Friday, October 14, 2016

The Magical Transformative Powers of the Pool....

I watch him hobble onto the elevator, baffled. He looks like Super Swimmer Man, but…?Could this be him? He can barely walk as he shuffles onto the elevator. What happened?

In the pool he is a miracle. He stands on the deck for several moments, stretching his lean body and flexing his long arms. He dives into the pool, speedy and eloquent as he zips past me to the other side of the pool. His stroke is strong and mighty. He has both technique and lyricism in the water. I marvel at him whenever we swim side by side.

So tonight, when I see this hobbling shuffling slight little man get on the elevator, I am in disbelief. Can it really be the same person? I know that water is transformative. That people who have difficulty on land are in paradise when floating, but the dramatic difference here takes me aback.
I climb the stairs, shaking my head, thinking I must be mistaken.

At the top of the stairs, the elevator doors slide open. He shuffles off the elevator, waves to me, “I thought that was you,” he grins hobbling up alongside me. I slow my step. I hadn’t thought it was him, but I don’t tell him this, just nod, “The pool was nice tonight,” is all I can come up with, my standard rapture.

“Yes, yes, it was. I haven’t seen you in a while. Do you still swim in Oakland?”
“Yeah, I usually go to the Oakland Y on Wednesdays, but tonight I headed up here to Hilltopia for the lap swimming. It was busy!”
He chuckles, “Yeah, a little.”
I remember the preponderance of testosterone tonight in the pool. Super Swimmer Man, of course, though now I see he has used all his hormones up. (And maybe this is it? He is so wiped out after swimming that he has aged 20 years?) But there were also two young tattooed hipsters, one bun head, one goateed, who took up a lot of space with butterfly and unnecessary displays of splashing. Also a non-swimmer swimmer guy next to me who splashed too much because this was the only way he could get across the pool.

And then me. I felt very feminine and outnumbered. And Super Swimmer Man confirms this for me when he repeats, “Yeah, I thought it was you. I’d recognize your stroke anywhere.” He grins, doesn’t elaborate.
I’ve heard this before over the years in various more specific complements: “You have a very elegant stroke’ is one of my favorites from the handsome Chinese lifeguard at Temescal Pool 30 years ago. Well, of course I remember that one!
So, tonight, when Super Swimmer Man comments on my ‘recognizable stroke’ I just smile and nod as we head out into the dark parking lot.

He starts to veer from me, as he tells me how he only swims on M/W/F or Tue/Th/Sat. I understand, I say. “Yeah, I can’t do it anymore,” he muses, not depressingly, just philosophically. “I have to pace myself.”

I wonder what his injury is. Or maybe it is just the body wearing out. Not wanting to swim every day. I know my body protests when I swim too many days in a row. Like when I was in Hawaii and swam 8 days in row, two times a day. It was worth it, but my neck and back were sore at the end of the trip.
So, tonight, as he starts off into the parking lot, I stop him, “What’s your name?” I ask. “It’s so silly that we don’t know each other’s names after all these years we’ve been swimming together.”
He chuckles softly, holds out his hand formally to shake mine, tells me his name. One I never would have guessed. I tell him mine. He doesn’t repeat it. Just calls out to me as I head down to my car, “You have the most recognizable stroke. I’d recognize it anywhere!”

I smile to myself. Yes, and I’d recognize his, too. In the pool. But not on land. On land, he’s a different person. We don’t need names in the water. We know each other by our strokes.

His is strong and powerful and speedy. Mine is elegant and smooth and unique.
The water transforms us. The water invigorates us….. The water is magic…..
What else could take a tired, slow, bent old man and transform him into a young, strong whippersnapper!

No longer baffled, I stumble down to the car, shifting my heavy swim bag, breathing in the cool, night breeze....

Thursday, September 01, 2016

It's Too Damn Cold!!!!

“Were you cold in the pool?”
“Of course!” Beautiful Indian Woman, a fellow Oakland displaced swimmer, gives a subtle shrug, standing in the Berktopia sauna, drying off.

