“Welcome to our ool,” said a sign in the 70’s. “Notice there’s no ‘P’ in it? Let’s keep it that way.”
This sign is relatively common now, but there’s nothing like that first time when a young person understands a clever joke. When I finally understood it, I couldn’t wait to tell others, and I wanted them to need me to explain it to them, so I can feel just a little bit better about my place among them.
“Get it?” I would say. “There’s no ‘P’, as in pee, as in urine in the pool. Yeah, let’s keep it that way.” To this day, when I think about peeing in a pool, I sing that refrain.
There was a time, in my younger days, when I admonished others for even daring to think about it, “Do you really want to add a ‘P’ to this lovely ool that everyone around here is enjoying? No one likes a pool.” I would say in an ultra-serious manner, as we looked around at all the ool’s patrons, for in that playful tone I believed there was a serious message.
I wouldn’t see that sign for many a year, until I approached a gym’s Jacuzzi, a top, hotel grade whirlool that nearly caused me to join that gym in our community. I loved everything about this gym, but the Jacuzzi, the whirlool, was the exclamation point on the tour.
“Welcome to our whirlool,” the sign read. “Notice there’s no ‘P’ in it? Let’s keep it that way.” That sign brought me back to the ool sign that I saw in my younger days.
The first part of my tour of this facility consisted of having me guided by the hand by the facility’s tour guide. We did reach a point where I said I wanted to try the whirlool out after we completed this tour of the facility, and I asked if I could. That high-powered Jacuzzi was huge, and it had a maximum capacity of eight average-sized men.
When I received all of my necessary approvals, I went back to it and found that the Jacuzzi that was empty about five minutes prior had seven men in it by the time I could shower and change into the bathing suit I brought along.
I figured that meant I would probably have to speak to them. I also figured that with a maximum capacity of eight, and with me being the eighth, that I would make physical contact with at least one of them at some point.
The one I would be making contact with, I realized based on the seating arrangement, was the hairiest member of contingent in the Jacuzzi. I swallowed my revulsion, but social protocol dictated that I couldn’t turn back now. The reason there was no turning back was that I accidentally stared at the man with abundant hair his chest, his back, and his shoulders. I also watched the submerged hair ebb and flow on the surface of the water. That hair repulsed me to the point that I shuddered a little, but I stood staring at it too long. It would be impolite for me to look at that man’s body hair and turn around.
When I did enter, I took a step in and considered saying, “Too hot!” or something like that and waiting until there was more room for me to enter without gaining intimate knowledge of this man’s follicle flaws. I wasn’t sure if it was age, or ethnicity, that led Velcro man to have this much hair on his torso, but I struggled with the idea that some woman found this man sexually attractive.
The conversation these men were having eased the concerns I had of entering the whirlool, rubbing against that body hair, and feeling the sound of it on my skin. I decided that if the worst of the worst happened, and a stray hair ended up bobbing and weaving its way to my skin I could just shower again. The conversation was the reason I decided to step in.
The conversations were unique me, but they were probably not unique to gated communities in general. My previous experience with male conversations, prior to moving into a gated community, involved sports, some politics, women, boobs, and sex. Even among those that no longer need binoculars to see death, one would think that one of the men would non-sequitur into sexist territory.
One of them would approach the subject of sex, as you’ll read later, but his handling of it was so platonic that the most ardent feminists would’ve considered the conversation benign. These men had been around the block and back, I gathered, and I guessed that these men were so old now that they had moved past such trivial concerns.
Whatever the case was, one of the men was on so many medications that he needed a pill organizer. For those unfamiliar with a pill organizer, it has compartments for each day. On each compartment is a number, labeled one to thirty-one, and each compartment contains his medicine of the day. He had that kit sitting in full view, on the outside of the Jacuzzi, in arm’s reach, should the need arise.
Another man’s friend recently passed away, and that friend was five years younger than the youngest man in whirlool –except for me, of course– and all of them spoke, in varying ways, about the manner in which this Jacuzzi would provide a wonderful aid to their ailments.
“I do miss beer and cigarettes,” the hairy, heart attack survivor, with a small container of nitroglycerin around his neck, said. “I loved, love, beer. I love fried foods, the occasional juicy charbroiled burger with bacon, and all the other things I’ve been required to give up, but beer and cigarettes were a passion of mine that I didn’t appreciate, until I had to give them up.
