Ripped (#191)

In elementary school, I was the tallest and the strongest. In 5th grade, I was the only student awarded the Presidential Physical Fitness medal. By sixth grade, I was 5’8,” with size 10 shoes.

By high school, I had crushed all contenders in arm-wrestling. I didn’t see the need to get stronger. But my best friend needed to be able to do a single pull-up in order to make it into the Air Force Academy, and she needed a friend to support her – literally. Every morning before school, I held her up under the pull-up bar in our high school gym until she gained enough strength to manage a pull-up on her own. When it was time for her AF physical, she actually did TWO whole pull-ups and we did about fifty girly squeals together afterwards.

While helping my friend get all buffed up, I lifted some weights, too. After all, it was gratifying to watch the guys come into the gym as we were leaving. More than one beefy white boy strutted past me to the leg press, did a double take at the weights, and tried to surreptitiously remove a few without his friends noticing.

Whereupon I hurried back over, loudly apologizing, “Sorry, dude, I shoulda re-racked those, lemme give you a hand.”

Similar incidents happened in college weight rooms, and then when I joined a gym. Watching incredulous male faces was always fun, but taking credit for it seemed wrong. Muscle strength is mostly genetics. Sure, I lift weights and do cardio on a regular basis to make up for chocolate consumption (with varying degrees of success), but my mighty quadriceps are a fluke.

Strength – especially quads – came in handy for pot-stirrer spins the dance floor, though. When my husband and I retired from competition, I became obsessed with volleyball, playing recreationally, then in a league. My quads served me well once again, especially when it came to blocking. Seeing the shock on a male hitter’s face right after I stuffed him was always delightful.

Like Badminton Becky, I hounded better players for lessons, did drills, and played whenever I could. I played too much, straining my right quad during a tournament. I shrugged it off. I’d had a few muscle strains before, a boatload of stitches from various dogs and windows, and had even survived flipping a car 3 times without a scratch. I foolishly considered myself semi-indestructible. I took a few too few days off, then went back to volleyball practice.

But when I jumped to spike a set, the ball didn’t go down.

I did.

My right quad finally failed me. I fell in a heap on the gym floor. The smallest move sent shooting pain through my whole leg. I crawled to the side of the gym and tried not to throw up while my teammates called my husband and told him to pick me up.

My husband did pick me up, but not literally, because I’m not a small person and Andy has compressed discs in his back. When tiny little Veronica broke her ankle at volleyball and tried to hobble out, her husband scooped her up in his arms and carried her out to applause.

My husband is not so foolish. He draped my arm over his shoulder and told me to lean on him. I did. He winced, and recruited another player to help us out to the car, saying, “Take as much of her weight as you can.”

I made a mental note to make sure Andy and I did leg weights together once I recovered. Maybe he’d get stronger. Maybe he’d be humiliated. Win-win.

Later that day, the orthopedist confirmed what I suspected. By stupidly jumping on a weakened quad muscle, I’d torn it. I’d be on crutches for weeks. After that, I could look forward to months of physical therapy before I could play volleyball again.

“That long?” I wailed.

“If you’re lucky. It’s a pretty bad tear.” The doctor shook his head at me and said, “I’ve never seen a woman with a torn quad before. It’s kind of a rare injury.”


“Because it’s usually massive football players who decide to play some basketball and they rip their quads doing jump shots.”

I never could decide if that was a compliment.

Or not.

Dirt (#190)

My husband is particular about his dirt.

Andy in the garden. With beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, kale, and chard.

Andy has a strawberry patch, a greenhouse, and several gardens. The dirt has to be just right for each. He tested our vegetable garden’s acidity and found it wanting. Andy added bone meal. Now our tomatoes never rot on the vine. He deemed the soil in our Southern California neighborhood too sandy and started compost piles to reduce our vegetable waste to richer, more microbe-laden dirt.

When he ordered worms (and special dirt for the worms), I protested, saying we already had TWO compost piles. Andy told me how much faster the worms would convert carrot peelings into usable dirt for my flower beds. I relented. Now my freesia and gladiolas are the envy of the neighborhood, thanks to Andy’s worm-poop dirt.

But can the man see sand or soil on the kitchen floor?

Hell to the no to infinity and beyond.

Some of Andy’s inability to see dirt comes from his first generation Chinese-American childhood. His father worked days, his mother worked nights and weekends. Both worked long hours. Making money to put food on the table was a much bigger priority than eradicating household dirt.

