SoCal state of mind

perfect-palm-tree

Palm tree perfection.

I am having an affair. It has been going on for a while now. Rudy Giuliani says it’s okay because everybody does it but don’t worry – my dear wife is well aware of my transgressions. The object of my affections is long and tan and young and lovely. She is the state of California.

Our relationship began years ago – in the early 90’s when I made my first trip to the Golden State on business. I landed in San Diego and saw palm trees. California palm trees. I was smitten. It was all so exotic to a girl who had grown up in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

To me, Southern California is the cool kids with the cutest clothes – the ones you hope invite you to their party. SoCal knows it’s cool, too, but it’s very laid back about it all. It’s paradise with a youthful attitude and a side of caramelized brussels sprouts. And not everyone looks the same. It’s alive with energy and bursting with diversity and I absolutely love it.

And California is just too cool to care that folks on the east coast run that “left coast” moniker into the ground. Whatever, dudes.

My sister bears some of the blame for my SoCal lust. She married into California in 1993 – she met her husband when they were both working at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla. He lived in a condo in Del Mar, a small beach city in San Diego County – a condo overlooking the Pacific Ocean. And by overlooking, I mean dangling. It is a breathtakingly dramatic view.

del-mar-view

THE view. Del Mar, CA.

I know what you’re thinking but she really did marry for love – not real estate. And she still has the husband – and the condo. He’s retired now and she’s working in Newport Beach so they see each other on weekends. It works for them. Some of my married friends think it’s the perfect scenario.

My sister picked me up at the airport that first visit and I can still remember my head spinning as we drove to Del Mar – the terra-cotta colored mountains in the distance and all those fabulous palm trees. And then she turned onto a steep hill leading straight down to the Pacific Ocean. I felt like we were driving into the ocean.

We had lunch on the patio of an oceanfront (understatement) restaurant. We shared a split of champagne and I was baptized in a mist of bubbles and ocean spray. It was love at first sight. I saved the cork from that bottle for years – somehow even then I knew I needed a talisman for that place and that feeling.

And then we went to her condo. On a clear day you can see, well, not forever, but Catalina for sure. I felt like I was in an episode of Santa Barbara, one of my favorite soap operas back in the day. The sun was shining, as it almost always is, but the air was light and cool. Del Mar had me at cool.

Del Mar will always have me for another reason, too. This is where we scattered my mother’s ashes a year after her death. Mom made Karen Walker from Will & Grace look outdoorsy. She just didn’t really see a compelling reason to be outside unless you were at an outdoor mall. But she loved everything about Del Mar – the climate, the flowers and best of all to her – the absence of any bugs. She always immensely enjoyed her visits to see my sister and her husband and I like to think she’s at peace in that beautiful spot.

I am in many ways my mother’s daughter and I have spent most of my adult life in a climate conundrum, too. You see, I love the ocean but I hate the heat and humidity of summer. In Southern California I have found the best of both worlds – with valet parking.

Last month, I spent two magical weeks with my sister in Newport Beach and since I’ve been home I’ve been suffering from SoCal Syndrome – a condition characterized by a general malaise and a craving for Cioppino and avocado toast. The only thing that seems to help curb the symptoms is a triple, venti, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiato and some reruns of The O.C..

mapquest-nb

It’s almost a straight shot from WS to NB.

This has led me to try to trace the roots of my obsession with a place 2,452 miles away from where I live. We have to go back – like the way, way back of my childhood. I can remember being mesmerized by the I Love Lucy episodes when the Ricardos and the Mertzes drove cross-country to California when Ricky got a part in a movie. There’s a great episode where Lucy spots William Holden at the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood and, of course, hijinks ensue.(I’ve waited a long time to use that delightful phrase.)

lucy

Lucy loved SoCal, too.

Even in black and white, Southern California looked so glamorous to me and some of that was probably the Hollywood connection. My mother was a practical and frugal woman but she indulged in a few guilty pleasures – like magazines. She subscribed to most of the mom magazines of her generation –  Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Ladies’ Home Journal (yes, that’s the Can This Marriage Be Saved? one) but she also got two magazines that I became obsessed with – Modern Screen and Photoplay. Okay kids, gather around the campfire and I’ll tell you about the olden days before People and InStyle.

