COULDA, SHOULDA

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It was a single session yesterday.  Often the Pilates studio can pair me up with someone, which lowers the price by ten dollars. But sometimes, they can’t.  Despite the ten dollars, I like having Peggy to myself.  We get to do some girlfriend talk while she puts me through the various routines I can manage. Also, near the end of the hour she often gives a delicious back massage while I’m stretching forward on a fearful-looking apparatus called The Tower.

Peggy is sixty, and looks wonderful in her exercise clothes from Lululemon, Athleta and (sometimes) the sales racks at Marshall’s.  (But you really have to look hard to find something at Marshall’s, she cautions.) She is rounded and shapely (“Great legs and ass,” says Bill), but also firm and strong, with highlighted blondish brown hair she’s growing out into a longish pixie cut, and nicely made up blue eyes. Her face is cherubic although her chin is softening, but just a little.  She has two beautiful blonde daughters in college (the older finishing in May) and — after spending nearly all her life in or around the Princeton-Lawrenceville-Pennington-Flemington area of New Jersey — a wonderful sense of adventure.

Peggy had a relatively long career in fashion marketing and merchandising until her marriage to a divorced man who shared custody of his three small children with his ex-wife.  After the marriage, fairly late in her thirties, she became a full-time wife and mother both to her own two daughters and — for half the week — his three children as well.  She moved out about a year and a half ago,  when the youngest daughter had gone off to school, after four or more years of increasing unhappiness in her marriage.

During that time, she discovered Pilates, became a certified Pilates instructor, and has been working fifteen to twenty hours a week ever since.  Now that the divorce is finalized, she is waiting for her older girl to graduate before moving on. At the end of June, she’s taking herself off to the suburbs of Charleston, South Carolina, near the beach.  She knows no one there, but she loves Charleston, loves the southern climate, loves the beach.  “When I was shoveling snow off the driveway for the umpteenth time this winter,” she said, “I told myself never again!”

She’s worked it all out with her accountant.  She knows how long she can afford to look around for work, what she can spend per month, when she needs to start earning again, when she’ll be able to replace her car. [2016. She hopes it lasts that long.]  She thought she’d begin with Pilates again, because a certified Pilates instructor can always find work in an upscale community, but she really wants to become an interior decorator now.  She loves resort/beach style.  She’s friendly, outgoing, energetic. Unlike Jasmine, the eponymous heroine of Woody Allen’s last movie, who also said interior design was her career goal, Peggy will do just fine.

Faithful readers of this blog may surmise what has been on my mind the past few days, and will therefore not find it odd that I took advantage of my single session to ask Peggy a particular question I otherwise might not have asked while I did leg warmups on The Reformer.  It had nothing to do with her prospective move.  At least, neither of us thought it did.  At first.

“Do you remember your first serious boyfriend?”

She looked surprised at this turn in the conversation.

“Serious,” I said.  “Not just idle flirting.”

“Oh, yes,” she said.  “Very serious.  We met as freshmen in college, and it lasted four years.  Why do you ask?”

I told her about finding the online obituary of my first serious boyfriend, and filled her in a bit about our slight subsequent history together and how upset I was to learn he was gone.  “Is yours still alive?” I asked.  (Foolish question.  He’d be only 60, or 61.)

“Oh, yes.  Very much so.”  Her face took on a wistful look.

“What happened?  After the four years, I mean?”

“Well, he was going back to Colorado, where he came from. I was intent on a career in fashion in New York City!”

“And you broke up over that?”

She smiled sadly.  “We argued about it for two months.  But I thought, ‘Colorado?  There’s nothing there for me.'” She brought over a purple block and put it between my raised knees for the detested “tabletops.”

“He was handsome, and we were crazy about each other. He had some family money, and then became very very rich.  He’s a millionaire and more today. But I was 22 — and stubborn.”

“Did you ever see him again?”

“Oh yes.  About five years ago he was in New York for business, and we had a three-hour dinner together.  He looked great.  It was great.  We talked about our time together, and what might have been.”

“And?”

