January 10, 2008

Locker Room Chat is Half the Fun

By Larry Beahan

I used to be such a good swimmer that once, during a Republican administration, they let me take the Buffalo lifeguard exam over the telephone. Now I swim laps at the YMCA, where half the fun is locker room raillery. Half of which is about who they ought to make swim on the slow side of the pool. The rest is largely unprintable outside the Police Gazette.

If a swimmer on the fast side of the pool is holding up the parade, she or he comes under social pressure to move to the slower side. Or a young lifeguard has the job of asking the fading athlete to move. Sometimes great offense is taken.

My ego took a punch in its expanding gut when Jeff, my physiotherapist, said, "Your knees are shot. Why don't you try water exercise class?"

In locker room parlance, that's a step below the slow side of lap swimming. But I tried it.

In the "Watercise" class, nobody got out of breath. They floated, chatted and followed the instructor in gentle maneuvers. The folks were pleasant and welcoming. It was a cocktail party (in the drink rather than drinking) and not macho enough for me.

Leslie, our lithe blond director, said, "You're in shape. I see you swimming back and forth. Why don't you try water aerobics?"

Hot dog! This female powerhouse, who could be a fashion model with muscles, thinks I'm in shape. I gotta try it, I thought.

I arrived early to swim some laps and be sure to get enough exercise. I was a lone male in a pool full of women, mostly gray- haired, some floating with the aid of sponge-plastic noodles wound under their arms.

They were talking, but I didn't listen because Leslie started us jogging in place. It's like cavorting on the moon weightless and slow. Then we cross-country skied, did bunny hops, hugging our legs, and frog hops with arms between our legs, scissors kicks, flutter kicks, donkey kicks, kick your butts kicks, on and on, never stopping our dampened yet joyous bounces and swishes.

If I swim a mile, it takes me 35 minutes. This went on for 55 minutes. Wiser, older bouncers mediated their exertions and gathered in clots, conversing.

I wound up stiff as a board for three days. When I was supple enough to return to swimming, I complained to Leslie.

"Do 10 instead of 20 repetitions. You're in shape. You can do it," the lithe charmer persuaded.

I bit. I went for it again. And today I'm hoping that I won't be all cramped up tomorrow.

The slower pace had another advantage. I listened to what the women were saying. Leslie's new bathing suit was admired. Her good one had been stolen. "Where did you buy that one? How much was it?" they inquired. Leslie supplied shopping tips, then revealed that this morning she had been up since 2:30 with her youngest. Veteran mothers sympathized.

Fighting the urge to eat was a hot topic. Find something to do with your hands, they suggested.

Leslie declared her intention to teach herself knitting. "That's no good," an old one advised. "Start simple; try cross-stitching." Leslie said, "I'm afraid I'll get stuck with a needle. Maybe I'll knit myself a new bathing suit. No one will steal that." The crowd roared.

This is female locker room chat, I thought. Lenore confirmed, as she laughed and paddled nearer. "This is nothing. In the locker room we get going so, we ought to be tape recorded." I said, "A tape recorder in the men's locker room would be a bad idea."

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