Sunday, October 30, 2011

Our Workout Buddies

I have been going to gyms for over thirty years. I know, with all that working out, you’d think I’d look better than this. I often wonder the same thing. One thing I have observed over my three decades of sweating and straining to look like the model from the Calvin Klein jeans ad in 1980, including having my hair cut just like his for a while, is that some things never change. Every gym has the same people going there every day.

I started out at an old fashioned gym full of competitive arm wrestlers. There was no air conditioning, and the only cardio equipment was one dusty exercise bike. Call me old school, but I still miss that place. No loud music, no annoying videos, no spandex, and in the summer, no shirts!

In Florida, I joined a gym full of old Jewish women, who apparently went to the same beautician because all of them had their hair dyed honey blonde. They had a treadmill, but the women did circuit weight routines under the guidance of an old Jewish guy who once was a gym teacher. Apparently the only Jewish gym teacher in the 1940s.

They were all so sweet. But, they did spend most of their time talking about where they ate dinner last night, where they were eating dinner that night and where they were going to eat the next night. Often I heard, “The food was terrible and the portions were so small.” Or “I was not as happy as I thought I would be.”

In DC, I joined a gay gym, but let’s not label it, the owner would say. Whatever. I missed all the fun because I always worked out when they opened, 5:00 am. Gym happy hour(s) is 5:00-7:00 pm. This gym had cardio equipment out the ass, and I just loved seeing all the people who did nothing but cardio every morning.

There is a famous personal trainer, whose name I forget (so he must not be that famous), who said a few years ago that cardio is a waste of time. He went on to say, “Look at all the fat people on the treadmills at a gym. Go back six months later, and you will see the same people, and they will not be any skinnier.” After I saw that interview, I did just that, and guess what? He was right!

As one of the unfortunate ones whose weight yo-yos as much as fifty pounds annually and semi-annually and biannually (I always get semi and bi mixed up, which begs the question, can someone be semi-sexual?), I know that diet is 50 percent of keeping in shape. I have always loved it when during one of my “plump” periods, someone would say, “Do you still work out?” The answer is, “Yes, and I follow my workout with a bucket of Popeye’s chicken. What business is that of yours?” as I wipe the grease from my face.

Would you believe I am also a certified personal trainer? I know. I am also the same guy who would watch those shows on TLC about the morbidly obese while eating a quart of ice cream, saying, “How did they get so fat?”

Now, I don’t like doing cardio inside. And after eating the cement on 16th Street while jogging four years ago and scarring my face for life, I don’t like doing it outdoors anymore either. After that accident, a friend of mine said, “That is why I don’t exercise. I don’t want to hurt myself.”

The advantage of not doing cardio is that for the most part, I have only had to share the gym floor with a couple of people every morning, while the masses, especially the “resolutionaries” who show up after January 1, fight over the cardio equipment. I actually saw a man demand that another man get off a machine, so he and his wife could be on side-by-side machines. Yuppies, you can’t live with them and you can’t live with them.

I coined the term resolutionaries many years ago, and now it is a commonly used word. I take full credit. Too bad I didn’t trademark it.

Now, I thought when I moved to Jessup and joined the nearest gym, a brand new facility with really good rates, I would again enjoy a fairly empty workout floor at 5:00 am, while the masses use the cardio equipment. I was semi-wrong (can one be bi-wrong?).

So, let me tell you about the people I’ve observed at my gym in the morning.

Volvo Man: This is the guy in his mid-fifties, who drives a brand new black Volvo. He tends to park on an angle, which if you are parked next to him, you will have difficulty getting out of your parking spot. He is near the age when his license needs to be taken away. He has a spray on tan that would make Snooky cringe, hair dyed a shade of black Miss Clairol quit making in 1969, Bruce Jenner shorts, black workout socks (which apparently are the latest trend), and a face that would knock a buzzard off a shit wagon. He runs into the locker room, throws his stuff into a locker while grunting loudly (he grunts a lot), then runs out and grabs the same Precor machine every morning. God forbid someone else grabs it. And beware if you are entering the locker room as he is exiting. He will run your ass over, and that spray tan will get all over your clothes.

