Thursday, October 28, 2010


Twelve years old in 1967 and we stood appalled at where the world might lead a body and its mind. Francine and I had worked with our Girl Scout troop for hours collecting baby food jars, soil, moss, tiny flowering herbs and ribbons to tie around the bottom of small, handcrafted terrariums. They were gifts of spring for a local home for the aged. We were excited to be selected as ambassadors for our troop and took the responsibility quite seriously.

Upon our arrival, friendly nurses asked if we wanted to take the gifts to the residents. Delighted, we started to go bed to bed along a corridor. Old, wrinkled people lay in the beds; some chipper, some not, some simply not there. Our gifts were greeted with joy though. It seemed even in this state of woe, their best faces met us as we came by. We smiled and chattered through emotions neither Fran nor I had ever experienced. Drama unfolded when handing the small terrarium to a woman who perked up and accepted it with bright eyes. Her elbow pulled the perceived treat to her wide open mouth. Fran and I both lunged to snatch the terrarium away as she went to bite into it like an apple. Our shuffling drew the attention of a nurse who realized these two little girls might be over their heads. She offered to distribute the rest of the gifts. Fran and I were only too grateful and took our leave.

Two indignant young girls flew up the stairs to my house. We talked through the events of the day over and over convinced that it was the fault of the nurses that these aged human beings lived in dire straits. My dad counseled if we were so passionate, we should send a letter to the local paper. We considered that; but, the information we had didn’t seem sufficient to justify our indignation formally to the whole town.

I’m glad now at 55 years old that we held off writing that letter. The experience may have been traumatic to Fran and me, but those nurses were caring for people, whether sick and dying or lying deserted and depressed. For myself, even though I lashed out against them, I did not really get a sense of cruelty from the nurses. I was shaken at the sights, sounds and smells of circumstances I did not know or understand.

My husband, B, and I have been calling Bingo at an assisted living facility for a couple years now. Each week provides a thought provoking reflective mixture of community drama, fun and sadness which I will begin to serialize here. It’s been in my heart for a long time. I’m looking forward to organizing and releasing my insights and emotions; be they right or wrong.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Losing at the Slots

Last night was too much fun! With only a couple days at Treasure Island in Vegas, I was excited to find a gambling buddy!

He was winning nicely on one of their quarter slot machines when I started hitting on mine just a couple away. He glanced over with dancing eyes. Obviously this nameless gentleman enjoyed watching others win as much as scoring for himself. His attitude was downright infectious!

A real estate broker, at least 60 years old, he visits Las Vegas monthly. It is quite apparent that he is aware of a gambling problem. This knowledge keeps him staying and playing the small ticket slots.

Our chatter was all about the thrill of the spin as much as the excitement of the win; the anticipation of the ‘almost’ and the groan of nothing at all.

I was up $100 when I realized I was expected with my group for dinner. It was a fabulous meal but the fever kept me restless!

Two hours later I'm back anxiously looking about for some sign of my compadre. The sulk ended as I heard, then saw him pop around the corner looking for me and coming back for more.

Alas though, Lady Luck had deserted me. With despair, I spun away my winnings and then some. A momentary burst of excitement ignited as my friend hit the biggest jackpot of the night - 809 quarters! We whooped and hollered! But, even his hit too quickly started dwindling and the evening was now late and it was time to part.

A pat on his back and a simple thanks sent me smiling on my way having enjoyed such delightful camaraderie during this crazy, fun night!

**This great picture (taken outside the Treasure Island Hotel where they presented "Sirens of TI") is from (A Siren in Greek mythology is a creature half bird and half woman who lures sailors by the sweetness of her song.)


I couldn’t conceive of doing the triathlon; can’t swim. But, I was intrigued to discover that there was a duathlon. No swimming; only running and biking. I had biked off and on for several years, but had only been running for about 6 weeks. Frankly, this in itself was quite a feat for me. The last 30 years were spent telling anyone who suggested jogging or running as a viable form of exercise or stress relief, just how much I despised it. There I was, though, stretching and pacing about with a group of a hundred of my peers preparing to run 2 miles, bike 18.5 miles and then run another 3.1. There were 500 plus other participants who would start off swimming one-half mile rather than run the first 2 miles. They were the triathletes.

I was prepared for a big “On your mark. Get set. GO!” or ”Runners, take your positions!” Instead, there was a low key announcement made over a bullhorn about 20 minutes after the event was scheduled to begin. So low key that only the movement of the crowd ahead registered for me a sure start of the run.

I was towards the back, but not for long. I quickly became the tail end. My initial strategy was to stay with those around me, but they had obviously been in training a couple more weeks than I had been. My anxiety increased as I struggled to find my rhythm. I gulped at the air, panting uncontrollably. When I finally shook my head and composed myself, I dedicated my focus to self encouragement. “Relax, focus, get the rhythm. There it is. Okay now, there’s a good chance, I say, a real good chance of coming in last here. That’s going to be okay. I’m here only to see how well I can do. I’m not competing with anyone. So, just relax and have fun.” It was apparent that I was way out of my league; but, I was feeling calmer and determined to stay the course.