Modern Screen and Photoplay were fan magazines that featured photographs and interviews with movie stars. Both publications reached their heydays in the 1950’s but were still in circulation until the late 70’s. I could hardly contain myself when they arrived in the mail and I would steal away into my bedroom to pore over the photos of stars in their Malibu homes. Again, it all seemed so intoxicating to a dour teenager with acne and split-ends for days.

l-word-poster

Must see TV.

And I’ve always been drawn to all the TV shows set in Southern California – even if I had aged out of the target audience – Beverly Hills, 90210 (Kelly Taylor was my fav) and Melrose Place (mad crush on Jane Mancini) and then finally, The L Word, a show about my people – impossibly rich, beautiful and thin lesbians who never seem to work and have time to meet for coffee three times a day at The Planet. I loved the scenery – in all manner of ways.

Okay, I know life is not a TV show unless you are a Kardashian or a certain presidential candidate and that the air is always cooler somewhere else. The truth is, I probably couldn’t live in SoCal fulltime for the same reason my sister is always whining about – it’s too damn sunny. My sister, in addition to being a radiation therapist, is also an esthetician and the sun has always been, in her mind, The Evil Empire. She spends more on skin care in a year than I do on wine. That’s a lot of moisturizer, my friends. But she has radiant flawless skin to show for it.

sun-screen-sissy

My sister wearing SPF 1000. She prefers to come out at night.

That said, she struggles mightily with shielding her undamaged skin from the constant beat down of the California sun. If you happened to run into her on the beach, you might think she was Amish or maybe a beekeeper.  That girl covers up.

Mornings are usually pretty safe in Newport Beach because there is often a marine layer that takes a few hours to burn off before the sun is on high. But my sister longs for a rainy day – even just an overcast one – and I understand. She misses the seasons and I know I would, too. Okay, not summer but most certainly fall and spring.

fog-nb

You’ve got to enjoy the fog while you can.

I talked to her last night and she was lamenting about how all the grocery stores near her are teeming with pumpkins and gourds and the likes in an attempt to at least give an appearance of fall. cali-fall

The last morning of my latest visit, I got up early and drove down to Newport Beach Pier. I bought a coffee and walked out far enough to have a great view of the surfers. In my next life, I will surf. I can’t imagine that rush – of riding a wave on a sparkly SoCal morning. It was cool to see so many young women among all the dudes – and very cool to see a lot of not so young dudes out there, too.

surfers

Best board meeting ever.

My dear wife has joked lately to friends that she fears I might leave her for California. She doesn’t have to worry about that – unless I hit that Mega Million Jackpot. Just kidding. I adore my wife but she has lived her entire life in North Carolina and is not a big fan of change. We’ll have to figure it out if we’re ever fortunate enough to retire.

Meanwhile, I’ll just keep watching those KAYAK price alerts and hoping that objects in the mirror really are closer than they appear.

object-in-mirror

I’ll be seeing you…

 

tall-skinny-palm-trees

My mistress.

sunset-nb

California dreaming for now.

 

station-wagon-2

My sentiments exactly.

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No sweat

i feel pretty when I sweat

Said me, never.

You have my blog mate and best friend Carla to blame for this post. We met a few Saturday mornings ago for coffee. Three and half hours later, we had covered everything from bone broth, her new obsession, to The Gilmore Girls revival. In between, I told her about some recent blows to my ego I had recently experienced at my gym.

bff coffee meme

Truth.

Now you need a little back story. I adore Carla and it’s not that easy. She’s 24 years younger than me and she’s stunningly beautiful. And she’s skinny. I told you it wasn’t easy. Carla is the type of woman (perhaps not really human) who has never had a problem with her weight. She is the reason skinny jeans were invented. Are you getting the picture?

 

carla

My beautiful bestie Carla. (Photo by Andrew Brown)

I love Carla’s laugh – it’s surprisingly robust for such a slender woman. And often when she laughs she can’t speak and she’ll sort of double over and wipe tears from her eyes. This was her reaction when I shared my gym woes with her that morning. When she finally caught her breath, she said, “You have to blog about this.”

