• My new friend

    Went for a massage today. I like to say that, kind of casually, as if it’s part of my weekly routine. Not that it wouldn’t be a part of my weekly routine if I had a little more disposable income and had not inherited my mother’s guilt complex.Whenever my mother tasted something or experienced something or was given something really extraordinary, she’d say, “That’s too good,” suggesting she was not deserving of anything as decadent as a piece of Godiva chocolate.That’s how I feel about massages.They are just too good.I went today because I have been more stiff and sore than usual and because my husband was starting to pressure me about using the gift card to a local spa he gave me two Mother Day’s ago. Rick hates gift cards.

    He’s always convinced the place is going to go out of business before we use them, so this particular gift card was making him nervous.It’s not that I didn’t want to use it. It was easily in the top five gifts he has ever given me, ranking slightly higher than the TV he got for our bedroom last year. “I knew you wanted it,” he said, grabbing the remote.I remember the first time I got a massage. Well, I sort of remember. I was covering some team somewhere some time ago when I was stranded by a snowstorm and figured I’d give it a try. I remember afterward asking everyone I knew if they got massages and wanting to talk to them about how unbelievably great they were if they did. I got a lot of strange looks.But I didn’t get my second massage for years. And when I finally had another one, I did the same thing I did today. I talked through the whole thing and almost ruined it.I kept thinking about the poor girl giving me the massage. Wasn’t she tired from rubbing people’s backs all day? Her fingers and hands had to be in agony. Mine would be. And who did I think I was just laying there, enjoying myself, when I could be making it a less tedious experience for her?I know, it’s a sickness.The funny thing is, I don’t particularly like when strangers talk to me. On airplanes. In waiting rooms. And especially during massages. Once, I had a lady masseuse who kept yelling at me that I needed to breathe. I mean, the woman never shut up. Over and over, “Breathe, you have to breathe, don’t forget to breathe, it’s very important to breathe. You’re not breathing.”  I wanted to actually stop breathing altogether just to spite her.Today’s woman was fine until I started bothering her.It wasn’t like we talked about current events or our families, but we did touch briefly on her migraines and on whether her husband rubs her back when she points to an especially painful spot and begs for just a little help. I told her mine tries, for maybe 10 seconds, then begs off with the lame excuse that he’s afraid he’s going to do some damage, like he’s Lou Ferrigno.

    I also felt it was only polite to ask her about the various muscles to which she was causing such  deliriously exquisite pain. She seemed to appreciate this and shared some very interesting information about where the tendons attached to the bone, something that should come in handy next time I am taking my masseuse exam.Of course, there is the slight possibility that she might have been annoyed that I was talking and throwing off her concentration while she was trying to find my scapula, but this never occurred to me at the time.  And so I killed the next few minutes conducting a survey on the gender preferences of most massage clients. Apparently, both men and women prefer to have a female doing the massaging. I can’t speak for everyone, but I do know that the one time I had a masseur, the pain was not the good kind but rather the painful kind that made me want to call for help and had me cursing him for the next two days.I am guessing men, much like George Costanza, simply don’t like other men touching and rubbing and I can understand this. But what does that say about women who prefer a woman masseuse? It’s kind of like the theory among t
    he uninitiated and really stupid that women sportswriters are in the business so we can ogle naked men in the lockerroom. If that’s what they think about sports lockerrooms, what does it say about the male sportswriters in there?You can see now why I can’t completely relax and enjoy my massage with such deep thoughts.Like I said, it’s a sickness. 

  • Hellllloooo . . . ?

    Anyone still out there?Re-entering cyberspace, I think, might be more challenging than entering it the first time. Technically though, I never really left, going from the  Chicago Tribune to my blog, which kept me sane after being laid off from the Tribune, to, which saved me.

    I began my blog in the weepy hours after being pushed out by the Tribune last April and kept writing as I stopped crying and started to see the hope and humor again, through my first months with ESPN. And then I stopped.I still do not know exactly why I stopped. But I am flattered by the handful of you not including those directly related to me, who noticed. I hope you find me again. And though I can’t promise anything, I hope not to take a three-and-half month break again.

