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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bobbing for Fitness

I have previously mentioned that the Health Club had a formidable Korean community. Much of this community belonged to one of the swimming pool's most popular sub-groups, the Non-Swimming-Asian Society for Fitness (NSASF).
"Non-swimming," you say? "Then what are they doing in a swimming pool?"
This is the question that plagued Damon and I for the duration of our tenure at the Health Club. These were people who had never learned to swim, but still wanted the vigorous, healthy workout that the pool had to offer. They would enter the pool, walk down until the water was just below armpit depth and bob up and down in place for about an hour, often aided by a float-belt. Not water aerobics, mind you. Literally just bobbing up and down.
Vigorous. Healthy.
It was so vigorous that they never seemed to be out of breath, tired, nor did they ever show any remote sign of fatigue. It was so healthy that they never visibly lost weight.
The NSASF was also one of the biggest obstacles to our lap-swimming members. Those who actually wanted a workout got more than they bargained for when attempting to swim in a straight line. Our pool wasn't large enough to warrant lane lines, so lap-swimmers were always dodging NSASF's who placed themselves in their paths.
"Excuse me, I was swimming laps right here. Could you move over just a few feet?"
Bob. Bob. Bob. Bob.
"Really? Can't you just move over here?"
Bob. Bob. Bob.
I'm not really sure why it was just the Koreans who bobbed for fitness, but it was. Just like I wasn't sure until many years after I worked at the Health Club, why the Koreans were the charter members of another popular sub-group, Loogie-Hockers Incorporated. I've since read that it is common in the Korean culture to expectorate just about anywhere, and the practice is not considered rude in the least. They find nose blowing extremely offensive, but spitting is a casual thing. But it was certainly alarming to me at the time to see them walk over to the side of the pool and hock a lunger right there on the pool deck.
"Hey! You can't do that here! That's disgusting!" The most response I would get was that they might flick a little pool water on their gooey pile, which really only disguised it for the next unsuspecting, bare-footed soul to walk through.
Another off-shoot of the NSASF was the CTCA, or the Cross-Trafficking Commission of America. There was no ethnic requirement to be a part of this group, though it was certainly founded by the NSASF. The CTCA consisted of non-swimmers wanting learn how to swim by themselves, but fearing for their safety, they would stick to the shallow end of the pool. Thus they were forced to "swim" the width of the pool, providing more obstacles for lap-swimmers.
When I say "swim," I mean they would push off the wall, hands out front, face down for as long as they could hold their breath, and then convulse briefly until finally putting their feet down, gasping for breath and wiping away the water from their eyes. They'd laugh and look around for some sort of approval from anyone, as if they'd just accomplished something in their personal lives. They would then repeat the process after walking the rest of the way to the other side of the pool where they would promptly propel themselves into a now furious lap-swimmer. Several collisions later, their work was done, and they felt as if they'd learned something new, grown emotionally and maybe even burned a few calories, which of course, they hadn't.
The more daring affiliates of the CTCA would venture into the deep end. They would never relinquish their death grip on the side of the wall, but dammit, they made it! See? It's not so scary! The wall will hold you up! If you can do this, you can do anything!
The Cliffhangers, as they were affectionately called, were fun to watch. They really looked like they had done something important, taken a big step in their personal development.
"You finally made it to the deep end, sort of," you'd say in your mind! "And you're only 43? Your parents will be so proud of you! Let's call Guinness to make sure this isn't some sort of a record."
Then then on your way to pick up the phone you step into a squishy pile that your foot now instantly recognizes as Korean spit.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Drunken Master [Warning: Graphic Scenes Depicted!]

