Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Pool is Christmas?



“Hi,” I stop to signal the swimmer in the crowded Christmas Eve day pool. “Can I share the lane with you?”

She glares at me. This is hard to do through foggy goggles, but she manages it. “Can you just swim with someone else who’s been here longer?”

I stare at her, amazed. Is she refusing to share a lane with me? At the YMCA? Hell, that’s not okay! It’s not like she’s at her private country club with her own private lane that no one else is allowed in!

 And, for chrissakes, it’s Christmas Eve day! The pool is closing 8 hours early! Every lane is full. She can’t just tell me to go somewhere else. To swim with someone else that’s been here longer?

In minor shock, I say, “How can I know who has been here longer? Obviously, I just got here!”

She sighs. I am so tiresome. “I just want to swim by myself for a while….” And then she turns away from me and proceeds to swim languidly down the middle of the lane.

Well, you stupid cow, we’d all like to swim by ourselves for a while, but it’s a holiday and it’s crowded and did I say, this is the goddamn YMCA!!!!! Not the Claremont!

I move over to the next lane, and ask the woman there if I can split the lane with her. She nods, sure, and then moves to one side. Easy Peasy!

Halfway down the lane, I stop and holler at the lifeguard, who’d sat there watching the entire interaction with You Can’t Share My Lane Woman. “Did you hear that?” The lifeguard tries to act interested, but she’s not. “I asked her if I could share her lane and she refused!!! Can you believe that?”  The lifeguard nods, imperceptibly. She is so bored. But she makes a mammoth effort and  begins motions to get up off her pretty little ass. Like she's gonna go talk to the woman? 

“Nah, that’s okay. Don’t bother,” I wave her back down.  “I don’t want to swim with someone like that anyway.”

And I start swimming down the lane, thinking, not much Christmas spirit there. No Christmas at the pool today. I sure hope I don’t see her in the sauna. Cuz I’d sure let her have it. But hell, it’s Christmas. Who wants a confrontation with some Lane Grinch? Not me! I’d rather have the Pool be like it was the week before…...

“Wow! The pool is so marvelous today!” I give K a tired grin over the empty lane between us. We’re the only ones in the pool. A Saturday afternoon between Parent Tots and Rec Swim.
“Yes,” she beams back at me. “Everyone must be Christmas shopping.”

“Good for us!” I proclaim. “I’m skipping Christmas this year,” I confide. Then I wave my arm over the surface of the calm water, “The Pool is Christmas!” I exclaim.

Her smile widens, “The pool is, indeed, Christmas.”

And, I think yup. Cuz what is Christmas? It’s magic and friends and family and presents. Of course, lots and lots of presents! And surprises! I remember all the Christmases where I and my sisters would wake at the crack of dawn, tumble out into the front room to the tantalizing smell of Mommy’s Christmas cinnamon bread, and Grandma Birdie and Aunt Tea would already be there. I always knew they’d be there, but still….it was such a known surprise to have them there to greet us. “Merry Christmas, girls,” they’d say, sipping their coffees, eyes sparkling.

Then we’d tear into the presents, ripping wrapping, uncovering Puss n Boots Princess Books, and fuzzy slippers, and oh, so much more. It was always the best!

And, so, that day, with the empty pool and just K there with me, it was Christmas. Cuz what could be better than an unexpectedly empty pool on a Saturday afternoon?

 Magic! Surprise! And the best present ever!

The pool is Christmas!

Indeed!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Pink



I
“It is he,” she barks at me.

Water Walking Asthma Woman has waddled into the shower area where I’ve just started shampooing my hair.
What the hell is she talking about? My bafflement musta shown on my soapy mug cuz she repeated herself. This time with hand motions, “It is he!” pointing at her crotch. “In sauna.”

“Oh,” I wanna rinse the soap outta my hair but she’s not leaving. What does she want me to say? And, again, what the hell is she talking about? There was another woman in the sauna with us. She’d been sitting in one of the dark corners. I hadn’t spoken to her or even really looked in her direction. Sauna etiquette you know with unknown first-timers.

