Friday, August 15, 2014

Gyms, Nursing Homes and Sparkling Conversation

Nee-Nee in the Coveted Robe
By Mahlia Lindquist

Thanks to my baby daddy, a calamity of a spouse but a first rate ex, life is pleasant. 

Without a real job as of late and the girls almost grown, I seldom have to be anywhere. I am at a loss to say precisely what I do day to day, but basically I indulge in the type of endeavors working people fantasize about while stuck in traffic. One thing I know for sure is that I usually go to the gym. The other for sure thing is that whatever else I’m doing it’s better than what I used to do, practice law. 

My only gripe is people who insist on asking about my day. My kids and best friends always ask, knowing I can’t answer. I suppose their inquires are well-intentioned, but they feel like an indictment in comparison to easy-to-account-for days at work and school.   

This has been a vicious cycle since we moved to Miami last year. I ask the girls about their day and they have concrete responses related to classes and friends. Bob, a former colleague and close friend, calls most mornings on his way to work to tease about my non-schedule and chat about what's new at his official sounding job. When Bob asks me what I'm up to, all that comes to mind are tidbits from the world of Miami’s 24 Hour Fitness

One of my favorite topics is Ray, a gym regular who is repulsive and someone I generally try to avoid. At the same time, I have a weird fascination with him. He is one of few people on the planet who renders me speechless, which is no small feat. His modus operandi is to plop his plump self next to whatever machine I'm on and start chatting, oblivious to the head phones and pointed avoidance of eye contact. Once he noted my right arm in a sling and asked if I had a hard time wiping myself. Another morning Ray greeted me with a hearty, “good job,” which I thought was reference to my tremendous performance on the elliptical. It turns out he was congratulating me for having two “hot” daughters. Another time Ray approached my ex, also a gym member, and commented that our teenaged daughters have great asses. As my girls say... WAIT, WHAT?

Ray has a job, which I know because when he’s not otherwise making a stupendous ass of himself, he talks loudly into his cell phone about business. He mentioned having a wife and kids, which I find incredible, on account I can’t fathom anyone consenting to sex with him, much less marriage and children. My fascination with Ray is rooted in the simple fact that someone like him even exists outside of a sitcom. That he has a family, job and maybe even friends and goes through the world without getting his lights punched out is a small miracle.

Other examples of 24 Hour Fitness trivia shared with Bob:  the jerk who routinely pumps iron inches from the weight rack, blocking access to the weights (“Bob, can you believe he had the nerve to give me a dirty look when I said excuse me, as if I was the one committing a faux pas!”), the fit senior citizen couple who works out together  (“Bob, they are so inspirational!),  and the sweet guy with ginormous muscles and tattoos who wears lycra hot pink shorts (“Bob, you gotta see this, I’ll text you a photo.)

The gym wasn’t always my “go to” topic of conversation. It was just something I squeezed in on the way to or from an actual job or between kids’ naps and car pool.  However, these days most of my daily pursuits, though thoroughly enjoyable, are solitary. Even with a tendency toward embellishment, my day is impossible to describe without risk of being interrupted by a loving listener who just remembered an appointment to get a root canal.

My current limited conversation repertoire reminds me of visits with my grandmother, Nee-Nee, at the nursing home. For me, those visits initially vacillated between being profoundly sad, for obvious reasons, to profoundly irritating. The irritation stemmed from Nee-Nee's endless chatter about nursing home minutia: her roommate yells to turn down the TV, a woman across the hall covets Nee-Nee's leopard print robe, the handsome physical therapist swears she is his favorite client. Not only did I find it sad and irritating, it was depressing to see my future, when talk of the day will devolve even further than it already has, from 24 Hour Fitness to the nursing home Silver Sneakers club. 

But after many visits with Nee-Nee, I've realized that the nursing home is a source of amusement and curiosity for her, like my daily gym ritual is for me. Nee-Nee is aware that family members find it tedious to be on the receiving end of her nursing home monologues, but she just doesn't care. She is enormously entertained by whatever is happening around her and simply craves an audience, a witness to her experience. 

My grandmother deserves my attention. And so I practice patience, and listen with rapt attention to nursing home intrigues. Much to my chagrin, the more I listen to Nee-Nee, the more I relate. Like my grandmother, I am easily entertained and appreciate an audience. It must be genetic.

The only problem is that while I am not always successful, I still want to make sparkling conversation. I don't think I've earned the right to bore the tears out of family and friends -- yet. A hope for my senior citizen self is that by the time I'm 92, like Nee-Nee, I won't care.

Meanwhile, I'm working on expanding my conversational, "what I did today," repertoire beyond the gym. 

When I talk to Bob tomorrow, I think I'll tell him about what happened when I took the dogs to the Vet.


  1. I think you sell yourself short on the value you bring to those interactions.

    Although many people find their own lives fascinating to talk about, without the quality of human connection, conversation about those lives is pretty useless.

    When I have my (what I try to make) weekly chats with my Mom (now 87), her conversation often resembles your description of your grandmother. In fact, she frequently apologizes for the mundane content of her stories.

    But because we maintain the regular connection, we frequently talk about things much deeper. For example, she's been very honest about her experience with my Dad's death, my brother's approaching death from cancer, and her own sense of mortality. I think roses like that only bloom in a good base of otherwise bullsh!t conversation.

    When you text Bob a photo of a guy in hot pink shorts, Bob knows that you thought of him when you had to share it with someone. That's richer than most stories anyone could tell about what happened at a "real job".

    1. Hi Dave -- thank-you for the thoughtful comment. Yes, regular connection is key, which is one of the few reasons to recommend smart phones. I can talk, blog, text, sent photos while sitting on the elliptical at the gym. As to Bob, he said that he appreciated the photo of the guy in pink texts and was honored to have been featured in this post.

  2. I can so relate to your visits with Nee Nee(my Mom). She just loves to talk about herself and the people around her. But then what else does she have to talk about. She does not do computers and does not want to read. She still has a sense of humor and is often very funny and entertaining.
    I am already making a list of my do's and don't do when I get her age. I welcome this time with my mother as another learning experience.

  3. Like you , I have no job and happily do who knows what all day long. I find it a tad judgmental when my husband asks me what I did to the list of vague errand and house cleaning references, I can a great blog by Mahlia!

    1. So glad to be of assistance in adding to your list of what i did today! :)

  4. I think despite your limited conversation repertoires, you still have a lot of things you could share with people. Also, it’s nice to know that you do casual visits to your grandma at the nursing home. I’m sure she loves every single one of those visits. Thanks for sharing!

    Joel Pratt @ Comfort Keepers