December 21, 2007

I Could Get Used To This

Warning: this story is disgusting and may not be suitable for breakfast-time reading.

As you may know by now, Catherine and I are members of the YMCA. I make fun of the YMCA, we both do. You don't hear Catherine make fun of the YMCA because she doesn't tell you. But she does make fun of it, trust me.

Underneath it all we kinda like the place. We like it in the same way you may like the homeless, disheveled mutt that eats out of your neighbor's garbage but looks up at you every time you pass by with those big brown innocent button eyes of his that melt your heart. Someday the dog will have passed away and, with a sigh, you'll miss the poor little bastard and wish you'd have treated him better. Maybe someday we'll treat the YMCA better. Maybe.

As for today, I'm kind of fed up.

Every year around Christmas time, the Santa Monica YMCA shuts down the pool for its annual cleaning. I'm all for cleaning that swim bucket, trust me on that one. With all the kids and crazy old people, Lord knows what kind of bacteria is breeding in that pond.

The thing is, closing the pool creates a kind of inconvenience for me. And if I'm forking over my monthly fee, I don't want to be inconvenienced. Fortunately, there is another YMCA in West Los Angeles, just a few miles away. I haven't been there but know they have a pool. Lord knows the YMCA senior management can't be stupid enough to close both pools at the same time. So last week, as I was talking to the lifeguard about the upcoming pool closing, I mentioned that I'd now have to swim at the West LA pool.

No, he said in his think Russian accent. Ees close-ed too.

I looked at him in shock and disbelief.



Well that kinda blows. I guess this means I'll have to go to the Pacific Palisades YMCA. Their pool is outdoors, not my first choice in December, but it'll have to do.

Later in the week I'm up in the Pacific Palisades area so decide to drop by the YMCA to get the pool hours. Sorry, the front desk kid tells me, but our pool is closed.

Whaaa?! Are you @*(&! serious? I burst out uncontrollably, knowing such words are frowned upon in the family friendly YMCA. The West LA and Santa Monica pools are closed too, how can you all be closed at once?

Yeah, he replied as if I'd suddenly figured out the secret code. We coordinate it all to work together.

Excuse me?! You coordinate it?! You mean you actually talk to each other to make sure you each maximize the inconvenience to your members all at once?

I huffed out of there.

Fortunately, there is a wonderful pool at Santa Monica College (SMC), not but a few miles from my home. It's a beautiful pool - the best on the westside of Los Angeles. Clean water, nice lanes. It, too, is an outdoor pool. And though in these brisk, oftentimes rainy mornings it sure is tough to motivate oneself to swim outside, with the other 3 pools closed, what choice do I really have. I can suck it up for a week or two.

Catherine called up to check with them and, guess what? Yep, the SMC pool is closed in December as well. This is starting to sound like a conspiracy.

My choices are dwindling. The top four pools I would even consider going to are all closed. My options are weak, but I need to swim. I suppose that leaves me at the Westwood Recreation Center. [insert foreboding music]

The Westwood Recreation Center is to health clubs like a Port-a-John is to fine dining.

I used to swim in the Westwood Recreation Center about 12 years ago. Though the pool area is somewhat bearable, getting to the pool usually falls on the disgusting side of the cleanliness spectrum. It only costs $1.50 to get into the rec center, so mornings act as a bathroom haven for the local homeless. The locker room becomes a festering petri dish of disease. The cold cement floor is always wet, though I'm never quite sure what liquid is causing the dampness. Whenever my eye catches a speck of something on the floor, I divert my gaze. Whatever it is, I don't want to know.

I don't just wear shoes in the locker room, I wear shoes on my shoes. And two layers of socks. If I owned a hazmat suit, I'd wear that too.

Catherine had called up to find out the Rec Center hours and, as you can probably guess, she found out that the pool closes for December later this week. Of course. Heaven forbid there should be any pool available. That said, we had a few days before it shut down and, at the very least, needed to squeeze in at least one swim.

I wasn't a bundle of joy when Catherine and I rolled out into the dark, rainy morning and pulled into the Westwood Recreation Center parking lot. We hustled through the rain showers and dove into the warm, dry safety of the Rec Center lobby. It was 6:30am. They had just opened their doors.

As Catherine walked down the desolate hallway to the women's locker room, I followed the winding path to the men's locker room. I walked into the locker room and was greeted by the same wet cement floor that was there 12 years ago. I started getting flashbacks. As I began to change into my swim clothes, my stomach started feeling queasy.

Suddenly I heard another person approaching. I looked up to see the locker room door open and a shopping cart get wheeled in, dragging along with it a disheveled looking gentleman who no doubt hasn't seen the soft side of a bed in eons. His shopping cart was filled to the brim with what I can only imagine were his worldly belongings. And they were sopping wet, as was the homeless gent.

He pushed his shopping cart into the middle of the locker room, which, for the record, is where I was located. He left his cart right by my side as he walked towards the toilets.

There was a sign on the side of the locker room that said "no running water." With no shower or sink water, I didn't need to see how this bathroom story played out. I grabbed my belongings and high-tailed it into the pool area. I'll finish changing by the pool, thank you very much.

The pool, as previously mentioned, is fairly decent. It's a 25 meter pool with more than enough lanes. Not the clearest water in the world, but I tried not to think about that. There was a masters swim class going on in the far side of the pool, but there was ample room for Catherine and I to have our own lane and complete our days routine.