    For a while, I know I felt that if I was not doing something productive every waking hour that I was a slug and would never be gainfully employed again. Then, when I was gainfully employed again, I discovered the utter sense of comfort I got from taking a few hours off and not feeling guilty.At about that time, I also re-discovered our couch in the family room and how much I loved it – and the furry purple blanket my daughter Amanda brought home a few years ago as one of the truly great bat mitzvah giveaways. And then I remembered why my husband rarely rents movies as I drifted off to sleep each night, a deep, almost drugged-like state in which I could hear myself snoring but I could not do a thing about it.

    It also was then that I couldn’t imagine how I would ever find the time and energy to write a blog again.But I did miss it.  Like an old friend who you stop calling for no particular reason, then a few weeks turn into months and you reach that uncomfortable stage when you’re almost afraid to call, not remembering who called last and if it’s your fault so much time has passed, I am hoping that as I do start again, I will find that my friend(s) are still there for me.Writing columns again on a regular basis for ESPN has been a joy I thought I might never experience again. I do it now with a light-heartedness, even for the heavy subjects, I have not had in a very long time. Maybe it’s because I am no longer under strict space or time restrictions. Maybe it’s just because it’s a terrific positive atmosphere. Or maybe it’s because no one really writes to me anymore.There is no e-mail address at the bottom of my columns and I have made no effort to correct that. While I have always loved hearing from readers, even critical responses, the advent of blogs and the increase in Internet traffic has lent itself to people who can spontaneously reply from their desks – or dark caves, as the case may be  — anonymously, of course, and with spewings of racism, sexism and just general hatred that I really grew tired of reading.I just figured I’d cut down on that a little and it seems to have worked and I feel much better. In fact, e-mails like the one I got this morning in response to my [U.S. Olympic speedskater] Shani Davis column calling me a “barren lesbian freak” hardly ever happen anymore. So things are great.But I do love hearing from people who read my blogs, particularly since they seem only to be nice, normal, literate people who would never think of calling a writer a “barren, lesbian freak” even if somehow that was an appropriate response.The other thing is that I find I am talking to myself much too much without a blog, particularly in the shower when I am a literary savant, every story flowing through my brain with just the right touches of humor. Of course, by the blow-drying stage, I’ve lost it. But where else but here can I talk about Amanda’s turnabout dance (I called it the “Sadie Hawkins dance” recently and she looked at me as if I was wearing a bonnet and hoop skirt), my continued eating problems (I bought a Valentine’s Day cookie cake as if we were having a party – we’re not. Cake is now gone), my 11-year-old son suddenly caring how his hair looks (I can cry), the new Superdawg grand opening (like a drive-thru bar mitzvah), and many funny facets of my life that have been lost forever in this three-and-a-half-month black hole.So I’ll be back, promise.  

  • Sweetness

    I am sitting in the Soldier Field press box right now, not afraid to admit I’m looking forward to the halftime tribute to Walter Payton more than the Bears playing the Cleveland Browns.Today is the 10-year anniversary of Payton’s death from liver disease at 45, and I am filled with memories.

    As a young sportswriter in 1984 covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a central Florida newspaper called Today, I once encountered Payton’s particular brand of charm as I found myself trying to navigate the Bears’ lockerroom for postgame interviews.After the first player I approached gave me a difficult time about being a woman in the lockerroom, Payton came to my rescue. Though inexperienced, I felt I had the situation under control and that I could handle it myself. But Walter was going to help and I was grateful enough not to argue.Besides, this was Walter Payton, for crying out loud. To call him my favorite Bears player growing up seems superfluous. You didn’t sneak in a trip to the kitchen or bathroom when the Bears were on offense in the 70s and early 80s lest, God forbid, you miss a single Payton carry.

