For the last six years I lived across the street from a public pool. In the summer months it beckoned me from my kitchen window. The rest of the year, no matter how high the mercury got in Southern California thermometers, it sat drained of everything but the graffiti from local taggers.
The price of admission alternated. First it was a dollar. Then when Villaraigosa became mayor of Los Angeles it was free to swim with a library card. Now that the economy is bad, it is two dollars if the middle aged Eastern European lady is working the door or free if the twenty year old Latina is in charge.
There is a water slide which I have never used. Not because it doesn’t look like fun, but because of my swimsuit. I once swam competitively, so for the first five summers I swam laps in Speedos. Now I wear the slightly more socially acceptable jammers, which are waterproof bicycle shorts. Just as it’s impossible to enjoy swimming laps in shorts with drag, I couldn’t help but feel like a creep sliding down in such revealing attire.
I have a routine. I swam 40 laps freestyle. 12 laps butterfly. 8 laps breaststroke. I try to get there right when the pool opens before the water is murky with sunscreen. At eleven in the morning my eyes can see it all through the goggles. But still it is a tricky time. I like to have an empty stomach, so I feel lighter treading through the water. But with no food, your strength wanes and the exercise becomes a chore. So sometimes I am forced to swim after lunch, as I do today.
Today the regulars are out. There is Ralph, a fifty year old Scot, who enjoys complaining about how strangers won’t have a conversation with him. There is a fifty year old Romanian, who brings along his wife he claims was once a model. The Romanian likes to tell me I have a monkey on my back. This monkey is my excessive back hair. He brags to me how his wife shaves his back and that I should do the same. I tell him,”My day is incomplete without lessons in hygiene.” He smiles and complains of how at a recent concert in Bucharest Madonna disrespected his country by saying Romanians mistreat Gypsies.
The Romanian and Scot are in a sentimental mood. The pool is closing for the year on Labor Day. They speak of where they might swim in the coming months. There is an outdoor pool on Santa Monica and San Vincente and the local Y has an indoor pool.
A very old man walks by us. The Scot tells the eighty year old man, who can still do push-ups, he looks like Rudolph Hess. I have never heard of this Rudolph Hess, but the Romanian, Scot and old American laugh about it and I learn Hess was Hitler’s right hand man. I finish my laps and say good bye to the regulars. I now live a few miles from the pool and wonder if I will ever see the regulars or even the inside of the pool again. I go into the locker room to change. My last sight as I put on my pants are Rudolph Hess’ wrinkled testicles. Yes, this will be my last time at the public pool.