Fruit Smoothie: This guy comes in wearing a track suit (non-bedazzled unfortunately), sits at the smoothie bar, orders a smoothie and shoots the breeze with the morning attendant. He finishes his smoothie then goes home. I assume his wife asks him if he went to the gym that morning, he says yes, and he is not a liar. It could be worse. He could be having an affair. Lately, he has had to drink his smoothie in silence because the new morning attendant has no personality, which brings me to …

Juice Boy: This is the young guy, around twenty-two years old, who obviously is not shy about putting a needle in his ass. He is cute, has a perfectly shaped head (I notice this because I wonder how people will look with shaved heads – a quirk of mine), a thickly muscled body, a perfect bubble butt, excellent posture, unfortunate steroid acne on the back of his arms and neck, and as I mentioned, no personality. None. He works the front desk two mornings a week. Sometimes, I try to engage him in conversation as I leave just to make him squirm. Maybe he is upset that even with his cute face, perfectly shaped head, beautiful bubble butt, and thickly muscled body, his testicles have shrunk to the size of raisins and his nipples are sensitive – and not in a good way.

Wonder Woman: This one is my favorite. There is something about a woman with an incredibly sexy body who can lift enormous amounts of weight that I find fascinating. I imagine if I were straight, this would be my type. She is attractive, and she knows it, and she can squat three-hundred pounds. I have nothing negative to say about her. I love her. And she can kick my ass!

Color Coordinator Man: This guy always wears color coordinated workout attire, but none of it is spandex or even tight. Who knows what he has under all those baggy clothes. However, his fleece sweat pants, T-shirts, baseball caps (he always wears a baseball cap), and hi-top Chuck Taylors, are always chosen to coordinate perfectly. He does a crazy non-stop workout that takes thirty-nine minutes, not forty, not thirty-eight. He always does things in multiples of three, except he never counts reps. He apparently has four different workouts, which he does in sequence, but comes in five times a week, so one is always done twice during a weekly cycle. He says hello to everyone, but he rarely engages in conversation, except to point out broken equipment. He also drives a different vintage car every morning. Yes, I have observed him a lot. He is a mystery.

Prep Man: This guy likes to break down any equipment he sees you using, and he is strange. One morning, I was alternating between calf raises and leg presses, and he broke down the calf machine right after I finished my first set. Mind you, we were the only guys in the gym at the time – a gym full of equipment, so he could have waited until I was done. I asked if he wanted to work in. He said, “Are you using that?” Now, you’d think the towel on the equipment (how gym rats mark their territory) would be an indication I was. When I said I was, he said, “I was going to use it later.” Really, so you are preparing it now? What are you, a sous-chef?

Hooker Wannabe: This woman is another of my favorites. She shows up in full make-up (I imagine my mother would have done the same thing), including false eyelashes and wears the latest in fitness attire. She then does thirty minutes of intense cardio, and her make-up does not run or smear or fade. I wonder if it is tattooed. I envy her. My make-up runs if I read about a heat wave.

Old Friends: These are two guys who work out together every morning. All they do is talk and talk. You’d think they would be conversationed out. I recently found out they work together, too. Needless to say, they have not transformed their bodies except their jaw muscles look bigger.

And Finally:

Weight Belt Guy: This guy goes to every gym. He comes in wearing his workout gloves and weight belt. He walks as if he stuck an air hose up his ass. He is not in the best shape, but you can tell he works out, even though is love of pork is also obvious. He starts by shooting the shit with the front desk attendant (the older one who has a personality) then struts around the gym before doing his first set and making sure everyone notices him while he works out. He also has very small feet.

I am sure you have similar guys and girls in your gym including the grunter, the yeller, Pigpen (the guy who smells like armpits and ass), the moaner, chatty Cathy, and a host of others.

By the way, one of the guys above is I. Hey, I know I am not perfect.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Bullying Knows No Age Limit

Although I joke around a lot, and as my friend, Sydney, in high school said to me once, “You use humor to mask pain,” this is one time when I will not be using much humor if any.

