Thursday, January 05, 2017

What I can do.....

“The boiler’s out at My Club. So, I’ve been swimming here.” Sandy refrains from the wry face that I know is under her noncommittal mug. She’s swimming at the Oakland Y! Wow! In all the years that I’ve been coming here, I’ve never known her to swim at this pool. Why?

I bet it’s not as nice as her Club! That’s why! And, yup, sure enough, details are forthcoming. “I’ve never slid off the wall at My Club like I do here.” She leans toward me, conspiratorially, quiet not to bother anyone else in Utopia. DL is on the bottom shelf, zoned out? Can she hear us? I bet not. And why would she care? Tonight, it’s all about swimming!
“What do you mean?” I ask now about the sliding off the wall phenomenon. I can’t fathom her meaning whatsoever.
“When I turn at the wall with my fins, there’s this oily slickness to the wall. The fins slide off….”
“Oh….” I have no clue what she’s talking about. But I believe her that there’s some sort of slick film on the walls of the Oakland pool. I don’t want to think about it too much though. It’s kinda gross, right?
“And this is the first pool I’ve swam in where I can’t see the end of it from one side to the other,” she harrumphs.

This I know. The water is a murky mess here. I assume it’s from all the chemicals they have to put in it for you know what, which is what Sandy brings up next.
“I told a friend of mine that the kids all pee in the pool here and when she didn’t believe me, I said ‘Yup, believe it. The parents take their kids into the pool, tell them not to pee, but as soon as the kid hits the water, out it gushes.’”
She nods authoritatively.
“That’s why there are so many chemicals,” I offer. “To counteract the pee production.”
“You got it,” she agrees. Then continues with her Oakland Pool analysis: “I was swimming here and someone just jumped in without cluing me and hell, I almost had a head on collision.”
Cluing me in---I love this term! And the swimmers here at Oakland are so clueless! Perfect word choice, Sandy!
“Yeah, I’ve had a few collisions in this pool.”
Sandy shakes her head at the travesty of it all. DL gets up and wobbles out. I know she’s okay; she just gets hot before I do and has to exit. Pronto.

“When will they fix the boiler in your pool?” I ask.
“You know, I don’t know. My Sugar, he’s in Boiler Distribution, and I told the folks at My Club I could hook them up with him. Get them a good deal. But I haven’t heard back. They probably can’t get their shit together to take advantage.”
“Yeah…” Only Sandy would have a channel to boiler repair price reductions. The rest of us, if the pool’s boiler breaks, we just whine and then swim somewhere else till it’s fixed.

“You could swim up at Hilltop,” I suggest.
“No. Too far. I’d have to get on the freeway.”
Does she not drive on the freeway? This is a revelation. I know people who don’t like driving on the freeway. I get that. They're hellacious! My friend JL says the speed makes her nervous. But still, I think she will drive on the freeway if necessary.
I guess swimming at Hilltop isn’t a necessity for Sandy. Or the freeway is too much of an impediment? She doesn’t seem like the type to let a freeway stop her from the pool. But I’m learning so much about her tonight that I can’t contain my glee.

“Besides, I need to get in the pool by 3 and that won’t work,” she continues.
I nod. I wonder what happens after 3? Does she have to be home in time to field the calls about the Boiler?
“Well, it’s 20 to,” she rises, picking up her soggy towel, not wrapping it round herself. She’s completely at ease here, naked, in Utopia. Her kingdom.
But the pool?
Not so much.

I wish I could coordinate a swim with her here at the Oakland Y. I bet she’s serious.

“See you out there,” she ambles out, the towel slung over her shoulder, her swimmer’s legs carrying her to the showers.
I follow, thinking about boilers, slickness and cluelessness.

And, for a moment, Sandy has helped me to forget my earlier distress over the imminent installment of Trump. I’m even out of adjectives to describe his heinousness. But earlier, with DL, I was in a tailspin. Bemoaning to her my fear of losing my healthcare, getting sick, going to emergency rooms, wages being garnished till they’re used up, losing my house…..
I’m feeling very very scared. And I know that I’m not alone. Others feel this way too. Yet what can we do?
DL says do what I can. Sign petitions. Talk to friends. We can make a difference.

