I don't know what it is about the Vancouver Aquatic Centre but the place is a magnet for freaks and weirdos.*
I've witnessed some pretty bizarre behaviour at the Aquatic Centre over the years -- stuff so strange I couldn't make it up if I tried.
And so, in honour of the characters who bring a splash of colour to the pool, I decided to write a tribute to some of my favourite patrons. (I've written about Perry and Vaseline Lady before but the rest are new.)
I first met Perry at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre's "prison gym" about four years ago. Perry was a heavy-drinking, chain-smoking, overweight, ex-Olympic rower (or so he claimed) from Romania.
He told me the only reason he went to the gym was because he was trying to kill himself. Literally. He ate deep-fried food, binged on booze and smoked two packs a day. And then he'd come to the gym and bench-press twice his weight in the hopes of having a heart attack.
He was tired of living and wanted to die but was too afraid to commit suicide in a more traditional manner. Perry was fixated on having a heart attack and dropping dead in the gym.
He seemed disappointed to find himself still alive after every punishing workout. It may sound depressing but Perry was actually pretty light-hearted about his death mission.
I think he may have accomplished his goal because I haven't seen him in a while.
Of all the wacky characters at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre, Vaseline Lady is by far the wackiest. We call her Vaseline Lady because she coats herself in the stuff before she goes for a swim.
Her routine in the women's change room is fascinating to watch. First, she sets down a gigantic tub of Vaseline on the ledge in front of the mirror. Then she takes off all her clothes and scoops out baseball-sized gobs of Vaseline, which she smears on every inch of her body. (I overheard her telling someone she does this to protect her skin from the chlorine.)
Once she is coated in enough layers of grease to withstand a nuclear fallout, she puts on her swimsuit and heads out to the pool, leaving a trail of slime in her wake. I have twice slipped off toilet seats she sat on. I have cracked my hand against the wall after it skidded off the soap dispenser she touched. I have slid on the pool deck she walked on.
If her skin really is that sensitive to chlorine, why swim at all? But perhaps that's too logical a question for someone so illogical. [I'm not even going to get into the fact that I have also seen her eating sandwiches in the shower. Eating in the shower is weird enough but eating things in the shower that are going to get soggy is mind-boggling.]
I'm not the only one who has grumbled to the lifeguards about Vaseline Lady. Apparently, so many people complained that the lifeguards banned her from the pool.
I've never seen the Naked Reader with my own eyes. But at least three male friends of mine assure me he is a regular fixture in the men's change room.
He strips off all his clothes until he is completely naked and then sits down on a bench where the other men are changing and reads a book. He doesn't swim. He doesn't shower. He doesn't sit in the hot tub. He just sits naked in the men's change room pretending to read a book for hours at a time.
I'm all in favour of breastfeeding. It's a natural and normal part of motherhood. But breastfeeding a six-year-old boy? That's creepy and weird (and, in my opinion, borders on child abuse).
There's a woman who frequents the Aquatic Centre with her six-year-old son. She brags to all of the other moms in the change room that she still breastfeeds the boy, who has long blonde hair that looks like it has never seen a pair of scissors. (This kid is going to need some serious therapy some day.)
The Breastfeeder says it's a "bonding" experience and that all mothers should breastfeed their children as long as possible. And while there is nothing funny about the Breastfeeder herself, watching the other mothers squirm when she tries to convert them is amusing.
Sorry, lady, but when your kid is old enough to carry on a conversation, then he's not a baby and you shouldn't feed him like one.
The thing about public pools is that the showers are public too. A lot of people conveniently forget this fact and act as if they were showering in the privacy of their own home.
For some reason, I always end up in the stall next to the Shower Spitter. I don't know if this woman has got some sort of phlegm issue but she spends her entire 10-minute shower hacking up a lung. She may be a tiny little grandmother but the woman horks like man.
She hacks up these great gobs of phlegm and spits them on the floor -- the communal shower floor. Mere inches away from my feet.
As a passive-aggressive, non-confrontational kind of person, I make all kinds of gagging noises and comments about how nasty her behaviour is while standing in the next stall (I just don't do it loudly enough for her to hear it).
Not everyone is comfortable wearing a bathing suit in public. There's nothing wrong with covering up if you're insecure about your body. But there is one woman at the Aquatic Centre who takes modesty to an extreme.
The woman remains fully clothed while she swims. But instead of wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and yoga pants, she wears her business suit in the pool. We're talking black blazer, white dress shirt, black skirt, stockings, string of pearls. The works. She pretty much looks like she walked straight out of the office and into the pool.
Which is probably why the first time she wore her business suit in the pool, one of the lifeguards mistook her for a drowning victim and jumped in to save her. But instead of being grateful, she got angry after the lifeguard tried to tell her that wearing all that heavy clothing was a safety hazard. She threatened to sue if they didn't let her in the pool with her "modesty outfit."
The lifeguards backed down and you can see her regularly swimming in the public lanes. Pearls and all.
Chains of Oppression
There is a man who frequents the Vancouver Aquatic Centre who looks like the ghost of Jacob Marley. He drapes himself in flowing robes and long, heavy chains, which drag on the floor behind him.
Someone once asked him what the chains were all about and he said they symbolized oppression. I'm not sure what kind of oppression he is representing. But he is clearly committed to the cause, whatever it may be.
My male friends tell me that watching him get undressed in the change room is like watching an illusionist escape from a locked box. As he wriggles his way out of the chains, they drop to the floor one-by-one with a loud clunk.
Then he gathers up all of the chains (with much jingling and jangling) and stuffs them in a locker. He then locks the locker (full of locks and chains) and goes for a swim.
What would a public pool be without perverts? The Vancouver Aquatic Centre has more than its fair share of peeping Toms. In fact, the pool practically lays out the welcome mat for dirty old men.
The Aquatic Centre has several lounge-style lawn chairs on the pool deck. They are the sort of chairs you might find on a cruise ship or a rooftop patio. Why the Aquatic Centre found it necessary to equip an indoor pool with sunbathing chairs is beyond me.
These chairs are almost exclusively occupied by sleazy old men who do nothing but watch the girls go by. The chairs are conveniently located just outside the women's change room so if you want to exit or enter the pool, you have to endure being looked up and down by the Lounge Lizards first.
Just like the Naked Reader, none of these men ever swim in the pool or use the hot tub. They simply sprawl out on the lawn chairs and watch the swimmers go by.
* For the record, the description "freaks and weirdos" is not meant to be derogatory. This post was written with love. Vancouver would be a pretty boring place without all of the colourful characters who call this city home.