No one is ever completely ready to walk up to a middle aged Korean man and ask him to stop vomiting on himself. It's not something that you ever really prepare for. There are no scenes in movies or books where the protagonist has to summon his/her courage to walk up to another character, regardless of age or nationality, and say, "Sir, please stop throwing up on yourself. This is a public facility, and we don't allow that here." Frodo Baggins didn't have to do it. Neither did Holden Caulfield, the Count of Monte Cristo, Rambo, Anne Whatsherface who ate some Gables, or Mr. Miyagi.
But I did.
I find this extremely unfair. Literature, cinema and country music all teach us that at times, life just doesn't go the way you want it to. But nowhere in the entire annals of human history is the "please stop vomiting on yourself" scenario covered. I mean, I even know how to deal with getting rid of a Sasquatch who has endeared itself to my family (thanks, Harry and the Hendersons!) but nothing, not even college, prepares you for this.
Okay, let me retract slightly. There's a good chance that some of you may have had to say, "please stop vomiting on yourself" when you were in college. But it is highly doubtful that the vomiter in question was doing so intentionally. College is riddled with vomit. People throw up on themselves every night at universities across the nation. But regardless of how drunk they intended to get, none of these students set out specifically to vomit on themselves in public.
However, this was the case with Drunken Master.
I've mentioned Drunken Master before. He was the guy who'd stumble into the pool area obviously inebriated and couldn't come close to walking a straight line. Usually, he would get into the hot tub and moan as if he were either being tortured or sexually pleasured (it was hard to tell). He'd often lay in a chaise lounge swinging his head left and right somewhat violently, but I just figured that was a Korean thing. The Health Club had a large Korean community and I saw some odd behavior, but I figured it mostly to be cultural differences and so I let the head shaking go without much thought. But the day came when his behavior crossed all cultural lines and went straight to... well, I don't know where people find this acceptable.
One day, there he was in his chaise lounge, but instead of shaking his head, he was putting his fingers in his mouth. Odd, but again I just figured it was a culture thing. Still it was intriguing enough to warrant further observation.
Deeper into his mouth the fingers went. The further back into his throat he put them, the quicker my heart started to beat. There was a situation a-brewing and however it was going to turn out, I knew I didn't want to deal with it. It was going to be worse than that time I had to tell an old lady in the steam room that her boob had fallen out of her shirt, and that was bad enough.
I wanted to look away and pretend I didn't notice (it's an ancient and effective lifeguard trick for dealing with speedos that are too small to adequately cover genitalia) but the other patrons had begun to take notice of Drunken Master's antics and were shooting me glances of shock and horror. This was now officially my responsibility.
Things like this aren't covered in a lifeguard's job description but they should be.
"You will be required to maintain the safety of the patrons, as well as the cleanliness and sanitation of the pool and pool area. In addition, you will monitor the level of clothing on all patrons, keep them from drinking Holy Hot Tub Water, prohibit self-vomiting and indoor expulsions of phlegm onto the floor." But they leave that stuff out. [Warning: Graphic scene imminent!]
I stood up to get a better view of Drunken Master's unusual conduct and as soon as I did, out came the vomit. It wasn't a lot of vomit, but certainly enough vomit. He directed it right onto his stomach. I guess he felt it looked better on the outside than the inside because he then began smearing the clear-ish sticky fluid all over himself with his hands. Being quite stunned, no one really made a move, least of all me. A patron finally got up to leave the pool area and suggested on his way out that I see if Drunken Master was okay. I was on the hook now so I began to walk over to him when he went back into his mouth for round 2. More vomit, more smearing. I asked him if he was okay and he nodded. I suggested he take a trip up to the shower to clean himself off and he pretended not to understand English. As he put his hand to his mouth again I shouted, "NO! Sir, please stop vomiting on yourself. It's not sanitary and we don't allow it here." He got the picture and though he stayed in his lounge chair for a few more minutes to stew in his own juices, he eventually left and I contemplated setting fire to the health club to avoid having to clean up after him.
All Mr. Miyagi ever did was give karate lessons.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Respectful Ass Washer

Some days, an altercation occurs that just blows your mind.

It was a rule at the pool that folks who were fresh out of the steam room had to rinse off in the shower before entering the pool or hot tub.

We policed this as best as we could, but it was difficult. Some people would exit the steam room a sweaty mess and quickly jump in the pool before we could even catch them. But one day, a member did my job for me. He spotted someone jump from the steam room to the pool without rinsing off and proceeded to reprimand that member for his infraction.

Here is an almost exact transcription of that altercation.

member # 1: "Hey buddy! You didn't shower off before you got in the pool!"

member # 2: "So?"

member # 1: "So? That's the rule, dammit! I have to get in the pool now with your sweat floating in it!"

member # 2: "That's why the pool is chlorinated! Ahh-mind your own business!"

member # 1: (now oddly enraged) "It is my business dammit! You think I wanna swim around in your sweat cuz' you can't follow the rules? When I woke up this morning I had diarrhea! But I respectfully washed my ass before I came to the pool!"

