Tuesday, April 17, 2012


“Hi, can we circle swim please?”

He sighs audibly. They can hear it at the pools in China.

He rolls his eyes heavenwards. His eyeballs float to the ceiling, hang out for a moment, before drifting back down into their sockets.

Then he speaks, his beady beard moist and serious. “Really?” he asks.

“Really.” PP answers. “It’s not like I want to circle swim either,” she continues because, hell, no one does. Does he think she’d ask him to if it weren’t absolutely necessary? She waves at the crowded pool that is the Mayhem of the downtown Oakland Y. What the hell is going on? A Wednesday evening at 8:45. Usually she has to split a lane, but circle swim?


And tonight all the lanes but Really Man’s have 3 or 4 swimmers in them already.
“I can’t circle swim with him,” Really Man gestures toward Tortoise Orange Trunk Man. And yes, PP sees his point; if he’s swimming his ‘intervals’ super speedy, then TOR would be a hindrance. But that’s not her problem. Or is it?

“You need to get the lifeguard to manage the lanes. Get him out of here,” Really Man continues, boss of her.

She hates this. Who the hell is he to tell her what to do? Why the hell doesn’t he get the lifeguard over to manage the lanes himself?

But he doesn’t. Stands there staring at her. It’s up to her to action the situation.

“Excuse me, LIFEGUARD!!!??? “ she hollers. What else can she do? It’s 8:45; she only has 45 minutes before the pool closes. If she sits here arguing with Really Man any longer, she won’t get her swim in.

It’s a lifeguard she hasn’t seen before. Where’s Perky Russian Guard when you need her?

This lifeguard slowly slowly slowly climbs down from her Tower. She is so bothered.
And it’s PP’s fault that she must answer to her summons. Sauntering over, she stares at PP through her wire rimmed glasses, supremely bored.

“We need help with managing the lanes,” PP starts, pointing at Tortoise Orange Trunks. “He needs to be in a slower lane so that we can circle swim here at all the medium speed.”

Bored Guard nods and to her credit does shift swimmers around. A Super Swimmer Guy comes up behind her. She motions for him to join PP’s and Really Man’s lane.
PP climbs in, Really Man watches her. He is so ickee. But she has no choice but to swim in his lane.

Really Man starts and stops. He waits at the wall for her. Staring, motioning her to go ahead. Hell, why couldn’t he have just done this with Tortoise Man? What was such a big deal that he had to command PP to commandeer the lifeguard for lane management?

Obviously, it had been all about The Power. PP really hates this. She tells DL about it afterward, who shakes her head and confirms PP’s seething about being bossed around by some guy. “I hate that!” DL had announced to all the bubbles in the hot tub.

They both laugh. But PP thinks she shouldn’t have done Really Man’s bidding. Esp. when he wasn’t even swimming with the other swimmers—that starting and stopping annoying thing that interrupted everyone’s flow—but again, she thinks this was a Power Thing.

Why couldn’t he be more liked Super Speedy Man? Who was sweet and cute and very accommodating.

Such a contrast to Really Man.

PP hopes that she never sees or swims with Really Man ever again.
But if she does?

She’s gonna make sure she swims REALLY slow. And blocks his way. And waits at the wall and then right when he comes to make his turn, she’ll take off in front of him….
That would be so damn fun.


Sunday, April 08, 2012

Only in Berkeley

“How ya gonna keep your book dry?” She chuckles good-naturedly, almost winks at PP.

They’d shared a lane together. Have already exchanged pleasantries about how pleasant the other one is in the water: “I like swimming with you,” Good Natured had said when she’d climbed into the tub, PP already basking in the heat needed waters.

“You don’t splash.” PP had made the same reciprocal compliment, with GN saying how she’d been in the pool the other day and this man was splashing so much that another woman had actually gotten out of the pool. “I try to be considerate. Not splash,” she laughs. “But like my mom used to say, if you don’t want to get splashed, stay away from the pool.”

So true, yet PP always selects the least splash-likely candidate to share a lane with. And today’s GN had been a winner.

So, now, in the tub, Book Boy barely deigns to answer the book stay dry query. He’s reading Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath after all (only in Berkeley), an endeavor that is way above chitchat in the Berkeley Y’s hot tub. (PP’s here cuz of Easter; both the Oakland and Hilltop Ys are closed.)

