Tuesday, July 25, 2017
I stare at the spectacle that is in front of me in stupefied horror. The Downtown Oakland Y pool has been closed for weeks for ‘improvements’. This morning, I had called ahead of time to find out if the pool was indeed open as previously announced. And had been assured that it was.
And, yes, as I stand on the deck, L&I C next to me, the pool is open. But the mayhem that is before me is beyond description.
Usually the pool is divided into 6 lanes, with swimmers splitting each lane. One going up the right side of the black line painted on the bottom of the pool, one going up the left side of the black line. If a third swimmer enters the lane, which is rare, then there is something called circle swimming. The 9th circle of hell as far as I’m concerned. No one at the Oakland Y knows how to circle swim. They are completely oblivious to anyone behind or in front of them, but blithely swim along as if they’re the only one in the pool. Kinda like how some people drive.
It is a complete disaster. Kids are doing handstands in the middle of the lanes. Slow swimmers are plodding down one side; faster swimmers are trying to swim around the handstand kids. A couple stands at the wall, chatting.
“So, as you can see,” the lifeguard continues, “it’s circle swim. You can pass going up toward the far wall, but not on the way back down. And like I said this is a temporary situation.”
“What happened to the lane lines?” I ask, shaking my head in profound disbelief.
“Well, they ordered the wrong length so they had to send them back. They should be getting the new ones in a couple of weeks.”
“A couple of weeks?!!!”
“Yeah, sorry, I know it’s not ideal.” He is sympathetic, but what can he do?
And what can I do but try to enter into the mayhem. I’m already on deck, showered and goggled and capped.
Super Nice Walking Man spies me talking to the lifeguard. After the guard leaves, SNWM nods toward me, “You can share with me. I’ll just stay on this side walking.”
“Thanks, but I don’t think they’ll let me swim there.”
He nods, understanding. The walking lane is only for walking though under the circumstances, couldn’t I swim there? Just for tonight?
I opt not to for now and choose a lane. Sitting on the deck, I feel a rising dread. There is no goddamn way I’m even going to be able to swim to the other end let alone swim my 80 laps. It’s like my bad swimming dreams come true. The ones where I encounter obstacle after obstacle to keep me from swimming. The water is so shallow that my hand scrapes the bottom till the pool becomes a lawn.
I want to scream. But what good would that do? No one would even notice!
I jump in. Try to swim around the slow butterfly purple suited woman. Almost have a head on collision with a bikinied oblivious woman. The handstand kids are splashing and laughing now, joyous in their mayhem.
I glance over at Walking Man who motions for me to join him.
I take a risk. And do.
“Thanks!” I exclaim to him, slipping into the calmness that is his lane. It’s free and clear for me and looks delicious!
“There was no way I could swim over there.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” he chuckled.
“I bet they won’t let me swim here,” I say before taking off in the lane.
“Well, go for it as long as you can!” he proclaims, turning and walking up the lane.
And I do get away with it for about 20 minutes, till L&IC saunters back over: “You can’t swim here.”
“Even though it’s complete chaos over there and I can’t even swim one lap?” I whine.
“Nope, sorry, if it were up to me I’d say fine, but someone ran into the ladder the other day and so they’re being really strict about not letting anyone swim here.”
“They ran into the ladder?” I glance at the plastic ladder that is at the end of the walking lane. "How the hell did someone swim into it?" I ask him.
“Well, it wasn’t on my watch, but apparently they were swimming backstroke and you know how you count your strokes for backstroke once you spot the flags?” I nod. “Well, they forgot the ladder was there and were counting the strokes and whoops! There were fewer strokes to the ladder cuz it sticks out.”
“Nah, I don’t think so. Though he got out. He was done for the day.”
“Ah…..” I glance over at the lane next to me It’s a bit calmer now –the pool is closing soon and the chaos has cleared out a bit.
“Can’t I even swim here tonight?” I plead. “It’s impossible over there!”
“Nope, wish I could say yes. I know you can swim and wouldn’t swim into the ladder, but like I said….”
“Okay,” I sigh, but then see a couple more people get out. “It’s not as bad now. I’ll move.”
“Thanks,” he says, weary.
I don’t envy him his job. Hell, imagine what his day has been like trying to manage the chaos of mass circle swim.
Later, I tell Sandy about the chaos. She shakes her head, “You’re telling me that they’ve had the pool closed for over 3 weeks and it’s still not ready?”
