Thursday, December 20, 2012


“Were those your daughters out in the pool?” Penelope asks the round friendly woman who has sat down next to her in the sauna. The two sisters had been having a blast earlier while Penelope was swimming laps. In fact, the lifeguard had even gotten into the act, a rarity at the Y. Coaching the girls to swim, with commands like: "Just one more lap! C'mon, you can do it!" The girls had been game. Laughing joyously, jumping, swimming, arms flailing. Not exactly lap swimming, but then, they were just kids.

Beaming, the woman nods, “Yes. They love it! My middle daughter, she has asthma, and it’s the only thing I can get her to do.”

“I had a friend who had asthma,” Penelope responds, shifting to sit up. “She started swimming, and after awhile, it actually improved and then, finally went away. Swimming is such a great exercise.”

“That is really good to hear,” Asthma Daughter Mom sighs. “Her doctor wasn’t so sure about swimming, but my daughter needs to do something. She’s on this medication, steroids, and it is not such a good thing. She won’t diet. I tell her, just smaller portions, and she gets so mad at me!” She sighs again, dramatically. “The steroids, they make it so hard for her to lose weight. I am so glad she likes swimming.”

“Yes, swimming is just the best!” Penelope agrees, drying out her cap and preparing to head out of the sauna. Her long swim had been good, but now she needed food. Swimming does that to her. Makes her ravenous. “I was swimming before I could walk!” she jokes.

“Really?” ADM stares at her, smiling slightly.
“I’m just kidding, but almost. It really is the best exercise and it’s something she can do her entire life.”

“I hope so. I just don’t know what to do with her. She needs to lose weight. And I’m hoping with the swimming that this will help, but the main thing is she loves it.”
Penelope nods, of course she loves it.

Swimming is Nirvana.

Later, drying her hair, Penelope spies The Asthma Problem Daughter. She’s busy at the counter, drying her own dark tangled locks, arranging Hello Kitty hair products on the counter for her little sister. “Tonight I brought some Hello Kitty Spray for our hair,” she tells her sister in that Big Sister Explanation Tone. “Would you like to try some?”

Little sister nods, reaching toward the Product. APD grabs it before lil’ sis can, “Here, let me do it for you!” Big Sister commands. And she does, spraying the pungently sweet teenage product all over her sister’s hair, the aroma filling the blow dried air.

Penelope wants to try some too. But knows that this would be too intrusive upon Big Sister’s Show. Or maybe not? Maybe Big Sister would be happy to do Penelope’s hair?

Somehow, Penelope thinks not. And tempting as it is to ask, she resists.
She watches as Big Sister sprays the product, then tenderly combs it through her sister’s wet hair. She’s serious. And authoritative.

It is her Salon.

Penelope smiles in spite of her usual abhorrence for children in the Women’s locker room taking over the hair dryers.

It’s the Sister Thing. And it makes her remember her little sisters and how much they played in the pool together, played house together.

She’s going to see her sisters soon. For the Christmas holiday.
Maybe she’ll bring some Hello Kitty Hair Product to do their hair.
Now there's a Christmas present that's sure to please....Hey, sisters? Are you game?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Such a Spirit

“I just wanted to let you know....” Sandy has tapped Penelope lightly on the shoulder, leaning in close, speaking softly. What’s up? Penelope wonders. Has Sandy ever touched her before? Something serious is wrong.

And such a switch, now that everyone has left Utopia, the atmosphere still chuckling at Sandy’s hilarious story of the Booger Swimmer Film. “I was staying at this hotel and went downstairs to the’d like this, Penelope,” she nods toward her, swigging another gulp from her water bottle, “all the machines were facing the deep end of the pool. It was a huge glass wall and the deep end of the pool was right there for all to see. And in comes this man with a video camera and sets himself up right in front of the deep end view and I think to myself, You gotta be kidding me! What a You-Know-What.....and then in comes this woman in this too small bikini and again, I think to myself, Lady you should NOT be in that suit. And she goes and gets into the pool and lo and behold, she is a mermaid. Her hair flows behind her in lovely waves, her too small suit doesn’t matter, in fact it enhances the entire situation, as you know Fat Floats, and all the while her husband is video taping her....”

“How did you know it was her husband?” Penelope interrupts, kinda wishing it’d been a porn movie with some smarmy director.

“Oh, they had spoken of this and that and such and it was obvious they were staying at the hotel on their honeymoon and this videotape of her in the pool....well, you get the drift, but anyway, he’s taping her and she’s swimming toward him like an Underwater Goddess and all of a sudden this giant train of booger comes oozing out of her nose and he keeps taping but he’s cracking up and she has no idea.....” Sandy had shaken her head, “Well, you can imagine my mirth around the situation.”

And everyone had. DL had laughed the longest and loudest before taking herself out of Utopia before Penelope as per usual. Too hot. Leaving Penelope alone with Sandy.