Now evidently, she is a he?

Water Walking Asthma Woman glares at me. Why? What does she want me to do about ‘it’? Kick ‘it’ out? And what if ‘it’ is a ‘he’? What does that mean? Is it someone transitioning from a man to a woman? Or is it a hermaphrodite?

I remember this had happened once before at the Oakland Y. An individual of more than one gender possibility was in the hot tub. Again, I hadn’t noticed. What’s with me that I don’t notice such a thing as a penis on a woman? I have no clue. I guess I’m just not in the habit of staring at women’s crotches. Maybe I need to pay more attention. But this time at Oakland, Hot Tub Mama was incensed that a He/She was in the hot tub. She had gone on and on about the travesty of the situation. How it shouldn’t be allowed. How could we all just sit there and do nothing? It was disgusting.

I remember thinking, well, what the hell is she/he/they supposed to do? I mean, where ---and here’s a perfect place for that new use of the plural pronoun---are ‘they’ supposed to go? If not in the women’s locker room, then in the men’s? What would that be like? Probably pretty hellish. I mean, I can’t imagine. Men would probably beat they up! Or at least make such rude and inappropriate and stupid comments that they would have to run screaming from the locker room!

It must be so hard for people like they! There are all these instances where the gender is sectioned off. The locker room. The bathrooms. The dressing rooms at Ross Dress for Less!

What the hell do They do?

I have no idea. But today, I just don’t care. I mean, what the hell was WWAW thinking of telling me? Did she want me to kick they out? Or call the management? Or was she simply warning me of a ‘he’ in the sauna and to cover up?

Like they would care about me!

Later, as I’m drying my hair, They comes out of the sauna, wrapped in a bright pink towel, their broad back pink from the heat and I think, well, I suppose that they is a he. But I had noticed that he had breasts. (Yes, I do notice this. I guess my sauna etiquette doesn’t preclude me from noting bosoms)
Today, I want to start a conversation but then figure, damn, let them alone. Let them take a sauna, and put on their pink towel, and saunter through the locker room to get a drink of water.
What does it matter?

Personally, I don’t know what the protocol or the policy at the Y as far as transitioning individuals or hermaphrodites. And, frankly, it’s not up to me. So, WWAW can just chill out. I mean, hell, it wasn’t like they were hurting anyone, right?

Right!

II


“Miss Carol!”
“Miss Lynn!”

Emerging from the sauna, Lynn and Annaliese  have spied me. Lynn hailing me over to the corner lockers situation where we all usually dress. They are in a deep serious discussion about…yup, you guessed it, “It is He”!

“Have you heard,” Lynn begins, “we have a special guest visiting our Y? A person of how shall I put this, indeterminate gender?”

“Oh,” I nod, standing dripping before the two women, “yeah…I was in the sauna with her yesterday.”
“YOU WERE!” Lynn exclaims as Annaliese’s brown eyes widen mightily behind her thick glasses. “What do you think?”
“About what?” I ask.
“About that person being in the women’s locker room,” Lynn continues. “Personally, when I come into the women’s locker room, I have the expectation that there will only be women in here. If someone has male genitalia then, I’m sorry, but they shouldn’t be in here.”

Annaliese  stands between us, not making any comment so far.

“Well,” I begin, “I didn’t notice anything untoward. I mean, I didn’t see a penis. She had breasts….”
“She had breasts?”  Annaliese asks.
“Yes,” I confirm. “I did notice this.”
“The person I saw,” Lynn shakes her head, “didn’t have breasts….I mean maybe a little bit, but she/he did have male genitalia and when he was over her talking to me and Sinda he was standing right in front of us letting it all hang out.”
“Maybe he should cover up?”  Annaliese suggests.
“Yeah, maybe…” Lynn shakes her head again, “but then they might make all of us cover up.”

