instead.

Here's me backpedaling: Nancy and I do make it a point to walk together once a week, but sometimes it's not on Sunday. And sometimes it's later in the morning. This is just one of the reasons that the Walking Blog is such a great project for Laurie -- not for me. I'm sticking with tennis and geckos.

You can read the post here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Do The Right Thingy

I’m not kidding: I think my game changed when I replaced my vibration dampener.

I don’t usually call it a dampener. I call it my racquet string thingy, which, as the name implies, is a little rubber doohickey that you can attach to your racquet strings. I used to think its job was to help you identify your racquet if it was sitting among many of the same brand, but in fact its job is to reduce the vibrations of the strings when you whack the ball, in theory making things a bit easier on your arm.

Dampeners are all pretty much the same size and shape, but you can get them in many different designs. My first one was a green four-leaf clover. I found that dampener years ago at the bottom of my son’s tennis bag and stuck it on my racquet on a lark. From that point on I never gave it a second thought.

This past fall when I bought my new racquet, I realized that the green clover was going to clash with the orange frame, so I acquired a new thingy– I’m not completely sure how – and the clover went into retirement. This new thingy was a bright yellow smiley face. Maybe it, too, had been my son’s, or maybe Laura the Tennis Pro gave it to me. It was fine. It did its job – it dampened. And it fit with the racquet color well enough.

But it didn’t feel right. I would look down at my racquet strings, notice the smiley and flip the racquet over expecting a “frowny” on the other side. It seemed like it should be witty like that – one side for “good shots” and one side for crappy ones. But the face was smiley on both sides and I became disappointed anew every time I flipped it, always hoping for a different outcome.

“I hate my little rubber thingy,” Gina said to me one day. (We all call them thingies.)

“I love yours!” I said. Gina had the sign of the Tao – classic black and white.

“I’m not a Ying/Yang kind of person,” she said. I’d thought everyone was.

“I’m not a Smiley,” I said about my own thingy.

“That’s for sure,” she said. “Wanna trade?”

And within 30 seconds, we each had a more appropriate – maybe even more righteous – thingy on our racquets.

My sign of the Tao totally rocks my TeamZen racquet. I started playing better instantly. Instantly. You truly cannot underestimate the power of the right thingy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Gecko Chronicles - V

Note: The Gecko Chronicles are not posted sequentially, but you can find them all batched in a tidy little group at the left.

Here’s what it takes to keep the gecko alive:

- One trip to the store for live crickets every 5-7 days
- Turning the “day” lamp on in the morning and off at night

That doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

But somehow, about a year ago, it began to feel very hard and very onerous and it started breeding a certain resentment that didn’t make complete sense, but felt awful just the same. I spent a period of time feeling hateful, and then feeling like a bad mother/pet-owner/person. Finally, I decided it was time to actually do something about my situation. So I called Shelley.

Shelley has an enormously kind heart toward animals. She’s in her mid-forties, but is well on her way to becoming one of those daffy old women with a houseful of cats. She already has three of her own and then three more that are neighborhood strays but consider Shelley their de facto benefactor. But more importantly, Shelley was once the primary caretaker of skinks.

A skink is like a cross between a gecko and an albino eel. They spend most of their lives living under the sand in their tanks, which is just as well because they’re horrible looking. Shelley came by her skinks graciously – they were a gift to her husband from someone on his staff. Like geckos, skinks need heat lamps and night-lights, and also like geckos, they eat live crickets.

As soon as I started to share my Gecko Remorse, Shelley jumped right in. “You have to get rid of him,” she said. “You’re done. You’ve served your time. The happiest day I can remember was the day I unloaded those hideous skinks.”

From that point on my spirits lifted. Shelley didn’t think I was either selfish or inhumane for being tired of fetching crickets. So together, like Lucy and Ethel, we began to cobble together an exit strategy.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Gecko Chronicles - IV

Note: The Gecko Chronicles are not posted sequentially, but you can find them all batched in a tidy little group at the left.

