Sunday, September 24, 2023

A winning race

 Watervliet holds a special place in my heart. 

Once upon a time, I had family there. My grandmother was born in Watervliet, and my mother lived there when she was small. An aunty on my father’s side, and who-knows-how-many-other relatives, worked at the arsenal back in the days of rations and war efforts.

The city figured into a comedy act that tickled my parents once when “The Great Victor Borge” played locally and somehow my dad wrangled tickets and a babysitter.

“He was a riot pronounced Watervliet as if it were a French city: ‘Water-Vlee-Aye’.”

He laughed at that joke and mom rolled her eyes … for decades.

During my childhood – 20 miles away – Watervliet was still my parents’ Lenten destination for fish fries and the semi-annual expedition for birthday cakes. And more recently, it was the last place my father got his haircut while he was alive. 

It was one of the million tales he delighted in telling – starring himself as the befuddled octogenarian standing in front of a vacant salon he’d hoped would be available for a walk-in appointment, and a kindly woman – probably relieved he wasn’t demented, leading him around the corner to her own hair cutting studio so he could look just a little less like Einstein but still erudite. She turned out to be the hero of that little story.

These were the stories that came to mind when a running friend told me I’d be missing out if I didn’t sign up for the Arsenal City 5K Run. 

“There is no better run for your money,” he said counting the perks on one hand before switching to the other: You get a beer, a hot dog, popcorn, ice cream, an orange slice, a banana, balloons for the kids, AND one of the best t-shirts of any race anywhere … all for ten bucks. I don’t know how they do it.”

I wasn’t a skeptic exactly, but I was just coming back from an injury and worried that somewhere along the three-point-one-mile course I might break into pieces. But I did what I usually do after I swore off running and someone mentioned a race I would enjoy …

I signed up.

And when I crossed the finish line I couldn’t believe my time. 

“Was it downhill both ways?”

By the time we got to the Dome (where the afterparty was held before the pandemic), I had seen the beauty of the city up close. It wasn’t just the places I’d remembered from childhood. It was the people, too. The folks who ran beside me and the ones who marshaled the course.  There was even a man who reminded me of my dad, all dressed up in his Sunday suit, carrying an armload of flowers, walking home.

It was also a shock to learn from the announcements that I’d somehow managed to land on the proverbial podium.


As a solidly back-of-the-pack runner, I was stunned to learn that I’d placed fourth in my age group the first time out. It didn’t matter or care if there were only four other runners my age to compete against: My name was in the books.

I was hooked. The next year I decided to train. If I worked hard and consistently I was sure I could shave enough seconds off my time to come in third.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Sure it has snake, but there's oil in there, too

 So who knew phenylephrine didn’t work, raise your hands. Now take a squirt of your favorite antibacterial liquid and rub them together. 

A Food and Drug Administration board of advisors for non-prescription drugs recently voted unanimously to declare the drug commonly used in oral-form cold remedies (the ones that do not require the presentation of identification for purchase over-the-counter) didn’t work any better than placebo in reducing nasal congestion. 

According to reports, the drug phenylephrine was designed to reduce inflammation of blood vessels and is effective for congestion when used in nasal sprays but does little when taken by mouth. The drug is also effective for use in eye surgery, to increase blood pressure, for the treatment of hemorrhoids, and for the dilation of eyes. 

And now the FDA must decide whether to revoke its over-the-counter use, effectively banning it as an active ingredient from more than 200 products currently on the market. 

Ultimately that means the snake oil salesmen in the cold and flu industry could lose nearly $2 billion a year from this decision should it come to pass.

 Naturally, spokespeople for the business folks at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association have spoken out to keep the snake oil flowing. “Helpfully” pointing out that taking the products off of store shelves would be a drastic change and would not only place an undue burden on pharmacies and drug makers but also strain the healthcare system when it decreases selections of snake oil available to consumers.

Remember … Pseudoephedrine and other non-prescription asthma treatments were found to be significantly more effective than both phenylephrine and placebo. However, sales of Pseudoephedrine sagged in 2005 when federal laws placed restrictions on sales of the drug to combat methamphetamine abuse.

Now … a part of my brain understands the reasoning: These drugs aren't inherently harmful, and many of them contain additional analgesics that would likely reduce other cold and flu symptoms such as body aches and fever.

In the event the pharmacy had a run on acetaminophen or ibuprofen, a headache sufferer could opt to pop a couple of sinus meds and call in a standard derivative or maybe a credit default swap. 

But that's not why people take these medicines. They take them because they want to breathe through their noses at night, and their significant others may be threatening to relegate him or her to the couch so at least one of them might rest. 

I don't know. My guess is the bottom line is really just about the bottom line and keeping it from turning red. Businesses would rather sell off their inventory of stuff that doesn't work than put their profits in jeopardy.

