One of my husband Peder’s favorite movies is The Swimmer. Burt Lancaster plays a middle-aged man who swims from pool to pool on his way home from a boozy party in an affluent New York suburb. Set in the ‘60s, the movie is based on a short story by the literary giant John Cheever. Burt is all cheery at first and then realizes after his last dip that his life is a mess. As one reviewer puts it, the story is about a man’s journey into darkness. That’s heavy stuff, but not why my husband loves the movie. His appreciation is more literal. He relates to Burt’s pool hopping.
A few years ago at dinner, our firstborn told my husband that he was getting “pudgy.’’ Ouch. Peder had been swimming all summer at the Seekonk Swim and Tennis Club, known to many East Siders as the SSTC, and had intended to stop exercising during the winter. That remark inspired him not to hang up the towel. He decided he would swim off 600 calories a day. Of course, he would have to find an indoor pool. Little did he know then that he would have to find many pools, just like Burt.
Peder learned to swim at the Fox Point Boys Club, then off South Main. He went once a week with his buddies, most of them from Henry Barnard grade school. One day, Bud Latham, the revered coach and swimming instructor, approached him: “Son, you can’t swim, can you?” It was obvious, but Peder was too proud to admit it. After the group class ended, Bud took him aside and taught him freestyle in ten minutes. The core of his instruction method was no dog paddling allowed.
After that zinger at dinner, Peder considered his options. The Boys Club, now on Ives Street, has a pool, but it’s for kids, not for dads who are putting on the pounds. There is also the Jewish Community Center on Elmgrove. Their schedule favors morning lap swimmers. Peder is not a morning swimmer. The locker rooms are nice, but the light at the pool is mostly artificial. He likes real light to swim.
Then there is the Y on Hope Street. The hours are suitable, the light is good, the parking decent. Plus, it’s close to Peder’s office; he could swim on his lunch break. He settled on the Y.
The calculations came next. His trusty fitness app assured him he was losing 400 calories with every swim. To drop more, he changed his eating habits. Before his swimming days, he’d eat lunch with his boss, Dan, who would order a hearty meal and then complain and discard half of it. Peder would eat his entire calorie-rich meal. He started skipping lunch and swimming instead, which he estimated reduced his daily caloric intake by 200. In his world, this got him to 600 calories, or 400 + 200 = 600.
Other pools appealed to Peder, too. He liked the Newman Y in Seekonk. The hours were better on weekends, and he could fill up his gas tank with the cheaper Massachusetts’ prices. He also appreciated the Y’s warmer water, sauna and scale to monitor his progress.
Last fall, his routine took a hit. He arrived at the Hope Street Y for a lunchtime swim. The water was cold. Later that day, he received an email that the pool was closed until further notice: the boiler was on the fritz. He panicked and then, once again, calmly considered his options.
He stopped by the Nelson Center at Brown and discovered that he didn’t have to sign up for a full year. He could get a monthly membership! A convivial young man took his photo. The facility impressed him: 13 lanes; plush locker rooms; Bergmanesque light (his words); and a majestic ceiling. But he had complaints. The water was too deep. He likes to be able to stand in emergencies. Water polo tournaments interfered with lap swimming. And parking was a problem. There was grumbling.
One evening, a smile returned. The boiler had been fixed at the Hope Street Y. “I’m back home,” Peder said. All those pools, all those laps, and he still has not reached his weight-loss goal. Two years ago, he weighed himself on that nifty scale at the Newman Y: 196. He’s been as low as 191 and as high as 199. He’s determined to take off more, even if he has to hop more pools. His doctor says not to worry, that his weight is fine. Peder wonders: Maybe our son is too skinny.
Elizabeth Rau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.