Pumping Irony

Craig Cox, EL’s director of business operations and resident geezer, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

Posts Tagged Marty Gallagher

Experience Life Magazine

Sixteen Tons

There’s a scene
in Shane, one of my favorite
westerns, in which the gunslinger Shane (played by Alan Ladd) and the
homesteader Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) do battle with a gnarly old stump in
Starrett’s dusty front yard. They go after it with axes for a while and, when
they see it’s weakening, they just start pushing on it like nobody’s business.
Starrett’s wife, the lovely Jean Arthur, implores her husband to “hitch up the
team” to finish the job, but Joe will have none of it. It’s personal; kind of a
test of his manhood.


That scene has
come to mind on a couple of occasions this past week, as I’ve been digging out
some fence posts in my own homestead. These aren’t any ordinary fence posts. As
my neighbor, Joe (just a coincidence), put it the other night, when he found me
staring dejectedly into a 4-foot hole embracing one of these posts, “Harry put
those in. He didn’t mean them to be moved.”


Harry would be
Harry Johnson, the previous owner of this house, who sunk those posts back around the time Shane was playing in the theaters, when concrete must have been cheap and plentiful. This particular
post is one of four Harry planted to hold up a grievously ugly chain-link fence
back by the garage, where My Lovely Wife would like something more dainty.
Hence, the harvesting of the posts. Or the attempted harvest. The lower 4 feet
of Harry’s 8-foot steel pole is encased in concrete and, after two prolonged
episodes with MLW’s ancient garden spade, I can move it around in the hole
pretty well, but can’t quite muscle it up to the surface.


MLW has
responded with her best rendition of Jean Arthur, encouraging me to “hitch up
the team” (which, in modern terms, means calling a contractor friend of mine to
get the number of this guy named Schmitty who owns a front-end loader and could
take care of Harry’s posts in no time flat. But I’m feeling a little like Joe
Starrett — that post has gotten the better of me and I feel like I’ve got
something to prove now — so I’m putting off that call.


Besides, I’ve
got other fish to fry. MLW has been after me to patch up a crack in the house’s
foundation before the ground freezes, so yesterday we went to the hardware
store and picked out the nicest long-handled shovel we could find for under $15
and I set about excavating around the southeastern corner of the foundation,
which as fate would have it, required that I unearth another of Harry’s
well-planted fence posts in order to get at the crack.


I’m used to
these sorts of family handyman setbacks, I should note; a surprisingly high
percentage of these little household projects I undertake feature some obstacle
or other (besides my own ineptitude) that I had not initially expected. It’s
just the way it is. In this case, Harry’s post and its requisite 700 pounds of
concrete was tightly hugging just the part of the foundation where the crack
appeared. So, I started digging and a while later had an impressive pile of
dirt amassed nearby. Harry’ post, however, remained firmly rooted. I dug some
more, this time employing some of MLW’s gardening tools to unearth the earth
between the post and the foundation. Each time I dove in with the hand trowel
and dandelion weeder, a slice of Tennessee Ernie Ford‘s 1955 hit, Sixteen Tons, played in my head: You load sixteen tons / what do you get? /
another day older / and deeper in debt.


This seemed to
spur me on, though, and eventually I was able to break through a clod of clay that
revealed the bottom of Harry’s handiwork. I backed out of the hole (St. Peter don’t ya call me / cause I can’t
go / I owe my soul / to the company store)
and the post fell harmlessly
away from the house.


This was good, I
thought, noting that Harry had perhaps run short of concrete on this project –
only about 3 feet of cement wrapped itself around the post. And the hole was shallow
enough that I could push down on the top part of the pole and maneuver the
concrete-encased part nearer the surface.


This is where
Jean Arthur and MLW would have me hitch up the team, of course. But where they
might’ve seen a big old chunk of Harry’s concrete, I was looking down at a
terrific opportunity to channel Marty Gallagher and deadlift that sucker right
up to terra firma. So, I got my feet set on either side of the hole, tested my
bum knee a little, then went into a squat, grabbed hold of a small piece of
pole sticking out of the cement and, taking one deep breath, lifted it up and
out. It wasn’t what I would call effortless, but I think Marty (and Joe
Starrett) would’ve been proud.


