Friday, October 29, 2004

Night Swimming
Oh, OK. Late-afternoon swimming. Cool REM song, though, eh?

After being on the shelf for a full week with a nasty cold, I finally got in the pool again today. Usually I sneak a swim in during my lunch break (and then eat at my desk); today I never could pull away from the office so the swim came afterward. Ever spent much time at a gym (or health club, or spa, or whatever)? One of the interesting things about your modern American exercise venues is that they can have a radically different feel depending on what time of the day you typically go. I'm at Healthquest around 2 p.m. most days, along with a bunch of retired farts who behave really sweetly toward each other, always saying hello and striking up good-natured conversations that veer off in strange and wonderful directions and which I take great pleasure in listening in on. Those old guys: Another cool thing is, you'll be sitting there getting dressed and some wacky song will come over the gym's stereo system, like that "Nasty Girl" tune done to the old sugar-sugar pop hit. The graybeards don't usually say anything about it, but you can just feel them thinking, "What the fuck?"

Mid-afternoon, the pool crowd tends to be made up of non-swimmer swimmers, old ladies in funny swim caps floating back and forth with random flutters of their arms, maybe a few folks doing a lap of crawl followed by a lap of bad breaststroke followed by a lengthy rest while clinging to the wall. I'm not saying I never see any good swimmers in the afternoon. I do. There's an Asian chick who wears a jammer top and never swims without some sort of device -- flippers, the little buoy thing that goes between the legs, the paddles on the hands, something. She's a very good swimmer and I usually see her once a week. And Mr. Swimmer Stud, a guy about my age who has your classic inverted isosceles triangle swimmer body and races sprints in national-level master's meets -- he makes rare appearances. Often, though, I'm the fastest guy in the pool, which tells you everything you need to know.

So anyway, today, as I mentioned, I couldn't get away until work was over. Around 5:30 on Friday evening, the locker room was full of middle-aged guys getting ready to pump iron. Conversations were sharper, less lyrical, predictable. At the pool, there were three swimmers, two long, lean young guys and a burly gal. All doing flip turns, all clearly keeping track of their lap splits. Nothing wrong with that, just different.

Different, too, of course, was the angle of the sun. Obviously. Over the course of the summer and early fall I became accustomed to the high, hot sun and I usually plastered sunscreen on my exposed pate. And it always took me a lap or two to transition from the warm air to the chilly water, but working hard, the temp was just right, cool and refreshing.

Today, the sun was low in the west, lower than I was ready for. There was only a half-hour of full sun to go. The light, looking across the length of the pool and out toward the sunset, was beautiful. The water seemed to move differently, slower, pulsing instead of pitching and splashing. Getting in out of the mild but cooling air, the water was warm, enveloping.

So with all of that, it felt great to swim. I kept it short, just about 1200 yards, half my usual swim. I was surprised at how comfortable I felt in the water. It took a few laps, but that's all. I guess this is the payoff for swimming four or five days a week for the past three months, and three or four days a week in the four months preceding that. Now I actually kind of understand what the swimming coaches say when they talk about "feel," about moving fishlike in the water. I felt good in the water, at home. Then again, maybe it was just some trick of the time of day, some inexplicable fleeting experience. I'll be curious to see how it goes on Monday afternoon, when I'm back at the usual time.

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