Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Phelps effect

I'm as passionate about pro sports as I am about waterbugs, furballs and chicken bones. If every sports team in America disbanded, it would take me a few weeks to notice.

But say "Phelps!" and I step a little faster, go the extra mile, do what it takes.

Phelps helps, and I'll tell you how.

I swim several times a week at Lasker Pool in Central Park.

It's an enormous blue heaven and is often near-empty for the "adult lap swim" I do early in the morning or at 8 PM. All worries are jettisoned to some unseen hell when you dive into the cool blue drink, cooler still after a rainstorm.

The pool is in Harlem and I like Harlem, its architecture, its cleanliness, its turnaround from its 80s nadir of violence and hopelessness.

It's not always easy to go to the pool. The park pool people, a staff of about 8 at any given time, are frequently as nasty, uncaring, dull, humorless and obsessed with their little slices of power over the public as anyone you may meet at a government agency in New York City.

It's a Phelps-like challenge not to answer back when one particularly unpleasant mustachioed attendant adopts a cop-like attitude when questioning you or someone else about some petty subject, like coming through the open gate when it's available instead of walking up two flights of stairs to another entrance far out of the way.

"$250 fine for coming through that gate," he says.

"Ok, Groucho," I respond.

Another swimmer has a folding bike with him, and asks if he can lock it up within the gate.

"No," says Javert. "If you did that, I'd throw it in the pool."

We do not want to be asked to leave and barred from coming back, so we swallow the urge to push this man in the pool.

There are also those who are mellow, sweet, easygoing, nice to see and chat with. If I forget my card, they let me in anyway. I think they can see I won't steal any water. And everyone says hello and goodbye, which I like.

The pool is also currently surrounded by raccoons, who emerge at dusk and pick through the garbage. Last night one was drinking from the pool itself; a lifeguard shooed (shoe'd) him/her with a flip-flop, which the animal took no real notice of.

The coons get a pass by the staff and swimmers; rats would be a different story.

The pool closes this Friday for the winter. Between Phelps' win and the imminent close of summer, everyone swims a little faster. I'm serious. There are no more lollers.

Last night I left the pool after a delicious 10-lap dunk. It was a gorgeous evening and it was my last night test-driving this tiny, zippy BMW M Coupe.

Where to go? What to do? Where's the wife? At the gym, I remembered. I opened my cell phone and discovered it was out of order, so I found a pay phone and left her a message saying I would come to the gym and look for her.

It was the same thing I did during the blackout of 2004. You've got to Find Julie.

I parked near her gym in midtown Manhattan and saw the place was closed. I didn't want to go home; it was so beautiful out. So I sat on some steps and watched a group of tourists stop and do chin-ups on some scaffolding. None made it past one chinup. An older tourist was admonished by his wife, who feared for his immediate health, but he had to go for it.

Phelps' effect? Maybe.

I got up and saw my beloved coming toward me, and we fell into each others' arms. She'd seen my car and was looking for me.

I drove her home, dropped her and went out looking for a Salvation Army-type clothes drop for this bag of apparel I don't wear anymore. I ended up driving through the Bronx on Broadway, and noticed the streets there are as beat-up as when I moved to my neighborhood 5 years ago. In my little car, the potholes and bumps are like cannons, and it's easy to get pissed off.

Phelps, though, would overcome a bad street, a busted cell phone, a surly pool guy. He'd do what it takes.

I ended up driving to Yonkers before I found a box to put my Goodwill clothes in. I wasn't about to bring that big bag back into my apartment when they came and took the BMW back.

Phelps would have found a box, too.

A few minutes ago, my toilet overflowed with twice the amount of water it usually floods the bathroom with. A serious mess, first thing in the morning. I got angrier than I've been in forever, the speech reduced to grunts and epithets as I moved my now-dripping "Idiots Guide To World War 1" off the floor, realized the futility of avoiding sewage on my feet and hands, and just did what it took to address the mess.

Phelps, Josh Max. Phelps.

Or, barring that, Johnny Cash.

"I don't like it but I guess things happen that way."

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