    It did not matter which team they were playing, the weather they were playing it in or the situation in which they found themselves. Payton was capable of breaking one at any point and sure as that sandwich you had to go make yourself, you would miss it if you dared look away.My mother was the most devoted Payton fan in our house and you weren’t allowed to so much as talk when he was carrying the ball. I remember thinking of her as Payton motioned to me, how I would later describe every second of the exchange.“Go Sweetness,” she’d always holler. She loved that he was called Sweetness, she loved that he was sweet. She loved that he ran up garbage hills during the off-season and that he so thoroughly thrilled us during the season. She just loved him. Apparently believing I was uncomfortable, Payton led me out of the tiny visitors lockerroom and told me I could interview him outside. Then he told me he’d get me other players to interview and invited me onto the team bus.

    Now I might have been young, but I knew enough about being disappointed by players I had idolized as a kid. I also knew enough about Payton’s reputation as a joker that I suspected he might be leading me onto a Bears’ fan bus. Or worse, as my mind started to wander and I began to panic, that I’d get on the bus and everyone would be in on the joke and none of the players would have pants on. Something horrifyingly embarrassing like that.Instead, he introduced me to his teammates on the bus and told them to talk to me, which I did in about as cushy a postgame interview environment as I had ever experienced before or since. Fortunately, they were all in a good mood after a 44-9 drubbing of the woeful Bucs.I turned to thank Payton, but he had jumped off the bus and I didn’t get to see him again. I had the chance to interview him a couple times after that in group settings but I was too shy to ever introduce myself or thank him for his kindness.When he died, a piece of so many of us in Chicago did as well.

    There are only so many heroes you have as a child. He gave Chicago Bears fans a sense of pride and something to look forward to each Sunday, when frankly, there was little else to feel good about. He made our house a happy place during football season.In later years, there were times during my parents’ struggle with Alzheimer’s when I was somehow grateful they were not capable of understanding certain things. I remember being glad my mom never knew that Sweetness was, Melissa Isaacson — Sweet memories..AOLWebSuite .AOLPicturesFullSizeLink { height: 1px; width: 1px; overflow: hidden; } .AOLWebSuite a {color:blue; text-decoration: underline; cursor: pointer} .AOLWebSuite a.hsSig {cursor: default}

  • Sharon

    Her name was Sharon. Few of us know her last name or each other’s for that matter, but that has never been important.

    We meet most mornings dressed for combat, little or no makeup, hair uncombed in my case, and that’s why I love it there so much. It’s the neighborhood “Y” and if your shorts are too long or your outfit outdated, no one cares.

    Few of us are close friends, we don’t call each other on a regular basis and it’s little more than a wave if we see each at the grocery store in town. And I’ve always kind of liked that too, in an anti-social sort of way. We come together for an hour each morning and then we scatter, no heavy conversations, no commitments.

    Sharon always stood in the front left of our cardio and strength classes, always took a bike a little closer to the door in spin. I did not know how old she was exactly and for a long time, like everyone else, not much at all about her.

    Then one day when we were standing around making small talk before class, she mentioned that she had read something I had written. And on another day she casually mentioned that her husband had been in the radio business (never bothering to tell me his professional name, which would have tipped me off seeing as he is a legend in Chicago broadcasting).

    We talked more and more after that, before class, standing in the parking lot afterward. I told her about my children and she told me about hers and her grandchildren.

    I’ve always admired the women older than me in our classes, sweating along with those in some cases 20 and 30 years younger. I’ll look at them and wonder if I’ll still be coming at their age, if I’ll still be capable of keeping up. They all look terrific but you can tell they are long past worrying about their abs or their thighs.

    Part of the reason I don’t talk much at the “Y” is because I am such an awful morning person, stiff and sleepy and in no mood for chatter. But I think I’ve gotten better over the last few years since meeting Sharon. In fact, I probably bug people now, asking who has seen the latest “Biggest Loser” and other important questions.

    And maybe I’m imagining it, but I’ve noticed much more of a community feeling around the place over the last few years. I stand around before class and in the parking lot after a lot now. I groan with the others in the middle of a particularly excruciating hour. I look for my pals and notice when one of the regulars is not there.