I guess what blew my mind so much is how member # 1 so freely admitted to member # 2 (and everyone else at the pool that day watching this argument) that he had diarrhea. Also, the fact that he was using diarrhea to prop up his defense was fascinating. The guy was in an unprovoked rage, and to prove what a noble, upstanding, rule-respecting patron he was, he was willing to admit that he had loose bowel movement, but hey-he washed his ass after that! (Well okay then! You win!)

Pardon me, but couldn't he have used a less disgusting, less insane example of how he cleaned himself as an example for member # 2? It seems to me he could have just as easily said "I was dirty after a tough workout but I respectfully took a shower before I came into the pool!" and gotten the same effect. But no, this guy went straight to the diarrhea example.

From that moment on, member # 1 was deemed 'The Respectful Ass Washer'.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hot Tub-ites

Though the Health Club was technically a secular institution, there were many regulars who were fairly religious when it came to their routines. The Intense How Do You Do probably feared Hell in the face of not entering the pool area at blistering pace at 6:45 am sharp, staring and pointing at the lifeguard and shouting with utmost vigor, “How are YOU doing this morning?” at which point, he could not break eye contact until he received an obligatory response. Then and only then could he “relax” in the hot tub. Neither of the Bald Foot Dippers (there were two, and we'll get into both of them later) ever deviated from their course from the door to the 3.5 foot section of the pool to dip their toes in the water, only to ignore the temperature report from their respective tootsies and get into the hot tub instead. Hat Man, despite repeated warnings and reprimands, always and without fail would shave his face (with his hat on) in the hot tub.

There was something magical about that hot tub. It wasn't attractive (the bromine sanitizer it used oxidized the copper pipes, giving the water a puke green hue), often stunk of too many bodies sweating in it at once, and had paint chips and chunks of plaster missing from it in rather uncomfortable places for one's feet and derrier. Yet for whatever reason, the hot tub brought out the zealots at the Health Club.

Twice a week, we were required to drain and re-fill the hot tub in order to maintain basic sanitation. The hot tub-ites, however, prevented us from doing so, insisting that we drain it only once a week, preferably when they weren't there. We decided that since Sundays were our slowest days we'd drain it then. The only safe days to use the hot tub were Mondays and Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, the hot tub would start to get slightly more than questionably cloudy. Thursdays and Fridays, you couldn't see the bottom of it and the acrid, chemical and body fluid smell would begin to permeate the Health Club. On Saturdays, the thing looked like a bubbling cauldron of vomit with 5 morons pretending not to notice while sitting in its hideous belly.

On Sundays it was closed to be drained, cleaned and re-filled. Naturally, our Sunday hot tub fanatics were up in arms. They'd refuse to believe that their precious hot tub could possibly be closed. They'd see their deity half-empty, surrounded by orange cones and believe that it was a test of their enduring faith. They'd rush to its side, move the orange cones and climb in, the water barely covering their kneecaps.

“The Hot Tub is closed.”

This statement was always followed by a look of bewilderment.

“I don't see no sign saying it's closed!”

“The hot tub is green and half-empty. The murky water your feet are dangling in isn't even hot. There are orange cones all around it to alert you to its closure.”

“It don't say nowhere in the rules that I can't be in here.” The rules did say just that.

“It's closed. I work here and I'm telling you it's closed. Please exit the hot tub. It will be open tomorrow. Come back and enjoy it when it's clean.”

“Man, your mother never taught you manners. You need some home training, that's what you need.”

The above was a loose transcript of an actual conversation I had with an actual hot tub-ite. I distinctly remember him talking about my mother and the “home training” remark. I'd have a similar conversation once a week, though they usually did not insult Mom's ability to raise me.

The hot tub's supernatural powers attracted some wacky ones. When Drunken Master wasn't doing the Evan Williams two-step (question: who the hell comes to a Health Club plastered?) he'd be in the hot tub, loudly moaning. I could never tell if he really enjoyed it or if he was in pain. Either way, I was pretty sure he could have used some intravenous fluids.