“He’s married now.  Has four lovely children. The youngest is still just sixteen.  I said, ‘If your wife ever kicks you out, call me!’  He laughed. But she won’t.  And he wouldn’t leave. I think they’re very happy. Actually,” she added, “he did come to New York once before, about three years after we broke up.  It was to tell me he was getting married.  That was an earlier marriage, one that didn’t work.  He didn’t want me to hear it from anyone from him.”

“He flew to New York from Colorado just to tell you he was getting married?”

She nodded.

“He must have cared about you very much,” I said, trying to achieve twenty angel wings with my knees still raised in tabletop. (The language of Pilates sometimes reaches throw-up levels of cuteness.)  “Maybe he married the first time on the rebound from you.”

She shrugged.  “Too late to think about that now. Career in fashion!  Hahaha.  I went on the road, marketing Ship ‘n Shore blouses.  Within a few years of college, he had a chain of sporting apparel stores all through Colorado.  I could have styled and managed them! And he was tall and gorgeous and we really did love each other.   And now he owns ski resorts, and a beautiful home where I could have done his entertaining!  And look where I am!  Off to Charleston at 60 to live in a rental while I figure out the lay of the land.”

“It’s going to be a great adventure,” I said, sitting up to get a drink of water before doing the arm work.  “You know it will!”

“Yes, it will!” she declared.

“Bill has a saying,” I added.  ” ‘We get too soon old, and too late smart.’ ”

“I’ll have to remember that one,” said Peggy.

Then we both agreed that “coulda, shoulda” never helped anyone, and we all do the best we can with what we have in the way of wisdom and knowledge of life at any particular time, and that there’s no point in beating yourself up about what you did or didn’t do when you were young.

“Tell Bill to get himself out and start walking,” she said, as I finished up for the day.

I shall miss her when she leaves.

NINA’S FOLLY

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What is it?  Well may you ask.  Its proud manufacturer calls it, alternately, a seat, a stool, even a “revolution!”  (You might want to know it also comes in black.)

I don’t usually fall for advertisements.  That’s Bill’s department.  Boy, is he ever gullible!  I have to hide the sales catalogues addressed to him that choke our mailbox daily, or he could spend hours perusing them in wonder and delight, and then, alas, acquiring too many of whatever is in them, almost never consulting me first. Need I add that nearly all his catalogue acquisitions turn out to be disappointing, if not blatant failures? But me — I wrote far too many ads in my pre-law days not to resist any efforts to extract money from me for items I never knew I needed until some clever ad person set out to persuade me I did.  

But everyone has an Achilles heel.  After we moved to Princeton, we bought two sofas from a New York-based furniture company called Room and Board  — one for the family room and another, somewhat later, for the living room.  That lodged me firmly on Room and Board’s email list. I often delete. But a few weeks ago came an announcement of a Room and Board blog.  Still a relatively new blogger, this I had to see.  The first Room and Board blog post began, somewhat defiantly:

You’ve probably heard the disturbing news.  Sitting for extended periods of time — like a lot of us do at work — has been linked to increases in heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  And NPR [National Public Radio] recently reported on a new study that links sedentary behavior with a  greater likelihood of being disabled after age 60. Unfortunately, working out regularly doesn’t decrease your risk for these conditions. Great.  So what are we supposed to do? Thankfully, the answer is pretty simple.  Stand up and get moving.

Pretty simple for Room and Board, that is.  They have two new ergonomic workspace options for us all to “try.”  The first is an adjustable “Float” desk from a company called Humanscale — an adjustable standing desk that lets you quickly alternate between standing and sitting while you work — at what I consider an outrageous price for a desk.  My workspace is not a paid workspace. So the “Float” is not for me, thank you very much.  Besides, I already have a perfectly good desk I’m not about to junk.  Not sure I could type standing up anyway.

However, the Room and Board blog post then continued its recommendations for a healthier life. These good people also want me to have:

…an active seat — anything that lets you wiggle and wobble around while you’re sitting, which strengthens your core and burns calories.  Many of us…have a fitness ball, but we don’t love (a) how dingy they become; (b) their tendency to roll off when we’re not looking; and (c) their space-hogging ways.  Enter the ErgoErgo stool.  Part sculpture, part spring and all fun.