“Yup,” I sigh, better now that I’m in Utopia.
“Typical,” Sandy snorts.
“Yeah, well, I did swim in the walking lane for a little while.”
“Good for you!” she exclaims.
“Yeah, but they kicked me out. Someone swam into the ladder.”
“What the hell?” she says. “How’d they do that?”
I tell her. She shakes her head. “Well, I suppose you could complain but frankly they’re pretty immune to complaints around here. All they hear is ‘Blah blah blah pool blah blah….’”
We all crack up. DL weaves out. Thanks to Sandy, I’m in a much better mood.
Yet still…..what to do about swimming?
Maybe I’ll just take up walking in the walking lane. Or stay upstairs with DL and do the machines. Or…..I could just compare my experience to Dante’s---I’m faring much better, right?
Then I beheld a thousand faces, made
Purple with cold; whence o'er me comes a shudder,
And evermore will come, at frozen ponds.
And while we were advancing towards the middle,
Where everything of weight unites together,
And I was shivering in the eternal shade,
Whether 'twere will, or destiny, or chance,
I know not; but in walking 'mong the heads
I struck my foot hard in the face of one.
Weeping he growled: "Why dost thou trample me?
Unless thou comest to increase the vengeance
of Montaperti, why dost thou molest me?"
(`Longfellow translation of Dante’s Inferno, 9th Circle)
Maybe next week. Stay tuned….
Posted by Cj at 3:32 PM
Thursday, July 13, 2017
“Did Agent Vargos contact you regarding the asset?”
“Is the mission following protocol?”
What the hell? I think to myself, opening one eye toward the dialogue floating through the heated air. Is someone watching TV in the sauna?
In my sights is a young Latina, phone pushed up toward her smug mug, a big grin on her face. She lets out a cackle.
“Queen….blah blah blah…” She doesn’t unglue her eyes from the tiny screen, making no contact with me whatsoever other than to mumble the title of the show that I can’t quite make out with my stupid stuffed up ear.
There are several women in the sauna now, including DL who is staring at me across the room, eyes wide in disbelief as the TV continues to blare on, Latina Clueless giggling every few moments.
“Do you have to watch that in here?” a woman asks, and I note she was in the pool . Of course. My ally is a swimmer!
“I pay my membership just like everyone else,” Latina Clueless announces, grinning at the next scene of Queen Idiot.
“Too bad for us,” Swimmer Ally answers.
Grinning, I can’t help but join in, esp. now that I’ve got reinforcements. I can see and feel DL’s encouragement from across the room. Hear her inner voice yelling at me, “What the hell? Go CJ!”
Latina Clueless ignores Swimmer Ally.
“This is a quiet place,” Swimmer Ally reminds her.
Clueless Latina continues to ignore her. Astounding, her focus and presumptuous disregard for all except herself and The Queen.
“Or you could just ignore us all since we can’t ignore you,” I proclaim.
Still no response.
Wow. I'm in awe....I mean, who does this? There's a room full of women who just want a quiet space to relax and have asked her to turn off her TV and she just blithely continues on, oblivious to the growing cloud of hostility surrounding her?
We all sit in silence for a moment. Well, except for the persistent drone of the Agent Vargas’ commands to the Queen.
“You know,” I continue, undaunted now and curious how far she'll take it, “there are signs all over the place saying “NO CELL PHONES!”
Where are my Big Take No Shit Sauna Companions when I need them? I know that Large and in Charge Indian Nurse Woman would just turn to Clueless Latina and tell her to turn her stupid phone off immediately. “Those are NOT allowed in here!” And because of her stature and her tone, I bet Clueless would turn the phone off.
Or maybe not.
Yet….a few women get up and leave, and now, Clueless turns off the TV and starts texting mightily. I can’t read what she’s writing, but can guess: “OMG! Ashley! You will never believe the bitches in the sauna tonight. They want me to turn off Queen….. and it’s the best episode yet!”
DL rises and weaves out. I follow her. We burst out into the locker room barely able to contain our mirth and disbelief, laughing loudly.
We are 12 years old!
“I can not!” she laughs.
“I mean, what would Sandy have done?”
“She would have marched right over to the phone and called upstairs. She would NOT have taken that shit.”
We laugh even harder.
“Aren’t you glad you came to Hilltopia tonight, DL?” I laugh.
“Oh, yeah, I wouldn’t have missed that one for the world!”