So now, when Sandy has touched Penelope with this seriousness, the lingering laughter in Utopia has a strange unreality.

Had she just told that Underwater Booger Story?

“I just wanted to let you know,” Sandy repeats softly. “Suzie passed last week.”

“Oh....” Penelope sighs long and sadly. Of course, Suzie had been so very sick. The last time Penelope had seen her, Suzie had stood, hunkered over her wheelchair outside the sauna, completely skin and bones, literally, wracked with a cough that went on for several minutes. Women kept stopping by her, asking her if she was okay, and she had smiled between hacks, waving them on, “Oh, yeah, I’m fine. It’ll pass....” Laughing in spite of her death hacks.

So now, when Sandy has told Penelope that Suzie has ‘passed’ (What does that mean anyway? To where? Penelope knows it’s just a euphemism for dying, but it seems so banal....with no substance around the fact that here is a person, alive and well or alive and sick as in Suzie’s case, one day, and then the next....She’s gone. Where did she go?)

“She was such a Spirit!” Sandy nods emphatically, dousing herself with water.

“Yes, that’s for sure,” Penelope agrees. “The last time I saw her she was very sick and.....” Penelope’s voice trails off. What to say? It wasn’t like she knew Suzie very well.

“She taught me more ways to say the F-word than you can shake a stick at!” Sandy chuckles, gathering up her towel, water bottle and flip-flops.
“I bet!” Penelope grins, thinking of all the times she had any interaction with Suzie. It was always a story.

The first time she saw her, Penelope had marveled at the Jesus Tattoo and the hole in her side. “Yup, got myself shot up ‘bout 15 years ago. That motherfucker paid for it I can tell you!” Suzie had laughed, easing herself into the hot tub, the Jesus Tattoo on her hind side disappearing into the bubbles.

“You have such a Big Heart!” Suzie had said to Penelope one day, out of the blue for no apparent reason. “I do?” Penelope had answered, the bubbles of the hot tub churning across Suzie’s skeletal brisket. “Yup. I can tell. I can feel it. You got yourself a Big Heart. I can feel it.”

And the time that Penelope had just had the skin cancer treatment on her forehead; it had caused a horrid red rash all over. Penelope had tried to hide it with her cap, her towel, but Suzie had seen it and asked what it was, “Oh, it’s just some treatment for skin cancer. Nothing really,” Penelope had answered, and really it wasn’t though it felt like it. Suzie had nodded and gazed at Penelope with Huge Brown Compassion Eyes. “You got the same road to tow as me. I get it,” she nodded, seriously.

And Penelope had just shrugged, thinking how there was no comparison between skin cancer and being shot and being on dialysis and having multiple surgeries and losing a lung and whatever the hell else Suzie had had to put up with.

But Sandy was right. She was such a Spirit. And Penelope will miss her so.
She’ll miss her bright giggle as she tries to put on her too tight orange tights.
She’ll miss her offerings of grapes and bananas and apples even though Penelope was too scared to eat them.
She’ll miss her wisecracking and her brightness and yes, she’ll miss her cough too. Even though that cough scared Penelope, it showed she was still alive.

And now?
She’s passed.....
“You can tell DL later,” Sandy murmurs as she floats out of Utopia. “I woulda told you earlier but I didn’t want to spoil your swim.”

Spoil her swim? Sandy's comment was so fitting somehow. After the Underwater Booger Story and then letting her know about Suzie's Passing.

The two extremes seemed a perfect end for Suzie somehow.

She woulda appreciated the Underwater Booger Story.
Penelope can hear her cackling now.
Outside the sauna.
Through the locker room.
Into Penelope's soul....

Sunday, November 04, 2012

It Is So Sad....


“I just wanna find me a rich husband to take care of me and my baby girl.” Gold digger Teen giggles, fiddling with her lavender bra strap.
“How old’s your baby now?” her friend asks, tossing a long brunette braid out of her face.
“She’s gonna be a year in 3 months! Can you believe it?”
“No, wow. It beena year?”
“ much do you weigh?”
“I’m 128. Can you believe I was 161 when I was pregnant? I was hella fat.”

They both giggle. Penelope closes her eyes, soaking in the sauna’s heat and eavesdropping. How old are these girls she wonders? And one of them has a baby? Shit. They seem like babies themselves.

The door of the sauna creaks open. Penelope opens one eye, turning her head toward the door. Water Walker Night Nurse floats gently in, sighing softly, and plops down in the dark corner next to the girls. Penelope smiles over at her, but isn’t sure Night Nurse sees.

“You still have that restraining order 'gainst Alfonzo?”
“Yeah, he beat me something awful,” Gold digger Teen sighs loudly. “I know he don’t mean nothing by it, but I just couldn’t take it. And my baby girl. I can’t let her grow up round him.”
“Did you hear about how Rosa hadda leave her grandma’s house cuz Jimmy raped her?”
“No, really?”
“Yeah, it wasn’t her fault. I think she just was in the wrong place at the wrong time, you know?”
”Oh I do,” Gold digger Teen exclaims. And Penelope thinks again, how old are these girls? And the lives they live. Beaten and raped and then shrugging it off in the Sauna at the Y.

