As someone who grew up in New York City, summertime in my youth was punctuated with short trips to the Jersey Shore’s Atlantic City. For me, summer time is a time to let go of routine and let the Id take over. I am not much of a gambler but the experience of the boardwalk was enough to make the drive worthwhile. Three years ago, my husband discovered The Silverball Pinball museum on Asbury Park’s boardwalk and I knew that I had found my compulsion- my “low risk” Atlantic City.
The Silverball Museum on Asbury Park’s board walk offers hourly, daily, weekly and yearly admission. The museum’s vintage pinball machines are displayed by decade. All of the machines are refurbished and in working order. The price of admission allows unlimited playtime on these very special machines. Last Saturday night, my husband, son and I stopped in- hoping to get an hour of pinball- only to realize that we hit the jack pot when the staff told us that since we came in after 6PM, we qualified for the museum’s unlimited playtime until 1 am. This is when I realized that pinball might qualify for an addiction.
There is a new research outlined in MIT’s Dr. Natasha Dow Schull’s new book, Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton University Press),which basically says that compulsive gamblers who use these fast paced machines are not gambling to win but to win enough so that they can keep playing and remain in the “zone”. When asked to describe the “machine zone” a compulsive gambler named Mollie describes the experience like this:
It’s like being in the eye of the storm, is how I’d describe it. Your vision is clear on the machine in front of you, and you can’t really hear anything. You aren’t really there-you’re with the machine and that is all you’re with”
The “Zone” is what I experience when I am allowed to play unlimited pinball. I’m not that picky-any 70s era machine will do for me; my husband, however, likes to try out a few machines until he finds a “friend”. Once that connection to the machine is found, I think the experience of being “one with the machine” is the same. The Who’s song, “Pinball Wizard” describes the wizard (Tommy) “He stands like a statue and becomes part of the machine”.
This zone is the cornerstone and driver for many people- whether it is sex, shopping, athletics, or work- being in the zone, is the feeling that keeps us doing the behavior and in many cases makes us expert. And yes (if you are wondering), I have very high scores in pinball and am very solvent.
I’ve only been lifting free weights for the past five years, but as an outsider to gym culture, I hope my list will be helpful to those neophytes who find that they have to share small workout facilities with people they would not normally associate. Sometimes it can be intimidating to be a woman in a male dominated place; there are lots of passive- aggressive ways that men use to make sure that you are aware that you have intruded on their sacred space and make you uncomfortable. I have provided some ways to help you fend them off.
If the younger, off -duty firemen or police men talk about their exploits with “dancing girls” at their latest convention in Atlantic City (but slyly make a big deal about not wanting to talk about it in front of “a lady”), it is best to put on a maternal smile and encourage them “to expose” you to things that you don’t normally hear at “elementary school pick up,” however, be sure to remind them to wear condoms because you have heard about diseases from unprotected sex from watching Dr. Oz on TV.
If the older retired guys start talking about their dandruff and how there are no longer as many dandruff commercials in their youth, suggest that they come to gym in the afternoon to hear the other guys talk about hookers. Also, if the 50 plus crowd start to talk about missing the cut-off for Happy Hour, it’s time to put the earphones in.
Sometimes the teenagers forget to take off their heavy plates, because they are so used to mom picking up after them. If they do not respond when asked to remove them, I generally slam the plate on the floor and cry “These are just so heavy! I can’t possibly take these weights off by myself!”
If a man has legs that have less hair than yours, do not even ask him if he waxes and do not suggest that he might be a cross dresser. I have discovered that men, who have hairless legs, make less testosterone (than me) and- let’s face it- making testosterone is what lifting is all about.
If you see someone who scrupulously wipes his/her machine down prior to putting their sweaty body on it, but neglects to wipe down the machine after using- do not ask them if they are an attorney
In my experience, almost everyone in the gym appears to be more sexy, and interesting if they don’t talk too much. This is a unisex thing; I personally prefer to let my imagination fill in the gaps. I spent three years of watching a very fit man- who never, ever spoke, work out with these strange arm coverings. I imagined that it was some strange cure from the old country and that he spoke no English. When we finally did chat, I discovered that he had a very strong New York accent and the coverings were old sweat socks to soak up arm sweat.
