Monday, December 28, 2009

The Truth About Sex and Food

“The way to want sex more, is to have more sex,” one player said to another during a water break in clinic.

Sex comes up a lot in Friday tennis, but the truth is, we talk about it in a very general way. We’re more detailed in our descriptions of vacuuming or cat feces than we ever are about what goes on behind closed doors.

“I know,” said Player 2, “but I’m always so cold.”

“Sex will make you warmer,” offered Player 3. (We’re very supportive.)

“But I’m just really cold. I’m freezing all the time.”

“If you were doing Weight Watchers, you could use sex as Activity Points,” I said. Activity Points translate into extra Food Points based on a simple slide-rule formula. I know this is a shabby reason to have sex, but true motivation for so many things so often comes from unexpected places. “If you have more sex, you could eat more.”

Someone’s head was shaking. “I don’t know about that,” said Player 3. “It depends who with.”

This got everyone’s attention. Did she have someone specific in mind? Are there particular people named in the Weight Watchers manual that qualify for Activity Points while others do not? Somehow I must have missed that page.

“You need to have sex with a stranger,” she declared. “Sex with your spouse – or a longtime partner – is the same as walking up a flight of stairs. Sex with a stranger is like sprinting up the wall of your garage.”

We all nodded. Not that any of us would know firsthand.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Old Dog/New Tricks

In an effort to help me improve my serve, Laura the Tennis Pro recently offered some suggestions and advice. First, she said, “I have an analogy for you…” and proceeded to spin a tale about an archer and his bow and arrow. She drew the necessary parallels between the two activities – serving a tennis ball and shooting an arrow – and then stood behind me, satisfied that this analogy would transform my wimpy serve into one of power and authority.

Laura knows I love analogies. So, I didn’t tell her at the time that, although she presented the information as an “analogy,” it was still, fundamentally, “physics.” And, as I’ve mentioned, physics is Greek to me.

When my serve didn’t improve immediately upon receipt of the analogy, Laura decided to take a more active role. “You’re bringing your back foot up too early,” she said. “It can’t leave the ground until you’ve hit the ball.”

This was solid, concrete information that I could work with, so I served again – and again and again – trying mightily to keep my foot on the ground longer. It was harder than I expected. Finally, Laura brought over a Teaching Aid. She has these little plastic cones – like miniature traffic cones – and she lay one down at my back foot and instructed me to put my foot inside it. “That will keep you from moving your foot,” she said. And she was right.

The mini cone anchored my foot, it was true, but it also anchored my mind (and not in a good way). All I could think of was the image of a dog recovering from surgery, his head wrapped in on of those white plastic cones. I remember Paula Poundstone doing a joke about them once: “Why do they put cones over the animals’ heads? Is humiliation part of the healing process?”

It is no doubt part of the learning process. Maybe not humiliation per se, but that state of being aware of what you’re doing wrong, what you should be doing instead, and the sheer helplessness of feeling that you can’t make yourself behave in new ways. I am reminded that so much of the way we live is just comfortable habit. We get in the habit of being late, or worried or unhappy and it feels so impossible to change. But we can actually change so much about our lives by just breaking old habits and forging new ones. Which makes it all seem so easy, right?

Except when you realize that sometimes the simplest little changes require suffering the indignation of a cone – that big plastic reminder that things need to be uncomfortable for a little bit while you find your new way.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Golf and Drugs and Rock & Roll?

As a tennis addict, I feel that I more than anyone should understand the insane passion that surrounds the game of golf. But alas, I don’t. Once, a few years ago, while watching The Greatest Game Ever Played, I had an Aha! Moment and believed (erroneously) that I could finally talk to golf enthusiasts with some sort of vague comprehension about their obsession. But, that moment passed.

So the other day, when I was talking to my friend Jeff about sex and about golf (two activities which, for him, had been in lamentably short supply) he made a flip comment about at least wishing it were warm enough to golf so it would take the edge off wanting sex.

“Golf is as good as sex?” I asked. I’d never really considered this before.

“Good golf can sometimes be almost as good as bad sex,” he explained.