“I know, right!” I exclaim. “It was freezing!”
Miss Gets Warm After 2 laps, smiles from the top shelf of the sauna. I’d asked her earlier if she’d been cold in the pool. “No, only for first 2 times.” Her English was some second language, but I knew she meant 2 laps of the pool.

Oh, I can’t stand people like this! I never get warm in cold water. And these people? They like it. It’s some sort of badge of honor. If they are cold (and often they won’t even admit this), they are only cold for the first couple of laps. And this is a good thing. It gets them going, you know?

Beautiful Indian Woman continues, “I don’t like cold water.”
“No, me neither,” I agree. “I don’t ascribe to the ‘No pain, no gain’ philosophy!”

They both laugh at this. Warmer now, I join DL at the lockers, wondering if I meant subscribe instead of ascribe. I’ll have to ask DL about this later. She’s the wordsmith.
But back to the cold of the Berkeley Y pool! Yes, I know, I always complain about it whenever I’m forced to partake of its waters, but why oh why do they keep it so damn cold? It’s not like there’re tons of ‘super’ swimmers at the Berkeley Y. In fact, most of the ‘swimmers’ at Berkeley are middle aged overweight floppers. And while some of them can move surprisingly well in the water (the woman I shared a lane with did a sort of elegant dog paddle head above water with fins below stroke and kept up a good clip), most do not move through the water at racing speeds.
I lasted 40 minutes and was impressed with myself as I climbed into the crowded hot tub. Which made sense as the pool was so goddamn cold—everyone was in the Jacuzzi.

I snuck into the corner, momentarily upsetting a woman’s top of her water bottle cap situation--she'd left it on the deck and my hastily discarded cap, fins and mask touched it. “That’s my top,” she’d murmured. Not in a nasty way, just in a hand it to me way. Which I did before going on my rant about how cold the pool was.

She stared at me widely, her white towel turbaned head nodding. “Yeah, that’s why I go in here first. To get warm.”
“That’s a good idea,” I sink into the bubbled aqua heat. “I shoulda done that.”
“Some people say that if you go back and forth between the cold water and then in here in the hot water and then back again into the cold water that it’s good for the circulation.”
“Ummmm…. Some of them just do that all day. Back and forth back and forth back and forth.” She chuckles, amused.
“Well,” I grin, “I’m not going back in that Cold Pool!”
We both laugh as she heaves herself out of the Jacuzzi and heads for IceLand.

“Have a good swim,” I call after her.
“Have a nice rest of your evening,” she answers. Maybe knowing that no way was she going to have a good swim in that cold pool!

How many blog posts can I write about freezing cold pools? An infinite amount it seems. It’s like when Jon Carroll writes his car rants. He’s said it before: the driver who doesn’t signal; the tailgater who raises your blood pressure; the oblivious right lane driver who doesn’t let you merge onto the freeway. But every time he does, we, the readers, love it. That’s right! A woman did that very same thing to to me this morning! I was trying to merge onto 80 offa Barrett and this lady in a Subaru station wagon, completely oblivious, wouldn’t budge from her right hand lane either by changing lanes or hell, tapping her brakes to let me in, almost causing me to crash into her!
Is it that hard to drive with other drivers in mind?
Is it that hard to heat a pool?

The jury’s still out, or maybe it’s in permanent recess, but in the meantime, thank goodness my regular WARM pools will be open again next week!

And when I see Beautiful Indian Woman in the pool at Oakland next week, we can exchange a knowing sigh of ‘ahhhh’ as we swim in the warm warm waters of Utopia!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

La Dee Da!

“Do you really wake up every morning thinking what bad thing is gonna happen today?”
Sanctimonious Admonishment Woman gazed at me across the bubbles of the hot tub, serene in her superiority. What the hell?

Sure, I’d just been whining to DL about how some teenage girls had stolen my fins off the deck while I was swimming, claiming that they didn’t know they were mine when the lifeguard who’d so gallantly helped me locate them, asked them. I’d referred to this night of swimming as mayhem, but more on that later. I guess I’d also made some comment about waking up thinking what bad thing was gonna happen to me today, which SAW picked right up on. How do I respond?