When Spot was little, my husband and the boys would take him out and play with him. I would pace the hallway waiting for the gecko to be replaced in his cage so I could supervise the scrubbing of family hands. It was almost as if I could perceive the little malevolent salmonella droplets forming on my children’s extremities. Maybe reptiles and germaphobes shouldn’t cohabitate.

While I complain a lot about bearing the burden of the gecko, it’s really my husband who’s been his main caretaker. He’s so nurturing to pets it’s crazy. He grew up with dogs, cats, snakes, tarantulas, horses and a goat. He’s got this way with animals that I can’t really relate to. Once, when we first started dating, a friend gave him a lost stray kitten, not even old enough to be away from its mother. Scott lived in a long, railroad style apartment and I walked in one day to find him crawling the length of the apartment backwards. The kitten was in front of him – they were face to face – and Scott was leading the cat slowly through the apartment, like a mother would, so the cat would know his way around and not get lost.

Meanwhile, back at my own apartment lived a caged parakeet that my roommate had bought for me. I used to try and get the bird to come out and play but he was either misanthropic or agoraphobic; he would pull his cage door closed with his beak whenever I left it opened.

So it was always Scott that changed Spot’s sand, filled his water, sprayed his flora, scooped his poop. Once a month, Scott empties the whole tank, bleaches it and refills it with fresh gecko accoutrements. One day one of the glass walls broke while he was scrubbing it. There was blood everywhere and Scott needed to go to the ER for stitches. I was in the middle of hemming pants for my son as he had a bar mitzvah to attend in thirty minutes. So I cursed the gecko for inconveniencing me with an ER run in the middle of an already hectic Saturday morning. He just always seemed like trouble to me.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t grow unexpectedly fond of Spot in my own quiet way. The truth is, I feel like there’s a lot to love about lizards. They invariably have cute feet. And they always move in a slow, sultry way. Like Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Or Scarlett Johansson in just about anything.

Plus I get an inexplicable rush watching him chow down on live crickets. It’s not even an anti-cricket thing for me. There’s just something so direct and unapologetic about it. He’s like, “Yo, I’m going to eat you!” And then he does.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

TMI (Too Much Information)

Spoiler Alert: This post is about menstruation. So if that troubles you in some way, you may want to just skip over it and wait for another installment of The Gecko Chronicles.

When I have my period, I play great tennis.

There, I’ve said it. I wish I could describe what it is that happens, but it’s not any one thing. I can run faster. My reflexes are quicker. I’m more coordinated. I can get shots that I can’t make at any other time – backhand ground shots that I need to run across the court for, volleys coming straight at my face. I yell to my partner, “I got it!” and then I really do get it.

It’s amazing.

I mean it’s really amazing, because there’s no good explanation for it. I spent some time online today, trying to see whether there was some hormonal reasoning for it. Evidently not. Studies show that heightened estrogen levels can result in increased motor function and coordination – even brain function – but estrogen levels drop to their lowest when your period comes on, so that doesn’t track.

I’ve long suspected it’s the Advil that actually sharpens me, but I’ve arrived on the court with various other aches and pains, popped some Advil and have never seen quite the same result. Maybe it’s the combination of achy back, ibuprofen and feeling like I want to kill someone that creates the magic. Because magic it is. Everyone notices. It’s like I turn into spry, competent 30-year-old, albeit a cranky one.

The sad thing is, now that I’m older than the hills, my period only lasts for two days. It’s unusual for me to play tennis two days in a row, so really we’re talking about one good tennis day a month, tops. The rest of the month, I suck.

I’m not sure what will happen when I go through the change and stop menstruating altogether. I imagine it won’t bode well for my backhand.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Gecko Chronicles - III

Note: The Gecko Chronicles are not posted sequentially, but you can find them all batched in a tidy little group at the left.

One of my friends is a real stickler about the use of the word “ironic.” It drives her a little nuts when people say something is “ironic” when it’s really just a wacky coincidence or an incongruous turn of events. I’m so gun-shy about using the term incorrectly, I barely ever use it at all.

