Talking Burpee Before It was Fashionable

There’s a chance you read the recent NYTimes Sunday Styles piece called “CrossFit Flirting: Talk Burpee to Me.” I read it too and rather than inspire me to use my morning work-out site as a potential pick-up spot, I was reminded of the story of the rugby players and the tea cups, or how I earned the nickname Tanya Knockyourballsoff…

Real men play rugby... and drink herbal tea.

Real men play rugby… and drink herbal tea.

When I was in college, my father volunteered to help coach my school’s men’s rugby club. He had “professionally” and briefly coached a rival college team when I was in high school — I think he thought helping the fledgling club at my college would be a good way for us to “bond.” (I hoped this would lead to a hunky piece of arm candy,  while he hoped it would mean I would have a team of bouncers keeping other college men off me when I went out on a Friday night… much to my chagrin, my dad’s plan won.)

While my father was up in Riverdale teaching former football players how to tackle like real men, I was in the Varsity Weight Room in Morningside Heights with my female team mates… and the football team.

“Yesterday, I worked in an extra set of push-ups with the 25lb plate,” the girls and I were swapping training stories one afternoon when my father offered to play the part of father and give us a ride back to campus after we came north to watch a rugby match.

“I really like the new plyometeric work-out with the resistance bands the trainer gave us. Think it would be too much to do that with the other lower body work out we’re already doing?”

“Did you see the plan for next week? 150 abs warm-up. I can’t wait!”

etc.

My father, who couldn’t help eavesdropping burst out into almost uncontrollable laughter.

“What!? What’s so funny? Get a hold of yourself, you’re going to drive into a lamppost,” I shouted.

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Getting good at picking things up and putting them down was how I earned the nickname Tanya Knockyourballsoff

“Well, it’s just, 15 minutes ago I was standing in a huddle with my rugby players,” he started. “There was this big 6’4 Greek, a 6’2 body-builder, and your buddy ‘Bruiser,’ and they were swapping tea advice — you know, green tea versus oolong versus herbal, cups versus mugs, ceramic versus cast iron pots. And now, here I am, in a car with my daughter and her girlfriends and they’re talking about kettlebells and how much they can bench press…”

“Dad, might I remind you we’re not just any girls. We’re athletes.”

The following week my father sent me a note to say one of his players was in a bluegrass band and that I should go to his concert.

“He likes tea and plays the guitar. He’s sensitive… but he’s also one of our best guys on the frontline, so he can pick things up and put them down. You can talk to him about how many burpees you can do, Tanya Knockyouballsoff.”

Tanya Knockyourballsoff was, according to Dad, a Russian female shot-putter. My affinity for kettlebells, apparently, inspired this new nickname…

Meanwhile, I put his note about the burpee pick-up line in the “shoulda listened to my father” column, along with his suggestion we open a father-daughter business together — a gourmet hotdog shop called Kat’s Dawgs… maybe next year #FathersKnowBest

 

 

 

 

The Dates that Teach you to See Differently

Is that my date? I said to myself. Is that my date LEAVING before I even get there? Am I being stood up? Does he think I can’t see him under that umbrella??!?!?  I pulled the parking stub out of the muni-meter, threw it on my dashboard, and clomped the half block to the steps of the Met.

This was my first time in heels since tearing a ligament in my knee exactly one month and 7 days earlier — I was already regretting the decision.

Pause. Set scene. Flash back to a year ago this August:

I had cashed in a sick day to catch-up on medical bills and made the decision to rain check dinner with an old flame in order to make time in my weekend for a first date. This move was out of character for me — when I give someone space on my calendar, I don’t bump them for “a better deal” — but in this case, it was a choice between looking back and moving forward. Even though dinner with my ex promised to be platonic (and fun), my gut told me I should move forward.

It was in an effort to move forward, after all, that I committed to a one-month, full-paid membership on “How About We.” I gave myself 30 days of open waters fishing. What got caught in the net was a tall, sharp-witted, Ivy-League, UES-inhabiting “Construction Worker.” The Village People stand-in showed intelligence and a sense of humour in our exchanges — he didn’t get thrown back into the sea.

