Berkeley Y: Colder, Stranger, Harder!

It is such a tragedy! The week before PP goes on her big adventure to Indiana, (she’s been invited to partake of a writer’s residency at the Mary Anderson Center for the Arts—how cool is that?) the Oakland Y decides that this week before she leaves would be the perfect time to close the pool for the annual cleaning.


Now, PP considered talking to Management about postponing this pool closure till the following week when she’ll be in Indiana and so won’t miss the pool, but then thought, yeah right. Like they’re gonna listen to her. Even though the pool and its schedule should totally revolve around HER Life, she didn’t think the folks at the Oakland Y would really be amenable to this.


She has the option to go to the Berkeley Y during this week and today she did just that.

It was so weird!

First off, this isn’t the first time she’s been to the Berkeley Y—-she used to visit with her Ex, the illustrious Owen Hill, as a guest when it rained at Mills and he was a member. This was so many years ago, she can barely remember, but one thing she did remember was that the pool was COLD!!!

And today, she’d forgotten this till she stuck her finned foot in and OUCH!!! The water was freezing! Glancing over at the temps posted on the wall, 80 for the pool, 102 for the spa, PP was too lately reminded that she was gonna freeze during her swim. (How many times has she explained that while 80 degrees sounds warm and toasty, in the water, it’s definitely NOT, esp. when the pool is indoors and there’s no warmth of the sun to offset the frigidity of the water!)

Plus the pool was crammed with crowds of Sunday afternoon swimmers. Damn. This was what always made it hard. The goddamn circle swimming! And the coldness wasn’t just in the water temp, there’s a certain frostiness to the members at the Berkeley Y too. What is it about Berkeley? Too many intellectuals in one spot? They’re all competing for that piece of the University Pie and so when they get to the YMCA they can’t let it go for even an afternoon swim?

It’s hard to explain. When PP stuck her fin in, she gave a cheery “Hi” to the Scrawny White Woman already sharing a lane with a Young Shaggy Haired Guy.
“We are already swimming circles!” she’d snarled at PP.

Okay then. PP shakes her head as she watched SWW flail back down the lane. Her toothpick arms ghostly pale slapping on the blue surface of the water. (This is one nice thing about the Berkeley Pool—it’s blue. Why isn’t the Oakland Pool blue? It’s gray. Why is that? Is Berkeley a bluer place than Oakland? You wouldn’t think so, but poolwise, it’s so.)

PP jumps in after SWW, and plows speedily down the lane, almost running her over, she’s so damn poky. Of course, she doesn’t wait at the wall for PP to pass. No this is Berkeley. She just turns around at the wall, oblivious and smug in her scrawny Berkeley bubble.

PP zooms past her on the way back down, narrowly missing kicking her in the face. (Just kidding, but it was kinda close.)

But mission accomplished. SWW moves to another lane, allowing PP and the Shaggy Haired Guy to split the lane. Fine. This works for her and so she finishes her frigid swim with only the minor irritant of the cold steadily hurting her neck.

Thank goodness there is a Hot Tub here.

But here is where the Real Weirdness starts as PP basks in the warm bubbles, her neck finally beginning to de-tense.

A bouncing boy (here’s another reason that makes Berkeley hard—kids are allowed in the hot tub. What a stupid idea that is! PP won’t go into all the reasons why as it’s self-evident and Masterpiece Theater is on in 20 minutes) This kid gets in and starts jumping around spastically in the tub, not exactly shivering, but this is what occurs to PP. He’s been in the goddamn freezing pool for the last hour and so he’s jumping up and down to get warm. This makes sense, right?

So PP asks him, “Are you cold?”
He gives her an impish grin and says, “IT’s Symbol!”
Uh? It’s symbol? Is that really what he said? Did PP hear that right? What the hell could that mean? It’s a Symbol of what exactly? And what does the “it” refer to? The cold? The hot tub? PP’s query? And then what is the Symbol? The jumping? It’s a symbol of what? Obnoxiousness?

This is the best PP can come up with as the Symbol Kid’s dad? (He seems to be in charge of the kid, but they look nothing alike. The kid is dark, handsome, bronze Indian looking. The dad is an old shriveled Berkeley radical white guy with a gray braid trailing down his emaciated back.) But when Symbol Kid makes his proclamation to PP, Braid Man smiles beatifically over at PP like he’s sorry the kid is symbolic?

Hell, PP doesn’t know. All she knows is that it’s weird. And no one else in the Hot tub seems to even notice, let alone be the object of this kid’s goofball paradigm except for PP. (The tub is full of the usual Berkeley suspects. This means, 4 or 5 middle aged white guys with spectacles and paunches. Damn. PP missed Utopia mightily!)

Oh and this is the last thing that is so truly weird. When PP does find Utopia in the women’s locker room, it’s completely empty and after the crammed pool and Symbol Kid, this is okay. It’s peaceful and relaxing, taking the final edge off her neck pain.

But as she leaves the sauna, she pauses to read the list of rules posted on the door (there’s tons of rules posted everywhere at the Berkeley Y and she thinks this is true of Oakland too, but she’s just used to them now.) Yet there aren’t any posted on the Oakland Utopia, esp. this one: “Please refrain from conversation while using the sauna”


PP stood there for a moment in utter disbelief.... Can you even imagine such a rule at Oakland’s Utopia? Why she’d have nothing to write about! Not to mention the strangely draconian aspect to such a restriction.

All PP can say is she hopes the YMCA in Indiana is a little less strange.

Or at least the Symbols presented in the hot tub are a little less obnoxious!


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