Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Circle Swim Hell

“Just to let you know,” Large and in Charge Lifeguard nods at me sympathetically, “what you see before you is just a temporary situation…..”
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.
Though I’ll try.


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.
So, tonight, instead of the 6 lanes, there are only 2 huge lanes and at least 8-10 people are ‘circle swimming’ in these vast sections of the pool.

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.
Now, in reality, which is often so much worse than my dreams, I am pissed at those kids doing handstands. Seriously? I tell them to go play in the family lane. They grin at me, nod, and then dive under for more handstanding.

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.”
“Oh wow,” I murmur thinking how idiotic that was. “Was he hurt?”
“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)


I coulda trampled on those kids doing handstands, right?
Maybe next week. Stay tuned….

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Quiet Space....????


“Did Agent Vargos contact you regarding the asset?”
“Affirmative, Commander.”
“Is the mission following protocol?”
“Affirmative….”

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.
“What are you watching?” I ask, thinking she’ll turn it off if she knows what’s good for her.
“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!”
Nope still no response. My admonishments are way too subtle for her thick skull. She pays her membership and by God, she’s gonna do whatever the hell she wants, to hell with everyone else.

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!
“Can you believe that?” I ask her.
“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!




Thursday, June 22, 2017

CHAOS POOL!!!!!

“I can’t do that,” DL murmured at the sight of the packed hot tub. Women stacked in the bubbling waters like soft body bricks.
“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.”
“It was CHAOS!!!” I proclaimed, “I even had a Crash!”
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.
DL giggles were instantaneous. Their drifting mirth floating up to me as I grinned too. “What did you say?” I asked Sandy, wondering what the hell did that even mean? Did the swimmer who crashed into Sandy think that Sandy was a giant dirty nail that had plowed into her? The comment was completely outta left field as far as I could tell, but then much is in the pool, esp. in a Chaos Pool.
“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?”
DL laughed harder. I chuckled, “Yeah, I know what you mean,” thinking that I was prone to letting the judgments out of my head and into the air more than I’d like lately.
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!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Logic

“You saw the pool will be closed for several weeks this summer?” Sandy glances in the mirror, tussles her hair a bit, then shrugs. She’s wearing her half a duck t-shirt, but I can’t remember the joke that’s on it right now as I try to absorb what she’s just told me.

“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.
I continue my pool closure interrogation, “Where are the signs?”
“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.
And I have to think, where does logic prevail? I have to really scratch my head to think where it does. Not at my job. Even though, supposedly, teaching writing would seem to encompass much emphasis on logic. Critical thinking is key to structuring a well-written paper, right? Oh, yeah, the well-written part. That gets lost. Understandably, so, but still. Logic would help. A reverse outline. A reading of the assignment. Hell, even reading out loud. That would show the gaps in logic,right?
And where else would you think logic would prevail and it doesn’t? Let’s see, not in our political system. Damn. Do I even want to go there? But you know, I still cannot process who the leader of the free world is. And that he was elected by the population that supposedly has free will to choose who would be the best for their interests. But yet, they elect someone who is diametrically opposed to their interests. Take healthcare. Trump vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and now he’s working on doing this. But yet…..don’t all those Trump Voters benefit from Obama’s landmark act? Don’t they pay less in premiums because of the government subsidies? Don’t they get free preventative care? Care for pre-existing conditions?

Logic.
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.
But that’s another blog for another day.

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"!
Yup, perfect for the Downtown YMCA!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Enjoy It While You Can!


“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.”
Tattoo Woman nodded. Then got up and left.

“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.”
“Oh my god, that’s terrible!” I exclaimed. I couldn’t believe she’d just tell us this story in such a startling nonchalant manner, but then I should know better by now. I told her how I have a horrible fear of hitting someone walking or biking when I’m circling the Y looking for parking near tears and plagued by waves of frustration.

“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!”
I had to laugh. Imagining myself inside a python, though, wasn’t really what I was after at this point in the evening.

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!”
Yup, only Sandy could.
What does a Zoo smell like?
I don’t even want to go there…..at least not now…..

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Who Me, Bitter?


“Are you bitter?”
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….”
“You teach Montessori?”
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.”
“Cool, where?”
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.
“WWU….FFU….”
“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.
He sighs, lowly. “Software….” Then something I don’t understand.
“Computers?”
“Yes.”
“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.
“Yes….”
“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.
“Really?”
“No…well…yeah….well…..” I hesitate.
He jumps in, “I’m bitter too!” he exclaims.
“You are?”
“Yeah!”
“For me?”
“Sure, why not?” he grins.