It was way too much for Penelope to process, so she closed her ears. She has this ability if she really puts her mind to it. She has to think of something else. If she thinks of nothing, then she just goes back to eavesdropping and frankly who wouldn’t with this conversation going on in such an intimate space.

And it went on for awhile. There was talk of grandma’s house being robbed. “I don’t know how anyone could do that to an old lady. Now she really paranoid and don’t wanna answer the door or nothin’.”

There was more talk of domestic abuse, but Penelope really couldn’t handle this. Exposure to such violence at such a tender age upset her, esp. since she was so tired and hungry after her late night swim. Her defenses were down. She felt like she should say something, interject some words of solace or advice, but what the hell could she contribute to such a conversation? Her overwhelming disbelief?
How would that help? Should she suggest they seek professional help? Social services or.....?


Penelope had no clue.

And so she kept silent. The girls got too hot, and giggling, head out. “I need a shower hella bad!” Gold digger Teen announces, pushing open the door.
“Yeah you do!” her friend agrees, following her out.


Penelope sighs audibly in the now quiet Hilltopia.

“Did you hear that?” Night Nurse asks, sitting up on the edge of the bench at the opposite side of the sauna from Penelope. “Well, how could you not?” she laughs softly.

“Yeah, it was pretty upsetting,” Penelope sits up too, shaking her head.
“It is so sad,” NN stares down at the dark cement floor. “They are so young. To have that kind of abuse in their lives. I don’t know what to say.”

“Yeah, they were really young. And one of them has a baby. Were you here when they were talking about that?”

”A baby!?” NN cries, stricken. “Oh no. That makes it even worse. For a little baby to grow up in that kind of atmosphere. It is so sad....” She shakes her head again. “The times have changed since we were that age,” she continues. “Why we would never have such things happen to us in my family. But I know that things are different today. Kids today experience such sadness.....”

Her voice trails off and Penelope thinks about NN and how she has a daughter of her own. Maybe her sadness wasn’t just for these girls, but for her own daughter? Why Penelope thought this she couldn’t say. But it seemed like NN was just so so sad; that her emotion was caused by something deeper than overhearing these girls' nonchalant narration of their abuse. For Penelope, it was just this nonchalance that was so chilling. Like being raped and abused was just part of life, part of being a young girl in a world of violent men. And for these girls, this could be true.

Penelope shivered in spite of the 120-degree surroundings.

“They were talking about rape and killings. People shooting each other!” NN exclaims. “Did you hear that?”
Actually Penelope hadn’t heard that part and was glad she hadn’t. Was this the part she’d tuned out? Or was it something that NN thought she heard?
Nodding, Penelope ventures, “You must see life and death all the time in your line of work.”

”Oh, yes, I do. But it is different. People come to hospital and they are sick or they are old and we try to help them, but if they die then it is their time. We tried to save them. But these girls......” Her voice trailed off. “It is so different......they are so young.....”

Suddenly, Penelope feels an overwhelming need to get out of here. Her heart is pounding and she’s feeling lightheaded.

“It is so sad.....” NN says again.
Penelope agrees. Says she has to leave. Has to eat.
“Oh, yes, of course,” NN smiles, waving her out. “It is late. I need to go too.”
“See you in the pool next time,” Penelope murmurs as she opens the sauna door.
“Yes....” NN says vaguely, staring into space now, the giggles of two teenage girls drifting in softly through the open door.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


“Is she okay?”
DL gives Penelope that worried look, her eyes magnified big and round behind her steamy glasses.

The woman in question has been giving soft moans as she moves slowly in front of one of the jets of the hot tub. It could be pleasure. It could be pain. It could be nothing.

But a moan is a moan.

“You okay?” Penelope calls out to her, eyeing DL for support.
Another moan. This one sounds like a mix of pleasure and pain. “Oh, ooohhh….oh…..ahaaa….mmmmmmm……”

Penelope waits for a few seconds, then gets a response in words, “I’m okay. It’s just my back. My scapula. Since the accident I been in so much pain, but today I ordered me up a Juicer. And oh I just can’t wait. I’m gonna get me some spinach and some kale and some berries and juice juice juice.”

Penelope and DL both grin broadly. She’s okay. Just dreaming of her juicer evidently. Penelope hopes that she doesn’t combine all of the listed ingredients in one smoothie. Spinach? Kale? And berries?

“I’m like a kid with a new bicycle,” Juice Rapture Woman continues. “I can’t wait for that juicer to get here. I gained all this weight. Over 100 pounds. The doctors. They just wanta throw pills at you for the pain. But I had enough of that. I’m gonna get me this juicer and I’ll show them. I gotta get this weight off.” She smiles serenely, visions of spinach and berry juice floating over the hot tub.

