The Gym: Part 1

Hi Britt,

I’m emailing you because I’m a trainer at Equinox in Chestnut Hill and I want to welcome you to the club.

I’m also contacting you to schedule your Equifit fitness assessment that’s included as part of your membership. It’s an hour long session where we review your goals and perform several tests to determine your current fitness level. I can then use this info to create a custom workout plan for you.

With that being said: what are you currently training for?

Reply to this email and let me know, then maybe we can set something up.

Best,

David

 

Hi David!

I’m largely free in the mornings. Except when I’m not. Equinox is lovely– all shiny and new. It would probably be perfect for someone who likes exercise. I, however, loathe it. Dread it. Honestly, if I could be healthy and skinny couch-bound with potato chips, life would be dreamy. But since I’m vain and human, hey… let’s exercise!

My fitness level is 1, or whatever sad sack slug dials in at. Picture a pack-a-day smoker with arthritis. That’s me. Except I look like someone who is totally healthy. I fake fitness with yoga clothes and a high ponytail.

I imagine gym enthusiasts return this email with chipper goals of marathon-running and keep-butt-off-cycle dreams and other nonsense. My goal is seam blow-out prevention. I have a closet full of really pretty little dresses it would be devastating to leave hanging there, ignored by the empty promises of a chubby girl who won’t stop eating Ruffles.

So, let’s spend a morning trying out all of the machines I’ll never use! Or assess my level of slug-ness. Whatever.

Your move, chief.

 

Hey Britt

Thank you for the great email! I think I see where you’re coming from.

Are you free tomorrow at 10am or Thursday at 9am by any chance?

 

Garden club on Wednesday. Bible Study Thursday. This is the Jesus-loving green thumb you’re dealing with. Halloween? I’m free Friday until early afternoon.

 

I can do Halloween at 10am does that work?

 

Yup. Let’s scare the shit outta my cellulite.

Instruments of torture

Instruments of torture

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Tips for Flying the Infected Skies

If you’ve been in an airport lately… well, I’m sorry. I loathe traveling by plane. Like, blech. And it has nothing to do with a miniscule probability of plummeting to a fiery death, padding sock-footed through scanners that herald the quality of my implants, or being asked for the millionth time if my husband and I are, in fact, together. It’s the proximity of strangers that tests my nerves and immune system. And if you’ve been in an airport lately, then you’ve heard every nervous titter, hackneyed joke, and armchair theory about Ebola. And if you haven’t, all of the big screens will be tuned to CNN’s Scare Loop, ensuring your participation in the hysteria. Should you want the real skinny on the transmission of this deadly virus, here you go. But if you want tips for travel from someone who hardly travels at all… sally forth, dear reader.

In spite of every single doctor type and infectious disease guru telling us it’s really really really difficult to contract a virus that does not fly through the air with any sort of ease, we’re Americans… and we’ll make up our own minds, thank you very much. We’re going to be a bit uneasy about flying around the country right now. This hardly means we’re going to, like, stop flying around the country. That would be bonkers. We’re very very busy. And important. We will, however, harbor murder fantasies about anyone who risks pulling out a hanky. So to safeguard your in-flight reputation, and to put your traveling companions at ease, maybe a bit of subterfuge is in order. Three tips:

Are you feeling feverish? Well, here’s an idea: stay the fuck home. But since you’re very very busy and important, you’d better have a ready excuse for those flushed cheeks. When you push a damp armpit past my face to aim that jetted air of concentrated microbes at your sweaty mug, I’d better be hearing lots of disclaimers about The Change. “Whew! Hot flashes! Goodness. Should’ve known better than to have that merlot. Whew!” Loud and clear, hot lady. With lots of hand waving incredulity regarding the temperature of the cabin.

Are you nose-drippy, sneezing, and snorting? Well, here’s an idea: stay the fuck home. But since your pseudoephedrine hasn’t kicked in and because you’re very very busy and important, please give us the courtesy of fake allergies. “Do you have a cat? I’m very sensitive to dander. Well… this is going to be a long trip.” Or maybe a bit of talking-to-yourself blather about tree pollen and climate change and how Obama won’t pay for your seasonal immunoglobulin therapy. Really, we’ll believe anything. But speak up, sniffly Sal. And Purell those filthy, filthy hands after every blow. After Every Single Blow.