Meet me at the Met

Meet me at the Met

The Met museum would be the site for this first rendez-vous, and as I made my way to 5th Avenue and 82nd, it occurred to me that I didn’t really know what this guy looked like.

What had won me over was a sense of humor and obvious intelligence. The handful of profile pictures gave me no real sense of his appearance, other than that he was brunette and tall enough to see the top of my refrigerator. That wasn’t enough to help me pick him out in a crowd.

I found a parking spot off Madison on 82nd. I sat in my car waiting to purchase my parking ticket, when I stepped out to see a vaguely familiar man in blue gingham walk right by me, half looking at me out of the corner of his eye.

Oh, god. Please let that not me him. 

I was reasonably sure I was being stood up, but I was a few blocks from a friend and knew I’d be able to muster a plan b if Mr. High Rise had pulled a runner.

Oh, no. It’s him. I let out an audible sigh as the man in the blue gingham and the umbrella walked towards me in the Great Hall, hand out-reached and a sheepish look on his face. That’s right, bud. I caught you. I assumed his showing up meant I had at least earned a check in the “looks” column, and for that I convinced myself I was flattered.

The truth is, generally, I don’t like museum outings as first dates. To me, walking around the hushed galleries, swapping insights, is an intimate experience. Gut told me this was a bad idea, especially when our pre-date phone conversation went something like this:

“You live on the upper east side? We could meet at the Met.”

“The Met?”

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

“Errrr….”

“You’ve heard of it?”

“Yea…..”

“You’ve been there?”

“Maybe? When I was in college?”

Standing in the great hall, staring up at a seemingly friendly giant who had absolutely no preference which way we headed, I suggested we move towards Greece. As we fumbled our way around the Museum, we fumbled our way through each other’s back stories. I thought I knew that museum about as well as well as the back of my hand, but as we walked together, we happened onto nooks and collections I didn’t know existed. Meanwhile, he impressed me with simple but insightful reminiscing — the tile work here reminded him of the tile work in this hotel in Egypt. Did I know this pattern stood for this, etc.

We were ushered out with the final museum patrons.

I could go on about the rest of the night, but I’ve already gone past what I’m pretty sure is most blog-readers word count attention span. And so I’ll hurry to a conclusion:

Despite the facts that he wasn’t my type, he almost stood me up and a few other warning signs, we dated for nearly sin months and broke a lot of rules together (“Stay Out” signs were recommended suggestions.) For the most part, I forget we ever happened, but standing in the Met last weekend, wandering through the Charles James exhibition and some of the other wings, I flashed back to our first meeting and realized: There are people you meet in your life, and people you date who teach you to see differently, who literally show you new things about yourself or about the places you thought you knew.  But sometimes, to let yourself see, you have to go against your better judgement and accept the consequences of being just a little more enlightened.

Dressing My Mother

“Look Aunt Winn, I just want to prepare you,” I heard my mother hollar into the phone. “I don’t wear pantyhose anymore. I wear jeans. And I wear Nikes. They’re cool Nikes, like really cool, but they’re Nikes… Yes. That’s right. Those are sneakers. I wear sneakers. Everywhere.”

My mother’s version of dress shoes.

My mother and I were loading up the car, getting it ready to take us to Canada, when she stopped packing to place the call. It was an unplanned midweek trip to attend my Great Uncle Bob’s funeral. The day before, Aunt Winn, his wife, had asked Mum to “say a few words,” because my mother is, apparently, the funny one in the family.

I could feel the panic radiating across the room.

“I just had to call her and warn her,” Mum said as I gave her the stink eye.

She was folding my favorite brightly-hued Club Monaco blouse into the suitcase. “I’m the New York Niece. They’re expecting Madison Avenue. Since I stopped working, I’m more Gap… on my fancy days. I just don’t want her to get a shock when I show up to Uncle Bob’s funeral in running shoes.”