So here we are.

When I stopped commuting for my former job in January, I gave up my gym membership in Greensboro because it just didn’t make sense. I live in Winston-Salem and it’s about a 40 minute drive. Like I need another excuse to not go to the gym.

I decided to give Planet Fitness a look because I kept seeing their commercials – “No Gymtimidation” is one of their tag lines. That sounded promising to me so I checked out the location just a few miles from my condo. I was prepared to not like it. My gym in Greensboro was really nice – so nice it was called The Club. And it sort of felt like a country club – nice leather chairs in the lobby, classy art on the walls and lots of shiny machines.

no critics

I can do this math.

Well, if my old gym was Whole Foods, Planet Fitness is Aldi’s. It has everything that I could possibly need – just without any frills. The staff was super friendly and the price was right. I joined and as part of my membership, I was given a free appointment with a personal trainer.

I’ve never been keen on a trainer. I don’t respond well to being told what to do (understatement) and I really don’t want to have to talk to anyone while I’m working out. In fact, I wish they would make all gyms a “no talking” zone. It’s just awkward, right? At my former fancy gym I would often run into my friend, Bruce. I’ve known him for years and I really like him – except that he looks like a GQ model ALL the time – even when he’s exercising. Seriously, he makes Adonis look like a sloth. And his hair looks perfect even after his workout.

ain't nobody got time for that

Word.

Invariably, I would be on the cross trainer looking like a sweaty troll and he would saunter up with his gorgeous smile and that chiseled hair and start talking to me. I would take my earbuds out and try to speak without gasping like I had a collapsed lung and have a civilized conversation with him. To this day he doesn’t know that even though my lips were moving, I was really just focusing on not falling off my machine.

When I arrived to meet my personal trainer, I was led into a room where four other women were seated around a table. Well, my “free” appointment turned out to be a group one. I really didn’t mind – the other ladies were nice – and older than me. Score. We made a little small talk and then our trainer walked in. That’s when things got real.

She was a no-nonsense young woman who looked like she could have been in the Marines. She started talking and barked, “Write this down.” We had pencils and paper at our seats and the first thing she said was, “Abs begin in the kitchen, not the gym.” This confused me but I was a little gymtimidated so I didn’t argue and I wrote it down. She went on to explain the connection between nutrition and exercise and then asked each of us what our personal goals were.

abs meme

Abs are apparently no laughing matter.

Goals? Jeez, I just signed up for some regular exercise, I wasn’t thinking about the meaning of life. Fortunately, I did not go first so I had time to scramble up an answer. I think I said something like, “Improve my stamina.” I don’t know why I said that – it’s not like I’m going to be climbing Everest or anything. Anyway, she nodded and seemed to think that my goal was worthy. She then showed us where to file our fitness plan so that we could record our reps (gym speak) each time we came in. I guess my file is still there – I haven’t pulled it. Again, I like the solo approach to exercise.

My first few times at The Planet (my homage to the coffee shop in The L Word that just makes me smile) I was very much aware that this was not The Club. First, there were a lot of older people there – yes, older than me. And I didn’t see anyone in a matching gym ensemble. I saw a lot of run of the mill schlubs like me. Score again.

I saw sweatpants – the bulky gray kind that you wear when you’re feeling puny and you’re going to be on the couch all day watching a Sex and the City marathon. I saw a lot of socks – not shorty gym socks – regular socks, even black ones. I saw some street shoes paired with shorts and a tank top. The more I saw, the more I liked. I knew this was a place where I could feel comfortable. I had found the gym version of the Island of Misfit Toys.

misfit toys

Me and my pals at Planet Fitness. Werk it Girl!

Planet Fitness bills itself as the “No Judgement Zone” and I felt a little snarky because I judged them for putting that extra “e” in judgement. For the record, the AP Stylebook recommends judgment – no e. But I’m not here to crunch vowels.

panet fitness 2

Two Es or not two Es?

Planet Fitness should add another tag line to their marketing – No Narcissism. Yesterday, I saw an elderly woman with an oxygen tank riding a recumbent bike. And there are a couple of regulars who have clearly had strokes, walking with canes or walkers, but they’re out there most days just trying to keep busy moving. These aren’t the kind of people who are going to bore the enamel off your teeth by posting on Facebook about how many steps they got on their Fitbits today. Nope, and I find these folks to be heroically inspiring.

dodge ball

Fitness can be funny.