    Whenever Sharon missed a week or two, I never thought much about it because she and her husband enjoyed some wonderful vacations and always filled me in when she returned. And then her good friend Peggy told us Sharon was sick, that it was leukemia.

    I kept meaning to get her phone number, to do more than send a group card. But Peggy gave us updates every so often, enough that were optimistic that I went on my way after class, immersed in my life, sure I would see her soon, front row, left side.

    And then I saw Peggy this week and she was crying. It wasn’t good. Sharon’s condition had been deteriorating rapidly.
    She passed away on Wednesday.
    And I realize there’s no such thing as casual acquaintances.
    Not at our “Y,” anyway.

  • Flus, Balloons and Homecoming Breakfast

    Blogs pause, but life rarely does.
    How to catch up?

    Homecoming dances and choir concerts, soccer tournaments and family visits, lots of work, a good thing. Balloon Boy, a bad thing. An evil germ this week that had me searching a website on “Common Cold vs. Swine Flu – How to Tell the Difference.”

    An entire website inviting me to analyze my every symptom? I mean, what could be better? My family wouldn’t do it with me, which annoyed me greatly; my husband Rick’s response to my every sickness from runny nose to coma, “You’re fine.” But it would be fun for me, give me something to do to distract me from my suffering.

    Fever is rare with a cold but usually present with flu, it told me. I reached 100.0 once in the middle of the night on the little plastic digital thermometer we were forced to buy when I dropped the good one and had the fire dept. out to scoop up the mercury (another day, another blog).  So that’s pretty bad, and surely that cheap thermometer was wrong and I was much sicker.

    Next I analyzed my cough – productive or non-productive? We’ll move on as even I did not wish to ponder this.
    Aches – slight with cold, severe with flu. Moderate, I decided, and possibly due to my ‘Y’ class but I’m no doctor, they could have been severe.
    I definitely had chills, which are flu-like. Sixty percent of people with chills have the flu, it read. Sixty percent, wow. I didn’t like my odds, I told my daughter, who ignored me.
    Tiredness – mild with a cold, mild to severe with the flu. Come on. That’s a gimmee. Of course, I’m exhausted.

    Headache, check. Rapid onset, check. Sore throat, check. Oh wait, that’s for a cold. Very confusing. Chest discomfort? If I coughed hard enough.
    Turns out Rick was right, after one day of mild suffering and one day of major suffering, I was pretty darned close to fine, even I have to admit.

    I’m thinking my resistance was low due to Homecoming, even though I didn’t actually go. But if you don’t think that watching your firstborn child get dressed up for her first formal dance, ask her date’s mother to pin a boutonniere on her son’s lapel, and then board a bus last used by strippers at a bachelor party is not heart-wrenching, you’ve never done it.

    I admit up front that making fun of this is not unlike when journalists criticize “the media.” I was a willing participant in this extravaganza that would put most proms, wedding weekends and coronations to shame.

    I’m pretty sure they went to the Homecoming Dance, although my nephew Daniel participated in his Homecoming festivities without actually going to Homecoming, which I’m told is quite common with upperclassmen too cool to participate in the very occasion they are celebrating.
    Amanda, being a freshman, was not too cool. So she and the other girls dressed up – most transforming into 35-year-old women – put on very high heels that made me wince just to look at, and paired off with their dates, most of whom were fortunate enough to come up to the girls’ shoulders.

    Then they took pictures (except for Rick and I because our camera was broken), went to dinner, to the dance, to the “after-dance activity,” where they ate again, to girls’ and boys’ sleepovers, where they snacked and visited each other’s houses because they had only been together the last eight hours, and then finally, had a lavish, 12-course breakfast, bringing the grand total of the weekend to the price of a medium-sized, used car.
    Kidding. That would be inappropriate and lack all sense of common decency and perspective. It would probably be closer to a small, used car.

    But Amanda was happy and after all, that’s the important thing. If your child is happy, you’re happy.

    Even when you’re really sick with something that could very well have been a new strain of the flu and no one cares.