I laughed. “Well, I’ve had a run of bad things lately, so it seems appropriate.”
SAW nodded, sagely, “Well, don’t you think that if you woke up every morning thinking ‘What good thing is gonna happen to me?’, that maybe good things might happen?”
Shit. No. I don’t believe this. But I go along with her, cuz what am I gonna do? Start an argument in the hot tub? I glance over at DL whose eyes are wide in engagement at the exchange.

I lied. “Sure, I suppose, you have a point. I’ll give this a try and see what happens.”

She nodded, satisfied, smug. She’d been water walking the entire time I’d been trying to swim amidst the mayhem. She was far away from the chaos of thieving fin teens and throwing ball kids. So, when the mayhem analysis came next, I had to refrain from pointing this out.
“And…” SAW continued, “it’s not mayhem. That’s just normal kid energy. You must not be around kids very much.”
“No,” I answered, thinking, I avoid them as much as possible, but summers in the pools at the YMCA make it difficult. They may be practicing their normal kid energy when they steal my fins, but hell, I don’t appreciate this one bit!

When I mention the fin stealing episode to Sandy later on, telling her about the kid energy perspective from SAW, Sandy had whistled softly, then shook her head, “Were your fins on the side of the pool while you were in the lane?”
“Well, then they knew that the fins belonged to you no matter what they said. They stole them plain and simple.”
“Thank you!” I breathe out. At least someone else gets that the normal kid energy is undesirable. “I was just so upset, you know?”
“Of course you were!” Sandy exclaims. “Next time someone tells you that it’s just normal kid energy, you just tell them ‘La dee da!’”

I crack up. “Yes, that’s what I’ll do. Thanks, Sandy.”

Nodding seriously, she goes back to her careful lotion application process as DL and I gather up our stuff to head out of the Downtown Oakland YMCA.

And SAW? Where was she?

I have no idea. I’d never seen her before. And I hope I never see her again. But if I do, I’ll tell her how I’ve been waking up every morning and thinking what good thing is gonna happen to me today.

And when she answers with some other nugget of positive wisdom, I’ll just smile and say,
‘La dee da!!!”

Friday, July 01, 2016

Demon Shower Boy Child

“Don’t stare at me!” I stand shaking, wrapped in my towel, in the center of the women’s shower at the Hilltop YMCA. The Devil Boy Child makes a scrunchy face at me, his demon eyes glittering at me in gleeful maliciousness.

Goddamnit! Is it asking so much to be able to take a shower in the women’s locker room without a goddamn boy child staring at me?

He starts a spastic dance at me in the middle of the shower, his arms flapping akimbo, his devil face ablaze with evil intent. He knows he has the power over me. I can’t take a shower with him dancing there in the center of the showers. Where the hell is his mother?

“Stop staring at me!” I holler again.
He stops his dance, but continues his stare as only boy children can do when confronted with naked women.
Why oh why can’t the YMCA keep the kids in their own locker rooms at the Hilltop Y? There are no kids allowed in Oakland. There’re no kids allowed in Berkeley. Why does Hilltop allow it? Families! Remember, it’s called the Hilltop FAMILY YMCA—So, it’s the goddamn children centric situation. They rule. Especially in the summer. The pool is amuck with them. Screaming and splashing and fighting.
But to have to put up with them in the shower too? I just can’t handle it. Esp. on a Friday afternoon when I’ve had a hellish week and all I want to do is swim, sauna, and shower in peace!
Now, the Shower Demon Child starts up his dance again. I glance around for the mother. Oh, here she is, harried and entitled. Ready to do battle with me. I can tell from her firm frown.

“How old is he?” I ask her, knowing that at the very least kids over 5 can’t use the women’s locker room. Not that this is enforced, but it’s worth a try.
Smugly, she glares at me, “He’s 4!” She grabs him, trying to pry him and his staring eyes away from his prize. “Bye Bye!” she commands. To me? For the child to tell me? Or is she just yelling at me like I’m 4 years old too?
She hustles the demon child into one of the curtained stalls. The child protests, still craning his scrawny neck to get a last glimpse at me before the curtain is drawn.