Yet, I can’t shake the horror of what’s to come. And so, I will sign petitions. I will talk to friends. I will write my blog.
What else can I do?
Swim, Carol, swim.
This I can do……

Wednesday, January 04, 2017


It’d been a cold swim. A hard swim. But now, a done swim. Whew! Here at the Encinitas YMCA they keep the pool a frigid ‘competitive’ temp. I am NOT competitive! I need warmth. And so, I plop down in the sauna, the heat a welcome embrace after my non-competitive swim.

I close my eyes. The talk of the two women with me in the sauna floats in the heat. Something about India. Something about holidays. Something about celebrations.
It’s that post-Christmas lament. Is that what I mean? Do they want more holidays here?
I open my eyes. They both smile over at me in the close quarters. Then continue on with their discussion. “In India, every week is a holiday.”
“Yes, I know what you mean.”
“Not like here where we have this big holiday and then bam. No holidays till when?”
“Valentine’s day?”
“Is that a holiday?”
They both crack up. I grin. Decide to join in. “The same was true in China,” I venture. “There was always a celebration. Parades. Balloons. Fireworks.”
“Yes, India too.”
I nod. Is one of the women Indian? I can’t tell in the dark. And frankly it doesn’t matter. I don’t know either of them. I’ll never see them again. There’s something freeing about this. I can say what I want without worrying about future interactions. Not like I really worry about this anyway in the Bay Area.

“Lots of fanfare and bright lights,” I continue.

One of the women nods, suddenly serious, “We need light. Especially now…..”
Her voice trails off and we all sit silent for a moment. I don’t answer. Know that she’s referring to the darkness that has overtaken our country since the King of Bigotry and Hatred has been elected. And now his reign is only a few weeks away.
We do need light!
But how?
I am thankful for these two women, voicing this wish. And here in San Diego, I am pleasantly surprised. I had the impression that there was a large percentage of the populace here that may have voted for the King of Hatred. Trumpland. It is here in San Diego?

Evidently, it’s everywhere. He did ‘win’ the election.

But for a moment, I can revel in a small sanctuary of this Encinitas YMCA sauna. No Trumpland here.
There’s light in the darkness here.

And for this I am so very grateful.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas shopping, Poolphoria and Breathing.....

“Have you finished your Christmas shopping?”
Sandy guffaws in classic Sandy fashion, “You mean, have I started it?”
DL laughs softly, relaxing on the bottom shelf of Utopia. I grin, positioned next to Sandy on the top shelf. A silent Asian woman lies on the other side of me. I don’t gauge any reaction from her. Maybe she’s asleep? Maybe we’re disturbing her? Maybe she’s in the Utopia sphere of floating heat?

“I mean, I don’t do much shopping anymore,” Sandy continues. “Christmas is for the little ones, right? And if people get me stuff, well, I don’t regift it, but I do give it away. I don’t need any more stuff, you know? Though if my Sugar got me one thing, it better be 3 karats ---he can afford it!”
Not knowing what 1 karat looked like, I couldn’t comment on 3, but it sounded like a lot. And the number 3 is a good one!
“How was your swim?” Sandy asks me.
“Oh! Another Poolphoria,” I exclaim.
She nods even though I’m sure she’s never heard my made up word before.
“You had your own lane?” she asks.
“Yup! And the water was a toasty 83.5 and the lifeguard let me swim an extra lap after the 9:30 whistle.”

“Excellent! I’m glad.” Sandy always is so affirming. When she says ‘I’m glad,’ she really means it!

“Thanks,” I say. “I didn’t think I was gonna even make it here tonight. The parking! It’s from hell! If it hadn’t been for Neesie hailing a hipster dad in his Subaru station wagon to see if he was leaving his space, I woulda left.”

“I understand,” Sandy nods. “I did get a space, but I had to be aggressive. It’s good you’re leaving on a high note.”
So much here, I think. The aggressiveness of getting parking places lately just wears me out. I get so frustrated. Last week, I drove around for 20 minutes and finally someone left and I went to back into the spot and someone behind me tried to drive in it front ways and I had to just keep backing up, nearly hitting him, before he left.

It’s exhausting!

But the idea of leaving on a High Note—this is vital! I had left work today on a Low Note—no need to bore you with the details—and so leaving the Y on a High Note, and, of course it’s cuz of the pool, well, it revitalizes me. I am hopeful again. Anything is possible.

Even Christmas shopping!

