What’s in a number?

While spring connotes sunshine, blooming flowers and nesting birds, it’s also the season for USTA league tennis — meaning that during these three months, one’s wins and losses really matter. Each fall, after victorious teams have gone on to Districts, then Sectionals, and finally Nationals, the computer re-calculates everyone’s NTRP (National Tennis Rating Program) rating, and it either keeps players at the same level, or it moves them up or down depending on a complicated and mostly secret algorithm — one that people may profess to understand, yet no one can explain in full.

I play 3.0 ladies’ tennis. For those who aren’t familiar with USTA, this is not an impressive level. Most “real” tennis players look down their noses once they hear I’m only a 3.0, or they’re friendly but somewhat condescending.  Sure, I’d like to move up to 3.5 – what 3.0 wouldn’t want the respect that comes with the extra half-point?  At the same time, other than wanting respect and acceptance, I’m actually fine with being a 3.0.  The point of USTA ratings, after all, is to help people play against opponents with about the same level of ability and consistency, thus giving everyone a decent chance of winning or losing.

Non-tennis players aren’t off the hook here, though: tennis is merely my topic of the moment.  The situation of a 3.0 who wants to move to 3.5, or a 3.5 who thinks this is her year to go to 4.0, is pretty much the same as that of an executive who believes she should move one level higher in the organization, and earn perhaps twenty percent more — then she would be satisfied.  Or the school volunteer who calculates that, if she could only be nominated to the Executive Board, her talents would finally be recognized for what they really are.  We all want to demonstrate progress, whether it’s with our tennis rating, compensation package, community leadership, the size of house we live in, or some other measure that matters to us.  [Read more…]

Reflections on a ring

AT&T Park, at the edge of  San Francisco Bay, floated with celebrations last weekend.  The San Francisco Giants’ 2011 home opener on Friday saw our “Fear the Beard” closer (Brian Wilson) run the 2010 World Series flag out to the right field arcade and hoist it up the flagpole to rest just below the Stars and Stripes.

Saturday night fans arrived an hour before game time to witness the historic presentation of the World Series Championship rings – enormous, gaudy things that went to every player on last year’s team, plus the front office folks and untold others in the Giants organization.  The first ring was presented to 53-year Giants veteran Mike Murphy, who manages the Giant’s Clubhouse.  Not to be left out were Giant fans’ favorite radio voices, Kruk & Kuip (Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper).  Also receiving rings were the team’s six living Hall of Famers, four of whom attended the festivities.

Non-players donned tuxedos or even tails (with orange bow ties, of course), lending an air of class to the occasion.  Many players put on their rings immediately.  They lined up along the first and third base lines, with each new individual receiving his ring making his way down the ever-longer row of players to fist-pump or bear-hug on the way to his spot.

Sunday marked the 2010 Rookie of the Year presentation to catcher Buster Posey, who characteristically deflected praise in thanks to his teammates, the selection committee, everyone in the Giants’ organization, and of course, Giant fans.  He was joined by four other past Giants who received Rookie of the Year awards, and he was given a day off catching to revel in the moment.

Monday the Dodgers were in town, and Juan Uribe (last year’s SF shortstop, now a Dodger) received his ring before the game began.  The upshot: fabulous ceremonies, once-in-a lifetime experiences, all pulled off in true San Francisco style: celebratory and sophisticated.  On the diamond, the first four home games amounted to two come-from-behind wins, followed by two losses.  Sports commentators agree that it’s time to set 2010 aside and turn our attention to 2011.

So what does this have to do with me, a sports fan by marriage?   [Read more…]

Of flames and forks

The flaming email — we’ve all received them.  We might even admit we’ve sent one.  Maybe not a flame that rages like a “Howler” in Harry Potter, but certainly one that smolders.  While we think of internet flames as caustic remarks on public message boards, PC Magazine defines to flame as “to communicate emotionally via email.”  If that’s the case, I’m definitely guilty of flaming, as are some people who have emailed me without pausing to re-read or reconsider before hitting “send.”  Numerous publications have explored the flame phenomenon, including Wired and the New York Times. Flaming arises in part due to a key problem with the email genre — namely, the brain’s inability to discern “tone” in the absence of facial and voice cues. To me, however, email flames are more than poor “netiquette:” they reflect how manners are changing not only in our cyber-communities, but also in our “real time” relationships.

I  bristle when I enter a bistro or church service, and I see a man wearing a baseball cap.  While I realize such behavior is ubiquitous and even accepted in our culture, it still bothers me.  I can’t help it: I was raised in the South at a time when gentlemen removed their caps while attending church or dining inside.  They opened doors for ladies – didn’t just hand off door handles like relay batons to females entering behind them.

