New tricks (in the water)


Caption: This Neanderthal contemplates going to ZUMBA class or killing the approaching mammoth.  Decisions, decisions!

As upper-mid-twenty-somethings, we’re at an awkward age.  We’re getting too old to do things we’ve always done (namely, Flip Cup) and too old to learn new things.  This paradox particularly applies to exercise.  I can no longer run a speed workout and someone always pulls a muscle during rec games like touch football or kickball.  If no one pulls a muscle it’s because we all stretched before, and how pathetic is it that we need to stretch before kickball?  That would have gotten you beat up in third grade where I come from (idyllic, honey-suckle lined playgrounds of suburban Pittsburgh).

However exercise is imperative to me for reasons best expressed by Elle Woods, protagonist of Legally Blonde.  Law student Elle reasons that an exercise instructor is innocent of accused murder because, “Exercise gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.  Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”

That is my main motivation for exercise these days: exercise makes you happy; happy people don’t kill people.  I want to be happy.  I don’t want to kill people.

But as I alluded to, my body is not as spry, pliable, and forgiving as it used to be and having some beers is generally more fun and convenient than the whole exercise rigmarole—with it’s requisite packing of clothes, getting sweaty/tired/bored, showering, and toting around soggy clothes in a GAP bag.  I usually forget one vital component of the going-to-the-gym package, like my sports bra, shoes, or combination lock.

Sometimes I forget the combination to my combination lock.  On most occasions this is just a minor hassle.  A gym employee cuts off the lock and I buy another.  On one occasion it led to predicament.  I had gone to the gym just to shower.  Let’s not get into it, but I think showering is a drag and avoid it as much as socially tolerable.  Sometimes during the workday/school day I acknowledge, “okay maybe I should have showered today” and I grudgingly tromp over to the gym and do it.  That was the case on this day.

I stuffed my things into a locker, stripped down, and closed my lock.

Shit, I locked up my towel and toiletries.

I stared at the lock.

Shit, I can’t remember the combination.

Shit, I’m naked. 

Shit, I locked up everything.

I attempted some strings of numbers, former codes lingering in my subconscious.  No luck.

I intentionally go to the gym when it’s empty, so not surprisingly the locker room was empty.  I couldn’t ask an employee to cut the lock without going to the front desk… naked.  So I waited.   And waited.  I sat down.  I stood up.  I counted tiles on the floor.  I got bored.

Eventually a woman entered and I asked her to fetch a front desk employee with lock cutters.

Oh well.  It is worth the minor mortifications and hassles of exercise, for the greater benefits of staying fit and not killing people.  I want to incorporate new, fun forms of exercise into my repertoire, but am intimidated by new, fun forms of exercise.

I lack the rhythmic coordination for Step classes, Zumba, or any form of dance.  I like hug-yourself, roll-around-on-the-floor yoga, but do not want it to be taxing and do not want to stand on my head.  The only racket sport at which I excel is Dartmouth-style beer pong.  Martial arts type activities are ludicrous and Ultimate Frisbee is an abomination.

I tried swimming laps.  I am a fine swimmer in the sense that I will not drown, but I am a terrible swimmer in the sense that the life guards sometimes ask if I’m okay.

Swimming is terrible.  It’s cold and wet.  It is monotonous with no diversions from scenery, music, or conversation.  When you think that you’ve swam for an epic length of time, it has only been twelve minutes.

But swimming is incredibly rewarding.  After swimming laps I am brimming with accomplishment.  I have done great things, swam great lengths.  I deserve a beer(s) and I certainly do not want to kill people.

I garnered the resolve to face the new—the Harvard pool—and the dreaded—swimming laps.  I meekly entered the facility and was devastated to see that it was packed.  Every lane had 2+ swimmers.  I dipped into one with two swimmers and asked one of them if I could join.  He gruffly acquiesced and carried on.

I assumed, fatally incorrectly, that they were swimming in circles (down on the right, back on the right), rather than splitting the lane and sticking to a side.  I started my pathetic stroke and before getting halfway across the pool collided head-on with the other swimmer.

I began to apologize profusely, trying to explain the confusion, but was stifled by a torrent of condemnation from my collision partner.

“WHAT are you doing?!  Are you insane?!  You could have killed me!  Don’t you know the rules of swimming?!  You could have killed me!  You should be banished!  BANISHED!”

I tried to apologize at her every breathe, but could just interject “sorry, sorr—” before the next onslaught.

“What were you thinking?!  I could sue you!  This is ridiculous!  Have you no brain?!”

“Sorry, sorr—” I babbled, bobbing in the water as she ranted.  The rest of the pool was watching and what could I do, but bob there.  If I got out I would be fully on display for all spectators.  If I stayed put I was not going to succeed in conveying any explanation or apology to this woman.

I slipped over to the next lane, which was swimming circles, and joined the procession.

When I stopped for a break on the opposite wall, I saw that the woman had emerged from the pool and was standing before the lifeguard, gesticulating wildly.  She thrust accusative fingers in my direction.  The lifeguard shrugged.  I kept swimming.

Every time I reached the far wall I peered across.  Same scene.  Ranting woman, indifferent lifeguard.  This was an unstable equilibrium.

After about five times across and back, the woman had disappeared.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to shrivel.  I absolutely wanted to stop swimming, but I could not retreat to the locker room until I was sure she was gone.  And there was no way to be sure.  Maybe she would wait to ambush me.  Maybe some people who exercise do want to kill people.

I spent the next twenty minutes of lackluster lap-swimming preparing various statements, should she be waiting to confront me in the locker room.  Fortunately, she was not.

I went home and tried to suppress the memory.  Rather than wallowing in rumination, I arranged a last-minute Match Dot Com date to potentially rouse my spirits.  He was woefully short and I have yet to return to the pool.

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