Harry? Not so

Experience Life Magazine

Sins and Needles

The past few days have been pretty eventful: I wrenched my back while channeling Marty Gallagher
in The Pit last Thursday – barbell squats with 120 lbs resting behind my neck
(what was I thinking?). And then, on Monday, back in The Pit (I know what
you’re thinking, but no, I skipped the barbells), I did something to my left
shoulder while doing tricep extensions with 40 lbs worth of dumbell. I don’t
think it’s serious, but something popped right on top of the shoulder.


A brief digression: That’s where
the shoulder was slightly dislocated about 10 years ago after this woman opened
her door on me and my bicycle as I was speeding to work. I went right over the
handlebars and executed a nifty somersault, landing on my left shoulder and
thus allowing my unhelmeted (yeah, yeah, I know . . .) head to avoid a
collision with the pavement. I heard a distinctive “pop” when my shoulder made
contact with the road and as I collected myself on the curb, I tested its range
of motion, telling the distraught woman who precipitated the acrobatics that I
was fine. No, no need to call an ambulance, I said as I got to my feet – a
little too soon, it turned out, as I promptly passed out and cracked my
unhelmeted head on the now-satisfied pavement. When I came to, the distraught
woman was still there, more distraught now than ever, given that my head was
sitting in a pretty impressive pool of blood. The ambulance arrived and the EMT
guys transported me to a nearby emergency room, where some doctor cleaned me up
and closed my wound with a few staples (!?!?!). My shoulder was still sore, and
I told him that I thought maybe I had dislocated it. He took a look and said
something about how if it really was dislocated, I’d know it. I told him I was
pretty sure something was wrong, and maybe it should be x-rayed or something.
He said if it really was dislocated, I’d know it. And so on. I went home and
looked at it in the mirror and noticed that it was clearly sitting lower on my
body than my right shoulder was. You could plainly see where the collarbone
should be connected to the top of the shoulder, except that it wasn’t. (Check out this illustration.)


Anyway, I never went back
for a second opinion and, while the shoulder still looks a little funky, it
seems to be in perfect working order. Until Monday and my 30 reps with 40 lbs.
It’s still a bit sore, so I’ll just take it easy – and watch for car doors. My
back is fine today. Thanks for asking.


All of this has nothing at
all to do with my first-ever visit to an acupuncturist yesterday – though I
have no doubt that the folks at Three Treasures Community Acupuncture could
take care of my shoulder and back with a few well-placed needles. The whole
community acupuncture deal is pretty cool; it makes
acupuncture accessible to a much broader range of the population than more
conventional practices. At Three Treasures, you schedule your own appointments,
pay what you can afford, and sidestep the whole health insurance morass. It’s
all right up my old anarchist alley.


Still, I’m a little squeamish
around needles – and healthcare personnel in general — so it took some
convincing by My Lovely Wife for me to even check the place out. She’d had a
session many years ago with a very nice needle-wielder when she was fighting a
nasty and prolonged respiratory illness, and it seemed to work out pretty well
for her. So, I really had no excuse but to give it a try.


Besides, this constant
ringing in my ears (tinnitus) is starting to bug me. For the past couple of
years or so, I’ve been putting up with it, just figuring that, at some point,
it would disappear as mysteriously as it arrived. But it’s still in my head,
like a swarm of cicadas on a sweltering August afternoon, and I’m beginning to
wonder if it’s going to start messing with my already faulty hearing (isn’t
aging great!). Western medicine doesn’t seem to have many answers, but I’ve
read that acupuncture can be effective.


So, I hopped on my bike
yesterday afternoon and pedaled across the river to Three Treasures, where a
nice young woman named Katherine listened to my woeful tale of the trapped cicadas in my skull.
Then she stuck a bunch of needles into my hands, arms, legs and feet while I reclined
in a comfy Lazy-Boy and looked at the ceiling. (Frankly, the idea of a Lazy-Boy without TV and a beer takes some getting used to.) Pleasant New-Agey music wafted
through the room, which contained several other Lazy-Boys – each containing a
sedate person with needles sticking out of various appendages.