“I wake from dreams smoking a cigarette with a smile on my face,” the man continued. “I’ve never known anyone that’s done heroin, but I empathize with their plight. It’s been twenty years since I had that last cigarette, and I think about it so often that I now hate smokers. I envy them, and I think I resent the idea that their bodies can still handle it. I see those plumes of smoke escaping their mouths, and I just … I dream about it, for God’s sakes.”
This hairy, heart attack survivor was the presumed leader of the group. There were no indicators to his status in the group, but when he spoke everyone listened, and all subsequent conversations branched off the topics he chose to discuss.
“I think about all the sex in the same way,” said a prostate cancer survivor that was currently undergoing hormone therapy, after undergoing radiation and a simple surgery. “I’m not saying that I had girls clamoring after me, but in every man’s life there are opportunities, so many opportunities, that I failed to cash on in.”
“What stopped you?” asked a man that had had three knee surgeries and a skin graft to remove some light spots of skin cancer. “Were you chicken?”
“I was just a very cautious young man,” the prostate cancer survivor responded. “Too cautious. I didn’t have an impulsive bone in my body. I was always thinking, going over the consequences, and overthinking the whole matter. I know this based on the dark shadow my more impulsive friend cast upon this subject. This man didn’t even think about the ramifications of having sex with the married receptionist that we had to pass every day, en route to our job at the factory. He just did it. He told me he wanted to have sex with her on a Tuesday, and when we meet at the factory that next Monday, he told me he did it over the weekend. I hated him for it, and I chose to believe he was full of crap. I called him a talker, and all that. After a couple more instances like that one, it was clear to me that this man was just more primal. He just did what he wanted. These women didn’t just leap into the sack with him. He wasn’t the type that women fawned over, he was just a regular fella like us, but he never gave up, and he had no shame. When they would reject him, it would trigger something in him that led these women to feel like the most important thing in his life at that moment, and most of them liked that. He just did whatever he felt like doing, and he lived by a ‘life is short’ philosophy, and his life was short, but I think he lived more life than I did. He just did what he did, and let the chips fall where they may. I don’t think I ever wanted to that guy, he was an exaggeration on the point, but as I’ve aged I’ve started to think about the middle ground I never explored.
“I’m talking about sex,” he added, “But I’m not talking about the physical act, so much as I’m talking about taking life by the short hairs and just riding them for the experiences that I could’ve and should’ve had prior to meeting my wife. I love my wife, and all that, and I would never do anything to damage that trust now, but when I think about those girls that I considered untouchable, for all the reasons I labeled them untouchable, and all the times I found out I was wrong. I just …
“I guess what I’m saying,” prostate cancer survivor added amid the jokes and laughter that followed, “Is that my life could’ve all been so different. It could’ve had so much more fun. I may be focusing on sex to point that out, but in so many other areas I was just so cautious, too cautious for a young man.”
The gated community we lived in, a community in which I pulled down the median age by about forty years, there was a heavy concentration on hygienic purity to hospital levels of sterility. Keeping the impurities out, so that we could all live another five-to-ten years was the focus of the many conversations that occurred in the various town square discussions. They didn’t state that that was their intent, of course, but it was what I considered the conclusion to their obsessive cleanliness.
When these people spoke of restaurants, for example, the quality of food presented there was a point in the discussion, but the cleanliness of that particular restaurant dwarfed all discussions of quality.
One particular restaurant, “That everyone had to try”, provided a dining experience so clean that “You could literally eat off the floor,” an angina sufferer that had undergone angioplasty —that he explained could be called a percutaneous coronary intervention— informed us. I wasn’t sure why he felt the need to provide that medical term for his ailment, unless he felt that the more common terms angina and angioplasty couldn’t compete with the ailments of his fellow Jacuzzi patrons, until he added its multisyllabic, more provocative AKA.
“The iceberg lettuce on the club sandwich is so fresh,” the angina survivor continued. “That it gives a subtle, delicious crunch, and it leaves such a moist, small droplet of water on the corner of the mouth that you’re left to believe that it was fresh out of the mixing bowl.” To the follow up questions that floated around the Jacuzzi, the angina survivor added, “Oh, it’s fabulous.”
