For all of my predictive powers as a writer and storyteller, I tend to miss when conversations are inevitably leading astray. Perhaps this is because I am too focused on what I am trying to say instead of what the other person may be wanting to (but not yet able to) express, or perhaps it is simply because I tend to believe that everyone subscribes to my own communicative protocols until proven otherwise. Either way, I have recently engaged in several conversations that have taken decidedly unanticipated and difficult-to-counter turns. Here is one such instance:
I was at the gym swimming laps, as I usually do on many weekdays. One particular Hispanic gentleman—whom I had first met playing volleyball and then continued to see in the pool after I hurt my ankle and began to swim more frequently—arrived and approached lane where I was swimming. (Both of us are relatively fast swimmers, compared with the rest of the swimmers, so we regularly share the designated “Fastest” lane.) I greeted him, and he explained that he couldn’t talk as much as usual today, because he had to go play soccer in half an hour. I told him okay, that I wouldn’t bother him, and to have a good time at his soccer match. He thanked me and complimented the colors of my swimming suit. I resumed my workout; he began his.
About 200 yards later (the average length of warm-up for any decent swimmer), I noticed his legs standing vertically by the shallow wall. When I paused between at the wall, I realized he was chatting to a guy in the other lane. Finding this a fabulous opportunity to tease him—he is forever teasing me about things—I tapped his shoulder and commented, “Well, I thought you didn’t have time to chat today.” He turned toward me and grinned guiltily. Then, he looked down at my suit.
“I really like your suit,” he repeated from before. “You have so many. How many is this?”
I had already begun shaking my head mid-sentence. “No, Only two. I just started wearing this one.” Recently had been wearing my purple and black one nearly every day, so today I had switched to my red-white-and-blue suit. This must have been what made it seem “new.” I waved my arms in the air. “It’s an illusion.”
“You should wear a . . . what is it?” He looked at the guy in the other lane. “A . . . bikini.” He grinned at me expectantly. I stared at him.
There was another shocked pause of silence before I answer.
“Because this is an indoor swimming pool. Maybe to the beach, but not here. How would I swim laps?”
“You see M____. She wear bikini. You could be like her.”
“It could make people swim faster!” He and the other guy laughed; he made paddling motions with his arms.
“Yeah, right.” I forced myself to laugh along good-naturedly, trying not to let my disgust seep out. “Well, I’m going to keep swimming. See you.” I submerged and pushed off the wall. Blissful silence. I let the expletives float away in the wake behind me.