On October 20, many of us where I work wore purple for Spirit Day, in solidarity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who have been bullied and to decry bullying of all types. Spirit Day was established in 2010, and while I am one who shuns candlelight vigils, memorials, and ribbon wearing in general, this particular day, hits home with me.

A lot of what I am about to tell you I have never told anyone, not my family, not my friends, not even a therapist, and here I am telling my few followers and some strangers on the internet, but something happened in the last few days that made me want to speak out against bullying in all forms and let those who are bullied know one can survive.

I have also learned that the bullies do not care how old you are because a bully is a bully.

I was bullied.

From the time I was nine years old until around age seventeen, I was bullied. And, the bullies I encountered weren’t always teenagers, a few were adults – adults in positions of authority who were responsible for shaping the minds of young children.

In 1971, I was in the third grade at South Morrison Elementary School. My teacher was Mrs. Motley, and I hope she is reading this. Once a day, students went to different rooms for reading class, depending on their reading level.

When I returned to Mrs. Motley’s room after reading class one October Monday, one of my fellow students came up to me and asked me why I killed Jesus (although there is a large Jewish community in Newport News, we did not live near any of our tribe members, so I was the only Jew in my entire elementary school). I didn’t know how to respond. I was nine years old. Then, another kid asked me that. And another. As I would later find out, Mrs. Motley told the students who stayed with her for reading class that I killed Jesus.

Around five or six kids proceeded to push and shove me until another teacher intervened while Mrs. Motley just watched. Things were never the same after that. I also learned early on that raising the issue with anyone on the administrative staff was pointless. The teacher, no matter how anti-Semitic, was always right. I also never told my parents about this because of the shame I felt in being shoved around and not fighting back.

Magruder Middle School was a continuation of the bullying that began that October day in Mrs. Motley’s class. Now, what happened there would never happen at a school today. The busses dropped us off at 7:30 every morning, but we were not allowed to enter the school until 8:15. Therefore, around 300 students would hang around the school yard with one teacher watching them for forty-five minutes no matter the weather. The kids who bullied me in elementary school found this to be a perfect opportunity to recruit others to pick on me. They would come up as a gang and kick me in the shins every morning. I complained to Miss Cochran, but she laughed. I reported them to the assistant principal, but that just made things worse. So, I learned to buck it up.

Miss Cochran was also my sixth grade social studies teacher, and during the holidays, she asked me to tell the class about Hanukah like this, “Now, the only Jew in our class is going to tell you about Hanukah.”

Before, I could even speak, one girl in the class, yelled out loud, “Come on, Jew boy, tell us about it.”

I chose to keep my mouth shut.

One day, we had a substitute teacher in that same class, and that same girl told him we had a Jew in the class. He walked back to my desk (I always sat in the back due to my height although I could barely see the blackboard), put his hands around my throat and told me he was going to choke me to death, and no one was going to do anything about it. No one did. The bell rang, and I ran from that classroom. I didn’t even bother reporting him because I had learned that no one in this environment would believe me.

I had by now learned that bullies come in all forms, and often they are egged on by children. I suspect this is still the case today in some schools.

By this time, I had been called all kinds of names in the hallway, including kike and faggot. I also learned to ignore people and keep walking, looking straight ahead. By reacting, I would give them the power. Unfortunately, some who are bullied, don’t learn this and end up giving up, or worse, committing suicide.

I would have told my family, but my father was Mr. Macho, and from what I gathered from the behavior he displayed and the stories he told, he was a bully. I suspect my mother was also.

In intermediate school, the group that once bullied me, stopped. I guess they got tired of bullying someone who never reacted and never told on them. Sure, I was taunted a bit here and there, but not as much as before – until ninth grade. I then encountered a new kind of bully. The facilitator.

Ninth grade was a nightmare thanks to Coach Steven Umphlett and a group of bullies who would make my life hell later in high school. He was my gym and health teacher. For half the year, you took gym. For the other half, you took health. Well, you pretty much watched films. And, these former high school athletes with mail order diplomas never really taught you anything.