(My mother doesn’t believe in black at funerals, which was why, apparently, I was to wear royal blue pants while she asked to borrow my “big bird” yellow silk blouse.)

“What do you plan to wear at my wedding?”

“White Nikes… actually, I hate white sneakers. They’re such old ladies shoes. Maybe green ones? I don’t know. Let’s see what your colour scheme is — I’m sure I can ID something.”

When my mother retired from “The Bank,” she retired a certain corporate executive dress code. I remember coming home from school and seeing a pile of pantyhose in a Bloomingdale’s Big Brown Bag. There were one or 2 unopened pairs, and these were passed on to me. The rest — burned, or might as well have been. Her St. John’s suits were moved into the guest room closet. The year I graduated college, she had her first hip replacement. This shelved her Ferragamo high-heel collection. Her second hip replacement after my grad school graduation sealed it — the pumps were toast. I was free to salvage any that fit, but the majority went to Dress for Success.

She lost 50 pounds, and then eventually, she turned 70.

And so, with Retirement, 2 hip replacements, and being “over 70,” as her Get Out of Jail Free Cards,  it was: Good-bye, formal! Hello, comfortable!

My mother may have as many sneakers as Imelda Marcos had shoes — 3,000 pairs? Sure. It’s getting there.

She has become the Imelda Marcos of sneakers while her collections of designer handbags and jewelry remain her main source of pizzazz.

Most “occasions” result in an “I have nothing to wear!” crisis. This includes evenings when Mum and I decide to have a mother-daughter girl date. Eventually, she gives up.

“It doesn’t matter what I wear,” is usually her final remark before she settles on jeans, Nikes, and an embellished t-shirt. “If I decide I want a good table, I’ll just shove you in first. You’ve got great clothes. People think you’re cool, so you’ll just look good for both of us. Don’t forget your pink lipstick. I’m not going anywhere with you if you don’t wear your pink lipstick.”

I guess that just because she’s given up skirts and suits in favor of a wardrobe of leisure doesn’t mean she’s given up taste… there’s no velour in this retiree’s future. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for the cast-offs. One can never have too many Ferragamos.

 

 

 

 

The Ticket

Let’s go to France together.

We’ll walk along the Seine, counting the bridges and lampposts we pass. Then maybe we’ll take the train down to Aix where lavender and honey sweeten the air.

And then, when we’re tired of David, Delacroix, and Manet, coissants, fromage, and crepes, we’ll pack our valises, roll the top down and head to Madrid, Spain, for tapas and Velazquez.

On the balcony of our small apartment in Florence, we’ll sit and I’ll write about my artist while you read your Dickinson and your Thoreau. Maybe I’ll pick up the violin again and maybe you’ll finally write that novel, the one about the couple and the war.

We’ll fill up albums with the black and white pictures we took outside the Coliseum and the Vatican, the Parthenon and the Acropolis. We’ll buy postcards of the paintings that captured our hearts and miniatures of the sculptures that shook us to tears. I’ll pen a note for my folks back home and tell them about the weekend in Venice and the gondola that nearly sank.

Our plane leaves on the 28th. Maybe we could leave tonight, my bags are already packed. It’s a round trip ticket with a return date stamped in the corner. But I know I wouldn’t mind if we decided to stay a lifetime.

 

Note: Once upon a time, I was a romantic. I was a graduate student when I wrote this… I don’t remember if it was a kind of unwritten letter to the boy that inspired me to start this blog, or an open-ended request to the boy I hadn’t met yet. I was also an optimist. An optimistic romantic — the most nauseating kind. Sometimes, I think I miss that girl.

Considering “Speed” Dating

As a rule, I generally mistrust people who just meet me and decide they like me. You say you want to get drinks sometime? That we should go here or visit there? Why? What do you think I can do for you?