A liver failure, and presumed cirrhosis, survivor prefaced his barbecue recommendation with, “Now I know it’s barbecue, and I know barbecue is what it is, but …” He wasn’t allowed to finish. The chorus of groans from the Jacuzzi contingent forced him to raise his voice when he said the word barbecue the second time.
“You know I can’t eat barbecue Bill,” a man with gastrointestinal disorders (tummy problems) and tremors (the shakes) said. “Why would you even bring it up then?” he asked after a brief back and forth erupted between the two.
“Barbecue?” another man that hadn’t yet spoken of his ailments said, struggling to speak loud enough to drown out the chorus of groans. “We ain’t kids no more Bill. Barbecue, he says.” He said the latter with disgust for the liver failure, and presumed cirrhosis, survivor.
The overall theme of cleanliness wasn’t the only point of focus in this discussion, but every other discussion eventually came back to it.
“How’s that kid of yours?” the heart attack sufferer with a small container of nitroglycerin around his neck asked. The man also had a slightly upturned nose that suggested that he smelled something awful.
When the angina sufferer that went through the angioplasty procedure replied, he made mention of the clean lawn of his son. He said, “The kid has a row of bricks that circle his tree that are so white, you could chip a flake off it, and use it on a chalkboard.”
The man with gastrointestinal disorders (tummy problems) and tremors (the shakes) talked about how a man in the community, undergoing Optical Coherence Tomography, managed to retire at fifty and still had enough money carve out a decent living. The group acknowledged this subject and spoke of him with envy, bordering on hatred.
“Did you know he bathes?” the liver failure, and presumed cirrhosis survivor, said of the man undergoing Optical Coherence Tomography. He said it in a manner that anyone considering including this man in the group should reconsider. “It’s true. I can’t talk to the man. I cannot get past the idea that he bathes when I watch his lips move.”
“What’s wrong with bathing?” the man with gastrointestinal disorders (tummy problems) and tremors (the shakes) asked.
“You’re swimming around in your own filth,” Optical Coherence Tomography responded.
“We’re swimming around in our own filth right now,” gastrointestinal disorders replied.
“What’s the difference?”
“Everyone here showered before they got in,” the liver failure, and presumed cirrhosis survivor, said. “That’s the difference.”
“Everyone here showered right?” the heart attack sufferer with a small container of nitroglycerin around his neck asked. “Before entering?”
It was the first time that the group acknowledged my existence in any way. Two of them immediately glanced over at me, but the more polite of the Jacuzzi contingent made it a point, albeit a symbolic one, to seek answers from those they knew before looking to me.
I’m not sure if they designed the order of required responses to conclude with me, or if that was coincidental, but the least observant participant of human nature could’ve noticed, I was the central point of focus in this questioning. I was the only one they didn’t know after all, and I assumed that they admonished their friends into acquiescence long before I arrived.
They made such a concerted effort to avoid being overt about their concerns, that it made their concern with me all the more obvious. Not only was the vibe, through communal messaging there, but they appeared to know the answer from those prior to me before asking. That coupled with almost imperceptible ticks toward me, revealed in my opinion, that I was the focus of this interrogation. Their eyes flicked towards me before, and after, people answered the question. They directed their body language toward me, particularly in the shoulders. They accepted each person’s answer pro forma, and they followed that answer with no further questions. They did not pause in the manner one would when verifying, and the overall attention of my fellow community members was not piqued, until the line of questioning reached me.
They probably should’ve asked me this question before I entered, I thought, as their attention landed on me. I thought about how some of them were probably considering this point right now, as I patiently bathed in their curiosity-bordering-on-condemnation. I thought about how most members of most other communities might consider this a rude invasion of one’s privacy, but the people in this community had long since passed social niceties in favor of the preventative measures that they thought might add a few years to their life now that they were on the back nine.
