Monthly Archives: July 2013

Pinball Wizard

I mentioned in my last post that I used to do gymnastics as a kid. I did it for a long time, and the main reason nothing became of it (career-wise) was that I only dedicated 1 hour once a week for a bunch of years instead of the minimum 4 hours, 5 days a week for a bunch of years that the pros put in. (And anyone who has watched the show Make It or Break It knows that if you want to be the very best, you put in something like every waking hour of your life for a bunch of years.) I also found that as I grew older, my body became ill-suited for the trials and tribulations of gymnastics.

The uneven bars, a women’s gymnastics apparatus, is where my current story takes place. The uneven bars as we are familiar with today are quite different from the uneven bars in the 1950s. Today, the uneven bars are held together by cables and have an adjustable diagonal distance between the two bars varying between 4.3 – 5.9 feet (as depicted below).

Modern Uneven Bars

This allows for more fluid movements between the bars, and makes it highly difficult to be touching both bars simultaneously. Back in the 1950s, the uneven bars were very different. They more closely resembled the mens’ parallel bars, only at different heights. Practically speaking, the bars were much closer to each other (as depicted below).

1950s Uneven Bars

I grew up on the 1950s styled uneven bars, as that’s what they had in my gym. Many of the skills we’d do specifically involved contact with both bars simultaneously. But because of the ever-changing height of kids, we were always adjusting the height and distance between the bars to suit each gymnast.

At the time of this story, I was in my early teens and had been doing gymnastics for many years. As such, I knew my bars settings by heart. It was the first class of the year, having just come back from a summer break. I set the bars to my desired heights, and proceeded to do my routine from the end of the previous year. Unfortunately for me, I’d had a growth spurt over the summer and the bars should have been slightly farther apart than they were.

What should have happened: I was in a front support on the high bar facing out. I was supposed to swing my legs back, straddle the high bar with the soles of my feet on the bar, swinging around the bar in a circle. (Imagine a side view: the high bar is the point in the center of a circle, and over the course of the skill, my butt creates the outer circumference of the circle, with my arms and legs being the radius throughout.)

What actually happened: I was in a front support on the high bar facing out. I swung my legs back, separating my feet to rest my soles on the high bar in a straddle. So far so good. All I had to do was let gravity start me off by pushing my butt in a downward arc. And I did. Except due to my new height, the low bar interfered with my butt. The bars themselves were made out of a somewhat flexible wood, and so upon contact, the low bar thrust me upward, causing me to ram my head into the high bar. And so it continued for about a minute – bouncing between the two bars, hitting my butt on the low bar and my head on the high bar, until I eventually released my hold of the bar for an unceremonious dismount. I collapsed on the mat in a heap of pain. Don’t worry. I was fine. Not even a concussion – just a bit of bruising. Sure, I couldn’t sit for a couple of weeks, but most of the damage was psychological. The bars had won, and I was too scared to bother finding a new setting for my new height. Besides, I still had beam, vault and floor to get better at. Who needs uneven bars anyway? I decided it was not worth the risk of playing human pinball again.


The Baby-Sitters Club

For those of you up to date with Israeli happenings, the country is presently hosting its 19th Maccabiah Games – a sort of mini-Olympics for Israelis and Jews worldwide. While I’d like to consider myself an Olympic nut, the truth is that there’s only one sport I’ve ever really cared about: gymnastics. Having dedicated my entire childhood to doing gymnastics, I was always (and still am) fascinated by watching the pros. Last year’s gymnastics Olympic games were particularly exciting for Jews worldwide, as Aly Raisman – a Jew – won gold medal for her floor routine, bronze for her beam routine, and was part of the gold medal winning Team USA. This year she was honored by being the athlete chosen to light the Maccabiah torch at the opening ceremony last Thursday.

Last Thursday… the first day of the 19th Maccabiah Games. I’d been looking forward to watching the gymnastics events ever since I first saw the Maccabiah advertised on the streets of Jerusalem. According to the Maccabiah website, there would be a week of gymnastics practices before the final competition. Not knowing whether or not I’d be able to go see the competition, I decided to make sure I at least got to see a practice. So that’s how I found myself last Thursday at Tel Aviv’s Hadar Yosef Olympic arena trying to watch the gymnastics practice. It was an almost-worthless trip. Apparently the schedule listed on the Maccabiah website was for competitors, and not spectators. When I arrived at the arena, I was greeted by a sign on the door that read, “Entrance for gymnasts only.” Well, nothing said I couldn’t stand in the doorway and watch. Unfortunately it meant I was blocking the doorway, and I couldn’t see much anyway. In the end, I didn’t stick around very long.

