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In a (Fantasy) League of His Own

Many children have an imaginary friend when they are young. Together they have tea parties, sleep overs, share secrets and just enjoy each other’s company. However, there comes a time in most young children’s lives when they outgrow this relationship. But what happens when a person’s fictitious childhood friend grows into a lifelong bosom buddy? And, what happens when that person doesn’t have just one imaginary friend, but enough to field a baseball team? Apparently, that person joins my gym.

When I arrived at the gym, I headed towards the treadmill, but my path was blocked by a gentleman. I thought he had just chosen an inconvenient place to stretch, but after a few seconds, it became obvious to me that he wasn’t stretching; he was pretending to pitch a baseball into the men’s locker room. I’m not talking about a half-hearted pitch that he was lobbing over the plate. This man was shaking off signs from an invisible catcher then pretending to throw a ball just like a real pitcher would with the full wind-up, throw and follow-through. What was even more astounding was that he waited for the catcher to throw the ball back to him, made a show of catching it then checked the bases before he threw the next pitch.

 

I wasn’t sure of the etiquette required in this situation. Would it be rude to just barge right between the fake pitcher’s mound and the plate? Should I try to squeeze behind the pitcher and hope I don’t get whacked in the face during his wind up? Or, is the polite thing to do wait until the inning is over then walk past when the other imaginary team takes the field? I waited while he threw two more pitches then realized he was oblivious to me standing there and to the notion that he was blocking the way to the workout floor. While he was checking the bases for runners, I snuck behind him to get to the treadmill.

Normally I find baseball to be a torturously boring sport to watch. You would think that the boredom of an actual baseball game pales in comparison to the boredom of watching one when there isn’t even a ball, yet somehow, I found it riveting. He pitched what seemed like an entire inning then stopped and went to lift some weights. I guess he had retired the side and was using the rest of the gym as his bullpen. Needless to say, I was intrigued by his unusual public behavior. There weren’t many people in the gym that afternoon, but as I walked on the treadmill, I looked around to see if anyone else noticed this odd scene. If they did, they weren’t obvious about it. No one made eye contact with me with a “Can you believe this guy?” look in their eyes.

I had a conundrum on my hands. I was so fascinated by what this man was doing that I wanted to watch to see what he would do next, but I didn’t want to seem rude by staring at him. I was struggling between being a mature adult and giggling out loud. The only way to prevent myself from giggling was to avoid watching him. This meant that I had to walk with my head turned sideways which, given my clumsiness, is risky business. You would think concentrating on not falling would have been enough to distract me from thinking about this man and his antics, but it was not.

In an effort to stem the wave of giggles building in my chest, I tried to rationalize this man’s behavior; perhaps he is a baseball coach and is working on his form to improve muscle memory. That was my  theory until I glanced in his direction and saw him crouched down, hands poised under the buttocks of an invisible center, waiting to receive the snap of a football.  He trotted backwards cocking his arm, checked downfield then threw the pass while dodging an oncoming, yet unseen, tackle. That was it! I was hooked and could not look away. Giggles be damned! This was the most entertainment I had during a workout since I realized I could download audio books to my i-pod.

After I averted my eyes long enough to get my giggling under control, I looked back again. Now, this all-star athlete was shooting free throws at a non-existent basketball hoop. I suppose one of the other invisible players had fouled him, but couldn’t figure out how a referee might have seen the foul go down. His free throws involved an elaborate ritual where he bounced the pretend ball several times then took the shot, retrieved the ball and took another shot.

What luck I had to witness such a varied display of athletic prowess. I watched him with anticipation trying to guess which sport he might mimic next: tennis, golf, Frisbee. Alas, he must have only earned his varsity letters in those three sports. The next day, he was back again, but this time he had a prop. The bats, balls and players might have been imaginary, but the baseball glove on his hand was not. He continued pitching and I looked around for the reactions of the other people in the gym. Not one other person seemed fazed by his unusual behavior. They didn’t even seem irritated that he was blocking their way to and from the locker rooms. People ignored him and walked around him like he wasn’t even there. That’s when I began to wonder if he was a figment of my imagination.

He Shook Me All Night Long

There was yelling. There was moaning. The sheets were tangled and the bed was shaking all night long. No, this is not going to be a post reviewing 50 Shades of Grey nor is it going to be a post about a wild night of sex. (Sorry if that disappoints you.) This is what an average night of sleep is like in my bed now that Oregano is training for his first 5K run.

