I belong to a swim club out here in suburbia. It’s a great class-leveler. People wearing tattoos that twine up their calves or their chests swim laps alongside doctors, lawyers, bankers, the president of my shul. One manager has the face of a bulldog but a kindly heart, while the other looks pleasant enough, but has the temperament of a rattlesnake. The woman behind the snack bar is working on her PhD in psychology.
There are members from Brooklyn, from France, from Jamaica, from New Jersey. I will never swim here. I do not need my children’s teachers and the members of my synagogue to see me in a wet bathing suit.
Every night of summer, when the kids get home from camp, we toss towels and goggles into the minivan and head out to the pool. I spend the next three hours drifting around the bucolic green grounds, shouting encouragement to my five-year-old as he strokes through the water or whacks a tetherball. I dole out change so that my sons can buy ice cream, I stroll languidly around the beach chairs making the smallest of small talk, I gaze dreamily at the sun setting the sky on fire behind the cottonwood trees, I watch dragonflies dart and play overhead. I used to think I came for the kids. Now I know that I do it for me.
Here’s my confession; on the hottest days, when I want to pull my hair back from my face, I reach into my underwear drawer and pull out…well…underwear. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but the truth is, I lifted it from a magazine interview with the Spice Girls. I get a naughty little boost from this clandestine habit.
So that’s how it happened, one particularly hot evening, as I stood between the queens of the community, having one of those lazy, mindless conversations you can only have when you are tired and barefoot and a body of water is lapping at your feet. I take my scrunchie off and let my hair down.
Only, it’s not a scrunchie. It’s a pink, lacy thong. I don’t realize what I’ve done until a woman shrieks,”Oh my God! Is that a thong?”
I’ve been outed. Sheepishly, I admit that it is.
“You can’t do that!” she cries.
I don’t react well to the word can’t. “Of course I can,” I answer belligerently.
“Oh my God,” she repeats, evidently in shock. “I don’t even own a thong!”
I am taken aback. “Well, why don’t you?” I ask curiously. “You should.”
I have thought about this exchange a lot. Did she go home and tell her husband? Who else did she tell? Her sisters, all of whom I know? Mutual friends? My kids’ teachers? People in small towns have long memories. Will this affect who my children play with, who they will marry?
And what does it say about me? In the City, no one would have batted an eyelash. More likely, my companion would have responded with, “Oh yeah, I’ve done that.” In a way, I guess it’s a kind of Morse code, a secret handshake. If this story makes you laugh, we are going to be friends. If you are horrified, I guess we’re not.