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Monday, August 07, 2006

Adolf

I plop into the end of the swimming lane at the YMCA. An older gentleman surfaces next to me and says "90 years old! How about that? I just did 10 laps!"

He has a bald head and a healthy, friendly energy. His eyes shine with presence. His voice has gravel and warmth.

"Wow, I'm impressed. I do 10 laps and I'm 30. You're 90!" I say. He proceeds to talk to me for 20 minutes as we both wait at the end of the swimming lane early in the morning, my goggles on my head.

He tells me how he's been in some form of the YMCA since 1962. He arrived in San Francisco in 1936 during the Great Depression. Tells me that he was a fireman for many years. He used to go up to a cabin, where there were hot springs and spoke about how in the 1920s you would take a horse and carriage from Calistoga up to the mountains.

I thrust my hand out: "I'm Brad."

"I'm Adolf," he says, returning my shake.

He says he used to swim a mile, but now he only swims 10 laps a day, and before I can stop him he says "Watch, I'm so healthy, I can swim again." While we were talking, another man, in his 60's, slips into the water in the adjoining lane.

Adolf shoots off into a swim; I can feel that he is trying to show off to me, show the young guy that he is on my level. It's very endearing. Before I can say anything, he swerves into the other lane and hits the other guy who is swimming against him in traffic, knocking heads.

Fuck; I think they knocked each other hard.

I feel a storm of emotions - when you're 90, something like that, you don't recover from as well, it can really cause problems. I'm also divided because I kind of saw it coming, but I didn't really shout anything. I didn't think Adolf could hear me, and I also wanted to respect his autonomy. I think that many times, people don't respect the autonomy and individuality of people who are older or younger than them. Two of my values, respecting someone's autonomy and also looking out for them, had a mid-air collision.

He comes back and I say, are you ok? He says, "yeah," but I think more than anything else, his pride is bruised more than his body, and as he gets out of the water and gets into the hot tub that runs parallel to the pool, I push off into the crawl. On each of my upbreaths as my face surfaces out of the water, I look over, and I ask God to take care of him, to make sure he's ok after that knock, and then anger runs through my body, through my heart. I feel angry at God, that God can create a unique human being like Adolf and then allow time to wear him away. I feel angry at God that God can create a human being like this, a spirit, and then take away his abilities as the years pass, and it makes me angry and confused.

After 8 laps, I look up at the clock and realize I'm running out of time on the parking meter, so I quickly get out of the pool. I try to find Adolf in the changing room, to see if he is ok, but I can't find him. When I get to my car I have a ticket on the windshield.

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