They did not use the words, ‘did you shower before entering?’ when it was my turn to answer, as if they deemed that question too confrontational, but they established that line of questions before they arrived at me, and they expected that answer. The man that led the line of questioning, the heart attack sufferer with a small container of nitroglycerin around his neck, was the largest, and most formidable of the group, and there was some palpable relief emanating from the rest of the members that suggested that they were glad he was the one to approach the issue. Even though he was obviously an elderly man, he still had massive shoulders, and say what you want about a man that has that much hair on his torso, but it does bespeak manliness and machismo. It also gives such a man enough presence that he can ask such an imprudent question without worrying about the fallout in the manner other dimly lit men might, as they seek any form of ostracism they can find to keep their gathering exclusive.
“Yes,” I replied honestly. “I showered.”
Other than my natural reactions to group pressure, one of the primary drivers of the pause I gave before answering was a flirtation with a lie. No matter what the subject, I’ve always felt compelled to rebel against group thought. The pressure to conform was unspoken, of course, but it was just as intimidating as those high school pressures to look the right way, act as if you came from money, and listen to all the right music.
What kind of reaction would I have received if I lied, was a question I asked myself in that pause. It would’ve been too late for them to escape the unclean, dead skin cells, of my follicles, so what could they have done? Would they have scheduled a checkup with their primary care physician, just to make sure that my dead skin cells didn’t penetrate their sanctuary? Would they immediately leave the whirlool to shower and avoid bringing fingers to mouth or eyes en route to the shower? Would they have openly castigated me in a manner I would never forget? What would they do if they spotted me in the Jacuzzi later? Would they wait in the locker room, and inform all of their Jacuzzi buddies that passed them, ‘That Irish kid is in there, and no one knows if he showered this time or not, and no, no one has asked him yet.’
The heart attack sufferer with a small container of nitroglycerin around his neck, that led the questioning, didn’t just have bushy eyebrows. His eyebrows were can’t-look-at-anything-else-when-he-speaks, out of control, eyebrows. How can a man that passes mirrors, with those eyebrows on a daily basis, be this obsessed with cleanliness? Isn’t there a certain degree of hypocrisy in that?
The idea that they didn’t believe me, or that they wanted me to plead my case a little more was there, but I would not give that. I simply sank back into my quiet corner of the conversation, until they settled back into their conversations of death and taxes, and death and the competitive banter they had regarding their ailments, and the amount of surgeries they had, how many of their family members were in waiting rooms crying, and I just couldn’t listen to it anymore. I answered their question in a manner that made them more comfortable with me, and they still ostracized me.
They ostracized me by age, and the fact that I hadn’t had any heart attacks, strokes, or liver spots, but I didn’t mind them ostracizing from that conversation, until I was. Until I realized that I was on the outside looking in, with my nose smudged against the glass of their conversation, I didn’t feel ostracized. I didn’t think they wanted me on the outside looking in, until they sent that communal message that that’s where I belonged. That’s when I mounted what could’ve been an ill-advised rebellion to their group thought.
The heart attack sufferer with a small container of nitroglycerin around his neck sat right next to me in the Jacuzzi, and when its muscle relaxing jets rippled the water, we occasionally did brush against one another, as I feared we would. In this proximity, however, I was able to lean into the man’s ear and whisper:
“I may have showered, but I did just pee.” I whispered that in conspiratorial tones. “Don’t tell anyone.” As he studied me, to gauge whether or not I having some fun with him, I added, “I just put a ‘P’ in this whirlool. It’s now a whirlpool.”
“Are you putting me on?” he asked with his slightly disjointed nose disjointing even more. He asked this loud enough for all to hear and break the unspoken rule of a whispered conversation.
“I am not,” I said, resolute in the fact that this lie would remain.
“Are you kidding me?” He spat this question as if I was less than human, and he made a symbolic motion to exit the Jacuzzi. The emphasis of his question lay between the words ‘you’ and ‘kidding’ on an expletive he dropped in between. The expletive he dropped was a common point of emphasis, among those sixty to seventy years his junior to describe the act of procreation. He intended this emphasis to act as an intimidating point of severity to suggest that he deemed this point more important than the original question of whether I showered, and it may have been as intimidating as intended, if he was about forty years younger. The expletive did drop a serious cloud of silence on the Jacuzzi, and it captivated the attention of the whirlool contingent.
“What did he say Frank?” one of the two cancer survivors, now undergoing chemotherapy asked.
“Kid said he just pissed in the Jacuzzi.”