He peers at the two women above the quality paperback, “I can keep it dry.” PP thinks, Yeah, I bet you can. But doesn’t say this, just nods as GN starts listing Steinbeck’s entire canon. “I haven’t read that one,” she shakes her head, mystified at herself. “My favorite is In Dubious Battle. (PP loves this) But, of course, there’s, Of Mice and Men, The Winter of Our Discontent, and .....”
“I have to admit that East of Eden is my favorite,” PP interrupts. “I’m a sucker for the big soap.”

Book Boy is pointedly ignoring them at this point. As to be expected.
She laughs. “Oh, yeah, I love that one too. Have you been down to Salinas to his house? They’ve built a new museum there. It’s fabulous.”
“No, no, I haven’t.” PP shakes her head.
“You should go. It’s completely renovated. And then I remember we went up to their ranch in Fremont. Have you been there?”
“No, I didn’t know he had a ranch in Fremont.”
She nods, knowledgeably, as only Berkeleyites can do. “Yup, he and his sister used to play Lancelot and Gwenivere there.”
“Really?” PP is beyond delighted at this tidbit of Steinbecken Lore. She never knew this fact, though it made sense. Didn’t he write a book about the King Arthur? She seems to recall this, but then her brain is a bit water logged at this point so she doesn’t bring it up. GN doesn’t pause for a breath anyway.
“They took the dog there. Charlie.”
“Oh,” PP gushes. “That Travels with Charlie is really my favorite. I adore that book.”

She nods, “Yeah, I’ve heard it’s a good one. I haven’t read that one either. But he and his sister and the dog used to go up there to Fremont, play Lancelot and Gwenivere. It musta been beautiful then.”
She pauses, transported to Fremont in the days of Steinbeck’s Round Table games. PP nods. “Yes, I bet it was.”

“You Native Californian?”
PP smiles, “Kinda. I grew up here.”
“Yeah, me too, sorta. I actually was born in Brooklyn, then we moved to Penn, then to Calif, then back to NY, then to LA again. We hadda pool growing up. That was the life. Getting outta bed at 11 a.m., having your girlfriends come over, lounge around the pool all day. All the neighborhood kids would come over. Mom would bake cookies and make Kool-aid.” She sighs.

“Yup, those were the days.” she continues. “My mom was always a good sport about having all the kids over. But hey! Better to have your kids in your own back yard than running all over tarnation.”
She chuckles. PP tells her how her mom did the same. Tells of the kids that sat on the embankment above their pool, craning their necks over the fence, pining for an invite to join in the fun, till finally, PP’s mom told ‘em to come on over.
GN nods, “Well, you have a good rest of the day,” she float walks out of the tub. “Time for the Steam Room. I tell you, it’s like a Country Club here.”
PP laughs with her, watching her languid round middle-aged stroll weave around the pool to the locker room.

“We must be on the Same Path!” PP laughs as she spies GN getting dressed in the same aisle as her locker.
“I’m going to Grocery Outlet next. You headed there?” she chuckles.
“Nope, got my shopping done already.”
“Yeah, I decided to go after the Y. Otherwise, I got the cold stuff sitting in the car.”
“Yeah, my ice cream’s safe and sound in the freezer.”
PP decides this means that she likes ice cream. Even though the ensuing discussion of Edward Abbey and The Biochemical Blah Blah Blah of the Brain books belie a taste for sweets.
“So many books to read, so little time,” PP laughs through the cliché.
“But we still seem to find the time to watch TV.”
This also delights PP. So many Berkeleyites view TV as the next Anti Christ. “What do you watch on TV?” PP asks.

“Oh, I watch a lot of stuff. Lately it’s Dancing with the Stars.”
PP is beyond delight now. She loves DWTS? In Berkeley? But yet, this is what happens. These intellectuals, downing their carrot juice in mini Perrier bottles (GN had already shown PP this innovation), reading heady sciency non-fiction about the Brain, listing Steinbeck’s entire oeuvre, but yet, they still like DWTS!!!!
Only in Berkeley.
“My name’s Denise, by the way.”
PP almost keels over. Her name is Denise! How perfect is that! She’ll have to tell DL about this Berkeley Denise who adores Steinbeck, Ice Cream and DWTS.
Only in Berkeley!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The A-Word

“I hafta admit that I played the Lotto yesterday.” Friendly Asian Water Walker leans over the lane line, confidential. PP grins, considers taking out her earplugs, but still had 200 yards of warm down to complete. If she takes them out now, and tries to reinsert them later, they’ll leak. So she opts for fuzzy hearing instead.

