UNLIKE MANY OF MY fellow Tri-Staters, I tend to spend Memorial and Labor Days close to home. Furthest I usually go is to a friend's house for a cookout, or perhaps the local malls if a household need coincides with a sale. This stems from my loathing of stand-still traffic.
I am a veteran of yearly childhood trips with my parents to the Jersey Shore and countless weekend transits across the George Washington Bridge to visit my grandparents. I've therefore done my time sitting in bumper-to-bumper shore and Yankees traffic. I could paint from memory a portait of the white knuckles of my father, wrapped around a steering wheel. All that might vary would be the backdrop: the ominous rise of the Driscoll Bridge, abandoned tenements as viewed from the Cross Bronx Expressway, or one of the many tollbooth bottlenecks along the Garden State Parkway. Perhaps a whiff of exhaust to lend a realistic air.
I broke my rule once. I took Friday before Labor Day off to go to Foxwoods. Even hitting the road at 2:00 p.m. wasn't early enough to prevent me from becoming embedded in a matrix of slow-moving vehicles. Running narratives on the overhanging LED road signs told of delays through all urban chokepoints of the Connecticut Turnpike. A dedicated degenerate can make the Foxwoods Run at dawn in just 2 hours with no Imperial entanglements. Not so that Friday. It was damn near six when I rolled onto the Happy Punting Grounds. For the record, I lost. To quote the immortal Rodney Dangerfield, "I shoulda stayed at home and played with myself!"
Now, no more. Out to Rockaway along 80 for a BBQ, sure. Down to Hoboken to harass the mighty Billhouse in his riverside fastness, absolutely, especially now that Bergen County will run weekend trains. Other than that, these long weekends tend to be self-directed. Good targets for raising a mighty mass of pasta sauce or chili with the aid of the kitchen spirits (or failing that, the spirits in the liquor cabinet).
Yesterday came to a rolling start . . . a slow one. The usual poker game went off on Wednesday instead of Thursday, because the host had plans to participate in his office fantasy football draft on Thursday. With a short table looming, I joined in to get the minimum number of players for a decent game. (Playing hold'em with six or fewer people is a discipline in and of itself and not to everyone's liking.) The evening ran long, something I hadn't done routinely since being unemployed. I stumbled through Thursday in a daze, with Friday being little better. So Saturday I paid the piper.
I crept out of bed much later than planned. Although I got over to the gym and put in 40 good minutes on the aerobic machines, I hadn't been there since Wednesday morning, and I could feel the sluggish muscles protesting even then my planned return in the afternoon to lift. After a couple of hours at home reading in the sweet Saturday sun, I was inclined to agree. My engine was clicking on empty, possibly because of the lack of exercise in the previous two days, and the poor nutrition I pursued on Thursday in my semiconscious state.
By late afternoon, I felt ready for a nap. Uncharacteristic. Typically when I feel like this, I ought to just go to sleep and just call the rest of the day a wash. In past cases like this, I have slept for 14 hours straight. I spend most attempts at napping for the usual hour or half-hour trying to fall asleep. When I "wake up" from these naps, I usually feel worse: fatigued, frustrated, and washed out, like an overbleached T-shirt. I felt I was paying the piper on the late Wednesday and crummy nutrition since then, so I tried it out.
This experience was no different. I roused myself an hour later from fitful fading in and out, and shuffled out of the bedroom, moving like a hypoglycemic septuagenarian, feeling stupid for having backed myself into this corner on such a gorgeous day. Yeah, I had been outside for a good stretch, but I felt like I hadn't done anything. This from someone who fences off what vacation and personal time he gets from the encroachment of work with miserly fervor. Now I felt even more tired than before the nap . . . with a gnawing hunger and a touch of a caffeine headache to boot.
Fuck this, I thought, it's time to get out of this furniture-filled mausoleum. So I showered again, dressed, and boomed over to the Blue Moon Mexican joint a couple of towns north. I briefly considered Friendly's, but thought the impact of grease and sugar on my depleted carcass would just take me from one worn-out feeling to another when the fat and glucose highs crapped out. The Mex grub at Blue Moon is fairly healthful as that cuisine goes. Well, except for their Buffalo wings, but I had no intention of demolishing a plate of those that afternoon. Maybe well into the football season, as I did during one Jets game, stripping wing after wing from the end of the deserted bar one December as the big screen depicted Herman Edwards suffering one of his last defeats in green and white. But not now.
One chicken quesadilla and two Diet Cokes later, I felt like Popeye after clearcutting a spinach field. Simple enough solution to the problem, eh? I felt peppy enough to cut over to 9W and head south to the Edgewater Whole Foods.
So that's how Saturday went. The lessons concern both food and evening divertiments. For one, I feel the Thursday poker nights can no longer go much past midnight for me anymore. On the weekends, sure; in fact, plans are afoot for an evening of hold'em tonight. But I have all of Monday to recover. Not so Thursday, or Wednesday as was the case last week. Maybe I'm taking on a feline cast to my sleep habits. Tacking an extra hour or so on might be the thing. As for poker night, I can try cutting it off "early." After about 1:00, unless I'm up big and juiced on adrenaline, I'm basically treading water, and there's no way my judgment is as sharp. This affects driving as well as poker, surely with more dire consequences for an error; and the need to stop for Dunkin Donuts on the way home does me no physical favors. If the need for an extended binge presents itself, as winter approaches the weekend rates on AC motels and even some of the casino hotels will drop; I can shack up, sleep off the late night, and motor home with a clear head and an empty road.
And of course that brings me to food. My dining habits were too heavy with simple carbs and deli food on Thursday and Friday to allow a decent recovery either from the workout or the late night. I've had great success with all meals but dinner in the past several weeks. I bring lunch and snacks like fruit, healthful nuts, or homemade protein "bars" to work, so my dose is fairly evenly titrated. Once I get home, unless I've got chili or something like that cued up, my discipline wanders . . . in many cases to some of the instant and less beneficial choices at the Trader Joe's next door. That place is a trove of inexpensive nutrition, but there's still a fair amount of crap, and I can't rely on that unless I want the work I do at the gym during the morning to be undone at night. Preparing some easily reheated protein-based food ahead of time, plus fresh veggies, or even a second complex-carb-based breakfast or an omelet if I haven't gone the egg route that day yet, is a better way to go.
So those are the two course corrections I have set for the fall as it washes across the area in a pageant of color and crisp nights. For the rest of today, I believe another stretch of peaceful reading and WFMU listening on my complex lawn is in order, then a run over to the gym for a session of twisting and lifting and such. When football season returns for true, my Sunday afternoon watch-and-cycle routine will as well, so time to get some two-a-days of my own in. From there, dinner with the family, possibly followed by a round of hold'em after sundown, when the gambling vampires ride free. As for Monday, I shall celebrate that Labor Day with enlightened self-interest . . . but close to home.