Ask her out, already!

Young people don’t realize how short life is.

I swim a lot at my local YMCA. Much of the staff there are high school and college students. They’re all amazing, and I’m really impressed by their desire to be able to pay for their education at a time when those costs are outrageous and unfair. But the bottom line is, they’re still young. This means I get to witness a lot of angst that I otherwise would have forgotten from my youth. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I just know that it’s a fact.

The other day a young man was our lifeguard. He sat perched high above us on his lifeguard chair, and ours was the closest lane to him. In the next lane out was a young woman who was swimming laps. Or pretending to. Actually, she was mostly treading water and talking to him. We were kind of stuck in the middle of their conversation whether we liked it or not.

Through their talk, I learned that she’s a swim instructor. So they have a lot in common. They clearly knew each other, too, because their conversation lasted the length of our half hour session.

She was acting like she wasn’t comfortable with certain swimming strokes, such as the butterfly. She said she’d be embarrassed to try them. But when she did, after much encouragement from him, she was obviously quite adept. I longed to tell her that acting stupid and incompetent does not, as a general rule, make you more attractive to others. It was quite clear she was attempting to attract our lifeguard.

She also giggled a lot, and blushed. She pulled compliments out of him, which he was more than happy to give. I remember pulling that crap when I was about 13. I look back at it with a certain level of mortification. Acting like a wounded bird doesn’t bring saviors out of the woodwork. Instead, it attracts predators.

For his part, he kept pulling off his mask so she could hear what he was saying in the large, echoing room. In the process, he was spraying us with his aerosol, which I didn’t appreciate. But who am I to stand in the way of true love? Thank God I’ve been vaccinated and had the ability to move further down my lane.

Watching them play their little courting game was both fascinating and irritating. Young people don’t realize just how short life really is. It took everything in me not to say to both of them, “Do you have a girlfriend? No? Do you have a boyfriend? No? She likes you. He likes you. Ask her out, already!”

But then I realized that these stupid games are practice for life. Hopefully someday they’ll both be able to move past them. And let’s face it, they didn’t ask me for my advice, and heaven knows nobody gave me any shortcuts at their age. So I just rolled my eyes in my mind and exercised on.

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The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had Exercising

True confession: I hate to exercise.

True confession: I hate to exercise. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. I’d sooner remove my kidney with a rusty grapefruit spoon, without benefit of anesthesia, than exercise.

I have never jogged a day in my life. Oh, I used to zoom around as a child, but I considered it to be play, not some form of physical torture in an attempt to avoid the inevitable waltz with the grim reaper. I liked to ride a bike as a child as well. It is the closest thing a minor has to a feeling of freedom. Now it’s a sweaty, uphill slog, all while desperately trying to avoid being hit by a car. Bleh.

But I would like to stick around a while longer. And I’d like to do so with a reasonable amount of quality of life. So, with dread in my heart, I recently joined the local YMCA.

And an amazing thing happened. I learned that exercise doesn’t have to be tedious or torturous. It doesn’t even have to be sweaty!

I discovered the pure joy of aqua aerobics. I do like swimming. And they play great music. And I’m in the pool with a lot of people who are, so to speak, in the same boat as I am. It’s actually fun.

It’s also a workout. You don’t really think about how much resistance water provides. And you can do a lot of exercise without putting any strain on your joints. This appeals to me greatly, as does not coming away all stinky and sticky and overheated.

In fact, I usually leave the Y feeling fantastic. Maybe there’s more to this exercise stuff than I realized. For the first time in my life, I’m willing to find out. (Once the Y opens again.)

aqua aerobics

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I Was Once a Guppy

… but first I had to be a pollywog.

The summer my grandfather taught his children to swim, by dragging them to the end of a dock and throwing them off, my mother was laid up with a really bad knee injury. Skipping that sink or swim experience was the only thing she was grateful for that summer. I think I’d have found it terrifying, too. She never did learn to swim.

Consequently, she was always afraid of the water, and what she’d do if one of her children were drowning. So she made sure that the three of us had formal swimming lessons. She just couldn’t bring herself to watch while they were going on.

The lessons I took, I believe at the local Girl’s Club, were divided up by age and ability. Students in the beginners’ class were called pollywogs. Next came guppies, then minnows. It went all the way up to dolphins.

Being a pollywog was kind of scary. You had to learn to hold your breath under water. You spent much of your time desperately clinging to the side of the pool. You were learning to navigate a new and deadly world.

But I liked being a guppy. We got to go in the deep end, provided we held on to kickboards. We spent a lot of time kick, kick, kicking the water as hard and as high as we could. We wore nose plugs and ear plugs and goggles and swim caps, but we had graduated from the use of water wings. We felt powerful, even if some accessories were still required.