And I think, here’s the rub, the discriminatory ‘otherness’ of the gender fluidity or gender ambiguity or gender bothness or transgender or whatever you want to call it, where does they fit in? I say to both these women,

“Well, where is she/they supposed to go? I mean, what would happen to her if she went into the Men’s Locker Room?” (Since I can't ask them/her pronoun preference, I'm going to just use she/her for writing ease)

 Annaliese shakes her head, clucks her tongue, “That is a good point, Carol. That is a good point.”

Later I ask Ian what would happen to her if she went in the men’s’ locker room and he shakes his head, breathes deeply, “Men? They’d say something really rude to her, like 'What the fuck are you doing in here?'”

Exactly!

Aren’t we supposed to be more tolerant here in the Bay Area? I do get that some women, esp old ladies like Asthma Water Walker, are just freaked out being confronted with transgenders. It is so out of their experience and it makes them very squeamish and even angry. But hell, Sauna Transgender wasn’t doing anything wrong. She wasn’t behaving aggressively or throwing her tiny penis around (And it must have been tiny cuz when I went back into the sauna and tried to surreptitiously look at it to confirm what Water Walking Asthma Woman had claimed, I couldn’t see anything. It wasn’t like there was a huge dick draping over her thigh!) But, evidently, the fact that she was even in the Women’s locker room was, in some people’s opinion, an act of aggression.

In any case, the Y must have some policy about this, right? I ask  Annaliese and Lynn.
“No,” Lynn says, “they don’t know what to do about it. I can’t believe, Carol, that you aren’t more upset about it.”
I shrug, “You know, it just didn’t bother me. I guess I have bigger things to worry about.”

I turn away and head for the showers, thinking how maybe my laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing may be from my Santa Cruz days when I lived in a coed dorm and we had coed bathrooms.

When I tell Ian this, he’s astonished. “You had coed bathrooms?”
“Yup,” I giggle. “I thought it was kinda thrilling and dangerous at the time!”
He laughs. “Yeah, well, I guess you didn’t grow up with boys.”
No, I didn’t but that wasn’t the thrilling part. It was the unconventionality of it. The tolerance and live and let live sort of Northern California paradigm.

What’s happened to this attitude?

To listen to these women today, you’d think we were back behind the Orange Curtain, circa 1973. And, granted it was mostly Lynn who was so vociferously against allowing Sauna It is He in the women’s’ locker room, but judging by Water Walking Asthma Woman and the others that Lynn mentioned, I was the only one who seemed to not care.

Because I just keep going back to, what is she supposed to do? And how very hard it must be for her to navigate this world that is so intolerant.

So...c’mon, Bay Area Ys! Open your arms and your locker rooms and let the Gender Fluids in!

III
When I emerge from the bathroom, Annaliese catches my eye from across the locker room. I can tell she wants to talk to me, but I’m tired, hungry and cranky. Yet….I can’t refuse any interaction with her. And, of course, guess what she wants to talk about?

“Have you seen…..” She pauses, searching for the right word or for the drama?... “our ….friend…with the pink hair?”

Had I mentioned that It is He has pink hair? Come to think of it, maybe she did! In any case, I know, of course, who Annaliese is referring to now.

“No, not today,” I reply, starting to toss my stuff into my gym bag.
“Ummmm…..”  Annaliese glances around, then starts in. “I did ask them upstairs about it and they said, they cannot exclude anyone from this place.” She waves her arm around gesturing to the locker room at large.

“Yeah,” I say, “that makes sense. And you know, I asked Ian what he thought the men would say to her if she used their locker room and he said they’d probably be super rude and say something like, ‘What the hell are you doing in here, you freak!’ Or some such cruelty.”

 Annaliese nods. “Yes, I talk to my husband about it and he just says, ‘What is the Big Deal!’”

“Exactly!” I exclaim. “What is the Big Deal? I was really surprised by Lynn’s bias against Pink Hair.”

She chuckles, shakes her head. “I know, I know….it is true though. Some people, they just do not know what do to so they react this way.”