So what if people don’t get their rest-medicine? Everyone knows there’s no cure for the common cold anyway.

It’s no small thing. Especially when drug makers look to recreate their success in getting approvals for more lucrative and equally ineffective treatments, such as medications for Alzheimer's that didn’t pass efficacy muster. They get to sell it anyway because people are willing to pay just about anything for hope.

It’s just a shame that our regulatory agencies are willing to let us pay for the snake just because there’s oil in there too.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Pacing ourselves

The boy has been limping around the house for days, struggling with stretching exercises and trying to get pre-cut strips of elastic tape to adhere to his dewy skin.

His Achilles and he have been in an argument over his choice to join the high school's cross-country team. And it appeared to me, from the first few practices at least, that the fibrous tendons were winning.

For the past two months they were used to swimming a little and lounging a lot by the pool. They were not used to fast starts or pounding strain.

The words - I TOLD YOU SO wafted unsaid in the air.

His father had wanted him to run during the summer the way he would have back in his old school days. 

Dad envisioned all the noble goals: Team spirit! Pleasing the Coach! Putting in all the effort necessary to grow one’s skills! It was a father’s desire so fervent that the man became visibly perturbed by the boy’s general lack of motivation and purposeful observance of summer vacation as if the kid belonged to a strong union that had won a contract for relaxation.

It's understandable. Sport is supposed to be competitive. It's supposed to be a challenge. And those who take them up are supposed to show a degree of dedication that should in no way be comparable to the speed of a three-toed sloth. 

After all, by either definition, the results of a teammate’s acquiescence to such a glacial pace and low exertion might be widely perceived as a cardinal sin.

I was not going to hound him. 

As I told my husband; I run to avoid all the negativity I perceive in the world. And while I have no qualms about running with our son when he's willing, I am not going to suffer the wrath of a sullen teen just because of some external notion of a motherly duty. 

I'll drive him to practice literally, but I am not going to be the nag that drives him to do it figuratively. That’s on him. If he’s just doing this to be with his friends after school and on weekends that’s good enough for me. I do not need to see him break through ribbons or stand on podiums.

I’m not going to say any “I Told Ya Sos” either. 

Best to let his coach do the coaching, anyway. She told him she was impressed that he didn’t want to quit or take shortcuts. If he needed to walk, that’s what he’d do. She can be his inspiration. 

Honestly, I’m just happy he’s decided to be there at all. He’s never been one to complain, but he wears his thoughts on his face all the same. 

His expression told the story, translated in every conceivable language, that he was not in any way having fun. And yet tomorrow he’d be there again, straight-faced and anticipating no gain and more pain.

Which is why I never expected him to say what he said as he got out of the car:

“Hey, I meant to tell you, writing the ABCs in the air with my foot seems to be working, thanks!”

I didn't remember giving him that little tidbit of running recovery advice, but it is a standard not outside my repertoire. 

“Make sure you do both sides. You don't want to be off balance. You just need to build up to it. Just go easy and you’ll get there.”

Sunday, September 03, 2023

The last supper

 It was getting late.

She had decorated the living room with all manner of things she would need for dorm life over the upcoming months. The haul was staged in a maze of soft blocks. She gathered her clothes, a few pairs of shoes, some sheets, and towels, and was busy organizing them for transport. A fuzzy purple pillow that may (or may not) be taller than she is lay slumped over this low wall of luggage. Stacks of shirts and piles of fresh laundry everywhere else.

She stood, hands on hips, in front of it all and smiled. I could tell she was satisfied with all of the corners of her curation. 

She was excited to be moving back to college, where she would reassemble the lot in a more precise fashion, and yet, somewhere in this chaos, she was also in her happy place here at home. 

She had stretched this chore over the edge of literally every flat surface (and the most comfortable chairs) for weeks.  

And now, through the magic of this planning (as well as a dedication to the art of tucking and rolling) every single possession into a set of weathered but durable plastic zipper bags I had procured from a hardware store on a whim three moves ago, she was finally, almost, just about ready …

To pack the car. 

Piece by piece she dragged the gear to the porch, where she shuffled and queued them up by size. Largest in the front, smallest in the back. 

She didn't mind my presence, a warm body to provide limited conversation and quiet company as she kept busy with her tasks.

She didn't want any hands-on help. 

Which, I understand. She is anxious, As she plots each item’s placement, she aligns it in her memory like a coordinate on a map. She says she finds comfort and relaxation in the movements. 

“Wait a minute, wait a minute. What about dinner? Weren't we going someplace special tonight to celebrate my last meal? You know, the chicken place where for no apparent reason the cars start at one end of a tiny building and wrap around the entire county?”

I had been hoping she'd forgotten. 

