The last time my husband was in physical therapy, he went to a big, bustling, impersonal facility. Most of the patients were beefy football players and other jocks; all young and good-looking, surrounded by equally young female physical therapists who swarmed around them. Imagine how much concern a fairly slight, middle-aged guy with a sore shoulder got from the local therapy cheerleaders. Virtually none, he recalls bitterly. Occasionally, one of them would glance in his direction to make sure he hadn’t pitched over, dead.
His shoulder, it should be said, eventually got better on its own. Nature can be a bitch, but it’s often kinder than youth.
Fortunately, my own recent physical therapy saga is a little brighter. The young physical therapists are surrounded by patients at least as old as I am (which mirrors my occasional daydream of moving into a nursing home where I can, once again, be the Cute Young Thing for at least another year or two). Somebody must have told the big-time jocks to go elsewhere. We middle-aged and elderly patients are all decked out in exercise clothes, pawing arm cycles, pushing leg weights and yanking on brightly colored elastic bands. We’re not getting ready for a marathon; we’re just trying to make it to the shopping mall and back.
“Move left,” Jason, my physical therapist, tells me as I inch over on a reclining platform. “Move toward me. I won’t bite.”
Minutes later, he tells me to move right. “Toward me,” he says. “I won’t bite.”
Oh, please. Jason’s cute and sweet and dedicated, but can’t he come up with a new line? Maybe not. As he says, he’s tired. He spent the weekend decorating the physical therapy center for Halloween, which he calls his favorite holiday.
Oh, dear. What a waste. I haven’t gotten into Halloween for decades. My husband’s and my last Halloween hurrah came in 1981, at the height of the “Who Shot J.R.?” frenzy. He went to the Halloween party earlier than I did, dressed as J.R. himself in cowboy hat and boots. Half an hour later, I showed up in my Sue Ellen regalia — piles of makeup, ratted hair, slinky outfit. I dug a cap pistol out of my purse and loudly shot him from across the room, which caused the party hostess to be momentarily incontinent. My husband grabbed his stomach and noisily fell on the floor (although managing to spare his drink in a manner reminiscent of Jeff Bridges guarding his White Russian in “The Big Lebowski”).
It was our finest Halloween hour and we’ve never tried to recreate it. These days, all we do is squabble over what kind of candy to buy for the trickle of trick-or-treaters who come by our house.
“Don’t get too much,” my husband said, while I was grabbing bulging packages of Three Musketeers, Butterfingers and Snickers at the grocery store. He was miffed because I don’t have the same shoddy taste in candy he does; he actually likes Almond Joys and couldn’t find them this year, which I counted as a blessing.
But today makes me nostalgic for the good old days. Not the cap-pistol, Sue Ellen and J.R. days, though. I’m talking about the good old days when our kids used to dress up and go trick-or-treating. The best of those years was the time our son dressed up as a lawyer, slicking down his hair, wearing a three-piece suit and carrying a briefcase. The neighborhood — a majority of right-wingers always horrified by our family’s liberal tendencies — rewarded him with an avalanche of candy. They clearly glimpsed a little hope that someone at our house would grow up and become successfully greedy and vote Republican someday.
But whatever the year, that was never the best part of Halloween. The best part was after the kids had emptied out their bags and eaten their fill. I ordered them to brush their teeth and go to bed.
Then, once the noise had settled down, I burrowed into their candy, heading straight for the peanut butter cups.
“You did that?” our daughter asked, horrified, when I confessed this to her a couple of years ago. “You ate our Halloween candy? All those years?”
All those years, sugar. And it was delicious.
(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)