Thursday, September 30, 2010

Have Yourself a Sex-Free Solstice

I’ve just spent far too many hours planning my son’s birthday party. I know. You think that’s because I’m having 50 people and a petting zoo. No. It’s because his birthday is in September.

In fact, my son’s birthday party will (with any luck at all) consist of six 10-year-old boys, including my son, who will all watch a movie and then make heinous concoctions out of ice-cream and then eat those heinous concoctions and then act like aborigines until the sugar rush subsides or their parents come to get them, whichever comes first. What I can't pin down is when such a gathering will occur.

September is an impossible month to plan a birthday party. Practically everyone who has feet plays soccer and soccer season begins in September. Throw in the Jewish holidays, the fact that a certain amount of time must be given for new alliances to form with the new school year, and my own misfortune of having a son who fancies only a small group of boys at any given time and at this time those boys all seem to have their own autumn birthdays, and you have a situation where there’s only one single date over the span of a month and a half that can accommodate most of the kids. And your job is to spend countless hours figuring out which date that is.

Email seems like it would expedite the task, but today it just seemed to make it worse. Each email I received felt like it brought more bad news. “Sorry, soccer tournament.” “Sorry, that’s my other child’s bar mitzvah.” “Sorry, that day is my son’s birthday.”

“Is it possible to change his birthday?” I wrote back. “Just for this one year?”

Here’s my solution: Everyone…stop having sex in December. If you’re trying to have a baby, there are just some months that should be completely off limits for conception. I’d imagine you could throw March in there as well, because I’m sure the moms of December birthday kids have a similarly hellish time with this whole birthday planning thing.

I’m going to go so far as to say that someone should sit down and plot out which months are good to conceive and which months are going to be a nightmare. We then need to review those dates and JUST SAY NO.

As I write this it’s less than four hours until October. I’m no closer to a party date than I was early this morning, and there seems to be no resolution in sight. It’s too late for me, but some of y’all can still save yourselves. Practice abstinence in December. You’ll thank me for it come party time.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Carpe Doubles

Doubles is hard. Yes, the game itself is more complicated than singles – less physically demanding, but often more strategic. But the real difficulty with doubles is that it requires four people. Four people who all can be at the same place for the same time for two hours and who know how to play tennis.

When I started playing tennis, this seemed like an almost impossible set of circumstances. It took me years to amass a contact list of players who were at the same level, had the same general sensibility (not too serious, just serious enough), and were smitten enough with the game that they’re willing to squander two precious kid-free hours hitting a ball back and forth over a net.

During the fall and winter, our games are inside. A schedule is set and people show up when they’re supposed to. But in the summer we play outside, on public courts and the roster changes week to week. “Can anyone play on Wednesday?” will be the subject line of my mass tennis email.

I don’t mind setting up games. It’s a little extra work, but well worth it. However the real treat is when I end up on someone else’s email list. When a “Tennis on Sunday?” email shows up in my Inbox. Unfortunately, those games come with their own complications.

Once you play in someone else’s game, you’re “in”. Meaning, at the end of the game, someone will say, “can everyone play next Sunday?” and if the answer is yes, Sunday tennis is all set. No need for an email, we just all show up again next week. The problem comes if you for some reason say no. If you're going to be out of town or you cancel because you're injured. You miss that Sunday game and then you're out of the loop. The following Sunday will automatically be set up at the end of the game you missed. Then you have to wait for someone to fall ill or expire before you can get your slot back. It’s a little like trying to get a Manhattan apartment in the ‘80s.

It took me a while to understand the ramifications of passing on a game. The whole process is so much more delicate and complex than it appears on the surface. (Once I accepted an invitation to a brand new group and I was having a bad day: I hit the ball out as often as I hit it in. That was that. I was never asked back.)

So now I play almost no matter what. Bronchitis. Hemorrhoids. Muscle pulls. I have every imaginable wrap and analgesic in my tennis bag. I only cancel if my kid has a temperature over 104 or I’m on crutches.

It’s absolutely heartbreaking to me to think that a game could go on without me, that fat, juicy doubles is being played whether I show up or not. So I try and seize every opportunity now. Doubles (like life) waits for no one.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Go Team Egan!

On my way to tennis this morning, I passed Sharon and Kim straddling their bikes, looking like they were about to take off for some multi-mile ride. Tomorrow morning they’ll head north for the ride they’ve been training for for the past five months – H2B: Harbor to the Bay Aids Ride from Boston to Provincetown.

I think their little group began during a spin class. Someone suggested taking their training to the next level. At least one in the group was turning fifty. Preparing for an actual ride (a 125 mile ride) gave them a purpose, gave their workouts more meaning. Early on, they suggested I join them.

