It’s September and we’re in the middle of a heat wave—not unusual for Berkeley this time of year. I only mention this because when I went to the pool on Friday, I found it closed—a change in the fall schedule I’d forgotten about. But before I could lament my memory lapse, I realized it was warm enough to swim at Lake Anza instead—so I headed home to retrieve my sunscreen and beach towel. One of the more memorable swims I had there I wrote about in A Patchwork Memoir:
Three summers ago I started swimming—weather permitting—at tiny Lake Anza, only ten minutes from my door if I take Marin, a street perpendicular to the earth. Being at the lake evokes my childhood more than anything I can think of—even lilacs or Perry Como. It does, however have its down side:
Marcus, my Alexander teacher, reaches out to hug me. “I’m Swamp Thing,” I warn him. “My hair smells of algae.” When I went swimming at the lake yesterday the water was green soup, and my swimsuit stank to high heaven—even after I washed it. (Floating on my back in the middle of the lake, I saw a snake resting its head on the rope between the buoys. We regarded each other dubiously for a minute, then it dove back in and headed for shore. I expected to hear kids screaming, “Snake! Snake!” at any moment, but he must have kept a low profile, which I suppose isn’t that hard for a snake.)
“Can’t they do something about the algae?” I asked the lifeguard last summer.
“They’ve tried, but it just keeps coming back,” he shrugged. “The rains wash down fertilizer from the botanical garden, and the algae goes crazy.”
Fertilizer! I thought. Like bone meal for roses? Uh-oh. Didn’t they say on TV to be leery of bone meal—that it may contain the ground-up bones of bovines with mad cow disease? I kept spitting into kleenexes the whole way home in case I had any lake water left in my mouth; I’m just a wee bit hypochondriacal.
Which reminds me of the time, when I was a teenager, that I noticed I had no feeling on the back of my left toe. Worried that I’d contracted leprosy—it starts as numbness in the extremities—I called my mother’s doctor. Though she didn’t seem particularly alarmed—said I’d probably stubbed it—I remained unconvinced. So, using a pin to prick it, I mapped out the deadened area with a ballpoint pen, then kept my left foot dangling out of the tub whenever I took a bath so the map wouldn’t wash off—and checked it every few days for a month to see if the numbness was spreading. Or maybe I kept it up for only a week—but anyway, long enough to find some other disease or syndrome to agonize about.
When I got home, I changed my mind about the sunscreen—too much trouble. I’ll be in and out of the water in short order, I told myself. This time of year the water is so frigid that if I stay in too long—and my ears get too cold—I’ll develop a headache.