This summer unlike many summers before, I purchased a pool pass to get in some swim practice. Last year I faked it through the only Sprint Triathlon I did, which required only a 400-meter swim before letting you emerge to the more sane activities of land-based activities.
But this summer I’m still working toward a potential Olympic distance triathlon. That may happen the same weekend as the Wisconsin Ironman, which is held in Madison in September. That same day there is an Olympic distance race in Lake Geneva with a great reputation. Before that, I’m possibly jumping into the Naperville Sprint Triathlon weekend if there are still slots.
I’ve held off because this past weekend I was so sick that no training was possible, and for three days following the poop-and-dry-heave-fest of Saturday night, I felt weak and awful. My fear was that the danger of C-Diff had returned. The symptoms were scarily like those described in all the literature.
But I raced to the doctor and did my stool sample and Thank God, the C-Diff had not returned. However, that meant my illness this past weekend was something else entirely. The flu, perhaps. That might well be possible because earlier that week I’d led a couple sessions of storytelling, illustration and song at the Vacation Bible School program in my church. Perhaps breathing air from those little germlets was enough to make me get the flu. If so, it was worth it. After my teaching session, a sweet little girl came running up to ask me if I could paint a picture for her parents. It was their anniversary, she said. Could I paint a picture of them standing on the beach while kissing? And I told her yes. And there would be no charge. This is how it came out.
Whatever it was, I rode through it like a chump. But yesterday I went out with Sue for a 30+ mile ride and we averaged just over 19 for the distance, and perhaps 20 if my Strava had not quit in the middle, but was feeling good.
So I felt it safe and wise to return to the pool for a swim practice. It’s been a week though and that means breaking yourself in all over again. The first 400 went great. The water was 78 degrees. The sun was hot. The kids were not jamming the lane and it all went smooth.
Then the rest horn sounded. So I lay in the sun on my newly purchased beach towel. A few tan moms lay on lawn chairs nearby. The regular crowd of half self-conscious 8th-grade girls was strolling around, and the lifeguards perched on their chairs like human cormorants drying in the shade.
Their job is to save people in the event of an emergency. A posted sign near the front gate says so. “Watch your children,” it advises.
I still feel like a kid when I am in the water at the pool. Sometimes while swimming laps, I admittedly recall that gasping feeling when first challenged to swim the length of the entire pool. But I also recall endless summer days in which I went off the high and low board dozens of times over the course of the day. Little did I know that was so good for my brain. All that exercise. You don’t have time to be anxious or worry about the world when you’re swimming and diving and making waves in the pool.
Still, I recall looking down at my white, wrinkled fingers to notice a wildly pale hangnail and biting it off like a chunk of whale blubber. And when I got home, the white skin around my genitals and my white little ass had a strange effect on my being. There is a patent sexuality to the pool of course. We strip ourselves nearly bare most of the while. But these days middle and senior-aged men wear long shorts if they don’t want to creep out the crowds at the pool. The moms don’t have to hide anything. Their stretch marks are worn like battle wounds. Their breasts go where they want. Their daughters stand above them in their youthful perfection and you can feel the generations rolling over like ripples in the Gulf of Mexico. Little by little, we all get to the shore of old age. It comes in waves and if you’re unlucky, in a tsunami of illness or injury. We hold it off by trying to swim faster than the currents of life. That can work wonders. That’s why we do it.
As for covering up when you’re an older guy at the pool, that’s a fair concession. You don’t want to make the wrong kind of waves. Be invisible if you can. Keep your eyes on the water and sand. Tuck your phone in your pocket and don’t start long conversations with anyone unless you’re reclined in a lawn chair, harmless as a pale penguin. Then you can jabber away like a sun-soaked fool. Change quick in the locker room and head home. It’s all part of the gig.
It’s all fair. Society has its norms and its rules. Of course, those of us in triathlon sometimes flaunt them when we show up in our wetsuits. Then we change from penguins to Orca whales or something similar. We course through the lap lanes with the lifeguards above watching us with the curiosity of an ocean gull pondering a passing porpoise.