“I can’t ride 125 miles,” I said.

“It’ll just be like taking a bunch of spin classes all in one day,” Kim said.

But I can’t take a bunch of spin classes all in one day. Most of the time, I can barely get through one.

It felt good to be asked. And for a fleeting moment I thought, Well…maybe I could try it. But I didn’t have a proper bike. And at the time, my own 50th birthday was far enough away that I wasn’t focusing on how to commemorate it.

I never fully embraced that notion: feeling like turning 50 needed to involve some as yet unmastered physical feat. I remember reading that Oprah decided to run a marathon when she turned 50 (or maybe 40) and I remember thinking, Really? You’re one of the richest women in the United States and one of the most influential celebrities in the world, and that’s not good enough? You have to run on top of that?

And I still don’t think that whole outdoor bike-riding thing is for me. Like my tennis preference, I think I’m partial to biking indoors – no bugs, no glare, no cars. But today, when I saw the two of them in their slick and colorful bike shirts and their wraparound shades, I thought, Wow, look how beautiful and sexy and strong.

They show up in their “team” shirts, they collect donations, they do practice runs – 15 miles, 43 miles, more. But mostly they just keep showing up, week after week, regardless of whatever crap life happens to be flinging their way.

And now, off they go tomorrow. Part of me is a little wistful, but mostly I’m just really proud of those four ladies from Vince’s 8AM spin class – Sharon and Kim and Wendy and Liz – and inspired, because by the end of the weekend they will all have accomplished something that six months ago not one of them was sure she could do. I love witnessing people taking little steps to bring about great things. I’m sure their ride will be amazing. But to me, the steps are the thing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spoiled Little Indoor Girl

Today was the first day of indoor tennis. My Monday group is now meeting on Wednesdays. New day, new time, new court, but the same ladies. And of course, the same club.

I love playing tennis indoors. I know it’s meant to be an outdoor game, and I’ve made my peace with that, but I love all that indoor tennis affords you. You’re not thwarted by rain. There are no other pesky elements to contend with. No wind. No sun in your eyes. No gnats buzzing around your sweaty face. There are no lawnmowers, leaf blowers, train whistles, buzzards (yes, once there were buzzards – or maybe they were hawks – but in either case they were circling a little too low for comfort), chipmunks, mosquitoes or bees. There are no young children on the next court rallying with their moms, so you don’t have to worry about stray balls (incoming) or curse words (outgoing). Indoor tennis is a nice, controlled environment where your attention can be placed solely and completely on your game.

Well, except for the funky club conditions.

The club does have air-conditioning, but they don’t ever turn it on. Ditto, it seems, for heat. Today it was much hotter indoors than out, and the club tries to rectify that with these big-ass fans that are built into the walls. The fans are loud – clankity-clank-clank loud – and burst on intermittently and without notice. It’s a small price to pay for indoor comfort.

In the winter the courts are cold. Sometimes women play in fleece and scarves. You can hear the heater now and then, when it comes on it sounds like gunfire, but somehow it never warms up in there.

Occassionally there are inexplicable puddles on the court. Well, not really on the court, but there have been pools of water right outside the sideline and it’s always little curious where those puddles could have come from.

Sometimes the club smells like gas, sometimes it smells like paint, and sometimes it smells like glue – like an industrial strength adhesive that you’d use when installing new carpeting. All smells that give you headaches and that, if you smelled in your own home, might prompt you to evacuate your children and maybe even call 911. But they usually only last a day or so at the club, so we often play through them.

Last year the toilet stall door was locked, leaving only one stall available for all the aging bladders that populate Ladies Tennis. For some reason it took two or three days for someone to get that stall door open. When access was finally gained, it was discovered that the toilet was full of feces and paper. It wasn’t clogged, it’s just that no one had flushed.

“Even more troubling than how long it took to open that stall,” said Laura the Tennis Pro, “is the notion of how that situation came to be. Someone actually pooped and then crawled under the door to leave it there.”

Look, I’m not saying indoor tennis is perfect. But there is something sweet and magical that happens indoors that, for some reason, doesn’t translate for me when there’s sky and birds and cicadas all around. The club sequesters us from the real world. We are removed from it. It’s private. When I'm inside that tennis club, it's like the rest of my life just disappears. Even with the poop and puddles, it’s hard sometimes to walk out the door.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Night Before

On the night of September 10th, 2001, I was with my book group. The woman who was hosting had just had a harrowing experience, either that day or over the past weekend. She was in her minivan with her kids and they came to a railroad crossing. She’s a conscientious woman, so it must have been one of those situations where traffic is moving and then all of a sudden it’s not moving, because when the lights began to flash and the gates came down she was trapped in a spot that was either on or too close to the tracks with a gate or a car behind her preventing her from backing up. I don’t remember the details. It was a long time ago. She got her kids out of the car in time and, yes, there was damage to the minivan. But everyone was ok, and that’s what was important.