Andy also grew up in Hawaii, where the vegetation is lush — and the bugs are legion. The first time we stayed at his parents house, I insisted he buy bug spray. So we poisoned ourselves with pesticides because I couldn’t endure the site of a single cockroach.

Andy later explained that his parents had once fumigated their house. Unfortunately, it killed all the geckos and lizards that ate the bugs. The bugs came back. The lizards didn’t.

I grew up in a much more privileged home. My white parents mostly worked 9-5, 5 days a week. Saturday mornings, my father would barge into my bedroom at 8 AM with the vacuum. When I finally gave in and got up, he handed the vacuum to off to me. My family spent four hours cleaning the house every Saturday morning, from bathtubs to baseboards. I was used to tidy. I liked tidy.

Once I was on my own, I alienated at least three roommates because I bitched about their “filth and clutter” as I sullenly cleaned up their dishes. My friend JM and I endured an earthquake that opened all the kitchen cabinets and tossed our dishes onto the floor. Most broke. As I cleaned up the mess, JM glared at me and said, “You know, if you’d left all the dishes dirty in the sink where they belonged, they wouldn’t have broken!”

When Andy and I first lived together, I nagged him about cleaning. So Andy would run the vacuum over the living room rug and never notice the dried animal slobber coating the window panes. He would then pronounce the room clean.

Renowned nose art artists Fey and Woofie, during a rare work break.

If I pointed out the dogs’ gooey nose art and told Andy to clean the window, he’d miss the black dust collecting on the windowsill.

As for cat or dog puke, Andy only noticed it when he stepped in it. (Yes, I laughed uproariously every time.)

This inability to see dirt/ imperfection was beyond my comprehension. I had no idea what the garden’s pH was, but I could tell if the smallest picture in the living room wasn’t level.

Here’s an example of my stream of consciousness as I attempted my daily yoga in the living room:

I’ll start with a standing half-series, breathe in—shit, the dog shoved the heavy curtain aside and now one curtain is open and the other is not, it doesn’t look symmetrical, there, all fixed, where was I? Right, now into a chair pose, breathe in, breathe out – damn it, is that a Brazillian pepper squished into the rug? Ugh, it is, I’ll just put it in the trash, okay, breath in, hands to heart-center, breathe out – crap! How did that coaster wind up under the table? And is that a pink geranium petal on the dog bed? Maybe I should get out the vacuum.

20 minutes later, after vacuuming, yoga resumes:

This time I will lie on my back and do bridge and some twists. Breathe in, there we go, breathe out – wait, how is there a cobweb in that corner?! I’ll just get a rag and climb up on the couch, and there we go, all set. Back to twists, this time the left hip, oh, wow, I heard that crack and – holy mother of God there is a freaking LIZARD staring down at me from the top of the curtain rod! Damn it, must the same one that ran behind the file cabinet when the cat brought it in two weeks ago,

One of the many lizards I found in my house. This one had been inside so long he’d regrown some of the tail he lost to the cat.

I guess it never left, okay, buddy, let’s sweep you into the dustpan, yep, hold on with those sticky feet and there you, go, enjoy the compost pile, look at all those yummy bugs…

At the end of my home yoga sessions, my muscles aren’t much looser and my brain isn’t very mindful.

But my house is definitely cleaner.

I work about as well as I practice yoga when the house is dirty. To increase productivity, I keep the house clean – which is not easy with multiple pets, multiple Brazillian pepper trees, and multiple kinds of dirt in my yard.

And yes, I. Not my husband. Andy would drive miles to 99 Ranch to get the exact type of star anise he needs for hot and sour soup, but if I asked him to vacuum he’d somehow manage to sigh louder than my Miele.

Andy spent hours lovingly cleaning his Mustang Cobra, but clean a bathtub? Too onerous. Never mind that he was the one the shedding black hairs all over the porcelain. He’d never heard of washing the shower curtain until I entered his life.

Of course, I’d never heard of star anise until Andy entered mine.

Since I would rather eat Mac & Cheese than cook and Andy would be okay with a black mold biome in the bathroom, a system evolved.

I took over all the cleaning. Andy was responsible for all the food shopping and cooking.

If Andy worked long hours, had arthroscopic knee surgery, or went down with bronchitis, I serve him Kraft’s finest or take out.

If I got sick, my buddy Windex and I soldiered on through the sniffles (impossible to stay in bed when there are smudges on the mirror, you know).

Our division of labor worked well.