During the gym portion of the year, we had a wrestling sequence, but we weren’t taught how to wrestle by Coach Umphlett. We were matched up and told to wrestle in front of everyone. I was matched up with the biggest guy in the class, who as it turned out was on the wrestling team. He pinned me in no time. I thought that would be in the end of it, but he was continuously asked to pin me while the coach watched. To his credit, and I won’t mention his name, he felt really bad about it and apologized after class. But, when our “match” was over, Coach Steven Umphlett told the class, and I quote: “Stern, you should have been a girl because you are always on your back.”

This set me up to be harassed and bullied like I had never been bullied before with the blessing of an asshole who just wanted to be known as the cool teacher.

During the health portion of the year, every time the lights would go out for a film to begin, which was just about every day, someone would throw a book at the “faggot’s” head. I learned to duck, but I was not always successful. I could not wait for the year to be over. Surprisingly, one of the football players in the class felt sorry for me and started to defend me because I wouldn’t defend myself (and how can one boy stand up to a group of twenty boys?). But whenever he was out of class, the book throwing would begin again. Where was the coach? Sitting there laughing the whole time. I even suspect he threw the book a couple of times, himself.

I always wondered how many other students suffered at the “supervision” of this prick, and I always said that if I ever ran into him again, I would punch him in the face.

Outside of gym class, there was this group who drew swastikas on my locker, put thumb tacks in my chair and did other humiliating things to me while teachers watched.

I did not get into the National Junior Honor Society on the first round because two of those teachers said I did not get along with my peers. This time, I did speak up. I went directly to the sponsor, who was not one of my teachers, and told her everything. She was appalled and as a victim of racism, herself, sympathetic to my cause and made sure I was inducted. She was one of two allies I had on the faculty at Huntington Intermediate School.

Enter Warwick High School and the beginning and the end. At the insistence of my mother and brother and against my wishes, I was forced to apply to join the Key Club, which stands for Kiwanis Encourages Youth. There were the Key Club and the Keyettes. To this day, I do not know the purpose of this club as it stood in high school. I was already on the yearbook staff, an officer in both AFS and the Spanish Club, and a member of the Math club. My mother felt I should be like other boys and be in a masculine club. As you know, I have no desire to be like the others and especially a part of a club full of guys who made my life hell in intermediate school.

But wait until you hear how it worked in the late 1970s. One had to pledge and then be voted in by the present members. What does that sound like? Yep, a fraternity.

And, here is how they got away with it in high school. On Wednesday evenings, they would hold a “business meeting” at 7:00 pm. At around 8:00 pm, the PTA sponsor and faculty sponsor would say, “you boys are doing a great job” then leave. They would leave! Yes, leave a bunch of high school students in a room with no adult supervision at night in an almost empty school. That is when the hazing began. Those two adults were as responsible as the kids for what ensued.

I actually put up with all of the hazing and volunteered for all their activities the two months of pledging. Then came the final evening, and after the adults left, the pledges were left in the girls’ room and brought into the classroom one at a time to answer questions. When it was my turn, I was told to close my eyes while they put a piece of candy in my mouth. I objected, but they said it was just candy.

It was a used condom.

I have to stop here.

# # # #

I was then bombarded with personal questions that a fifteen-year-old should not have to answer by a group that included those same guys who put swastikas on my locker and thumb tacks in my chair. There were also quite a few Jewish jokes. I did notice that one guy in the room seemed upset, and after about fifteen minutes, asked his colleagues to stop. They let me go, and for the first time, since my initial encounter with bullying, I let it get to me. When I got home, I went to my room, closed the door and cried my eyes out. The irony was I never wanted to join this group.

A note to parents: Never force your child to join a club or team he doesn’t care to and be sure there is an adult present at all activities.

The following day, the “invitations” to join the Key Club were delivered to the lockers of new members. I didn’t get one, but someone who did not even go through the hazing process, and a bully himself, did.

It would be my first encounter with a clique.