Well, that might be going too far. The powers of Poolphoria only have so much reach!
And then Sandy’s on to the next topic. Something about ‘warming up to a hissy fit’—her Sweetie knows the signs and can head the fit off at the pass if he’s paying attention. (You know, by getting her that 3 karat gem!) And then her enviable ability to ‘cat nap’. “I know. I’m blessed,” she admits. “I can fall asleep when I’m just resting, sitting in a chair, for 20 minutes or so, and then… breathing, it can change? You know? I am asleep and then I’m conscious of my breathing and it wakes me.” Her eyes glisten in amazement.
I nod. Of course, it’s all about the breathing. In the pool. In your sleep. In your dreams.

I think if I concentrate on breathing then I can weather the Christmas shopping, the hellish parking, the
bitter job strife.

I’m going to try it now…..breathe in….breathe out…..breathe in…….
Nope. I need to go to the pool. Pronto.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers at the Pool Purrs Blog!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Forever 30!

I was in a mood.
Still seething after the man (of course it was a man and a tall man!) upstairs at the weight machines refused to let me ‘work in’ to the machine he’d been monopolizing for over 10 minutes. I had asked nicely. He had refused rudely. I stormed away. Dumped my wrath on sympathetic fellow gym woman (“You know, you could have reported him. That’s not what the Y values are about!” she’d harrumphed.) Good to know. But I wasn't in the mood today.
And so, as I prepared for the pool (I really hoped Mean Machine Monopoly Man wouldn’t be in the pool! Or I’d drown him in my territory!), I turned on the shower and damn. It was so cold! Grrrrr…..Brrrrrr!!!!
A stocky Asian woman was down the shower row from me. She nodded, smiled, motioned for me to come to her shower. “Here, you... this one…” she offered, no nonsense.

“Oh thank you!” I murmured gratefully.

The women were starting to restore my faith in the Y as a place to feel safe and work out.
And as I walked out on deck waving at the super nice lifeguard (also a woman), I started to breathe again. A swim would help. The pool was nearly empty except for Shower Sharing Woman and Ian. (Who, granted is a man, but he's a NICE man!)

Everything would be okay.
And it was.

I dove in. Kicked mightily. Swam and swam and swam. 45 minutes later, I’m kicking and notice that Shower Sharing Woman was resting at the wall, watching me. I smiled over at her. She gave me the thumbs up.
I love this!
Laughing, I finished up, resting for a moment at the wall, stretching, chatting to a colleague from work---another blog—and then heading into the sauna.

Shower Sharing woman was there. In the dark, a striped towel ensemble covering her instead of her sack-like swimming costume. (And yes, it was a swimming costume!) She grinned over at me. Gave me another thumbs up. Pantomimed a strong arm like Popeye the sailor-man after he ate his spinach.
“How old are you?” she asked me.
How am I? is what I heard. “I’m fine. How are you doing?”
She looked at me deeply, shaking her head. “How old are you?”
Oh, yes, Chinese culture—the first question is always, “How old are you?"even though in American culture you’d never ask a middle aged woman this. Age is so taboo. We live in a culture of youth equals beauty. But today, I don't care.

“I’m 58.”

Her eyes widened. She shook her head back and forth, amazement spilling out of every pore. “I thought!” she began. “I thought you 30!”
“You thought I was 30 years old when I was swimming?” I asked, incredulous.
“Yes, yes. 30! You strong!”
“Wow! Thanks, you made my day!” I exclaimed.
She cracked up.
“How old are you?” I asked her.
She counted on her fingers. “I... 62…63….” she decided, grinning.
“I thought you were 30 too!” I proclaimed.

Hilarity bursts forth from her. She leans against the sauna wall, the gales of laughter spilling out of her.

“We are both 30 when we are in the pool!” I assert, delighted with this new found revelation. How cool is that? The pool is the fountain of youth. We are forever 30 if we could just stay in the water!
And if I were 30? Damn, I coulda let that Mean Machine Man have it, right? Thirty year old women are more assertive? Aggressive? Or hell, if I'd been 30, maybe he wouldn't have treated me the way he did. Dismissed me the way he did. Or maybe not....maybe he would have been smarmy and ickee.....and sexist and....

Oh, who cares!

I’m just going to stay in the pool, stay 30, keep laughing, and never stop swimming.
Forever 30.
That’s me! And Thumbs Up Asian Woman. Who has the spirit of youth and joy to spare....