Oregano has always been athletic. He was a competitive swimmer in college and his strength lies in his upper body. Despite knowing this about himself, he decided it was time for a fitness challenge, so he signed up to participate in a 5K run. My husband, the man who breaks a sweat scooping out the litter box and has refused to go to the pool on summer days because it was “too hot to go swimming” has decided to run his first 5K race in the heat and humidity that is mid-July in New Jersey. While I admire his enthusiasm for setting a goal, I am seriously concerned about his lack of self-awareness.

He began his training regimen a month ago and I have noticed a disturbing trend. I can’t get a good night’s sleep on the nights he works out. Taking up running has put a new stress on Oregano’s legs causing him to get calf cramps. After he falls asleep, he twists the sheets so that his feet are sticking out and scooches down to the bottom of the bed. He puts his toes against the footboard and repeatedly flexes them causing the bed to shake back and forth.

I know there is a legitimate medical condition called Restless Leg Syndrome, but I am suffering from a different disorder that I refer to as “rest-less” leg syndrome. His legs are making me rest less. If the shaking was consistent and rhythmic, I wouldn’t be complaining because it would gently lull me to sleep and keep me sleeping like a baby in a cradle. Unfortunately, these shakes occur at odd intervals and last for several minutes. They stop just long enough for me to drift off to sleep only to be startled awake by another wave of shaking. Trying to be a supportive wife, I tolerated this new behavior thinking it was only temporary while his body adjusted to the new workouts.  When a week passed without me having a solid night’s sleep, my cheerful, supportive disposition disappeared faster than a person with narcolepsy nods off.

One night he fell asleep before me and the shaking started. I couldn’t take it anymore so I gently woke him up by rubbing his back. “Honey, slide up toward the top of the bed. You’re feet are on the footboard and you’re shaking the entire bed.”

Without opening his eyes he responded, “No, I’m not. I don’t feel anything.”

“Sweetie, you’re asleep. You don’t know you’re doing it and you don’t feel it. I’m sitting here watching House Hunters International; the bed is shaking back and forth and you are the cause. Trust me. I’m the one who’s conscious right now.”

He wiggled up towards the head of the bed and the shaking stopped. When my show was over I fell asleep only to be awakened an hour later when the bed was shaking.

I woke him up again, but not so gently this time. “Move up! You are shaking the bed again!”

The voice from the bottom half of the bed said, “I’m stretching my calves. They’re sore from the cramps. This makes them feel better.”

“If you need to stretch, get out of bed. The floor is a lovely place to stretch and it won’t disturb my sleep,” I yelled and rolled back over hoping to fall asleep before the bed started rocking again.

The next morning, still groggy from my fitful night’s sleep, I told Oregano he had 2 options: speak to the trainers at his gym to see if they have any suggestions about reducing calf cramps or start sleeping in the guest room. That night he returned home limping after his workout and said, “I spoke to the trainer. She told me that there are several things that could be causing my cramps. We’ve narrowed it down to bananas and shoes.”

“Bananas and shoes?” I asked.

“She said that I may not be getting enough potassium and suggested eating a banana a day.” He stood there stretching his calf muscles against the door frame and continued, “The trainer also told me that there is a runners’ shoe store about 45 minutes away. They have a treadmill I can run on that will analyze my stride and the structure of my feet then tell me which sneakers are best for my running style. She warned me that the sneakers would be expensive.”

“With all that technology being used, how could the shoes not be expensive?” I asked. “Why not try the banana option first? A dollar’s worth of bananas could solve this problem. It’s an inexpensive and tasty solution.”

“Well, I don’t really like to eat bananas,” he said.

“You’d rather spend $200 on a pair of sneakers than eat a banana?”

“Let’s just say that when I eat a lot of bananas, there are intestinal ramifications.”

“Oh, I understand. Too many bananas means the runners can’t leave the starting blocks,” I said and winked at him.

“Exactly! So, you can see why buying new sneakers is a more appealing option.”

“There is one more option to consider. It doesn’t have any intestinal side effects and it won’t cost any money.”

“Really?! Were you doing some research, too? What’s the solution?”

“Stop running. You can still do the 5K, but jog or walk, don’t run. The cramps are your body’s not so subtle way of telling you it doesn’t enjoy running. The sleep-stretching you do every night is a subliminal message. Why not listen to your body? You’ll stop getting cramps. I’ll start sleeping through the night again. It’s a win-win situation.”

The race is less than a month away and Oregano has continued his training. He hasn’t eaten any bananas and didn’t go to the high-tech sneaker store, but he does have a new pair of more supportive running shoes. I am looking for a screwdriver and a way to remove the footboard from the bed. Compromise is a key ingredient to a successful marriage.