Tickle in your throat? Is your cough a deep rattle that is unearthing pasty chunks of bacterial debris hardly contained by your filthy, filthy hands and aerosolized for the rest of us to share? Well, here’s an idea busy, important guy: stay the fuck home. But until your codeine knocks you out cold, you’d better fabricate a 25 pack/year smoking history. Loudly lament the good ol’ days when smoking was permitted in the plane; joke about the ease of disconnecting the bathroom alarm. Accompany those phlegmy sputters with boozy stories about the Grateful Dead, twitch nervously, chew gum. Slap on a patch mid-flight. Whatever, dude. Just pretend for our sakes you’re not a tuberculoid avain flu SARS Ebola typhoid carrier. Launch a convincing case that your lungs aren’t brewing a sludge cocktail of death pathogens, but are innocently (and un-infectiously) suffocating from exposure to inhaled poisons. This will make us feel much, much better.

So if you’re feeling under the weather, and not too Busy and Important to risk exposing fellow travelers to your shedding germs, then crawl back under those covers, sickie. But if you must fly the infected skies, you’d better summon a plausible alibi for your disgusting symptoms. We don’t want to share an armrest with anyone right now, but your best menopausal, cat-hating, Marlboro Red-sucking impression will assuage the fears of your traveling companions while you unwittingly dose them with your bug-addled breath.

Me? I’m not going anywhere.

Bon voyage, friends!

You'd better have boozy reasons for using this bag...

… and you’d better have vodka-related reasons for using this bag…

A Jerk, Unaware… by Steve Safran

I was rude to someone, and I didn’t know it. Unwittingly impolite. Accidentally brusque. A jerk, unaware.

I won’t bother you with the circumstances. It was a work thing. The gist is this: after a business dealing, it was reported to my partner that I was rude to a client.

Here’s the thing: I have absolutely no idea how that impression was made. I’m not saying I don’t know how I could be rude to someone. I’m not saying it’s not possible for me to be rude, that I’m a saint who is never rude or that I’m above rudeness. What I’m saying is that I don’t recall even so much as two or three interactions with this client during the event, all which hardly strayed from “How’s your day been?” in quality. I will also say in my defense that I try to be super nice to clients. They’re the ones with the money.

But I was rude. That was her perception, and a person’s perception is everything. She will always think of me as That Rude Guy. She didn’t say how I was rude, so I’ll never know exactly what happened. But really, it doesn’t matter. I was. She felt it. Now I’m That Rude Guy.

Now, I never would have known this if she hadn’t told my business partner. I could have gone on merrily through life thinking my interactions with her were just fine, if I reflected on them at all. Instead, it got me to thinking about how often people must make up their minds about us and we don’t realize it’s happening.

Right now, someone thinks you’re an asshole. I guarantee it. You cut him off in traffic, or wrote something online or even, as I did in a previous column, responded in a way someone took to be aggressive even though it wasn’t.  I once signaled, waited my turn and moved into the left lane and a guy still yelled “Asshole!” at me. I yelled back “You barely know me!” I don’t think he heard me.

The flipside is you have a lot of unearned praise, too. Right now, you’re the funniest person in the world because you told a stolen joke. You’re an awesome guy, just because you held the door, corralled the grocery cart, or made the “most liked” comment.

Our friend Jason is putting together a play called “Talking to Strangers,” and is soliciting interactions. I noted that I’m wary of these people and that the reason is right there in the word; they’re not just strange, they’re stranger.

How strangely unfortunate it is that we are, in an instant, labeled for life based upon one interaction. How difficult it is to change that perception? I may perform ten good deeds in the presence of my client, but how many will it take to dispel That Rude Guy impression? I may even lose her business if I cannot. And I wouldn’t have ever known why.

Strange.

TONE

Strangers

Jason writes and directs musicals and plays. Can you imagine having the imagination to write and direct musicals and plays? I cannot. But Jason does. For this venue. And he has a really really really long list of accolades and awards and stuff theater people earn for being wackadoodles with talent. Being a scientific sort of the mommy variety, sidling up to Jason’s world is a messy, titillating, uncomfortable, and unusual experience. In the other words: it’s awesome. It’s also no surprise that his latest obsession is with Strangers. I think we’ve all become strangers out in public– tethered to our devices, pre-occupied with emails and texts and the urgent and never-ending comments and requests from people who aren’t physically near us. Meanwhile, we ignore—nay, avoid?—the people in our very path.