Thursday, December 08, 2016


I am in heaven! The pool is warm: a toasty 83.5 degrees. And……oh my god! Empty! Not only do I have my own lane, but there are only two other people in the pool when I arrive for my swim. Lavender Capped Bikini Woman in the far lane and Handsome Walking Man in the walking lane.
I step out onto the deck, amazed. Make a sweeping arm gesture at the empty pool. Handsome Walking Man chuckles, hollers out to me: “It’s all just for you!”
And it is. I dive in. The water’s warmth is perfect. I glide through my tiredness. It is euphoric. And then I think, no, it’s Poolphoric!
I swim and swim and swim. With every lap I expect more people to arrive, jump in, flail about, create chaos. But they don’t. Poolphoria prevails!
As I kick my last lap, I call up the lifeguard, “Not that I’m complaining, but I wonder where everyone is.”
He nods, “Yeah, I wondered that too. There were only 2 of you. I thought there might be 6.”
Why 6? I wonder, but don’t ask. Are there 6 lanes? Maybe. I’ve never bothered to count. Maybe he thought there would be one person in each lane. Instead there’s just ME by the time 9:30 rolls around and it’s time to get out.
As I pop my cap off, and shake out my wet hair, I tell him my new word. “You know the word ‘euphoria’?” I ask.
He shakes his head, “No….” He hasn’t heard of euphoria? Well, maybe there isn’t a lot of euphoria working at Target during the Christmas rush or life guarding at the Oakland Y. Though he has a euphoric spirit about him with his dazzling smile.
“Well,” I explain, “it’s the feeling of heaven. Of joy. Of everything being just so perfect. Like my swim tonight. I couldn’t believe that no one showed up! So…..Poolphoria is the euphoria in the pool that I experienced tonight.”
He grins, “Okay….” He laughs, radiant in his bemusement around word creation.
“I made up a new word!” I joke.
He grins, “Are these your personal paddles?” He is scooping up my equipment to put away for me instead of making me take it back myself. Such a gentleman!
“No, they’re yours.”
“Oh, great, thanks!” he says. He is so darn cute. Like he’s appreciative that I don’t lie and say they’re mine and steal them?
“You have a nice rest of the night. See you next time,” he waves goodbye.
I head into the locker room to tell DL about Poolphoria. She’ll definitely know what it means. Even if she isn’t a swimmer. Poets make up words all the time. And tonight, I am the Poetess of the Pool!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Damn, I Wish the Lifeguards Would Ask Me Favors More Often!

“Excuse me?” The bashful, sweet, and definitely cute lifeguard is talking to me? The lifeguards here at the Oakland YMCA pool NEVER talk to me. What’s up?

I grin, nod encouragingly. “Could you do me a favor?” he asks, his voice and demeanor shy, hesitant.
He is so adorable. Of course! Anything, I think. I say, “Sure.”

“There are these neon rings that the kids left in the bottom of the pool and I couldn’t get them to pick them up. I can’t reach them.” He stands on the deck, hands spread in a dramatic shrug accompanied by a dazzling smile. “Would you mind going back in and retrieving them for me?”
I’d just gotten out of the pool at the 9:30 whistle and so now my earplugs were out, my cap was off, my mask wet and used. But, hell, for him? I’ll jump back in.

“No problem,” I answer in the millennial vernacular. “Anything to stay in the pool longer!”

He laughs, watches me hop back into the pool and starts to direct me to each ring’s location. “There’s one over there,” he points out one orangey one at the bottom of the first lane. Since I’ve taken out my earplugs, I have to retrieve them with my foot. This is hilarious as I try to grab the ring with my toes and then flip it up and out of the water. But voila! I’ve got it. On to the next one.
He points out all the rings to me in the first lane and then notes that there are some in the next lane over. Damn. How am I going to get into that lane without going underwater and getting water in my delicate ears?

Climb over the lane line? This is strictly verboten, but maybe under the circumstances, it’s okay to break the rules. All in the name of Ring Retrieval.

And so I do: push the lane down, clamber over it most ungracefully I’m sure, and then pop into the next lane where I can repeat the foot toss up retrieval process.

There are a LOT of rings! I mention this to him. “Yeah, like I said, I tried to get the kids to pick them up but then their mom said they had to get outta the pool and get dressed it was time for bed and so….” He shrugs.

Well, he tried.

And, it’s a fun project for me on an otherwise uneventful Wednesday night swim. No Soft and Shy Muslim Swimmer tonight. No super speedy Korean Women to gawk at. So, the Ring Retrieval delights me.