You may be surprised to learn I do have a fitness ball. Unfortunately, mine is the medium size, not the large one that might put my arms at typing level.  However, it’s not dingy at all, since it’s hardly ever been used.  Nor is it rolling off anywhere or hogging space; it’s stored in our basement behind a closed door.  So that much of the pitch didn’t really reach me.

But the part about my “core?”  As someone who still hasn’t done her postpartum exercises in the nearly forty-five years since the birth of her last baby, I am extremely sensitive about suggestions that my “core” needs strengthening. In truth, I doubt I have one, if I ever did. [When did the word “stomach” fall out of use?]   I tell my Pilates instructor the “core” stuff is the part of Pilates I dislike most, which makes her laugh because Pilates is all about building the “core.” The Pilates people try to make it sound like fun, by calling their “core” exercises cutesy names like “froggies” and “tabletop” and “hundreds.”  [“Did we do our hundreds today?”]  But they don’t fool me. It’s no fun at all, and I go once a week, despite the expense, because one must do something. Could the ErgoErgo be another kind of something?  The Room and Board blog assured me it could:

This clever little stool stays put, takes up minimal space and doesn’t require inflating.  The accordion design allows you to rock and bounce, but the semi-pliable plastic feels more supportive than a fitness ball.  We’re all loving this new addition to our office.  In fact some of us are so smitten we’re ditching our desk chairs all together.

I’ve already confessed in at least one prior post how much time I spend on my butt producing a daily post for this blog.  Add in reading time, Netflix-watching time, just-sitting-around-pondering-the-meaning-of-life time and you might say (if Room and Board is to be believed) that I’m hurtling towards heart disease, obesity and diabetes as fast as I can.

I summoned Bill.  Big mistake.  Bill l-o-v-e-d the ErgoErgo at first sight, especially in orange.  Bill loves the color orange.  Still cautious, I consulted ErgoErgo’s own web page, which describes sitting on it as “Active Sitting,” and then immediately declared:

There’s so much to say about the benefits of Active Sitting that it has its own page!….The more you sit on it, the more you work your body, and the stronger your core muscles will be.  And you’ll improve your sense of balance.  But you’ll also benefit if you use ErgoErgo for l5 minutes, an hour each day, or just every now and then….ErgoErgo allows the body to move freely in any direction, and because there is no back rest, you engage your core and back muscles to build strength and flexibility.

With each repetition of the magic word “core” — my heart said, “Yes!”

“What have you got to lose?” said devil Bill.  “You can always send it back.”

$100 later, ErgoErgo was mine!

It arrived yesterday.  Bill happily unpacked it and brought it up the stairs to my office. “Not heavy at all,” he declared.  We stood it next to the printer while we decided where to put my desk chair.

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The desk chair looked terrible blocking the printer and the two nested white tables on which I often put things I’m working on.  Also it made that part of the room too crowded.  I like space.

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I hadn’t realized how big and heavy that desk chair is. It does roll, but not over the edges of throw rugs. Since I knew right away it  wouldn’t look good on the other side of my office against the closet doors, we didn’t even bother to try putting it there.

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In the end, we just left it temporarily by the window, while I sat down on the ErgoErgo in front of the computer to answer email while enjoying its healthful and core-strengthening benefits.

IMG_0483You know what?  First it felt funny, and then my back began to hurt.  Yes, I rocked back and forth a lot while thinking about the next sentence I was going to type.  And yes, I was sucking in my stomach more than I would usually do when I’m all by myself in a room. (I had to — in order to stay upright.)  But surely my back was not supposed to hurt while I was doing those two beneficial things.  I know what my Pilates instructor would say, as nicely as possible.  She would tell me my back hurt while I was strengthening my core on the ErgoErgo because my core was weak in the first place.  Still, that’s sort of a vicious cycle, isn’t it?

After fifteen minutes, I replaced the ErgoErgo with the desk chair, sat down with great relief, and summoned Bill again.

“Maybe you’ll get used to it,” he said.  I looked at him.  He’s the wimp of the two of us.  What’s with this getting used to pain?

He conceded the point without actually saying so.  “You could sell it to me,” was his second gambit.  Don’t think he would ever sit on it.  He wants to look at it.  He says it’s great design.  Also it’s orange.

“Where would you put it?” I asked.