And I stand there for a second wondering if I should go over to the showers on the other side where we are not supposed to ‘shampoo and condition’. I decide I will. To hell with the rules. I grab my products and peek around the corner and.... shit.

Another boy child and its mother are over there! Damn! This child is little, and doesn’t pay attention to me at all, thoroughly enraptured with mom’s ministrations.

And this is my point. If the boy child is old enough to STARE at the naked women, then it’s old enough to use the kids’ locker rooms! Why the hell is this concept so hard to get across? No one seems to care except for me and….
The Lovely I! I remember her fury at the boy children allowed in the women’s locker room at Mills College. “WTF?” she’d shake her head. “Don’t stare at me!” she’d command. And I can’t remember, but

I think they listened to her.

They don’t listen to me. Why is that? I try to be as scary as possible, but I think when a boy child has the opportunity to stare at a naked women, well, hell, he’s going to, right?
I mean part of me gets that it’s not the kid’s fault. He is just doing what comes naturally. But the mothers?

Shit. They could control the kids. Keep them from staring. Or hell, take them to the kids’ locker room if staring is an issue.

But I know better. Nothing will change. I think today, for a moment, of complaining to the management of Hilltop Y, but why bother? I’d just get the same old song and dance: “They’re little. They need their mothers…..They can go into the adult locker room with parental supervision till they’re 6….” Etc., etc., etc.!

And the staring invasion of privacy situation?
No one cares.
Except for me.
And the Lovely I.
Oh, my I miss her so!

She’d have stopped this Demon Boy Child in his tracks today. Or at the very least, I’d have someone to share my frustration with the situation.
Which is definitely worth a lot.
Esp. when a Demon Shower Boy Child is the culprit!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Two Heads Are Better Than One

“If you just had yourself a big stick, you could reach it.”

I am lying on my belly in the sauna at Hilltopia trying to retrieve my little plastic earplug case that’s fallen through the cracks from the top shelf. Of course, it landed in the very farthest corner of the sauna, underneath the shelf I'm sitting on and the one below me. It is completely out of my reach even with my belly stretch. Which by the way is hard. I’m wiped out after my swim and this exertion around plastic case retrieval is taxing!
But Stick Suggestion Woman is into the retrieval. Poised in fleshy majesty, her size DD bra half on, her 80 year old panties worn and drooping, she has been chatting with me about this and that when I dropped the case. “I come 6 days a week. I water walk for an hour. After my surgery it was the thing my doctor told me was the best……” And I’d nodded and agreed. Another convert to the pool.

“Yes, I love the pool,” I’d gushed in my usual enthusiastic way. “I never want to get out. And then when I do get out and come in here to the sauna, I never want to get out of here!”
“They might kick you out at 10 o’clock,” she’d noted, chuckling softly.
“Yes, but for now I just want to stay. It’s so nice and warm.”
“You’re homesteadin it!” she’d pronounced.
I didn’t quite know what she meant by this. Like squatters’ rights with vacant houses? But I liked it and just repeated the term back to her.

So, now here she was trying to help me retrieve the earplug case, which frankly, I could live without, but hell, I’ve got a story here, so I’m gonna continue with the action.
“Ummm….I don’t have a big stick, but….” I eye my swim fins. “I do have a fin.” I grab it and sure enough, I can reach the case with the tip of the fin. Excited, I flick it hard and then sit up, a little winded.

“Where’d it go?” I look around the sauna, the floor covered in wooden boards.
“It went under that board there, I think,” she points.
Crestfallen, I plop down. “Now what?”
Undaunted, she rises and waddles over to where I am, “Here, let me help you. We can pick this slat up and I’ll hold it while you get it. Okay?”

She is surprisingly strong, lifting the large wooden panel up and holding it off the cement floor for me. There it is! I swoop down and retrieve it. Victory!