The idea, Katherine explained,
is to simply lay there for an hour and relax while my qi is quietly rearranged
in a helpful way. It seemed like a tall order to me, and I began counting the
various New Agey tunes as a way to keep track of the time, figuring maybe 20 of
these would take about 60 minutes. Pretty soon, though, I noticed I was
becoming one with my Lazy-Boy, and sinking happily into a nice little
meditative state. A little itch arose on my cheek, which I observed until it
faded away. The insides of my elbows started to feel a bit achy, but that too
passed. The needle sticking somewhere near the pinky on my right hand was
pulsing. A while later, I noticed it had stopped.


It went on like that for a
time: small things creeping into my consciousness then fading away. I might
have dozed. Then, at some point, I distinctly felt my chest opening, like
something heavy had been removed. This was intriguing.


Meanwhile, the cicadas were
still singing, but the noise, which tends to be centered between my ears, had
moved noticeably upward – more toward the top of my head. I took this to be a
good sign, and mentioned it to Katherine when she pulled the needles out of my
skin. She agreed, noting that any such activity is encouraging.


She suggested I return a
couple of times next week and the week after, so I made the appointments before
pedaling home (into a nasty gale from the south). My ears were still ringing on
the way home – though it tends to be less noticeable in a gale — and today the
cicadas are having a real party, but I have no allusions that this is going
away after a single treatment. I’ll get needled again next week and see what
happens. It can’t hurt.


Experience Life Magazine

Tasting Retirement

My eldest sibling likes to remind those of us who envy his retirement lifestyle that the one big problem with life after work is that “every day is a Saturday,” which is to say a day in which you tend to go shopping, have lunch or dinner out and generally open your wallet on more occasions than you might otherwise do so. I was reminded of this concept last week, as My Lovely Wife and I sampled the fare at several of our favorite local bistros and happily drained our checking account.

Still, if my week away from work was any indication of how we’ll spend our retirement years, I’m thinking I’m going to be OK with that next chapter. Sure, we ate out like we were on vacation, but we also hit the gym one morning, put 25 miles on our bicycles one sweltering Saturday afternoon, enjoyed a good long swim in Lake Nokomis, visited St. Paul’s legendary Swede Hollow for a 3-mile hike, did a 45-minute yoga session at a new studio in the neighborhood — I even played 18 holes of golf.  So, despite all the fine dining, when I weighed in at the gym this past Tuesday, I was pleased to discover I was holding steady at 159.5.

(I mention this to MLW, who suggests that I’m acting like a woman. This might be a compliment.) 

I’ve been spending long, and not especially grueling, stints on the EDM for the past several weeks — typically 45 minutes at steadily increasing resistance levels — and I’m finding that it’s a pretty reliable fat-burning regimen (the machine informs me that I’m burning a little more than 600 calories during these sessions). But, last night, I decided to shake things up a little and climb on the stationary bike for some intervals. After an easy five-minute warm-up, I cranked up the resistance on the machine and did six 30-second sprints (about 105 RPM) interspersed with 60-second rest periods. It’s a nasty workout, but there’s nothing like it for getting the heart pumping and ridding your body of a quart or two of perspiration.

A little, mostly clueless, stretching (how do you get those hammies to loosen up?) and I was ready to descend into The Pit. It had been awhile since I’d run through Marty Gallagher’s “purposefully primitive” lifting routine — barbell squats, bench press, dead lift, biceps curls, overhead lift, and tricep extensions — and, one set into the routine, I remembered why. Barbell squats are just killers. With only 110 lbs. on my back, I managed three sets of eight, but it was not pretty. I was off balance and rushed and, if the bar hadn’t been secured in a sliding rack, I suspect I might have created a bit of a scene (think old guy stumbling backward with barbell flying toward unsuspecting victim).

So, I back off a bit on the dead lift (80 lbs.), which is probably a good idea, since I’m having some difficulty keeping my chest out and back straight while bringing the bar up past my fragile knees. I  avoid the barbell-oriented bench press in favor of pressing two 30-lbs. dumbells. That works pretty well, which is to say nobody got hurt. And I breeze through my curls and extensions with no further damage to my dignity.

I’m feeling it all over this morning. But, hey: It’s the start of a long weekend, so who’s complaining?