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By Daddy Clay Tuesday, June 26th, 2012
We are momentarily childless, my wife and I, summer camp empty nesters, so we’re going to the gym. As usual, she picks a stair climber, and I loaf around on an elliptical. At first I think she’s picked a machine next to some crazy old coot, rigged out like the Unibomber in grey sweats and hoodie, sporting oversize shades. Old guy’s got some kinda light sensitivity, I think. Look, he’s got towels hung up to block the light coming in the window.
Oh, wait, I’ve heard about this. I sneak a glimpse. Another.
It’s not a geezer.
It’s a major movie star.
When my sentence on the machine is complete, I sidle over to my wife to get a closer look at the dude. And he’s wearing my shoes.
Not just any shoes, either. The crazy canary yellow Nike Free Runs that I have caught endless shit for. “Cool shoes. They come in men’s colors?” wiseass fellow boot campers had asked. These shoes would be perfect to run the Big Bird 10k in, if such a race existed. But the movie star is wearing the same damn ones.
I feel vindicated. Very young. Very fit. Very cool.
So cool that I uttered a little “ugh” under my breath when I saw the bulbous old man bobbing away in the tiny lap pool. “I’ll never let that happen to me,” I thought as I slipped into the neighboring jacuzzi. I spied his wheelchair parked nearby and figured he must be rehabbing something. Stroke maybe. Given his spherical physique, I deemed it a good bet.
The old guy began waving his swim noodle at the glass wall that separated the pool area from the club office, trying to get the attention of his nurse. “Oh, great,” I thought, “I’m to be treated to the sight of this walrus beaching.”
The nurse wheeled the chair to the top of the stairs and the old guy fussed over its positioning. He grasped the handrail and started hauling himself up. It wasn’t going well. He was too shaky, the nurse too small. He began to slowly collapse back down, his legs folding underneath him. The nurse ran to get help from the club staff.
When I slipped into the water next to him, he looked up and in his vulnerable, slightly wall-eyed gaze — probably a result of the stroke — I saw my friend and mentor, Lowell. Lowell was blinded in an accident that left him with a glass eye that never tracked quite right. In his Savile Row suits and eyepatch, he cut a dashing figure. But there were times when he needed help and I found him like this man in the pool, helpless and staring blankly. Lowell was a hero to me, but when he died two years ago, I was on vacation with my kids. When his many aides from over the years gathered — all wearing Hermes ties in his honor — I wasn’t there.
A few women from the club and the nurse returned and we managed to get the man sitting on the edge of the pool, but there are still the stairs to climb.
“If you’ll put your arm around my shoulders, we’ll walk right out of here,” I say.
“I’m so sorry,” says the man.
“Good days, bad days” I say as I slip next to him. He puts his arm my shoulders and I cinch him very close to me, hip to hip, trying to take as much weight as I can. He’s very heavy, very soft. I move steadily and gently. It’s very quiet. We climb.
When the nurse has scampered away to find a dressing for the freely bleeding wound on his shin, and the club staff has returned to their posts, the man turns to me and holds out his hand.
“My name is Mickey.”
I wonder about Mickey’s story while the nurse wheels him off. I hope he will be back at the pool again soon, that he won’t give up after this setback.
In the shower, I cry. I think it’s the Lowell connection, maybe just that glimpse of vulnerability, mortality. Then I put my wet swimsuit in the spinning drier doohickey my son showed me how to use and that made it better somehow. That thing works like a charm.
I put my yellow shoes back on and meet my wife in the lobby of the club, just as the movie star emerges from the exercise area. The three of us walk into the parking lot at the same time, where a number of paparazzi are camped out in a squad of Priuses, backed into parking spaces to face the club entrance.
They snap our picture. I’m in People magazine for all I know. But I didn’t give a shit. I didn’t give a shit about my yellow movie star shoes. I just wanted to tell my wife about Mickey.