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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Early Edition Splat-ter of the Week: The UVA Board of Visitors!

Extra, extra! Today we bring you "Splat-ter of The Week: The Early Edition" because, frankly, we couldn’t wait until Friday to grab another analogy and torture it to the point of violating the Geneva Conventions.  

Though we received a number of worthy nominations, no one could come close to out-splatting the UVA Board of Visitors.  This group of splat-ters is led by Team Captain Helen Dragas, who is also the proud owner of the Second Best Villain Moniker Ever, finishing just behind Cruella Deville.

In the interest of journalistic integrity, we confess right up front that we graduated from UVA in 1993 and have a real soft spot for Mr. Jefferson’s academical village.  (WAHOOWA!) We tend to resent any threat to the school’s proud traditions and all that it stands for, such as the right to streak The Lawn. 

So when we learned a couple weeks ago that Teresa Sullivan, the University’s first female president, tendered her resignation with no warning and with three years to go on her contract, we were as concerned as any alum. 

For the two people who still haven't grasped that Charlottesville is the epicenter of the universe and, therefore, haven’t been following this story as closely as they should, here's a quick recap before we launch into our award presentation.  

Dragas, the current Rector of the Board of Visitors (and first female to occupy this post at UVA), had begun to fret about the future of Virginia’s flagship university.  Every time she grabbed her binoculars to take a gander at the horizon from her post on the deck, she saw black clouds that could only signal rough seas ahead. 

Based on her forecast, the Rector believed the conditions would cause the boat to take on water, and in amounts that couldn’t be bailed out with one of those cut off plastic milk jugs.  The last thing Dragas wanted was a three hour tour that ended with the boat wrecked and washed up on a campy sitcom.

We’re told the Rector’s fears for the seaworthiness of the boat stemmed from larger concerns about its Skipper’s ability to guide it through a storm.  To Dragas, the Skipper looked like someone who wouldn’t grip the helm firmly but instead would let it whirl around repeatedly like the central prop on the "Wheel of Fortune" set.  No doubt the Rector had forked over a lot of dough for her seat on this boat, so she wasn’t about to just sit there passively like Mrs. Thurston Howell III.  Instead, she plotted a mutiny. 
Dragas met in secret with the boat’s purser and bartender.  She convinced them that her concern for the Skipper’s navigational skills was legitimate.  Under the Love Boat Rules of Parliamentary Procedure, “yes”es from these critical crew members gave her the votes she needed to oust the Skipper without consulting anyone else. 

So while the passengers were busy sipping daiquiris and debating which side was “starboard,” Dragas pulled Sullivan aside and presented her with two options: Walk the plank or get tossed over the side of the boat in a burlap sack.  Sullivan opted for the short stroll.  Dragas wanted to ensure as dignified an exit as possible, so she asked Sullivan to please refrain from doing a canopener off the end of the plank.  And just like that, the Skipper jumped ship.

Sullivan made a pretty big splash when she hit the water, despite Dragas’s efforts to prevent that.  The boat's crew and passengers were shocked and dismayed.  They liked their Skipper.  She hadn’t been heading up the boat for very long, but already she’d managed to keep it from getting sucked too far into the squall of online learning.  This group hadn't had any major doubts about where the boat was headed. 

They pressed Dragas to explain why she sent the Skipper overboard.  Dragas made some vague claims that Sullivan had plotted the boat’s course using a paper map instead of GPS.  

New of Sullivan’s departure plunged the boat into major chaos (and into the national news), resulting in large-scale protests, major public outcry, and the resignation of some key University talent.  Splat. 

Dragas stood firm, seemingly oblivious to the fact that her misguided bounceback initiative had sent her and the Board straight into the dirt and threatened to run the whole ship aground, too.  Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell finally pointed this out.  In a public statement he gently suggested that the Board hurry up and restore some order to the boat, or grab their life jackets and get ready to swim.

This Tuesday, the BOV convened to decide Sullivan’s fate.  They voted unanimously to reinstate the popular Skipper.  Apparently Dragas regretted the upheaval she caused and issued the following heartfelt apology: “Turns out the black clouds I saw on the horizon were just specks of dirt on the lenses of my binoculars. Ooops, my bad!” 