“My mother wasn’t very happy about it.” FAWW rolls her eyes. “I’m like, MOM! It was only a dollar! But my brother…..” She leans in closer to whisper to PP, “He well…. He has a gambling problem. It’s an issue. In Taiwan.”

She pauses, thinking.

PP wonders if she’s thinking whether she should be telling family secrets in the pool. Or maybe she’s just trying to figure out how to explain her brother’s issue with gambling?
So PP nods, “It’s part of the culture, isn’t it?” she offers.
FAWW nods slowly, considering. “Yeah, you know, you’re right. It is part of the culture. But my brother. Well, it’s just that he had money and friends they take advantage, you know?”

PP isn’t sure how this connects to the gambling issue, but she’s learned to be patient when collecting stories at the pool.

“He had friends that he leant money to, and then they said they were gonna pay him back but of course they never did. You have to watch out for that. For people that take advantage of you. Like I have this friend. Well, she was a friend,” FAWW chuckles softly, shaking her head, “and she doesn’t drive and so she wanted me to take her mother shopping and when I told her, ‘No, I can’t do that,’ well, she got really mad at me and called me the A Word.”

FAWW sighs.

PP wonders what the A Word is. Asshole? Is FAWW so polite that she can’t say this word? Or again, is her refusal to ‘swear’ part of the culture? PP remembers this from all the teaching she’s done with students from Asia, Taiwan in particular, that this sort of formal politeness, this hesitancy around speaking ‘profanity’ was part of their culture.

Today, in the pool, there’s something kinda sweet and refreshing about FAWW’s refusal to say the A-Word that PP can’t help but like.

But maybe she is simply upset that her former friend called her The A-Word cuz she refused to be taken advantage of, and so she couldn’t say it?

PP decides this last possibility might be the case since FAWW seems like she’s processing the whole loss of friendship situation. So, she suggests, “Yeah, well, that’s a lot to ask someone to do, take their mom to the store. I’m sure you have better things to do with your time. But mostly you don’t need ‘so called’ friends calling you The A-Word.” PP uses her nomenclature to build rapport in the pool.

“Yeah, you’re right. I don’t need that.” She frowns, then shakes her head. Then a relieved smile breaks out. “You’re right. I do have better things to do. Though I’m retired now. Are you retired?”

PP laughs. “I wish! I’ll never retire!”

FAWW joins in the giggle. “Really? I thought maybe you were retired.”

“Nah, I’m just on a break this week, so I’ve been able to swim in the middle of the day like this.’

She nods, “It’s nice, huh? To swim at this time.”
“Yeah, it sure is.” PP glances up the empty lane, the sun shimmering through the windows, sparkling tiny diamonds on the water, puffy white clouds glancing across the blue blue sky.
“But just cuz you’re retired, doesn’t mean that you should be carting around people’s mothers. I guess people just think you have all this time to run their errands for them, right?
“You’re single right?” FAWW asks.
“Yup. So, yeah, single people get taken advantage of too.”
She nods, taking this in. “No kids?”
“No, well, I have the 3 cats.”
She chuckles. “Oh, I love cats.”
“They’re my substitute family.”
“I can’t have them though. Allergic.” FAWW sniffles, then breaks into a grin. “Well, I better let you get back to your swimming. I talk a lot! You need to finish, right? You glide so effortlessly. I am always so jealous!” She laughs, shy now.

Later, in the parking lot, FAWW comments on PP’s fluffy pink sweater, “That’s cozy.” Touches it, leaving her hand a little too long on PP’s forearm?

Or is this PP’s imagination? That the question about her being ‘single’ in the pool before was nothing, not a come on or a checking her status sort of situation at all. But just part of the general dialogue around single retired women being taken advantage of?

Yet, PP had to admit that she would be flattered. If FAWW had a bit of a crush on her. Not that she’d do anything about it. FAWW was attractive and smart, but not really PP’s type.

PP unlocks the Geo as FAWW heads over to her plush grey Toyota, pops open the trunk and starts rummaging through its contents. Climbing into the Geo, PP plops down, sighing, unwrapping a granola bar, and watches in tired happiness as three puffy white clouds drift across the blue blue sky.

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...