I did, however, stick around long enough for this to happen:

I had to use the ladies’ room. It was quite a nice ladies’ room, complete with toilet stalls, showers for sweaty athletes, and a long mirror with sinks. One thing they did not have though was a handicapped stall. I had my baby in her stroller, but the stroller couldn’t fit into a regular stall (at least, not with me at the same time). My options were limited. Fortunately, there were some other people hanging out in the bathroom – namely the USA women’s gymnastics delegation (I’m pretty sure, after researching names and pictures, that it was the Junior league). They had finished up their practice already, showered, and were getting dressed and ready in their red, white and blue “USA” tagged sweatsuits and baseball caps – the USA delegation’s uniforms for the opening ceremony that would be starting a few hours later. I asked these girls if they were going to be there for another couple of minutes, knowing full well that they would (after all, even elite gymnasts take a while to straighten their hair), and if they wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on my baby while I went about my business. Once they agreed and I turned to find a stall, it suddenly occurred to me that I was leaving my most prized possession with a bunch of strangers. Without missing a beat, I whipped back around and said in my most threatening voice, “My baby had better be here when I come out. If she’s not… I know what country you’re from!”

And that’s the story of how I both threatened the USA gymnastics delegation and got them to babysit my daughter for a few minutes. Who knows… any of these junior gymnasts could go on to be in the 2016 Olympics, and then I can tell my daughter when she’s older that an Olympic gymnast once babysat for her!

[Update, July 25, 2013]

Despite all odds, I made it, daughter in tow, to the gymnastics finals, exactly one week after the above story took place. Seating space was limited, and I was fortunate to be able to sit at all. I was walking around, baby strapped to me, trying to figure out which seats were being saved for late-comers and which seats were actually available, when a kind elderly couple asked if I was looking for a seat and motioned to the seat next to them. I thanked them profusely and took my seat, front and center in the spectators’ box. The elderly couple asked me if I was related to any of the competitors. I told them no, that I was simply a big fan of the sport, having done it myself for many years as a kid, and I was excited to expose my next-generation to it. Well, it turns out that they were the grandparents of a competitor. Not just any competitor, but one of the young ladies from the USA junior delegation who babysat for my daughter in the bathroom! Her parents were seated on the other side of the grandparents, and her teammate’s families were seated in the row behind me. I shared the babysitting story with them. They thought it was cute. And then we talked gymnastics, “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed at the routines, and chatted amicably about little things. They took pictures of me and my baby, picked up her pacifier when she threw it down, and gave her fingers to hold onto and chew. Seems like gymnastic folk are nice folk all around… at least when a baby is involved.

Riding in Cars with Boys

There have been some terrifying stories in the news of late regarding children in cars. I thought I’d lighten the mood with a rather humorous story from my childhood involving a car…

Every now and then, my parents would drop me off with my grandparents for a day or two. Sometimes we’d do fun things together – go to the movies, go swimming – but more often than not we did mundane, every-day activities. Whatever we did, I always had a blast.

This story takes place on a cool autumn day when I must have been around 8 or 9 years old. My grandmother took me to the local supermarket for some light shopping and some bottle returns. Bottle returns were my favorite; popping bottles into the mouth of a gigantic machine, hearing them get crunched down, and watching your nickel count grow bigger and bigger with each bottle you put it. (Not to mention getting a slip of paper at the end that could be exchanged for cash!) On this particular day, my grandmother decided to leave me to do the bottle returns right next to the supermarket entrance while she ran inside and bought a handful of items. The plan was for me to wait for her to drive up with her car and I’d jump in.

I finished returning the bottles, and with my receipt in hand, I waited by the front of the supermarket for my grandmother to drive by. Sure enough, after a few minutes of waiting, my grandmother’s pale gold sedan pulled up right in front of me. I jumped in the back seat, bragging about the $1.30 I had just made from bottles. My grandmother, wearing her green coat and white bucket hat over her short, white hair, turned around to smile at me. Except she wasn’t smiling… and she wasn’t my grandmother either. In fact, she wasn’t a “she” at all. The driver was an elderly man wearing the same color coat and hat as my grandmother, and driving the same color car. I apologized awkwardly and dashed out of the car, convinced that my grandmother had been eaten by the big, bad wolf now impersonating her so that he could eat me as well.

A few minutes later my real grandmother drove up. Still scarred from my last experience, I waited for her to roll down the window so I could see her face before climbing into the back seat.

The Island, Part 4: The Perfect Storm

The summer has arrived, and with it the longing for My Island, which I am once again unable to visit this year.

In the last post I wrote from the “My Island” series, I wrote about the ever-changing weather that visits the island. Everything from fog and light showers to both cloudy and cloudless days. Oh, and the storms. What storms…

Storms on an island are quite different from storms inland, especially when your cottage is just above the water line. During storms, the wind blows so fiercely and the waves reach such heights that when the waves finally crash down, you can feel it in the ground. One storm, the winds were so strong that they tore the cable connecting some poor fisherman’s buoy to its lobster trap deep in the ocean, and once the storm passed, I found the buoy washed up on the rocks by our cottage. (I even took it back with me to New York, as there was no way of knowing how far away it came from, and therefore who it belonged to.) But the wind doesn’t only work wonders by sea (or ocean, as the case may be). You can see seagulls fighting against the wind, either struggling just to hover in one place, or even be pushed backward. And on land, the wind will blow away anything not tied down. In our little cottage, the glass window panes rattle so loudly during storms that it’s a wonder none of them ever broke during our time there.

