We parents were watching our children’s soccer game. “Your son should smile more,” another mother instructed me. “He’s autistic,” came my deflective response. I hadn’t planned the quick untruth but it made me smile, and later, giggle.
We decided to test drive the Kia Soul with 45 minutes until closing. Luckily the dealership is in our hometown. The salesman inquired – are you familiar with the roads? We assured him without much of a brouhaha and off we went. I turned left off of Route 28 in West Yarmouth. It is a grid after all. Two additional turns and we were lost! We landed on a dirt road with a deep-looking puddle. Now we were just beginning to put the new car through its paces…
Question whether to use the new tool, the back up camera, to reverse down the narrow dirt road the 300 feet we traveled? Or best to inch our way through the outskirts of the puddle, being careful not to splash and hopefully not fall off the edge of the earth…
What would you do?
Downtown Hyannis is a mecca for the homeless. There are bus services and social services, including the only overnight shelter for adults on Cape Cod, all within walking distance for most. Social services also include transitional assistance, Social Security Administration, unemployment, disability services, legal aid, community action, soup kitchens, thrift shops, food pantries, Red Cross, Catholic Social Services, the Immigration Center, federal health clinics, clinics for treating addiction, etc. There are a fair number of rooms for rent and lesser expensive hotel rooms off-season. In the winter especially, one can easily spot those without permanent abodes.
When driving through routinely, one may even come across the same individuals over and over again. One man carries a long-hike backpack. I remember him because he looks Asian and that is fairly uncommon. He wears a bulky green army jacket, construction boots and glasses. He has a long Fu Manchu. I have seen him walking Main Street on the many trips through on my way to the pool.
Recently, I saw him outside at the parking lot of my pool. The next time I saw him inside, then exiting the building. Today, I almost didn’t recognize him poolside. It was the first time I saw him without the bulky winter coat. He is razor-thin, I’d guess about 90 pounds. He wore jeans, a long-sleeve shirt, bright yellow suspenders, and was barefoot.
He laid on the cabana lounge chair flat on his back and gazed up into the screen of a cell phone. He unusually faced away from the pool. Later, he pulled out a clipboard and pencil out of his bag. “A writer” I thought. He walked over to the lifeguard and showed him the clipboard and made a few gestures with his hands without uttering a sound. He left and came back carrying a steaming to-go cup. Morning java I assume, the way most people start their day.
A mother and son entered the pool area. The young adult son seemed non-verbal and avoided eye contact. As I was just thinking – no rest for the weary – Mother went straight to a cabana lounge chair, stretched out flat, and immediately closed her eyes. The boy went straight to the water, carrying a bag. Soon, the boy had his collection in hand and a system. He spent a good deal of time carefully moving a small pile of prized possessions from one side of the pool to another. He walked while doing this and never submerged himself in the water. This occupied him for some time. In one of his crossings, one item fell to the bottom of the pool. He was disturbed as evidenced by an increased frequency in soft moans, which became a cry for help. I looked over and Mother’s eyes remained closed. As I was wondering what to do, a girl was swimming by and noticed the dilemma. I guessed her to be about seven years old. Although she didn’t know this boy and he was different, she took quick personal action, donned her swimming goggles, and dove underwater to fetch the item in question. The boy was immediately calmed and she went about her business as though nothing happened. Another day saved.
John has an old world charm. He and his “wife” are regulars at the pool but I hadn’t seen them all summer. Recently, they joined me in the hot tub. John’s wife began a conversation with an elderly woman she remembered from years ago. I felt very comfortable striking up a conversation with John, since his wife was right there. John said they had been busy swimming in the ocean all summer. When asked what beach they use, he answered that they go to a different one every day.
John talked about the place he was born, in the Pyrenees. I talked about my grandparents’ village in the Alps. John talked about his significant weight loss over recent months. I talked about my need to lose weight. John talked about how his lifelong career as a chef had prepared him to “know better.” I talked about how my degree in nutrition had prepared me to “know better.” John talked about losing his wife of 35 years, the love of his life. I listened. It turns out that the woman accompanying John to the pool each time is his very close friend, not his wife nor his girlfriend.
I suddenly felt awkward in the hot tub. How does one break off and exit after the sharing of such personal life stories. “So long” felt wrong, as did “goodbye.” Instead, I chose to say, “I’m sure I’ll see you again John.”
There was a select small crowd at the pool on this fine Sunday morning. I was making laps, at the same time, observing strangers around me. One thin, haggard-looking woman caught my attention. I first noticed two large patches completely covering her shins, like a second set of skin used for healing ulcers. She sat on a lounge chair across from me with her knees bent. Her body was almost as narrow as her bent limbs. She had shoulder length tousled hair. I quickly looked away.
Just a few minutes later, I lifted my gauze in her direction. I was amazed to see a woman of very similar stature, pencil-thin with scarecrow limbs. I saw that she had a state of the art hair cut. She was about 60 and her short boyish cut was imp-like in the front with bangs, long and layered. A waiter was serving her lunch and they were deep in conversation. There was no sign of the first woman I had observed in the very same pool-side lounge chair. The “new” woman had two small, square bandages, one on each shin.