This is, of course, an unhealthy reaction, but it’s also the by-product of being in a position in life where people generally DO want something from you — like my economics problem set or a solo exhibition or access to myroladex or a no-pants dance party.

So, not surprisingly, when a date expresses interest to see me again tomorrow, or perhaps the day after, I balk. But unlike professional relationships, there’s more to it than a skepticism in the sincerity or intentions behind his enthusiasm.

Cut to scene:

I’m sitting on a corner stool at the counter at Diner, a vintage diner done slightly upscale in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, munching on northern-style southern-style fried green tomatoes, recovering from 3 hours of over exposure to glaring sun, swapping life and dating updates with JC, the requisite “big brother” figure every girl needs to have in her Little Black Book.

(Aside — if you’re a single female in Williamsburg, you have exactly 4 dating options: Mr. Tattooed sleeves, Mr. Bearded, Mr. Tattooed Sleeves and Bearded, or stay single. Apparently, diversity is not counter-culture’s strong point.)

His flame of less than a month was proving a challenge for a number of reasons.

“We’re seeing each other once a week, at best.” He started. “She’s going away. I’m going away. She wants to spend the long weekend with her mother. We live 4 miles apart but that 4 miles is an hour and a half commute.We’re dancing around the issue that we’re just not hanging out. I’m sorry, but I want that big, all-in romance. Where you see each other 2, 3 times a week.”

I wasn’t sure if the scowl I felt forming on my face was visible yet, but I’m pretty sure my “that’s just silly!” made my point.

By “that” I mean the sentiment that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect someone you’ve just started seeing to give you three days in the same week.

In past generations, “walking out” with someone was a weekly occurrence, not a 3x a week event.

When our parents generation was dating, couples saw each other once a week, on weekends. That was sufficient. We seem to need someone’s constant availability to feel like we’re in a new relationship.

To me, that’s jumping the gun.

We live in an age of over sharing and hyper exposure. We move fast. We sign one year leases. We put in 18 months at one firm before we start searching for an opportunity at the next firm. Problems are solved with the swipe of our index finger and the aid of a logarithm. We live in a city that never sleeps and offers endless opportunities for the next best thing. We strive for bigger paychecks. We clamor to build ever-expanding networks. We believe relationships of all forms can be forged on social media or at a cocktail party, and forget that real meaning builds over time.

As someone who has dated guys who have absolutely no out-of-work interests, I wonder about a person whose calendar is so void of commitments — work, family, social, community service, whatever — that they can just squeeze me, a relative stranger, in at beep of a text message. I have things to do, why don’t you?

More over, I’m skeptical about someone who is so fickle that they can make me the single most important thing in his life and toss out everything to make time for me. I haven’t earned a listing on your “favorites,” so why are you bumping drinks with someone else to meet me for dinner? What does this mean for an “us” in the long run? When will I get bumped for a better offer?

It seems to me, we date like we’re hyped up on amphetamines –we date on Speed. It’s all hot and passionate for a brief while and then it fades. We’re on to the next, and it’s the same. There’s no building smolder. It’s just on, at full intensity. And then it’s off.

While I’m flattered by your enthusiasm, and yes, I want to see you 10 minutes after we say good-night too, I just can’t believe this is a healthy way to get to know someone.

When I look at the most successful couples I know, they began slow and steady. Their approach to dating was “old school.” Some didn’t even like one another when they first met. It took the prodding of mutual friends and gradually spending time one on one to make the relationship blossom. In one case, it was a long distance affair for months, and when the two were finally sharing the same zip code, it was months before they started seeing each other 2 or more times in the same week.

I’ve survived both the slow build and the intense fire. While so far neither approach has got me to a happily ever after, it was the relationships that developed over time that were more satisfying while I was in them, and more painful to lose.

To wrap it all up, I think you need to earn your place in someone’s life. Yes, there comes a time when it’s reasonable to expect spending a whole weekend together, or several nights a week, but not at the start.

We expect Platinum privileges when we haven’t even earned Gold Status.

