Facing strands of my remaining male vanity

As a little kid, I hated going to the barber. Was it really that painful?

I don’t know when my mother took over, but I doubt it added any style. This was the ’50s, remember, and then the early ’60s.

Looking at those photos, I see a vast improvement when my girlfriends took over.

And then the hippie movement hit. I let mine grow out. It was wild, felt free, and even attracted chicks. One, who’d known me in high school, kept voicing her disbelief, “You’re so cool now.” Like what happened?

Looking at the photos, though, I should have had it styled. Really. It’s embarrassing, even with the headband.

Sketch of me by the late Douglas Dorph,, 1971 or ’72.

Once I moved to the ashram, it started getting shorter. Not all at once, but by degrees. We were cleaning up our act, as Swami said.

By the time I was back out “in the world,” mine was mostly about sideburns, and then my locks were in the hands of my first wife, the artist.

Flash ahead a decade, right after the divorce, and I was visiting the Big Apple for a job interview. A good friend who always looked great in a new ‘do arranged for me to visit her hair stylist in Brooklyn. The session was quite the revelation, even after he ran his fingers through my mane and declared with disgust, “Dis hair wasn’t cut in New York.” I mumbled a dumb apology akin to groveling.

Well, whatever he did worked. I landed the job.

A second current was running through many of those years. It started at the temples, the receding hairline. Invisible to me was what was happening at the crown. Shortly after I relocated to New England, I was starting to look like a medieval monk there.

Well, when I was walking with a good friend who’s a family physician, he quipped that a popularly advertised shampoo or daily pill wouldn’t do any good in my case. I had the wrong patterning or some such for it to address. Alas.

And then, once I’d remarried, my daughters warned me of dire consequences if I ever grew my ponytail back. So the thinning continued.

After the younger one had gone off to college, my roommate from my own first year after came up for a visit. I was in shock. His eyes were still the sparkling blue and his voice and laughter were as musical as ever but – gasp – that naturally blond Afro he had sported was totally gone, leaving a shiny dome in its place. Something was off, seriously wrong.

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Cutting down on caffeine

My other big dietary change – beyond the Healthy Heart stuff – has been cutting my caffeine intake to one cup a day.

If I’m to take a prescription to counter an unrelated medical problem, the caffeine has to be greatly curbed. Seems it counteracts the medicine.

This has been major. I’m a writer, after all, and a retired journalist. My habitual intake had been three to five mugs a day. Café au lait mugs, a third to a half filled with milk.

It’s the way I wake up and also the way I continue through the day. Or did.

I’m still waking up to a café au lait mug. We use dark-roasted beans or Spanish ground coffee, essentially espresso. It’s rich, flavorful, and stands up to the milk and sugar I add – enough, as I joke, to turn the brew into chocolate.

By chance, I came upon an instant coffee substitute – Cafix – at the local natural foods store, and this serves nicely for the second round.

By midafternoon, though, I’d really like a jolt of the real stuff. That I miss. Many days I find myself taking a nap instead.

Should we go to half-decaf on the real coffee itself? I feel that’s cheating.

Or cut out the coffee altogether? Now we’re talking daily ritual, as in showering or dressing.

Or just use a demitasse and take one quick gulp?

No, I’ll just resolve myself to slowly sipping the one I have. Down to the last drop, without complaining.

Well, then. Salud! And top of the morning to you, too.

Adjusting to a Healthy Heart diet  

You vegans out there, take comfort. Your cholesterol levels must be amazing.

After my near-miss non-heart attack, or whatever we want to call it, my diet’s undergone some drastic – even painful – redirection.

Look, I don’t want to sound like a victim or act the martyr, when it comes to food, it seems like everybody has some kind of limitation. Ever try to plan an all-inclusive menu for any social gathering nowadays?

Still, looking at the American Heart Association’s Healthy Heart guidelines has me thinking of perpetual Lent along the Greek Orthodox lines. Heavens! At least I can still have my daily martini, with the definitive stuffed olive.

Red meat is limited to once a week, and that includes pork. Three eggs, which you’ll find hidden in all kinds of food, and a microscopic amount of butter, which is likewise infused, as well as cheese – yikes – they’re are also out! (Well, we have found low-fat cheese. Ain’t quite the same. And while egg whites are allowed in unlimited amounts, it’s the yolks that have all the flavor.) So there went my three main fallback ingredients when I had a hunkering. A good omelet used all three, easily. Thank goodness mushrooms are still OK in other combinations.