The book we’d just read was Dave Eggers’ Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius. It’s an autobiographical story about a young man and his younger brother, and the way they deal (and don’t deal) with the death of their parents at way too young an age. At least that’s what I think it was about. That’s what it seemed to be about to me.

I remember some details of that night so clearly. Where I sat in the room. That there were cheese sticks served, and that I didn’t eat any. There’s a point in the book where Eggers was justifying some or other unsavory behavior of his, and he says “I am owed.” He means for the loss of his mother. Both his parents, really. And for having to act like a grown up and raise his little brother. And it was that line, that idea, that sent the group off on a discussion about how everything can be going along one way and you can receive a piece of news, or an event can occur, that just changes everything forever. It changes you and how the world seems to you. All of sudden, nothing is the way it was two minutes ago and no matter how much you wish for it, it will never be that way again. How a single event can inform your perception of everything that comes after it.

I was perhaps the most vocal about this idea, because I could really relate to Eggers’ loss and grief and bitterness. Like me, another woman in the group had lost a parent early in life and she didn’t relate to that idea of instant, irrevocable change at all.

I remember someone used the idea of a plane crash as an example of how lives can be dramatically altered in a single moment. We talk like that in book group – about specific events, but also about abstractions.

My book group no longer meets on Mondays. Over the years, we’ve switched nights to accommodate schedules. For the past many years now, we meet on Wednesdays.

I remember Monday, September 10th being a starry night. I remember driving home that night thinking how grateful I was for that group of women in my life. How I wished a little that everyone in the group had shared my feelings about how life can change on a dime. And also how I loved that Eggers book, and loved discussion we’d just had, and loved that I felt safe enough in the world to be able to share how I felt. I thought a lot about how I finally felt safe. Stuff that maybe wouldn’t have seemed eerie or ironic if we'd had our meeting on a Wednesday. On September 12th instead of September 10th.

Although I can’t imagine we would have met that day at all.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pretty Privilege

So, I’m sitting in front of the bagel store, waiting for the teenager and his friend to come out with their bacon-and-egg bagels, and I don’t have much to do to entertain myself so I begin to do what I love doing most (besides playing tennis and eating popcorn): people watch. Far and away the most compelling person to watch was the woman in the shift. I’m not sure why they call that style of dress a shift; it’s a decidedly unsexy name for what can often be a very sexy dress. This one was classic: simple, short, sleeveless, black. It looked like something Holly Golightly would wear, but this woman was not having breakfast at Tiffany’s. She was bringing a small bundle into the dry cleaner.

Everything about her was perfect. She had perfectly highlighted blond hair that was pulled up into a perfect chignon. She had perfectly tanned legs, perfectly toned arms. Not too much make-up, not too much jewelry, her watch and shoes were classy but not flashy. It was nine in the morning; she was probably on her way to work. She fished her tasteful wallet out of her tasteful purse and tastefully paid the man for her tasteful, dry-cleaned clothes.

I couldn’t tell how old the woman was, even though she walked right in front of my car on her way into the storefront. She could have been 25, she could have been 45, she could have been anywhere in between. She was young and fit and capable, and her car was only parked a few spots down from the cleaner’s doorway. So I was a little surprised when the proprietor carried her fresh dry cleaning to her car for her and set it down across the back seat. Where does this happen besides Hooterville?

This is Pretty Privilege in action. Beautiful women, endlessly fawned over. I used to spend so much time pitying these women. Poor you, I would think. You were born so beautiful, you never had to cultivate an interesting personality or develop a sense of humor. How sad that you have to go through life shallow and dull.

But you know what? Fuck that. I didn’t realize they were getting their dry cleaning carried to their cars. Come on. You don’t have to carry your own dry cleaning to the car? Really?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Announcing Me on Patch

When I told my friend John Doe (not his real name) about my new Patch column he seemed a little piqued.

“It’s a weekly column,” I’d said, “and I can write about whatever I want!”

“Anything? Doesn’t it have to be local?” he said.

(Patch is a hyper-local online news magazine put out by AOL.)

“Well, given the fact that I rarely leave the confines of my house or neighborhood, most of the stuff I write ends up being pretty local,” I said. “I asked the editor if I could rework some of my blog posts as submissions.”

“And she said that’s ok?” asked John Doe.

“Yes!” I said. I could barely contain myself.

“She’s paying you to do something that you’re already doing anyway?” he said. “That’s like someone paying me to masturbate.”

“Ew,” I said. “But I guess, sort of, yeah.”

Click here to see PATCH