I knew that women could be mean to one another but I didn’t know how catty, until last week, when a charming and good-natured friend invited me on a walk up in the hills of Cupertino.
“You can do a little uphill, can’t you?” she asked before we set out.
We walked up Prospect Avenue, a road poorly named because it’s a rather dull Cupertino artery with no prospects of cheer or challenge. “This road is a joke,” I thought. “I can do this in my sleep.” But when we veered left into Via Roncole, my friend had a surprise for me. In minutes, Via Roncole opened into a greener, wider corridor of homes with stunning landscaping and dense spruces. We began climbing gently.
I rarely sweat when I exercise. A personal trainer I once visited told me that if I didn’t sweat while working out, I wasn’t working hard enough. But what if there were people in the world who didn’t sweat no matter how much they worked out? What if I were one of them, lady? When the trainer kept repeating her pet mantra, I dropped her like a dumbbell.
I went back to my pricey YMCA and continued paying up a monthly deposit the way people pay for water, gas and electricity. Typically, at the Y, I’m on my treadmill listening to Anderson Cooper rant about the latest disaster. I’ve broken into a sweat watching him discuss the New York bomber. My pinkies have turned clammy watching the man analyze the latest oil spill. Other than that, my pores, like roll-on deodorants, believe in never letting the world see me sweat.
So when my friend offered to take me for a walk, I expected to hang by her side all cool and dry, my sunglasses snappy on my nose, my hair exactly the way I had combed it when I left the house. But my friend apparently had other plans, one of them being to deprive me of oxygen and kill me before I hit my half-century mark the following year. Half an hour into what became a steady wave of hills leading to Mount Everest, I began wondering if I would reach the end of my journey before I reached the end of the road.
“How come you didn’t tell me I needed to bring a bottle of water, huh?” I snapped at the friend who was fast relegating to the status of a Facebook friend, a mere acquaintance, you know, a pretend friend.
“But I don’t need water on this walk,” she said. We were catching our breath, facing an unending rise of Comer Drive. On the house to our right, sprinklers sprayed and teased. Water wasted down the road. An Evergreen pear was drowning in gobs of water. The lawn glistened under the morning light, wet and glorious. Nature loved water. Everything loved water. I needed water. Who was this woman? Was she a camel?
My friend was breaking a small sweat, I could tell, where her hairline crept by her ears. Noe’s gardening truck passed by. Could I, may be, hitch a ride and leave this walk here and now and elope with Noe into the kingdom of level ground and unfriend this lady fast? But the strips of gossip she tossed at me kept me in step. Every time we reached the foot of another hill, she held out another carrot of enticing news. Now my friend was talking about her son’s two-room apartment in a swanky town. I listened. Good friend to know, I thought, even though this buddy had turned into the fiend in my stable of friends. I was paying for this friendship with my blood, sweat and thirst.
Then she started firing questions rapidly about this and that. “Cannot talk,” I signed, bending and hauling my body uphill. “I’ll tell you after we’re done? We’re done, right?” My shins buckled under me and my Canon hung from my neck like a slab of granite.
“What d’you mean?” she said. “We’re just about to encounter the second of many slopes.”
The second? So we braved yet another nasty hill and, now, her cell phone pierced the morning silence. She wasn’t going to pick it up, was she? No way, she couldn’t talk unless she wanted to sound like a porn star. But my friend reached into her pocket. A long distance call. She began lilting into the phone–like Michelle Obama on a conference call with the White House Chef after a manicure. Is this woman for real, I wondered, envying her boundless stamina. Now water was trickling down her ears but she continued to speak into the phone like she was having her hair styled.
Pretty soon, hills of terraced vineyards rose into view. I marveled at how fortunate I was to live in a place where, minutes from my home, spectacular vistas awaited. The next few uphill jaunts faded in importance as we stopped to admire the reds of the Japanese Maple against rolling meadows of green. Everywhere, on this summer morning, the bird of paradise poked into the azure sky, its orange beak shiny and petulant. Eucalyptuses rose along our path. Their oily scent lingered in the air.
A steady breeze blew, cooling us off as we began our descent towards Parker Ranch hitting plain ground. From here on my prospects looked excellent and I realized now why Prospect Avenue may have been named thus.
I had made it. And now, water? Who needed water? I gave a sidelong glance at my walking partner. She had grown more endearing on our downhill stretch for reasons I just couldn’t seem to explain.