I’m grateful that my mother chose not to transfer her fear of water to me. I love to swim to this day. I now consider myself a slow moving dolphin. I look forward to my aqua fitness classes every week at the local YMCA.

But I kind of miss kickboards. They were fun. And it never hurts to have something to fall back on.


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The Right to Breathe

When I was about 11 years old, a guy that had a crush on my sister went swimming with us. He was about 18, and his hormones were such that I’m sure he viewed me as a nuisance, just another obstacle blocking his path to the Promised Land. At one point my sister went off to get a snack or take a bathroom break or something, and this boy, who was sitting on the edge of the pool as I was clinging to the side in the deep end, put his hand on top of my head and pushed me under the water and locked his elbow.

I still remember this vividly– watching all my air bubble past my face, feeling my lungs spasm, hearing myself making primal animal-like noises underwater as I struggled and kicked and thrashed and panicked and clawed at his hand  and desperately tried to get to the surface. I got tunnel vision, and the tunnel kept getting darker and darker and smaller and smaller. It felt like it lasted for an eternity. I have never been so terrified or felt so helpless in my entire life. I still have nightmares based on that experience.

Finally he let go of my head because my sister was coming back. I burst to the surface, coughing and gasping and crying hysterically. He laughed. Given his reaction, and her assumption that I tended toward the dramatic, my sister didn’t take the situation at all seriously. I went home crying, and my mother didn’t take it seriously either. But looking back at it from an adult perspective, I’m quite certain that little weasel could have killed me that day. Thank God my sister came back when she did or things could have been quite different. He laughed.

There is nothing worse than not being able to breathe. Nothing. The fact that my boyfriend died all alone while most likely struggling to breathe is something I’ll never get over. I used to help him through his asthma attacks, and the worst part about it was the panic in his eyes. But that last, most critical time, I wasn’t there. He died alone in his truck, clutching his rescue inhaler.

So when I hear Republicans say that waterboarding isn’t torture, or that it’s justified torture, I take it kind of personally. Everyone should have the right to breathe. I don’t think these people understand the waterboarding concept at all. It’s simulated drowning. It’s the same as being held under water. Your air passages fill with water. And when you try to struggle toward the “surface”, that surface is covered in wet cloth.

I once saw an episode of Strangers in Danger where one of the hosts volunteered to be waterboarded to see what it was like. He lasted about 3 seconds, and when he sat up, he looked terrified. He said it was much worse than he thought.

I think every politician who says waterboarding isn’t torture should have to experience it, right in the middle of the rotunda of the House of Representatives. Call it a practical experiment. I strongly suspect that they’d change their minds about the practice right then and there. End of freakin’ debate.

According to The Guardian, a winner of the Pulitzer prize, the recently released Senate report on the torture committed by the CIA includes this description:

“At times Abu Zubaydah was described as ‘hysterical’ and ‘distressed to the level that he was unable effectively to communicate’. Waterboarding sessions ‘resulted in immediate fluid intake and involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms’ and ‘hysterical pleas’. In at least one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah ‘became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth’ … Abu Zubaydah remained unresponsive until medical intervention, when he regained consciousness and ‘expelled copious amounts of liquid’.”

The Guardian further stated: The CIA doctor overseeing the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said that the prisoner was ingesting so much water that he or she was no longer concerned that regurgitated gastric acid was likely to damage his oesophagus. But, the doctor warned, the CIA should start using saline, because his electrolytes were becoming too diluted.

My first thought is, what kind of a doctor would participate in that sort of treatment? Whatever happened to “first, do no harm”? And he or she was being paid with our tax dollars.

That there is even a question in any civilized human being’s mind that this treatment is torture makes me weep for humanity. And that’s but one of the grisly tales in that report. Standing on broken limbs, rectal rehydration, sleep deprivation, beatings, detainment in coffin-sized boxes, and hypothermia are only the tip of the iceberg. If this is what we are capable of as a society, then all is truly lost. I’m sickened.

But I’m hardly one to talk. What happened to that 18 year old boy who tried to drown me? He stopped coming around for some reason. It probably had something to do with the fact that he stopped by to visit my sister one day when I was the only one home, and I kicked him so hard in the stomach that I actually felt my toes going underneath his rib cage. As he stood doubled over, gasping for air, I quietly shut the door. I never saw him again.


[Image credit:]

Just Keep Swimming

My grandfather was old school. Part of his ability to thrive in America after coming over from Denmark stemmed from his philosophy of wasting neither money nor time. So when the day came to teach his kids to swim there were no lessons at the YMCA for his children. Oh no. He just picked them up and threw them off the end of the dock, and they’d swim, by God.