She starts to let the panel back down. “Watch your toes!” she commands.
I do. And we manage to drop the panel back into place.
“Wow! That was an adventure!” I exclaim.
“That it was. That it was,” she agrees.
“I never would’ve thought of using my fin if you hadn’t mentioned the stick.”
“Two heads are better than one,” she quips, settling back into her spot, sighing loudly as she tries to hook her bra.

“What’s your name, Dearie?” she asks me.
I tell her and then ask hers. “Vita.”
“Vita? Like in life?”
She stares at me blankly. “How do you spell it?” I ask.
“Oh, Veda. That’s pretty. Is it a family name?” I ask.
Shaking her head, she chuckles softly. “Nope. My mother had a hairdresser whose name was Veda and she liked the name so I got it.”
A hairdresser name inspiration? My niece is a hair stylist. I wonder if any of her clients will name their children after her?
I would. If I had children that is.

But today, it’s Veda and her two heads homesteading wisdom that inspires me. It's a good thing that I always carry my swim fins with me wherever I go. You never know when you’ll need a big stick, right?

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Whatever Factor

“You look to be doing well.” His eyes zone into mine, their beauty completely distracting me for a moment as I pause at the side of the pool. Damn! How can a guy have such beautiful eyes? You know, those long lashes, and in the pool, they’re glistening wet and slightly unreal. And then combine that with his ruggedly handsome (yes, I know this is cliché, but it’s true) jaw and cheekbones, and hell, I can barely speak. But I do manage a fairly passable answer, I think, with,

“Yup, today, is good. And look,” I wave at the near empty pool except for the two of us. “It’s our pool today!”
“I love the calm,” he nods, still gazing steadily at me. I’m finished with my swim, so am a little winded, but it’s mostly his focused beauty gaze that has me transfixed. Usually, I just hop out of the pool, but not today. This is way to enticing.
“Yes, it is calm. By 2 p.m.,, it’ll be mayhem.”

“Really?” he says like he has no clue of the schedule. Could this be? I suppose there are swimmers who just come to the pool when it fits their schedule with nary a glance at the pool schedule. Unlike me who builds my life around the pool schedule.

“Yeah,” and I go blah blah blah about birthday parties, and crowds of families and screaming children and he just continues to nod and stare at me.
I stop talking about the schedule and ask him about his injuries. A common topic of conversation at the YMCA. He has arthritis in both of his shoulders. Ouch! And didn’t swim for several months, but today I note that he’s swimming just fine.

“Yeah,” he says, “well, sometimes I kick and I get a wave of pain, but you know, it’s never gonna be the same as it was. Something happens at 50 and you just have to give that one up. It actually takes a lot of pressure off. There’s a freedom in it you, know?”

“Yeah, it’s like, I can’t swim as fast or as far as I used to, but at least I’m in the pool and I’m swimming so, whatever….”

He grins, and I’m momentarily mesmerized by his beauty again as he proclaims, “Yeah, it’s The Whatever Factor.”
“Exactly!” I agree. “The Whatever Factor. You reach 50 and it’s whatever you can do, that’s what you do and whatever it is it’s good enough and frankly who cares? You know, it’s ‘whatever’!”
He nods, deep in thought of my Whatever Babbling. And I guess that’s what’s great about being over 50. I mean what difference does it make if I can only swim 200 yards without my fins? Whatever. Or I can only swim a mile in 40 minutes. Whatever. Or, I can only stand at the wall chatting with Too Handsome Man for 5 minutes before I get cold.

Damn! This aspect of the Whatever Factor sucks, but at least I’ve had a chance to bask in his beauty for a moment.

“It’s nice talking with you,” he says, grabbing a kickboard from the deck.
“Yes, you too,” I try not to gush. What did DL say, Beauty is the ONLY distraction?
Thank goodness this part of being over 50 hasn’t seemed to diminish. If anything, my appreciation of beauty has become even more pronounced.

