On June 1, I will toss my seriously senior half-naked body into our neighborhood city pool (Stallings on Gentilly) in full view, under the harsh glare of an unforgiving sun- a view that has me a wee bit self-conscious. Swimming is a year-round, all-year-long pleasure for me. I am no stranger to being seen in limited clothing, but since last September at the Treme indoor pool, I have been in the company of women (and a few gentlemen) who are my age and older. Most of the women are what I would call “church ladies”. They are not there to pose and priss; they are serious about their water aerobics and swim classes (some are learning to swim for the first time).
There’s a sense of community and camaraderie. The young lifeguards tease them as one might joke with their grandmother—humor and respect blend to make everyone relax and get on with the business of taking that grandmotherly weight off. It’s like watching a full gospel Sunday in Speedos with the lifeguard standing in for the choir director.
Since I swim laps during this come-to-Jesus workout, I can fancy myself the more experienced swimmer, and even pretend to be younger and in better shape. Well, the other day I took a long look at myself in that locker room mirror and it wasn’t pretty. So far, these gracious women have never given me that scrutinizing glance that a younger woman might give. And the lifeguards know damn well not to because one of those women will haul their butts out the door if they even think about being disrespectful. So I felt safe in my sagging self—until now.
That Speedo needs replacing immediately—fine for the indoor pool and its diffused and softer lighting, but now it has to go. But what about the thighs? YEAH THEY HAVE TO GO TOO. They used to be enviable. Now I can swim a mile, walk two, even three, and still not make that flesh reshape itself into my youth. Just three years ago, my goal was to achieve Michelle Obama arms. And I got pretty damn close (if you allow for age, the employment of excellent lighting and a good mirror angle), but now I’ll be lucky to achieve a Bernie Sander’s buff.
Nevertheless, my favorite swimming hole is re-opening for the summer and it is practically next door, and this convenience makes for the best workout plan. The greatest fitness club or pool is only great if you use it—and this NORDC (New Orleans Recreation Department Commission) pool is not only Olympic in size, it is outdoors and nothing beats swimming under a wide-open sky with tree and rooftops to frame the view. Also, it just feels more like summertime and all the memories the heat cooks up—those vacation months as a kid. They are an escape for me.
NORDC offers much in the way of public pools and parks, and they also have the perk of being free. Yep, FREE. Certainly there is no price too high for good health and a good time, but FREE really works for my budget. For years, I belonged to a swim/fitness club at the Omni Royal Hotel in the French Quarter—and for those nearly 20 years, I enjoyed every penny I spent to swim in a rooftop pool with one of the best views in the city. Talk about some sky…and a river…and a historic city beneath. But one of the best things was strolling through the lobby and riding the elevator. There is something about a hotel, any hotel, which instantly recreates the vibe and memories of a vacation. For a brief moment while riding the elevator to the seventh floor, I was on holiday—one of the tourists—and my work and everyday issues would vanish.
Pools have always mesmerized me. Perhaps it’s the chlorine—it triggers every wonderful summer scent of my childhood memories. Or is it just the sense of being able to fly? In the water no one is fat, no one is crippled, no one is clumsy; you simply, effortlessly glide and, well…fly through the water. Maybe we are all drawn to this primal element. Or it just feels damn good.
Despite the availability of swimming pools in New Orleans, I constantly find folks who have no idea that they can swim for free, and in most neighborhoods or darn close by. They are often surprised to know that they can swim without the crush of a thousand children (there are times set aside for adult lap swim). Some are surprised to find that NORDC pools offer swim classes for not only kids (very important), but also for adults. And don’t forget the water aerobics. And while checking for pool locations and schedules, I found (and was surprised) that, for example, the Treme Center offers piano lessons and dance: hip hop, ballet, Samba (dance and percussion), tap, folkloric dance and stilt walking. Even classes for sewing and painting. FEES MAY APPLY for some classes—but it’s NORDC, prices can’t be that high.
Another thing I found out: too many women I know tell me they would love to swim but can’t be caught dead in a swimsuit in public. Come on ladies—if you think you don’t look good enough to wear a swimsuit, then perhaps it’s because you NEED to get in one and swim your body into shape. Trust me, thinking about the sorry state my body had sagged into has me ready to say “screw it” and change what I don’t like and enjoy the hell out of myself while getting into shape. So, see ya at Stallings this summer and back in the Treme come autumn. Now it is time to buy myself a fire engine red swimsuit and strut my good stuff. Take the dare: go to www.nordc.org and find a pool and a reason to have some fun.