After all, the gym is a place to concentrate on our bodies, improve our body image and feel sexy. There is nothing worse than learning that the cutie that you thought was stoic and tough, gossips as much as the mothers on their way to Zumba class. I know that this ALSO means that I WOULD DO BETTER TO STICK MY EARPHONES IN MY EARS AND SHUT UP.
PS: In the event of very hurt feelings or burned bridges, there are a lot of gyms out there- in fact- it might be wise to join more than one….
Me before cell phone cameras were banned at gym.
This was also published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser
When I first heard about “return of the 17-year Cicadas” here in Westfield, New Jersey, I told my husband that I was considering a very long vacation- far away- for the bug reunion. People warned me that our town is particularly populated with the red-eyed, fig shaped bugs. I am seriously bug phobic after growing up in New York City in a roach invested apartment building in the days before Combat. I don’t really mind bugs out doors as long as I can run away as needed. I was not sure that I could handle this with grace.
Three weeks ago, I walked my son home from school and saw a few. The middle school girls shrieked a lot behind me but it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone warned it would be. I did not know that that was the beginning. I think I was thrown off guard by all of the rainy days. I am not sure what cicadas do in the rain but they are not singing. It took me awhile to realize that this new strange high-pitched whirring sound was coming from the bugs. At first, I thought it was malfunctioning equipment from distant construction. As the volume got louder, it reminded me of the sound of a poorly maintained truck stuck in beach traffic two or three cars near me on a stopped highway. This past week, the sound has become a much louder -like a fleet of alien flying saucers hovering over me everywhere that I go (think Hitchcock’s Birds)!
In these past three weeks, I have had five cicadas in my house and I keep a Swiffer to “mop-poke” the bugs that I find on the front stairs to my house everyday. My dog has started to look slightly traumatized when he comes in from the back yard and my son really did when he told me that the bugs were crawling up his legs when he was playing Frisbee. He has started wearing shoes in the house. I have learned to trade in my Fit Flops for covered shoes and to walk only on treeless streets.
The recommended action for phobias is slow and steady desensitization and I think it might be working. I saw several playful little sparrows flying in my backyard before it registered that they were cicadas flying up to eat all of my trees. I was emboldened enough to even take these pictures.
My neighbor put this aluminum barrier. It seems to work. The bugs get stuck here trying to claw their way up the tree. I just don’t understand how they manage to climb up my Car.
I had to walk through the cicada gauntlet when I dropped off car with local mechanic. I had sneakers on but the crunching sounds were disturbing.
I took these shots when it poured . Perhaps the cicadas may have drowned and got stuck on this fence.
This one is trapped under glass until a brave person will take him out of my house.
It was a hard month for our family. Hurricane Sandy taught us that no matter how much preparation is done, our lives are interdependent on the grid. We just can not survive without our infrastructure without making significant changes. Last week we were rear ended by a young driver who just did not see that we had stopped. Was she texting? In hind sight there was nothing we could have done to avoid the collision. It was out of our hands and the calculated risk that we all take when we drive is that we depend on the assumption that the drivers who surround us on the road are careful, skilled and aware of their surroundings.
As a control freak that is learning to let go, I can only cry at the randomness of catastrophe and try to stick to things that can get me closer to some sense of control over the end product and my surrounding. Since I am not crafter, cook or house cleaner (this week), I tried to roast my own coffee. Although I know that I will never actually grow my own coffee, it does give me pleasure to think that I can take back control over the roasting process that a few shop keepers and large companies now hold over us. Roasting coffee was historically in the hands of a few until the commercialization of the process in the early 20th century. Commercially roasted and ground coffee was considered to be a modern time saver and until the Folgerization of America, many families roasted their own brew.
Home coffee roasting is considered to be a kind of “oddball” hobby and if you look at the number of You Tube videos of people roasting coffee in their back yard air popcorn poppers, you will see what I mean. Through the internet I learned that roasting green coffee can be done inexpensively in a Whirley -Pop stove- top popcorn popper. I do not use a thermometer (although it is recommended). The beans can be ordered over the internet easily. I chose Sumatra for my experiment.
