A Balm For My Cynicism

If I could press “rewind” and stop the tape of my life halfway through 1990 when the Good Wife and I were leaving the International Community School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to begin my Ph.D. program at the University of Denver, we may have taken second international teaching gigs somewhere else in the world. And then a third. And then a fourth. And then a fifth just like some of my Addis Ababa teaching friends did.

If I was younger and there was more demand for C-list bloggers, I’d move to Canada. Or some other less violent, less divided country. Where the quality of life is noticeably better.

To which the deluded “Greatest Country on Earth” people reply, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

I concede, pessimism is a downer, but I think of it more as realism. The “Greatest Country” contingent is living in the past, unwilling or unable to rationally assess the numerous ways our quality of life is declining.

And yet there’s at least one thing that gives me genuine hope for a decent future. Loving parenting of small children.

I see it most often in the YMCA locker room. Sometimes at Vic’s (Wildwood) Pizza. I’m constantly seeking it out because I can’t get enough of it. It’s damn near the only balm that does anything for my chronic cynicism.

Since it’s the male locker room, it’s almost always dads, sometimes granddad’s. Sometimes white dads, often dads of different ethnicities. Sometimes middle class dads, other times working class dads. Most of the time I can’t see the father and children because we’re in different rows, so I just eavesdrop. Nothing soothes my soul like listening to a dad talk to his two, three, four year-old daughter or son as if they’re just small adults. Respecting their intelligence, knowing they will rise to the level of their expectations.

Often, that respect is coupled with a beautiful mix of patience, gentleness, and kindness, a trifecta that gives me confidence that those kids will be more than alright, and that collectively, we will too. I have no doubt the same thing is playing out in the women’s locker room.

What if we collapsed all pressing public policy questions down to this one: How can we make it easier for parents to love their children unconditionally? How can we design policies that make YMCA membership feasible for everyone so that children can take swim lessons, and families can swim together, and older kids can play team sports?

At the same time, let’s acknowledge the endless forms family life takes. No form is better than another. The only thing that matters is loving parenting. Parenting marked by respect, patience, gentleness, kindness. I suspect, if we get the parenting of young children right, like so many of my fellow YMCA members do, we’ll be alright.

Hating The Homeless

Monday morning post swim workout. YMCA locker room. The showers specifically, but you didn’t do anything to deserve that unsettling imagery. I’d say I was eavesdropping on the two men across from me, but the one man hating on the homeless was so worked up, so loud, I don’t think it really counted as eavesdropping.

LIVID at how many people were living under the 4th Street Bridge downtown.

ENRAGED at how many resources the state was dedicating to helping them.

FURIOUS at them for not having the decency to live indoors.

So indignant, I couldn’t organize my thoughts until immediately afterwards. Isn’t that how it always is? As soon as I escaped his orbit, I knew what I should’ve said to him.

“It’s so amazing how you’ve never lacked for anything, how you’ve never even needed any compassion from anyone. You are so perfectly together, your life is such a model of success, you owe it to everyone of those homeless men, women, and children to share your life lessons. You should go down to the 4th Street Bridge right now and start your “Live Life Just Like Me!” lecture series. I’m sure they will be appreciative and immediately start applying all of your amazing insights on how to live. And as a result of that wisdom, and your incredible personal example, they will no longer be homeless. And just like you, they will have disposable income, some of which they will use to also join the YMCA. Then they will join us in these exact same showers, and following your amazing lead, express their outrage at some other offending subset of people.”

Notes from the YMCA

• I mysteriously lost 3 seconds/100 yds recently. Depressing. Couldn’t find them anywhere. Finally, this morning, I found them. Today, sports scientists the world over are dropping their planned research to debate whether it was because I rested yesterday or had leftover quiche for breakfast. The peer-reviewed articles should make for riveting reading.

• Today’s swim workout. 200 free. 2×100 free. 4×50 fly/free, back/free, breast/free, free/free. Kick 100. 5x. 1-2 naked, 3-5 with toys. 3,500 yards. Perfect start to the day.

• There was an Olympic gold medalist (1984, Women’s 8 rowing) in the lane next to me who is also a loyal reader of the Humble Blog.

• Sadly, Free Styler has been missing in action this week.

• There’s another dude who has been completely overlapping with me on the pool deck and in the locker room every Tu/Th morning for YEARS, by which I mean DECADES. Note that I do not know his name. We are engaged in an epic standoff of introversion, each refusing to introduce them self to the other. He has no idea what he’s up against. Sometime, probably 10-20 years from now, he will break. Trust me on this, victory is assured.

Stop the Germaphobes Before It’s Too Late

A sign in the lockerroom at my Y. The grammar police, headed up by my oldest brother, sister, and mother (thank you D for resisting that tendency), will no doubt seethe at the capitalizing of “Health Concerns” and the missing period, but the problem with the sign is the thought process that produced it.

When I first saw it about six months ago I wasn’t sure if it was a joke. I realized it wasn’t one day when my ass cheeks were firmly planted on a towelless bench. All of a sudden out of nowhere, three male Y workers descended on me and threw me up against the lockers. They cuffed me, wrapped a towel around me, and took me into an empty room where they interrogated me for hours. Obviously McCainiacs, they didn’t even read me my Miranda rights. They were going to let me make a phone call until I rubbed the receiver all over my ass.

“Who the f$%^ do you think you are sitting naked on the bench?” Must fight the power I decided. “I also shower barefoot, spit in my goggles, and whizz while showering.” Chaos ensued. The three of them angrily debated whether to waterboard me until one finally said, “You probably ride your bike without a helmet around children and don’t use seatbelts out of fear you might wrinkle your dress?” Who knew the Young Men’s Christian Association now specializes in questioning male members’ masculinity?

Things went downhill from there. When I refused to comply, they started to smack me around which only deepened my resolve. I wasn’t about to be bullied so I fought back in the only way I could–with words. “I intend on not just sitting naked on the bench, but rubbing my ass cheeks all over your precious benches and I hope all your members catch the serious illnesses that are no doubt incubating on said ass cheeks.”

I could tell there was a two-way mirror and the Y director was signaling to his henchmen to increase the pressure. It wasn’t until I pointed out that 100% compliance wasn’t necessary that they stopped hitting me. I explained that as long as the germaphobes put down a towel, they’re protected from naked sociopaths like me. “Never thought of that,” one conceded.

Finally, the beatings stopped. After being forced to sign a confidentiality statement, I was uncuffed and escorted back to the lockerroom. Exhausted but unrepentant, I waited for the germ fighters to disappear. Then I tossed the towel on the floor and plopped down naked on the bench feeling equal part social activist and renegade.