Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Dangers of Exercise (Richmond, VA)

Exercise is dangerous to your health. This unfortunate truth has been hit home to me time and time again.

The first time it hit me, it did so with force. I was 21 years old, pitching a no-hitter in Manhattan's Central Park, with a group of friends, when a man (who had asked to join us) smashed a line drive into my face. Don't believe it if someone tells you that a softball is a soft ball. That sucker lifted me up, then deposited me on the ground four to six feet from my launching pad. I had an out-of-body experience, watching myself fly through the air from a perspective about two feet south of Heaven. By the time the ambulance had arrived and the batter(er) had run away, I was convinced that all my teeth were going to spill out of my mouth. They were the only things that hurt; the ball had damaged the nerve in my face, leaving it numb -- a good thing, as I never felt the pain of my broken jaw, nose, and the bone under my eye. By the time I was back on my feet -- with two black and jagged-red radiating-line-decorated eyes, the gluey remnants of recently removed bandages still visible, and a crooked nose that would ensure that modeling could never be my profession -- I had sworn off soft, base, foot, and basketball or any sport or exercise involving round objects sailing through space that could come into close or far proximity with my face.

My next brush with the perils of exercise occurred years later. I was participating in a calisthenics class, and the instructor decided to break the group into teams and have us race each other. As a woman of already a certain age (but much younger), I was in my element. I used to sprint competitively, and this was a chance to strut my stuff. So, I hit the ground running, until I hit the ground, running. My knee promptly swelled up to the size of a bowling ball. I have avoided running, bowling, and the ground ever since.

I literally and figuratively hit a wall about a year and a half ago, while taking a combat aerobics class. You use moves from various martial arts, but there is no person-to-person contact in this type of exercise. There's not supposed to be any contact with walls, either. But on that ill-fated day, just a few minutes into the warm-up, I was moving forwards and back, when the next thing I knew, I was not. I found myself sitting up against the wall, my wrists hurting like hell, and with no memory of what had transpired. I emerged from the emergency room with a broken right wrist, a sprained wrong thumb, and a lump on the back of my head. I couldn't drive, dress myself, or type on the keyboard for the next two months or more. I managed to obtain a special pencil that attached to the middle finger of my left hand, but I could never read whatever it was that I wrote, so I ended up just using the device as an extended finger to indicate my anger -- if you know what I mean. Since then, I've kept my distance from combat, walls, and anyone or anything I consider backward.

I've probably erased from memory other exercise-related mishaps, but the latest occurred a few evenings ago. I was dancing with one of my salsa buddies, when I stepped on my very own foot. When I removed my shoe later that night, revealing broken skin and a bloody toe, I resolved to avoid referring to dancing as exercise.

Cold Spot (Richmond, VA)

These are the gloomy days, the chilly, rainy days of Richmond. Intro to Winter 101. Have there been four or five or a hundred of these days in a row? Don't know, but it feels as if this grayity has settled into my very bones.

Rain falls in cascades, sheets, cats and dogs, maybe even lions, tigers, and bears. Tempers run short and high.

Everyone looks pale and sickly. I feel rather ill, myself. Congested. Coughing. Sneezy and wheezy.

Surrendering to the malaise, I stay in bed for an entire day and night, mostly sleeping. I cut back on activities, missing dances, classes, and various intriguing events. I will unsnail once the clouds lift and the sun shines.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Going Deaf or Going Daft? (Richmond, VA)

I have an excuse. The music is blaring, so I've got my ears plugged and can hear hardly a word that anyone cares to say. But the woman who's just been introduced to me -- and whose name I didn't hear and would've forgotten immediately if I had (I've never met a name that I could remember without multiple exposures), isn't plugged out or in. She says (and I DO hear this): "I'm going to call you by a nickname."

"No you're not," I respond.

The woman who introduced us helpfully chimes in with a suggestion: "Barbie."

I glare at her. "Absolutely not!"

I look at her friend and offer my own suggestion: "How about if you just call me Barbara?"

"Sure," she replies with enthusiasm, "but what's your real name?"

"Barbara," I say.

"Now, that's really strange," she remarks.

I walk away. The exchange seems weird to me, too.

Tall Tales 2 (Richmond, VA)

Apparently, my doctor was concerned about shrinkage. She ordered a bone density scan for me because petite people seem to be at high risk of breaking their sparrow-like bones.

I dutifully fill out the pre-scan questionnaire. I am accustomed to saying that I am almost 5'l" -- as measured by the Baltimore Aquarium's temporary exhibit that compared height and weight to the size of a baby whale. (I'm smaller). Because there isn't enough room to write "almost," I scribble 5'1" in the space where it asks for my last known height.

When the nurse (who is at least 5'20") measures me, she snarks something like, "Aha! You've already shrunk some! You're only 5'1/2" tall."

That so-called nurse is so so-called tall that she actually compresses my skull by flattening my hair until it becomes ingrown! In addition, I've long suspected and am now convinced that all of the measurement tools in my doctor's office are out of date, balance, and whack. For instance, the scale adds five pounds that someone else must have left behind, it doesn't take stock of the heavy-weight materials used in the undergarments that I wear, and it doesn't subtract the 13 lbs. of water that I drink and the breakfast and lunch I eat before my appointments.

Everything is wrong about this, I'm sure you will agree. Who, after all, would have the more accurate measurements? The well respected, scientifically accurate and internationally acclaimed Baltimore Aquarium or some little medical practice that nobody's even heard of outside of certain ever-shrinking circles in Richmond, Virginia?

Anyone looking at me (except for my son, who is completely impossible when it comes to talking about my height -- he says that I don't have any...) can see that I am MUCH taller than my mother ever was -- even at her zenith: At 5 feet, in her stocking feet, she ended up being taller than all of her friends; she was the only one among them who didn't shrink with age and time. And furthermore, if math really made sense, five feet plus two feet would equal seven feet, right?

And while we're not too far from the subject of my son, I must explain that when he was about four years old -- still knee-high to a grasshopper and about chin-high to his mother -- I made the mistake of telling him that in the final chapter of my favorite book, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, the family matriarch (Raquel) had become so wizened and shrunken that her great-grandchildren stored her in a dresser drawer and played with her as if she were a doll. This son of mine piped up with his own creative and frightening rift on this already disturbing vision: "Mom," he told me, "when you get old I'll keep you in a shoebox, dress you in clown clothes, and use you as a bookmark."

With this in mind, you will appreciate that as much as I support my son's love of reading and as much as I hope that he will continue to involve me in his life, my need to stand tall, keep my chin up and my shrinkage down is high on my to-do list.