I have lived in California for almost 2-and-a-half years. One might think that I now spend my days on the sunny beach, swimming in the ocean, or at least in a pool. Alas, no.
When we first got here, while waiting for our furniture to arrive and our bathroom remodel to finish, we lived in a furnished corporate apartment complex with the portentous name of Domus on the Boulevard. An outdoor pool was part of the complex, and I swam there somewhat regularly and even blogged about it: My Kind of Exercise. Not for me, the usual middle-aged “I’ve lost my youthful athleticism” lament. You can’t lose what you never had. Instead in that blog I attempt to come to terms with my swimming history.
Two years later, I am still exactly there: ambivalent about my history as a not-particularly-athletic ex-swimmer who prefers the breaststroke.
But then I got the email: “Thank you for your interest in the Y and for downloading a 3-day free trial pass from our website. Join in January and save 50% off the Joining Fee!”
Wait, did I download a 3-day free trial pass? Yeah, I guess I did, a whole year and a half ago. So they still remember that? What are they over there at the El Camino YMCA, some sort of tech wizards? You’d think this was Silicon Valley or something . . .
It becomes a huge production for me to actually use this trial pass, which is probably why I haven’t done it until now. When I invite him along, my son says “scout it out and tell me if it’s crowded” before turning back to his computer. The pass file is still on my computer, in a folder cleverly marked YMCA, along with a pool schedule from October 2016. Fortunately I replaced all the empty printer ink cartridges for the holiday letter, so I can print out the pass. A few years ago I thought I could combat boredom by listening to music while I swim, so I got a waterproof iPhone case for Christmas. This plan struck me then–and now–as very exciting: I am going to listen to orchestra music while swimming! I am going to emulate my heroine, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, who reports in Lifehacker: “I practically live with headphones glued to my ears—when I work, when I bike (don’t tell my mom), when I work out.”
I locate that case, never actually exposed to water, in a bottom drawer under my goggles, suit, and one of my daughter’s old swim caps. I briefly consider that I should try it out with my ancient iPod touch first, in case the case leaks. But the iPod doesn’t have any interesting music on it, and its touch screen is almost non-functional, so I’m back to the phone. It fits in the case but it takes me a while to figure out how to plug it in. And then there’s getting the current orchestra music onto the phone. Download, copy into itunes, plug phone into computer. Lather, rinse, repeat. Yet when I drive to the Y, I still manage to leave my phone at home and have to drive back for it.
By the time I traverse the cold, cold concrete path in my bare feet (forgot flip-flops) from the women’s locker room (forgot a combination lock) to the pool, the sun is low in the sky. Attention Lap Swimmers! a sign along the path admonishes me. Do not enter a lane without telling the other occupants of that lane.
There are only 1-2 people per lane, and they don’t appear to be swimming super-fast. In fact, here is a lane where one middle-aged guy is doggedly swimming the breaststroke. I sit on the side and dangle my feet in the nice warm water while I wait for him to come back so I can tell him I am “entering his lane.” He doesn’t mind sharing. I find out a number of things about him, including that he used to manage a pool himself, that he has been in California about the same length of time that I have, and that this pool is better than the one at the YMCA he first joined. He is amused by the contraption around my neck, but wishes me good luck with it. I let him get a good head start and then I’m off.
My first several laps are a tangle of leaking goggles and the phone case knocking around. First I can barely hear the music, then it’s too loud. One minute I’m listening to Journeys by Linda Robbins Coleman, and then it jumps to Scheherazade. Then my earbuds fall out again. Finally I figure out that it works best to put the phone case in the front of my suit, the equivalent of sticking it in my bra. It probably looks weird, but there isn’t much drag and it stays put, which also keeps the ear buds in place. My goggles are too tight and give me raccoon eyes so I’m going to look for new ones, but for now at least they don’t leak.
As the sun goes down and the pool lights come on, I start to find a rhythm. The laps run together, but I keep swimming: mostly breaststroke and a few lengths of front crawl, sidestroke, or backstroke in there just for fun. The music, which is all modern and unfamiliar to me this early in the rehearsal cycle, fits the watery chaos. I feel alone in the universe, suspended in time and space. A couple of the pieces have astronomical themes: one is called Transit of Venus, another Saint-Exupery: of Heart, Sand, and Stars. The last one is called Journeys, and I’m finally on one.