Don’t know if I’ve picked up any Christian values during my 20 years of going to the Y, but I’ve learned a bunch of important shit nonetheless.
First, that stupid routine the Yuppies do at the Orioles game — the one where everyone tries to quickly move their arms in the shape of the letters Y-M-C-A — has nothing to do with the Y. As far as I can tell, there’s no one wearing construction helmets and shit at the Y, unless they are hiding in the sauna downstairs, where I’ve never ventured to go for fear of getting a strep infection from the moldy wooden benches. The closest thing I’ve ever seen to that routine is the old people doing water aerobics to some Steve Miller song. That’s some ridiculous shit too.
All I know is that there are some pretty messed up people at the Y missing body parts and shit, and that they are still pretty happy. That’s the primary thing that I’ve learned at the Y — there are a lot of really fucked up, unfortunate people in the world, and many of them show up in the showers of my Y, where it doesn’t matter if you are missing a leg, have to sit in a plastic fucking chair to take a shower, or lost a part of your dick in the war. Everyone just tolerates, within reason. Like there’s this one kid whose got Asperger’s or something, and he just screams in the shower room, and it’s really loud. That really tests the limits of toleration. But because of their Christian values, no one says shit.
You can’t take none of your body parts for granted — that’s what I’ve learned at the Y. Like, I imagine it must be nice to have two big breasts. But sometimes shit happens and you got to settle for one, or none at all. Whatever happens, though, you got to keep up your routine, and that’s where the Y comes in. Because it’s the best place to keep doing your thing, to wage that never-ending battle against old age and infirmity. You got to keep on truckin’, and bikin’, and swimmin’, and all of that shit, and the Y’s the place to do. In fact, I think that’s why God made the Y.
That’s why I don’t mind too much if there’s people in my swim lane who barely move. OK, I admit, sometime I do mind. If they are just going to stand there, or go one mile per hour, why don’t they go to the rec pool? Like there’s this old guy with liver spots out the yin-yang who “swims” at the Y — in a hat! Mostly what he does is barely move and get in everyone’s way. He sorta walks down the lane and makes everyone swim around him and risk running into someone swimming in the other direction. One time, I mistakenly hit him in the nuts while doing the breast stroke, and he gave me this look. I was complaining about the man I call “The Stander” in the locker room one day when one of the regulars told me he had more victories than any soccer coach in the history of a local college. The dude still needs to go stand in the shallow end.
One good thing about my Y is that a lot of foreigners belong, because it’s close to the embassies, the World Bank, and the IMF. In fact, sometimes it seems like English is a foreign language at my Y, which is a good thing because I’m there to work out, not talk. The other benefit to this is that when regulars stop showing up you don’t know if they died or just went back where they came from. Sometimes it’s good not knowing.
There are a lot of old people at the Y, and they take the rules pretty seriously, which is pretty fucked up. I’d heard this about the Eisenhower generation. In retirement communities they get all bent if people leave detergent by the laundry machine or if someone parks in the wrong space. Well the same dynamic’s at play at my Y. I remember this one time I was showering at the Y — until recently the showers didn’t have stalls, it was just one big open space with a lot of nozzles — and this young guy in a designer swimsuit skips the shower and just goes to the pool.
Well, the old guy who was showering next to me just about lost his mind. He starts calling out, “Hey, you forgot to take a shower. Hey, you forgot to take a shower.” When the young guy doesn’t come back, the old guy follows him out to the pool, his own shower only half done. When he comes back he tells me that he complained to the lifeguard that the young guy didn’t take a shower like he was supposed to. “Why should we have to swim in his shit?” the guy says to me. That’s when it dawned on me why they have you shower first — to clean out the crack of your ass. I try to do that now before I get in the pool. Another thing I learned at the Y. Turns out the guy is our representative on the city council. Figures.
Lord knows what’s in the water of the hot tub, but I get in it anyway. There’s nothing I look forward to more than slipping into the smelly waters of that hot tub and sitting with the other geriatrics. It’s just about the only time I feel young anymore. Today, snow was falling outside the big plate glass window and it was like we was in a big fucking snow globe. Pretty damned cool, even though one of the old farts gave me shit when I started using the only steps to the whirlpool to stretch. “Excuse me,” she said, as she pretended to struggle to pass me to reach the steps and get out.
The ones I feel sorry for are the young women who use the whirlpool. Some of them look at few years removed from competitive swimming, with their incredibly smooth thighs, straight toes, and wrinkle-free faces. They look like they was born with a swim cap on and that they could swim a hundred slaps without stopping. And there they are sitting there with this old guy who can’t keep his eyes off them and is fidgeting around under the water, sitting close to the spray nozzle. That’s when I got to get out of the hot tub.
They got some real legal beagles at the Y. They was the first ones, for instance, to post signs saying not to take pictures with your cell phone in the bathroom. I was just about to do it when I saw that warning. But some of the advice written by the assholes in the legal department makes no sense whatsoever. Like I’ve been staring at the rules for using the Whirlpool forever. One says, “Swimming suits only allowed in the hot tub.” What about people? Are they allowed in the tub? Another says you can’t get in with an open wound or scab. Well, what about the old guy whose skin is so bad you’d have to consider it one big open scab? I guess he got a lifetime exemption or something.
They recently had to put up a big sign explaining lap swimming to everyone, probably because a lot of the old people don’t like to share a lane. There was this one guy in particular, The General as we used to call him, who refused to share his lane — he would keep plowing along obliviously even when someone jumped into his lane. You just about had to take out a court order to get him to stop swimming down the middle of the lane. I don’t know whether this was because he felt entitled to his own lane or was so set in his own ways that he just didn’t recognize other people. In either case, the old man is fucked.
One regular calls swimming at the Y “combat swimming,” and the other day he was sporting the wound to prove it. He had a big red bruise and a small cut on one hand. It was from the big plastic lane markers that if you hit them are gonna mess up your hand pretty bad. And you’re always swimming close to them so that you don’t get hit by some imbecile in the next lane coming in the opposite direction. I’ve had some pretty violent collisions in this non-contact sport, both with the lane markers and with other swimmers who for one reason or another swim with their arms outstretched.
The Y has forced me to confront all sorts of deep questions, like if someone in the swim lane isn’t moving is he really swimming? And if he isn’t he swimming, shouldn’t he get the fuck out of the lane so that I can swim peacefully? If you ask me, if someone is barely moving in the lap lane, or taking a walk and pretending to get exercise, they need to move their sorry ass to the rec portion of the pool. Someone’s gonna get killed trying to avoid them. You got to try to swim by them and try not get hit by an oncoming swimmer coming in the opposite direction. It’s like trying to navigate one of those three-lane Missouri highways.
It’s also kept me from forgetting science, which is pretty easy to do considering how little I use it. For instance, one night after a particularly long swim I announced at the dinner table that I had swam 40 laps at the pool that day. This assertion was met with skepticism from my two high school children who had heard similar boasts before and thought it was time to call my bluff. “Do you mean laps or lengths?” one malevolently asked. “Well, I guess I mean lengths,” I admitted. Swimming at the Y can really put you in your place.
But that was really no way to treat a father who had exposed them to the grisly details at the Y for all these years, an experience that will no doubt keep them grounded in later life. There are few places left with open locker rooms and showers, particularly ones frequented by people missing body parts. That’s an educational experience, to be sure, one they will be unlikely to forget.