“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. The first time when you’re young, and you don’t understand, and you’re as far away from understanding as anyone you know, and you finally understand a clever spin on a well-traveled rule. You get it, and you can’t wait to tell others, and you hope that you have to explain it to them, so you can feel just a little bit better about your place among them.
“Get it? “No ‘P’, as in p-e-e in the pool?” To this day, when I think about peeing, 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.” And I would say that serious, as they 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.
“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 that I so enjoyed in my younger days.
I eventually completed an entire tour of the facility, and witnessed numerous other, high-grade components to it, but the whirlool was the standout. It was a high-powered Jacuzzi that had a maximum capacity of eight. There were already seven old men sitting in it, and I knew that meant I would probably have to speak to them. I also figured that I would make physical contact with, at least one of them, at some point.
The one I would make contact with was hairy, as opposed to Harry. I didn’t know this man’s name at the time, but he had an abnormally abundant amount of chest hair that ebbed and flowed on the water. Other than the sign, his body hair was the first thing I saw, and then I watched it. I’ve said that watching that hair bounce on the water was hypnotic, but I’ve only done so to exaggerate the point to be humorous and pound the point home. The bouncing hair did repulse me, but not to the point that I wouldn’t enter the whirlool.
What might prevent me from entering, I thought before I did, was an abnormally abundant thatch of shoulder hair that I would be making contact with, as the only spot open was the one next to him. The fact that he had more hair on his chest and back than he did on his head, was an affliction that I determined to be something he was predisposed to by ethnic heritage, but the idea that now he had more hair on his shoulders than his head, had to have caused his wife to pause before declaring that he was still as attractive now as he had been in youth.
The thought of rubbing against that hair, and feeling the sound of it on my skin, was soon blocked out by their conversation. The conversation was the reason I decided to step in.
It was a unique conversation, unique for me anyway. I had always thought that when seven men gather together the subject of women, boobs, and sex would dominate. 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 either I had missed that portion of the conversation, or these men were so old 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 kit that contained compartments. On each compartment was a number, one to thirty-one, and each compartment contained 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 had a friend that had recently passed away that was five years younger than the youngest man in attendance –save 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,” the hairy, heart attack survivor, with a small container of nitroglycerin around his neck, said. “I loved, love, beer. I love fried foods, a juicy charbroiled burger, bacon, and all the other things I’ve been required to give up, but beer and cigarettes were my passion.
“I wake from dreams of 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 cigarette, and I still think about it. 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 the occasion arose for him to speak, everyone listened, and all subsequent conversations branched off his topics, until it was changed.
“I think about all the sex I could’ve had,” 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 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. I’m guessing he lived by a ‘life is short’ philosophy, and his life was short, but he never suggested he had a philosophy for doing it. 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 overthink the middle ground I never found.
“The subject is 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 said 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 man my age.”
In the community we lived in, a community in which I pulled down the median age by about forty years, there was a heavy concentration on cleanliness. 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. That latter point was never stated, 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 that normal selling point was dwarfed by the talk of the cleanliness of that particular restaurant.
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 the 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 is so fresh,” the angina survivor continued. “That it gives a subtle, delicious crunch, and it leaves a small droplet of water on the corner of your mouth so moist that you’re left to believe that it was fresh out of the mixing bowl.” To the general consensus that floated around the room, 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. He was even forced to raise his voice above the chorus of groans, to have the repetition of the word barbecue heard.
“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 loudly enough to be heard above the chorus of groans. “We ain’t kids no more Bill. Barbecue, he says.”
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 had undergone angioplasty replied, he made mention of the clean lawn his kid had, and how the row of bricks that circled his tree were 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 passed the fact 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?”
“Yeah, but 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 had, in anyway, acknowledged my existence. Two of them immediately trained their focus on me, but the more polite contingent of our community made it a point, albeit a symbolic one, of seeking answers of all, before coming to me.