One of the most memorable hot tub-ites was Jamaican Hot Lady Who Does the Jets. A crude name, yes, but befitting. She had a terrific, curvy figure and loved to show it off. She'd wear something skimpy and lay on a chaise lounge, adopting inappropriate position after inappropriate position. Spreading her legs, arching her back, she'd draw the attention of the male Health Club patrons. When they came by to chat her up, though, she never responded. She was only there for the hot tub, and apparently put on that ridiculous show just for him. She just kept on going with her routine until the call of her lover was to great to bear.

With the hot tub singing her favorite love song, she would come to him. She'd enter the water slowly, standing for a few minutes, basking in his warm embrace until eventually she would find one of the stronger jets and sit down. There she would silently and sensuously gyrate until the hot tub fulfilled her needs. She would then return to her chaise lounge and gratuitously run through her poses for him again.

I wonder if the hot tub ever took pictures?


Monday, April 19, 2010

More Ghosts

I also feel the need to weigh in on ghosts.

My favorite part of the ghosting experience was the sound it made. You didn't have to actually see it happen to enjoy it (though it certainly helped. It wasn't uncommon for us to watch someone head outside and start leaning to one side, hoping that patron would hit the glass, like a bowler praying he picks up a spare). It sounded like a quick drum fill on a deep tom tom, and you could hear three parts of the ghost hitting the glass in rapid succession: foot, knee, face. You'd turn around and there would be the ghost who met her match, rubbing her forehead and trying to look like it never really happened as she scurried through the actual door.

One of the great things about ghosting was how humbling it was for the Health Club types. You know the kind of people I'm talking about. Type-A personality, go-getters... these are the people who speedwalk wherever they go, who take life by the HORNS, goddammit, and when they want to relax, they WILL RELAX, and they'll FINISH the book they brought because they DO what they set out to do and nothing, NOTHING will get in their way (bumpbumpthud!) except a nice thick sheet of freshly cleaned glass. Ahh... it'll make your day.

My award for Top Ghost goes to a prospective member touring the facility with one of the Health Club's salesmen. This added a wonderful new twist to the inelegant hilarity of the situation, because there were two rather stunned reactions to enjoy when she foot-knee-faced the glass wall. She was dressed to the nines, too. She had a nice skirt and blouse, high heeled shoes, lots of jewlery and LOADS of makeup. I hope you can see where this is going.

The salesmen led her through the indoor pool area to the outdoor pool, where he stepped through the open door and the ghost attempted to engage her superpowers and tried to walk through the glass door. Bumpbumpthud!

Damon unfortunately wasn't there that day, but my co-worker, Mario, instantly jumped up and left the pool area at a full sprint so he could laugh at her as whole-heartedly as the situation deserved. The salesman was obviously more than a tad bit befuddled, and tried to see if she was okay. She was, and it didn't take long for her to collect herself and for the salesman to awkwardly finish his tour.

She left a monument, however, and a warning to all would-be ghosts from then on. There was a four inch streak of light brown foundation running horizontally on the glass about 5'7" from the floor. Directly underneath was a vertical strip, about nose width, followed by a perfect kiss print in light pink.



Our health club pool had an indoor pool and an outdoor pool that was only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

When the outdoor pool was open, we had members who gravitated between the indoor and outdoor pools. What separated the two pools was a wall of paned glass with a glass doorway that was usually propped open during the hotter days.

Some people, apparently, thought they had magical powers as ghosts, because they liked to try to walk through the glass wall to get in or outside.

Never mind the fact that the propped open doorway was right there to use to walk in between pools, these people would rather walk through the wall. Sort of like when someone says "Ahh, I'll take the stairs instead of the elevator", we almost imagined that these people said "Ahh, I'll take the wall instead of the doorway."

I have to say, there's nothing quite like seeing someone walk smack dab into a wall to lift your spirits. But the real funniness of this was the frequency that this happened. One time, maybe I can see. You're not paying attention and mistake a glass wall for an opening. You laugh it off and would be on your way. But this happened often. It sucks for them, but is ferociously funny to anyone else watching. I used to feel embarrassed for them, but still have a laugh at their expense. Honestly, who wouldn't?

