The Pool

25 July 2010

Two weekend back, our good and close friends invited us to spend the weekend at their country home.  Of course we went.  We spent the days picking cherries and apples in their hand-tended, orchard and the evenings dining on marinated pork chops, a most yummy broccoli salad, plus fruit picked that day in the orchard and onions from a large, weedless garden.

The day had been hot — high-90’s, sunny and windless — so at about four-thirty, our friends suggested we all go over the little city’s municipal pool for a dip.  Now a few years earlier, I had accompanied my friend on a trip to the country home to help him with some maintenance and, at four-thirty that day, he stopped, held up a finger they way people do when they have a capital idea, and suggested a dip in the self-same pool.

I have to admit, I don’t much care for the water;I never have. I agree with W.C. Fields who said, when asked why he never goes swimming, “Fish fuck in it”.  For another, my introduction to swimming was unpleasant: One day, my mother announced I’d be going to a swimming class.  Being six or so, it sounded like fun.  It was anything but.  For starters ,we had to change in this old so-called “beach house” that looked like something the military would concoct.  It was U-shaped with open changing stalls surrounding a (yes) metal floor — a piece of sheet iron on which you could not only fry an egg, but fry the bacon, make the toast and brew the coffee as well.  Once we’d donned our suits, we had to run across the iron floor like a Hindu fakir running the coals (owie, owie, jezus, goddamnit!).  The best thing I got out of that first lesson was a case of swimmer’s ear which, thankfully, scuppered my mother’s plans for additional lessons.  Thereafter, I avoided swimming whenever I could.

It had been decades since I’d been in a pool but time often softens bad memories so when my chum suggested the swim, I said, “Sure, why not.”  He had an extra swimsuit lying around so I rolled it up in a towel and off we went.

Walking out of the men’s changing room, I was confronted with a milling throng.  Many lazed about the pool in lawn chairs or lay sprawled on towels, but the vast majority were in the water.  While most were children squealing like swine, a good number of adults were in there too.  And joining them in less than three seconds was my friend as he got a running start and did a cannon-ball off the diving board.

Such fun!

Of course, I too, got in.  I was bobbing around for maybe a minute when a man who’d been swimming under water, popped up next to me.  Seeing me, his happy idiot’s face broke into a smile of greeting.  I smiled and nodded in acknowledgement then noticed an enormous stalactite of snot coming out his left nostril and down his lip.  Sensing there was something on his lip that shouldn’t be there, the man stuck out his tongue and probed the mass with its tip.  Realising it was the contents of his sinuses, he craned his head to the left, pressed his right index finger against his right nostril to close it off, and blew his nose into the water.  With this index finger, he wiped the remnants from his lip and nostril, rinsed the finger in the water, and re-submerged.  A few seconds later, a child (a girl, I think) came up for air right under the gob of snot and it lit in her hair.

Aw, Jesus H. Christ!  Well, perhaps she’d use it as styling mousse.

I looked around and realized I was steeping myself in a vast cauldron of filth, disease and contagion.  Either dissolved or floating in the water were the leavings of countless human beings.  Working up from the feet, there was, first, toe-jam and the fungus of athlete’s foot.  From the legs came the day’s sweat and dirt.  From the nether places came dingleberries washed out of ass-cracks and shit stains from swimming suits, plus of course, duck butter, smegma and kuze — not to mention crabs and their nits.  From the trunk and upper limbs came even more sweat and dirt.  Filthy grease came off the hair and formed a slick, along with flotilla of head lice searching for new hosts.  There were probably a few tape worm segments floating around in there too.  And of course there was snot, lots and lots of snot.  And urine — I’d bet that, at day’s end, the water level in the average municipal pool is higher by half an inch, thanks to the countless gallons of piss passed into it by the swimmers.

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  Even though there was enough chlorine in the pool to make the eyes water half a block away, it couldn’t be enough to denature and neutralize all the crud and corruption washed from the swimmers.

Shuddering with horror, I ran to the shower room and scrubbed down with scalding hot water.  With luck, I’d avoid some wretched disease.  After I dried off and dressed, I stuck my head out of the shower room and called to my friend.  When he finally caught sight of me and waived, I pointed my thumb over my shoulder and said, “I saw a Mickey D’s down the street.  When you’re through, come on by and toot the horn.”

While a nice hot shower is a thing of delight, and a relaxing soak in the tub is balm for the soul, water is basically an alien environment.  It belongs to the fishes.  I am a creature of the land, and on the land I shall stay.


Plan B

12 July 2010

When I started this blog, I promised myself that I’d add something each week.  Well, here it is Monday and I have failed.  The weekend has come and gone and I’ve written nothing.

But that’s because I’m uninspired.  Writing presupposes a good mood.  When in a bad mood, the head is empty.  It’s a form of writers’ block.

Why am I in a bad mood?  Because at age sixty-eight, I should be retired and enjoying myself.  Instead, I’m slogging away, working over forty hours each week and making so little that buying new socks is a stretch.  With a day off (it’s the 4th of July weekend) I have time to brood.

A number of years ago, I got cancer at just the wrong time.  I couldn’t attend to my company and things got away from me.  It’s like Harlan Sanders said: “It’s hard to keep your mind on draining the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.”  Since then, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with ways to make serious money.  But even if I came up with one, I don’t have enough time or energy left to pull it off.