Green Sumatra Coffee Beans
Coffee beans need to be roasted at temperatures ranging between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Gas burners should be turned lower than electric burners and every source warns that when the beans roast, they release lots of moisture so open all of your windows. The smell of roasting beans is bread-y and grain-y at the start and then becomes more recognizable as coffee as the beans become darker brown in color. I actually waited for my first batch to turn -what I thought was a coffee color- a very dark brown and may have been scorched them. I subsequently read that one ideal color is the “brown of a monk’s robe”.
Scorched steaming beans
I have since learned to run with my pot of hot beans to the back door to let it steam away outside. I can only hope that my neighbors are very jealous. The beans must constantly be agitated. The agitation of the beans helps to even out the heat and remove the chaff that is still sticking on the beans. This is best facilitated by shaking the colander around.
Home roasting may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I find that for me it is a very relaxing process that appeals to my sensual nature. I think that it may even be a slight aphrodisiac because I was propositioned by a workman while roasting coffee. It may be that I reminded him of his mother with my efforts in the kitchen. My house certainly has a better smell to obfuscate the fact that my efforts are not spent mopping and dusting.
The one major drawback to all of this, is that every batch tastes different. There are too many variants with roasting by smell and eye. So in my efforts to gain control over my universe, I have actually relinquished it ( unless I get a much more expensive automated home roaster). I am learning to take pleasure in the random nature of life.
Back to the routine two weeks after Sandy – today the weight room and the conversation was geared around generators. What was the best kind to get heat? Would the town permit a natural gas standby? Was the town responsible in part for their negligent maintenance of town trees prior to Sandy? 90% of our town lost power; many lost power for two weeks. This has been the third time in one year where our town has suffered from significant power outages.
Our family is a camping family and we have much of the equipment that we need to survive off the grid. The problem this time was heat- our house maintained a temperature of 55 degrees. It is hard to find safe ways to heat a house in cold weather. Many houses also depend on sump pumps. Last year, after Irene, we had no flooding in our basement- until the fourth day after a power outage. It was my birthday and my kids and I were using buckets to bail the water. I made everyone wear good rubber soles in case the power came back. My daughter took out the wall to wall carpet for my birthday present.
This time we were prepared. The night of Sandy, we knew that we would lose power the question was when? That weekend, I bagged all of the lose leaves and took them away from the front curb. We made several trips to the conservation center. My husband thought that I was crazy but I explained that we did not need to have blockage of the gutter in front of the house or any obstacles for emergency workers in the event of heavy rains. We gassed up our cars and I had bought water and easy foods to cook by gas stove. I did all of the laundry, washed all dishes and cleaned the house. I have learned that a cluttered house is a safety issue. In a house without electricity, the low winter light and diminished daylight give us short periods to get out stuff in order for the long cold nights. I was the drill sergeant my husband confided to a neighbor that I was a “perfect storm”. I brought up my emergency box. The winds were strong and we lost power around 9:00 Monday the October the 29th. We made plans to have kids sleep in the least likely room to get hit by a tree.
I was not really prepared for how difficult it would be to be off the grid when most of the surrounding infrastructure was also affected. We are truly interdependent we don’t farm or have local food supplies that are not shipped via trucks. We need mass transit, we need traffic lights and we need gas. There have been predictions of a hurricane hitting the east coast of this magnitude. However, I have learned that no matter how much I prepare in life there is always something else that comes along to surprise. It seems to be human need to assign blame to explain away good luck or bad luck but sometimes there is just no rhyme or reason. We could be hit by solar storms, earth quakes or pandemics. The only thing we can do is prepare as best we can.
Here are some of the pictures that I managed to take when I had enough charge in my I Phone.
DAY ONE -October 30
Very few cars out. It is hard to get around due to closed roads where downed trees have cut power lines. There is only one gas station pumping gas and no lines- yet. This man is going for a gas run for his generator.
Street signs have blow off posts and stores are closed in downtown district
Streets have been closed down because traffic lights have lost power. There is some police presence to manage main streets. Getting around is too difficult and most people are not on the road yet. My son said our downtown looked like a zombie apocalypse.
A tree came through the roof of this neighborhood house
Day Two- October 31
As I wrote earlier, 10% of the town kept power. Our local Walgreen’s was informally letting customers charge phones on first day. By the second day, they had put up two power strips to allow customers to charge up.
