Thursday, December 01, 2011

People in the Pool

The waters of Boy Charlton Pool are a filtered mix of harbour saltwater and chlorine and it's practically empty on the weekend. That's when the starboard side wooden planks are overrun with a fashion show (and accompanying jury) mainly of gays and honorary gays (Hugh Jackman) strutting, admiring and sunning for one another. 

But in the morning, the deck is empty and people are actually swimming laps. The pool is at rush hour peak from 6:30 to 7:30am with squads taking up three lanes and the rest jam-packed with the pre-work crowd. It's all strokes, flip-turns and foaming water. I keep eyes on them as I languidly swim my 32 lap mile, and really want to know what, if anything, they're contemplating as they complete their rotations?

On the outside, it appears their minds are harmoniously syncopated with each breath (once every four strokes) as their bodies slice the water. Swimming is meant to be meditative. Escaping worlds of stress as you paddle to and fro, alone in your head as it lulls into indulgent me-time. But in my (head) case, there's not the still safe, sensory deprivation. There are voices and they don't shut up! Swimming with the others, it would appear we're all in it silently together, but in my head I'm not sure if we're all part of the same school - or if I'm a separate fish, surrounded?

I know the others by their behavior. In a busy (not slow) lane with seven other swimmers, a certain woman unfailingly decides, suddenly, to do a few gentle lengths of breaststroke. The breaststroke purports to be exercise, much like pizza purports to be a vegetable. Everyone knows if you don't really want to workout or even bother getting your hair wet, but still give the appearance of aquatic exercise - have a breaststroke. And though everyone is passing her, while trying to avoid oncoming swimmers as well as the sudden and dangerous frog-leg kick of her breaststroke, she carries on seemingly unaware: an obliviousness I always attribute to arrogant discourtesy.

She bookends the man who outfits himself with fins, hand paddles, and - so he won't have to turn his head to breathe - a snorkel. When I watch him, he's always nipping at someone's toes, and when he takes a break at the end of the pool, I perceive in his face a mix of both pride in his speed - and an aggravation that, though with none of his props, everyone else swims far slower than he does.

A rather out of shape man stands at the end of the slow lane, hanging onto the lane line. I'm not sure he ever leaves that spot, and yet I picture him going into work, hair wet and smelling of chlorine, proudly telling the girls he works with what a workout he had at the pool, when really all he did was get wet.

One really truly beautiful man wears red speedos with a white poinsettia print on the ass. He comes at about 7:27am and stretches, arms over his head, for many minutes, strategizing which lane he's going to dedicate himself to. Which one has the least amount, not of people, but of people who are aware of their own abilities/disabilities and have chosen a lane accordingly. Once he makes this decision, he will not leave this lane. I always hope its mine.

The Slapper is a trim older man who looks sweet in the locker room, but in the water his freestyle is armed with a right hook that comes round like an out of control windmill and WHAP! punishes the pool. Beware the newcomer who, unaware, does not know to swim far to the left so as to avoid the unbridled slapper which will, and does, swat you hard in the arm, back or even head. It's a slap and swim, because he doesn't stop to apologize, or amend his form. Olympian Janet Evans had one wild arm, sort of a seal flipper, but she was Janet Evans.

I think Slapper may have seen her in Seoul back in '88, made a go at imitation and since then, underwater, imagines his frenetic technique to resemble, above water, that of a champion gold medalist. 

Of course my head is extrapolating, processing, making all of this up. I speak to nobody and nobody to me until one young woman does. "I'm puffed," she exclaims as she finishes a lap. "This thing is taking all my energy," and she points down - I'm almost afraid to look - to her distended, very pregnant belly.

I consider the little creature swimming inside of her, and of her swimming here with all of us. And that each of these characters at the pool, they might stand for something. Maybe we are not people at all, but metaphors.  


Tony said...

Hey Jesse -

What a cool idea! We could be metaphors in the sense that some people we know, or know about, can easily be put in a metaphorical slot, for example: “that dreamboat Jesse,” or “that stud Bam,” or “that old fart Tony.” But what about the undifferentiated others? Ah, just in time, a new metaphor for (almost) everyone else: “I am the 99%!”

Metaphors like these are mental shorthand we use, sometimes arbitrarily, to conveniently describe or categorize a real person. But the intriguing question is what if we are not real persons, but merely metaphors?

Vague recollections of Philosophy 101 brought that to mind, and since I can barely remember any of that stuff, I had to dig around to see if there was anything to the idea. Turns out there is. One thing I read pointed out that the 18th century empiricist George Berkeley said that reality consists exclusively of minds and their ideas as follows:

We perceive ordinary objects like houses or trees.
But we perceive only ideas. (The image of a house is in our mind, hence an idea.)
Ordinary objects are ideas.

Some of us probably have the general notion that Buddhism says that “reality is illusion.” The article I read gives a couple of examples. One school of Buddhism does not accept the existence of an external world as an entity other than mind, yet accepts the true existence of objects of perception. But a more extreme school of Buddhist thought takes the position that nothing, not even the smallest particle of matter, has true existence. (Quantum physics, anyone? Has anyone actually seen a quark or a Higgs boson?)

So, maybe we are nothing but metaphors, like you suggest, Jesse. But how do we account for when that guy with the right hook in your lap lane hits you squarely in the face?

Jesse Archer said...

Hi Tony,
All very well put! I'd much rather be a metaphor than a stereotype, but perhaps a metaphor is just a poetic way to say just that?

I also read once that we're made of atoms which have only evolved to (appear?) to be solid. That physicists say we should theoretically be able to walk through walls... which would be one useful way to avoid the Slapper!