The Pool at the Gym is My New Zombie Training Ground

Posted on February 9, 2011

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Back in December, I decided to beat the New Year’s rush of resolutions, and join the gym. I thought if I could get ahead of the curve, then MY ambitions would be genuine and not just some side effect of an arbitrary date in the middle of winter when everyone decides to be better people. And for the most part, it has worked. For all of December and even now, getting on into February, I’ve gone to the YMCA on a regular basis. At first I felt a little shy about it, like I was intruding into the secret chambers of an exclusive club. But then, as I got comfortable it felt more and more like I was a PART of this exclusive club. Especially on January 2nd, when all of the holiday over-eaters came out of the woodwork and walked around in a sort of sugar-coated daze of confusion asking for directions to the weight room.

But that’s not really what this story is about.

So, like I said, I joined the gym. I did it for the pool really. I’m six feet tall, and a klutz. Therefore, running, lifting, or organized sports involving precise coordination aren’t exactly my strong suit. But swimming…well, that’s a different creature all together. I love swimming. I was holding my breath under water before I could even walk. And if a 100 ton blue whale can be graceful in the water, why not me? It’s the perfect work-out solution for someone who can’t walk a block without tripping. But of course, I am not fortunate enough to have my own pool, which is where the gym comes in.

So for the most part the YMCA has worked out great. I’ve been happy to swim laps every day after work. I don’t particularly give a damn whether I looked good in my skin-tight Speedo. Granted, it digs into soft places that shouldn’t be soft, and exposes flaws I would prefer stay hidden. But for the most part I don’t mind, because everyone else in the pool is in the same position. In fact, the other people in the pool are really nice. They don’t make you feel half naked at all. If all the lanes are taken, and if you stand there long enough looking sad and squishy in your swimsuit, someone will motion you over to share their lane and take cover in the water. It’s a big, happy, wet, and scantily clad community. Nothing about it could go wrong. Right?

Yeah. Well…while I’ve yet to encounter an unpleasant swimmer, I do have one tiny little complaint about the pool. I don’t know his name, but I do know he’s a life guard. And I do know that he creeps me out. And I do know that I’ll go to great lengths avoid interacting with him.

You see, the YMCA has several different life guards who rotate shifts. Which means I still haven’t figured out how to predict which life guard will be on duty when I show up. And with 10 of them, there’s only a 1 in 10 chance on any given day that I will encounter creepy lifeguard (CL). But when I do, it’s not fun. He’s the reason I started choosing lanes in the middle of the pool (more on that in a minute). And because I try avoiding him at all costs, I’m not sure if he’s creepy to just me or to everyone. Or perhaps I’m just overly paranoid. Maybe I suffer from kind of perverse antisocial axiety disorder. Or maybe I just don’t like talking to people while I work out. But no matter.

The first time I encountered CL, I was in an end lane, using the kick board to work on my flutter kick. I was kicking like a champ when I heard someone talking. I assumed that it was a conversation unrelated to me, as people swimming laps don’t usually try to chat. But the talking continued. And it followed me down the length of the pool. And then I realized it was the lifeguard. He had been walking alongside me, trying to get my attention. This being the first time I encountered CL I figured he just needed to tell me something important, like “This lane will be closing in 15 minutes.” But, as it turns out, he really just wanted to know my strongest stroke. That’s how he phrased it. “So…I was just wondering. What’s your strongest stroke?” And he said it with a creepy little smile. To which I replied “Um. I just do this for exercise” and proceeded to put my head underwater as much as I could for the remainder of the workout.

I think he got the point. Sort of.

I didn’t see much of CL after that, as I managed to avoid him pretty well save for a few small incidents. But then, last week, he managed to TRAP me. I didn’t think it possible, after all, I had chosen a well-protected lane in the middle of the pool. My towel was hung on the wall just within reach for an easy escape. CL was nowhere in sight. I’d lucked out. Here’s a diagram.

I was swimming along merrily, enjoying the freedom of being weightless in water. I had given myself a good workout, and my 30 minutes were at an end. I was looking forward to a hot shower and a few minutes in the sauna. I paused to clear my goggles and happened to catch some movement at the other end of the pool, near the towel rack. The lifeguards were changing duty, and Oh dear gods, it was CL. As the other lifeguard walked away, he took up a position standing at the end of the pool, right in front of my lane, between me and my towel. It was like he KNEW. He FUCKING KNEW.

I had three options:

1. Get out of the pool now while I was close to the door, abandon my towel, and make a bee-line for the locker room. I could figure out how to dry off later.

2. Attempt to retrieve my towel and be forced into an uncomfortable encounter in the process

3. Or,  just…keep…swimming.

I chose the third option. I mean, how long could he really stand there anyway? Eventually he’d have to go check, you know, other parts of the pool. That was his job after all. It was a test of wills. And I was in the zone.  I could swim all night long if I had too. But of course I wouldn’t have to. My decision was really based on the fact that I assumed it would only be maybe another 5 minutes.

Twenty minutes later I was still swimming, CL still standing right at the end of my lane. I was thinking perhaps I had drowned at some point and was actually in a kind of twisted purgatory. But then… finally, I caught my chance. CL finally gave up, realizing I must have an incredible lung capacity to have gone that long without coming up for air, and he began walking away, around the edge of the pool.

I sprinted in my fastest freestyle down the lane, knowing I didn’t have much time. I jumped out, grabbed my towel, wrapped it around my waist and proceeded to walk/run as quickly as I could . I still had to make it all the way across to the locker-room door, and CL had spotted me. He was moving to cut me off, and I would be damned if I was going to be forced into a conversation with this weirdo. But I had to be careful. The path was a perilous trek across wet tile.

I was just within the threshold of the doorway when he caught up with me. I could feel how badly he wanted to cut me off, how much he relished the opportunity to make me squirm under the pressure of this forced socializing, all the *just innocent enough to sound ridiculous if I were to repeat them to his supervisor* innuendos he had bursting on the tip of his tongue.

Then, my foot hit a wet spot. And for what felt like a millennium, I was on the verge of slipping, of adding injury to insult, to floundering like a beached whale on the drab tan tile, being forced to accept his help up. The moment seemed to stretch on and on, my heart thumping in fearful anticipation, until my hand found grip on the door jam. The glorious, glorious door jam. Never before had something so mundane been so holy. I gripped it hard, used it to pull myself up, and propel myself forward into the safety of the locker-room stairwell. And like an invisible magic wall, CL proceeded no further. I think because if he left the safety of his wet tile killing-grounds he would dissolve like the wicked witch under a bucket of water. I had was beyond his reach.  

As I scurried up the stairs, I heard him call out behind me “Have a great night! Enjoy your shower.” And despite his little jab, we both knew – I had escaped. For now.

You’re probably wondering why on earth I would go back there. And I don’t blame you. But I’ve come to think of this little dance as training. Training for when it really counts. After all, my philosophy is quite simple: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, for when the zombies get here. And when they do, running on wet tile won’t slow me down a bit. I mean, seriously. Why do YOU work out?

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