So, step up and get your Golden Pancake, UVA BOV! We’re glad you rose from the dirt and dusted yourselves off before you took the whole boat down with you. Wahoowa!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hidden treasures

Today’s tale ties in to my general effort to rebuild my life over the last nine months, which included purchasing a 75 year-old Colonial in North Arlington.  I closed on Good Friday and moved in the day after Easter.  (I'm sure this timing is fraught with symbolism, but my status as a non-churchgoing agnostic entitles me to catapult right over it.)

While I wasted no time getting my possessions moved, unpacking them was another story.  I chipped away at it, one room per day, until only the guest room upstairs remained to be conquered. It had become a dumping ground for mystery containers unloaded by the moving company and I dreaded having to open every single one of these vessels to figure out where its contents should go. 

I blamed the movers for creating this state of chaos.  Had they shown up at my old house on time, I might have known what lurked inside these boxes and bags.  But in a bold departure from centuries of relocation precedent, they arrived three hours ahead of schedule.  Their early appearance prompted a packing frenzy as I scrambled to maintain a one container lead.  

I hurled my possessions into any empty box I could find, resulting in packages whose contents were so random I couldn’t have labeled them at gunpoint.  When I ran out of boxes, I turned to Hefty bags.  (While the Hefty’s talents for holding garbage are well-established, the bag doesn’t get nearly the praise it deserves as a flexible suitcase.)  

So there I was, staring down a guest room filled with boxes and bags whose shapes and sizes told me nothing about what they held. At first I approached the task of opening them methodically. This process fatigued me in about three boxes’ time, so I decided just to transfer the whole mess to the basement, where it would be much easier to ignore. 

I grabbed two unopened boxes, stacked them on top of each other, and began the schlep from the second story to the basement.  All was well until I reached the last basement step and whiffed it altogether.  Both the boxes and I splatted, literally. 

The box that took the biggest tumble was one I’d carted around, unopened, for years.  Only on seeing its contents blasted across the floor did I realize it housed all the letters my dad sent me in 1989 -- my first year of college -- giving new meaning to the phrase “family jewels.” 

Here’s a sample passage from one of these gems, in which my father was commenting on the various extracurricular activities I’d undertaken at UVA, including my decision to try sorority rush:

“Mom tells me you are having plenty of fun and excitement with this ‘sorry T’ business.  I know there are deficiencies in my background but for the life of me I can’t understand the allure in trying to determine which parlor you are going to pay to sit in.”

And from the letter where he detailed his and my mom’s trip to see my sister, Lynne, at Mary Washington College over Parents’ Weekend:

“Are you ready for this? A day or two before Parents’ weekend they sprayed the joint for fleas, leaving behind an odor which your mother noticed.  The dorm also has screens that were shot out in some war I think and haven’t been repaired in at least 3 years.  Finally, Mom and I had to leave ID at the desk before they would let us in.  Guess they were afraid we might clean up the place.”

If this is what I get in exchange for a rolled ankle and an ego bruise, I should splat more often.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pro Athletes Splat, Too.

We’ve already selected the next Splat-ter of the Week, thanks to the excellent nominations we received.  The new honoree will be revealed on Friday.  But in the meantime, we’d be remiss if we overlooked Venus Williams’s first-round defeat at Wimbledon, a major, high-viz sports splat.

(By contrast, we are intentionally ignoring Greece’s loss to Germany in the World Cup last week. We frankly saw it coming.  We probably aren't the first to observe this is one more big whiff by Greece in a situation where a payback was required.)

In the fall of 2011, Venus –we’re on a first-name basis with her, since she struggles with the burdens of tennis fame like we do (don't believe us? click here)-- was sidelined by an autoimmune disorder called Sjogren’s Syndrome. 

As a result of in-depth medical research conducted by the Splatospheric team (a 45-second visit to the Mayo Clinic website, 30 seconds of which were spent reading about scabies because it appeared first alphabetically and we couldn’t help ourselves), we understand that this condition causes the sufferer’s white blood cells to attack the body’s moisture-producing glands.  Sjogren's apparently causes a host of unpleasant symptoms, the worst of which for an athlete are joint pain and fatigue.

But Venus was determined not to let this condition keep her down. In March, she returned to the courts and rose in rank from 134 to the mid 50s-- good enough to earn her a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.  But a recent second round defeat at the French Open and yesterday’s first round loss at Wimbledon in two blowout sets have super-glued her to the wall.