Take it slow is old advice, but perhaps there are reasons why it’s endured so many generations. Balance and restraint are surprisingly sexy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Walk in Shorts

The great advantage kids have growing up in the age of digital cameras is that the odds are low that one day they will stumble on a collection of printed photos labeled “Quebec Summer: FAT PHASE.”

It's photos like this I mostly wish were never taken of my awkward tween years.

It’s photos like this I mostly wish were never taken of my awkward tween years.

Remember when you’d take your roll of film to the local drugstore and you would automatically get duplicates? So, not only did you have one set of photos you’d rather burn, you’d have 2… that’s 4 double chins.  And while there was no social media circulation, you had the distinct non-advantage of having tangible proof that once upon a time you were the size of a blimp.

I stumbled upon the “Quebec Summer: FAT PHASE” envelope in the midst of some appliance-melt-down-induced cleaning. The photos, along with others from my more youthful summers, were striking reminders that when you grow up the chubby, knock-kneed girl, you grow up with an awkward relationship with shorts.

When your thighs touch, there’s almost no short length that doesn’t ride up when you walk. Instead of neatly aligned horizontal hemlines, the bottoms of your trunks form a wobbly V. It’s not only unattractive, it’s uncomfortable. Walking in bunched-up shorts is like walking with a golf ball wedged between your legs. So you learn to adapt.

First, you try the “Cowboy Walk.” The idea is to look like you just got off a horse after finishing a cattle drive. You point your feet away from each other and widen your stride, attempting to keep your legs as far from each other as you can.

It’s equal parts swagger and waddle. It’s also highly inefficient.

Next, you try the “Shake-it-Out.”

 

When you realize this is about as effective as the Cowboy Walk in ridding yourself of the ride up, you give into the walk, stop and pull down. It’s painfully obvious, but it gets the job done.

If you’re hell-bent on wearing shorts, these adaptations are better than the alternative, which is obsessing over something you can’t really change — the gap between your upper legs. Or, you can do the far more sensible thing and forego the shorts all together. Skirts are classier anyway.

 

 

Considering Birthdays Past

The advantage to sharing a birthday with a loved one is that no one ever forgets it.

My father and I share a birthday. It’s also Canada day. My mother — a smart woman — has been milking this for years. What more does my father need, she says, when he has such a wonderful daughter!

This year, he turns 75. This is not insignificant. We’re having dinner at our favorite local restaurant and he’s getting some things from LL Bean and Nike. (I swear — if my mother and I didn’t give him clothes and shoes at every gift-giving holiday, the man would walk around wearing a sheet and flat-tire rubber sandals. We love him any way.)

Meanwhile, I’m hitting the big 2-9 — an unremarkable number save for the fact it marks the final year in another decade. I don’t plan to go through the same “29 Crisis” that some of my other single friends have — they upgraded apartments to ones they can’t afford, chopped off and died their hair, and got trainers. Every day, they post fitness selfies and “I’m an empowered single lady” quote on their social media feeds.

But perhaps, it’s too early to call for me. If on July 2nd, I post a photo of myself at the gym, in a sports bra flashing a “look how tight my ass is” pose, captioned with some motivational mumbo jumbo, you have permission to put me in a straight jacket (or at least, hand me a shirt.)

I digress…

A friend enjoys the magic at my 7th birthday party. 20+ years later, we're still celebrating birthdays together.

A friend enjoys the magic at my 7th birthday party. 20+ years later, we’re still celebrating birthdays together.

As the child in the family, the celebration of my new year typically eclipsed my father’s. My birthday fetes were famous — at my 10 year high school reunion, girls I hadn’t seen since graduation day came up to me to say “I’ll never forget all your parties! You need to have another one, for old time’s sake.”

“I’m pretty sure that magician is dead,” I said.