“Anywhere!” he said gaily.

I’m stubborn.  I don’t like to give up.  Or admit I’ve been wrong.  Or send things back.  I considered leaving the ErgoErgo by the window, as you see at the top of this post (thereby blocking access to the printer and the stack tables), because it would be near my desk lamp, and I could maybe read when sitting on it.  While bouncing? Or working that goddamn core?  Well, maybe not.

How about the empty corner on the landing between the first and second floor of the condo?

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Not exactly awful, but a placement that asks the question, “Why?” Who would ever stop to sit or bounce on it — halfway up or down?

The corridor just outside my office door?  Under the wisdom of Rabbi Hillel, who cared not a whit for the core?

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As you can’t really see what Rabbi Hillel has to say from the angle of the photo, I thought I’d show it to you again:

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[“If I am not for myself, who is for me?  If am only for myself, what am I?  If not now, when?”]

Probably not the best place for the ErgoErgo and its self-referential focus on the core.

What about under the Brooklyn Bridge?

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I don’t think so.  It’s really just clogging the hall there.

Maybe I should give in and let Bill have it for his office?

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The problem with that is  — there isn’t any room.  Bill has already yielded to too many impulses!  See?

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That leaves the laundry room:

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Am I really going to sit in there bouncing while I watch the laundry spin?  Absolutely not!

Which means it’s back to the office for ErgoErgo — and trying again.

So I did.  I sat on it while writing this post.  I reached the part where I was about to upload the photo of ErgoErgo in front of the computer before I had to give up.  But that was forty-five minutes into the post.  So I’m doing better than my first time.  Who knows?  By spring, I may be able to lie on the floor and invite someone to jump up and down on my core.  Not someone really heavy, of course.  Maybe one of the cats.

This is not to be construed as an endorsement of, or an advertisement for, or a publicity message on behalf of ErgoErgo. I hope you can see that the post is definitely not any of those things. If anything, what it demonstrates is how two old people are spending their later precious years together — dragging a nutsy-looking, absolutely non-essential orange toy from room to room like young fools, so as not to concede one made a mistake that the other encouraged.  I suppose you might say it keeps us young at heart.

WHAT NEXT?

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[Written yesterday. Equally applicable today.]

More godawful weather. Can’t go out. Can’t concentrate. Can’t keep pacing.  All that so-called wisdom and calm that’s supposed to come with age just wasn’t able to make it to our house today.  [Got snowed in somewhere else, I guess.]

So here I sit.

Home of The Getting Old Blog

Home of The Getting Old Blog

Would I be better off in the tropics?  Which tropics?  I don’t like hot and sweaty either.  And they do say nothing of scientific, intellectual or creative value comes from steamy equatorial countries.  [Note: There will be no defense of that statement if anyone comes forth to challenge it. I’m just putting it out there as part of the cranky internal dialogue going on in my office on this fourteenth or fifteenth or sixteenth really and truly crappy day in a row.]

Pilates was cancelled.  The last Princeton concert of the Brentano String Quartet before they decamp for Yale, and for which we had free tickets, was cancelled.  Getting up bright and early in the morning was cancelled.  [After looking out the window and pulling down the shade again, we both went back to bed with the cats. ]

Now it’s afternoon and I’m wearing two sweaters and my new knee-high UGGS, but no makeup because if I’m not going out and no one is able to come here to see me, I can just put on a lot of moisturizer to protect my elderly skin from the drying effects of the indoor heat and leave it at that. Of course Bill can see, since he’s already inside, but he knows very well what my face looks like naked and seems not to mind, or not to mind once in a while.  Like now. And the cats certainly don’t care.  They don’t make the same value judgments we do. As a matter of fact, after chasing each other up and down the stairs four or five times, they’re not making any judgments at all. They’ve just collapsed in the bedroom on top of our duvet and are now asleep again. Smart cats.

So what am I going to write about for the blog on this truly yucky afternoon?  If I don’t do a piece every morning — in special circumstances like today, every afternoon — I will use up my small backlog of pre-prepared posts and freak out.  Why that should happen when there’s no backlog I can’t explain, as there is nobody at all except me, myself and I who is holding me to this rigorous daily schedule.  But I do. And it does.  [At least until such time as I decide to make a public announcement that I’m cutting back to two pieces a week, or one a week, or something like that.]  Perhaps it’s because I’ve had too much legal education late in life, which gave me notions about implied contractual obligations, such as satisfying the “entitlements” of one’s followers established by one’s “course of dealing” with them.