At a post-match press conference yesterday, Williams claimed to have more good tennis in her.  We hope she’s right. We’d like to return our focus to where it belongs: her appalling taste in clothing.
(Thanks, Huffingtonpost)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Change of Vine-ue

I admit to being a novice when it comes to exorcisms.  Having neither performed or attended one before, I didn’t know what to expect beyond some general notion of catharsis.

I voiced this sentiment to M, G and J as we waited at the West Falls Church Metro on Sunday for the limo we’d hired through LivingSocial to arrive for our 12:00 p.m. pickup.  We wilted in the heat as the hands on our watches crept past noon, 12:10, 12:15. 

Twenty minutes and two phone calls later, not only did our chariot not await, we learned it had no intention of materializing.  Zach, the unlucky young man who pulled the Sunday shift at LivingSocial, explained the limo company believed the tour started at ten and had shown up to collect us two hours before.  

Wine-tasting at 10 a.m. on a Sunday? While not unheard of (and don’t look for any criticism or judgment here), LivingSocial caters to the masses, most of whom aren’t knocking back fermented grapes at 10 on a Sunday morning unless they’re standing in the communion line.

We didn’t see this splat coming.  It’s tough to expel demons in Purcellville from a Metro station in Falls Church, except perhaps by mobile, and we thought that would really hamper our delivery. 

Applying a Field of Dreams approach to the situation, we decided to move the exorcism. If you spill it, they will come, we reasoned.  Our group also understood that the converstion from splat to success requires resilience.

We took the show –including the “unholy water” Judy prepared specially for this occasion-- a couple miles down the road to Clare and Don’s Beach Shack.  

While the walls at Breaux are decorated in an understated style that features vinicultural items, the interior of Clare and Don’s is festooned with flip-flops.  I personally find it difficult to maintain any air of sadness when I’m surrounded by thongs. 

As soon as the waitress brought our boat drinks and bloody Mary’s, we raised a glass to fresh starts and the guts it takes to make them.  

And then Judy spritzed me with the lavender-scented unholy water for the courage I showed in freeing myself from a situation that was dangerous and escalating rapidly.  (I’ll be carrying the unholy water around in my purse the way some people tote around mace.)

We spent the afternoon eating fried food, sipping boat drinks and wine served in mason jars, talking, laughing (LOTS of laughing), and exchanging words of encouragement and support.  In short, I did the same things at Clare and Don's as on my wedding day, but with different props. 

Based on the amount of happiness circulating at our table yesterday afternoon, any demons that may have been lingering back at Breaux didn’t bother to make the trip to Falls Church.   And the memories of both days are, and will be, among my most cherished.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

All Aces

My ten week tale of tennis splatting ends on a happy note:  I won last night by a score of 6-0, 6-2 at Annandale Sport and Health.

(A side note about the venue: It is, in architectural terms, a dump. The courts were old, the lighting dim, and the air stifling. You can get away with this setup at a dive bar, where a juke box and abundant cheap beer offset these conditions. But on the courts of Annandale, we found neither beer nor music, unless you count the hideous, nasal moan coming from an overhead vent, which had given up moving air so it could dedicate itself full-time to producing noise.)  

My mother knew the courts were hot, so she asked, “Do you want a towel? In case you need one to throw in?" 

But getting back to the match coverage: The numbers are doing some very good PR work here because they make the victory sound more decisive than it was; however, it’s fair to say that my game was better than my opponent’s in some key areas, such as court coverage.  On the spectrum of mobility, she was less agile than Baryshnikov but more nimble than the Lincoln Memorial. 

My first and only ace of the season occurred not because I used my racquet as a missile launcher but because it was one of few times I didn’t deliver my serve right to my opponent like an FTD bouquet.  (After the match I didn’t pat her on the back, lest I risk getting an overt invitation to embark on a very distasteful diet.) This splat ended so well that I’m going to play again in the fall.

