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!