“Yeah, if someone is different or other, then wham, they’re treated that way. Differently. Cruelly. Meanly. I agree with your husband, What is the Big Deal?”

 Annaliese nods, slams her locker closed, then smiles slyly. “Yes, that is right, Carol. You are right….”

And I am! As usual. Though all kidding aside. It must be a Big Deal for them/she/Pink Hair. The courage it musta taken to come into the women's locker room and face all of those women who weren't that welcoming to say the least....I just can't imagine. So, yes, it is a Big Deal for them, I'm sure; but hell, it is NO Big Deal for the rest of us.

IV
“Oh, hi Carol. Listen….” J leans in close, whispers to the side of my face as I pull down on the weights. “…..Lynn wanted me to go to the manager and complain about the transgender in the locker room and I told her, no, I don’t want to get involved.”
“Yeah,” I grunt, pulling down and trying to process at the same time. “I can’t believe she bugged you about this. It’s outrageous.”
She nods, her dark straight hair falling slightly in her brown eyes, “I agree.” She sighs. “You know, it’s like if they said that blacks or Asians…” She looks at me longer, her pretty Asian features furling under a frown, “weren’t allowed in the locker rooms. It’s discrimination.”

“Exactly!” I exclaim, glad that at least someone at the Hilltop Y has some common sense and a moral compass regarding the issue.
“Anyway, she might ask you, too.”
“I doubt it. Lynn knows where I stand. It’s bigotry and discrimination and I don’t understand how she can’t get this.”

J shakes her head, “I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t want to get involved.”
She shrugs, heads over to some other weights and as I watch her strong legs begin to push weights up and down on the machine I think, actually, she should get involved. The Y needs to hear her perspective too. And mine? Yes, though when I arrived yesterday and the young woman at the front desk gave me her spiel about a ‘new member’ named Terri who is transgender and the YMCA is an organization that is all-inclusive and non-discriminatory….etc.…etc. etc. ….Obviously, Management had prepped her. And when she finished I grinned, slammed my fist on the counter and said, “Absolutely!” Well, I think she got my perspective. But in any case, I think it’s such a shame that the issue has to be so divisive. DL says it best in the following email:

Writing about transgender stuff is really tricky right now. … It's so sensitive. Kind of hard to explain.....very complicated. It was intense being at Hilltopia and hearing about it from your French friend--I forget her name. And the Y people kicked them out?! That's illegal, I believe.

I believe so, too, DL! And that’s a double shame that there’s not more education around the issue, both the legality of allowing those who identify with a certain gender access to the facility of their choice, but also the morality of treating everyone fairly with respect and sensitivity.

As Terri said to a couple of women who happened in to the women’s locker room the other day, expressing their surprise at seeing them. “IS this the Women’s Locker room or the Men’s?”
“It’s the women’s,” Terri had answered, completely blasé.
“OH, for a moment I thought we were in the Men’s” one woman giggled.
“You’re not the first person to think that when they see me,” Terri had replied, continuing to calmly apply lotion on her smooth long brown legs....

The women filed out of the bathroom, chattering and silly. I glanced over at Terri; she smiled at me with her eyes, before going back to her lotion application.

I turned on the hairdryer and began with my left side, the too-long tresses tangled and exasperating....

V

I stroll into the women's locker room, my whole self ready to jump in that pool. For some reason, I stop before entering. A new sign on the bulletin board:




Finally! I grin, shift my bag to my other arm, snap a photo, and then head to the pool!





Epilogue---or the Saga continues.....

"Did you notice the sign in the locker room....the one with the red and the purple?" I eavesdrop on the two women across from me, lifting weights.
"Uh, I'm not sure...."
"You know, the one about transgender...." Her voice trails off, hopeful that she doesn't have to explain anymore.
"Oh, oh, yeah, I know what you mean."
"Well.....someone ripped it down!"
"You're kidding! That's terrible!"
"Yes, I agree...."
And, I stand there, across the room, shaking my head. I go downstairs to check it out, and sure enough the sign is gone. Shit.