“He’s kidding,” the liver failure, and presumed cirrhosis survivor said. “He’s putting you on Frank. Aren’t you kid?”
“I told you not to tell anyone,” I told Frank, the heart attack survivor with a small container of nitroglycerin around his neck. I did this in my best imitation of fourth grader, upset that someone revealed his secret.
I never saw the man or woman, as I was a newbie checking the gym out to see if I should become a member, but it dawned on me that if this little joke, this whisper, didn’t severely alter the way this man ran his business going forward, it could end it in this tight-knit, obsessive community. If this whisper didn’t bring the whole gym down, I knew that once word spread throughout this community, the whisper might slash the proprietor’s profits by about 75%. I could see a number of the members sitting before the proprietor seeking to cancel their membership.
“… Because one Irish kid peed in a Jacuzzi?” the desperate, forlorn proprietor would ask.
“It’s because you treat this in such an unserious manner,” they would reply, “that we think our money would be best spent elsewhere.”
In a desperate attempt to save his fledgling business, the proprietor might be forced to place an unspoken statute in the bylaws of the gym’s admittance standards that stated that the Irish shall be, henceforth, refused admittance. It would remain unstated, and undocumented, because such a bold-faced statute would offend those in this tight-knit community, but it would be in force, in a quiet, no reason given manner to see what those of that heritage will do.
I could see those of this community, those future applicants looking to join a gym, sitting down at the membership sign-in desk to ask the proprietor if the gym allowed the Irish in. The proprietor would surely blanch at such a question, and the sensitive members of the community would say, “I have nothing against the Irish, per se, but I hear that they have a habit of peeing in Jacuzzis.”
I could see whatever management was on staff feeling the need to call emergency medical technicians to deal with all of the patrons’ reactions. They would also do this establish for their clientele how serious they regarded this transgression, and to administer their practiced resuscitation techniques on those members of the community that overreacted to the news that would spread throughout the gym like wildfire. I could see those first responders to the scene hauling survivors out on stretchers, holding their loved one’s hands, with eyelids half-closed, turned inward on the self-obsessed regard for their own health. I could see news teams rolling in with reporters holding pieces in their ear, screaming for their cameramen to get the lighting right. I imagined the commotion that would hit when I finally exiting the gym, screaming, “I was just kidding!” to the cameras and their thirsty throng of reporters screaming over one another so that I could hear their question. It might have been a fear based on the obsession I witnessed to this point, but I also imagined reporters setting up camp outside my home, awaiting the exit of my son, my wife, or any neighbors that could offer them insight into my character.
I could see further cuts in the proprietor’s profit, as the need arose for them to hire Public Relations firm that would help them deal with the fallout of my whisper, and how they would probably eventually be unable to deal with it in any way other than the extreme.
I could foresee the proprietor contemplating criminal charges to, at the very least, have me frog marched in front of cameras as an aberration that was dealt with in the swiftest manner by the proprietor that was looking to, at least, get his business’s good standing back in this tight-knit, ever gossiping community.
This community was so obsessed with cleanliness that my whisper would be a local equivalent to the asterisk in the free speech clause that suggests that yelling fire in a theater is not a part of the clause, due to the panic and public unrest it could cause.
I realized before issuing the final, and resolute assurance to them that my lie was, in fact, true, that the cancellation of my membership would be the least of my worries, as I found myself, and my family, completely excluded from any social events, and parties, that occurred in the community. I could see them pointing me out to their grandchildren as an example of what can happen to you when you don’t follow society’s rules. I would be their werewolf in sheep’s clothing.
“Yes, I was kidding,” I said. “I didn’t put a ‘P’ in our whirlool. I just wanted to see what your reaction would be.”
That single answer wasn’t enough, as I had to assure and reassure them numerous times that I was just kidding. I don’t know what did it for them, but they eventually stopped asking and they exhaled a collective gasp of relief, some of them lifted their eyebrows on me, and the dirty looks remained on their faces.
“You don’t joke about stuff like that,” the liver failure, and presumed cirrhosis survivor said. “That was not funny young man.”
Frank, the heart attack survivor, with a small container of nitroglycerin around his neck, said nothing, but his look suggested that I should seriously reconsider the notion of joining this gym. I did, much to their relief, and I didn’t join.