Last night we finally got to use our tickets for Mike Birbiglia’s new show, “Old Man and the Pool.” We purchased tickets before the Pandemic hit full throttle and like everything else, it got canceled but luckily postponed. I have had the title for this piece staring at me and teasing me for months. I have had fractured ideas, messy paragraphs, empty sentences, and paralysis on paper like never before. I Love You needed to be written though I was not sure how.
Anyone who knows Mike Birbiglia is aware of the brilliant, brave, self-deprecating authenticity in his storytelling. He is a comedian though spins truth and tenderness into a web of tears and laughter leaving his audience cackling and retrospective, as well as wondering if we should all call our primary care physician immediately the next morning.
This particular show dabbled deeper into the present state of Birbiglia’s health. The description of his time spent at the YMCA brought me back of course to the memories I had of going to the YMCA with our first international nanny who had to visit her boyfriend who worked at the front desk. I remembered the smell of chlorine that would seep thick and committed to my skin even if I didn’t swim. I remembered the random items in the vending machines that had absolutely no place in a vending machine. I remembered finding my first hernia in the locker room. I remembered sitting on the lone bench in the entrance with bloodshot stingy eyes under the fluorescent blinding lights waiting for one of my nannies to stop sucking face and pick me up. My youngest likes to go to the YMCA with his buddies. He likes to go and it is their idea. Seems Birbiglia and I did not have much of a choice, making the chlorine smell, fluorescent lights, and soup options in the vending machine that much more of a hideous and comical destination.
The last time we saw Mike Birbiglia in Madison he asked to have the house lights turned up because there was this couple who brought a baby who simply would NOT stop crying. Birbiglia tried a few attempts to subtly and kindly communicate to the caretakers of this baby to maybe make another choice and move the baby out of the concert hall. When the crying would not stop the house lights went up and then a conversation between Birbiglia and the mother became part of the act. She just wanted a night out. The baby ended up being taken out into the hall and Birbiglia seamlessly finished his show. Last night, as Birbiglia talked about the unfortunate cardiac genetics in his family tree and the prescription written for 5 days at the YMCA, someone in the audience had an urgent and serious health emergency. The house lights went up. The person in need and people involved swiftly left their seats and Birbiglia tenderly, calmly, and efficiently continued with his show.
I could not believe how ironic and/or coincidental it was that his subject matter so closely partnered with the realistic event that took place.
I thought about how fast things can change and how fast things can happen.
I thought about one of the nights when I came home from the YMCA all smelly with chlorine dreadlocks poking at my neck and shoulders. I hated going to the YMCA. I climbed into that grand squishy chair and snuggled into the crook of my dad’s armpit and torso. I breathed in the smell of juniper berries and cigars and said, “I hate the YMCA, why don’t you go with me?”
“I can’t swim Jessie”
“Bubbe and Zayde didn’t teach you how to swim?”
“They were scared of the water.”
“They were scared of the water so they didn’t let you swim?”
“That’s just how they loved me.
This conversation will never leave me; it will forever stick to my memory like those noodles stick to the Styrofoam cup in the vending machines at the YMCA. I understand all the irrational and genuine pieces of that puzzle.
LOVE. Love is why we do or don’t do most things in our life; why we marry, why we don’t; why we have kids, why we don’t; why we choose chocolate ice cream over vanilla; love is our beacon whatever the destination. Waking up in the morning to find my life was changed forever altered my perspective of love. My mom and dad were fantastically messy; I loved them.
I agree entirely with Birbiglia but everyone has different love languages.
However you need to say it, you simply
I Love You is the last and final installment in this series. Coming soon, the compilation of motherhood, childhood, parenthood – Puddle Splashing – Edited by Laurie Nagus.