But I am John Stockton’s daughter, and I adopted his Rules of Dad as the code of conduct for all adults. Growing up, I had no idea my father was unusually friendly, chatty, inquisitive, interested, and irreverent. I just thought that’s what social confidence looked like. Boring, repressed, stern, and otherwise joyless adults were never in Dad’s sphere. And the gravitational pull of a personality like Dad’s is probably selective to similarly tuned people. Blessed with a father with a frequency for fun, the influential adults of my formative years were hilarious, successful, and brilliant.

Side bar: we can discuss for days how to parent properly, but exposing your kiddos to kind, wonderful people that you admire– that impression lasts forever.

I’ve never had a restaurant meal with Dad after which we did not know the name, station, and career aspirations of our assigned wait staff. Unsuspecting line-waiters are subject to his kind, jokey gibber gabber. Dad is a man who believes everyone is interesting, and is open to learning the stories of strangers. The result is that Dad knows no strangers. And in this world of ear-budded introverts, I think this is a great, great thing.

Jason is collecting stories about strangers over here. The result will be an original piece of theater exploring how we avoid each other, but will probably include the dynamic human moments that happen when we cannot. Do you have a story about A Stranger?

Here’s mine.

It was freezing. One of those ridiculous wind chill days where opening the front door makes you gasp and want to cancel everything. But I was never going to study successfully at home with the temptation of nachos, or naps, or absolutely anything else. The microbiology test was tomorrow: I had exactly 12 hours to cram all knowledge of plasmids into my blonde head. Surely none of the gunner medical students would brave the sub-zero weather to study at Widener… so I hopped the red line into Cambridge.

Studying at the undergraduate Harvard campus is… quiet. That’s the lure. Plus, I always imagined the ghosts of benevolent geniuses to be ethereally cheering me onward. (This is the risk of studying in Boston: delusions of connection to a grander past.)

He was adorable. Moppy, two semesters-overdue-for-haircut adorable. Two tables away, we shared a few sighs and shot hairy eyeballs at the gossipy girls in the carrels. After an hour of distracted studying, he invited me to join him for a study break.

We walked farther than I would have ever agreed, had he not been adorable. It was so so so so cold, but he insisted that the caffeine and treats at this place were the finest. Chat chat chat, I’m cramming for this, you’re studying for that. Oh, aren’t you smart? Oh, aren’t you? Thank fucking God we’re here and tea is ordered.

The thawing begins. I can’t stop listening to Chet Baker. That’s his favorite. I love coconut and twilight and tea. Yup, totally. Long stares. Shared movie titles, favorite books, more tea. But then… plasmids. There will be a test on plasmids. I return to reality and less flirty conversation.

“You are adorable. But time’s up. I need to cram.”

“No, it’s early. Really. It’s very early.”

Repeat times twenty. Then oh, my mom and dad met exactly here 25 years ago and I always knew I’d meet my wife at Widener, and then bring her exactly here, and you look like my mom, and this is meant to be and kismet and fate and and and…

Oh my God, you’re crazy. Or an adorable romantic. Either way, I have to figure out how to cut and paste plasmids and I’m not ready to get married and this is flattering but Jesus, don’t follow me, and yikes. I threw dollars on the table, raced to the Red Line and never saw cute moppy-haired boy again.

No doubt he married some other blonde studying in Widener. I’ll never know. But the fast-tracked romance stayed with me: stranger turned suitor, turned nuisance, turned stranger. And the whole exchange was likely initiated by my receptiveness, my inborn enthusiasm for strangers and their stories… something Dad taught me. When it comes to people, I’m in.

And I hope you are, too. Because that’s where all of the good stories start.

This is the only sort of place medical student stories begin...

This is the only sort of place medical student stories begin…

 

 

Backlash: musings on Pink and high society and not being a jerkface

Recently I got all blog-huffy about Pinktober. All of us are a bit tired of the Awareness, and it’s only October 4th. And I’ll admit to a recent gag reflex seeing a gigantic, fluffy pink mustache adorning the grill of a Range Rover. What the fuck is that? Seriously. What the fuck.