My afternoon today promises to be splat-tastic as well. Several friends and I bought vouchers through LivingSocial for a limo tour to a Virginia vineyard.  At the time of purchase I didn’t get bogged down in the fine print to see which wineries were available.  I let my friends do that. The limo company offered limited choices, and on the date we selected, Breaux Vineyards was the only option.  Breaux is a gorgeous winery in Purcellville that evokes the Tuscan countryside. And it may also give off a slight stink of marital failure because it was the site of my wedding.

At first I had mixed feelings about going back to Breaux, but the truth is I’ve confronted the implosion of the marriage already.  We failed, and that does generate some sadness; however, the memories of my wedding day bring me undiluted joy.  I suspect they always will.

I think I'll always remember that the weather was impossibly and improbably beautiful--bright sun and cloudless skies after five days of rain. 

That the ceremony I wrote, performed by a very dear friend as the sun set behind the mountains, reflected principles I truly believed --and still believe --about commitment for life.   

That I was embraced and supported by the people who love me most.  

That my brother and sisters delivered a toast that consisted of the most beautiful words ever likely to be spoken about me (and, hilariously, referred to the groom only once),  and that their speech made me well up with gratitude, laughter and tears.

That my parents, with their characteristic selflessless and bottomless love for their children, gave me not just a beautiful celebration but all of their hope that my future might be as happy as that one day, and that they danced with each other, my siblings, their siblings, and my niece and nephews.   

And that every one of the 85 faces I saw smiled at me.

I know today my our group will laugh and be happy, too, even if the trip is a little bit loaded with meaning.  My friends are prepared to purge any demons using a substance of questionable lineage that goes by the name “unholy water.” 

This proves that your good friends give you a hug, but your really good friends give you an exorcism.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

The Smash Hits play our last match of the season tonight.  Heading into this evening's contest, my personal win/loss record is two and five.  This sounds bad in the context of tennis, but the same number expressed as a batting average vaults me right up to “nearly mediocre.”   

And if my record and prior posts still have you convinced that I stink, just remember that numbers are incapable of telling the whole story. 

For example, when the Smash Hits stormed the courts earlier this week, our captain, Mrs. O, played me at the top singles spot.  She didn’t come right out and say she was sacrificing me, but it couldn’t have been more obvious if she’d dressed me in white, draped me in flowers and thrown me into an actively erupting volcano. 

Because I support whatever strategy gives the Smashes a better shot at winning as a team, I didn’t mind.  (No doubt this change to the lineup raised the chances of a win from “nonexistent” all the way up to “nanoparticle.”)  Mrs. O managed to keep a straight face as she claimed that my promotion from worst to first was merit-based, which has earned her a berth on my Texas Hold ‘Em team.

I encountered my opponent, Martha, on Court #3 at the Four Seasons Racquet Club in Fairfax.  Martha was polite and fairly laid-back.  She posed a nice contrast to certain league ladies I’ve come up against who act like they’re parading around Centre Court at Flushing Meadows instead of a dank bubble in Northern Virginia. 

I played quite well except when Martha served, at which times I was reminded that it’s tough to win a fight when you bring the wrong weapon.  She packed a cannon, I packed a cheese cloth.

I didn’t lose by much, but I still lost.  Fortunately, my stint as a Smash Hit has created many opportunities for me to practice losing with grace.  At match end Martha and I shook hands in a display of maturity and sportsmanship. 

She patted me on the back and said, “Nice match, Karen.” 

“Eat sh*t and die, Martha,” I said. 

Or I would have, had my mother—watching the match from the “gallery” upstairs –not taught me years ago to censor my interior monologue.  I'm proud to report that five losses in seven weeks plus forty-one years of Mom and Dad's heroic parenting enabled me to coax out, “You, too, Martha,” along with a smile of dubious sincerity.  

But here’s hoping I end the season on the back-patting side of the scorecard.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Splat-ter of the Week: First Edition!

Welcome to the debut of our “Splat-ter of the Week” segment.  We (and here I use “we” royally, in the same way my clients refer to me as “The Legal Department”) will scour the week’s news, or at least the recesses of our brain, in search of the worthiest splat and feature it here.  Nominations are welcome!

Because every splat follows its own arc, sometimes we’ll spotlight an honoree at the moment of impact and other times at the advanced cleanup/redemption stage.  We’ll stick to the facts whenever possible but we refuse to be handcuffed to them, so if you want actual journalism you’re still going to be dependent on tweets from Perez Hilton. Okay, now that the ado is done, let’s get on with the show.