I think it’s safe to say that there’s no actual irony in the fact that I own a gecko. It may be unexpected in some ways, but largely it’s a big ho hum.

What is truly remarkable though is that to feed the gecko, it is I who must procure live crickets.

Of course, I don’t go out into the wild and hunt them. As I’ve said, I buy them at Petco (at a discount, no less). But anyone who knows me from way back when (and that would be from childhood up until three years ago) knows that I simply cannot be in the same room, apartment, house, porch, car or swimming pool as bugs. Especially not ugly, noisy, unpredictable bugs, which, as far as I’m concerned, encompasses all bugs except for maybe those little roly polys bugs, and that’s only when they’re all rolled up. My entire youth was spent running hither and yon, screaming at lungtop over bees, wasps, spiders, cockroaches, waterbugs, caterpillars and, yes, crickets.

I am not trying to toot my own horn when I say that the level of good sportsmanship I’ve exhibited over these past few years is nothing short of astounding. In addition to training myself to carry a clear plastic bag of restless, agitated crickets from pet store to car, to single-mindedly driving while they rollick around on the seat beside me, and to untying that bag and shaking the contents out into the gecko tank, I’ve also trained myself to cope with the inevitable escapee that ends up on the second-floor landing or beside my toilet.

My eldest son is old enough now that he can do the job that he’s been put on this earth to do: kill errant crickets to save his mother’s sanity. So most of the time, I’m at peace.

Nevertheless, I would not call it a “wacky coincidence” that I sleep no more than 20 feet away from a big glass box filled with a dozen or more jumpy, feckless insects – insects that I have paid good money for and deposited there myself.

Is it ironic? I don’t know. But one day about a year ago I realized that what it is, is fucking nuts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How Sweet It Is

I’m not sure there’s a whole lot to say about this, but it needs to be commemorated. Yesterday at the end of tennis clinic…I didn’t look at the time, but I should have…Laura the Tennis Pro finally said the words we all (well, at least I) have been waiting years to hear. She said, “You guys are really good.”

Wait. Maybe she said, “You guys are really getting good.”

Or, “Wow, you guys are good.”

It’s my lot in life that moments like this, moments that I crave for such a long time, come and go so quickly – and send me into such a giddy shock – that I can’t even remember them millisecond by millisecond so I can replay them in my mind and savor them.

It’s not that Laura is stingy with praise; she’s not. She always tells us when we’ve hit a good ball, or that we’re improving at a particular shot. But this was different. This was the affirmation that we’ve tried to draw out of her, sometimes coyly, sometimes outright, for what seems like ever.

I remember years ago, getting up my nerve and asking her something like, “So, we’re getting better, right?”

We miss a lot of shots and sometimes we don’t know where on the court we’re supposed to be. It’s taken a long time for each of us to stop being afraid – of playing the net, of running backwards, of hitting hard, of wanting to win. And when I’d asked Laura that question, fishing for some much-anticipated narrative about our improvement, she answered positively. But not in the way I wanted.

Her answer was Yes. But it was accompanied by this little motion she does with her head – sort of a side-to-side nod – which means, “yes, you’re improving, but you still have a long way to go.”

Yesterday’s feedback was different. No one had asked. No one was even paying attention to her. The four of us were just playing a game, doing our jobs, and Laura’s head was perfectly still when she said it – whatever it was she said.

She was smiling and proud and in spite of my not remembering her precise words, I knew exactly what she meant.

OMG! You guys seem like you sort of know how to play tennis now!

For this klutzy, non-athletic, tennis latecomer that was 100% sweetness. Totally worth the wait.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Black Sheep in White Tennies

When I got to the tennis “club” on Friday morning, it was already a few minutes past nine. No one was on Court 5 and no one was in the lounge. Laura had sent me a message earlier saying she may be a few minutes late, so I figured I’d just sit and wait for her. Suddenly I saw Ann’s head pop out of the Pro Shop and then dart back in. I wandered back there and found her and Eileen sitting on the floor trying on tennis shoes. Laura the Tennis Pro was there too, pulling boxes of shoes from the closet.

