Sunday, February 28, 2016

Senior gym rat

One of the neat things about turning 65 — which I did two weeks ago — was turn silver.

Somewhere in the mountain of pamphlets and brochures that arrived in the mail explaining my new benefits was a notice that I now qualified for the Silver Sneakers Fitness Program. I had no idea what that was and, originally, I didn't really care.

Then I had it explained to me: all I had to do was show my new health insurance card to any gymnasium honoring Silver Sneakers, and presto, I had free membership. And, by the way, did you know the local YMCA participates in the Silver Sneakers program?

I did not.

The J. Smith Young YMCA is just a few blocks from my house, so I went over there on a fact-finding mission. Yes, they honor Silver Sneakers. Yes, you have access to everything the Y offers. Yes, there are no out-of-pocket costs.

It had been years since I stepped into the Y — I once played racquetball there when I was a younger dues paying member — so my guided tour was an eye-opener. The fitness center is fully equipped with state-of-the-art cardio machines that can seemingly monitor every beat of your heart. There are weight machines, free weights, yoga classes, spin classes, pilates, zumba, pickle ball, basketball, the Josh Harris Natatorium, and floor-walking staff members available to answer your every question.

It's a jungle (gym) out there...
It was incredible.

Because my guide was female, we didn't venture into the men's locker room. I figured since I live just a few blocks away, I could go home and shower after my workouts.

But the next day I decided to check out the locker room on my own, because that's where the steam rooms and sauna are located.

I opened the door and immediately saw several friends and acquaintances in various states of undress.

"Hey, Bruce. How are you? Are you joining? Good to see you," they said.

Now what? Do I say, "Hey, it's great to see you, too?" Hmm, I don't think so.

Do I offer to shake hands? Can a man shake hands with another naked man, like two ancient Greek Olympians? Hmm, I thought, jamming my hands in my pockets. "I'm just checking out the sauna. Bye."

I decided, for future reference, that fist bumps are the way to go. They're ambivalent. And they're reasonably hygienic in sweaty gyms.

I've been to the Y every morning (except Sundays, of course) for two weeks now. I'm burning 500 calories in about 90 minutes, and every other day I'm doing weights to tighten up my core muscles. I don't intend to body sculpt, because that particular clay has cracked and dried up. But I can still tone. I know it's going to take a while, but what's my hurry?

And so far, I'm surprised by how much I'm enjoying all this. I really struck gold when I turned silver. Knuckle dabs for everyone.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dear Sports Illustrated

This is the letter I wanted to write when this year's mailing of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue arrived at my door:

"Dear Sports Illustrated. Please cancel my subscription."

Wait a minute. We'll get to my epiphany in a moment. But I need to give you a little history first.

I began my subscription to SI back when I was a junior in high school. That would be about 1967 — or, more incredible sounding, perhaps, 49 years ago. Subscribing seemed like the logical thing to do back then. I was really big into sports, to the point where I could name most of the starters for all 18 of the major league baseball teams (Eighteen teams? Yeah, I'm old).

I don't even remember getting swimsuit editions back then. The first one was published in 1964, and I think the ones I got were basically special sections found in the regular SI issue. Wikipedia tells me the first swimsuit issue was a mere five-page layout.

I'm not sure when the swimsuit issue became a separate mailing. Probably in the late 1970s, because the models and photo shoot locations had become decidedly more exotic (some might say erotic). I do remember the famous Cheryl Tiegs fishnet swimsuit photos, forever etched in my brain as if fired there with a welder's arc. That was 1978. Etched. Forever.

The real fun came two weeks later when irate mothers and scandalized librarians had their letters to the editor published by the magazine, complaining about the revealing swimwear, about how SI was exploiting women and please cancel my subscription.

What prudes, I thought, chuckling at such prudishness. Remember, I was a hippie-in-training back then. The scales were falling from my eyes.

Fast forward to now, skipping through decades of cancelled subscriptions. We're now in the era of thongs and strategically placed body paint.

There on the cover of this year's Swimsuit Issue — at least, the one I got because there were three regional covers —was a rather large woman cavorting in the surf in her two-piece with everything out there in enormous display.


"Dear Sports Illustrated. Please cancel my subscription" raced through my mind.

Then, almost immediately, came my epiphany. The model, Ashley Graham, had written that her daring photo shoot "...was about my journey of loving my body. I have cellulite. I have rolls. I have all the things you're struggling with right now..."

She was right (well, OK, the cellulite and rolls were pretty much airbrushed away) and my wise, observant inner hippie suddenly kicked in. It's the hippie who says live and let live. The one who says to each his own. It's the hippie with his own bulges, rolls and relaxed fit jeans.

I know many women have self-image issues. So do many men. My own wife recently lost 20 pounds, but she thinks she still needs to lose more, which has me banging my head against the wall. We're all bombarded daily by peers, advertising, glamour magazines and whatnot, defining somebody else's concept of an image for us.