Until the day came when I couldn’t work.


Yes, it’s a two-part post! Check back tomorrow to see what happened. 

The Finest Drivers in Los Angeles (#189)

This driver is ready to take on L.A.’s asphalt jungle.

Sometimes, when I’m stuck behind an old white woman doing 45 mph on the 405 Freeway, I remember Germany’s Autobahn.

I drove on the Autobahn once, years ago. Heaven. Not just because it’s well-paved and you can go really, really fast. It’s heaven because a) Germans are rule-followers, and b) Everyone follows the same rules. If you’re passing, you’re in the left lane. If you’re slow, you’re in the right lane. If you wind up slow in the fast lane, a righteous German will fly up behind you and flash his lights until you move.

Los Angeles is the opposite of Germany. Our population comes from every continent and our public transportation sucks. Too many of us drive. We’re following multiple cultural rules, with different levels of driving experience.

When Andy and I used to hit the road for dance events, we amused ourselves by guessing the identity of crappy drivers ahead of us. Then, as we passed them, (which we always did when my speed-demon husband drove his muscle car) we’d see if we’d guessed the person’s sex, age, and race correctly. This developed into a less-than-politically correct game where the loser accumulated the most points if their “people” drove slowly or stupidly. I won if my fellow white people weren’t idiots. Andy had the Asian drivers.

When we took the 405 down to Orange County or San Diego, I lost due to rich, white, male assholes in BMWs who changed lanes with inches to spare and no turn signals. According to their dickish mindset, using your turn signal gives information to the enemy. Everyone is the enemy.

When we took the 10 Freeway east, we ran into older Chinese-American drivers in Monterrey Park heading to Vegas. Many of those drivers couldn’t keep a consistent speed, or drove slowly, or straddled lanes. I’d yell, “Yours! That’s 100 points!” and laugh as Andy swore mightily and lost badly. (I’m not a good winner.)

We stay closer to home now, but Andy and I still comment on any shitty driving in our neighborhood.

If you’re coming to the LA area, here are some of our least favorite – but most common – lousy drivers:

  • Old white people. They grew up before modern traffic laws and see nothing wrong with making the right turn from the left lane. Their eternal turn signals might mean something – in Morse code. They can’t see or don’t acknowledge pedestrians in crosswalks. As they pass inches from my foot, I long for a handy sticker to slap on their car that reads: “Tell your kids to take away your license!”
  • Stellar parking job. Must be a contractor.

    Construction Contractors. These guys park their jacked-up, diesel dually truck on the wrong side of the street. Or in the middle of the street. No fire hydrant is safe, and no driveway, either.

  • Japanese Mom in a Minivan. She never had to drive until she moved to Los Angeles and it shows. She grew up in the land of fast trains. But now she’s excruciatingly slow, taking every turn at 2 miles an hour. On the plus side, she’s never, ever going to illegally park in my driveway when she collects her kid from school.
  • Very Important People. They have movies to make and deals to close. They will cut you off without a second thought or sit at a green light for 30 seconds while they send a text. Honking is futile. They rarely hear peons. If they do, they will merely flip you off because how dare you honk at them they are engaged in a Very Important Thing.
  • Confused Tourists. They really want to find the beach, or the Hollywood sign, or maybe just a McDonald’s. And if they have to in across 3 lanes of traffic in 30 feet to get their Big Mac, they will.
  • Young males of all races. They have the impulse control of toddlers. They street race. They do donuts in high school parking lot every Saturday night. They go into opposing traffic to get around you if you make a complete stop at a stop sign (which you will probably do to piss them off because they tailgate and honk at you for doing 25 mph in a residential neighborhood with kids). They’ll probably remove themselves from the gene pool soon, but unfortunately they’ll take some law-abiding motorist with them.
  • Multitasking Moms in Hybrid SUVs. They’re passing out organic fruit to multiple kids while texting, emailing, and talking on their phones. When her kids heave their probiotic yogurt at each other, this mother is gonna veer into your lane while threatening the backseat with severe timeouts.

You probably recognize some of these drivers, whether you live in LA or not. There are dangerous drivers are everywhere — even in places with minimal traffic. When I first drove Andy around Nowhere, New Hampshire, he laughed as I cursed at someone slamming on the brakes and making an abrupt U-turn in the middle of a two-lane road.

Then he reached over, patted my leg, smiled, and said,

“They’re all yours, honey.”

Who’s the worst driver you ever encountered?