But during the summer of the swimming lessons my mother had somehow dislocated her knee cap, so while her siblings were playing in the sun and being pitched screaming headlong into the pond, she was sitting in the living room reading books with her leg propped up.

Hearing those screams as a little girl must have made quite an impression, because my mother not only never learned to swim, but was actually quite afraid of the water. She didn’t even like to wade. And then, acting as some sort of a sick reinforcement of that fear, a telegram arrived when she was 17 years old. It told the family that the merchant marine ship on which her father served as an engineer had been sunk in the North Atlantic by a German U-boat. His body was never recovered. She had nightmares about that–her father drowning, all alone in that cold ocean with no one to help. And since she never had the closure of having a body to bury, she sometimes imagined that he was still out there somewhere, suffering, needing to be rescued.

When we children came of age, my mother made it a point that we would learn to swim. She never wanted us to drown. She took us to our lessons, but she could barely watch as we progressed from polliwog to guppy to minnow to fish. When we later moved to Florida, we practically lived in the neighborhood pool to escape the heat. My oldest sister and I used to pretend we were both Esther Williams, doing synchronized swimming in Hollywood films. Due to the oppressive temperatures, we finally coaxed my mother into the shallow end of the pool, but she had to have a life ring around her waist, and she never went in past the 3 foot mark. She never, ever looked comfortable. How ironic that she was an Aquarius.

Our family has a strange history with water indeed. But time passes and perspectives change. Now, when life gets rough, my niece, nephew and I like to say, “Just keep swimming.” We got the line from one of our favorite movies, Finding Nemo. So water went from a source of anxiety to a source of strength in two generations. I think my mother would be very happy to know that.

Dory“Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming….”

Rules? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rules!

As I lie here in a feverish fog brought on by a cold that surely came from the very bowels of hell, I have been thinking about chaos, or more specifically, what keeps our world from falling into chaos. Rules. Not laws, mind you. Those we cannot really control, and must abide by. No, I’m talking about the rules by which we lead our daily lives. These are often unwritten and seem to be agreed upon by some anonymous majority that has to do, by and large, with culture and community. We often follow these rules without even thinking about them or questioning their veracity.

Many rules make perfect sense and are created to preserve our lives, health, safety, or simply to sustain our collective ability to live in large groups. These rules include such things as looking both ways before you cross the street, not shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, washing your hands after using the bathroom, and waiting one’s turn. I can live with these types of rules.

But then you have rules that we all seem to follow, like lemmings off a cliff, for no good reason. For example, our front yards must be covered in a skinny green plant called grass, which requires a ghastly amount of time to maintain. It can’t be a skinny orange plant. It can’t be dollar weed, which is flat and green, too, and requires no maintenance whatsoever. No. It has to be grass. That’s the RULE.

And then there are fashion rules which we all seem to follow simply to avoid being laughed at. For example, men should never dress like women. Whatever. And tell me, why do both of our socks have to be the same color? Who decides which colors clash? And why is a paisley tie, for example, more formal than a tie-dyed T-shirt? Thank goodness some fashion rules have fallen by the wayside, mainly due to their lack of comfort, it seems. You just never see women wearing bustles anymore, or those conical bras that looked like they came from outer space. You don’t see men wearing powdered wigs. I think panty-hose is slowly making its exit, and I won’t be sorry to see it go. I don’t know why ties persist, as they serve no purpose. High heels should go, but I doubt men will ever stand for that (pun intended). Trust me when I say my high heel days are over.

Some rules made sense when they were first created, but frankly are outmoded. We seem to cling to them for tradition’s sake and for no other reason. For example (and here’s where I’ll probably alienate and/or offend half my readership), dietary rules. They made perfect sense at a time when we had no refrigeration, or when we were too nomadic to properly store or prepare our food, but nowadays?

Then you’ve got rules that are based on…nothing logical whatsoever. Even though it has long been proven to be untrue, how many of us were forced by our parents to wait an entire hour after eating before we could go swimming? How many hours have been lost to that annoying old wives tale? And why was I told once that it was tacky of me to have a roll of toilet paper on my desk for nose blowing purposes? Why must the paper be in rectangular sheets and stored in a cardboard box for it to be acceptable? And why must we eat dessert last, even as adults?

I must warn you, though, that once you start questioning the accepted norms of society, you are really going to open up a can of worms. People don’t LIKE their routines disrupted. They are made uncomfortable by people who zig when they should zag. So proceed with caution, and remember that this was written by someone with a low grade fever who is feeling rebellious.