Because they did not vote me in, I was not allowed to join the National Honor Society during the first induction period because – you guessed it – I didn’t get along with my peers. Being the only guy not to be allowed into the Key Club in recent memory branded me. The bullies from the Key Club got into the National Honor Society on the first round. Teachers thought they were cool.

Now, one would think that was the end of it. It wasn’t. Now my home was the target. The Key Club toilet papered our house, egged our cars, dumped trash in our yard and harassed me right and left throughout the tenth and eleventh grade. By twelfth grade, they were exhausted.

Funny thing happened. One of my friends got into the Key Club our senior year, and he said some of the guys felt bad about how I was treated and wanted me to join. I refused. To this day, I don’t go where I am not welcome or invited. I don’t even go to parties with friends unless I am personally invited.

When I returned to Warwick High School as an English teacher, the first thing I asked about was the Key Club. It had been reorganized after numerous complaints, including letting anyone who wanted to join to do so without being voted in or hazed. They also performed charity work with adult supervision at all times.

I actually made it to my early thirties with no problems, until I moved to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Washington, DC. For those who don’t know me, I am six-four, wear colorful clothes, and at the time had a nine-pound parti-poodle. While walking my dog the first few years I lived there, I would be harassed by this group of young adults, I assumed were former bullies. I heard:

“Look at the faggot walking that shitty ass dog.”

“Next time you come out here, we’re gonna kill your faggoty ass dog.”

“Go back to your mother you faggoty ass bitch.”

In Rockville, there was a similar group of teenagers who would call out faggot while I was walking my dog.

Faggot never bothered me and neither did these new forms of bullies. I do hate the word queer. My mother once said, “God hates queers.”

What did I do? I did what I did all those years in school. I ignored them and continued on my way. I survived, but there were times I wondered why I was the subject of their bullying. Did I have a target on me?

Now, I am a gay Jew in a trailer park. Although the average age of our residents is fifty-five, there is this small group of teenagers who smoke pot in the woods and say things as I walk by  the playground with my dog. One of them found out my name, and he likes to say, “Nice outfit, Mister Milton.” “Looking sharp, Mister Milton.” “Nice shoes, Mister Milton.” I haven’t figured him out, but I hear him giggling with his friends when he thinks I am out of earshot. Little do they know I have the hearing of a twenty-year-old.

The other day, four months after moving in here, one of them egged my car in broad daylight. They had to have gone to a lot of trouble to do this. Get an egg, walk over to my car then throw it. I mean one doesn’t walk around with eggs all the time. My car was the only one targeted.

My neighbors were appalled, and it is nice to have adults on my side. One said it is just a bunch of bored teenagers.

Oh, I think this was more than boredom.

Like acne, bullying never really ends, but the secret is never letting them see you sweat, or you give them the power.

If you know someone who has been bullied, I hope this gives you a better understanding of what they have been through.

If you have been bullied, I hope you find inspiration in my story because although I still encounter aspects of it, I survived, and I will never let them ruin or take over my life. They will never win.

If you are a teacher who encourages or tolerates bullying, I hope someone reports you. Times, thank God, have changed.

If you are the parent of a bully, shame on you.

If you are an adult who still bullies people, go fuck yourself.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

If Only I Were a Diva

There is one aspect of home ownership that I am having a hard time embracing. Yard work. Ucchh. I thought it would be fun to have my own grass that I could mow and my own bushes to trim. As it turns out, there is only one bush I like to trim, and honey, that one does not lose its leaves in October.

I only have about 120 square feet of yard, and even with an old fashioned reel mower, it takes about fifteen minutes to mow, but it takes me about two hours to get up the motivation to do it. This is alien to me because I am usually running around like a blue ass fly, as Nana used to say about me. I love all housework and washing my cars. I even like working on a car. I once spent an entire day in an un-air conditioned garage in August stripping the paint off my 1959 Rambler, and I had a blast.

I always stay busy. I cannot just sit around and do nothing. I even enjoyed water sealing my deck after the sprayer debacle.

But, mention yard work, and I immediately cringe.