But after I wrote that essay, the one about horrible campaigns to raise money for dubious causes (e.g., anything that doesn’t support research for metastatic disease), Bernie cautioned me that I might be an asshole. “People don’t want to get flack for donating money. They’re donating money.” And because I really do love people and think most of us are do-gooders deep down, I haven’t stopped thinking about this since. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the bald caps and think they’re an ugly, ugly vehicle for support and wretched awareness… but if the people donning them really believe they’re curing cancer and supporting their friends to boot, well… maybe there’s a way to voice that without being such a jerk about it.

From the perspective of a breast cancer veteran, I can tell you that the people who get this—those who are mindfully considering the pink-washing of cancer—are the ones I feel supported by the most. They are the same people who remind me that I am well now, that they love me, and that they’re sorry this shitty thing happened to me, to anyone. That’s the best sort of awareness.

Unfortunately, when a giant pink bra is erected on the Miracle Mile, and those of us who cannot tune out the echoes of cancer for the other 11 months spew vitriol all over our social media outlets, we might sound a bit churlish, irritable, and ungrateful… no matter how inane a giant pink bra might be. And this essay is about Not Being An Asshole. But instead of perseverating about how I frequently slip under this rubric, let’s put the spotlight on someone else who might need a tutorial.

Recently, Megan Johnson mounted her high steed of indignation and threw rotten tomatoes at Boston’s society ladies. In her inflammatory, name-dropping article, Ms. Johnson stitched together snippets of gossip from a collection of anonymous Storybook Ball “attendees” and fashioned the image of a New Money Social Climbing Shrew. She kindly repeats that these gorgeous Ball events do, in fact, raise millions of dollars donated to a hospital for children. Millions. Yes, fucking millions. For children. But, whatever. Let’s kvetch about how rich and awful these women really are.

Ms. Johnson crafts a divinely delicious dish of insider dirt. And who doesn’t love to hear that the fantastically wealthy might fall prey to vanity or insecurity or ambition or tipsiness? But although Ms. Johnson is keenly interested in how these social mavens land their coveted spots on the Storybook Ball Committee, she has no idea what this entails for the women who donate their time and energy and bank accounts to the “honor” of it all. Nor does she ask any of them. Because that’s boring. And whatever, dude, these rich fuckers only care about their expertly attached eyelashes and one-of-a-kind dresses. And though it’s more fun to think of these ladies cat fighting and back stabbing in couture, the reality is that for many, many months, they’re in boring meetings wearing yoga pants, asking their friends to donate thousands of dollars over and over and over again, and writing rather large checks, themselves. They land on this committee because they have the financial means to support it, and also carry within them the servant souls of people who enjoy giving their money away to good causes. Should we repay them for their generosity with mean-spirited, envy-fueled, I-heard-it-from-the-wait-staff blather?

Apparently so.

I’d love to know how Ms. Johnson would prefer these ladies convince our benevolent, wealthy townsfolk to part with their cash. Are Balls inherently bad? Is it terribly wrong to want to be a part of something glittery and exciting and fun?

Are there “wrong” ways to donate money?

I hope other readers have a similarly difficult time finding a crucial fault with volunteering women who raise millions of dollars to promote the health of children. The biggest sin here is name-calling ladies who might, just possibly, be organizing and planning and, goddamn it, having a bit of fun while doing something others cannot: raise millions of dollars. Instead of criticizing them, we should be hiring them as consultants for our scout cookie sales or Church Stewardship initiatives. Thank you, wealthy women of the world. I think you’re dreamy.

At the school my boys attend, the varsity soccer team will be wearing pink jerseys and socks this month. No matter where you stand on Pink issues, wouldn’t you be a bit of nitpicky jerkface to criticize them for this bit of awareness? It would be remarkably unkind to sideline their willingness to be a part of a National Kindness… which is the intent most people bring to the promotion of Pink. Though I am conflicted about some of these bubble gum gimmicks, regarding Kindness I am keenly attuned. Also, I cannot know the effect on my two small boys seeing their cooler, older classmates swathed in the color associated with mom being bald and tired. In some small way, maybe it seems like these older, cooler boys care about their Mom, and think Cancer sucks, too.

