Several years ago, I was running three times a week down at Pan Pacific Park when I developed Achilles tendonitis. In order to give my tendons a rest, I decided to switch to swimming for a while. There is a large public pool in the park which made it convenient. I didn't want to get out of the habit of exercising regularly and swimming seemed like the perfect alternative.
But first I had to buy a new bathing suit.
I hadn't bought a bathing suit in a while and I soon discovered that, yet again, Fashion and Marketing, the twin handmaidens of Satan, had conspired to make what was once a simple and ordinary procedure into a ridiculously frustrating waste of time energy and money. For reasons known only to a few, at some point in the mid-nineties the Evil Ones convened and decreed that all men must wear clownishly oversized baggy shorts that hung down well below the knees and billowed like parachutes when you walked.
I don't know why they did this, but I think it had something to do with the whole "Hip Hop" phenomenon that the kids are into.
I first encountered this conspiracy one summer in New York when I went out to buy a pair of short pants and found that the concept of regular "shorts" no longer existed and that the only style available IN THE UNIVERSE was what used to be called "Bermuda Shorts". These so-called "Bermuda Shorts" were originally worn by middle-aged men with beer guts and accessorized with white belts, dark socks and sandals. Often they were plaid.
But no longer. Suddenly everyone was wearing pleated, khaki-colored, Bermuda Shorts from The Gap. Why? Because there weren't any other kinds of shorts available anywhere ON THE PLANET. Almost. I did manage to find one pair without pleats that actually fell just above the knee. The whole point of wearing shorts is to allow cooling breezes to waft up the thigh and ventilate one's undercarriage. If the shorts are too long then the cooling breezes are not able to waft sufficiently. It's madness.
My next encounter with the baggy shorts conspiracy was when I went out shopping for a pair of running shorts. When I was a kid in high school, we wore plain cotton gym shorts. They were not too short, not too long -- they were just right. Nothing fancy, no pockets, no stripes, one color. And they were fine. Later when I got into distance running, I started wearing these skimpy nylon jobs with a built-in lining. Apparently, at the time, I was comfortable enough with my anatomy to appear in public wearing what were little more than glorified panties. But that was long ago.
All I wanted was a pair of plain cotton running shorts like the ones we had in gym class. All I found were gigantic polyester pantaloons in all manner of hideous color combinations with fictional logos and cryptic initials printed on them. I couldn't understand why men would want to wear these oversized pajama bottoms while playing sports. Even professional basketball had adopted this idiotic attire. To me they looked like children playing dress-up in daddy's boxer shorts. Where would it all end?
At last I found a pair of plain black cotton gym shorts and bought them. As soon as I got home, I realized that I should have bought every pair they had. I even went back to the store to get some more. But when I got there I was unable to find the rack where they had been hanging. And when I asked, my questions were met with strange looks and odd behavior. "Oh, we've never carried that style, sir. Now go, go quickly and never tell another living soul what you just told me. Hurry! Go!"
So, years later, when it came time to buy a new bathing suit, I was ready. I knew it wouldn't be easy to find what I wanted. Something we used to call "swim trunks", basically the bathing suit version of the plain cotton gym shorts. But I had a new weapon in my arsenal: the Internet.
Thanks to the Internet, I rarely have to go shopping for clothes at all any more. I just sit at home (or at the office) and search for the exact item I need. When I find it, I buy several of them since I'm fairly sure I will never see it again. I own four blue oxford shirts from L.L. Bean, four pairs of chinos from Eddie Bauer, two fleece tunics from Land's End, etc.
But when it came to bathing suits, none of my usual outlets had what I wanted. All they had were huge baggy "surfer's shorts". I don't see how you are supposed to swim with all of that extra material flapping around you. Whatever happened to 'form follows function?' Whatever happened to practicality? Whatever happened to logic?