I would hire a yard crew, but I am not a diva ... and I am cheap. I am determined to one day embrace this aspect of suburbia.

Yard work has never been a passion. When I was young (was I ever young?), we had the chore of mowing the grass, and with my allergies this consisted of sneezing and zigzagging all over the yard. I would trim the bushes, but my attempts at gardening were never successful. I once tried transplanting radishes, and my family continues to remind me of that disaster.

However, I can grow some mean weeds.  I think dandelions are pretty, and they require little to no care. Mushrooms are lovely, too.

When I bought the house, I thought how cool it would be to have a yard I could landscape with lush bushes and pretty flowers. Being of the gay persuasion and an honorary lesbian, you would think my yard would be the envy of all the neighbors and I would be out there every weekend shoveling and planting and watering.

Think again. If the crepe myrtle was not there when I moved in, I would have no plants. My grass is more clover than blades. Have I seeded? No. Have I fertilized? No. Have I turf built? I don’t even know what the hell that is. Besides, being Jewish, turf building is not in my vocabulary.

And here is the sad part. I don’t care. I mow the grass; I trim the one bush; I even edge around the sidewalk. But, I don’t even water it. We get enough rain. If there is no rain, then there is less grass to mow.

I wish I had the passion for yard work. My neighbors on either side have beautifully landscaped yards with rock gardens and flowers and lush green grass.

Every time I go to Lowe’s, I think about walking into the garden department to see what they have that I could plant to give my yard some character, but instead, I avoid the garden department completely. I am not even drawn to it. I see these people who spend hours outside with their gloves and big floppy hats, weeding and digging and trimming and wiping sweat from their brows, and all I think is that does not look fun at all.

I bought a shovel, a rake and other interesting garden tools, but I have yet to use them.

I do admire a nice lawn, and I tell my neighbors with pretty lawns (and that is just about all of them) that their yards look so nice. I hear in the spring there is a contest to see who has the best looking yard in the community. I won’t be clearing a space on my mantle.  

Now, leaves from the woods behind me are falling over the yard. Do I have to rake them? Can’t I just leave them and call it nature’s mulch?

A friend of mine, who vacationed with me once, said I sleep like the dead. All I need is a flower in my hand, and I look like Lilly Munster. Well, now I have her yard.

The good news is I don’t have to decorate for Halloween.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

For Two Easy Payments of $19.95

I admit it. I have bought my share of drek over the years, and apparently I have not learned my lesson. Even though I have banned myself from watching QVC – except when Joan Rivers is selling her jewelry, I still manage to buy the occasional piece of crap for only two easy payments of $19.95. And, have you ever noticed the only time you buy that crap is when you least can afford it? You said yes, didn’t you? 

Remember that thing you plugged into your wall and it used the wiring in your house to get you free cable? I bought one. The only station I got was the Fidel Castro Channel directly from Havana. Remember Deal-a-Meal from Richard Simmons? I dealt all my meals for the week by Tuesday at 10:15 am. There was this cream that was supposed to knock ten years off your face. Oh it knocked them off all right, along with seven layers of skin. I looked like a burn victim for a month.

I bought the wallet that was supposed to organize all your cards and IDs, etc. Everyone asked me why I was carrying a lady’s billfold. I bought that glove for grooming the dog. All it did was annoy her. There was the cup holder you attached to your car door that knocked the can of soda in your lap every time you hit a bump. There were those things for hanging pictures on the wall that could easily be removed by pulling a tab. They removed half the wall.

In my defense, I learned these buying habits from my father. He was the king of buying drek. Ironically, whenever you bought something, he would always say, “How much did they get you for that?” He thought the whole world was getting ripped off. I bought a new car and rather than congratulations, he said, “How much did they get you for that?” This was a man who bought a Desoto and a Corvair … and don’t get me started on his long string of crappy Fords.

He once bought this vegetable protein powder you were supposed to add to food to make it last longer or be more filling or as filler or as a supplement. I never did figure it out. He bought a case of it. I think it was the same soy protein additive that was popular in the 1970s that school cafeteria’s added to their hamburger meat. Well, we poured it on our meat, and let’s just say the only thing it added was more time on the bowl.