For the first 14 years of my life, I took birthdays pretty seriously. Magicians, hot dog carts, excursions to the stables for horse-back riding, buses hired to the chauffeur us to the Jekyll & Hyde Club, virtual reality adventures, swing-dance lessons, fabulously fanciful cakes — there were distinct advantages to being an only child of older parents. Each year, I came up with a theme that felt au courant, researched the possible venue or vendor, and designed my own invitation. We always ended up at my God Mother’s pool and no one wanted to go home.

And then the parties stopped. I started fencing and National Championships always fell on the first week of July. Often I was competing on July 1 and all of a sudden, my father and I were in different cities on our birthday. This was strange.

I turned 21 in Atlanta. My Mother had been trying to get me to drink since I was a teenager — her theory was it was better to learn how to have a nice cocktail or glass of wine in a refined social setting rather than binge drink like a sorority girl. I was 16 when she sneaked me into a wine tasting in Napa. Ironically, when I ordered my first legal drink, a grey goose cosmopolitan (it was the heyday of the S&TC reruns on TBS, after all), she was painfully uneasy. I wasn’t allowed to finish it. A refill was out of the question.

When we finally got to celebrate at the Intrepid, we made the most of it.

When we finally got to celebrate at the Intrepid, we made the most of it.

My 24th birthday was the first one in about a decade when my father and I didn’t have to phone each other to say “happy day!” I had just come back from Texas where I had contracted a terrible case of Swine Flu. I was Tennessee’s first confirmed case and had to spend several hours on an IV drip.

That year was also my dad’s 70th, and my mother and I had big plans to make our celebrations about him. We intended to go to the Intrepid (he likes planes) and then have dinner at a South African wine bar in Hell’s Kitchen (Dad’s a Springbok.) Instead, we spent July 1 in the ER. Dad had gone in for what should have been a routine test a few days earlier, but  ended up with a massive, deadly infection.  Back to back trips to the hospital for us both was enough — we skipped this birthday. The Intrepid plans would wait for next year.

25, 26, and 27 each had their celebrations. One involved boats and friends. One was unremarkable. One came with terrible tan lines and an amorous bouquet.

I intended to celebrate 28 in this dress with lots of baked goods and Tanqueray... that is not how this went down

I intended to celebrate 28 in this dress with lots of baked goods and Tanqueray… that is not how this went down

And then we come to #28… I bought a strapless mini dress — a style totally outside my normal wardrobe choices — and made plans to hit the town when I got back from Columbus, Ohio… Not. So. Fast.

I took a week off work to accompany Mom to Nationals — she’s the fencer now — and visit family in Canada. At the last minute, I made the less than wise decision to compete in a sub-elite division.

The competition was on my birthday and my primary goal was to finish early enough to get to happy hour. As I made my way up the elimination bracket, I could feel my age and old war wounds. At a 13-13 tie to go into the final, my knee gave out. The medical team diagnosed 2 torn ligaments and a sprained ankle on the strip and I was forced to withdraw.

A sprained ankle and damaged ligaments, but at least I was smiling. I wouldn't be later. Happy 28!

A sprained ankle and damaged ligaments, but at least I was smiling. I wouldn’t be later. Happy 28!

For the next hour I lay at the medical tent, friends and teammates gathered — I was serenaded with a happy birthday while some referee friends tried to assemble my belongings for me. I was loaded into the car and my mother picked up two bottles of sake for me to drink (to numb the excruciating pain) as we drove 6 hours to Ann Arbor — our pit stop en route to rural Canada. My bellhop played football for Michigan and as I slurred my woeful story, we bonded over torn ACLs. He offered to carry me to my room. In retrospect, I was a fool to decline, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t showered yet.

Birthdays are a funny thing. When we’re young, we count the days till our next one. As we get older, we recoil at the thought of another and mostly want them to go unnoticed. And yet, we can’t help feeling slighted if they pass un-celebrated. We usually remember each one — where we were and who we were with — and use the day as an excuse to reaffirm or rewrite our New Year’s resolutions.

These days, my father and I have a simple rule when it comes to our birthdays — however we chose to celebrate them, no one is allowed to end up in the ER.