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.
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 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.