This week, our award goes to…Greece!

Multiple websites inform us that Greece joined the EU in January 2001 and not a one of them is Wikipedia, so it must be true.  These sources also assert that, in the early years of Greece’s membership in the EU, its economy grew faster than that of any other European country. 

This growth evidently attracted foreign investors and, along with low bond rates, spurred the Greek government to borrow heavily in order to embark on new public works projects (which also expanded its workforce and payroll). 

As piles of cash got up and started to walk out the door, the Greek government basically behaved like your average adolescent: It sat on the couch and watched the money parade on by while it continued to eat Cap’n Crunch and watch “Gilmore Girls” reruns.  

The recession began to take hold in 2007, curtailing investment and causing interest rates on Greece’s loans to rise without any increase in government revenues to offset them. A couple years later, the country’s debt levels had reached the point where it struggled to meet its various loan obligations.
Greece tried to rebound by seeking assistance from the International Monetary Fund and other European partners, but those aid sources wanted to impose austerity measures in exchange for providing bailout funds. This put a massive cramp in the teenager’s style, equivalent to saying no allowance would be paid until it started taking out the trash. 

“Okay,” the teenager said while covertly flashing the three-finger universal sign for “Whatever!”  (Meanwhile, the cash kept leaving the house but took to sneaking out via a bedroom window.)  Instead of ferrying the trash out to the curb, the kid just hid it in other parts of the house and then lied to the parents about its whereabouts.  This scheme revealed itself when the father opened a closet door and was engulfed by a garbage tsunami.  #Epicsplat, in Twitter-ese.

The father was angry but torn, wanting to help his son on one hand but feeling the need to teach him a lesson on the other.  Reluctantly he agreed to give the teenager some additional cash and let him keep living in the house.  The teenager renewed his promise to take out the trash, except for those annoying little wastebaskets in the office and guest bath.  He didn't love the rules in this particular house, but he decided he wasn't quite ready to move out, either.  

And, less than a week after a round of important elections, that's where we find this troubled, beautiful, and historically resilient country that's seen its fair share of ups and downs over the last couple thousand years.  This splat is still sliding down the wall so we'll be watching it  closely in the months to come.
In the meantime, Greece, step right up and claim the first Golden Pancake in recognition of your recent excellence in splatting. 

And please accept our wishes for a speedy recovery.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Uphill Battle (Part Duh)

After casting aside air quality issues and common sense yesterday morning, I got on my bike, clipped my shoes into the pedals and headed out on the Custis Trail.  I’d planned to ride to National Airport and back, about 17 miles round trip.  As I approached National my legs still felt fresh so I sailed right past and cycled another couple miles to Belle Haven Marina.  There, I began to look for a spot that would meet my stringent criteria for turning around, namely abundant and soft vegetation in case of an unsuccessful attempt to unclip my shoes from the pedals. (I am no stranger to such attempts and have become quite the connoisseur of shrubbery as a result.) 

On about-facing, it took mere minutes for me to realize I'd attributed the freshness of my legs on the front half of the trip to the wrong cause.  It wasn't my extraordinary level of fitness, it was gravity.  The ride to the marina had been almost entirely downhill.  The prospect of riding 10 miles uphill in ever-intensifying heat and increasingly unbreathable air leeched the motivation right out of me.  The imminence of an important morning meeting kept me on the bike, but I was pedaling as fast as teeth shift.

Traffic on the uphill side of the path was minimal, so I was somewhat surprised to hear a rider behind me call out, “Passing, left!”  As I shifted over to the far right I was overtaken by a beefy cyclist on a bike that looked like the one Dorothy rode in the Wizard of Oz and sounded like it came off the same assembly line as Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang.  Talk about demoralizing.

It reminded me, not in a good way, of the first sprint triathlon I did back in 2005.  I exited the swim in second place. Knowing that I’m not the strongest cyclist –at the time I didn’t even own a bike and had borrowed one for the race—I expected to lose some ground.  I dropped 9 or 10 spots right out of the chute as I was left in the dust by a group of stunt doubles from Breaking Away

About two miles later, the world’s most mediocre peloton whizzed by me, so I quit trying to keep track of my standing in the field.  But I was still in no way prepared to be passed halfway through the ride by a very fleshy competitor whose entire racing uniform consisted of a pair of Nikes, white ankle socks, and a very overworked, low-coverage Speedo. Needless to say, both he and the bathing suit earned my deepest respect. 

