Tag Archives: aerobics


The rabbit in the foreground had astraphobia.

“At the merest suggestion of thunder on the horizon . . . [Glorio] would dispatch himself to his corner and commence chomping on himself with unbelievable enthusiasm.” p. 4-5


When I was thirteen, I used to dog sit for my brother and sister-in-law’s terrier during thunder storms.   She was so frightened of thunder and lightning that she would chew on her own legs, with predictably ghoulish results. I always enjoyed these quasi-humanitarian missions; Camille had a copy of Mary Macarthy’s novel, The Group – naughty stuff, at least for a thirteen year old girl in 1965 — and I looked forward to picking up where I had left off reading during the last thunderstorm. As I lounged on their sofa, reveling in the dirty bits, Tara cowered on the couch beside me, quivering like a bowl full of jelly in a centrifuge, a victim of acute astraphobia, otherwise known as also known as astrapophobia, brontophobia, keraunophobia, or tonitrophobia, the abnormal fear of thunder and lightning. Indeed, I based the character of Glorio the Rabbit in my first novel on Tara.

Tara was not alone.

Fifteen to 30% of all dogs suffer from astraphobia. Among them was Buddy, our beloved golden retriever, whom thunder rendered witless. There was no going to bed for human beings during a storm until my husband had built Buddy a Thunder Tent – two chairs over which a blanket had been draped just so. Only then, in the safety of the Tent’s confines, would he settle, if uneasily. Otherwise he would pace without cease from my side of the bed to Ken’s, panting like an ancient set of creaking bellows and occasionally leaping onto the bed to loom over us, wild-eyed and drooling excessively, the way dogs do when they’re stressed. “Are you insane?” his posture seemed to convey. “The End of the World is upon us and you’re . . . what . . . sleeping?”

We thought we were astraphobia-free with Nellie, our second and current Golden Retriever — a bold girl if ever there was one. For the first four years of her life she seemed blissfully unfazed by anything but dishwashers. When our friends Oliver Whitehead and Mary Malone were looking after her, she caught her collar in their dishwasher’s fully loaded bottom tray, panicked and bolted down the long narrow hall leading from their kitchen to their front door, dragging the tray with her and leaving a wide swath of broken crockery in her wake. The sound alone must have been tremendous. Since then, she takes an exceedingly dim view of dishwashers, for which, Oliver and Mary, we are extremely grateful.   (Also, sorry for your loss.)

Thunder! Poppet and Nellie.

Thunder! Poppet and Nellie, beside themselves.

Lately, however, even the incautious Nellie has developed a fear of thunder that seems to increase exponentially with each storm that rolls in off of Lake Erie. Perhaps this is because Poppet, our father’s dog and our ward, has set her straight in all those hours that the two of them spend alone together, ostensibly sleeping and ignoring one another: “Be afraid! Be very afraid!” Poppet can smell lightning on the wind and hear the distant rumble of thunder long before any of the rest of us can. The minute that happens, it’s like an on and off switch: Poppet goes into lock down.    She bolts to our closet and hides out under Ken’s shirts, quaking. She will not eat. She will not drink. As for bodily functions, are you kidding? Her . . . go out? Out there? Out there, where all Hell is breaking loose?  At first I tried to manhandle her out of doors, to make her do her business. As it turned out, however, when it comes to thunder and lighting, fright trumps might. Poppet might weigh only seventeen pounds but, factor in thunder and lightning, and what you’ve got is seventeen pounds of highly motivated angst and all of it laser-focused on getting back inside as soon as canine-ly possible. “To resist is futile!” I would insist, but I could no more persuade Poppet to poop or pee than I could talk a salmon out of swimming upstream during spawning season. 

There have have been a lot of thunder storms this season, spectacular ones that light up the ravine like a horror film and make the bedrock on which our house is moored shudder. Storms that blow in over a Great Lake seem more apocalyptic than those that take place over land; they make a bigger show. The dogs’ fear serves as a reminder that it was not all that long ago that human beings and their wolf friends huddled together in caves and burrows and huts – ancient prototypes of the Thunder Tent – and wondered if this storm would be their last. Which is why man ultimately invented indoor plumbing: who in their right mind would risk Armageddon for a Last Pee?

And,, yes, I’ve heard of Thunder Shirts.

But no.