My dad bought my brother and me ten-speed bikes, and he never let us forget it (to this day whenever someone buys me a gift, I expect to hear about it for twenty years). The bikes, which were orange and called Fiorellis, were from Italy, complete with Italian directions. But that wasn’t Italian he was screaming while trying to assemble them. I think he bought them from one of his shady friends, of which there were a few. Apparently, they fell off the back of the truck.

We had a friend whose parents completely furnished their house with stuff that fell off the back of the truck. His father always had ten watches up his sleeve and three around his ankle he would sell you for the right price.

According to my father, Uncle Stanley, his brother, was worse. If a man was standing in back of a truck on a street corner and said, “Psst, come here.” Uncle Stanley was sure to buy whatever he was selling. I would always think of Lucy Ricardo in the butcher shop trying to sell that side of beef when he would tell me this story.

My most recent purchase worthy of the “Drek Hall of Fame” was an item that was supposed to make water sealing my deck a breeze. I had been looking forward to sealing my deck for a while. When I moved in, it was “green,” and I was instructed to wait eight to ten weeks before sealing it.

However, by week ten, we were in the middle of two hurricanes and a five-day stretch of rain that dumped twenty inches on us. My deck was becoming a sponge, and I was desperate. We then endured another month of rain until the few days before Yom Kippur. According to the Thompson’s Water Seal directions, I needed three days before and three days after for proper application and drying.

I read that while standing in Lowe’s and deciding which product to buy. Next to the cans of water seal was this plastic device for spraying on the water seal for even coverage and less mess, and it sold for $19.95! I looked it over, and it resembled a pesticide dispenser. Rather than scrutinize its construction, I was mesmerized by those magic numbers: $19.95. I bought it. But knowing my history and just in case I had done it once again, I bought an extra can of water seal, a cheap roller, a brush and a paint tray.

The older, wiser me always has a backup plan.

The time had come for me to water proof my first deck! I was excited. I put the dispenser together and filled it with Thompson’s Water Seal. Then I pumped it as the instructions said to get the sealant to flow throw the hose, so I could begin sealing.

I pumped and I pumped, but no sealant was making its way through the hose. I didn’t understand this. I have been told I have magic hands and can get any hose to fill then spill. Had I lost my touch?

Apparently, I had not lost my touch, but I did manage to do something else. I water sealed my walkway. That lovely little dispenser had split in half along the bottom and let out a full can of sealant. I didn’t even get mad. I rolled my eyes, hosed off the walkway, pulled out the paint tray, roller and brush and proceeded to do the deck the old fashioned way.

My projects always seem to end up this way. The easy way ends up being a disaster, and the old fashioned way saves the day.

I should never buy anything with a price tag of $19.95.

Will I ever learn?

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Make it Stop

Funny how quickly one learns he can no longer call maintenance or apartment management every time he has a problem. Well, not ha ha funny, but whimsical. No wait. Whimsical isn’t the word. The word is frustrating.
Although I am very good at putting together furniture (if I do say so myself), when it comes to home repairs, I am like George of the Jungle. Any time I have attempted to fix something around one of my apartments, the situation usually ended up with me calling a repairman to come fix what I had “fixed,” and the landlord paying triple the initial cost of the repair. I became very good at saying things like, “I don’t know how that pipe came loose and flooded the kitchen?” “I looked up, and the next thing I knew, the light fixture came crashing down.”

I should have earned an Academy Award years ago.

While in college, I was hired part-time as a construction worker. After watching me hammer nails in a fashion that either split the wood, bent the nail or missed the target completely, I was relegated to perform menial tasks that I was assured were vital to the construction of the house. “Hey, Stern, move those two by fours from the front yard to the back.” Needless to say, I became a very good nuch-schlepper.

I still wonder if any of those houses with my split wood or bent nails are still standing. By now, some have to have been remodeled, and somewhere there is a happy homeowner, who is pulling up his carpet and saying, “What the fuck kind of moron framed this house?”

