Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Yoshi and Baby Food

“Did you see that woman that just walked past?”
P cranes her neck to try to catch a glimpse of the woman Sandy’s pointing out. All she can spot is a bright orange and pink swimsuit?

“Was she in the pool?” P asks, thinking how she must have been. It seemed like the entire Y population had been in the pool that night! P had even ventured into the ‘walking lane’ and gotten away with it for 10 minutes since the lifeguard was in total “Bump on the Log Boredom Mode”. Then walkers had appeared and she’d had to move.
To circle swim with 4 swimmers! At the Oakland Y? Hell doesn’t even begin to describe it.
So, the pink suited woman might have been in the pool and P wouldn’t have noticed with all the circle swim mayhem.

Sandy shakes her head though, “No, I don’t think she swims.”
“Who is it?” another woman asks.
“Yoshi.” Sandy nods, calm and firm in her celebrity friendship sighting status.
“Yoshi, like in Yoshi’s?” P asks, confused. She’d never thought of “Yoshi” as a person, or if she had thought of Yoshi as a person, not a woman. Was P sexist in her small business jazz club owner assumptions?
Guess so.
Or she’d just never really thought about it before. Remembers the time that Owen Hill took her to see McCoy Tyner at the old Yoshi’s location on Claremont Ave. P isn’t a big jazz fan, but Tyner’s piano is smooth and elegant. A genius at the keyboard with floating hands and humming background. It had been over 20 years ago probably, but P still remembers his humming.

Sandy grins, “Yup, that Yoshi. We used to dance together at Shawl Anderson years ago. Used to eat baby food on point cuz that was the only thing we could stomach before all that exercise.”
P glances over at DL when the baby food detail arises. DL is stoic. Is she listening? Laughing? Amazed?
P is sure she is, but DL is so cool. Never shows it. Unlike P who is full of questions and astonishment.

“Baby food!” she exclaims, though the mention always brings her back to her sick cat Gus and how she and Owen fed him baby food during his final days. It was the only thing he could eat.
He musta been a Ballerina Cat at the end.

“Yup,” Sandy continues. “And the smell of the bakery next door. You remember the Buttercup?”
“Oh, yes!” P enthuses. The Buttercup Bakery was famous for its pastries, breakfasts and lousy coffee.
“Well, the smell of blueberry muffins wafting through the window of Shawl Anderson’s studio space used to drive us crazy. We couldn’t wait to finish the class and race over to the Buttercup.”
“I bet!” P laughs, thinking of the baby food deprivation pose on point. Torturous!
“She’s done so much for the community,” African American Goddess murmurs loud enough for everyone in Utopia to hear.
“That she has, that she has,” Sandy agrees.
“And it’s cool she comes to the Y,” AAG continues, moving a plastic bag of ice from her firm brown belly onto her firm brown thigh. P wonders what it’s like to be that firm and that inured to the sensation of ice on your skin.
“I think she just comes here to stretch before she heads into work,” Sandy speculates, rising to eye the clock.

“What time is it?” P asks.
“9:39,” Sandy sighs heavily, “time for me to hit the shower.”
DL leaves ahead of her. The heat of Utopia, as always, too much for her after a few minutes.
P sits for a moment with AAG, thinking about Yoshi’s, McCoy Tyner and Gus. It’s strange how time goes by and events co-mingle and mix. On the one hand, it seems like yesterday... no not really. That’s the cliché. It seems like a long long time ago. P was a different person.
But she still was a swimmer. Always a swimmer.

Some things never change. P can embrace that cliché. As long as she can swim. Though preferably without the Y circle swim hell.


Sunday, August 04, 2013


“There’s a lot of rocks here,” Ian comments as he struggles to don his fins and avoid the rocky bottom.
Yeah, I think and that’s not all, gazing out at the high surf that rolls and rolls across the sea of a normally calm Waikiki.
But this week was Flossie. The tropical ‘depression’ that had hit Oahu a couple of days earlier. I’d been so eager to come to this beach and swim in the smooth warm ocean, floating in the soft sea as Diamond Head loomed over my shoulder.

But no chance of this today. The sea was high, and when we’d arrived earlier, I’d had my doubts that we’d even venture in. Of course there were tons of the ubiquitous surfers; but these were locals, presumably, that knew what they were doing. Knew this beach and these rocks and the vagaries of these waves.

Sure I’d been swimming here before, but not in these kinds of conditions. The times before, this ocean had been smooth and calm. Perfect for swimming laps parallel to the shore or snorkeling slowly to visit the fishes.

Not today. And so, I hadn’t said anything to Ian earlier, but was silently thinking how it was too bad, we’d come all this way to Waikiki, but on this trip, well, it just wasn’t in the cards to go for that intended lazy swim.

But after our long walk to the Royal Hawaiian, Ian with a Mai Tai, and me with Umbrella Lemonade, I’d noticed, on the way back, that there were parts of the sea that looked calmer, less wavy and rough.

Maybe we could swim at one of those spots?