We erupt into more giggles, head to the showers, shaking our heads.
Later I see Swimmer Ally drying her hair, she grins at me, an understanding passing between us.
Swimmers. We have a common bond. We like the water.... And we like a quiet place…..
No matter what The Queen says!
Posted by Cj at 5:54 PM
Thursday, June 22, 2017
“Yeah, me neither,” I concurred, “especially after the Chaos that was the pool.”
“Let’s just go in Utopia,” DL headed to the sauna, opening the door wherein only Sandy lay, supine atop her usual queenly shelf.
“Hello, Ladies,” she said.
“Hi, Sandy,” I replied climbing up to sit in the corner next to her. “How’s it going?” DL situated herself on the shelf below, lying down in calming satisfaction at the status of the nearly empty Utopia.
“How was the pool?” Sandy asked. “As if I need to ask.”
Sandy sat up, shaking her head, eyes widening, “I hope you’re okay?”
“Oh, yeah, fortunately it was another woman and we weren’t going too fast, but hell, she didn’t tell me that the other circle swimmer had gotten out and she was gonna split the lane. I couldn’t see anything through the fog of my mask, you know?”
“Yeah,” Sandy nodded. “A little communication goes a long way. I remember one time I had the same thing happen to me and when the woman crashed into me, she had the nerve to exclaim, ‘WHAT!!! Do I have to get a Tetanus shot now?’” Sandy sighed in weary memory of the incident.
“What did you say to her?” I asked Sandy now.
She shrugged, “I don’t really remember. I remember thinking, Lady, what are you talking about? With all the AIDs and STDs and whatever the hell else is in this pool, it was a public pool mind you. This didn’t happen at The Club. And then I thought, to myself, no, I’m not gonna say all this. I mean, I have all of these judgments swirling inside my head. Do I really want to let them out and become one of those Angry Old Ladies that I despise?”
Was it an Angry Old Lady attribute? Or did the world just need my entirely justifiable virulence on occasion?
Tonight, I hadn’t yelled at Crash Woman at all, even though it was, technically, her fault for not communicating. She was so apologetic and I hadn’t been hurt nor had she.
Plus, she was cute.
And so, summer at the Y. Oh boy!
Fortunately, I’m up to date on my Tetanus Shot.
I think….though maybe I better double check. For the future. Cuz the next swimmer I crash into may not be quite so cute….
….and I might just let those Judgements out of my head and into the pool.... Justifiably!
Posted by Cj at 1:07 PM
Thursday, June 15, 2017
“What!!!” I exclaim. “In the middle of the summer they’re gonna close the pool?”
“Yes, well, they think there are more options for folks to go elsewhere in the summer than in the middle of winter.” She shakes her head, sighs loudly.
“Uh,” I mutter, “not sure that’s true. But thanks for telling me.”
“You didn’t see the signs?”
“Nope, but you know, there are a LOT of signs around here. Too much signage means that I don’t read anything.” Sandy chuckles, tossing some crap in her gym bag.
“Oh, up at the front. You know the pool closure is in fine print,” she says. “At least it's posted.”
“Yeah,” I admit, “but why don’t they post the closure info on the door out to the pool? Or put the dates on the bulletin board under the water temp. Then swimmers would see.”
“Oh, well, you’re talking logic there, Carol,” Sandy laughs.
“Yeah, okay, I have to remember where I am. Logic doesn’t prevail here at the Downtown Oakland YMCA.”
“You got it…..” she agrees,zipping up her gym bag and putting on her sweatshirt.
Not in the electorate.
And so, it’s no surprise that there’s little logic to be found in the workplace or the home or the YMCA.
Logic is a rare occurrence.
Part of me is appalled. Yet part of me, too, has to admit that logic can be vastly overrated. I mean where would artists and dancers and musicians be with logic? It’s all about emotion, right? Oh, dear. Now that’s something I am an expert in. Emotion.
Today, I’ll go with why the hell don’t they post the pool closure dates at the pool?
Logic, Carol, logic. Remember where you are. At the Downtown Oakland YMCA, where pool closures are rampant and logic is scarce.
"See you next week," Sandy calls out to me as she heads out.
"Yes, next week. If the pool isn't closed."
Sandy laughs, waves bye over her head, as I scurry to finish dressing before the Y closes.
Oh, and the joke on her T-shirt? I remember now! "Not playing with a full duck"!