“Oh yeah,” said her brother, who was “definitely not going to help schlep any bags to the car, or from car to a sidewalk and finally up some ramp-less stairs to an old elevator in an ancient apartment building,” not because he didn't want to see his sister off to school because he had track practice. Of course, he would happily join the two of us for a chicken sandwich, fries, and a raspberry-flavored lemonade if they had such fancy drinks. 

“That's ok,” his sister replied. “I don't need your scrawny, Achilles-heeled help limping around and tossing my stuff where it doesn't belong. Mom is enough.”

“Don't try to make it sound fun, that's mean.

This was the entire point of this outing: to sit in a line of cars for over an hour and trade humorous barbs until we received our orders of resembled characters in Shameless, whichever came first.  

Her father would have been here, too, if the scheduling of a job hadn't misaligned. He would have to settle for a phone call from the car as we scarf down our meals in which we make him guess which television character we are imitating with our fast food shenanigans

It's our last chaotic supper as a family for a while. Might as well be mixed with the kind of joy that sticks to your ribs. 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Drive time

 Have you checked the mirrors? 

“Yes, mom.”

The boy was sitting in his father’s car, making the finishing adjustments on the driver’s seat. It is a slow and methodical process that requires patience. Unless one has the sequence committed to one of the car’s digital memories. 

“There are so many buttons and knobs, and they move so sllllllllooooowwly.”

As he lowered the seat and eased it backward from where I’d had it set, the whirring of the mechanisms seemed almost comical. 

I tried not to laugh. 

Driving is a serious business. 

He’s almost ready. Maybe just a titch more arch in the lumbar region. 

My car isn't that fancy. But what it lacks in bling and built-in safety features, it makes up for in precision: notably a manual transmission, which ratchets up technical (and psychological) difficulties of learning to drive at six whole speeds. 

He's ready now. He starts the car. Shifts into gear and eases off the brake. The car inches out of the carport at the speed of seat position. 

He flexes his fingers and tightens them around the wheel. “This is the way you do it, right? Ten and Two?”

That is the way we do it. But we learned on our grandfather’s clock. 

“Yeah. The new standard is to grip around 5 and 7 or 4 and 8.”

“Why? That seems too low?”


“They come out of the steering wheel?”

“And when they do they might break your arm if it gets in the way. Also, you don't have to use as much force to crank the wheel as you did in the olden days thanks to power steering.”

He’s cleared the garage and is straightening from the hard left turn into the driveway. And with the swiftness of molasses, we are heading toward the open road. 

A part of me wants to hurry this along. We might rack up the 50-hour minimum drive time required to schedule the licensing test before we get home from the ice cream run. But the part of me that understood the mission, to navigate two stop signs, three traffic lights, and one traffic circle, between the end of our drive and the grocery store five miles away, I would wear out my welcome as the passenger seat driver.  

As I had more than three years ago when his

sister rushed to the end of the driveway as she'd witnessed my counterpart in motor vehicle instruction doing countless times.

Her face tensed and her lips would disappear into a thin line as I breathlessly called suggestions and gripped the closest armrest. 

“You're too close to the shoulder …

“You should speed up here 

“Slow down there!

“Ohmygod! what-are-you-doing? You are turning into oncoming traffic!”

It took her years to get over the hassle of driving with me. 

I needed to do better this time.

Up until then, I had always loved driving my kids around. 

Whether I was toting them to their friends’ houses, doctors’ appointments, or to far “away games,” the drive has always proven to be a real trip.

I suppose it’s time to get used to being driven.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The die is cast

Breakfast was almost over, but the smell of bacon and eggs hung in the air. It mixed with the sweetness of maple syrup and a second course of waffles that its cook had dealt like cards toward any newly vacated plates. 

This breakfast bonanza is as much of an indicator of our typical vacation as the wall-to-wall humidity and the games that have piled up at the end of the table.

I said no thank you by selecting one of the five decks of cards and started to line up seven little stacks in front of me. My lips move silently as I count: One up, Two down, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven … Two up, Three down, Four, Five, Six, Seven …

On occasion, the cards stick together as I deal them out or as I try to shuffle to the third one to reveal my next play. Ordinarily, this would cause some perturbation, but the gift of being in proximity to sea air is something one really shouldn't grouse about.

Hardship, it is not. 

Also, I figure, I’ll use the adhesions to apply little cheats until it becomes evident that I will not win the game of solitaire this round.

I scoop the cards and start again.

I will play until someone asks to gets dealt in and we parlay into a new game.

This is the ritual in the dwindling days of a holiday: table games are usually the things we can all agree on as a family as we try to pass the time until the next meal.

Dominos used to be favored. It was an easy game to learn and  satisfying to handle tiles, hiding them from the gaze of opponents or clicking them noisily, as we awaited our next turns.