So as the calendar pages turn during this month of Pepto-hued awareness and a local buzz begins about The Storybook Ball, I’m focusing on the impetus sending good citizens diving into handbags for checkbooks. Whether that bag is Chanel or some pink abomination hardly matters… but intent makes all of the difference. And if I fail to thank people for their generosity and support because it arrives in a Too Fancy or Too Pink a package… well then, maybe I need a refresher course in Kindness.

And those pink mustaches? Those are just identifying cars of good citizens providing cheap rides for their neighbors.

Not giving a poo about breast cancer at all... yay!

Not giving a poo about breast cancer at all… yay!

The Death of the High School Reunion

Some of my favorite hours are spent watching really, really awful television. When the always something of parenting finally closes shop, but Bernie is still stuck wrist deep in other women, it’s time for a bit of guilty pleasure viewing. And when my husband isn’t planted on the opposite couch to groan when the remote pauses on something my 9 year old would describe as, “mmmm… smootchy, smootchy,” then I’m watching Peggy Sue Got Married. For, like, the 17th time.

I just love teenagers… even when they’re portrayed by 30 year olds. It’s a confusing time: electric and fleeting and wonderful and awful and the perfect stuff to fold into a potpie of sentimentality. And Peggy Sue opens with her 25th high school reunion. The dork millionaire, the paunchy footballers, the receding hairlines, and the provocatively dressed divorcées contribute to an atmosphere that supports the awkward and silly conversations between people who knew each other way back when. The Death of the High School Reunion has been chronicled by better writers many times, but this year is my 25th reunion, and no more than a dozen graduates of the Class of ’89 will commit to a few hours of cash bar and greasy apps in the name of nostalgia.

From the thread of RSVPs there are many “we don’t come ‘home’ for the holidays anymore” sentiments, maybe one “yay, reunion!” affirmation (mine), and a smattering of lackluster “maybe I’ll stop by” messages from people transparently choosing any other activity over seeing the Class of ’89 in three dimensions. Certainly, the very idea of Reunion holds its own mixed bag of cheery anticipation coupled to the dread of forgotten names, forced merriment, and the eleventh hour desire to drop 20lbs. I could list 194 reasons to blow off the reunion. But not too long ago, the 25th would be momentous enough to form a committee, launch a save-the-date, order some balloons, and hire a DJ to spin the music that accompanied our lost virginities. In response, alumni would half-heartedly complain, but still plan to go, switch shifts, get a babysitter, and maybe even alter the family holiday plans for it. I mean, it’s the goddamn 25th reunion. This is the one you go to, right?

Nope. Turns out we’re “caught up” since our social media sites have already chronicled our births and deaths and accomplishments, new cars, cancer battles, wisdom tooth extractions, and kitchen remodels. Or maybe we’re worried our Facebook selves won’t quite live up to the brand we’ve created? Who knows? But no one is coming.

Possibly because social media did not yet exist, we had a fantastic turnout at the 10th. “Ahh… the 10th,” said my wise brother-in-law, Bob, “Everyone is still lying.” I loved that. We filed into the decorated ballroom intent to prove we were becoming Important in the World, while shamelessly dancing to Debby Gibson, and kissing the boys we wished we had kissed way back when. Or maybe that was just me. It was a fuzzy night. At our 10th very few had any real responsibilities and we were all too happy to escape a night on the air mattress at mom’s in order to spend a few cash bar hours together. But 15 years later… hmmm, maybe I’ll stop by.

Because no one really wants one, it looks like the Class of ’89 will have no formal venue to reunite: no balloons, no blown up yearbook photos, no Debby Gibson. Is this a huge tragedy? Not really. But I think we’re missing something when we forgo traditions like these. There’s a reason why it’s so much fun to squeeze and giggle and laugh and wiggle with the people who knew 16 year old you. It’s because they still see 16 year old you. And for the briefest of moments, you are still 16 year old you. That’s the fun of it, and the actual real-time, 3D catch up is just icing on the nostalgia cake.

Prom 1989... me and Lisa, my BFF (split heart necklace and everything)

Prom 1989… me and Lisa, my BFF (split heart necklace and everything) and someone I’d LOVE to see in 3D.