“Are you a writer too?” I ask. “Is that why you know that bitter taste?”
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.”
“Who? Breton?”
Damn, he knows Breton? How did he read my mind? This was getting to be a surreal poolside chat.
“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….

Monday, April 24, 2017

I'm So Small!

“He chose your lane cuz you’re a really good swimmer so when he gets into trouble you can haul his sorry ass out.” Sandy shakes her head in swimmer sympathy as DL and I crack up. I want to say that I wouldn’t haul his ass out, no matter how much trouble he was in. He was just too gross. I’d been telling Sandy and DL about the ‘splash sandwich’ that I’d had to endure at the Oakland Y for, fortunately, only a short while.
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.

Of course he did.
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.
I’m small.
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 had a minor panic attack and was looking for an escape when a nice young woman offered to share the ‘senior seat’—why was she there in the first place? “OH that’s so nice of you!” I had said. “I can just sit on your lap!” She laughed softly, her seatmate moved over too and I perched on the arm of the seat for the 10 minute ride to West Oakland before I climbed out.
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!
Maybe I should bulk up. Eat more ice cream and Nation’s Pie. Expand my girth. This way I wouldn’t be such a target. Those large belly guys would see me, my wide round expanse filling the lane, and think, ‘Nah, she’s too big. I’ll go swim with someone else......smaller….”
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.
That should dissuade them.
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!
Splash on!

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

It's All About the Hair


“Don’t we know each other?” The woman down at the opposite side of the locker room is staring at me, a baffled look on her face from what I can tell from this distance. She does look familiar but…..
“Woo Woo U?” she says as we walk toward each other, meeting in the middle of the locker room here at Hilltopia. DL’s here tonight too, behind me, curious.
“Oh, yes” I exclaim as we are now close to each other, standing face to face. She tells me her name, which I really want to write out cuz it’s so good, but I’ll make something up to protect her WWU anonymity. I’ll just call her Bella Bellisima, or BB for short. “Bella,” she says, “Carol,” I say. We laugh.
And it’s that out of context thing. People look so different in the gym or the pool or at Safeway than they do in their professional situations. I would have known her immediately if I’d seen her in the halls at WWU, but here at Hilltopia, it did take a moment. After I introduce her to DL and we chit chat a bit about our ‘home’ Ys, we head off to our respective workouts. On her way, out, she calls out to me:

“Of course,” she says. “I recognized you from The Hair.”

It’s always about the hair, isn’t it?

Later after my super cold swim, I’m in front of the long mirror frantically trying to dry my hair before going outside in the dark cold before the Y closes. Another swimmer is there, too, pursuing the same endeavor. I notice she has fantastic hair. Big and fluffy and dark with a dramatic grey streak down the side.
She smiles over at me and says, “Wild hair!”
“Oh, yeah,” I nod. “It’s from swimming!”
She laughs, goes back to her stupendous hair drying project. Her hair is more than ‘wild’—it’s another being. It’s got a life of its own. It says, very loudly, ‘Look at me! I’m fabulous and don’t you forget it!’

Yup, in the end, as it is in the beginning, it’s all about the hair.

Just ask DL. She’ll confirm this.
She’s got fabulous hair!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Vulnerability


“I itch.” E shrugs, continues scratching at a large patch of burned and peeling skin on her hip.
I know I must have been staring. I try not to, but can’t help myself. E’s skin is in a miraculous molting phase. And it’s no wonder she itches.

She was in a fire that burned like 99 percent of her body about a year ago? I’m so bad with time, but I remember when she first came back to Utopia, the damage was severe and heartbreaking. How could anyone survive such a trauma? The pain. The terror. The hideousness of it all.

Yet, E seemed characteristically unfazed by it. She acknowledged that it hadn’t been her time to die. And then she went on. With her daughters. And her work. And her time here at Utopia.
I haven’t seen her in the pool for some time. I would imagine that the super chlorinated water would not be a healing salve for her poor damaged skin.

In Utopia, DL and I had found a seat in the crowded scene. I noted that a towel was spread out on the top shelf, taking up valuable space. But whatever, I was too tired from my swim to ask who the towel belonged to so I just plopped down on the shelf below.
Soon the towel’s owner strutted in. I’d not seen her before. She was fit and pale and exuded a naked confidence that some women can. She climbed up to her towel, smiling at me and then lay down, her small firm breasts right at my eye level.
Do I stare?
Yes I do.
But it’s okay. She’s got her eyes closed, right? And besides, what else can I do? Pretend they’re not there?