Yet I wonder, what IS it that causes us to “forget” our manners?  Are we in too much of a hurry?  Consider, for example, the school carpool line.  Drivers actually try not to recognize each other.  Allowing a car to merge ahead of you is a sign of weakness, as is a wave of thanks from the “merger” to the rare person who lets her merge.  It’s the driver’s job, after all, to stay isolated and maneuver as quickly as possible to her destination.  [Read more…]

P90X-ing the midlife body

Most of us have seen the infomercials with the “before” and “after” shots: ugly folks with bad hairdos and fat that spills over their shorts, transformed in only ninety days to svelte people with rock-hard abs, biceps and bikini-ready bodies – not to mention cute hairstyles and good skin. Too good to be true?  Yes, but not entirely.

I started on P90X because I was fed up with being out of shape (see this post, for example), and because my college kids told me it might be too hard for me. In other words, the gauntlet had been thrown! I went online and looked at testimonials. I  was hooked when I saw the cute Asian guy, a self-proclaimed “computer nerd,” who used to sit in front of his screen and eat junk food all day, but now does P90X and looks like someone my daughter should meet. I ordered the DVDs and figured I’d give it a try.

I took my “Fit Test” on December 31 and passed it, barely. At least I was fit enough to start P90X’s “extreme home fitness!” Monday, 1/3/2011, was the start of my New Regime. I skipped the recommended “before” photos, as I didn’t want a potential source of blackmail. On Day 1, you do “Chest & Back,” a one-hour workout consisting mainly of push-ups and pull-ups. I had little prior experience with either. (Read: this was hard!) Then you do the sixteen-minute “Ab Ripper.” Enough said. I finished at 11:30 a.m. and went back to bed for an hour. I made a note to myself, “Must cheat. Must take breaks.”

Day 2 was better, as the workout was cardio that, while difficult, was not as foreign to me. I thought, “Well, maybe I can do this after all.” But Day 12 came, and I still wasn’t feeling more fit. Plus, doing P90X was taking 1 to 1 ½ hours per day. But I made up my mind to keep going.

It was probably around Day 20 when I decided P90X was okay. My husband encouraged me, telling me he thought my body was getting more toned. My teenage son was less generous, choosing to mimic my least-favorite workout, “Kenpo X.” Whenever the subject of P90X comes up, he calls out, “Hook, undercut, sidekick,” punching and kicking the air for emphasis. [Read more…]

Object of Desire?

Last night I found a half-eaten bag of Blue Bottle coffee beans on the Oriental carpet I received from my aunt. This is my dog’s favorite place to take his treasures.  That fact, plus slobber and teeth marks on the bag, led me to conclude that Dezi had eaten a quarter-pound of fancy coffee.  Amazingly, he was no more hyper last night than usual.  But that’s not saying much.

Dezi, or The Dez, or just plain Dez (all nicknames for “Desidério,” “Desired One,” a Spanish-Portuguese name befitting his pedigreed status as a Portuguese Water Dog), is actually our second PWD.  We owned this breed before Bo Obama made it famous.   But alas, Dezi doesn’t have the trainers, groomers and handlers that Bo most likely does have — meaning simply that our PWD’s breed-worthy deviousness has not been reined in with appropriate training.  Oh, he KNOWS his commands, but he exercises his option to disregard them.  Sometimes he uses them as opportunities to train his people to give him treats.

Yesterday he went to the groomer.  To settle him down, I gave him 3 droppers of Rescue Remedy before leaving home.  Maybe I should have taken some myself — it’s a homeopathic stress-reducer for people as well as pets, after all.  I wonder if there’s some truth to the adage that people select pets like themselves, or turn their pets into mini-versions of themselves.  This dog is intelligent, but he’s “in your face” about most things.  I’m sure my kids would have something to say on that subject.

Anyway, Dezi looked beautiful when he came home from the groomer.  Hard to believe this was the same dog who awoke me in the middle of the night, polishing off the freshly-baked banana bread I had left cooling by the stove.  Or who waited until we left the house, then sampled a cantaloupe — it was, after all, an organic melon from the farmer’s market.  The Dez sniffs out only the best.









Now everyone has taken to closing his or her bedroom door when leaving the house.  If we forget to do this, we find interesting items under the coffee table: mint chewing gum, vanilla-flavored chapstick, tooth-marked mascara tubes, plastic bags whose prior contents are no longer identifiable.  Last week I discovered the packaging to an entire box of Girl Scout Thin Mints.  Not sure when Dezi consumed them, or who left them out in the first place, but it looks like the chocolate didn’t kill him — didn’t even make him sick. [Read more…]