Tuesday, February 26, 2013

40th Anniversary Waltz

Sometimes hearing a song on the radio will trigger a series of memories in your mind. That’s what happened to me last Sunday. It was Audrey’s and my 40th anniversary (whew!), and we woke to hear Arlo Guthrie singing at Mountain Stage. And suddenly I was thinking about my father.

This probably takes some explanation. Arlo was singing one of my favorite Woody Guthrie songs about the 1930s gangster Pretty Boy Floyd. Arlo introduced the song, which is pretty sympathetic to Pretty Boy, by saying, “When a man robs a bank, it makes big news. But when a bank robs a man, it hardly gets a mention.” The song ends this way:

Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun 
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home

So why did this song make me think about my dad? As far as I know, my father never met Pretty Boy Floyd and never was robbed by a bank. Certainly, he never robbed a bank himself. There are lots of things I just don’t know about Abe Goodman, though I have no doubts about his honesty and his honor code. Golly, the man never even cursed!  My father shared only a few anecdotes about his growing up years, but one of the great stories he told is that as a teenager in Arkansas, he was operating a toll booth that Bonnie and Clyde passed through several days before they were gunned down in the ambush portrayed so vividly in the movies. Like Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde were considered heroes by many poor people in the Deep South. By robbing banks, they seemed to be taking revenge on institutions that had driven so many people into poverty during the Depression.

Could my father have taken this picture of
Bonnie and Clyde to put in his photo album?
It was clear from the way my father related his story about Bonnie and Clyde that he was thrilled to have been near them for as long as it took to collect their toll. Now, I know that if I do some thorough research, my father’s story may fall apart. When Bonnie and Clyde were killed, my father was just 14. Was that old enough for him to be collecting tolls? And were there really toll bridges or roads in Arkansas at that time? You know, this is one instance when the facts just don’t matter. When your father tells you a great story about his life, you take it on faith and believe him. And I hope my children feel the same way about my stories, though, of course, I would never exaggerate.

As I began thinking about my father on the morning of our 40th anniversary (whew!), I recalled two other stories. One occurred the day before our wedding, and the other during our wedding itself. When Audrey and I got married on February 17, 1973, it was bitter cold in New York. The temperature dropped below zero, and there was snow in the air and on the ground. I had picked up my parents and some friends at LaGuardia Airport and was driving on the Thruway to deliver them to a motel in Yonkers, when one of my rear tires blew out. I was impressed with my cool. I somehow guided the car across three lanes of traffic to reach the shoulder, bumping all the way. That’s when my father took over. He grabbed a few large stones from the roadbed to block the other tires from sliding on the pavement, helped me jack up the car, and then helped me remove and replace the tire. Everyone else was shivering from cold; I was shivering from nervousness; but my father was calm and in control. I like this memory of my dad!

Then at the wedding, he did something else surprising. He got a little drunk. Now, I saw my father drunk on only two occasions—at my brother’s wedding and at mine. There is a great picture of my father and mother walking my brother down the aisle. My father’s yarmulke is perched sideways on his head, a little like a beret. It seems that he and my brother’s father-in-law had worked their way through a large part of a bourbon or scotch bottle at the marriage certificate signing ceremony. At my wedding, my father was walking around with a teapot and pouring what was clearly not tea into my friends’ cups. We were all a little amazed. Imagine, Abe Goodman that playful! My father was always quick to laugh and loved to sing funny songs. “Ain’t we crazy,” he would croon in his Arkansas accent. “Ain’t we crazy. We’re going to sing this song all night today.” That night my father was a little crazy and a lot of fun.

My parents with Audrey and me at our wedding
I hope Audrey will forgive me that the first memories I had on the morning of our 40th anniversary (whew!) were of my father. But those memories put a smile on my face and in my heart. Those are good feelings to have as you look back on a long and memorable marriage.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Getting Better All the Time?

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.
                 --Bob Dylan “My Back Pages”

Unless you plan to live the 120 years mentioned in Jewish blessings at birthday time, crossing 60 puts you over the “middle age” line. So those of us past 60 have three choices: grow old, grow old gracefully, or grow younger. Audrey’s idea is that we aim for the last category. She’s found a few ways to turn back the clock herself, and she is trying to push me that way. I am not going gently on this path.

First, she suggested that I read a book entitled Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry S. Lodge. She had already read the companion Younger Next Year for Women. I’m not big on the self-help genre of books, so I can’t give this a glowing review. But Audrey does. Crowley is a man in his 70s—or maybe 80s by now—who is a big advocate of throwing yourself headlong into exercise and nutrition. That’s not that unusual these days, but probably not as common for the over-60s set. His idea is that once you decide to retire or slow down, you have an “exciting” new job on which to focus—discovering a new you inside your old, possibly flabby, self. I must confess that the new me is hiding pretty deep inside. It is probable that I will still grow older this year and next year too before I find a way onto the road to younger-ness.

But Audrey is determined. So for Chanukah she gave me a 12-session plan with a personal trainer at the gym to which I belong but don’t frequent as often as I should. Four weeks ago, I began a series of once-a-week encounters with a trainer whose name is ironically Jesus. The irony being that I may need divine intervention to get successfully onto the path toward fitness.

Jesus is a very positive person, which is probably a good thing for someone working with me. I’m sure that when he first saw a stocky (euphemism alert) guy like me, he assumed that I could handle pretty heavy dumbbells, weighed exercise balls, and settings on the various types of equipment. He changed his mind quickly, but not in a way that has embarrassed me. I did notice, however, while pushing weight on the chest press in a recent session, that as I struggled through the last few reps, the handles moved more easily than I would have expected. Then I noticed his finger adding a little oomph to my oyyyyy. I tried not to let him know that I saw and humbly accepted the help.
What a surprise! There seem to be no photos online
of men struggling with these machines.
Then there was the exercise involving a large inflated ball that I was supposed to move side-to-side from a semi-prone position. Though I was instructed to move the ball 20 times, I had to stop at 18. Was I in some kind of pain? Was the ball too heavy? No and no. I was literally breathless! I just could not move the ball and breathe at the same time. So 18 movements done as quickly as possible was my max – at least for now. Nobody really explains the importance of breathing. I am also grateful for the occasional water breaks Jesus insists that I take in order to get to the third or fourth set of an exercise. (And there are always third and fourth sets, no matter how much I want to stop after two. What is with that?)

Did this man forget to breathe too?

I have discovered one important rule for the older person trying to get younger. Do not look at the actual young people as they go through their workouts. That will add to your gray hairs faster than anything else. And I’ve decided that they are just showing off anyway.

So, if you have been following this so far, you will recognize that there are three key rules to remember for living younger—breathe as often as you can, don’t look at anyone below 40 at a gym, and accept divine intervention gratefully whenever it is offered.