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See Spot! Run!


Me in the nineties. When it comes to exercise classes, I show up.

I am very territorial, which is to say: I like my spot. And when I say “like”, I mean really, really like, as in, should someone take my spot, I can pretty much count on being discombobulated and aggrieved for the remainder of the day.   This fixation on location, location, location manifests itself particularly in exercise classes, which is not insignificant since I have been going to exercise classes, either as an instructor or a participant, pretty much five days a week for forty years – upwards of 10,000 classes in total, which means 10,000 plus times I have been gripped with anxiety that some undeserving interloper might steal my spot, leaving me hanging.  (According to Malcolm Gladwell, doing anything over 10,000 times makes you proficient; I must deduce, therefore, that I am very good at attending exercise classes.)

I am not alone in liking my spot. Back in the eighties, I belonged to a high octane aerobics club run by Werner, a charismatic Olympic wrestler turned Richard Simmons, whose girlfriend, M.J., invariably laid claim to the studio’s most prime real estate – the spot directly in front of Werner.   All of us knew that this was M.J.’s special spot and, even as the class filled up and available space dwindled, none of us would have been so bold as to claim it for our own, for to do so would have been to risk M.J.’s considerable wrath.   Occasionally some neophyte would wander in and innocently take M.J.’s spot, only to be driven from it and banished to the obscurity of a back corner when M.J., with dudgeon, asserted her property rights. It was her way of staking claim to Werner, in essence peeing around him. I could relate. I had recently given birth to three children and, high impact aerobics being what it is, well. . . . Let’s just say ‘leakage’ and leave it at that.

Enter the nineties. The aerobics club closed. I joined a fitness club and promptly worked out a mutually beneficial arrangement with a guy named Neil – a strategic alliance. We would check in with one another before our Body Pump class and whoever was going to make it to the gym first would be charged with setting up both our benches, thus ensuring no foreign incursions into our territory. There was one would-be invader with whom we had regularly to contend – a blocky woman who resembled a steroidal Russian shot putter. Putinesque, she did not hesitate to encroach upon our spot should we be in the least tardy – this despite the fact that the ENTIRE CLASS understood PERFECTLY WELL that that was OUR SPOT. The tension mounted and the fray escalated to the point that I took to arriving at the gym a half an hour early so as to be there the instant the staff unlocked the studio door – the better to thwart her untoward and unconscionable advances. After I had moved on, I had occasion to speak to this woman, who was, of course, not Russian at all and perfectly pleasant.

A couple of years ago, seeking a more Zen-like equanimity — which, as the preceding paragraphs have surely indicated, was sorely needed — my husband and I joined a hot yoga studio. Now, five days a week, I arrive twenty minutes before the start of class, consumed with anxiety that I will not get my spot, which, of course, I always do because no one wants to go into the hot room twenty minutes before class even to reserve a spot – except, of course, me. There I lie in Corpse Pose, sweating buckets, exultant that I have, once again and against all odds, fended off all comers and secured my precious spot.

Where is my spot and why do I cling to it with such rabidity?

You’re about to find out.

My spot is in the first row, on the left hand side of the room right next to the wall.

  • Front because I won’t work hard unless I can see myself and, besides, like a crow, I’m attracted to shiny things.
  • Left because the mirror on the right side of the studio makes me look fat.
  • Closest to the wall because attempting to balance on my arthritic feet is like trying to maintain one’s footing on the prow of a pitching ship in shoes made of bean bags.  If I am going to keel over in Tree – and I am – I prefer to keel over into the wall and not into the sweaty person next to me.
Find your light

A brick in Mom’s name at the Miami Arts Centre

My mother, a charismatic actress, teacher and overall woman, used to say, “Find your light!” This could (and often was) taken to mean, “Find your light . . . and then shine!” She also meant it in the more prosaic sense of, “You’re blocked downstage left. For Pete’s sake, find your bloody light!”

I did not inherit what my parents used to call, “The Evil Gene,” which would have disposed me towards a life in the theater. I am nevertheless,Bill and Martha Nell’s daughter. My audience is the studio mirror and my fellow yogis, none of whom is actually looking at the sixty-two year old woman doing Toppling Tree over in the corner . . . and actually toppling; my light is my spot; and, come Hell, high water or Russian shot putters, I find it every time.

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