While I found this proclamation both fascinating and enlightening, I couldn't really tell if it was an actual endorsement of golf. I will say this: It didn't make me want to pick up a nine iron.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Haiku

One of the highlights of my year was when my friend Gina posted a Passover Haiku on her Facebook page. An entire Passover Haiku conversation ensued. It is my good fortune that she and her friends recently posted some Holiday Haiku for Christmas:

Gina T:

The holiday cheer
Can't hide the fact I'm freezing
My SoCal butt off

Gina T:
Giant, inflated
Homers, Scoobys and Big Birds

Erika M:
Take it back, Jersey
Inflatable anything
Is filled with joy

Jim C:
Hail pre-paid gift cards!
All the spirit of Christmas
Without the effort

Gina T:
No more maudlin tune
This season than "Christmas Shoes"
Ouch! My ears! They bleed!

Kevin M:
Please stop Haiku
Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!
Bake cookies instead

Erika M:
Why hate on haiku?
One bright spot in a sad world
No cookies for you

Emma T (Gina’s daughter):
My mom writes haikus
About winter holidays
She's totally weird

Emma T:
Kevin you should know.
Mother never bakes for me
Cookies are a dream

Erika M.
A little child speaks
Mother's haiku reddens cheeks
Woman, go bake now!

Dena H.
Wishing I could write
Witty seasonal haiku
Baking, I can do!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Just Make Things Harder Than They Need To Be

It’s been over a week since my 10-year-old’s coat went missing. This is not an atypical situation for the teenager, but the 10-year-old is very conscientious with his possessions and he always seems to know where everything is. I’ve looked everywhere for this coat. Meaning, I’ve looked in all the places a coat should be and after that, all the places that a coat could be. I’ve called around to friends. The only place left to look was the school Lost and Found.

I remember touring this town’s various elementary schools years ago when we first moved here. There was one school that had what looked like a tidy little milk box set discretely at the end of a hallway. “What’s that?” I asked the tour guide. “Oh, that’s our Lost and Found.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the school we ended up sending our children to. We chose the school whose Lost and Found more closely resembled the size and carelessness of its population. Which is to say, the school that devotes an entire room to Lost and Found.

Someone once tried to organize this scary place, and they made a valiant effort. They brought in big moving boxes and labeled each one with a color: BLACK. BROWN. GREEN. And so on. When I walked in, there were 10 boxes lined up in a row with garments of every imaginable color strewn willy-nilly in and around the boxes, and then there was an altogether separate heap on the floor.

This is the point where I would normally just say it’s not worth it – I’ll just buy a new coat. That’s apparently what every other parent said. But for some reason, I just decided to have a quick look. So I emptied the BLACK box (because, after all, that’s what color the missing coat was) and started inspecting the contents.

Try as I might to just simply go through my dumped pile and be done with it, I could not. Instead, I’d pick up a coat and lay it down neatly on the floor, thus beginning what would become a 45-minute sorting process of every single clothing item in that big chaotic heap. There were easily two hundred coats in there – two hundred! I ended up emptying all the labeled boxes sorting all the coats back into their proper color boxes. After the first 10 coats, I had abandoned most all hope of finding my son’s. But I couldn’t leave the place in such disarray.

I was nearly done when, there, at the bottom of the floor heap (the heap I was loathe to even touch when I walked in there) was a gray fleece lining that looked vaguely familiar. I snatched it up, turned it inside out, and sure enough, it was the black nylon jacket I’d been looking for. I practically danced out of that building, assured once again that the process of “letting go” is the magical ingredient for being able to draw whatever it is you’re looking for into your life.

I got in the car and placed the coat strategically in the middle of the back seat, so my son would see it right away when he next got in. And he did. He lifted it up and turned it this way and that. I was eager with anticipation at how he would choose to thank me.

“Mom,” he finally said, his voice sweet and earnest. “This isn’t my coat.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Amperes and Isotopes and Vectors, Oh My!

Laura the Tennis Pro and I have a lot in common. We both like words. We’re both hypochondriacs. And we both prefer our hair when it’s straight. I feel like we “get” each other’s obscure jokes and almost always understand the other person’s descriptive analogies. But when she starts talking Physics, I’m done for.

“You should be hitting that shot in this direction instead,” she’ll say. “You know…think of Physics.”