It usually stinks being cooped up inside on a rainy day, but storms on My Island are an adventure I can go on without leaving the couch. They always start with dark clouds rolling in from afar. I’d try to guess how soon it would be until the storm was upon us, but I never seemed to have a knack for it. The winds would start picking up and before I knew it, the clouds were above us. And then I’d snap out of it and suddenly realize that there were things to do! I’d run out to the deck, fold up the reclining lawn chairs and rush them inside, so as to protect the fabric from getting wet (there’s little in the world as annoying as sitting down on a lawn chair just to hear a squish and know that your bottom is soaked). Then I’d rush back out and quickly turn over the plastic table and chairs against the wind so they wouldn’t be blown off the deck. By that time a light drizzle would begin to fall and I’d quickly rush back inside, missing the sudden downpour by mere seconds. Then I’d settle in for the show.

The show actually starts long before the storm clouds are above us. It begins when the storm is still a ways off and it is unclear whether or not the winds will blow it in our direction or if we’ll be spared its wrath. At that point the beautiful phenomenon of rain clouds appearing to cry into the ocean would usually be visible. (If you don’t have any clue what I’m talking about, take a look at the “Rainy Day” pictures from my last post in this series.) The rain clouds, which are so thick and heavy on top, seem to turn into nothing more than wisps of cloud dancing across the horizon. And then, if the winds do favor us with a storm, there’s the sensation of impending doom as these dark, heavy clouds come rolling in from afar at varying speeds, nothing obstructing our view, what with endless ocean for miles and miles. (Pictures of this can also be seen in the last post.)

Once the storm is upon us, the real fun begins. Lightning, the likes of which this city girl hasn’t seen anywhere else. Forks of brilliant light sizzling down from above, lighting up the heavens and the earth as if it were the middle of the day (which sometimes it was, but you wouldn’t know that with such thick clouds blocking out the sun). Sometimes nature would freeze during a flash of lightning, as if waiting for some lucky photographer to snap a picture of it. (Regretfully, I couldn’t tear my eyes away long enough to release the shutter, so I have no photo evidence of this.) And sometimes there would be simultaneous flashes of lighting viewable from different directions. I often do two things when the lightning flashes: I hold my breath for the duration of the flash (which sometimes seemed endless), and I count the seconds before the thunder rumbles. Much like in a horror movie, the suspense builds as the time between lightning and thunder lessens, knowing full well that one of these times the storm will be directly above us. To make matters more frightening, as the storm gets closer, the thunder often goes from a low, distant rumbling to a deafening crack loud enough to leave my ears ringing for minutes. But just as quickly as the storm comes on, it leaves, the only hint of it ever having happened being the light pitter-patter of rain slowly passing onward as well. Ah, such beauty.

And now for an entertaining story – the one time I was caught outside during a storm (ok, ok, maybe not the only time, but those stories will have to wait for another post), and just my luck! It was 3 storms colliding together right above My Island!

One summer when I was still a little girl, I went up to My Island to join my grandparents for a week before my parents joined. During that time, a notice was posted on the old rope shed on “Main Street,” where all sorts of island news were posted (much like a Facebook wall nowadays), that there was to be a concert in the one-room school-house one night that week. My grandmother and I decided to go. As we left the cottage, it looked as if it might start raining, so taking our umbrellas, we trekked the entire length of “Main Street” from the end with our cottage to the other end with the one-room school-house. I don’t remember much about the concert. There was a guy with a guitar. Maybe it was a girl. Maybe there were other instruments, maybe not. I found the storm brewing outside to be much more entertaining. And over the next couple of hours, the storm itself was fabulous. But the evening passed and the concert ended, leaving everyone to find their way home on the dark, lampless dirt roads.

We stepped outside, umbrellas at the ready, waiting to be battered in the face with stinging pellets of rain, but nothing happened. No rain was falling. In fact, surrounding us was an eerie calm. We were in the eye of the storm. With the lightning lighting up the clouds and the thunder rumbling deeply, we took advantage of the break from rain and tried to make our way home as quickly as possible. It was difficult making our way by flashlight on a muddy dirt-road riddled with gigantic puddles. It would have been fun for me, jumping in all those puddles, had it not been so eerily calm. No one else walked the roads, no dogs were barking. My overactive imagination was going to some very scary places when all of a sudden we heard some laughter further on up the road. The road curved a few feet ahead of us, so we couldn’t see what was going on, but just as we knew that there were people up ahead, they soon knew we were approaching as well.

“I see flashlights! Quick, hide!” one person yelled.

The others all listened, but not before we turned the curve. In the beam of our flashlight we saw a small group of teenagers jumping behind trees and into bushes. But there was something strange about these teenagers. They were all wrapped in bed sheets. It would seem as though they went out for a little daredevilish fun, skinny dipping in the ocean during the storm, grabbing the sheets off their motel beds as their only covers.

As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough, my grandmother looked out at all these young’uns wearing sheets and said with complete delight, “Oh! A toga party!”