My husband was able to find WI-fi and charge in our favorite coffee/yogurt shop, Bohemian Raspberry to telecommute. There was no train service and buses limited bus service into Manhattan. His co workers thought that it was some warm hippy place. I should take a picture because it is actually not at all what it sounds like. The building was a former KFC takeout joint.
Day Five and Six- November 3& 4
Special trucks have been flown in on Military aircraft. We spoke to crews from Jefferson City and Boston who have been sent to help with the repair.My husband and I searched for a bagel shop to donate food for local crews.
In an effort to conserve gas, I walked two miles to Home Depot where I was looking for tape and caulk to seal up all of our drafts and some fencing to fix hole from downed tree limb. Gas cans were sold out as were Lantern and D batteries. Met up with people who I knew and heard stories of generators and gas being stolen from houses. One friend’s husband worked for Comcast and the generator was stolen from home he worked on (the thieves turned on the lawnmower so that the people would not hear that an engine kicked out). Our crossing guard’s generator was stolen; the thieves waited until they turned out the lights at night. One neighbor was electrocuted by live wire that he moved. School was going to be out for another week since many roads were still closed and three schools did not have power.Temperatures are dropping. My 75-year-old mother with cancer got power in her apartment complex.She would not have been able to handle another drop.Got power Sunday night.
Slowly houses started getting power…ours was not one so we found one warm place within close driving distance to get cheese fries and hope that we would have power when we got home. Much disappointment when we could see lights all around us but not on our block.
Have discovered that old fireplaces like this actually are not heat efficient and take warm air out of the house.
Day Seven , Eight and Nine-November6,7&8
We got power.School remained closed for the district it was estimated that 3,700 people still did not have power and 70-80 roads were still closed. We prepared for the ensuing Nor’easter.We invited everyone we knew to have a sleepover and warm dinner. My husband looked forward to the prospect of business trip. Apparently, getting to LA was easier than getting into Manhattan
Some people who had just gotten their power, lost it again in storm.
Day Fourteen- November 12
Here are some of the pictures. The town said that 13 houses were deemed uninhabitable and I think that these are two of them,
It has been obsessively busy around the house these last few weeks. After taking a nine-year sabbatical to be a stay at home mother, I have started working again from my home. This wasn’t what I had in mind. I was hoping to get dressed up, put make-up on and go to an office. Not only would I not be faced with our family’s daily clutter but I imagined having an adoring male harem admire me around a water cooler. For the these past years I have been surrounded by almost entirely by women-other stay at home mothers whose husbands all work such ridiculous hours that they are never home. Sometimes I imagine that we are almost like the whaling wives who watched their men go off to sea for months at a time.
Fifteen years ago, I did the mommy track telecommuting thing for 8 years while I watched my husband leapfrog me on the career ladder. At the time, we had earning parity. We made the choice for me to stay home for a variety of factors: one of which had to do with my obsessive-ness over my child’s well being from my own less than positive experience with caretakers and my desire to breast feed on demand.
My mother worked and was an excellent role model for me but I wanted my child to have the things that I did not have. No mean babysitters, playdates with school friends and a safe neighborhood to grow up in. However, I realized that my children were not getting a very important thing-to me: A working mother as a role model. I feared that they were in danger of developing a sense of entitlement about our rich material life. Because they did not actually see any of us ‘working’, they had no concept of what it is to work in an office, kiss someone’s ass , compromise your beliefs…a little… clients are right after all.
They would not be prepared for the new world of short-term job stints and the need to change careers on a dime. Dad works all the time. But that is “away” in some abstract office that they visit only occasionally when we all come in to watch him work over the weekend. He has been employed by the same company for years and has survived five mergers. I call him the cockroach. No one really has job security. We now have to create our work.
When children grow up with a family business around them as did farmers, craftsmen and store owners, everyone had to chip in to make the business a success. My father recalls seeing his mother work in the basement making coils for use in submarines during World War II. It was his only memory of her doing work that did not involve cleaning, cooking and diapers. How would my children ever know what it is to sell themselves? Could they ever pull themselves up by their boots straps the way that I have?