“That’s so great!” Penelope grins while DL nods, enthusiastic. “And looks like you’ve been swimming too!”

“Oh yeah,” JRW nods, her round soft face beaming. “I just started that in August. Then they closed the pool and I said oh no not that! But now it’s open again and I’m starting up.”

“Swimming is the best!” Penelope preaches.

“It is. I was just lying around all day. Depressed. My therapist telling me this and that. And I tell her this and that and then I think, Why am I paying you to talk about this? I’m just gonna go out and do something. I’m gonna turn this thing around. After the accident, I worked for the Telsa Plant in Fremont and hurt my back in 2003 and 9 years it’s been 9 years and I gotta turn this thing around. That juicer. I tell you. I gonna get me some Anika Berries. They make you lose weight I heard and some spinach and kale and mix me up some juice and I wonder if it comes with a recipe book?”

“Most things like that do,” Penelope interjects.

JRW nods, “Yeah, you’re right. Most things do.”

“Or I’m sure you could find some recipes on the internet. Google has everything.”

Snorting, JRW nods, “That it does. That’s one good thing about life today. You can find almost anything on the internet. I need to get me some recipes offa the internet. That’s a good idea.”

She moans again, shifting back and forth in front of the jet. “That feel so good.”

“The healing power of the water,” Penelope offers.
“You said it. That it is.”
“And juice,” Penelope adds.
“I feel like a kid with a new bike.”
“It’s Christmas in October!” Penelope jokes and they all laugh. DL, JRW joining in Penelope’s silliness.

And all is okay. With JRW. With DL. And with Penelope.
As long as she doesn’t think too much about what spinach and kale and berries juicetopia would taste like.

That would not be okay. At all!

Sunday, October 07, 2012


“Where did you get that most excellent purple cap?” Penelope asks as she finishes tucking her hair into her ordinary Speedo cap.

“Tee hee!” The Lovely giggles, pleased. “Isn’t it great? I can’t remember exactly, but I think down at Transports on College.”
Penelope nods, remembering her former life on College Avenue. Frequenting Transports was part of this life. Yet she doesn't remember any such caps.

The Lovely I’s was vintage layered scallop. You know the type. Thick rubber with little layers of rubber leaves folding upon each other. And it was, as already mentioned, an enchanting purple hue (The Lovely I’s favorite color---Penelope knows this cause when she used to car pool to Mills with the Lovely I and picked her up at her cute house, it had lavender trim. Penelope had commented on this fanciful dress. The Lovely I had nodded, admitting proudly of how purple was her favorite color.)

So, now admiring this purple cap, Penelope is taken back to pictures of Esther Williams, swimming her graceful backstroke, big smile plastered on and a scalloped cap holding her locks inside.

“It’s a Classic Old Lady Swimmer Cap,” The Lovely I had grinned. “I for one can’t think of a better thing than becoming an Old Lady Swimmer. In fact I think I’m well on my way. This summer at Mills, when all the kids were there with their mothers, it’s always their mothers, isn’t’ it? I noticed that these mothers were REALLY YOUNG! I used to see them, it seems not so long ago, and think how they were my contemporaries, but not anymore. I am well past the child bearing years.”

“Thank God!” Penelope exclaims.

“Yes,” The Lovely I agrees, “you and I do definitely agree on That One.” She stares for a moment, pensive, into the mirror as Penelope tucks the last lock into her own cap and begins the earplugs insertion process. Soon she won’t be able to converse anymore, but she does want to finish the Old Lady Swimmer musings.

Sighing, The Lovely I smiles serenely into the mirror, before picking up her enormous gym bag and hefting it over her Lovely shoulder. The Old Lady Swimmer musings seem to be over.

Yet as Penelope finishes the earplug insertion, she considers the Old Lady Swimmer Pronouncement and its preference over other Old Lady Considerations. Or at least this is how it comes across to her.

She doesn’t want to think of herself as an Old Lady ever. It’s so depressing. There’s such a stigma in our culture against being old, esp. for women. Old Women are obsolete. They can’t bear children, they’ve lost their beauty, they serve no purpose.

But yet, she guesses that if she does become an Old Lady, if she makes it that far, then yes, being an Old Lady Swimmer is the way to go. And swimming, she’ll predict, will do much to combat this stigma against old age and what it means. What one can do.

For the beauty of swimming is, Penelope is certain, that she’ll be able to swim her whole life. Even if it means swimming more slowly, with fewer yards, and in less time.
She’ll always swim.

So, when Penelope pictures herself and the Lovely I 20, 30, 40? years from now she sees them still swimming laps in a blue blue pool. The Lovely I will, of course, still be lovely, and she’ll still be swimming albeit at an old lady pace? She will sport the Lavender cap and be quite pleased to be doing so.