Look, before all this there had many days when we didn’t touch any meat – nada – and I was perfectly happy. But now?

Let me tell you about the first time I stopped for fast food at breakfast and thought the muffin was allowed. Bonk! Or a doughnut. Ditto bonk!

At home, the butter I’ve loved has given way to apple butter or jams and jellies. That’s fine, though I still look at that yellow stick on the counter with some lusting. Oh, God, do I!

But six months into this routine, I had lost weight I couldn’t afford to lose. I had lost appetite, too. My wife and I independently came to the same conclusion: I needed to get more fat into my diet. We’re still working on it.

Yes, it’s a sidestroke

So there I was, swimming my laps when one of the lifeguards asked, “Excuse me, is that a sidestroke?”

Like what, I’m doing something wrong … after sixty years of this?

Uh, no. Turns out he didn’t know how to do one. A butterfly stroke, yes. But this essential way of swimming?

So I ask, “Didn’t you need it with a reverse kick to pass lifesaving?”

Turns out, no, they’ve changed the requirements. No more cross-chest carry, either.

Huh?

No, they use a backstroke to keep the victim’s neck and back more secure.

Wow, times have changed.

At least he’d heard the sidestroke was great for swimming distances, as in the ocean. I gave him a few tips.

But, jeez, I hate feeling old. I remember when CPR was the new thing, and it was much, much gentler than what they’re teaching these kids. I can expect a few broken bones if they go for it, and I’ll be grateful.

Yes, even with that, I trust them with my life.

A stent? Seems everybody has one

Get to a certain age and the conversation often shifts to personal health issues. (Sorry ’bout that.)

I am surprised by the number of people who tell me about their stents, for instance. This matter of running a probe from your wrist and up your arm into your heart is surprisingly commonplace. It’s also amazing what relatively small community hospitals are doing nowadays. (OK, ours is now a subsidiary of Mass General Hospital in Boston … like the best. Not that I really considered that at the time I was being wheeled off to God knows what.)

But that leads to other things like learning that my clerk at the hardware store and I have the same cardiologist, or did till said doc moved to Florida. (Well, that has to be a hot market for cardiac work!)

It also brings up others who say that they, too, felt no pain … thought it was a breathing issue rather than a pending heart attack.

Or that their cholesterol levels, like mine, had been normal.

As a factor, I’m convinced stress was a major component in my case. Seventeen years between marriages, with all of the relationship uncertainty, along with working under relentless deadlines as I did at the newspaper must have taken a toll. Besides, I wasn’t getting regular exercise in that period, other than dashing to and from the composing room.

As one buddy said, if you lined up a hundred guys our age, he would have been the first to be tagged for this problem and I would have been the last.

Well, he’s had a few health issues, but cardio hasn’t been one of them.

For you younger readers, take warning.

Cheers! And good luck …

First anniversary of a big day

On this day a year ago, we woke up to a big snowfall – the biggest of the season, as it turned out. It was coming down like crazy, and I was even hoping to get out on my cross-country skis, at least do a few loops around our yard, unlike the previous year.

Thought I’d clean off my wife’s car first and the steps and walkway out front, just in case.

But that’s when I had to stop and try to catch my breath. I’d felt this sensation, something like what I’d heard asthma described like, several times in the past few months. I thought it was the aftermath of a nasty bug the previous fall, and several people in the know said it sounded like a walking pneumonia. Once, in particular, it hit me at the end of a length in the indoor swimming pool. Another time, while carrying a three-year-old down from Mount Agamenticus. After the third time, I went in to see my primary care physician, who said my lungs sounded fine, ordered an X-ray, and scheduled a stress test. Oh, yes, and if the symptoms returned, go straight to the emergency room.

Yeah, yeah. Just what I needed – more inconclusive tests.

So as the snow hit just two days before the stress test was scheduled and the symptoms returned, I figured I could ride it out until my appointment.

That’s when my elder daughter showed up. “My Prius is cleaned off and warmed up. Get in.” My wife seconded the motion, and reminded me they had my doctor in their corner.

OK, drop me off. I’ll give you a call when I’m done.

Remember, there was no pain. No chest pain, especially. This was a breathing problem.

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