“Um, it’s after nine,” I said, assuming they were just shopping to kill time.

“Ann forgot her sneakers,” said Eileen.

“And Laura won’t let me play in my Uggs,” said Ann.

Two minutes later, Ann was sauntering out of the Pro Shop with her brand new black tennis shoes.

I’ve mentioned before how we have this unspoken rule that everyone is to wear black on Fridays. I’ve mentioned before that this is because we fancy ourselves a group of badasses. Have I mentioned that now, with Ann’s new purchase, everyone has black sneakers except me?

My sneakers are white leather with pale blue accents. They look like nurses shoes and there’s not a thing badass about them. I just bought them a month ago at a local sneaker store that I like to patronize so it doesn’t go out of business like all the other stores downtown. They had one pair of tennis shoes in my size – white ones – and I bought them.

I tried mightily to do what I usually do when I’m feeling left out – I tried to minimize the importance of the experience in my mind. But the evidence was incontrovertible. Ann became about 75 degrees cooler as soon as she put those shoes on. She ran faster and jumped higher. I think she even hit a better backhand.

Ok, did I just really say that? “…do what I usually do when I’m feeling left out…?” Have I just tossed my “badass” credentials right out the minivan window?

How is Laura going to divide us into teams if only one of us is ever wearing white tennis shoes? Of course this is simply about wanting to have the same sneakers as everyone else.

Of course it is.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tennis Nazi

I received this note from Shelley this morning.

To Whom It May Concern:

Please excuse Shelley for being late. She had an ice cube freezer malfunction which she had to deal with before leaving. She also had to take her son to school since her parents were in their bathrobes. She will try to do better next time.

Her Mother

The note was a thoughtful gesture, written on proper stationary that folds into it's own envelope. More thoughtful, though, was the salutation. If she'd really been honest, it would have been addressed directly to me: "Dear Tennis Nazi:"... and would have gone on to say: "Please don't make my daughter feel like a pariah for showing up five minutes late for your tennis clinic. Get a life."

It's hard to understand why I'm so militant about tennis. Everyone I play with adores the clinics and games, but I'm the only one standing around tapping my toes about lateness. I'm not like that about anything else in my life, ever.

"Tennis Ladies" have a bit of a reputation for bitchiness. I wonder if this is how it starts.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Gecko Chronicles - II

Note: The Gecko Chronicles are not posted sequentially, but you can find them all batched in a tidy little group at the left.

Spot is our Spotted Leopard Gecko. He’s about ten inches long and spotted in the same manner as a giraffe. He’s not very emotionally demonstrative and spends most of his time inside his “cave.” This is what leads me to believe that he’s a boy. He also has the tendency to stop eating once he’s satisfied, regardless of how many crickets are still sashaying about. Another early indicator of maleness.

I’m not sure how old he is but it seems we’ve had him forever. He started out as a pet for my older son who is allergic to all things furry. Initially, Spot would eat both live crickets and bloodworms (which is, I think, a euphemism for “maggots”). The bloodworms could be kept in the refrigerator and had a longer “shelf life” than the crickets because they themselves did not need to eat or drink to stay alive. (I don’t even know if there were alive. They sure were ugly, though.)

Somewhere along the line, Spot lost his taste for bloodworms and become a strict Cricketarian. The crickets are purchased live, dumped into his glass tank, and then Darwinian theory takes over. Sometimes it takes Spot four or five days to eat all the crickets. In the meantime, they chirp.

It is this chirping that ultimately caused us to move Spot’s tank from my son’s room into a more public area. The crickets are loud and they’d wake him in the middle of the night (my son, not Spot). Once the gecko moved out of my son’s room, guess who’s responsibility he became?


