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Scene: A YMHA in New Jersey; Time: Christmas Day 2009
Me: "I'll be bringing my mother in through the back-door, so that she has a shorter distance to the locker room; she's disabled."
The Russian-accented, older-male receptionist: "Nobody comes in through the back."
Another patron, a guy my age, is walking past, as I yell down the hall at the receptionist while walking away from the receptionist: "In all the years we've been here as members, you've never been friendly or helpful to me or my partner. Never once said hello back to us. Now, you're going to be *un*helpful?"
"No one comes in through the back," he says, walking toward me, suddenly purposeful.
I keep walking away.
He follows me down the hall to show me that there are wheel-chairs and she can be wheeled to the locker room. Ugh. This is not how we did it last time and I don't want my mother to have to be wheeled in.
"My mother uses a walker," and I mime, using one myself, in case he doesn't know the English word for "walker," "and she needs the walker in the locker room to get around. I've already asked the lifeguard to let us in and he said yes."
"He should not have agreed...but ok. Go ahead," he says.
I don't believe that he's really going to let us come in through the back, but I drive us around anyway. The lifeguard has agreed to meet us at the door at 12:10 pm. I look at my watch upon our arrival. It's 12:11 pm. Ugh, we're late.
My mother waits in the car, since it's too cold outside, and I pound on the metal door with my leather-gloved fists.
I rattle the door as hard as I can.
I kick the door hard with my left UGG-booted foot.
The next time, I kick it so hard, I feel something burst in my second toe. Thank God, it's just a blood-vessel, which will mean just a bad bruise, but it's tender enough to make me favor my right foot and to get in the car and speed off toward the front of the building.
We conclude that the officious jerk of a receptionist has prevented our entry.
I pull my mother's walker out of the trunk and I spot a familiar face, one of the office-workers, I think.
"Do you work in the office?" I ask threateningly.
"No, I don't," she responds in a thick, probably-Russian, accent. By the time we walk and roll-walk down the hall, getting ready to let the receptionist have it, the Russian patron has reached his desk and is chatting with him in Russian.
"Why didn't you let us come in through the back?" I practically yell as we're coming down the hall.
Another question to the receptionist from my mother: "What did you do in Russia?"
"You have no right to ask me what I did in Russia."
"Well, you're being terribly bureaucratic," we agree, and the patron snorts with laughter.
"What are you laughing at?" my mother challenges her.
"I have a right to laugh. It's none of your business why I'm laughing."
Don't talk to my mother like that, I think, and yell, "It's none of your business why we're talking with this man!"
She laughs some more and my mother and I head toward the locker room.
I go into the pool to see why the lifeguard never opened the door and learn that I was standing at the wrong door simply. The receptionist had indeed relented. I'm filled with shame about our calling him out around his Russian heritage.
Oy. Russian-on-Russian violence, it was, since all of us came from Russia originally.
I re-enter the locker room to tell my mother what happened and the Russian woman strides to her locker just as I'm explaining. I interrupt myself and address her: "It was my fault, not the receptionist's. I was at the wrong door."
"If you ever talk to me that way again, ever ask me why I'm laughing again, I'm going to call the police! I have a right to laugh."
Oh, God, she's not hearing anything. She's furious at us. All of this was just meant to be a tension-releasing interlude -- the swimming -- and now, I'm more tense than I can remember.
Oh, well. Press on. My mother tells me that she will meet me shortly, to go ahead and I'm nervous about leaving the locker room, since the Russian woman saw where we put our lockers and we have no locks. What if she takes our clothes? What if she sets them on fire?
"She won't dare do anything," my mother whispers to me, "We'll know it was her."
"But we won't be able to prove it."
My mother insists I go ahead. I'm torn. I need to go apologize to the receptionist before the patron tells him that I knew I was wrong and he thinks I'm apologizing just because I had to...but I'm in my bathing suit and don't want to walk through the facility in just my bathing suit, and I don't want to get dressed again. And my toe hurts, and should I even be swimming, having injured my toe? It's just a bruise. You'll apologize later, I tell myself and go ahead into the pool. He's in there, where I've never seen him before, walking around.
OK. Be brave. I walk over to him, and he's eye-level with my nylon-covered small chest, and I feel more naked -- and am -- than I've ever felt in making an apology:
"I'm sorry. I was wrong. I thought you had told the lifeguard not to let us in --"
"No, I told him to. You were at the wrong door --"
"I know, and I'm sorry. I should never have spoken to you that way."
"It's all right," he said, and I felt better and worse at once, and still totally naked.
"Thank you," I said and got into the pool, and stood there in the lane next to Pat, waiting for my mother to enter a couple of minutes later; he was gone by then.
My mom rolled her walker along the pool's edge, wearing a stylish, black Gottex bathing suit and bravely got into the cold water, where she does her exercises happily for the next many minutes.
A little while after my mother's entry, the Russian patron comes in and chooses the lane next to mine; there's just a lane divider between us. By now, I am calmer, being in the water, though I notice myself swimming harder and faster than typically, probably trying to release the surge of adrenalin that came from the fighting, and bizarrely trying to prove, I think, that while I'm a nasty person, I'm a proficient swimmer. Great logic.
About 10 minutes in, after ignoring her whenever we're doing the breast-stroke toward each other, i.e., after consciously avoiding eye-contact with her and smiling only at Pat -- who has blissfully missed the whole episode, since she went ahead into the pool and has been swimming the whole time -- I look over and say, with goggles still on, but I think she can see my eyes, "I'm sorry for the way I spoke to you and I hope you'll forgive me someday."
"It's all right. Just enjoy," she says and smiles a genuine smile. And our clothes were not a pile of ashes when we returned to the locker either.