She’ll smile and sigh happily after her swim and continue to make pronouncements on this that and the other thing (Penelope had told her about the Black Adonis as her nurse. The Lovely I had been suitably impressed, but then had told the story of how she’d once tried to talk with him at Mills and ‘Well, I hate to say it but he was kinda boring. You know, the Hot Guy. The Hot Guys don’t have to try.”)

Hot Guys don’t have to try?

Hell, Penelope is betting that Old Lady Swimmers don’t have to try either. They’ll just be naturally entertaining.

Esp. if you’re an Old Lady Swimmer with a Classic Old Lady Cap.

Purple, of course. And excellent, no doubt.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

New Neural Pathways

“It’s good to swim in different pools,” the Lovely I beams over at Penelope as she adjusts her goggles. “It carves out New Neural Pathways.”

Penelope grins, delighted. It’s so wonderful to have the Lovely I here at the Hilltopia pool with her. Just like old times. What with the Lovely I’s pronouncements echoing across the lanes as the Rusty Hinges start to fill up the walking lane.

“What are the Rusty Hinges?” The Lovely I had asked Penelope earlier.
“You’ll see,” Penelope had teased. Later she’d explained how she thought, at first glance of the pool schedule, that Rusty Hinges was the name of some aquatics instructor. It was only later that she’d learned that it was a special class for arthritis sufferers.

“That is so great,” The Lovely I had giggled when she’d told this story, sincerely appreciative of the different interpretations of a pool schedule.

Penelope still remembers taking the Lovely I to water therapy at the Albany pool after her fall from a horse. Broken pelvis. Penelope can’t imagine the pain. Gallbladder surgery is nothing compared to some kinds of pain.

And water therapy did the trick then for the Lovely I and was doing the trick for Penelope now after her surgery. Today was the first day that she’d felt no ‘pulling’ at her wounds. (She didn’t know how else to describe it. It wasn’t pain exactly but a strange tightness around the small incisions in her midsection.) She’d adjusted her swims accordingly. More kicking with the fins (no butterfly kicks yet though); less freestyle without the paddles; more backstroke of all things. (Penelope is a horrid backstroker but for some reason this stroke didn’t ‘pull’ the way the freestyle did)

Was she carving out New Neural Pathways as a result of these ‘adjustments’?

What did the Lovely I mean by this anyway? That when one is in a new pool, the old habits had to be adjusted? At Mills, the Lovely I had one routine, and here in Hilltopia she was being forced to create a new one?

How different could it be?

You got in the lane. You swam up and down. You counted your laps or timed your swim.
How did this change your neural pathways?
Of course, being the Lovely I, her Neural Pathways are very sensitive and creative. They must notice any teeny weeny difference in routine or situation. And this ‘difference’ was a good thing.
Penelope gets this. Her new routine with adjusting her swim was Neurally Challenged.

She had to THINK.
And this is what she wanted to avoid when swimming.
So, maybe this idea of it being a good thing to swim in different pools has to be tempered. It isn’t something you’d want to try all the time.

At least not if you’re a creature of swimming habit like Penelope.

Or the Lovely I.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Black Adonis

“Are you a swimmer?”

Penelope had been watching him from her hospital bed, her post anesthesia drug haze providing a questioning filter. Yet, she was almost certain. It was he. The Black Adonis. From Mills College pool.

He would sit under a big tarp, in his black Speedo (yes, he could pull it off; most guys, esp. at Mills where Pasty Academics reigned, were better off in the floppy Hawaiian print shorts)

But the Black Adonis, for this is what he was, well.... much swooning took place at the pool for all the non-Lesbians.

Under his tarp, in his black Speedo, he’d be reading. Penelope was never sure what. She imagined it must be Homer or Melville or......something Big and Bold and Manly.

For he was a Manly Man.

And now....?
He’s a nurse?

What kinda of Manly Man is a nurse?

A real Manly Man, that’s who.

When she’d come back from recovery, he’d been there, donned in his green nurse fatigues, helping to lift her from the recovery bed to her hospital one, his hands strong and gentle, his voice soothing and calming. “That’s right. Easy does it. You’re okay....”

And Penelope had allowed herself to be lifted, the pain dulled from the meds, thinking, Is this the Swimmer from Mills that she knew?

Yet at this point, she’d been too out of it to ask. So when he came back in to take her blood pressure (it was so low! perhaps the only benefit from surgery), she’d asked him, “Do you swim?”

He’d smiled, shyly, “I swim at the Berkeley Y.”

Penelope thought about this for a moment, “Yeah, maybe I’ve seen you there. (She sometimes braved this Y when all else failed. It was way too cold and cranky for her though.) “But did you used to swim at Mills?”

He removed the cuff from her arm, “Yeah, I used to.”