If I swivel my desk chair and look the other way, maybe I’ll get some ideas.

Other side of "Getting Old" home base

Other Side of “Getting Old” Home Base

Well yes, that was helpful.  I could write about:

1.  The old photograph on top of the vertical bookstand at the right near the window.  It was taken in Russia, probably just before the outbreak of World War I, and shows my paternal grandfather, my father, and an uncle I never knew existed until I was middle-aged, so there’s sort of a story about the uncle;

2.  The period of my life when I was fat:  the why, the how, the when, and other aspects of this topic — about which there are several manuscripts on the bottom shelves of the bookcases, and also several books about being fat by other people on the shelf just above the bottom one on the right;

3.  The Guatemala chicken at the very top of the bookcase and what in the world were we thinking of when we bought it for I don’t remember how many quetzals;

4.  The ten-session group therapy program for overweight women I tried to launch last fall before beginning this blog — that cost me close to $500 for five consecutive ad insertions in the local newspaper (tear sheets  of which are in a folder also on the bottom right shelf), but produced not a single telephone call;

5.  Smoking: Where and how I learned to do it (in college, with difficulty), how much I smoked (up to two packs a day), how long I smoked (twenty years), why I stopped (to live to see my babies grow up) and when (on June 6, 1969), what it was like to stop (extraordinarily difficult), and why stopping remains, after so many years, what I still consider one of the hardest things I ever did;

6.  Our last three trips abroad — to France, Greece and Portugal, the third of which was nearly five years ago, and the only three for which I have photographs on the computer, because the hard drive of my old computer died while Apple was transferring its data to my new one, so that the pictures of earlier trips Bill and I made together exist only in prints mounted in albums, which I would have to re-photograph in order to upload them here — and yes, I might do that when I get really desperate for material, but not yet;

7. Where we might travel next (before it’s too late), a thing we discuss almost daily when we’re cooped up together like this because of snow and ice:  France again, where we still have two friends?  Japan, where we know a former neighbor and a new “virtual” friend from this blog? England, home of both actual old friends and new “virtual” ones? Israel, where Bill has a niece and I know a woman who was in college with me sixty-four years ago? Of course, all of that is merely speculative daydreaming, unless Bill can get himself out of his favorite chair and start going to the gym fairly regularly so that travel abroad won’t just be taking taxis to restaurants and expensive shops to buy things.  [Hear that, Bill?];

8.  Exercise — haha! what’s that? — for those who are, ah,  “old.”  Patti, my Pilates instructor, is especially gung-ho on this one; she even gave me some written material about the benefits of Pilates she prepared for some other presentation but assured me I could feel free to use for the blog. She hasn’t actually ever read the blog, so her material may not be funny enough, but I suppose I could tinker with it, based on recent experience with what Pilates people call “The Reformer” and I call “The Torquemada”;

9. Personal maintenance, an endlessly fruitful subject for ladies who are getting old.  [Probably not so interesting, though, to any men who might stumble upon this blog.]  Could be broken down into separate posts:

  •  hair, hairdressers and fooling the public;
  •  eyes, God willing;
  • skin and your options, none of them good;
  • makeup, otherwise known as “putting on your face”;
  • feet, footwear and pain;
  • undergarments (Spanx or not?);
  • toenails (yellowing) and pedicures (what color polish?);
  • what to wear at the beach if you must go (a burqua?) — and must you go at all.

Oh, I’ve written 1045 words already, and haven’t even begun!  I guess that’s it for today.  Please do cast votes (in the form of a “Comment” below) for any subject identified above that especially strikes your fancy.  Or even ones I haven’t thought of yet.

Now I’m going downstairs to sit by the fire.  It’s a gas fire, but it’s powered by electricity.  So I’d better take advantage of it while the power lasts.  Who knows when a tree may topple a wire and leave us in the cold and dark?

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See you tomorrow.

I hope.