Catherine finished before me and bid farewell as she left the pool and walked into the women's locker room. She removed her bathing suit and began to put on her clothes. As she was pulling on said clothes something caught her eye. It couldn't be, she thought as she looked down on the ground - the wet concrete ground. But it was. There, right next to her foot, was a pile of human excrement.

Yes, somebody shat on the floor of the women's locker room.

She looked up in disgust. It was at this point that she saw the two signs posted on the wall of the locker room:

Do not swim in the pool if you have diarrhea, one said.
Please don't drink the pool water, said the other.

Is this really it? Is this what our lives have come down to? With every half-way sanitary pool in the west Los Angeles area closed for the holidays, are we forced to patronize a place where people shit on the locker room floor? Where you actually have to REMIND the patrons not to have diarrhea in the pool and then drink the water? Where has humanity gone?

Had the pool actually stayed open later than this week, we wouldn't have returned.

Suddenly I began to miss the YMCA. I missed my little garbage eating mutt. I wanted him back. I wanted to smile with all my fat, old Russian locker room buddies. I wanted to splash in the water with the Cchat-Ptewies; to compare electronics with The Accessorizer. I wanted to jolly in the inane antics of all my inane YMCA friends. I wanted my life back.

But, alas, I'll have to wait another 2 weeks.

Lo and behold, just when it gets the darkest is usually when the sun is about to shine. And shine it did.

The Sports Club LA is perhaps the most high-fallutin' gym for the masses in Los Angeles. There are no concrete floors in the locker room at Sports Club LA, it's fully carpeted, with clean towels and terrycloth robes. People don't shit on the floor at Sports Club LA. People can eat their caviar off their floor. There are no group showers at the Sports Club LA, it's individual stalls, with little squeezy jars of shampoo, conditioner and body lotion in each. And attendants to bring you soft towels and comfy robes.

Sports Club LA is the exercise hangout for the rich and plastic surgeoned. It's gaudy and expensive and ridiculously Hollywood. It's also free for us for one week thanks to some guest passes we were given.

I went there for my swim this morning. It was amazing. They actually have individual lap lanes. Lap lanes for one. You never have to share a lane at Sports Club LA. And sure there's a sign that asks swimmers to limit their workouts to 30 minutes if others are waiting, but nobody's waiting. Ever. Sports Club LA is the type of club where people pay extra to have a pool, and then never use it.

After my swim, I went to lift weights. The machines and the weights were shiny and clean. There were machines I never heard of, machines that looked as if they'd never been used. I commented something of the sort to one of the many passing attendants.

Yes, we get new machines every six months. We always want to make sure we give you the best there is.

God bless you, Mr. Attendant. And God Bless the Sports Club LA.

After finishing my weight routine, I went back down to the locker room to get ready for my day. I took a nice, warm, private shower. I dried my body with fluffy, clean, new towels. I combed my hair, shaved my face and lotioned my skin. I burrowed my toes into the soft comfort of the locker room carpet and smiled. I could get used to this I said repeatedly. I could get used to this.

Maybe the old mangy mutt will have to wait another week.


Spokane Al said...

I think the closing of the YMCA pools is even bigger than you mentioned. Our YMCA in Spokane, WA closes its pool during this period every year, just like clockwork.

Speed Racer said...

Wait, they had a pool, it was open, and there was NO RUNNING WATER?! I think maybe that pool should be shut down, for good.

PS I'm actually joining my local YMCA next week (nothing to do with new year's, just coincidence), and it's the nicest gym in the area. Right up there with Boston Sports Club. Go figure. I'll let you know if the pool's open when I go in.

Trihardist said...

I work at a gym (with individual shower stalls and squeezy bottles of shampoo and body wash), and our pool closes once a year during the summer. And the other branch closes a different week. So the Y needs to get its act together.

And here's something to consider: Is a gym membership one of your "I'll pay extra" items? Maybe it should be (although what do I know? My membership is free).

ace said...

This is one of my all time favorite posts! OMG... Some of what you went through rings soooo true. Here in Austin, Tx a lot of local triathletes belong to the downtown YMCA, which as rutty as it is does have location in its favor. You can do a complete triathlon from the parking lot with easy access to the pool, the Town Lake trail, several race courses ranging from 5k to marathon, and bike routes of all lengths and difficulties. But I will assume due to the heavy usage by swimmers and stiff fitness competition, our pool is NEVER closed for "cleaning." They clean daily before leaving. But all of the other images of the YMCA remain pretty true to form.

Last year a Lifetime Fitness opened up right across the street from where I work. It is probably as nice as the club you describe. Marble floors and benches in the locker rooms, cherry wood lockers. Frosted glass bricks forming individual showers, a 50 plasma screen inside the locker room with leather couches in the seating area. It is insane. And never a wait at the pool with a men's only steam room that is never broken (unlike the Y's which is never working). I joined on the spot.

But I can't seem to come to terms with getting rid of my YMCA membership which is more expensive than Lifetime's. Sigh...

I suppose, I just like my old mutt too.

TJ said...

Every time I read a post like this, I appreciate my local YMCA a little more. Other than the individual showers, we have everything else that the fancy club you discribe has. And the pool never closes.

Anonymous said...

LOL! I can't believe someone crapped on the damp, cold, wet floor. I CAN believe that you have to remind those who would crap on a floor not to drink the water in the pool.
God that was gross and funny.