Lets play Dominos?


Anyone? …

Somehow it lost its allure.

Each game has had a season of play and a season of retirement: Go Fish, Rummy, Hearts, Crazy 8s, Kings in the Corner, and Euchre. When the season ends, we can't rest assured that we won't outgrow it, or that our grasp of rules will remain. 

We know we will never be ready for Bridge.

This year, we’ve just rolled the dice.

“We are playing Yahtzee,” says the girl after she clears the table of breakfast dishes.

The game is her favorite and consists of five dice, a printed piece of paper that helps you keep track of your rolls, and a plastic cup that MUST generate the most noise possible as players shake and dump the numbered cubes onto the table.

The last one, of course, makes for the most excitement. Bonus points awarded to the adult who requires headache remedy before the final scores are tallied.

Luck has everything to do with it, but we still employ strategies.

I go for the “specialty” rolls first: The Straights, the Full Houses, and the Threes and Fours-of-a-Kind. I like to get them out of the way so I can relax in the idea of just rolling for Yahtzees that never materialize.

My daughter focuses on the top-tier rolls: The Ones and Twos, she admits are throwaways, but the Fives and Sixes can set you up for a bonus that would obliterate any Yahtzees that do float out of the ether …the ones that often roll up for her father.


Not that we are truly competitive despite our tendency to groan at the roll that spins the number we gambled on and settles on the number we gambled with originally.

I think we are getting better at celebrating the wins and ignoring the losses.

At least it feels like there are fewer hard feelings.

“Bye-Bye Mr. Four-of-a-Kind,” she sings. “This will be the day that I die.” 

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Closer to fine


As we walked through the lobby, clad in a wardrobe one could rightly call drab, my daughter and I passed true believers: People for whom Barbie measured 10 feet tall. People who would wear pink and be gleeful as they watched a slice of their childhood light up the silver screen. 

I was worried I'd be the one who would only see the tarnish. 

I pictured myself hunkered down in the cool embrace of a resplendent reclining chair with no small amount of regret, not because I didn't have a personal relationship with Barbie but because I worried I may not have allowed my daughter to have fully realized hers.

Between trailers and teasers and wink-and-nod reviews of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” I couldn't imagine how a movie about an 11-inch doll could ever measure up to all the hype. 

Not gonna lie. 

I expected a lot. 

I had so many questions.

Was Barbie a feminist? An anti-feminist? Was she worthy of all the love or any of the ridicule? What message would she have for us now and would it be transformative?

The narrator in my head laughed as she reminded me that these are the items we have to bring to the table, they aren't even sold separately.

But deliver, it did. 

Though at first, it delivered like a gut punch. 

“Do you remember how I wanted a Barbie?” my daughter asked as we settled in for the previews.

My shoulders gently lift toward my ears as I fumble to find the recliner’s controls and an answer with a positive spin: “I remember you being a Barbie CheerleaderTM one Halloween.”

She smiled and tilted her head, pointing at the button partially hidden by the dimming light. 

I couldn't mod-podge over the moment she had just uncovered. 

“You got me a Barbie cake for my birthday and one of my friends told me it wasn't a real Barbie. You must remember.”

I hadn't forgotten. She has been a Barbie girl in my tomboy world.

I also hadn't realized until it was too late that the star of the party - a cake-skirted doll - had only a flesh-colored spike stabbing into the frosting instead of legs encased in a cylinder.

“Don't feel bad, I was more of a Calico Critter kind of kid than a Barbie Girl.”

And surprisingly I didn't feel bad. Because for the next 114 minutes, I could only marvel at how much Gerwig was able to pack and unpack into the trunk of this candy-colored vehicle. 


It not only passed the Bechdel test, it felt like it managed to devise a similar rubric to apply to cinematic representations of Ken; perhaps future viewers might even call it a Ken-del test. 

“Am I making that up,” I asked my kid as the credits rolled and we uprighted our recliners. 

“That was the part I liked the most!” She exclaimed. “Right from the beginning - when Ken crashed on his surfboard and the doctors were fixing him you knew they weren't going to turn the tables.”

She was right. Even as Doctor Barbie explained that his body would heal in the time

It takes to explain that he actually had no injuries, Stereotypical Barbie never once diminished his feelings or told him that it was all in his head. She just let him know she thought he was brave.

The film not only centered her in security, it allowed us to bring our experiences and meet the same gentle understanding.

Barbie seemed all-encompassing and there was no wrong way to be in her world.

And as we were making our way back to our oversized car in the parking lot, rehashing the movie and all the moments that stayed with us for the next several hours, I felt something pleasant and unexpected: the realization that I may have been a Barbie girl all along.

“You do know Mattel is releasing a Weird Barbie, right? I think it's right up your alley.”