I’m still not sure if the order of responses was designed to have me last, or if that was coincidental, but the least observant participant of human nature could’ve picked up on the fact that I was the central point of focus in this questioning. It wasn’t overt, and it may have been the fact that they made such a concerted effort to avoid being overt that made it all the more overt. It was a vibe, through communal messaging, and a series of almost imperceptible ticks that revealed to me that I was the focus of this interrogation. Their eyes flicked towards me before, and after, each person answered the question. Their body language was directed towards me, particularly in the shoulders. They accepted each person’s answer with little doubt, and no further interrogation. 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 remained 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 those so obsessed with their health will engage in, until it borders on an unhealthy obsession.
The actual words, ‘did you shower before entering?’ were not asked of me, as if doing so might be deemed too confrontational, but they knew that I knew the line of questioning, 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 had been the one to approach the issue. Even though he was obviously an elderly man, he still had massive shoulders, a broad hairy chest, and a presence that provided him more force than those of the more narrow variety of dimly lit men that had presumably sought any form of ostracism they could to keep their gathering exclusive.
“Yes,” I replied honestly. “I showered.”
Other than that which is listed above, one of the primary drivers of my pause, 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 like you had 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 hadn’t penetrated their sanctuary’s immunity system? Would they have immediately left the spa to shower and avoid bringing fingers to mouth or eyes en route? Would they have openly castigated me in a manner I would hopefully never forget? And what if they spotted me in the Jacuzzi, in the future? Would they have waited in the locker room, and informed 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 Andy Rooney, 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?
As soon as my answer was out, the Jacuzzi contingent settled back into their conversations of death and taxes, and death and their competitive banter regarding their ailments, and the amount of surgeries they had, and how many of their family members were in waiting rooms crying, and I just couldn’t listen to it anymore. I was ostracized from a group that I had conformed to, to be among.
I had been ostracized by age, and the fact that I hadn’t had any heart attacks, strokes, or liver spots, but I didn’t mind being ostracized 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.
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 touch, as I feared we would. With this proximity, however, I was now able to lean into the man’s ear and whisper:
“I may have showered, but I did just pee.” I then whispered, in conspiratorial tones, “Don’t tell anyone.” As he studied me, to presumably gauge whether or not I having some fun with him, I added: “I just put a ‘P’ in this whirlool, so that it’s now a whirlpool.”
“Are you putting me on?” he asked with his slightly disjointed nose becoming more disjointed. He said this loud, 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 asked making a motion to exit. The emphasis of his question lay between the words ‘you’ and ‘kidding’ on an expletive he dropped that is normally reserved for much younger people describing the act of procreation. This emphasis was intended to make the question more intimidating than the original question regarding whether I showered or not. And it may have been as intimidating as the man intended, if he was about forty years younger. The expletive did drop a serious cloud on the Jacuzzi, and all of its members were now tuned in to see how this verbal adventure would end.
“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,” said liver failure, and presumed cirrhosis survivor. “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 didn’t know the proprietor of the gym, and I had no ill-will toward him, but it dawned on me that this whisper could bring about an implosion of this man’s business in this tight-knit, obsessed community. If this whisper didn’t bring the whole gym down, I knew that once word spread throughout this community, the proprietor’s profits would be slashed 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.”
To save his fledgling business, the proprietor might be forced to place an unspoken, racist statute in the bylaws of his 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, long-term, ‘don’t allow them admittance, and just see what they do’ manner.
I could see those of this community, those future applicants looking to join a gym, sitting down at the sign-in desk to ask the proprietor if he 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 emergency medical services representatives being called. I could see firemen being called in, to administer their practiced resuscitation techniques on those members of the community that didn’t react to the news in a healthy manner. I could see members of the community being hauled 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 camera men to get their lighting right. I imagined that there might be some commotion when I finally exited the gym, and me screaming, “I was just kidding!” at the throng of reporters that would now begin invading my privacy and setting up camp outside my home.
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 considered a part of the clause, due to the consequences that may arise from it.
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.
“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’s not funny young man,” Optical Coherence Tomography responded.
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.