Posted by Cj at 4:38 PM
Wednesday, June 07, 2017
“Enjoy it while you can,” Sandy proclaimed, shaking her head as I climbed up beside her on the top shelf of Utopia. DL had already settled in on the bottom shelf, languidly stretching out in the warmth of dialogue and exhaustion.
I’d been telling Sandy how I’d had an entire lane to myself in the pool. That NEVER happens at the Oakland Downtown Y. It had been perfect swimming bliss to not be in a Splash Sandwich or kicked by Shoe Swimming Woman or crashed into by a swimmer not holding her lane.
“The summer camps will be here before you know it,” Sandy continued.
“What do you mean?” Tattooed All Over Woman on the other side of Sandy perked up. Was she a swimmer too? I didn’t remember seeing her in the pool. I think I would’ve remembered! The tattoos were all over and elaborate. Although I couldn’t quite tell what they were of in the dusky dim light of Utopia.
Sandy turned to her new audience. Ready to inform. It was her job here at the Downtown Oakland Y: “Every summer, round mid June till about the end of August, the kids are let out of school and enroll in summer camps here at the Y. They get dumped off behind the Y here, and lemme tell you, like it isn’t crazy enough around here already, those kids are looking to get run over by someone driving and texting in their SUV. Anyway, they take over the pool and the facility so…..” Sandy settled back into her slouch, “just beware.”
“Guess you scared her off,” I joked.
Sandy smirked. “She needs to know. It’s crazy round here. Why, I remember a time that my sister-in-law’s brother was riding his bike down Telegraph Ave and someone opened their car door and wham, cut right through his juggler and he was a goner.”
“And that’s not all,” Sandy was on a roll tonight. “You know how pythons are running wild in Florida and there’s a call out to hunt down as many as possible?”
“Uh….I think I’ve heard of that,” I murmured. Do I really want to hear about killer snakes now after the Killer Car?
“Well, one guy caught a python who had swallowed an entire deer! A deer! Can you believe that? Imagine the mass that was found in that Python. Why it was bigger than you, Carol!”
DL got up. Weaved out without looking back. “Sorry, DL!” Sandy called after her, chuckling.
“I think she had reached her heat limit actually," I said. "Though maybe it was the python story…..”
Sandy rose and followed DL out, though not before one final comment to ponder: "It’s not as bad as the news,” Sandy said before closing the door behind herself.
I was left with Coconut Oil Smearing Woman who gave me a perplexed look. “She’s right.”
“Yes, I know, that’s why I avoid the news,” I said, starting to rise.
“Yeah, well, I work at a radio station so I hear it all all the time.”
“I bet you do,” I nodded. A radio station? I wondered which one, thinking this added a whole new dimension to Coconut Oil Woman. But it was time to go and I was hot, tired, hungry and well….frankly, didn’t want to hear anything else that might give me the willies.
“See you next time,” I said to her, making my way to the showers and back to the lockers where Sandy was still holding court.
“It smells like fruity lip gloss here,” I commented, dumping my wet swim stuff on the stool as I began to turn my lock's combination.
DL continued to rub lotion on herself in luxurious mode situation. Sandy nodded, “Yeah, I know what you mean. Better that than last night. The sauna smelled like a Zoo.”
DL’s stopped her lotion luxury, eyes wide, and cracked up. I joined her.
Later, DL says to me, “Only Sandy could take Utopia to Zootopia!”
What does a Zoo smell like?
I don’t even want to go there…..at least not now…..
Posted by Cj at 12:46 PM
Sunday, April 30, 2017
I laugh, slightly embarrassed, slightly amused. Is it that obvious? How the hell did the conversation go from casual pool post laps chit chat to my deepest darkest psychological insecurities?
The chat had begun innocuously enough. “Is that a new suit?” Handsome Swimmer Man had asked.
“Nope, just one that’s been resurrected. I haven’t had a chance to get online to check out that site you told me about last week.”
He had nodded, shrugging, “Yeah….”
“I mean, the time gets away from me, you know? What with all these different jobs I’m juggling.”
“How many jobs do you have?”
“Three….four…depends on how you count them up…”
He shakes his head, “What do you do?”
“I teach writing….”
Where the hell did he get that? I blame water in the ears. “No, I teach college level. At a couple of universities. Mostly grad students.”
I feel a little under the gun at this point. Why is he interrogating me so? I mean, it’s a lot of questions, right? I’m game though, mostly cuz of his eyelashes.
