Midtown, My Midtown….The Quiet Madness of My Daily Routine

| February 16, 2011 | Comments (4)

 Competition swimming pool block.jpg

Compelled by “maturity” and  a declining physical state, I am obliged to make daily trips to my gym in Midtown Manhattan for “maintenance.” It’s not a question of aiming for a sculpted physique or training for a triathalon event.  I’m just trying to hold on to what I have a little while longer.

Despite my best intentions of  getting  into a variety of  gym activities – yoga, tai chi and Bollywood aerobics are a few of the programs I vowed to start in this new year – my only regular exercise beside  urban walking, mostly to and from the subway, is swimming.

I swim at midday in my gym which is located in a neighborhood called Turtle Bay near the United Nations.  Getting there  is always an eye-opening experience.

Yesterday was especially interesting. I find the crossroads at East 45th Street and 2d Avenue which I must traverse, a fascinating intersection of lifestyle and culture clashes. Located on that block is a very respectable-looking building which happens to be a homeless shelter. The inhabitants of this hostel are often on the street relaxing in the small park nearby or hanging out  on the sidewalk watching the UN bureaucrats as they stride purposefully to their glass headquarters on 1st Avenue.

As I head down 2d Avenue two black women from the shelter are fighting over a black man. He is young and handsome; one of the women is shapely and of what I would call a “foxy” mien; the second women is fat and slovenly. This big lady is attacking Foxy for  stealin’ her man. It is obvious what has happened – Super-sized Gal and Stud are an item and he has flirted with Foxy. Now Foxy is reaping the reward of being a minx. The two women’s shouts reach a full-throated, fevered pitch:  “Bitch, you try to take my man and Ah gonna cut your ass. You think I won’t kill you!” is countered by “Girl, you dumb-ass wrong. Ah don’t want dis useless dude!” Dude watches silently.

I close my eyes for a second. I am hearing a street opera that is liberating and full of life’s truth and passion. Without knowing what I am doing, I approach the trio and impulsively put my arms around the fat girl, saying to her, ” Honey, you are beautiful!” My senile intervention de-fuses this operatic confrontation. Before walking away I slip Miss Big ten dollars and whisper to her, “Baby, go make yourself pretty.”

How refreshing and real-life that trio is, I think, compared to the  overpaid, prissy, self-superior UN staffers who mince by on their two-hour lunch breaks, adjusting their pashmina shawls, pretending not to see this human drama unfolding before them. Let the “my shit don’t stink ” crowd save the world. I’ll stick with my homeless friends. They may not have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, but they’e real people.

On to the gym and my pool date. Most of the swimmers are over 70 and are friends, pool friends. We have been going there for years and first name each other. Tanya, the head lifeguard is a svelte, muscled 6-foot Russian, formerly a teenaged Soviet swimming champion. Although she is married, I think she has a roving eye; I know she has. As I enter the pool area Tanya is “grinding” with the junior lifeguard, a cute latino teenager. They’re dancing around the edge of the pool, bodies locked together, while a boom box  plays tango music. The soundtrack is used by the arthritis exercise class that is underway.

While I wait for the class to clear, Tanya releases Rafael and tells me of her travel plans. She is going  “home” to Russia in a few weeks. Why do foreign-born American citizens, especially “refugees”, persist in referring to the country they fled as “home.” Beats me. Am I just an old nativist ?

Tanya plans to stop by Paris where she will go to a French hair stylist, have a french cup of coffee and smoke a Gaulois cigarette.   I wonder what other Gallic joys she will indulge in. Tanya is not very viligant as a lifeguard but she is never boring.

Within the space of three minutes while I chill with her, waiting to dive  in and do my laps she allows as how: the most peaceful facial expression is achieved when a person dies during sexual intercourse, and, quick change of subject from the erotic-artistic to the social-historical, that Soviet soldiers during the Second World War were kind occupiers, never  plundering rapists.

Hmm… food for thought as I ply the overly-chlorinated waters of the pool. What would happen if I needed a lifeguard to rescue me? I fear I would perish while  amazon Tanya grinds away.

As I enter the water there is a conflagration in course at the far end of the pool. Mervin and Edgar, two nonagenarian World War II vets are shouting at each other. Edgar has suddenly come out of the closet  stating that “I used to be married to a rich women; now I am married to a rich man!” Mervin  says “Baloney, you are nuts.!”

I dive in thinking about kindly Soviet soldiers and serene expressions of the dead. Another quiet day in Ole New York.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Petra says:

    I am sure my elderly aunt will be greatly relieved when I tell her that she and her sisters are only the victims of False Memory Syndrome and not, as she thinks, of repeated gang-raping by Soviet soldiers on the refugee trail…

    • Sam says:

      Yes, indeed. But Amazonian Tanya gives no ground, conceding nothing. What proof? she yells at me across the pool. When I mention: eye-witnesses, actual accounts from victims, hospital records, she fairly froths at the mouth: Lies, lies, my Russian people would never do that ! Grind away, Tanya !

      • Petra says:

        Ah yes, our capacity for evil is only matched by our capacity for delusion…

        • Sam says:

          Well, Tanya is gone now from the pool.Her grinding days are over. I saw her on the street a while back, highly pregnant, clad in “dress to impress” power lady office clothes. She told me she was working for a big PR firm. She rushed off before I could ask her….do you handle the Russian account ?

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