Later, after my swim and sauna and ablutions, I head out of the Y, stopping at the front desk to address the current clerk: "You know the sign in the women's locker room about transgender respect?"
He looks at me for a moment, perplexed, before finding it, "Oh, yeah yeah."
"Well, someone ripped it down," I tell him.
"They ripped it down?"
"Well, I'm not sure they ripped it, but it's gone."
He pauses, processing? Then nods, "Okay, well, I'll let one of the Directors know."


"Yes, please," I say. "That sign needs to go back up. It's important to educate everyone about the Y's policy of nondiscrimination."

He nods, turns to answer the phone. And I wonder, will he tell one of the Directors? Maybe I should? But no one is around at the lazy time of the afternoon. If I come back on the weekend and the sign isn't back up then I will tell one of the directors.
I just can't believe it. But then again, I can.....


And, finally.....
A day in the sauna. Terri,  Melina and her mom, and I are all just sitting around, chatting, laughing, cozy, safe.
It's nice.
Then later, Terri and I are in the sink area, drying our hair, performing final primps. She's got on a cute rose skirt and pink sweater. I compliment her. "That's a pretty skirt."
She smiles, demure. "Yes, well....as you can tell, I like pink."
"Yeah, me too....."
We both go back to packing up our stuff. I wring out my suit (pink!) and roll it up in my towel (again, pink!).
She stands for a moment, then turns and gives me a small sad smile, "Well......I suppose it's time to go out and face the Cruel World......"
I nod, not sure what to say, but think to myself how cruel it must be for her. But for all of us, for a moment this afternoon, it was safe and happy and lovely.....
....and pink!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Cat Cap!









Zooming down the lane at the Kennedy High Pool, my kickboard and fins zipping me along, I glimpse a large black cat head puttering in the lane next to me. Its golden eyes follow me for a moment, before passing in the opposite direction.
A cat cap? How marvelous!
A few minutes later, resting at the wall, the wearer of the Cat Cap pauses, and I can’t help but comment.
“I love your Cat Cap!”
“Yes, well we all need a sense of humor in the pool!” She grins broadly, the water dripping off her white moon face.
I laugh as expected.
“Do you have a cat?” she asks.
“Yes, do you?”
“Yes, I do. And…..” She pauses for dramatic effect, her eyes twinkling. “I also have another pet…..”
“You do?” I wonder what this could be? Obviously, it’s something special and not an ordinary pet like a dog or a goldfish or even a turtle.

“Yes…..” She’s bursting now with palpable excitement. “A horse!”
“A horse, wow! My sister has a horse,” I offer, not being a horse person myself.
“She does?”
“Yes.” I don’t volunteer how I’m a little intimidated by horses, letting Cat Cap Lady tell her horse story.
“I have wanted a horse for 22 years, and now finally I have one!”
“That’s a long time! My sister wanted a horse, too, for a long time. And now she has one. It’s very exciting.”


Cat Cap Lady nods, “Yes, it certainly is.”
“Do you live here in Richmond? Is your horse near the pool?”
She laughs, “I do live in Richmond, but my horse is about 20 minutes away.”
“Oh…..” I don’t know what to say. The horse talk seems be dwindling but now wait there’s more!
“Where is your sister’s horse?” she asks.
“Oh, my sister lives in San Diego.”
“Really! Wow! I am interviewing for a job in San Diego next week and I was wondering about where to keep the horse down there.”
“Oh, I’m sure there are lots of places. It seems pretty horsey down there where my sister lives.”
“Where does she live?”
“Encinitas…North San Diego.”
“Yes, well, I know there are places for horses. In fact, I did a little research and it’s cheaper to keep horses down there than it is up here. Go figure!”

“Yeah, well, everything is more expensive in the Bay Area.”
She nods, thoughtful.
I’m getting cold and so need to get out of the frigid water before I turn into a blue cube, but not before one more compliment on the Cat Cap. “Well, I do love your Cat Cap. Where did you get it?”
“Amazon.”
“Of course, you can get everything on Amazon. Though probably not a horse!”