But I persevered. I Googled more and more specifically. There had to be someone out there who still appreciated good old-fashioned simplicity. And there was. A company called Dolfin that makes swimwear for swim teams and lifeguards. Naturally they had a lot of the 'Speedo' type suits, but they also had exactly what I was looking for: the standard swim trunk, called 'The Lifeguard'. Not too long, not too short. One color, no stripes, plain, simple, functional, logical. I bought one pair.
That was my big mistake.
Recently I have taken up swimming again. Now that I have my afternoons free, I am able to go down to the West Hollywood Pool for the lap swim. At first I was just trying to get back into the habit of regular exercise. And for a while my old Dolfin trunks served me well. But as I started getting into it a little more, I noticed that the Dolfins had gotten loose and were dragging in the water and as my stroke improved and I stretched out more and more, the Dolfins tended to slip off. I had to stop several times mid-lap and hitch them back up. But no matter how tightly I tied them, they kept sliding back down.
It was time for some new trunks.
Fortunately I knew just where to go, back to Dolfin.com. But to my horror, when I looked they no longer had the same style. Oh they still had a style called The Lifeguard, but the Dolfin people had finally succumbed to the fascist baggy short conspiracy and now the trunks were quite a bit longer and "roomier." I was crushed. Why hadn't I bought six pairs the last time? I had assumed that the good people at Dolfin were immune to the whims of fashion. Sadly, I was wrong.
There was only one choice left: the skimpy nylon "racing" suits. That's what all of the other guys down at the pool wear. They are practical and logical, they don't create excess drag and they don't fall off in the middle of the pool. But they're so damn tight! Keep in mind that most of the other guys at the West Hollywood Pool are gay. And not that I want to promote any stereotypes here, but they are all in amazingly good shape. Most of them work out at a gym in addition to swimming. And most of them are about fifteen years younger than me. And they all have perfect salon tans. So when they wear the tight, skimpy Speedos, it seems appropriate.
I, meanwhile, do my best to keep as much of my body covered as possible, partly out of modesty, partly out of shame, and partly to keep from blinding anyone with the glare from my pale white skin. It's like being back in high school all over again, being the scrawny, hairless, weakling surrounded by a bunch of hulking neanderthals. Only now I am less scrawny and more flabby and the neanderthals all shave their chests and engage in witty banter.
Anyway, I finally found an alternative. There's another middle-aged guy who comes to the pool sometimes and he wears one of those tight little suits, but it's not the super-revealing Speedo style. I went to the sporting goods store to find one of them, they're called 'trainers' and they have the added bonus of an outer shell of nylon between you and the outside world. Kind of like those nylon running shorts I used to wear. It's not much of a difference, but it's something to cling to. So to speak.
Of course now I had to try them on. Because I honestly couldn't see how I would fit into one these things. So I picked three sizes and took them to the dressing room. And that was perhaps one of the most humiliating experiences of all. Bright white fluorescent light. Floor to ceiling mirror. Bare white walls. And me wearing a skimpy nylon bathing suit. I suddenly felt a flood of empathy for all of the poor women who are forced to go through this ritual every year at the start of "bikini season." What they should have is velvet-draped walls, candles and a smoked-glass mirror surrounded by lots of plants so you can partially obscure your reflection. No one should have to go through that.
But then came the real test, wearing the suit in PUBLIC. Usually I am one of the first people in the pool so I can slip in undetected. Getting out of the pool is less of a problem because by the end of the workout I am all pumped up (or as pumped as I ever get) and too tired to care if anyone sees me. But that first few moments before getting in is the true test of my resolve. It's like I'm proclaiming to the world, "Yes, I am pale! Yes I am flabby! Yes, I am stuffed into a tiny garment that embarrassingly highlights my toothpick legs and my shapeless gut! Look upon me if you dare!"
Naturally, the first time I wore the new suit to the pool, I ended up sharing a lane with a slim and sexy young woman. In West Hollywood! I lived here for seven years and I've only seen about a half dozen women total. And let me tell you, it's not easy to suck in your gut while gracefully easing yourself into the water. What a body she had. I bet she didn't have to suffer through the humiliation of the full-length mirror and the bright fluorescent light.
On second thought, maybe she did.