“Me too,” Penelope had laughed softly. “If you can believe it now!”
He grinned, “Sure, sure, I remember,” he chuckled. “We all look a little different out of our swimwear.”

You can say that again! Penelope thought, imagining him in the Speedo under the tarp reading Homer.

She’d never really spoken to him during all the time she swam at Mills. She did remember one time when he’d come over to join the pow-wow at the Hot Tub. Penelope didn’t recall what he’d said. In fact she doubted that she’d remember anything he said.

His body....

It was a work of art. Tall, muscular, strong. Many swimmers, even those in ‘shape’ had imperfections.

But not the Black Adonis.

He was a God and that day at the Hot Tub, Penelope probably just stared.

She was prone to that when presented with a fine specimen.

So, today after her surgery, when the Black Adonis had lifted her out of her bed, she’d thought, Hell, maybe my stay in the hospital isn’t gonna be so bad after all.

And it hadn’t. Thanks to The Black Adonis.

And her sister, Laura, whom Penelope never will ever be able to repay.

They’d gone for one last swim the day before her surgery, like a ‘Last Meal’ before the execution was how it had felt. But her sister had been happy for a swim. So this day after, the day when the surgery was over and they were still in limbo over the results, (not to worry now--the Path Report came in a few days later--all was benign--whew!)Penelope lying in bed, a haze of drugs swirling around her consciousness, the previous day's swim seemed like a dream.

Later that evening, sis had gone home, exhausted from the day of waiting and reading. Dashingly Handsome BF had stayed late; they were watching Animal Planet’s show about the Tortoises of Australia. TBA had come in for the last BP check and had stayed for a moment to watch a giant tortoise, swimming in the blue green waters off the Great Barrier Reef.

“Swimming!” Penelope had pointed, giggling, the lasted batch of pain meds working oh so well.
He had nodded, serious and thoughtful, taking a moment from what must a horrendous job, going around to all of the post surgery patients and taking their vitals every 15 minutes.

“They are beautiful,” he murmured, watching the tortoises swim effortlessly through the murky greenish blue.
“Yes, they are,” Penelope had agreed, thinking how lucky she had been to survive her surgery. To have DHBF here at her side and her sister with her and, yes, The Black Adonis, sharing an Animal Planet Moment.

Maybe getting your gallbladder out wasn’t so bad after all.

Esp. if you find yourself, oh so thankfully, in the hands of an experienced swimmer.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Sicilian Poets

“LN, this is DL. DL this is LN. Fellow Sicilian Poets.”

It was love at first sight. Or would the Italians call it Amore Instantaniosa? In any case, Penelope watched in rapt wonderment. How could two total strangers be simpatico upon first meeting?

The two Sicilians beamed at each other. One gracious and soft. The other shy and warm. “LN wrote that book that I loaned you,” Penelope continued to DL, who barely nodded as she continued to gaze at LN. (The Public Gardens, Linda Norton, Pressed Wafer Press)

“I loved your book,” DL’s eyes shone behind her wire-rimmed glasses, beginning to steam from the hot tub’s warm bubbles?
Or for another reason?
An Italian reason?

“Oh,” LN murmured, genuinely touched, “You don’t know how much that means to me. You made my day.”

The two women gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes. Penelope expects Tony Bennett or Maria Callas to start blasting through the intercom system of the Downtown Oakland Y. (And okay, Penelope just googled Maria and found out she's Greek, not Italian, but you get the idea)

“Where are your people from?” LN asks.
“They’re from....” DL sings a beautiful Italian Town name that Penelope has never heard of. But of course, LN knows it and nods.
“Where are your people from?” DL asks LN, who answers with a similarly indecipherable town in Sicily.
Penelope wants to participate and tell how her people are from the suburbs of LA, but knows this isn’t the time or place.

The two women continue to talk about their people, their mothers and grandmothers. The land and the food and the music and the shoes.

Okay Penelope just made that last part up, but you know what she means. Italians. There’s something about Italians that makes Penelope swoon. She doesn’t know exactly why.

But it could be the shoes.

“I want to include you in our conversation,” LN nods toward the Interloper who’s been standing too close in the tub to their situation.

Penelope has been pointedly ignoring her for the 10 minutes that the Sicilian Poets have been sharing.

Because she had been the blob of Penelope’s lap swim this night. A Big Fat Square Blob floating down the middle of the lane, completely blocking Penelope and Graceful Powerful Swimmer.

They’d both just gone around Square Blob. She was so completely clueless from the moment she entered the water. “Can you circle swim?” she’d asked at 9:10 with only 20 minutes left.

Penelope could tell from the get go that she was trouble. Big Trouble. Big Square Trouble. 5 feet tall. 5 feet wide.

Before either Penelope or GPS had a chance to say anything, Big Square Trouble had jumped in, and started floating down the middle of the lane. Penelope would not call it swimming. She was like a lump of molasses in Jell-O. It was unbearable. And with only 20 minutes left.