And so this is where we were, Ian ouching on the rocks, while I decided to meander down the beach to scope out a less rocky launching place.

I did remember this now about Waikiki—how the coral grew in thick sharp clumps on the bottom of this sea. Hence the beautiful tropical fish and the usually calm pool-like surface.

Today was a different story as I finally found a spot that seemed less rocky—judging by all the kids on boogie boards and squealing Japanese teenage girls, it seemed like an okay bet.

I backed into the welcoming warmth that could only be the sea in Waikiki, plopping down to slip on my fins. But already I could feel a familiar tug of the surf. I knew it was stronger than normal and was expecting this; but again, there was an element of denial or disbelief. This is Waikiki. Look at all these non-swimming tourists frolicking about. It must be safe, right?

Plus, I was a swimmer, an experienced pool one, yes, but I’d also done my share of ocean swimming over the years. I knew what I was doing. I could handle a few waves.

So I dove in and under the first wave, feeling a little thrill, but also a tinge of fear. That wave was big! And that coral was close! What if I wiped out and cut myself on the coral? Or worse, what if....

Another wave, and I was under it and swimming quickly forward to dive under the next one before it broke.

Shit. I was back in Newport Beach at 17th street with Joanna Brohard diving under the 10 –12 to 15 footers.

No these waves weren’t that big. Maybe 5-6 foot faces? And no, they didn’t come piling on me at the rate at the 17th street Red Flag days; yet, I wasn’t 16 and I wasn’t fearless.

Nope, at 55 and wary, I was feeling a bit scared. Not too scared, but just enough to turn around but no, here’s another wave, and under I went, the wave crashing behind me, the sunlight filtering through the pearly foam as I rose to the other side.

Shit. What had I gotten myself into?
I glanced around, noting that the waves had stopped and I was floating out pretty far between sets and lo and behold....

Diamond Head.
Oh My God.

There was just nothing like this swimview in the entire world of my swim experience. To be out in the sea at Waikiki with Diamond Head’s magnificence directly to my side. Well, words can’t describe it.

This is why I swim.

Yet today as I took just a moment to revel in Diamond Head’s enchantment there was an underlying tinge of panic?

Is that too strong a word?

Not when you’re in the sea with these giant waves and an unfamiliar coral bottom.

Plus, where the hell was Ian?


I thought he was right behind me, but now as I glanced briefly behind before having to turn back and contend with another set of waves, he was nowhere in sight.

Intense worry set in. Ian can swim. He’s gotten so much stronger in the years we’ve been swimming together at the Y.
But that’s the Y. In a pool. With lifeguards.

And no waves.

I had to find him.

I turned and started back to shore, diving under waves that were starting to feel too challenging. Were they getting bigger? Or was that my worry?
Yet there were tons of people around. This was Waikiki. People don’t drown here, do they?

Of course not! Yet this sea was nothing to dismiss. I knew better than I did when I was 16. And so I made my way back to shore, diving under waves and narrowly avoiding scraping the coral bottom, my heart pounding in that danger danger danger mode.

I made it back. I was on the shore. I turned now to scan the sea for Ian. And.....

Damn. Where the hell had he gone?

Fighting the rising panic, I stood staring out at the sea for a moment, the sun filtering behind the clouds that promised to be a glorious sunset.

But no Ian.

Okay, I told myself, he’s fine. I’ll just go get my towel and dry off a bit –the wind wiped around me in a chilly reminder of Flossie's lingering power.

Grabbing my towel and hat and trotting back down to the sea’s edge , I scanned for him again. Still no Ian.

Now I was starting to panic.
The sea was rough. We were unfamiliar with it. The sun was going down. And....

Where the hell could he have gone?

I stood on the shore trying not to cry, telling myself I was being silly, but that nagging fear kept at me as the minutes ticked by.
5, 10? 15?
I have no idea until.....


Climbing awkwardly out of the churny waves down the beach, his handsome head poking out above the waves.

Relief spread over me as I raced down the shore.

Grinning, he waved. I’m sure he had no idea how worried I’d been.

Would I tell him as I hugged him hard, his wet cold chest crashing into me?
Of course I would!

“I was so worried!” I cried.
“You were?” he grinned.
“Nothing to worry about. See, I’m here!” he beamed.
Punching him in the arm, I giggled in relief.
“I see that now, but a moment ago....”

My voice trailed off. I would tell him more later. How I thought I’d never see him again. How visions of the ambulance and lifeguards combing the beach for his floating body haunted me for a brief moment. How if I did see him again, I’d hold onto him tight. Ask him to marry me....

Okay, not that far... for now, I just was so happy and relieved to see him again. And as the sunset began its nightly show, I held him to me fast. Turning, I gazed out to sea, Diamond Head in growing shadows, the clouds turning golden pink elephants floating in the orangey sky. Sighing long, I breathed in the sea. I breathed in the wind; I breathed in the sunset.....

I breathed in Ian and laughed and laughed and laughed as I hugged him to me in Waikiki Relief Delight.

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...