** post-script – 6/29/12 **

Thank you to all of the readers who took the time to leave comments with helpful information about preventing leg cramps by staying hydrated,  proper stretching techniques, timing of workouts, drinking pickle juice, slipping soap under the sheets and the health benefits of bananas. I think together we may be weakening Oregano’s resistance to bananas. Just this morning, he found this little surprise on his desk from Yerba Buena, one of his co-workers who is also a reader. 

Surviving an Encounter with The Rack

There has always been an air of mystery surrounding Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. Whenever a new tour of the grounds of the 2700 acre estate owned by the wealthy Duke family was offered, we seized the opportunity to see what was behind the stone walls and guarded gates. The strict security and limited access during those tours have always left us wanting to be able to linger and explore more of the natural beauty of the estate. So when the Duke Farms Foundation revised its interpretation of the wishes Doris Duke left in her will and opened 1,000 acres of the estate to the public, Oregano and I were excited to visit. Accessing the 12 miles of biking trails would be a great way to see the gardens and woodland areas while getting some exercise. Little did we know that before we could begin our aerobic exercise, we’d need to warm up with an exercise in frustration by trying to install a trunk- mounted bike rack to our car. During medieval times, the rack was used to torture people. While the use of that particular type of rack fell out of favor hundreds of years ago, Oregano and I have discovered that the modern-day trunk-mounted bike rack could be classified as an instrument of torture.

With the hope of sparing someone from the same torture we experienced, I offer you this user-friendly guide to surviving an encounter with a trunk-mounted bike rack.

**Photos are re-enactments for illustrative purposes. We were unable to find the humor in the situation during the 3 hours it took us to prepare to leave for our bike riding adventure at Duke Farms.**

  1. Purchase bike rack to make traveling to new and exciting bike trails easier.
  2. Attempt to attach the bike rack to your trunk by yourself.
  3.  Untangle the straps you’ve managed to wrap around your body during multiple failed installation attempts.
  4. Place your new bike rack in the garage preferably in a place where the numerous straps attached to it will not trip you every time you walk past it.
  5. Ask your spouse or a friend to help you install the bike rack because your poor visual-spatial skills have led to confusion and frustration.  NOTE: You may need to ask your spouse more than once. In my case, this single step took an entire year.
  6. Hunt through the garage for the installation manual which was right next to the bike rack, but must have been moved over the course of the year it sat unused.
  7. Decide to install bike rack without using the manual that you weren’t able to find.
  8. Return to the garage to search for the instruction manual with renewed vigor after several failed attempts at installing the bike rack to the trunk.
  9. Locate instruction manual after an exhaustive search.
  10. Read instruction manual.
  11. Begin installing bike rack to trunk.
  12. Curse.
  13. Repeat steps 10 through 12 as needed.
  14. Call the bike shop to see if someone can install the bike rack for you.
  15. Accept the fact that the bike shop personnel are too busy on a Saturday morning to assist you.
  16. Repeat steps 10 through 12 as needed.
  17. Celebrate the successful attachment of the bike rack to your car by chugging a vat of ice water and wiping the sweat from your forehead.
  18. Stop celebrating because you realize that you aren’t done yet. The bikes still need to be attached to the rack.

    Step 18: The rack is finally attached to the trunk. Now we just need to figure out how to attach the bicycles.

  19. Attempt to attach the largest, heaviest bike to the rack without reading that section of the manual because it looks self-explanatory.
  20. Consult instruction manual because attaching the bike is not as easy as it looks.
  21. Attach the man’s bike to the rack.
  22. Marvel at your success and give thanks that you are almost done.
  23. Attempt to attach the woman’s bike to the rack.
  24. Remove the man’s bike from the rack because you think it is interfering with your ability to attach the woman’s bike.
  25. Turn the woman’s bike in different directions as you try to attach it. Be careful not to get tangled in the brake cables or jam a handlebar into your ear.
  26. Scratch your head as you begin to realize there is no way to attach the woman’s bike because of its configuration.
  27. Google how to attach a woman’s bike and learn that you need a special adapter which you do not have.
  28. Break the news to your sweat-covered spouse/friend who is desperately trying to make the woman’s bike fit onto the rack.
  29. Relegate yourself to the idea that you have to go buy a $50 adapter because we live in a male dominated society.
  30. Drive to bike shop to purchase adapter.
  31. Celebrate the fact that the bike rack, albeit empty, remained affixed to the car for the duration of the trip to the bike shop.
  32. Drive home.
  33. Reattach the man’s bike to the rack.
  34. Place adapter on woman’s bike then attach it to the rack.