Each Friday night, on my way to temple, I pass by a mission.  There, arrayed on the curb, are the city’s bums.  A few are drunk, but most are sober — they have to be, or the mission won’t let them in.  By the time I head home, the lucky ones have been admitted.  Inside the mission’s vast commons, each finds a cot, stuffs his bindle beneath, and sacks out.  The room is patrolled by a huge retired cop with a thick, black truncheon.  Any unruly denizen is given a knot on the head, grabbed by the belt and scruff, and ejected into the night.

In the morning, the inmates are awakened, served a breakfast of donated food, powdered eggs and cheap coffee, then put out onto the streets via the front door while those who died in the night are taken out through the back.  The place is then hosed down, disinfected and made ready for the ensuing night.

Of course, the mission can hold just so many bodies, so even some of the sober and deserving men must be turned away.  They, like the winos and junkies who are denied admittance as a matter of course, will have to sleep in the Great Out-of-Doors.  Most commonly, on the bare dirt beneath the close-by overpass.

Such men soon sicken.  The teeth fall out.  The skin thins and blotches, bruising easily.  Bones soften.  Scurvy and other forms of malnutrition set in.  Ulcers and sores appear and go untreated.  Wracking coughs are ignored.  The chill night air brings pneumonia.  Some will lay undiscovered until a smell brings the police and medical examiner.  If these nameless bodies don’t end up on a medical school’s dissecting table, they are carted off to Loving Flames for swift cremation; their ashes dumped in a paupers’ grave or scattered over the Snohomish River’s turbid waters.  The more fortunate (?) are discovered while still alive and are taken to the teaching hospital’s charity ward.  The good doctors do the best they can and soon discharge the hapless bums back out onto the street, giving them ten bucks in cash and chits for three hot meals.  An old dude can live on like this for years.


Even though I’ve slid down the greasy slope from a prosperous, middle-class life to one of penury, I still have the appearance of . . . well, a prosperous, middle-class life so I soldier-on in polite society .  But reality will eventually catch up to me.  Then what?  Too old and sick to work, and with no — and I mean no —  assets to my name, I’ll go on the dole.  If that meant I’d go to a nice home where someone would wipe my behind and serve me my meals, that would be one thing, but the dole will be too small for that and I know my kids won’t take me in.  So it’s probably be the mission, or, more likely, my own spot of dirt under the bridge, shivering in the cold.  Selling my blood for small change, I’ll supplement the mission’s evening gruel with a weekly can or two of dog food.

As the Jimmy Stewart character said, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Unless . . .  Unless I implement Plan B.  You see, I know a place where I’d have my own bed, a toilet close by, three squares a day, medical and dental care and I’d never, ever, have to sleep out in the cold and rain.  Should I become senile, I’m assured I won’t be turned out into the elements to die like a dog when some local high school kid sets me on fire.  This place?  A federal penitentiary.

Yes, the slammer.  The joint.  The Big House.  Truly, a place of refuge for Gentlemen of the Road.  At my age, no matter my crime, Uncle Sam would never send me to ADX or Leavenworth.  No, having offended Uncle Sam, I’d get Club Fed; one of those nice low-security places with chain-link fences where they put business executives and the prison system’s last-leggers.  Like them, I’d get to sit around playing cribbage and gin-rummy from sunrise to lights-out and regaling my fellow convicts with stories of daring-do.

And I’d be safe: No embezzler or swindler will risk the needle for the satisfaction of killing me.  As for the last-leggers, they’ll be  too old to care about me and too enervated to hurt me even if they did.

When I become terminal, the federal prison will have a place that’s warm and dry where I can go to die in peace.  And because the doctors there, like doctors everywhere, take their oaths seriously, they’ll give me enough dope to keep me gorked-out until the end comes.

Such a deal.

So, How do I get in?  Why, stick up a bank, of course.  The trick here is knowing when to commit the Act.  It’s a ticklish balance.  If I act too soon, I might have so much vitality remaining that my sentence becomes burdensome.  On the other hand, if I put it off too long, the window of sanity and lucidity may close and I won’t be able to pull it off; I must be alert enough to know when the time is ripe.  This  should be pretty obvious — maybe like the first time I crap in my pants at the mission’s dinner table.  In any case, when that moment has arrived, I’ll go rob a federally chartered bank.  I’ll just walk in with two sacks: My bindle (I won’t be needing it any more so what the hell) and an empty bag.  I’ll walk up to a teller, set my bindle on the counter, then scream that it contains a cell-phone activated bomb and that unless he (or she) stuffs the other bag full of money, I’m heading for the door and will press the green “connect” button on the call phone in my pocket.

This little stunt should earn twenty years.  Long enough to die.

The only problem is a lot of other old busted codgers will be doing this very thing.  It won’t be too long before the criminal justice systems sees through this little sham and finds us innocent, tossing us back out into the cold and dark.  And it must do this — find us innocent — for the swelling ranks of elderly poor cannot be accommodated by the nation’s prisons.  If I’m not safely in the pen by then, I’ll have to come up with Plan C.

I’ll keep you posted.