I'll be getting back in the saddle again in a few days. Evidently I still have quite a ways to go before I win back the bike.  


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An Uphill Battle (Part I)

I liked riding my road bike before I married a ridiculously fit, hard-charging, hill-loving cyclist.  Early in our marriage, my then-husband and I tried to make biking an “us” activity.  Spending time together doing something each of us enjoyed individually made great sense as a concept.  In reality, though, our joint rides made me feel like I was chasing Lance Armstrong in the Pyrenees while mounted on a Big Wheel.  Frustration replaced fun and fulfillment quickly (and in that way paralleled the trajectory of the relationship as well) so I abandoned my bike for many months.

Now that I'm on my own again and live within half a mile of three nice multi-use trails, I decided it was time to pick it back up.  The idea of climbing aboard the bike again produced some of the same anxieties I’ve experienced when contemplating getting back together with an ex.  Would I be welcomed back--no questions asked--and return immediately to the status I held before the hiatus? Or would I have to suffer through a round of punishment before experiencing reunion bliss? I confronted these questions today.

Local meteorologists referred to this morning’s air quality as “red,” a color that is universally understood as a warning.  For me, though, this rating system isn't all that useful because I don’t breathe in colors. (I’ve yawned in color a time or two, mainly in college, but those are stories for another post.) I think it's better to describe air breathability in less abstract, more relatable terms.  So, as of 6:05 a.m., today's air quality was “mashed potatoes and gravy.”  I went riding anyway, setting the table nicely for a splat. [Stay tuned for Part II....]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesdays and I: Why can't we just get along?

I went for a swim this morning before work in an effort to wake myself up and to heal my severely strained right hamstring.  (Origins of the injury chronicled here)  I took the right half of a lane occupied by a fifty-ish guy whose pace looked comparable to mine except that, unlike me, he was not dragging one leg behind him like a dinghy.  I didn’t even notice the swimmer in the lane next to me until he switched from freestyle to backstroke. 

As you may know, backstroke can be divided into two phases.  In the “catch,” your hand enters the water above your head—more or less directly in line with your shoulders—and then makes a sweeping motion underwater that propels you forward and brings your hand back to the surface near your hips.   The “recovery” stage happens above the water.  Keeping your arm straight, you raise it out of the water in a semicircular motion that starts from your hip and proceeds directly in line with your shoulders.  The second phase ends when your hand hits the water again.  Most coaches describe proper hand placement here by reference to a clock.  Assuming your head is noon, your right hand would re-enter the water at 11 and your left at 1.   

I didn’t see my neighbor’s recovery phase with my own eyes; however, based on the width of his catch—which I did experience firsthand—I know his hands didn’t enter the water at 11 and 1, unless his clock was designed by a cubist.  His errant right “catching” hand breached the invisible underwater border between our lanes and came to rest on my head.  A lesser swimmer might have stopped on encountering such an unexpected form of resistance underwater but he saw it as a rare opportunity to enhance his catch and gave a healthy push instead. 

I allowed this incident to pass without comment, recognizing that everyone is entitled to one free drowning attempt.  But when I passed him on the way back and he made a very credible effort to get to second base, I decided to get out.  Still, the swim stretched me out and improved my gait such that my limp would go unnoticed in plenty of places, like a pirates convention. 


Monday, June 18, 2012

Home Moan-ership

If you labored under the delusion that collective bargaining extends only to pro athletes and hourly workers, you're not alone. But it turns out that home appliances have labor rights, too, as I discovered when three of mine went on strike in as many days. 

The dishwasher was the first to leave me, just when I needed it most.  It walked out of the proverbial factory in dramatic fashion on a Saturday morning, mere hours before I hosted a party for 65 people.