The first run was one mile out and one mile back using the same path. With only the first ½ mile behind my back, several of my newfound mentors (I had to drop the notion of peers) were already returning. They were sprinting easily and chatting about who could even imagine what. I turned the corner exiting the park and felt the turmoil in the air as a dozen of them wind channeled past me. They were within minutes of transitioning to their bikes; but, I refused to dwell on that and continued to forge ahead.

A trick I had learned, though potentially dangerous, was to keep my eyes to the ground while I run. It is the only way I can concentrate without getting overwhelmed at the distance still left to be covered.

I raised my head searching for the one mile turnaround and to my surprise, see another lone runner still moving toward it. Hmmm. I look away, then back again. I do believe that his frame size increased with that glance. One more test confirmed that I was not only keeping up, but I was gaining on him. Now, this was exciting! My legs didn’t move any faster but my mind was fired up. ”Oh, yes. He is mine!”

He rounded the corner a quarter mile ahead of me. He started his journey back and saw me. As we passed face to face, the silence was broken by the competing gasps of our panting. I made my turn and felt an internal rush as I closed in for the take! He must have tried to keep up with the pros longer than I had because I passed him with ease. My personal victory soured a bit though as he mumbled “I suppose this means I’m it.” It was more of a statement than a question. Since I had just learned myself what it was like to give in to accepting last place, I offered “You’ll catch up with me on the bike!” Then I slowly yet proudly left him in my dust!

My triumph was short lived. I gazed ahead to see bikes whipping out of the park. These riders were runners and swimmers. The swimming heats were every ten minutes. (My group of runners started off with the first heat.) I turned back into the park with a half-mile stretch still ahead of me. The riders were intense. Some hollered words of encouragement. Embarrassed, my speed picked up, but not by much. By the time I got back to the transition area, few people were watching for runners coming back in. Most had forwarded their support to the swimmers and riders.

My friend, Denise, though, bless her soul, was there for me. She cheered me in, offered me water, led me to my bike, and excitedly sent me off again! Passing the first riding checkpoint on my way out, I heard someone yell, “Make sure you stay all the way to the right with that bike.” I didn’t have to look around. I knew who he was talking to. I nodded and dug into cycling. The hundreds of bikes that overtook me were stupendous to look at. The speed and ease of their ride was fun to watch. (Yes, I was envious; and clearly, even in my fogged state, knew this was my old cloppy bike’s last ride.)

I decided not to use the odometer or stop watch on my bike. I didn’t need any discouragement; I wanted to finish this ride without regard to time and place. I’d ridden 30 miles on my bike before. Now that I had plenty of time ahead of me to think, I calculated that that had been 15 years prior. I wondered why I hadn’t added any training into my regimen for the cycling piece of this event. It would have been a good idea.

We rode the perimeter of the lake. It took me over an hour. I was alone most of the time except for the occasional group of riders who had swum in the later heats and sped past.

Three quarters of the way through the ride, I broke the intensity by wondering when the last time was that I had been out riding like this. “I should take advantage and enjoy the beauty of the land.” That did nothing for my speed and instead, led my mind to pine for the presence of my husband.

I buckled back down just as an athlete whizzed by me. “I think the last turn is at the bottom of the hill!” she shouted back. Yes! I peddled faster downhill, cruised around the corner and there it was! I choked back my extreme weariness at the enormous grand finale climb. “Concentrate, concentrate, you can do this! One spin of the wheel at a time!” It was an unbelievable feat reaching the top of that hill! There was one more mile, but an easy last mile.

Denise called out to me in glee and helped me park my bike. I couldn’t really talk. Mostly I just grunted and sucked down water. This was the last stage and before I could give it any thought, I started my final run. My legs were wobbly, but they were moving. I was torn between the excitement and settling back down. There was still much work to be done. I must have looked like hell because someone mistook my inability to function socially with negativity and chided me for not smiling and thanking him for his support.

I trotted through some trees on a dirt path leading out to the road. The final piece of this event was across the dam overlooking the lake. It was a narrow path for runners going both directions, but a befitting finale. As I started across the bridge there were a good many people returning. I was amazed at the number of people who had quit running altogether and were just walking fast. It had never occurred to me that I would see this. I had had no intention whatsoever of letting up. Granted, my run wasn’t that much over a fast walk... I went farther across the bridge. More and more people were walking. Gosh darn it. It just seemed like a good idea. I’d been moving for almost two hours now. No. No. And then I just did it. I slowed to a fast walk at the 2 mile marker. The sign itself seemed to scream at me to "Stop!" Horrified, I walked for only a few minutes and then took off again. Gratefully, I was in a running state when I heard someone say “Hey, I thought you said I would catch up with you on the bikes.” I shrugged as he passed going the other way and elated in my head “Oh, my God! I stayed ahead of him!” That took me a ways more, but I had lost my gait and had slowed down, making it harder to pull it all back together. I was feeling pain and weariness like I’d never felt before.

Back down the path through the trees and out into the gauntlet of the finish. Cheers led me to the line of completion, timing me at 2 hours and 14 minutes. Denise congratulated me! I walked around in a daze; dirty, breathless and exhausted.

I ranked 98 out of 100 in the duathlon. (There was another gentleman who dropped out during the ride.) Denise drove me home where I slept for the rest of the day (noon on). I didn’t run the rest of the year. It took everything I had that day. There’s a good chance, I say, a real good chance I needed more than 6 weeks of training.