Circle Swim Hell

“Just to let you know,” Large and in Charge Lifeguard nods at me sympathetically, “what you see before you is just a temporary situation…..”
I stare at the spectacle that is in front of me in stupefied horror. The Downtown Oakland Y pool has been closed for weeks for ‘improvements’. This morning, I had called ahead of time to find out if the pool was indeed open as previously announced. And had been assured that it was.

And, yes, as I stand on the deck, L&I C next to me, the pool is open. But the mayhem that is before me is beyond description.
Though I’ll try.

Usually the pool is divided into 6 lanes, with swimmers splitting each lane. One going up the right side of the black line painted on the bottom of the pool, one going up the left side of the black line. If a third swimmer enters the lane, which is rare, then there is something called circle swimming. The 9th circle of hell as far as I’m concerned. No one at the Oakland Y knows how to circle swim. They are completely oblivious to anyone behind or in front of them, but blithely swim along as if they’re the only one in the pool. Kinda like how some people drive.
So, tonight, instead of the 6 lanes, there are only 2 huge lanes and at least 8-10 people are ‘circle swimming’ in these vast sections of the pool.

It is a complete disaster. Kids are doing handstands in the middle of the lanes. Slow swimmers are plodding down one side; faster swimmers are trying to swim around the handstand kids. A couple stands at the wall, chatting.

“So, as you can see,” the lifeguard continues, “it’s circle swim. You can pass going up toward the far wall, but not on the way back down. And like I said this is a temporary situation.”
“What happened to the lane lines?” I ask, shaking my head in profound disbelief.
“Well, they ordered the wrong length so they had to send them back. They should be getting the new ones in a couple of weeks.”
“A couple of weeks?!!!”
“Yeah, sorry, I know it’s not ideal.” He is sympathetic, but what can he do?

And what can I do but try to enter into the mayhem. I’m already on deck, showered and goggled and capped.
Super Nice Walking Man spies me talking to the lifeguard. After the guard leaves, SNWM nods toward me, “You can share with me. I’ll just stay on this side walking.”
“Thanks, but I don’t think they’ll let me swim there.”
He nods, understanding. The walking lane is only for walking though under the circumstances, couldn’t I swim there? Just for tonight?

I opt not to for now and choose a lane. Sitting on the deck, I feel a rising dread. There is no goddamn way I’m even going to be able to swim to the other end let alone swim my 80 laps. It’s like my bad swimming dreams come true. The ones where I encounter obstacle after obstacle to keep me from swimming. The water is so shallow that my hand scrapes the bottom till the pool becomes a lawn.
Now, in reality, which is often so much worse than my dreams, I am pissed at those kids doing handstands. Seriously? I tell them to go play in the family lane. They grin at me, nod, and then dive under for more handstanding.

I want to scream. But what good would that do? No one would even notice!

I jump in. Try to swim around the slow butterfly purple suited woman. Almost have a head on collision with a bikinied oblivious woman. The handstand kids are splashing and laughing now, joyous in their mayhem.

I glance over at Walking Man who motions for me to join him.
I take a risk. And do.
“Thanks!” I exclaim to him, slipping into the calmness that is his lane. It’s free and clear for me and looks delicious!
“There was no way I could swim over there.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” he chuckled.
“I bet they won’t let me swim here,” I say before taking off in the lane.
“Well, go for it as long as you can!” he proclaims, turning and walking up the lane.

And I do get away with it for about 20 minutes, till L&IC saunters back over: “You can’t swim here.”
“Even though it’s complete chaos over there and I can’t even swim one lap?” I whine.
“Nope, sorry, if it were up to me I’d say fine, but someone ran into the ladder the other day and so they’re being really strict about not letting anyone swim here.”
“They ran into the ladder?” I glance at the plastic ladder that is at the end of the walking lane. "How the hell did someone swim into it?" I ask him.
“Well, it wasn’t on my watch, but apparently they were swimming backstroke and you know how you count your strokes for backstroke once you spot the flags?” I nod. “Well, they forgot the ladder was there and were counting the strokes and whoops! There were fewer strokes to the ladder cuz it sticks out.”
“Oh wow,” I murmur thinking how idiotic that was. “Was he hurt?”
“Nah, I don’t think so. Though he got out. He was done for the day.”
“Ah…..” I glance over at the lane next to me It’s a bit calmer now –the pool is closing soon and the chaos has cleared out a bit.
“Can’t I even swim here tonight?” I plead. “It’s impossible over there!”
“Nope, wish I could say yes. I know you can swim and wouldn’t swim into the ladder, but like I said….”
“Okay,” I sigh, but then see a couple more people get out. “It’s not as bad now. I’ll move.”

“Thanks,” he says, weary.
I don’t envy him his job. Hell, imagine what his day has been like trying to manage the chaos of mass circle swim.


Later, I tell Sandy about the chaos. She shakes her head, “You’re telling me that they’ve had the pool closed for over 3 weeks and it’s still not ready?”
“Yup,” I sigh, better now that I’m in Utopia.
“Typical,” Sandy snorts.
“Yeah, well, I did swim in the walking lane for a little while.”
“Good for you!” she exclaims.
“Yeah, but they kicked me out. Someone swam into the ladder.”
“What the hell?” she says. “How’d they do that?”
I tell her. She shakes her head. “Well, I suppose you could complain but frankly they’re pretty immune to complaints around here. All they hear is ‘Blah blah blah pool blah blah….’”
We all crack up. DL weaves out. Thanks to Sandy, I’m in a much better mood.
Yet still…..what to do about swimming?

Maybe I’ll just take up walking in the walking lane. Or stay upstairs with DL and do the machines. Or…..I could just compare my experience to Dante’s---I’m faring much better, right?

Then I beheld a thousand faces, made
Purple with cold; whence o'er me comes a shudder,
And evermore will come, at frozen ponds.

And while we were advancing towards the middle,
Where everything of weight unites together,
And I was shivering in the eternal shade,

Whether 'twere will, or destiny, or chance,
I know not; but in walking 'mong the heads
I struck my foot hard in the face of one.

Weeping he growled: "Why dost thou trample me?
Unless thou comest to increase the vengeance
of Montaperti, why dost thou molest me?"
(`Longfellow translation of Dante’s Inferno, 9th Circle)

I coulda trampled on those kids doing handstands, right?
Maybe next week. Stay tuned….


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