The dryer decided it might not want to do nights and weekends any more, either.  It still put in a cameo appearance by accepting new loads of clothes, jostling them around, and emitting the usual beep to let me know its shift had ended.  But it didn't bring any heat to the job, which is to say it did nothing except make noise and juggle.  The dryer had become so useless that, instead of beeping, it might as well have slid down the back of a brontosaurus and yelled "Yabba Dabba Doo!" at the top of its lungs.  I decided to give it a couple days off and returned to it late on a Tuesday night, after I had taken an Ambien.  (I prefer not to be lucid when confronting home maintenance issues. I solve problems much more creatively that way.)
The dryer resides in the basement and shares living space with a toilet, sink and bathtub in what a friend refers to as a "very full bathroom."  I view it as paradise for the multi-tasker. I descended the stairs to the basement and strode purposefully towards the electrical panel to reboot the dryer.  (Breaker resetting is the only home repair task I perform with complete confidence, aside from writing checks.) I flipped the switch purely for effect and made my way to the bathroom to assess the results.

I forgot all about the dryer when I walked in and saw a long, thin bubble of sorts that ran from the ceiling above the shower head over to the bathroom window and all the way down the wall to the tiles of the floor. It looked like the domestic version of what phlebotomists call a "good vein."  The Ambien convinced me that I ought to tap it.  I reached out and flicked it, prompting the wall to bleed rust-colored water.  Next, I did what any sleeping pill-enhanced homeowner would do: I went to bed, just in case the whole episode was a hallucination.  The following morning I revisted the scene and found a thin brown stripe marring the sunny yellow bathroom walls and a still-defunct dryer to go along with it. 

At this point I'm not going to talk about the fridge. As both a key holdout and keeper of the beer, it wields tremendous negotiating power.  Best that I not risk divulging any strategic secrets here.

So much for my triumphant return to home ownership. This two-month honeymoon lasted about as long as my marital one.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

As part of my bounceback initiative, I've adopted a policy of accepting as many random invitations as possible. Along those lines, my good friend, D (a former adversary in professional terms), invited me to hike Old Rag on a Friday morning with him and a friend of his who was visiting from Wyoming. I thought it would be a fun opportunity to enjoy a beautiful day and meet a new person, so I said "yes" without hesitating. I had another tennis match on the calendar for Sunday but I figured two days would give me ample time to recover from the hike. 
Old Rag is both lush and rocky.  Greenery blankets the whole mountain but as you approach the summit you start to see clusters of boulders at regular intervals, too. Some sit in jagged clumps on the ground, but others look like they’re leaping off the side of the mountain.  The gravity-defying groups jut out at improbable, precipitous angles and balance on each other as delicately as if they were Cirque du Soleil acrobats instead of three ton hunks of granite. The hiking gets slower and more technical in this area, and single lane passages create bottlenecks. My attempt to help D --who was hiking just behind me and is of medium build--navigate one such tricky crevasse and gain purchase on the rock above caused my right hamstring to secede from the rest of my leg. The episode reminded me of that cliché about pulling a camel through the eye of the needle, except you’d have to add a phase where you first hoist the camel up from the bottom of an elevator shaft. By Saturday evening my hamstring didn't seem inclined to rejoin the union at all, much less in time for Sunday’s match. It refused to accept any weight I tried to put on it. I couldn't consider forfeiting but the prospect of taking the court looking like a raqcuet-wielding flamingo was less than appetizing.
I spent the night in the company of an ice pack, with good results. When I awoke Sunday morning I was delighted to discover I no longer felt a blazing rush of pain when I performed certain activities, like inhaling. Still, I had to play.  I drove gingerly to the Four Seasons Tennis Club in Fairfax. My parents showed up to spectate at my match, which my father later described as “just like Breakfast at Wimbledon, without the strawberries and cream or the talent.”  But before I took the court he was all business. While my mom was busy telling me to enjoy myself out there, Papa Yank rolled out helpful sportsmanlike comments such as, “If you get her down, step on her.”  (I should note that he cemented his cheerleader reputation in my childhood, during my sisters’ and my soccer games.  Nothing rallied the troops on the field like an inspirational “Get the lead out!”) 
If my opponent feared an encounter with my Size 9s, she sure didn’t show it, whereas her soles hovered near my neck so often that I would buy her a pair of 8s with no fear of having to return them.  To give her proper credit, she was a much better player than I.  But I also committed an early strategic blunder by taking the court in an Ace bandage wrapped so tightly around my hamstring that my right thigh looked like a water balloon in the grip of arm wrestler.  My opponent saw my limited mobility and wisely exploited it.  The good news is that she didn’t exactly kick my teeth in. (I claimed one game out of two sets and brought several to deuce repeatedly.) But something more than standard issue floss was needed to extract all the neon fuzz I ate.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Take Two