It was impossible!

So, now, when Big Square Trouble had intruded upon the Sicilian Poet Love fest, well, Penelope was cranky. She oozed her hostility at BST, but to no avail.

She was already telling her story of being a goddamn Russian Immigrant and sharing a similar experience to the Italians except that the Russians thought the Italians were fascists and in fact they were for a time there weren’t they what with Mussolini and all.

Penelope did not want to hear about Mussolini.
She wanted to hear about grandmothers on the shores of Sicily baking bread and crying songs.


But LN and DL didn’t seem to mind. They just continued to beam at each other; once in awhile, LN would nod an encouragement to Square Woman till finally she announced that “We could all stay in the hot tub all night and exchange these marvelous stories, and I’m all for that, but it’s time I said good night.”

And so she did, giving DL one last loving gaze and inviting her to contact her.
“She’s on the Facebook,” Penelope had offered.
“Yes,” LN had laughed softly, “It’s all so easy now.”

And this is exactly what it was all about when in the presence of Italians, isn’t it?

That ease of being. That way of welcoming.

And the shoes. Penelope still thinks those spike heels covered in expensive black leather have a lot to do with it.

Sunday, August 05, 2012


“Have you heard about Mark Spitz’....” Sandy stops herself in mid-question, shaking her head, laughing.... “I mean Michael Phelps’ Pressure Chamber?”

“No,” Penelope grins, “I haven’t. What’s that?”

“It’s this chamber that he goes into to simulate very high altitudes. Like the Swiss Alps and such.”

“Isn’t that Cheating?” DL asks, sitting up from her usual prone position in Utopia.
“One would think,” Sandy continues. “But evidently not.”
“How does it work?” Penelope asks, thinking of course DL is right. Stupid Michael Phelps is a Cheater. His lungs are not his own but instead are some monstrosity by-product of a torturous pressure chamber.

“He goes into this chamber, and like I said, it simulates very high altitudes, and practices breathing very thin air. It must increase his lung capacity. That way when he’s swimming, he can use this increased lung capacity in order to have an edge over his competitors.”

“Sounds like Cheating to me,” DL nods.
“Yeah, me too. How is that fair? Do other swimmers have access to such devices?”
”He’s been able to keep it under wraps. In other words, he doesn’t advertise it.”
“Yet you know about it.”

“True, true....” Sandy grins, pleased. “But you bring up a good point about its fairness, DL. I hadn’t thought of that.”
DL lies back down on the bench, sighing. “It does seem like an unfair advantage. I wonder how much such a chamber costs?”

“Precisely,” Sandy nods. “He’s got the capital to purchase either the chamber itself or buy the time he needs to spend in it.”

Swimming Class Situation, Penelope thinks to herself. Phelps must have millions of dollars to his name at this point in his career. What with those 20 some odd Olympic medals, he’s set for life.

So, why, when he loses a race, is he such a Big Baby Head? (Penelope owes this title to her sister, Snart)

Cuz that’s what he is when he loses. When he came in 4th in the 400 IM and Andrea came running up to him, shoving the microphone in his face, he could barely speak to her. “What happened out there Michael?”

“I dunno....I.....” Michael shakes his head, stunned.

Penelope thinks this must be it. He’s just not used to not making all of his Goals.

After his last race, the 4X100 IM, where he'd won Gold with the help of his teammates, Bob Costas asks him if he’d reached all of his goals.

“I know you came to these games with a very specific set of goals in mind,” Costa jabs. “I’m just wondering, did you meet all of those Goals?”
Phelps shakes his head, laughing, “The goals were met.”

“But did you meet all of the goals that you set at the onset?”
Phelps gives him a steely look, “All of the goals were met.”
He won’t answer the question about what exactly the goals were. i.e.: to win 4 gold and 3 silver? Or to win 7 gold ? Or....?

And Penelope has to wonder if Phelps’ brain was maybe pressurized too much in that Swiss Alps Chamber. Wouldn’t that lack of oxygen affect the brain too?

So much so that the articulation of goals eludes one?

Nah, Phelps is just being a Cagey Asshole.

Penelope is so glad he’s retiring. Give someone else a chance to shine in the next swimming Olympics.

Someone cool, a woman, like say, Missy Franklin!

She doesn’t need a Pressure Chamber to increase her lung capacity. Her lungs are all natural. You can just tell, don’t you think?

Go Missy.
Good-bye Michael.

And never forget Mark Spitz.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Part II

“We have good news for you....”
PP waits on the other side of the phone for good news? About the Geo?
“Congratulations! Your car passed smog.”
“You’re kiddin?” PP jumps up and down in front of her big sunny window, barely able to contain herself. The Geo passed smog? With the Check Engine light on?
Good News Auto Boy continues to explain just how this happened. PP doesn’t care. She’s just so relieved. The Geo passed smog. She can go pick the car up. Mail in the registration.

