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.”
“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.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Healthcare Hell!

Now that The People have elected a Misogynistic Megalomaniac to the Oval Office, I wonder….what the hell is gonna happen to all those 10 million plus folks covered by the Affordable Care Act?—Its repeal is on the top of MM’s agenda for his presidency. What the hell will I and all these others do without the subsidies provided by the ACA, otherwise known as ObamaCare? Sure, I have a Master’s degree, and I use those BIG words, but….even with this advanced education, I have no health care through my employers (yes, plural). Without these subsides, I won’t be able to afford the approximately $600 a month that Kaiser will charge me for the minimum coverage. Not to mention the fact that Obama Care did away with insurance companies' 'pre-existing' conditions mandates--this was another patently inhumane reason that insurance companies used to charge more for their policies.

Oh, and yes, I hear you skeptics out there. Obama Care is responsible for these big spikes in coverage this coming year. No! The insurance companies are! The greed and sliminess of these corporations know no bounds. Hillary Clinton, during her husband’s administration, tried to pass Single Payer Health Care, but the legislators blocked her efforts. Where would we all be if she had been successful? If her vision had been carried out?
Not in the position we are now! I, and everyone else, without the greedy monopoly of the health insurance industry, would be contributing to and benefiting from this single payer option without the hellish capitalistic stranglehold that the insurance companies now exercise.
I’ve been writing about and bemoaning the state of health care in this country for over 25 years (Check out “The Kaiser Stories”, Norton Corker Press, 1991), and truly believe that as long as insurance companies control our healthcare, our premiums will continue to rise and at some point, only the ‘elite’ (ie: RICH--aka Donald Trump--has he ever had to worry about health coverage? That's a rhetorical question, obviously) will be able to afford health coverage.
The employer based insurance now covers only what? 40%? 45% maybe 50 % of workers ?Without Obama Care, those of us, many of whom have insurance for the first time, will lose our coverage –this will cost everyone more for care that could be prevented with affordable insurance.
And so, I return to my original question, if Trump fulfills his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, what will happen to all of these millions of people who will lose their insurance?

I think he’ll have a lot of sick and angry people on his watch. Some of whom, I bet, voted for him.


http://www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts-and-features/fact-sheets/aca-is-working/index.html
Over 10

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Bubbly

“Some might call her ‘bubbly’,” DL observed as we made our way to her chariot after Utopia. A term of disparagement for us, ‘bubbly’ is what you need for the restaurant business. I’ll never forget the time I was the overworked, underpaid ‘hostess’ for Salmagundi’s on Geary Street and the manager called me into his office after a particularly harrowing noontime shift that I’d somehow weathered. I thought admirably. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go,” he informed me, slouching in his white dress shirt behind his formidable backroom desk. “Why is that?” I demanded, exhausted from the lines of demanding patrons. “You’re just not ‘bubbly’ enough”, he said, chewing on the end of his pencil thoughtfully. “You need that quality here. And while you performed well with handling the customers’ orders and cash, we do need someone….”

I didn’t need to be told twice. Pulling my green apron off, I tossed it on his desk. “No need to explain further,” I said. “I’ll just take my non-bubbly self out of your equation.”

I think DL has a similar story. I’ll have to ask her when next we meet in Utopia.

But for today, bubbly was in the air. The ‘Bubbly’ one DL was referring to was a ‘sous chef’ at Millenium, some chi chi restaurant I’d never heard of. But DL had been there. I was impressed! Bubbly Sous Chef went on and on about this and that. I honestly didn’t register much of what she was saying at all. Could be that I don’t cook (“We unfreeze and we cut and assemble,” DL had said) or that I was wiped out after my freezing cold swim and the much needed heat of Utopia.
The pool, too, was a bubbly place. While I could barely keep moving for the cold, a bubbly young woman with pig tails and bright eyes stood in the center of the end lane yapping at the lifeguard for 45 minutes. I swear. She just stood there! Talking! She was bubbly. She said this and that too. While I was swimming, I of course couldn’t hear her because of my ear plugs, but the lifeguard was giving her tips about when to swim, when it was least crowded, what circle swimming was, blah blah blah.
She was eating it up.
Her Boyfriend, or friend, or wanna be boyfriend, a scrawny pale dude, stood by her forlornly. He did look cold.
Miss Bubbly, on the other hand, was not.

Does talking a lot keep you warm, I wondered?
I think it might. Bubbly Sous Chef certainly seemed warm in her round animated nudity. I marveled at how much she could talk about her job, her college days, her interest in learning Vegan cooking.
All in 5 minutes!

DL shook her head as we climbed into Carmine.
“She definitely had the extrovert thing going on,” I said, quoting a favorite line from my friend Mary Anne.
“Yes, that she did,” DL agreed as she turned on the engine.
I sank back into the seat as DL pulled out onto Broadway. Relaxed in our silence for a moment, I sighed.
Thank goodness DL isn’t Bubbly, I thought, as she turned onto grey plusher street and headed toward my car….It is vastly overrated. At least from an Introvert's point of view!

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.”
“Really?”
“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?”
“Yes.”
“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!!!”