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Gecko Chronicles

Here’s what just happened: I walked into Petco, bundled up in my long black down coat and crazy woolen knit hat and the guy at the counter – the one with the pierced eyebrow – looked up from the register at me and said, “Crickets?”

He got on the intercom and, without my even having to specify my order, asked that someone please bring up a bag of “fifteen large crickets, please.” Within two minutes another Petco employee was handing me my crickets and ushering me over to an open register. His hand hovered over the keyboard because he knows that I do have a Petco card (which entitles me to cents off on each cricket) but that I never have it with me (because I lost it a year ago) and he’s waiting for me to recite my phone number so he can punch it in and call up my account. He knows this, just as readily as Pierced Eyebrow knows that my gecko is too finicky to eat the pre-bagged crickets that are displayed in the aisle across from the register. That my gecko needs crickets that have been free to roam among their brethren for as long as possible, crickets that haven’t given up the good fight yet, so that my gecko can chase them around a bit and feel like he’s actually hunting his prey – even though he’s probably the world’s laziest reptile.

“I just have to go on record,” I said to my Petco clerk, “that while I’m impressed by your customer service efforts, it’s a little disheartening that as soon as I walk through the door everyone knows I’m here for crickets.”

He smiles.

“I mean, it’s really nice and all, but I never thought my life would come to this: being known as The Cricket Lady.”

“Oh, you’re not the only one,” he said. “You’re not The Cricket Lady. You’re just A Cricket Lady.”

Which he said (I’m absolutely certain) to make me feel better. But for some reason, had the exact opposite effect.

Note: The Gecko Chronicles are not posted sequentially, but you can find them all batched in a tidy little group at the left.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How I Suffer for Love

It’s Sunday night and the wind is howling. Google Weather says it’s 19 degrees but the thermometer outside my kitchen door says four. I’ve barely left the house today, committed as I am to maintaining physical warmth, so the cold shouldn’t be so much of an issue, but it is. Because tomorrow is a tennis day.

I usually play Mondays and Fridays with an occasional Tuesday or Thursday thrown in. The last time I played tennis was 12 days ago and I am literally counting the hours until my clinic tomorrow. (Seventeen, as of this writing.) My whole family is counting the hours, because I have become such a shrew the past few days. No one can stand it when I don’t play tennis, least of all me.

But the “club” where I play is cold. It’s cold in general, and then on these windy, frigid days it’s unbearable. Laura the Tennis Pro sometimes wears a fleece cap the whole time because she just never warms ups. We’re all layered and some are scarved. I would be gloved if it were possible to play that way. We jump around in place waiting for any little dash or sprint that will allow us to generate some body heat. We pray for spring.

I refer to the club as the “club” because the term club connotes a certain elegance or sophistication that this “club” sorely lacks. Obviously, my biggest beef is the temperature. But often the whole experience is like playing tennis in an old church basement. The d├ęcor is tacky – tragic because someone recently made the decision to redo the lounge and managed to take the original downscale elements and trade them for downer scaled versions. White faux bamboo seating was replaced with white plastic patio chairs. The kind you can get at the hardware store for $10.

I’ve often gotten locked in the bathroom, both in the stall and in the bathroom proper, where latches don’t work, or doors fall off hinges. It’s a little risky to pee there.

On Fridays we’re on Court 5 and there’s some big, metal apparatus hanging over one side of the court that seems like it’s blasting cold air half the time. I think that’s the “heater.” On the other side of the court is an exhaust fan that intermittently goes on and shuts off and when it’s on you can’t hear a word anyone is saying. Even the number on Court 5 is shabby. The other courts have a big numeral stenciled on the back wall. Court Five’s numeral is hand-rendered and half the size of the others. Shelley, who is most comfortable in a tidy and orderly environment, finds this numbering faux pas an abomination.

I’m not sure what the answer is. North Face tennis skirts? Hot toddies on the sideline? It’s all so easy to complain about here and now, in that counterproductive way I have of somehow trying to ruin something that I am so ardently looking forward to. Of trying to temper the gloriousness of something that I’ve come to so desperately need.