That probably sounds mean, but I always felt sorry for the person, asked them if they were okay, and got them through the proper doorway in one piece. My sympathy usually went out the window though when instead of the person laughing at themselves with humility, they found some way to blame us.

"Those walls shouldn't be here, it's a safety hazard!"

Yes it's our fault you chose the wall instead of the door like one of the ghosts in 'A Christmas Carol'. What were the construction people thinking, putting a glass wall there, and that blasted glass door right next to it?

We never had a case of broken glass though. Thank goodness no one ever walked through with that kind of force. But I think that would have even been funnier, after the scrapes and cuts were cleaned up of course.

But never underestimate the supernatural powers at hand at your local health club pool.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Army of the Oblivious

[Notice: Before any of you reference Bill Engvall's "Here's Your Sign" routine, we noticed the Army of the Oblivious long before the Blue Collar Comedy tour came on the scene, so I don't want to hear it.]

It seemed like every day at the pool, someone had to ask, "Are you the lifeguard?" It would take nearly every ounce of my being to restrain myself from responding, "No. I just really love the apparel, and this floating safety tube is kind of like a stuffed animal to me. I bring it everywhere I go. Especially to swimming pools. Where I lifeguard. However, I'm not the lifeguard here. If I find him, I'll let you know." With a shirt emblazoned with the word, LIFEGUARD, red shorts and a large red tube stating the same, what the hell else could I possibly be?

I suppose I could be mistaken for one of the regular freaks that came into the Health Club. After seeing a guy bring FULL SCUBA GEAR AND A SAMURAI SWORD (I wish I was making that up), to a health club's 50 foot long indoor swimming pool, pretty much anything is possible. I could just be a guy who likes to pretend to lifeguard. Heck, Pointy-Breasted Karate Guy thought, despite his rotund figure, that he was a kung fu master. Why couldn't I just be another poser? Oh, I know why. Because I'm the f@#&ing lifeguard!

It didn't end there. They'd point to the clearly labled steam room and say, "Steam room?" No, Mr. Tumnus, it's the doorway to Narnia. Be sure to grab a winter coat before you go in there.

Then they'd stand there looking at you like a dumb barnyard animal until you verbally satisfied their curiosity by saying, "Yes. Steam room." But that wasn't enough. It was never enough. They had to go and open the door and see the steam in the room. This was the only thing that could have slaked their inability to read or comprehend English and it was this that made me loathe and despise the entire human race; why the hell did you need to ask me your inane little question if you weren't going to believe me no matter what I said? You knew damned well what that little room was! And you knew damned well you were going to look anyway! I know damned well that I hate you for making me think less of myself for being the same species as you.

The Army of the Oblivious are a stubborn bunch and they are everywhere. They refuse to engage their brains in any given situation, dismissing the possibility of figuring things out on their own, preferring instead to be told where they are, what objects are nearby and whether or not they can eat those objects.

Please note that I'm not talking about STUPID people. We had our share of those at the Health Club. One such moronic patron, a bearded gentleman pushing fifty years of age, came down to swim in a collared polo shirt and his tighty-whities. When informed he needed to wear a bathing suit, he responded, "I have to wear something?" He trudged back up to the locker room dejected but determined, and the following day he came to the pool in khaki shorts which was close enough for me. Not knowing how to swim but really wanting to, he experimented with different kinds of helpful floatation devices until he finally settled on the neckbrace for the backboard. It was an odd choice being that the neckbrace itself did not float, but he tried tying it to his head to keep his nose and mouth above water and nearly drowned. I didn't see him much after that.

But the Army of the Oblivious are not stupid people. They are capable of figuring things out for themselves but choose not to. They are so lazy that they make everyone else do their thinking for them and as such, they should have most of their privileges taken away. They are a burden on society. They shouldn't drive, go out unaccompanied by a social worker or feed themselves. Asking questions as easy to self-answer as they do, The Army of the Oblivious should be in a home for their ilk and stay there, leaving the rest of us to go about our business unencumbered by their defiance of basic cognition.

If you know a card-carrying soldier in the Army of the Oblivious we'd love to hear about it. Post a comment with your story, and please feel free to subscribe to this blog if you like what you read.