This is where I feign surprise and say, “I don’t know how that floorboard split in half?”

Now, I am a happy homeowner. Silly me. I thought I could prance around in an apron, pearls and sensible heels and all would be well.

I do have a warranty on the structure and the appliances being that this house is brand new, and I have managed to get a few things fixed without admitting I am the one who broke them.

When I first tried out my Weedeater, a lawn care tool I despise, not only did I weedeat my shin (is weedeat a verb?), but also, I managed to poke a few holes in the skirting around my house. A few days later, I called Bubba, head of the management office (yes that is his name) and said, “There are a lot of cracks and holes in my skirting, can you guys replace them? I think the lawn care guys did that when this house was the model.” Two days later, I had new skirting.

I would like to thank the Academy, my agent and God.

But even I know that a day will come when my Claudette Colbert routine will no longer get things fixed for free. I am a homeowner now, so there is no longer a naïve landlord or apartment manager to call, which brings us to Global Warming.


Stick with me here. When I taught school (and I was really a lousy teacher), I used to say to my students, “It is a fast-paced world, so you need to keep up with me!”

Global Warming has brought us extremely hot summers with violent storms and bitter cold winters with lots of snow according to Al Gore, who is now single, which has nothing to do with the price of eggs at Weis.

I grew up in Newport News, Virginia, and like much of the Eastern Seaboard (is that supposed to be capitalized?), we rarely had spring or fall. One day, the temperature would be eighty degrees, and the next day, the fifties. Anyone from this part of the country is used to that.

A consequence of having these extreme temperature changes is that on Monday you are running your air conditioning and on Tuesday, you turn on the heat. We called it life; now they call it Global Warming.

That is what happened this week. On Friday, the temperature was beautiful and in the eighties. On Saturday, it dipped into the fifties, so I turned on my heat for the first time.

Propane heat, like gas heat, is a little foreign to me. I am used to Electric heat, which comes on immediately. Gas heat seems to do something that makes odd sounds for a few minutes before the fan comes on. See how technologically advanced I am?

My heater kept doing the odd sound thing for a bit too long, and the fan would not come on. Any normal homeowner would have done one of two things: either fixed it, or called a repairman. I am not normal.

I opened up the furnace and looked around. Remember the episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show where they had a flashback to Rob and Laura’s wedding? His Jeep broke down, so he opened the hood and said, “Well, that’s a motor.” I pretty much did the same thing.

I looked for a pilot light or a fan switch and couldn’t find one. So, I called Bubba. He told me to look for the gas control switch and tell him what direction it was pointing. I said, “Up and down.”

He said, “That’s correct. Now look for the primer switch.” And of course, he could have been talking Chinese to me. After ten minutes describing every switch and wire on the furnace, I found it. It of course was not in the on position.

He then told me to flick the on/off switch on and off a few times until the flame took. Yes, I did find that switch, too. He said once the flame took, the heat would come on, but he also warned me that since this was the first time it would be running, there would be a lot of smoke, so don’t be alarmed.

Before I continue, let me tell you that propane cooking makes the smoke alarms, and I have four, go off every time you preheat the oven. I plan to switch to electric by next summer because this is driving Esmeralda crazy even if I do hit the button on the alarms almost immediately. She is running out of places to hide.

Well, the heat came on, and I didn’t see any smoke, but within seconds, all the smoke alarms went nuts. Esmeralda went running and hid in the bedroom closet. I then proceeded to run from one end of the house to the other pushing the buttons on the alarms in an attempt to make them stop.

This, of course, proved futile. I even opened the living room windows, but the alarms kept sounding, and I was on my fifth lap around the house, when I finally screamed in frustration, “MAKE IT STOP!”

And they did!

I didn’t know whether to be happy or a little scared.

Did my years of watching Bewitched and studying Endora finally pay off?

I don’t know.

I did turn the heat on and off a few more times, and the alarms never sounded again.

Now only one questions remains. Will I use my powers for good or for evil?

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