I don't think that's what living your life is about. Those judgments are not ours to make, explained my hippie. The key is not falling for someone else's image for you. The key is feeling comfortable in who you are. And I knew that.

Now, where's the body paint...?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Love is all you need

I'm just an old hippie.

It took Valentine's Day for me to see that. Not the chocolates and flowers kind. Not the Vermont Teddy Bear kind (For a minute there, I thought Bernie Sanders was the Vermont Teddy Bear).

This is my documentation: I was born in 1951, which means I was 16 years old during the fabled Summer of Love. Clearly, I was swimming smack dab (dammit, I'm dabbing again) in the middle of my generation's optimism.

We really didn't have much to be optimistic about. Vietnam was still raging. Race relations seemingly had reached something of a critical mass. There was a generation gap a mile wide and I was standing on one side of that chasm, with the adults in my family standing on the other.

Damn hippie (circa 1973).
 I was getting ready for college in a few years, and ready to make most of my own decisions. My hair, already showing signs of male pattern baldness, was also reaching toward my shoulders. While I never wore love beads or peace signs, I took to bell bottoms, button flies, sandals and colorful paisley shirts.

I looked the part. And I tried to live it.

I heartily subscribed to the philosophy of my generation, etched forever in the vinyl soundtracks of The Beatles (All You Need Is Love), the Youngbloods (Get Together) and all the rest, that love was the answer.

It seemed to make sense and I knew we were going to change the world. We were serious about it.

Or so I thought.

But we never got around to changing the system. We still needed to make money, which meant we still needed to get jobs, which meant ultimately we had to go mainstream, whether we liked it or not. I mean, even all those rock stars singing about loving each other were getting wealthy singing about it.

Well, OK. So be it. I found a respectable job (journalist) that I kept for 30 years and with it made humble contributions to my little corner of society. I fell in love and got married (a true Valentine's Day love story soaring through its 36th year). My hair did fall out, my blue jeans somehow became relaxed fit and retro tie-dyed seems a little silly to me now (who knows, maybe paisley will come back).

And yet — and yet — somewhere the ember of that Summer of Love still glows inside of me. It was a good time and the driving philosophy behind it all still holds true, I think. The message is still as fresh as ever.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A little dab'll do ya

In a few hours we'll all be watching the first Super Bowl ever that isn't defined by Roman numerals.

Thank God. It was getting to the point where I couldn't decipher XLVIIIMMC anymore. I guess it's because I'm not Roman.

Nevertheless, interest in the game, at least locally, is out of sight. That's because the Charlotte Panthers, that NFL colossus just an hour and a few minutes down the road from us, has pretty much been shredding everything in its path, coming this close to a perfect season. As it stands, 17-1 — with one more to go — ain't bad.

Th Panthers take on the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.

I'll be clear about this: I'm not necessarily a Panthers' fan. I'm a Pennsylvania import, so my team of choice is the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have always been my team for as long as I can remember. So give me credit for not abandoning the Eagles and becoming a Panthers' bandwagoneer. I truly bleed Midnight Green.

Having said that, the Eagles are 3,000 miles away from this year's Super Bowl. And I have to admit, I do enjoy watching the Panthers play football. This year has been a lot of fun.


And we're upset about Cam Newton's wardrobe because...?
 At 6-foot-5 and a svelte 245 pounds, Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton is rewriting the position prospectus. He's been responsible for 35 passing touchdowns and 10 more rushing. Wow. Greg Olsen is perhaps one of the best tight ends I can remember, reminiscent of prototypical tight end John Mackey. Luke Kuechly is a remarkable force at linebacker in the Dick Butkus/Ray Nitschke mold, and running back Jonathan Stewart might be the best running back nobody ever makes a fuss over.

You could go through the roster position by position and it would be impressive. Even when a player falls out of the lineup for whatever reason, his replacement seems more than capable. And that's what it takes.

Besides, I enjoy watching Newton having fun playing the game. I don't understand some of the criticism I've heard about him being a hot dog and not respecting the game. C'mon. I enjoy his dabs. I like his outlandish wardrobe. He's articulate and thoughtful. So lighten up. He's 26 years old and he's taken your team to the Super Bowl. Kinda like the way that Namath guy did.

So I'll be pulling for the Panthers, even though the Broncos have West Davidson graduate Josh Bush (No. 20) playing in their secondary, and even though this likely could be Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning's final game as he prepares to step into the Hall of Fame.

We're almost there: Kim's five-bean chili is in the crock pot, the beer is in the fridge, the hummus is waiting to be dipped. Or dabbed, I can't remember.

It should be a good one: Panthers 28, Broncos 24.

Is it me or does the guy in this 1950s TV commercial look a little like Luke Kuechly? Especially when he takes off his hat. Hmm. I never had this problem, by the way...