But probably not. Lifeguards learn what types of swimmers they can aptly ignore. It’s the variances to which they must pay attention. The guards hold those red banana floats in their laps just in case they are called to yank some kid out of the water. The kids making the wrong kind of waves, perhaps, or an old fart having a heart attack. Yet I’m joined in my lap swimming at one point by a gaggle of three boys who thrash and pull their way all fifty yards down the lap lane. They swim at roughly the same pace as me, only frantically. One pulls up 25 meters down, just in front the lifeguard. When I reach the end with his two friends, who with their thrashing and wavemaking gave me great practice for the chaos at the start of a triathlon open, I turn around to see the little red head of the kid who quit back their bobbing in the water. “Jeffrey quit!” his friend says in amazement.
It’s not that uncommon, son. We all do it eventually.
The guard watches the boy carefully, making sure he’s not so tuckered that he can’t make it to some sort of safety, even the lane rope will do. But imagine the dread the guard must feel at the thought of touching some pale old fart that pulls up gasping for air. Who wants to do mouth to mouth with that? Being around old people is icky if you’re not used to hanging out with your grandma or grandpa. All that crepey skin, and folds where smooth skin should be. The waves of life come lapping over you.
We all make waves at the pool, in one way or another. But sometimes I run or ride past the pool at twilight, when the air has settled down, the sun is setting and the pool is closed. The water of the pool is glassy smooth then, and reflects the tall trees standing above the surface. One feels a temptation to climb over the fence and go skinny-dipping. That’s the way we’re all supposed to swim. Most of us do it sometime in life. Night swimming.
But skinny-dipping or even showing too much skin if you’re above a certain age is still frowned upon here in America where the swimsuits we wear play a coy game of hide and seek with our genitals. It’s neurotic as hell, and Europeans have grown up and moved on. But here in America, land of exceptionalism, we’re still afraid to acknowledge that women really do have tits and so on.
Some would seek change things back to a more conservative period. Take us back in time when women covered themselves completely.
And interestingly, as I walked along the north fence of the pool there was a young couple sharing something on their smartphone together. She wore a covering on her head. He stood freely in nothing but his knee-length black shorts and wonderfully rich dark skin. They were happy together, clearly. There was no seeming loss in her choice to cover her head. Perhaps she would even swim in a covering later. That’s all fine and good. This world is not about making everyone do the same thing, or the same way.
How ironic it is, however, that the traditions followed by people of the Muslim faith are considerably more modest than mainstream America. Yet certain segments of society consider that the radical choice. We’ve all heard the cries of social conservatives whining that we’ve become far too loose with sexual images and even more immoral in our choice of swimwear, yoga pants and brassieres peeking out the shoulders of teenage girls in the high school classroom.
Yet here we have the Muslim culture expressing their normal, everyday values in secure, respectful and conservative ways. In fact, there are millions of people who abide by the faith of Islam in the United States. They are peace-loving, normal people who contribute greatly to our society. These kids at the swimming pool were not terrorists. That handsome young man posed absolutely no threat to anyone. And her kind face and smiling eyes beneath her head covering were joyous, youthful and eager about life. They were just kids with their feet in the sand at the pool. Real Americans.
Yet there are some people who seem to want to make waves about that. They make the ignoble claim that all Muslims are hateful people. They would prefer to send those kids away from the pool simply because the sight of them makes ignorant people feel afraid.
And if some of these prejudiced zealots had their way, they would have all Muslims sent across the pond to live somewhere else.
Those are the people making evil waves in the culture of America. They view of our Constitution as their swimming pool where no one else is allowed. They’re all too happy to wallow and bellow in the cesspool of their own prejudice, spewing hateful, ignorant words that drown out the voices of rationality, tolerance, and community.
But let’s be honest. Those bigots are the ignorant people with their heads in the sand. And they had better not hope the tide of rationality washes over them. For they will drown.