3.27 Swimming Horizontally

Every few years, I meet a Fred. There have been three Freds. Fred is not their real name. They are completely different people who live in completely different cities. The Freds have no relation to each other. However, they could almost be triplets in looks, personality and habits. They enter my life, usually for a few months, and exit without rhyme or reason. Exit, that is, until the next Fred comes along. Honestly, I have yet to understand what it is I’m to glean from the Freds. What lessons am I to learn so important that Fred continues to resurface again and again, like some sped up form of reverse – or perverse – version of Buddhist reincarnation. If it wasn’t for my unhealthy preoccupation of patterns, I never would have connected the dots, or in this case, connected the Freds.

The term obsessive compulsive comes to mind. Compulsive in locating patterns that exist in the most minutia of capacities. Taking the density of monolithic incidents and breaking them down into not only cause and effect, but reason and meaning. Why is this happening? What does this mean? Being a results-orientated individual, the latter is infuriating to the point of paralysis. You may say, Just ignore the patterns. But when I find myself in a situation – good or bad – I instantly backtrack all the decisions that led me to that point. A past time that does no one any good. A sensible person gets on with things.

One of the first times I consciously became aware of patterns occurred as a child sitting in a Swiss Chalet – the restaurant, not a villa in Europe. I’ve been to a few Swiss Chalets in my lifetime and never again came across this phenomenon. I do believe that this location, now shuttered, contained within its walls some kind of vortex, a place where potentially empirical evidence of the multi-verse existed.

First, I was not aware that the Swiss were famous for their chicken. Famous enough at least to have an entire moderately fast food restaurant chain named for their country. Cheese, maybe. Multi-use knives, perhaps. But chicken? Second, let’s put aside that they used to provide customers with a small bowl of water that included a floating lemon wedge. This was to cleanse greasy fingers, but in reality, probably just an excuse to recycle lemons passed the due date.

Anyway, I digress.

I remember sitting at a table and staring at a large picture covering one of the walls. The picture was from outside a chalet, presumably in Switzerland, looking into the interior through a window. There were more pictures, the perspective similar. I strolled to the washroom so I could have a better look around. Sure enough, on every wall there was a different picture of a different interior of a chalet, taken from the outside, looking in through a window.

I didn’t understand it then, but I remember shivering, a tingling feeling running down my spine. If we were inside and the pictures were taken from the outside looking in, what were the boundaries of inside and outside? Was there, somewhere out there, a chalet that had pictures of Swiss Chalet restaurants on the walls, all of them looking into the windows, including the very window of this restaurant? And what was real? And what was not? Were we just living in glass houses within glass chalets? Were we just someone else’s entertainment?

Patterns become most evident when the flow of expectations breaks down. When someone steps out of the prescribed illusion of our collective forward momentum.

Case in point. I have discussed swimming pool etiquette at the gym before, but apparently there are always new rules to be broken. I went to do some laps in the evening when it’s not so busy. The swimming pool is divided into four lanes: two slow, medium and fast. The medium and fast lanes were taken. Because I’m secure in my masculinity, I started my laps in the slow lane.

After a few laps, a very old woman entered the pool. I assumed we could work together, after all, there were two slow lanes. She wasn’t down with teamwork. She started paddling across the width of the pool. Might I add that she was not very fast, in fact, she was so slow, a tortoise on a hot day in the desert would be faster. Perhaps she didn’t notice the lines painted on the pool floor. If she missed them, there were plastic dividers the full length of the pool, designating lanes. Still, she could have not seen the paint or the dividers, but what about the other three people, swimming length-wise? I felt we were a pretty good indicator of the proper direction.

I kept going, feeling that she’d get the point. She just needed time, and I was prepared to give it to her. On my way back, there she was, still slowly bobbing across the width of the pool. She stopped at the divider to the medium lane, turned, headed back to the side. Repeat. As I approached, she watched me out of the corner of her eye, didn’t turn her head, didn’t acknowledge me. I guess in a way she was acknowledging me but probably just ignoring me.

Under the water, I noticed she walked as she paddled across, and realized that perhaps she was scared to go out into the deep end. This realization prompted some sense of sympathy, but this sympathy got pretty thin pretty fast. I kept going and she kept going. We swam or paddled around each other, like a dance or perhaps a crude from of synchronized skating. No gold medal in London for us. But, in a way, we did end up working as a team.

Some people have hobbies. Comic books, stamps, model trains. My hobby is locating patterns. On that day in Swiss Chalet, I discovered that moment where a pattern emerges, the curious individual element transforms into a larger collective whole. Finding the glitch in The Matrix. The lady swimming, Freds, window pictures. What does all this mean? I’m tempted to say: Nothing. But it does mean something. It’s futile and perhaps arrogant to declare my meaningless answer. I will be sure to ask the next Fred that comes along.