She’s been playing the Physics Card for years now and I think my big mistake was to smile and nod whenever she did so. But yesterday, she said to me, “Just think of a vector…” and I finally had to admit the truth.

There’s only one image that comes to mind when someone says the word “vector” and that is the cockpit scene from Airplane! where the pilots are getting clearance to take off. “What’s our vector, Victor?” says one of them. The end. That’s my sum total of vector knowledge right there.

People used to bandy about those same Physics terms while attempting to teach me to play pool. There too, I never wanted to appear uneducated, so I always nodded and smiled and then sailed the cue ball right into the pocket.

So, here’s my confession: I never took Physics. I’m not sure where I stopped in the Math/Science continuum, but it was long before vectors.

I get it. I know that when you’re teaching something that comes second nature to you, you have a whole vocabulary and knowledge base that you draw on, usually without even thinking about it. It happens to me all the time when I’m working with kids on their writing. I’ll say stuff. They’ll smile and nod. I’ll say more stuff. More smiles. More nodding. And then I’ll say, “Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?” And they will of course say, “No.”

Laura took my news well and, as is typical, others began to confess their ignorance as well. Sometimes I remind her: we may not be smart, but we’re cute!

So, my tennis instructor will be putting together a Physics lesson for me – for us, really – in yet another of her valiant attempts to teach a group of good-natured yet addled women the finer points of Doubles. She’s quick, that Laura, and I think she’s finally come around to sobering truth: Tennis Floozies we may be, but Rocket Scientists, we’re not.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Oh Wait...I'M the Grown-Up

It was me and the Lacrosse Dads. Yes, there are some moms who chauffer to the Sunday morning games, but mostly that’s Dad’s job. And even the moms who do chauffer are different than me in at least one noticeable respect: they all seem to be able to talk about lacrosse in an intelligent, knowledgeable way. I’m so out of my league there. What’s “double balling”? What’s “slashing”? I feel like I sound like a four-year-old.

But once we all got into our cars and started down the long, winding road to the bottom of the mountain, we were all pretty much in the same boat.

Black ice: The great equalizer. Cars spinning out and ramming into other cars everywhere you looked. I threw my SUV into a low gear and started crawling down the mountain. The car in front of me got hit. Then the car behind me. It was like God was playing marbles with these cars– that’s how simple it was for one driver to completely lose control and careen into another.

I pulled over to gather my wits and immediately realized we were sitting ducks for another swerving car. So I yelled to my teenage son and his two friends to get out of the car and we stood for a moment on someone’s front lawn, collecting ourselves. The next car that got hit flew right up onto the lawn next to us. No place was safe.

The boys didn’t think it was a good idea, but I convinced them to get back in the car so we could make our way down the mountain. My husband accuses me of driving like a grandmother, and for once I wore that distinction with pride. Five miles an hour, blinkers flashing, not even taking a breath until we were on flat terrain. Then a big exhale once we got into Friendly’s parking lot.

These boys don’t know me well enough to know shaken I was. They all ordered big plates of breakfast food from Veronica The Waitress Who Knows Everyone’s Name and within two bites they had forgotten about what had just transpired. “Jessica, Jessica! This waitress knows the names of ALL the lacrosse players!” they told me.

It was true. She had met some of them once, two weeks ago, and she started rattling off the names of their entire team. It was a feat that, even I had to admit, was worth my stopping the countless phone calls to my Lifelines, trying to get a beat on the weather and the highway conditions.

By all accounts, we had another 90 minutes until the earth would warm enough to melt the street ice. It was a 40-minute drive home – all highway. All highway that traverses mountains. I looked around the Friendly’s and imagined hunkering down there until Spring.

Once breakfast was finished, the boys were antsy to get on our way.

“I want to stay here for a while,” I told them.

“How long?”

“Like an hour,” I said.

They all started moaning, but then the tallest one said, “Well, I am still kinda hungry.” He’s 15 years old, six-foot-three, and by his own description, an eating machine.

“So let’s get lunch!” I said. As Veronica cleared our breakfast dishes, she brought lunch menus, and the three of them ordered another full meal apiece.