She laughs, adjusting her kickboard under her arms before taking off down the lane. I climb out of the pool, sit on the deck for a moment to watch her kick down the lane. The black cat bobs up and down in the splashing, a golden eye winks at me, as I heave myself up and shiver over to grab my stuff.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Hugs


“Hi.” Today M sports a turquoise fox sweater that I can’t help but admire.
“Cute fox sweater,” I say.
“It’s a skunk.”
“Oh, of course. Cute skunk sweater.”
She shrugs, shy. “I like skunks. Do you?”
Annalise makes a face as she tosses her stuff around the locker. “Only if they are not by me…” She waves her arms away and around to ward off the imaginary skunk. M giggles.
M and I had already been swimming together. But she hadn’t stayed in long. Later, she’d wanted a hug in the sauna. It was awkward. I was tired, hungry and ready to shower. Plus, I'm really not a 'hugger'. I remember when Ian's Scottish sister-in-law came to visit and upon first meeting me had asked, "Are you a hoogger?" I hadn't understood her with her Scottish lilt, but when Ian clarified, I shook my head. "No, not really," I'd told her. Yet today, with M, I could tell she needed a hug. And so I climbed down off the top shelf of the sauna, wrapped my towel around my wet swimsuit and embraced her gently.

Earlier in the pool, M had barely swam at all. Had gotten in the lane next to mine, given me a little wave. I was deep into my workout, but did take a moment to grin, say “Hi, nice to see you in the pool.”
M had only given a tired smile. Something seemed off. But she was in the pool, so what could be wrong?

Who knows? She has a life that I will never understand. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be ‘developmentally disabled’ or ‘differently abled’ or as we used to say ‘retarded.’ I remember I had a retarded friend in 6th grade. We used to walk down the hall, holding hands and singing Beatles Songs. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, “Yesterday”, "It Was a Long Day’s Night”. I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t even remember her name. But I remember loving her and feeling a strong connection to her. Even when the other kids made fun of us, I just shrugged it off which wasn’t like me. There was something magical about her. I was in another world with her.
Is this why I am drawn to M? Or she’s drawn to me?
I never thought about this before and it only has come to me as I write this at 11:30 at night after watching a film called Band Aid about a writer and her husband who fight all the time and then write songs to process their combat. There’s much analysis about women and feelings; men and compartmentalizing. They even have an argument about the use of the word Retard. How it isn’t ‘politically correct’. I get this. The word is offensive in this context. But also, the word ritardando means slow in music. It’s often a notation at the end of piece. And it’s often very beautiful because of this slowing down…. Plus it’s Italian in origin. Which is always bellisima! Am I overanalyzing M post film?
“I’m sick!” M announces to me and Annalise, now. “Does my face look red?” she asks me.
“No, I don’t think so.”
She shrugs.
“Is that why you got out of the pool early today?” I ask, glancing over at Annalise who is hurriedly squishing into her suit.
“I dunno.”
“Can I give you a hug?” she asks Annalise.
“No no non...not if you’re sick. Next time….” Annalise gives me a look, rolls her eyes. I am shocked. Or at least surprised. At Annalise’s refusal of a hug? Or at the fact that M wants to hug everyone? That I am not special?
Damn.
Ian had told me once that kids with Down Syndrome like lots of physical contact. So this could be it. And that’s all.

M’s mom hollers something in Spanish from the other side of the locker room. “I don’t wanna hear her,” M says.
“But she knows where you are,” I point out.
“I guess….” M shrugs again, moves to hug me.
“Uh, Air Hug, okay?” I suggest. “Since you’re sick.”
She giggles, mimics a hug in the air as her mom hollers one last time. M turns and heads down the row of lockers. “See you next time,” she says, a glint in her eye behind thick glasses.
“In the pool,” I say.
She giggles again, then turns away, hugs lingering in the air behind her.

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...