Someone to watch over me

When I started this blog, the idea was to chronicle our life in Italy, talk about its food, people, politics, traffic jams, whatever. But Covid-19 had its way with me and everyone else, so forgive me if I get a little too deep into our peculiar, mostly homebound in New York City, existence.

And so…..

I wanted a new toy for my birthday a few years back. Specifically, I wanted an Apple Watch. Why? I can’t say, other than I wanted a new toy. Plus I like to know how to use stuff people buy—computers, stoves, cars, stereos, soldering irons… My gadget lust wasn’t unusual, but I hadn’t worn a watch in years, especially since I used mobile phones that I actually liked. What would I do with a watch, albeit a smart watch?

As I found out, Apple Watch is a watch like an iPhone (or any smart phone) is a phone. Our words for them are way too limited.

Pre-Covid-19, I swam laps at the local Y in New York and our pool on the mountaintop. I love to swim, but laps can get boring if you’re not in the right mood. Sure, you get off on a few good flip turns, or when you perfect your freestyle strokes. Plus, absent minded as I am, I kept losing count of my laps. Okay, you say, fine, just time it. That would’ve worked at the Y, maybe. I’m really nearsighted and can barely make out the clockface at the end of the pool. And forget about it on the mountain.

Closed. Sigh.

I devised a few ways to be reasonably accurate. Instead of counting the total, I broke my counting down to units of 5. Because of the pool’s weird length—60 feet—you end up doing an odd number of laps for standard English distances: 1/2 mile=22 laps, 1 mile (uffda!)=44. I didn’t like the 5+5+6+6 counting I needed to for about a half mile, but it was OK. I told myself that if I lost count, I had to repeat the set. I repeated lots of sets.

But the watch—it was the answer to my counting prayers. It’s waterproof! It counts laps! The watch uses my iPhone as its mother, so I switched my measurements to metric and all of a sudden I basked in the knowledge that I could swim 1008 meters in 30 minutes without breaking too much of a sweat.

My family looked on bemused as I tracked my active calories, heartbeat and breast strokes per 10 laps. But I knew that I was getting a good idea of how I performed every day. Plus, I wanted to do a little better each week. My watch wanted me to do better, too. “Anthony, you’re usually further ahead at this time with exercise,” it would admonish me. “You’ve met all 3 goals!” it would cheer, and I almost felt that the watch and I should pop a Champagne cork. I didn’t always cooperate, especially when I read messages like this at 11:30 pm: “You can still do it, Anthony! A brisk 18-minute walk should help you meet your exercise goal.” Um, no.

The Spartan Woman indulges my relationship with gadgets. I take care of her stuff, and she’s generally satisfied with what she’s got, and doesn’t fall for unnecessary updates (so she thinks) than I do. But we reached a tipping point during The Great Confinement when she saw the latest Apple Watch, complete, this time, with a blood oxygen sensor. We actually talked about her getting one for a bit, but then she forgot about it. I didn’t and stealthily bought one to give her for Christmas. Sidenote: JHC! Must we be together every single minute of every single day? Can’t I get delivery of a surprise without the all-seeing, all-knowing TSW checking out every object that comes into the house? I lucked out only because she was washing pots, facing away from the path to my office. Just for fun, though, I left the box on an open shelf.

So after the holidays, we act like everyone else and resolve to be better, less self-indulgent prisoners of Netflix. We’d diet! We’ll lose the Covid 20. Or is it 25 or 30? Why doesn’t my favorite T-shirt fit? We had an exercise bike sitting idle most of the time. I encouraged TSW to try it out, and I mentioned that its exercise app will track her time, pulse, etc., keep a record of it, like, forever. One thing I forgot to mention about TSW is her extreme competitiveness. She may look kind of sweet and friendly, but under the best friend surface lies a cutthroat beast. If you bring less than your best game to the game, she will leave you a collapsed, crying destroyed, humiliated, heap. But she’s really a nice person. Seriously.

You can guess what happened. The exercise bike makes lap swimming feel like an exhilarating hike in the mountains. Friends, it is boring. I have to watch videos on my phone, or play music real loud on my headphones and read to get through a session. This was no problem for TSW, who is pedaling ever-longer distances—she stretched to a solid hour in just a few sessions. She’d tell me how many active calories she burned, while riding and during her hyperactive day. She was making me look bad. Me, who used to run miles a day until I hurt my ankle and spent a month using crutches and a cane to get around. She barely broke a sweat on the bike, and managed to nudge her pulse rate in the high two figures.

Of course, the bike isn’t enough. Now that the days are getting longer and spring is just a couple of weeks away, we’ve started to take long walks through the parks in our neighborhood. We’re lucky to live in a part of Staten Island that was built as a planned community, in an age when the middle classes were thought to be deserving of such amenities as parks and tennis courts and a bit of nature to disrupt the urban fabric. And supposedly, the city was going to build a subway line through it, so it could be sort of a lower density Forest Hills. The subway never came, but Olmstead and other park designers did.

It’s great though. This exercise thing has given our monotonous days here shape and purpose, even if it’s to please Tim Cook and his infernal watch. I have to admit that after four years, I’m still in thrall to its charms. My favorite thing is to take a walk, varying the speed and route, and then when I’m done, I can see the route we took on my phone. The route’s color-coded, so I can see where we sashayed (yellow), paused (red), and trucked along (green). Plus, it gives me a running average time/kilometer. Since the weather’s gotten a bit better, we’ve gone from a disastrous 23.5 minutes/km (watch the ice!) to a halfway respectable 18 minutes. I can’t wait to try the trails on the other side of the pond.

Next up: Exercise without diet, we’re told by the latest research, doesn’t work if you’re looking to lose weight. I’ll tell you what TSW has done to make dieting seem almost decadent. Banana panna cotta, anyone?