And go to the pool.

So, when she floated out on deck for the 4:30 to 7:30 Lap Swim (yes, this is what the schedule said), she was on Cloud 9. Or 10 or 11.

So so so happy to have the Geo pass Smog and not have to worry about it for another two years.

Yet, there was a tiny voice inside that nagged her. Why aren’t the lane lines in for the entire pool? she wondered. What if there’s a repeat of Pool Pandemonium from Tuesday with Attitude Bitches, Chicken Lifeguards and .....

PP’s Pool PTSD was rising in spite of reassurances to herself that this was Lap Swim time. Till 7:30. No such untoward situations should arise.

But yet....

As she hopped into the pool, she couldn’t quite shake her uneasiness. In spite of her Elation around the Geo. In spite of the present peace that prevailed.

It happened.

Slowly at first. She noted a small family. Mom, Dad and kid. Mom wearing her Hijab in the pool, climbed in first. Giggling as her clothes became saturated, she slowly started walking down the non-lane lined side of the pool.

Not lap swimmer was she. (PP had every confidence that no way could Mom do 20 laps.)
Then Dad climbed in while the kid just raced back and forth on the deck, from the equipment storage unit to the side of the pool, handing his parents kickboards, pull buoys, and floaty units. Laughing, screaming and running (Hey, wasn’t there ‘no running’ on deck?)

Okay, she thought. Maybe the kid was just gonna hang out on the deck while the parents did their ‘laps.’

After all the equipment had been procured, the kid jumped in, screeching on cue.

PP stopped swimming her laps in mid-lane. Glances up at the Clueless Lifeguard who’s sitting dully on her stand.
“Excuse me” PP calls to her. “But isn’t it Lap Swim right now?”
Clueless stares at her, her look saying what? Huh? It’s Lap Swim? Was it only perplexity? Or was it stupidity? Or even fear?

She doesn’t answer PP but goes and gets her co-worker, a Guy, of course, who stands over PP, arrogance oozing out of his tattoos.

“It’s Lap Swim now, right?” PP repeats. “There’s not supposed to be families in the pool till 7:30. (It was 5:30 at this time)
Arrogance Tattoo Guard shakes his head. “There’s not a lot of people here. She (Clueless Guard) didn’t know. You’ve got your own lane.”

PP starts to shake, standing in the water. And it’s not from the cold. “The fact that I have my own lane, at least for now, is beside the point. The schedule says it’s Lap Swimming and so therefore, everyone should be swimming laps, and no kids are allowed. I plan my entire day around this schedule. I don’t understand why you don’t honor the schedule. What’s the point of having a schedule if you don’t adhere to it?”

“Hey, Lady. Chill out!” Nosy Walker Man stops in the lane next to PP to admonish her for her unreasonableness, shaking a scrawny finger in her face. It takes every ounce of PP’s control not to yell, “Fuck you!” But she refrains, knows when she’s being ganged up on.

And the fact that it’s two men against one woman does not escape her notice.

ATG continues, empowered by Nosy Walker Man’s support? “The Lifeguard has the authority to make changes to the schedule. When there’s not a lot of swimmers swimming laps then it’s up to the Lifeguard’s discretion to let in rec swimmers. If you read the fine print, you’ll see that.”

“Are you Fucking For REAL?” PP wants to scream this, but again, doesn’t. Why not?
At this point, she’s afraid that she’s going to be kicked out of the pool for causing a disturbance. Even though she’s right.

Because, no way does it say anywhere on the schedule that Lifeguards have the Authority to make Capricious changes to the Lap Swimming hours. She did check later.

Later she’d told this story to the Lovely I, who’d been suitably incensed. “What is it with Young Pricks treating middle aged women like this?” She proceeded to share her own such experience with a YP at her camera store treating her like she didn’t know what she was talking about, how she was making up the problem, the general tone being, Lady you are a pain and you don’t matter and we’re not gonna listen to you and what are you gonna do about it?

And that’s just it.

There’s nothing that PP could do about this Pool Situation at this point, but back away. Still shaking, she dove under the water, swimming as hard as she could to get away from Young Prick.

Being a middle-aged woman is hard enough what with your loss of estrogen, youth and sex appeal. And this is precisely why, PP thinks, that middle-aged women get treated like they’re invisible. Because they are.

Sure she’d heard this before—it seems so cliché and dramatic.
Yet, in fact, her experience this week proved the cliché to be true.

And so, she did finish her swim, but her shaking didn’t stop until she got out, stood under the shower, and then lay down in the sauna for a good long while.

She was hot now. And more than a little bothered.

Chill out?

PP has a long way to go before she’ll ‘chill out.’

Young Pricks beware. Esp. if she can prevail upon the Lovely I to join her at Hilltopia.

Mad as Hell!

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” Remember that line? Remember that movie? Network , right? What was everyone so ma...