Now certainly there are some bona fide buff bods here working out but they are more the exception than the rule. On an average day it looks like a grown up version of the Audio Visual Club from high school. And I like it. Don’t confuse that with liking exercise. My favorite part of my workout is when it is over and I can feel virtuous and maybe a little smug. I know it’s good for me – like flossing – but I don’t enjoy it. I enjoy going to the movies. I enjoy sipping an iced macchiato. I enjoy taking a long walk in November and hearing the crunching of leaves under my feet.

exercise 2 meme

That said, I’m pretty proud of myself. This summer I’ve been going to the gym five days a week. Maybe it’s the turning 60 voice in my head: Move it or lose it! Or maybe it’s just that I do appreciate some discipline in my life and the satisfaction of doing something I said I was going to do.

So I actually have built up my stamina and I was beginning to feel like I had some gym cred. And then one day a few weeks ago, while I’m pumping madly on the cross trainer, a man – a man visibly older than me – walks up and stands beside my machine. I could feel his presence and I turned to look at him and took out my earbuds and he exclaimed, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought you were my wife. She’s built like you.” It’s times like these when I’m grateful for my 25 plus years in fundraising. I seem to always default to speaking to strangers like potential donors. I smiled at him and said, “Well, I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Meanwhile my inside voice was saying, “Don’t you dare look around to see what his wife looks like.” And you know what? I didn’t. I just figured no good could come from that.

A few days later I had recovered from that bruise and was feeling strong again after completing my 50 minute workout and was wiping down my machine when a woman behind me on a treadmill said, “Excuse me, can I talk to you?” My inside voice was saying, “Yeah, no” but my fundraiser voice said cheerfully, “Sure.” She then proceeded to tell me that she noticed that I had been sweating a lot on the back of my T-shirt. Really? Hello, that’s why they call it working out! She then began to tell me about something that another woman had shared with her in the locker room. Wait for it – the sweat belt. Yes, it’s a thing. She went on to explain that you wear it around your waist under your shirt while you’re working out and it increases your amount of sweating. Okay, why would anyone want to sweat more? She explained that it helps reduce inches from your waist. I played along like I was truly interested and then she did the unthinkable. She actually lifted her shirt up to show me her belt that she had just gotten a few days ago.

sweat belt

Behold the sweat belt. Because who wouldn’t want to work out in a girdle?

I managed to say something like “thanks for sharing” and made a bee line for the front door. Okay, and maybe when I got home I might have Googled “sweat belt” just for kicks. Wow. My search pulled up over 12,400,000 sites related to the sweat belt. That’s a lot of sweat and apparently a lot of mixed reviews on whether the belt is a good thing or not. Yes, it makes you sweat more and perhaps momentarily lose some inches that are most likely related to water weight but some critics suggest that it prevents your abdominal muscles from fully engaging, thus limiting the amount of calories you are burning.

Some of the sweat belts even come with a special “sweat gel” that when applied to your waist is supposed to make you sweat even more than just wearing the belt. In a word, gross.

glistening like a pig

When my dear wife got home from work that day, I told her about my Close Encounter of the Sweat Belt Kind and she just laughed cheerfully and said that I shouldn’t take it personally – that my gym mate was just sharing some information. My wife is a much nicer person than me. She also has a very flat stomach so I’m not sure she could exactly walk in my waist on this matter. Nonetheless, I took her advice and tried to forget about the whole thing.

So guess who I ran into a few days later at the gym? Yep, my sweat belt stalker. She tapped my shoulder while I was working out and asked earnestly, “Did you get a sweat belt?” I was so over it all by then but I managed to smile at her and said, “I don’t really think it’s for me. I don’t really like sweating.” She looked at me with a bit of disappointment and yes, judgement, and said, “Okay, but it’s really working for me.”

I’m sincerely happy for her but I think I just have to go with my gut on this one.

 

addy post workout

My favorite part of working out – The End!  (Photo by Addison Ore)