People do change, no matter how often we hear otherwise. They decide to disturb the status quo every day, for reasons ranging from major life upheaval to passing whim. It just takes a little moxie. Change manifests in myriad ways, too, though people seem to gravitate toward relocating, taking a vacation, or picking up a hobby. Courtesy of my divorce-in-progress, I was smack in the middle of the first species of transformation and contemplating the second when I got an unexpected invitation to embark on the third.

My mother’s call recruiting me to become a member of the Smash Hits, a women’s recreational tennis team, came as I was surveying the wreckage that covered the floor in the guest room of the old colonial I’d bought in North Arlington. Mom timed her call perfectly. Aside from giving me a welcome respite from unpacking, her overture capitalized on my openness to reinvention. I had not played tennis in a meaningful way—stretching the definition of “meaningful” to its elastic limits-- since my days on the Fox Hunt Junior Tennis Team in 1984. Slim pickings in the fourteen and under age group had landed me at the first-seed singles spot back then, but I played halfheartedly. The competition soon left me behind so I dropped the sport. When the opportunity for an athletic do-over dangled in front of me twenty-seven years later, I grabbed it without hesitation.

Unbeknownst to me, my return to the courts spurred a deep divide (and some split sides) among my parents and siblings. One sibling and a parent who remembered my tennis career voiced skepticism. Another sibling and the second parent chose optimism over history and expressed confidence in my potential. The third sibling abstained. To prevent the debate about my skills from raging out of control, my family settled it using a trusted dispute resolution tool: They started a pool and wagered on my badness.

I discovered this after a practice outing with my dad, when I overheard him say to my sister, “She didn’t stink up the joint anywhere near as badly as I thought she would. Looks like I owe your brother ten bucks.”

His assessment was frank but accurate. My game is quite balanced, objectively speaking. On the upside, I run well and cover the court adeptly. I also use every square inch of the racquet, whereas less versatile players limit themselves to the strings. And, because many of my shots emanate from the frame, they travel in ways that even a gifted physics student would find hard to predict. On the downside, my serve has all the consistency of Charlie Sheen in his “winning” phase.

With the Smash Hits’ first match scheduled to take place fourteen days after my mother’s call, the calendar gave me little time to practice. Since our captain subscribes to the tennis version of the Hippocratic Oath, she placed me at the safest spot in the lineup--Number Three doubles--and paired me with my mother.  I reached my athletic zenith at age eleven but this had no impact on my competitive nature, so just before taking the courts at the Army-Navy Country Club (a venue that would deny me admission under any other circumstances), I reminded my partner that I don’t like to lose.

“Okay,” she said. And then, in a statement that reflected her tenacity and proved representative of the Smash Hits’ as well, said, “Did you notice how much cuter our outfits are?” I made a mental note to have DNA testing done after the match.

Mom and I won the first set in a tie-breaker, a development that surprised us only slightly less than our opponents. We compensated for this with an efficient second set choke, losing four games straight in half the time it took us to win the entire first set. Our deterioration in Set Two can be attributed in large part to my serve. I had begun to experiment with leaning into it, wanting to harness the full potency of sixty-eight inches of height and one hundred twenty-nine pounds of might. I achieved an instant increase in speed and power, but it was offset by a loss of directional control. This combination caused me to send my partner the strong, non-verbal message that she should consider parting her hair on the left. With the next serve I disproved that old chestnut about mothers having eyes in the back of their heads because, if she’d had them and they were operational, she wouldn’t have gotten beaned.

I located my self-discipline shortly thereafter and brought my serve under control. My partner’s play improved, too. Between fending off both me and our opponents, she began to show cobra-quality reflexes at the net. We managed to win a game and had brought the next one to deuce when the buzzer rang to end the match. I was proud of myself for summoning up the guts to get back out there. But concern tempered my pride once I realized the news of my concussive debut might shrink the pool of would-be partners. In case it does, I’ve drafted a Craigslist posting: “Seeking: doubles partner who isn’t afraid of head trauma.”