Friday, December 10, 2010

O' Christmas Tree

With the forecast calling for another wintery blast, I was surprised to see a crowd of overcoats and hoods oohing and ahhing over the gas-grill display, pressing the orange ignite buttons and turning knobs. They’re like a bunch of little girls in their white plastic pretend-kitchens, I thought, playing in a world yet to come.

“Christmas trees?” I asked an orange-vested woman whose blond curls hid her name tag.

‘”Fake or real?”

“Artificial,” I said.

“Garden Center. Go all the way back to fencing, turn right.”

Seems even “non-real” Christmas trees would garner more respect this time of year, I thought, making my way past the garbage cans, extra-large leaf bags, potting soil, bug repellants and Japanese lanterns.

“Hello…Hal,” I said, nodding at a name tag and pulling a crumpled ad from my pocket. “I’m interested in this five-foot Douglas Fir. Is this the one?” I asked, pointing to the jolly almost-looks-like-the-real-thing-with-fade-in-and-fade-out-white-lights tree.

It wasn’t. It was a 6-foot fake Scotch Pine and $70 more. Three hours later, at the epicenter of an explosion of trinkets, and Calpurnia in full attack mode against the army of yellowing paper that seems to threaten her very cathood, I am ready to decorate what is really a three-foot-green-plastic tree set into a two-foot “Grecian” Styrofoam stand. Every year, my former husband and I delighted in peeling away the newsprint protecting our treasures – Teddy bears popping out of gift boxes, reindeers frozen forever in flight – finding a headline, a dateline on a story: material evidence of a long and successful marriage.

But only in the dictionary does “long marriage” come before “successful.” Christmastime eventually became the War of the Orbs. He began weighing the branches with tiny replicas of handlebars and helmets from Harley-Davidson. I dotted the tree with ornaments set in doilies, lace. He especially abhorred the pink Victorian shoe that sprouted tulle. All of them, he gladly handed over to me in the distribution of assets.

And now I find every one of them too big or heavy to hang on the only size tree I can fit into my new living room without having to crawl over the sofa to get to the kitchen. Except, perhaps, for this one: a small crystal with red and green splashes and itty-bitty snowflakes suspended in its core. I bought it the year we began counseling. It’s not a color I can feel, can scratch off with my fingernail. The color is buried: a jewel in its transparent vault, unreachable unless—and I consider this for a moment – I smash it against something, drop it on the floor, kick it to the wall.

My three-foot Fir is waiting to be dressed. To all a good night.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Blue World

In January, the Y’s pool is always more crowded because of "resolutionists." I’m a serious swimmer and even without the influx these few weeks bring, already frustrated with the large number of swimmers who don’t use the lanes (fast, medium, slow, recreational) their abilities warrant. According to a posting on deck, a 50-second lap puts you firmly in the fast lane, and a huge sprint clock helps you figure out where you should be. The Lap Lane Etiquette hanging on the wall also explains what to do when someone swimming faster in any of those lanes wants to pass. However, it appears lifeguards are reluctant to enforce the rules or move slow swimmers, perhaps because they don’t want to offend their fantasy of being the next Michael Phelps. You may notice I didn’t say Michael Phelps or Dara Torres. That’s because most offenders, I’ve noticed, are men. But that’s a topic for another day.

This is why being a serious lap swimmer often warrants declaring anarchy. Case in point:

I joined a lane in which three people (one man and three women) were already swimming. The women were moving at a pretty good clip; the man…was not. We three were able to pass him, as well as one another; but eventually, we had a four-swimmer pile-up at the wall because of him. The women waited, deferring to me, it seemed, so I asked him to please pull over when he could.

“Okay, Sweetie,” he said. “Don’t get your tank in a twist.” Excuse me? “Only my husband and father are allowed to call me ‘Sweetie.’ And on your way back to the locker room,” I said, pointing to the wall, “check numbers five to seven of how to be…polite in the pool.”

I’d been dreading running, or swimming, into Mr. Sweetie again, but there he was the other day, doing a sidestroke in a crowded slow lane even though the fast lane was empty. Mmmmm. He nodded to me as he made his turn, and I graciously waved. An hour later, we found ourselves together in the sauna. “Pool was perfect,” Mr. Sweetie said. “Yes, good temperature and very blue,” I said. “Well, I’m cooked,” he said, rising. “Nice seeing you. Enjoy your day.”

So this is what I’m positing: Because the pool is a finite structure with an inconstant environment - like the world - and its swimmers the varied and complex “citizens,” lap swimming illuminates who are the aggressive and powerful Alpha, who are the yielding Omega, and who are Beta - like the two gals who probably would have said something had I not been there.

Wow, who knew the lap pool is a microcosm of society? Oh, by the way, I swim not only for sport, but for relaxation….