Now that I have started to work, I allow my children to be involved in the process. They know that they have to be quiet when I make phone calls. Some of my calls involve difficult cold calling and tons of rejection. My fifteen year old daughter will listen and pat my back after a particularly hard one. I have let her take first stab on logo designs and she has helped me to set up our company’s website. From this experience, she has decided that she does not want to be a graphic artist and I have learned that sometimes it is better not to get family involved. However, through the process, we are all learning to pitch in to make a go of it. My daughter has offered to work babysitting duties into the week so that I can have my business meetings. In the end, I feel my children will be better prepared for the world of work and the issues of balance, self discipline and the knowledge that they can create their own futures.
I was terrified driving to the cardiologist. My friend had checked out his credentials on line the night before. She even did a tarot card reading. This man, who I was about to meet, was going to have a long happy relationship with me and/or become my husband. He was my second opinion. The first Electrophysiology expert was dying to get into my heart to do an ablation. He mentioned that they could even put in a pacemaker if they had to burn out too much of my heart (by mistake?). The goal was to fix an arrhythmia to keep my heart from beating too quickly (up to a rate of 280 beats per minute) causing me intermittent unpredictable temporary loss of vision and sometimes loss of consciousness.
My new doctor was adorable. He did not mind me rummaging through his shavers when he first walked in. I told him that he kept me waiting so long I figured that I would shave my legs. I also showed him a picture that my friend just sent me on my I phone. He was gracious and agreed that she was very beautiful ( well …she was on a motorcycle and had a great push up bra) However, I could tell he was much more interested in me and my heart. We made each other laugh. I explained that I could never have anyone near my groin (point of insertion for wires) that was much younger than I was. He quickly told me that he was 47. I am 48. He also explained that he was not going to jump to burn my heart. He was no “cowboy” He was going to do it the way they taught him at Harvard (that was his cute way of letting me know that he was qualified to work with me). It was like a first date. When he listened to my heart, I noticed the sweet little stray hairs on the top of his bald head. He had more tests to do. He was going to get to know me slowly and safely.
When I was leaving the office the receptionist and I mocked him for calling me “young lady”. He took it in stride. He mentioned that I was one of the youngest women to come into his office. Behind me was a feisty woman her mid 70s. She told me that the doctors had given her a heart transplant. I asked her if she received memories of the person who had owned the heart. She answered “yes”. When the heart was placed in her body, she started looking at men…all men. Her husband laughed. She said when she discussed it with the heart donor’s mother the mother said “that is my girl.”
You see I still believe that the heart is mysterious and is much more than any other organ. I can dislike dentists, gynecologists, and GPs and still use them if I know they are good doctors. However, the man (and many of them do seem to be men) that I let touch my heart will have to be special.
Previously Published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser September 9, 2011
If only I had consulted the internet before today. There are so many posts on how to tell someone they smell. For months there has been a smelly au pair at my gym. I have tried to ignore it but I can’t. Whenever I see this poor girl anywhere in town, I have to fight the urge to gag.
Unfortunately the cardio room of my local Y is small. It is always a little smelly but when this cute little foreign girl gets on the elliptical machine, her body heats up and the room soon reeks of onions, garlic and stale sweat from the day before. My sense of smell is superior to most others. When I was pregnant, I was able to detect small gas leaks in my house were undetectable to our local electric company without special machinery. Perhaps I can chalk it to hormones. A friend of mine recently noticed that she was also sensitive in our heightened premenopausal state and could even tell when her executive assistant was menstruating.
I have discussed this smell problem to a friend- who is staff at the Y- but I realize that it is so awkward many people won’t say anything. The policy is that a director of the same sex must approach the person. However, months have gone by and the girl still smells. She also wears the same T shirt most days, so that may be the problem. I have noticed that many college boys and divorced men have a habit of wearing their gym clothes more than once. The result is the unmistakable fermenting odor of day or week old sweat that is familiar to any high school athlete.
Earthy smells are fine with me. I love men to have a scent. My husband does not ever smell stinky but rather like fast food french fries and the stinkiest he gets is where he smells like slightly rancid fries- but still yummy enough to eat. I love the raw smell of men and realize that it is one of my key indicators for arousal. Fresh sweat is sexy, however, old sweat is not.