Plus the water is warm!

I finally retrieve the last one and hand it up to him; he bends down to shake my hand, introduce himself. “I’m Tyrone. And you’re?”
“Carol. Well, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.”
I climb out of the pool, satisfied with a job well done. Probably more appreciation for this job than all the jobs I’d done all day!

“Are you new here?” I ask him as I head toward the locker room.
“Nah….I’ve been here since……” He pauses, counting on his fingers. So cute! “5 months since July.”
“Okay, well, that’s pretty new. I haven’t seen you here before.”
“Yeah, well I work at Target in the afternoons before I come here and sometimes I work at night and can’t make it.”
Ah, another part time multiple jobs worker. The wave of the future in the next generation that started with my generation. At least in my field, that illustrious one of part time adjunct faculty.
“Bet it’s pretty busy at Target this time of year,” I comment, knowing full well from my years of retail how the holiday hoards descend.
“Oh, yeah!” He nods at me again, grinning that dazzling smile.

And so, we part. I head into the locker room, eager to tell DL of my adventure. Who is suitably excited. She starts to list the possible titles for this blog. “Ring Retrieval Situation” or RingTrieval Situation” or…..

I think I’ll call it “Damn, I wish the Lifeguards would ask me favors more often!”
Yes, perfect, don’t you think, DL?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Sanctuary Pool

Her energy was soft and shy. As I sat on the edge of the deck, waiting for the lifeguards to put in the lane line, I watched her paddle toward me. Her black hijab covered her head and neck, her arms and legs were completely covered in long black fabric. It billowed around her in mellifluous magnificence. How did she swim, I wondered?
Yet she did. Just fine. Her hands paddling in quick dog paddles, her body floating flat behind her, legs kicking straight and true.
Stopping to rest at the wall, she raised her mirrored silver goggles off to rest on her forehead. Gave me a sweet smile.
I smiled back at her, then gave the lifeguard the thumbs up as he snapped the lane line into place. “How you doing tonight?” I asked her.
“Okay,” she murmured, her eyes gazing at me in softness before she pulled the goggles back over them.
“We can just split the lane, okay?” I suggested. “You can take that side and I’ll take this one.”
She nodded, then paddled off, her black fabric swimming costume floating around her in soft waves in the blue water.
I had wanted to delay her. For a moment. To ask her, really, how are you doing? Have you had any trouble the last two weeks after the election of the Racist Preacher of Hate who has vowed to send all of her kind back to where they came from. Or round them up and place them in internment camps. Or line them up and shoot them….
Did I make that last one up?
I think so, but this is the climate of hate and violence that has swept across the land since Trump’s election and his appointments of racist, white supremacists to his future cabinet.
What will become of her? I worried for her. I worried for my friends that had been victims of hate and violence: DL had been the victim of hate. A woman calling her a ‘fag’; DL’s supremely genius response of ‘Oh, honey you have it wrong, I’m a Lesbian’. And then, the woman spewing more ugliness at DL and no one surrounding DL did anything to stop it.

To me this is the most appalling and unconscionable aspect of the current violence that the Preacher of Hate has inspired. The hate of ‘others’ has always been there, but those that hated, that feared were ‘more cordial’ about it as one of my students labeled it. She told me of women, young Latinas who had been hit by hate crimes and abuse. A woman on BART. A woman walking down the street in Alameda.
And this is the Bay Area!
We like to think that we’re better than this. That this sort of hatred towards others that are different than us doesn’t exist here.
But it does.
And I am so upset and sorry for this.
As I swim next to this young woman tonight, each time passing her, her black scarves floating in wavy beauty under the water, I think how hard it must be for her now. How she must fear for her safety and those in her family in these horrid times.
I’m so glad, though, that tonight, she’s here. Safe in the waters of the Oakland Y’s pool. With her mirrored racing goggles. Her soft, strong energy.
And her smile that assured me, ‘I’m okay.’
I hope she is. I really do. If she could just keep swimming, here at the Downtown Oakland Y, and never get out of the pool, she’d be okay.
As long as I’m swimming next to her. I’d brain anyone with my fins who dared to harass her. I would hiss and spit at them. I would call for help.
I wouldn’t stand by and watch like those stunned? Fearful? Ashamed? people in DL’s experience.
At least I don’t think I would.