Why is that, I wonder? Is it because there’s less I can actually do so my imagination and appreciation of beauty is more vibrant? Or is it because I’ve started painting watercolors and writing a novel about art and dreams? Or is it because…

Oh, whatever! I think as I climb out of the pool and sneak one last glance at his manly kick down the lane.
That never gets old!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Hostile Lane Takeover

Okay, I’m the first to admit that I’m a Lane Hog. I don’t like sharing and I make it clear to anyone who wants to enter my lane domain. And, yes, I’m a little sneaky about it. I hog the middle of the lane, not quite blatantly, but you know, enough toward the center black line to make it loud and clear that NO ONE is welcome. My methods are obvious, but usually effective. I rarely share a lane, esp. at Hilltopia.

So, today, when I arrived on deck at the usually calm Sunday lap swim hour and every lane was full, I swore under my breath. Or not really, I swore out loud: “Shit.”

Ian had already grabbed the last empty lane and was casually putting on his red fins. I glared at him.

There was, however, an empty lane next to him. The dreaded ‘walking lane.’ Now, at Hilltop, the lifeguards are so low-key (or asleep) that they don’t care if swimmers ‘swim’ in the walking lane. (Unlike Oakland where the lifeguards will leap off their high chair, blow their whistle, holler, “NO SWIMMING IN THE WALKING LANE!!!”and send offending swimmers scurrying for cover!) So, today even though I avoid swimming in the walking lane at Hilltop I decided to risk it. If a walker got in, then I’d just scoot over and swim with Ian.
I climbed in. The water was luscious and calm. My new mask was NOT leaking. I swam one lap, turning at the wall, and headed back, thinking, okay, someone will get out of one of the other lanes and then I can swim over there. Till then, I’ll just make sure I watch out for the ‘walkers’.

Then.....a Square Woman entered my arena. She was, well, square. You know what I mean? As wide as she was tall, this woman in her skirted black and white suit from 1977, now stood in front of me. Naturally, I thought she was a ‘walker’ and I needed to move to another lane.

But, Lane Hog that I am, I stopped and asked her, just to make sure. “You walking?” I said, trying not to pause too long at the wall as she stared at me, seeming to comprehend my query.
“No,” she said, “I’m just looking for a lane to swim in.”

“Oh, yeah, well, it is crowded today,” I responded, thinking, whew, she’s not a walker, she’s gonna move to another lane. I will continue to get to swim in my own lane.

I swam to the other side, turning at the wall and saw her start to march toward me. Her squaredom swaying side to side in massive ownership of the lane.
Damn. She is a ‘walker’ after all. I’ll have to move.
And so I did, just popping under the lane line and joining Ian.

I was cranky. But what could I do? Ian didn’t seem to mind my joining him, but he’s not the type to say if he did, so…..I swam a couple of laps and then noticed, to my amazement, that the ‘walker’ was now swimming. In MY lane!

Shit. She’d just walked one lap to chase me out of the lane and then she took over. I couldn’t believe it! How goddamn sneaky was that? Is this what they mean by passive aggressive? Or was it just plain aggressive?
Or was she just an underhanded bitch?

I decided she was the last and seethed as I continued to share a lane with Ian while Square Takeover Woman blithely swam by herself down the center of the lane with no sharing in sight.
But then, hah! I real walker entered the situation, donned in walking shoes and no cap or goggles. Lane Takeover Woman was forced to abandon her stolen lane and SHARE with someone else on the far side of the pool. And it was supremely splashy and crowded over there where she was forced to swim now. Hahahahaaaaa!!!!

I grinned to myself underwater. Vindicated, I smiled over at the current real Walker Woman who smiled serenely back at me, completely oblivious to her role in my victory.

When Ian got out and I finally had a lane to myself, I swam down the center, directly over the heavy black line on the pool’s tiled bottom. Not even trying to be subtle about my Lane Hogging abilities.

Damn if I was gonna let anyone share with me for the last 10 minutes of my swim. And no one did or dared. My hostile don’t share my lane vibe was on high.

Yet, part of me has to hand it to Hostile Lane Takeover woman.
She pulled one over on me.
And frankly, that’s hard to do, esp. with a seasoned Lane Hog with no qualms about what’s rightfully hers!