Behind the scenes is another story.
You know what I love? Telling people what really goes on. Cos’ I like people to know that I don’t have it all figured out.
Also, it makes me feel a bit like I’m running my own reality show. And I always wanted to be on TV.
So here we go. I’m going to tell you a juicy story.
Before Matt and I bought our home, we lived in a 13-floor concrete tower that a friend of mine called ‘The Peacock.’ Because the blue and green on the building, and the way it’s 70s fabulousness stood way out from all the other tasteful, three-story walk-ups from the 1920s made her think of a bird that flashes its tail feathers to get attention. That was our building, always flashing somebody.
It had a lawn on one side and a pool on the other. During the summer the pool was pretty much lived in by four “oldies.” That was what I called them in my head, mainly because all of them had lived in the building for over a decade and even though only two of them were…well…old, all four reminded me of a bunch of retirees in Florida.
Arnie was from Germany. He was about 6’ 5” and tall and skinny. He was in his early 90s. In the winter he wore one of those fur hats with the ear flaps that tie up on top of your head and a pea-green wool coat. One morning, after quizzing me in the elevator about whether or not I was living life for happiness, Arnie stepped out of the elevator doors into the lobby and said “I’m off to rob a bank. It’s the one just down the block.” He untied his ear flaps, made sure the hat was snug and then walked out the door.
In the summer, Arnie wore a Speedo and a swim cap. He swam laps back and forth, back and forth until Roger would call out to him, “You’re gonna give yourself a heart attack.”
Roger was a former hairdresser. He had run three high profile salons in the city and made a lot of money. Then he left his wife and kids for a younger woman who stayed married to him for a while until she decided to move to Europe. With her new man. And then Roger didn’t have very much money anymore.
Roger would motor out to the pool patio on his motorized scooter called Karma—I kid you not—pull himself onto a plastic chair and park there for the day. He was in his mid-80s. He wore blue cotton shorts and a button-up short-sleeve shirt. No hat.
Once Roger had badgered Arnie into getting out of the pool, and Arnie had pulled his robe around him, traipsed back inside, up the elevator, changed into his regular shorts and T-shirt and come back down, Roger and Arnie would sit at a plastic table and harass each other.
“That robe makes you look like a boxer who’s lost his juice,” Roger would say.
“You’re skin looks like a burnt potato,” Arnie would say.
They both spoke out of the corners of their mouths, sometimes leaned back in their chairs with their eyes closed.
They stopped talking if someone else came to swim. In which case they would switch to commenting on the swimmer.
“Too much splash.”
“Form’s all outta place.”
One of the first things Roger ever said to me was “What happened to the red bikini?” I’d swapped my old red bathing suit for a new blue one. I thought it made me look Australian. “We liked the red one,” said Roger.
Roger and Arnie would comment to each other about the swimmer until Mona would arrive with the pizza update.
Mona had been a home-care support person. She was in her 70s. She had tattoos on both arms, and one on her chest: letters that spelled out someone’s name. Mona had never been married and didn’t have kids. She’d had adventures.
“Lindsey, I got stories for you that would make you turn redder than that bathing suit you used to wear.”
Mona was in charge of ordering the pizza. At about noon, Mona would come down to claim her spot in the sun. She commanded the lounge chair with the blue mattress—where she had lain her towel, magazines, and book mid-morning before going out to run errands. She’d call out to Arnie and Roger: “Pizza’s ordered.”
Mona swore like a trucker. The first thing she ever said to me was “That’s some fucking hat.”
The hat was an oversize straw sunhat, just big enough to push it into statement-making territory. “It’s a bit big, isn’t it?” Mona asked questions in a way that let you know she wasn’t actually asking a question.
The next time I saw her at the pool, she was wearing one.
So was Arlene.
Arlene was in charge of meeting the pizza guy at the hedge. She was the youngest of them all, in her late 50s, and talked each time I saw her about what she wanted to do when she retired. “I’m gonna spend all day at this pool,” she said, eyeing up the lounge chair Mona lay on. Mona settled deeper into the cushion.
When the pizza guy arrived and called out over the hedge, Arlene would jog over and pay him with the cash she’d collected from the other three, and then jog back to where Arnie and Roger sat at the plastic table. Mona would start hauling herself off the lounge chair when the pizza guy arrived and by the time Arlene started her jog back Mona was arriving on her feet. Eventually, she joined Roger, Arnie and Arlene at the table and the four of them ate their pizza, often offering me a slice.
Our last summer in The Peacock was hot. And I was busy. My coaching practice had grown and my days were bubbling with appointments. People in the neighborhood complained of the heat: shopkeepers, baristas, servers. But I had the windows and the patio doors open and the breeze from the ocean.
Until the day they decided to test the fire alarm. On each of the 13 floors. Two on each floor. As the first bell rang out, I bolted upright in my chair. I’d forgotten about the notice on the elevator. And my day was packed with calls.
My brain went into emergency mode. The patio? Too much traffic noise, and too close to the action. A café? Too public. A friend’s place? No guarantee I’d hear back from them in time to get on my next call.
The car. I would do my calls in the car.
I raced down to street level. Hopped in the car. And immediately started to sweat. Universal truth: Cars get hot on hot summer days.
My next call came in as I was rolling up the window I’d opened to see if I could take the call with it down. No-go. Too much external noise.
So I sat in our car with all of the windows rolled up, on one of the hottest days of summer for an entire hour, focusing on the words coming from my client’s mouth. I paid extra attention.
Because my inner Worry Captain was convinced I was going to bake to death in that overheated SUV. Because if I let myself pay attention to her, I may have blurted out: “I can no longer listen to you because my sweat has pooled in my ears.” Or: “I would love to continue this conversation but I’m distracted by the sweat which is also stinging my eyes.” Or: “We’ll talk more about this on another call, because I’ve been taking such small inhales of too-hot air that I’m afraid my brain will atrophy from lack of oxygen.”
But I didn’t say any of those things. I sat in our car with all of the windows rolled up, on one of the hottest days of summer, holding in my inner Worry Captain until the hour had passed. Then I fell out of the car onto the grass and lay there breathing. Like a normal person.
Arnie walked by.
“I don’t know why you don’t just go for a swim.”
p.s. Read more truth about this and other stories, here.