    Step 34: After a trip to the bike store and $50, the woman’s bike is ready to be mounted onto the rack.

  35. Step back to admire what you were able to accomplish with hard work and persistence.
  36. Realize that the front tire of the woman’s bike is dangerously close to the ground.

    Step 36: The jubilation of step 35 was short lived when we realized that the front tire of the woman’s bike was nearly touching the ground.

  37. Remove the woman’s bike from the rack.
  38. Remove the front tire of the woman’s bike. NOTE: Don’t forget to place the front tire inside the car or all of this work will have been for nothing when you reach your destination and have a bicycle with only one tire.
  39. Re-attach the woman’s bike to the rack. By now, you’re a pro at this. Practice makes perfect.
  40. Back out of the driveway to embark on your bike riding adventure.
  41. Pull back into the driveway when you feel the front tire of the man’s bike brush against the road.
  42. Remove the woman’s bike from the rack to gain access to the man’s bike.
  43. Remove the man’s bike from the rack then remove its front tire. (See note at step 38.)
  44. Re-attach the man’s bike to the rack. You should be really good at this by now.
  45. Re-attach the woman’s bike to the rack.
  46. Forget how sweaty, exhausted and cranky you are and hit the bike trails for some exercise.

This beautiful meadow of poppies at Duke Farms was the reward for our persistence.

Exercising Self-Control

There is a wealth of research indicating that a person’s peer group influences their behavior. People who spend time with friends who make questionable choices often find themselves in compromising positions. People who spend time with friends who make healthy choices often find themselves living a healthier lifestyle. Then there is me, I have friends who make healthy choices, but I wind up in compromising positions.

Two of my friends, Salt and Pepper, are Pilates instructors. In an effort to spice up the fitness class line up at the Wellness Center, they were piloting a new type of Pilates class. Each of them had participated in this class, but they wanted members’ opinions, so they asked me to join them on Friday night. 

“Wait a minute,” I said to Salt. “Isn’t this the class you took last week where you had to hold weights the whole time? The one you said left your arms so sore you couldn’t lift them up the next morning.”

“That was just the first week. I wasn’t used to holding the weights while doing the exercises,” said Salt trying to convince me.

“I haven’t been to a Pilates class in six years. If you weren’t used to it and your arms were sore, what hope do I have of making it through this class? Who’s going to come to my house and brush my teeth on Saturday morning when I can’t lift my arms?” I asked.                                         

“You’ll be fine. It’s just going to be us in class. It will be fun,” Salt and Pepper both said with overly eager smiles on their faces.

Fun and exercise don’t usually go together for me. I had a sneaking suspicion that their idea of fun and mine varied wildly, but I said I would consider it.

I needed to make an informed decision before subjecting myself to a potential torture session, so I e-mailed Pepper to ask her exactly what this class was going to entail. She explained that the weights are called Drumbellz. They are ¾ of a pound each and resemble drumsticks with tennis balls stuck to the ends. I had images of standing with my hands extended over my head for an hour holding these sticks, but Pepper told me that the Drumbellz were used as an extension of our arms as we perform flowing movements rounding our backs and opening our chests. That sounded like Pilates speak for “you’re going to be waving these sticks around while you’re moving.” I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up with the class and was worried that I’d make a fool of myself, but Pepper said the class wasn’t too intense. She was encouraging and told me to come and try to have fun.

I exercise several days a week and have for many years, but I prefer to exercise alone. Nothing about the group exercise experience is appealing to me. I don’t like watching myself moving in floor to ceiling mirrors. Well-intentioned instructors trying to “motivate” me by yelling at me to move faster irritate me. Synchronizing my body movements with a group of other humans is not something that comes naturally to me. Frankly, I can barely coordinate my own body movements to walk without tripping. There are other things at which I excel, but rhythm and coordination don’t make the list. After 41 years, I accept this. Despite this self-awareness, I agreed to attend the Drumbellz class with an open mind and a positive attitude.

Aside from being goaded into a Pilates class on a Friday night, having friends who are fitness instructors does have its advantages. When we entered the studio, they told me exactly where to stand so that I would be in the instructor’s blindspot. That was excellent insider information. When the instructor entered the room, she turned off most of the lights. Dim lighting and blindspots… this was a promising beginning! True to their word, Salt and Pepper stood on either side of me so that they could coach me if need be.