Not to toot my own horn but these boys like me -- mostly because every time we’re together, I ply them with food. (They love Veronica The Waitress, too; they’re not all that difficult to charm.) I sometimes wonder, when I’m carting them all here or there, whether I should act a little more grown up around them. Stop cranking the car radio when Bowie comes on, stop cracking up at their not-always-appropriate teenage-boy jokes. Maybe a few more lectures here and there about what’s important in life. They are all so lovable and full of life, it’s easy to forget that they're not just my companions, they’re my responsibility. That sometimes I’m literally holding their lives in my hands.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Middle-Aged Badass

We all fancy ourselves badasses in Friday Tennis Clinic. We all dress in black. We curse a lot. (Well, I do.) Our conversations start out bawdy and just get bawdier. How hard is it to view yourselves as the NWA of the tennis club when the women playing on the adjacent courts have a median age of 70?

But we come to our senses when, like today, one of us turns to the group and asks, “Who has a tattoo?”

“Not me,” says Shelley.

Kelly shakes her head.

Not even Laura The Tennis Pro, which surprises at least me, as she does have some of the trappings of a tattooed woman. (Namely, that she participates in that Polar Bear Club insanity where you strip down to your bathing suit on New Year’s Day and run into the ocean.)

Eileen finally saunters in and, as far as I’m concerned, no one even has to ask. Of course she’ll have a tattoo. Probably something witty and irreverent in a place where few will ever see it. But I’m wrong.

“Nope,” she says. “No tattoo.”

She’s late, however, because she had to drive to tennis straight from our local precinct, where she had to post her own bail this morning and submit to fingerprinting before she was released on her own recognizance. She had explained the whole ordeal to me the night before, so her tardiness didn’t come as a surprise. “What do you mean you’re in Contempt of Court?” I’d said. Eileen is rarely in contempt of anything!

I don’t know about anyone else, but I was a little envious of her brush with the law. I imagine it feeling dangerously exciting to be fingerprinted, even if it is only for missing a date in traffic court. A completely honorable way to add a little spice into one’s middle aged day, the rest of which is likely to be spent baking cookies, or getting the cat de-wormed, or, like me, working far too long trying to figure out how to download a mug shot from my cell phone onto this [exceedingly foul expletive] computer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Yes, Raisins.

I start most therapy sessions off the same way. I say a few positive things about the time that’s elapsed since we last met. Then I start a little preamble about what I want to talk about, and right away my voice cracks and my eyes sting and I make the split second decision to just go ahead and cry even though I haven’t even said anything yet. My therapist waits, quasi patiently, until I can pull myself together and form sentences. And then we start getting into it.

She often asks me what’s bringing on the tears, and I usually grasp for one of those therapy-session catch-alls: “I’m really angry about such and such”, or “I’m feeling sad about x, y, z.” But today I summed the whole thing up in a more global way and confessed that I’m simply reduced to tears whenever I’m about to talk about any of my shortcomings.

She’s cautioned me against judging my “issues,” reminding me that it adds a whole new layer of doody to work through before we even get to the main event. But it’s so ingrained in me to think this way, I don’t seem to be able to just turn it off.

Today she suggested that, even though I’m careening toward fifty, we find a new name for my “shortcomings.” She proposed “Peanut Butter” as an alternative. As in, “This is a serious Peanut Butter of mine that I’d like to change.”

Peanut Butter didn’t feel right to me for, what I hope are, obvious reasons. Too gooey. Or, alternatively, too chunky. But bottom line, too sticky and insidious and just downright difficult to handle.

So without too much deliberation, I countered with “Raisins.” As in, “I have two Raisins I need to talk about today,” which feels about as burdensome and angst-laden as picking up a toothbrush and brushing one’s teeth. In other words, a big nothing.

Raisins came to me spontaneously – a picture of the purple cylindrical container that sits in the cupboard popping immediately into my mind. I tried to think of a reason not to call my shortcomings “Raisins,” and I couldn’t. Raisins are wrinkly and unattractive, but not really scary or threatening. And although there are plenty of them, they don’t seem like they could take me down in battle. They’re just puny raisins, after all.

The goal, I guess, is to check out the Raisins – examine their furrowed little selves from lots of different perspectives – without bemoaning the fact that I have so freaking many of them to begin with.

It’s taken a big load off for me. I really feel I can lighten up when they're just Raisins. My Raisins. Your Raisins. They're all kind of goofy and sweet, no?