Of course women smell too. You only have to go into a stall of a public bathroom to smell the day old aroma of the woman’s groin that peed minutes before. We produce so much liquid, this is why a woman’s own vaginal juices make the best perfume to attract the opposite sex; however, my smelly au pair is not sexy to me and I am now forced to change my machine when she approaches. Sometimes I do it preemptively, not only to get away from the smell, but so that the other gym members don’t mistake me as the offender.
However, today, I ran into another au pair who works out in the weight room. I gathered up my courage to speak to him about his fellow country woman. This man is so sweet and I knew he could help me break it to her gently so that she would not be alienated by her fellows nor have her feelings hurt. I suggested that he mention a crazy woman who lifts with him that was touting the health benefits of using a little hand sanitizer under the arms before her work out. It is mostly alcohol based and will not interfere with the body’s natural mechanisms the way that antiperspirants do. Even if she does not follow-up on this advice, I have no doubt that the other guys who were ease dropping on our conversation will.
Previously Published on Open Salon May 23 2012 under Snarkychaser
Seven years ago I bought some ancient bronze Roman rings from a little antique shop in Red Bank, NJ. The rings had been dug up in Bulgaria and were dated 1st century. I love these rings and wear them all the time. They have a green patina and are so worn that it looks as if I am wearing something that my plumber might have pulled out of our house.
Most of the women in my suburb have big diamonds on their fingers, and love to tell the stories about them to anyone who asks. No one has ever asked me about me about my rings. Perhaps they believe that I am wearing my grandfather’s rusted Boy Scout ring never imaging the history that my rings have seen. Most likely the ring just isn’t of interest to anyone except me. Each ring only cost $20… certainly not a month’s salary. In fact, I gave a lot of them away; I thought they were so neat.
I have always had a sneaking suspicion that perhaps they were not really Ancient Roman rings. This suspicion was heightened when I came across copper rings in an Indian import store that bore many of the same markings.
I was never able to find much information on the rings of Ancient Rome or of the Roman’s occupation in Bulgaria. I did once read that Roman men used signet rings as a means of identification on their written correspondence and that they wore their rings at the knuckle. They were fairly prevalent with the middle class so it might explain why they were able to find so many.
When I went to Rome and saw rings just like mine in the Vatican Museum, I reaffirmed to myself that my rings were real. During the years, would go back to the antique store and was even more gratified to see that the vendor did not carry any more ancient Roman rings. He did not have them until this past weekend.
Mine are much nicer but he had some other interesting things.
I am seriously considering going back to get some coal from the Titanic.
Previously Published on Open Salon January 3, 2011
I met my friend, who asked to be called Natalie, or maybe Donna in this post for dinner this weekend. She marveled at my perfectly straight hair. I divulged that I had just gotten a Brazilian Blowout. Natalie/Donna and I both have full thick curly hair. Natalie/Donna gets her hair blown out professionally once a week, and for half of the week it is sleek and straight and for the other half it is wild and curly. Natalie/Donna enjoys having her two different looks.
When I saw Natalie/Donna for first time at the gym, she had her curly hair. She was very sexy and I later told her that I imagined her to be the plaything of a rich mobster. She would go from machine to machine toting her designer bag with her head down and her curly hair covering her face. She was so slender and willowy that I was shocked when I noticed that she lifted seriously heavy weights. I also could not help but notice that all of the men that seemed to check her out while she was so oblivious.
Later, as we became friends, I went out with her when she had her straight hair- just blown out for the night. “Natalie/ Donna! You look like a rich socialite trophy wife now!” Well I suppose that neither of these perceptions is really true since she is extremely smart and an accomplished classical musician….oh and she was far from a trophy wife.
However, hair does make a statement. I have noticed that people have always treated me differently when I had straight neat hair. Perhaps this perception dates back to the time when I was 12 and cut my hippy long wavy hair and my class mate, a boy, said “Oh you look so much better with out all of that orangutan hair!”
My really new straight hair gives me a “no nonsense” image. I seem much more business like and formidable (is it necessary to say that this is not my usual?) Another friend said that my new hair makes me look thinner. How can I ever go back? What do you think? My husband suggested that I might try this experiment with bigger breasts and see if anyone treats me differently.
previously published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser January 17, 2011