E ambles in. She’s still scratching. Sits down beside me and sighs deeply. “I itch,” she repeats.
“Yes,” I nod, “I bet.” Cause what else can I say? I mean, I can’t really imagine what it would be like to have your entire body fried to a crisp, so I can only try to quell the slight nausea that rises in me whenever I am too near E.

She launches into a spiel about a concoction she’s made to help soothe the itching. To no one in particular, but everyone’s listening. “I use the olive oil. The ginger. The eucalyptus. The ….” Something else I can’t quite understand cuz of her Utopian accent.
But Naked Confidence Woman understands and joins in, “Aloe vera?”
“Yes, yes, that too,” E nods. I can tell that there is really no communication going on in a literal level, but it certainly is going on in a womanly sense. They understand each other in the talking over of concoctions. I mention that it sounds good enough to eat.

Naked Confidence Woman sits up now, nods emphatically as she positions herself Indian Style. I don’t look back now. Way too intimate.

She proclaims: “They say that anything you put on your body you should be able to put inside it!”
“Ah….” I nod, thinking how no way would I really eat E’s concoction.
“It smells wonderful!” Naked Confidence Woman exclaims.
E nods in agreement. “Yes, yes….” Then she fades into a tired space. I think how tired she must be. To have her body itching like that to the point where the scratching seems to be peeling off the excess layers of skin.

Ewwwww. I do NOT want to think about that.

So I get up and leave. DL’s already gone? When did she leave? I get so immersed in the Utopian Conversation Situation that I missed her exit. Damn. I wonder if she heard the concoction exchange?


Later, DL and I are dressing and I’m yammering on and on about I don’t even know what, and Naked Confidence Woman, dressed now, leans around the corner and blurts out, “Have you heard of Brene Brown ? She does a Ted Talk about Vulnerability?”

“Uh…..” I glance over at DL, whose eyes are wide and mirthful behind her glasses.
“You sound just like her. When I heard you talking….” she explains.
“Oh,” I say, laughing softly. “I guess I could give a Ted Talk on Dreams and Cats.”

No, I didn’t really say that. But wish I had.
Instead, I just mutter some inanity about how I’ll have to check out her Ted Talk when I get a chance. Vulnerability.
That seems about right. E should feel some Vulnerability around her skin and her life. Naked Confidence Woman obviously doesn’t have a Vulnerable Bone in her body.
And me?
I’d been especially vulnerable all day. The traffic in the morning put me near tears. Then late to work which sent me over the vulnerability edge if I hadn’t been at work. I felt raw. Exposed. Traffic and lateness can do that to a person.

And so, yes, I’ll have to check out the Ted Talk. I need to learn about strategies to cope with vulnerability. Is that what it’s about? Or is it about allowing yourself to be more vulnerable?
I’ll let you know.
In the meantime, E is so courageous. To have that itch. And to scratch it.
I hope to see her in the pool again soon!

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Girl Energy in the Pool

Three teenage girls, or maybe preteen, climb into my lane at the Downtown Oakland YMCA. Ohhing, and squealing and wincing: “It’s so cold! No it’s not! Get in! I can’t!”

Then much dramatic shivering, splashing, laughing and frolicking as they do submerge, but one of them keeps her head out. She’s got on a grey wool cap that isn’t meant for swimming. But no matter, the fun can begin with head out of the water. The girls splash, and giggle and gossip and cajole loudly and with abandon. Their energy is electric and high. I move to the next lane to give them their space, continue swimming my laps.

After a few minutes, I see one of them climb out, scurry to the locker room and return with another wool cap that she gives to Grey Cap Girl. This cap is special though. It’s a lion’s head! Complete with fierce teeth, golden eyes, and tail hanging a little too close to the water.
“Don’t get it wet!” they squeal. And she does. Get it wet. And it doesn’t matter. The lion’s energy is part of their girl energy. It enhances and enlarges it. Gives them power and play. I love it!



Later after my swim, Utopia and Sandy Time, DL and I slog out of the locker room. The girls are gathered in a little rumpled circle in the lobby. I ask them about the lion’s head.

“OH no! Did you leave it, Kayla?" "No you have it." "I think it’s in her gym bag!" "I’m gonna run back and check the locker room!”

And one of them scurries back. “I’m glad I asked,” I say as DL and I move past them. “Oh, yeah, thanks,” one of them says.

And there’s a moment of connection here that I didn’t quite have in the pool. The exchange is charged with a tinge of girlish panic, but it’s fleeting. I hear the one come running back, “Here it is!” and they all convulse into giggles and punches.

Girl energy. It’s everywhere. And it’s part of the feminine instinct, I think of collective caring and observation.

Go girls. Go pink. Go lions!