The minute the music started I knew I was in trouble. Sounds of tribal drum beats filled the studio. I shot Pepper a “you have got to be kidding me” look and she just smiled sheepishly at me. Drumbellz in hands, we started doing some simple movements. When the instructor’s Drumbellz began to glow and flash in the semi-darkness like a short version of light sabers from Star Wars, it was all I could do to stifle a laugh. I was fixated on the lights.  What made them blink? Did they flash in time to the music? I was so entranced by the lights that I didn’t notice how the instructor’s arms and legs were moving. It was completely distracting. In a class of this type, where I am supposed to be using my core muscles to support body movements, there are only so many muscles I can control at once. It was becoming very clear to me that if I was going to be able to exercise properly, I was not going to be able to stop myself from laughing uncontrollably. If I was going to control my inappropriate laugh reflex, I was going to struggle to maintain an upright posture. I mustered every ounce of self-control I had and attempted to restrain my urge to laugh. That, in itself, was quite a workout.

We were moving from side to side, jungle drum beat throbbing, Drumbellz flashing when all of a sudden the instructor yelled, “ARTICULATE!” and bent over moving her arms and legs while alternating sides. I had to stop moving to analyze her body movements to figure out how to make my body move like that. By the time I determined what limb to move and where to put it, she had called out the name of another exercise. For every 4 repetitions she did, it took me 3 to figure out how to move my body. At least I was so confused that laughing didn’t enter my mind. I was out of synch with the class. I was nose to nose with Salt when I should have been facing the wall and nose to nose to Pepper when I should have been facing forward. Behind me, I could hear Pepper saying, “Just keep moving. Who cares if you are doing the right movements?”

My uncoordinated plodding continued until I heard something that made it impossible for me to control my laugh reflex. Behind the sound of the tribal drum music I heard the occasional sound of monkeys. It was at that point that I knew all hope was lost for me. I did not possess enough self -control to stave off laughter brought on by tribal drum music with monkey back-up singers.

I turned to Pepper and whispered, “Am I hallucinating or did you just hear a monkey?” Pepper smiled back at me and nodded her head while keeping up with the exercise. It was all too much for me; the weird music, blinking sticks and now monkey sounds. I turned back towards Pepper and said, “I’m no longer here for fitness. From this point on, I’m here for the comedy.”

The minute I let go of the idea that I was there for exercise, I began to enjoy the class. I didn’t care if I was out of step. I was dying to know what was going to happen next. When the tribal drum music turned to music you’d be more likely to hear in a Middle Eastern night club headlined by a belly dancer, we took out mats and got down on the floor. As I laid there waiting for the next instruction, I could hear Pepper giggling. I titled my head back and asked what she was laughing about. “I know you are going to blog about this and I am imagining what you are going to write,” she said.

We began our floor exercises by bridging; an exercise where your shoulders and feet stay on the floor, but you lift your pelvis up and hold it there. No coordination needed for this exercise so I thought I was in the clear. The instructor told us to move the Drumbellz under our rear ends; still not a problem for me.  When she told us to clap the sticks together, that was a problem. I had lifted myself up with enough clearance to get the sticks under my butt, but there was definitely not enough space for me to clap them together. Not to mention that it was risky business for me to move my arms while balancing myself in this position. There was a strong probability that I would fall over onto my side taking Salt out in the process. After quickly weighing the pros and cons of my situation, I chose to keep my sticks still. When I looked over at the instructor, she was bridging up while her sticks blinked and flashed beneath her butt as she clapped them together. Do you have any idea of the strength and balance required to control the muscles holding yourself in that position while trying not to laugh? 

Bridging was no problem. Clapping my Drumbellz together from this position was because my bridge wasn't quite so high above the floor. (image from http://www.allspiritfitness.com)

When we lowered our bridges, the instructor announced that we’d be doing hundreds. I hate math, but for the first time in my life I was sincerely hoping I’d be working with fractions and decimals and not doing hundreds of abdominal exercises. No luck, it wasn’t math. This new brand of abdominal torture required me to lay on my back and move my suspended legs and arms in opposite directions, independent of each other. That, dear readers, is not something I am capable of doing. The instructor saw me flopping around like a fish on the deck of a ship and came over. She grabbed hold of the arm and leg on my right side and started moving them for me. That’s right. I required remedial assistance in a Pilates class. I’m just glad the rest of the class was on their backs unable to see me.

We left the Middle East and returned to the jungle to complete our cool down. My abdominal muscles hurt, but it wasn’t from strengthening my core. They hurt from exercising the self-control necessary to prevent me from laughing out loud for an hour. After we left the studio and were out of earshot of the instructor, Salt and Pepper turned to me and asked, “So, what did you think?”

“I think I won’t be back,” I replied.

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