Monday, October 17, 2011

Respect thy elders, and I mean NOW

I swim five or six days a week at our local YMCA, appearing poolside in bathing suit and flip flops, toting a towel, a water bottle and some four pound Styrofoam water weights, searching for an open lane. I get there anywhere between six o'clock in the morning and six o'clock in the evening, depending on the day. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the busiest days, the ones in which the hard-core lap swimmers come and shame me with their flip turns and their butterflies and, apparently, their fully functioning gills.

I combine my laps with water aerobics because there's just no way I can swim laps for an entire hour like some of them do. Because the pool schedule designates the hours I'm there as LAP SWIM, I made sure to check with the aquatics director before just blithely taking up an entire lane so that I can occupy one small part of it with my Aquacise; I don't want to annoy anyone who comes in to swim laps, being one of those people who is hopeful of getting along nicely with others, although sometimes I wonder why I bother.

Today, for instance. Today, I got to the pool at 7:30, which is usually a good time to find an open lane. Unfortunately, every lane was full -- and this pool is enormous -- and some of the lanes had two swimmers. On days like this, there's nothing to do but just take a seat on the bench outside the ladies' locker room door and wait. Which I did. Patiently. Although I have to admit, I wish the YMCA, which has wi-fi, would set up some desks so that people could get some work done while they're waiting. I found myself thinking longingly of my laptop and all I could be getting accomplished instead of staring alternately at the clock and the pool, back and forth, again and again.

It took about fifteen minutes for one of the lanes to open. The lifeguard, who'd come over to sit beside me and chat, said, "Looks like you can go ahead and jump on in. Have a good workout!" The man who was climbing out gave me a nod and said, "Good morning! Feels great in there!" and I swam my first couple of laps with a light heart and a feeling of goodwill for everyone, embarking on my aerobics program with vigor about fifteen minutes later.

Thirty minutes later, I was still flailing away like a little trooper, having moved over to what we all call the "step lane," which, quite simply, is the lane that is shorter than the others because of the set of steps with two handrails that descends into the water to a distance of about four feet from the wall. The lap swimmers don't like to swim in that lane, obviously because it's painful to glide headlong into a set of steps. That kind of thing can really mess with your stroke. I use that lane a lot and have grown to feel that it's my special place in the pool, not only right there by those steps (which I need to get in and out of the pool due to my handicap) but also in easy view of both clocks, the one that marks the hours, and the one that marks the seconds.

So I'm doing my thing, right? And I've been there doing it for about forty-five minutes, having a pretty good workout. Heart rate up, burning fat, taking in air IN through my nose and OUT through my mouth and moving that water, when....

...what? What?

Ladies were starting to gather in the water at the other side of the pool for the nine o'clock water aerobics class and both dedicated lap lanes still had swimmers in them, so there were people around. But out of nowhere, someone's finger tapped me on the shoulder, and not in that "Hey, hi! Remember me from the bank/grocery/post office?" kind of way. It was more of a stabby kind of thing. Startled, I turned my head as I was jogging and saw an elderly lady standing there, far enough away that I wasn't going to nail her with an elbow, but still pretty darned close, considering we had an entire giant pool at our disposal.

I gave her an inquiring look, bemused at the fact that she was scowling at me under her white swim cap like she'd just found out I was a secret pool-pee-er.

"I'M GOING TO SWIM HERE NOW," she shouted at me, indicating the lane I was exercising in.

"Oh?" I replied politely, bringing my jog down to a light bounce.


"This lane isn't open," I pointed out.

"WELL, I HAVE TO HAVE SOMEPLACE TO SWIM," she yelled and grimly began to paddle toward the deep end, doing some kind of weird back stroke that involved using her hands like flippers. She lifted her head out of the water and gave me one last glare before making a "Hmmmph!" sound and putting her head defiantly back in the water. She looked like a great big old grouchy manatee.

So what was I supposed to do? She was an elderly lady, and I was brought up to respect my elders, to treat them with courtesy and gentleness, not to shout, "BRING IT ON, MAMAW!" and hold them under water. I mean, I could do that because I was at least thirty years younger than her, plus I was armed with those Styrofoam weights and I could have clocked her right in the side of her old grey head. But I didn't.

I did, however, do the next best thing: I ratted her out to the lifeguard. So ha, ha, HA.

"Oh, that's Madge," sighed Tara, the guard. "She's nasty like that to everyone. Just ignore her."

So we'll see how that goes, won't we? I seriously do not want to start anything with anyone, particularly an elderly woman. On the other hand, I don't think that either the elderly or the very young should be encouraged in their bad behavior because no one is brave enough to confront them. Like the three-year-old whom I observed throwing a huge fit in a restaurant the other day while his hapless mother dithered around saying, "Brandon, stop that. Stop that, honey! Get up off that dirty floor, sweetie, and Mommy will give you a piece of gum," I don't think Madge should be allowed to bully her way into other people's swimming lanes because people, namely me, will allow themselves to be run off from the lane they had to wait fifteen minutes to claim.

It remains to be seen if Madge will allow herself to be ignored.

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