“My wife got her MBA at FFU.”
“Ah….” Suddenly I know a lot about him. An MBA wife. From FFU. She’s businessy and crisp. “What kind of work do you do?” I ask him.
“I know only how to use computers, not how they work,” I joke.
“Your tool is only as good as the person using it.”
It sounds like he’s said this a zillion times. I just grin. Feeling a little chilly, I stretch my leg up onto the deck lean my head toward my knee.
“So, if you teach writing you must be a writer,” he asserts, staring me down.
“What do you write?”
“Novels, short stories.”
“Under what pseudonym?”
I wonder why he thinks I’d write under another name? He’s just after that question people always ask when they find out you’re a writer: Are you published? And this is where the bitterness shows through I guess. Cuz I bristle at this query. Why must I be published? Why must I have a broad readership? Why don’t I? I’m such a failure.
Blah blah blah…..
And so, yes, I am bitter and I tell him so. With a teasing tone, of course. Hell, I don’t even know him, right?
“You’re bitter, really?” he asks.
“Yup,” I laugh.
“No…well…yeah….well…..” I hesitate.
He jumps in, “I’m bitter too!” he exclaims.
“Sure, why not?” he grins.
He chuckles. “No, I’m not a writer. Maybe I should take one of your classes.”
“Uh….well, you’d have to be a student.”
He shrugs, “True….”
“I do have private clients….” Why did I mention this?
“What kind of novels do you write?” he asks.
“I’m working on a novel about an artist, one of the later Surrealists, and his three muses.”
“Yes…” I answer, "but actually I just made most of it up…”
“Did Breton have 3 muses?” he ignores my assertion round the imaginative narrative.
“I have no idea,” I laugh. “It’s fiction.”
“Ah, of course,” he nods.
I can tell he’d keep talking if I did, and now I really was getting cold. “I have to get out,” I say, “getting cold.”
“Oh, yeah…sure…I’d love to read your novel.”
I laugh. “If I finish it, I’ll send it to you.”
He starts to call out his email address as I climb out of the pool, shivering now. I’ll never remember it and tell him so.
“That’s okay,” he nods.
He dives back underwater, falls into his smooth rhythm like he’d never been the interrogator of an unpublished bitter writer.
Yet am I really I bitter? Oh, sure sometimes. Who wouldn’t be? But most of the time, I don’t care. Esp. when I’m actually writing. Like right now. No bitterness in sight. Just words and more words and stories and dialogue and yes, the pool…..my first love and inspiration….
Posted by Cj at 6:18 PM
Monday, April 24, 2017
When I spied him lurking on deck, standing in front of My Lane, his blobby white belly spilling out over his too small blue Speedo, I prayed silently to myself that he wouldn’t choose my lane.
They always do. Why is that? I think Sandy is being generous in giving them that much of a critical thinking future brain. But I like it that she assumes that I’m a ‘good swimmer’---I don’t think she’s ever seen me swim!
No, I think they choose me cuz I’m small and easy to push around. When they splash in, their massive waves bounce me into the lane line, I gulp large quantities of water or hafta hold my breath when I pass them. It’s hard!
So, tonight, when Gross Belly Man splashed in with his bright yellow Zoomers, I cringed. Why me?
And I know why.
Most of the time I like being small. But this week, for instance, on the most crowded BART since Communist China bus rides, my smallness was a drawback. I was immediately smashed under some hipster’s armpit who was completely oblivious that I was even there with his earbuds in and his smelly flannel shirt.
I couldn’t do it.
Tonight, fortunately, a lane opened up and I was able to move out of the Splash Sandwich lane after only a few laps.
But even a few laps was too many. With Belly Over Speedo man. Sorry, but some guys should just not sport those suits!
Yet, I don’t think I could really achieve this kind of expansive deterrent. I could swim in the middle of the lane more—lane hog---yes, I do try for this. But I think, cuz I am small, this just isn’t enough to dissuade the large undesirables.
Maybe Sandy is right. I’m too good of a swimmer. So, next time, when I see a Big Belly Man lurking in front of my lane, ready to jump in, I’ll just start swimming really badly. I’ll splash a lot. Wave my arms in inefficient stroke motions. Generally create an image of floundering inexpertise.
I’ll give it a try this week and let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, I’ll eat some pie and ice cream and cookies and M&Ms and….
Hey! I already do that!
Posted by Cj at 12:41 PM