The swimming pool complex resembled a penitentiary: Four high walls with an opening just wide enough to allow one person through at a time. The hotter the weather, the longer the queues, the greater the number of ignorant people per square metre, the greater the number of opportunities the wardens had to enforce the rules.
The wardens loved hot days.
Many of the rules, with their accompanying signs, were obvious: DON'T RUN. DON'T JUMP. DON'T SWIM NEAR DIVING BOARD. DON'T SIT WITH WET PANTS ON THESE SEATS. DON'T EAT FOOD BESIDE POOL. The signs for these rules stood out. But there were other rules that weren't so obvious.
The first subtle rule that the ignorant encountered was the discovery that you had to have a cabin. It was not permitted to change in public. A cabin was required to take your shirt off. Ignorant individuals would be confronted by a warden who would ask: "Have you got a cabin yet?"
"No," the ignorant would reply. "Do I need one?"
"Because it's illegal to disrobe in public."
"But I only want to take my shirt off."
"This isn't acceptable in public. There are moral standards. Take those stairs over there and then turn left."
Rather than risk being asked to leave-- an embarrassing situation -- the ignorant obeyed. Embarrassment was a terrible deterrent.
The ignorant would then take the stairs and turn left where another white-shirted warden, (white symbolises reasonable authority), would ask: "I take it you need a cabin?"
"Yes," the ignorant would reply.
More money would then be handed over.
The ignorant would therefore have entered the complex not knowing that these cabins had even existed. Within five minutes, they would be persuaded by authority that they needed something that they had not even seen. The market can do that.
The wardens categorised each ignorant because different cabin numbers implied different rules. By categorising each ignorant, the warden would not have to deal with individuality, therefore avoiding the laborious task of understanding.
After making a decision, (a decision unchangeable, except in the rare event of the ignorant performing remarkable acts of individuality), the warden would lead the ignorant to a suitable cabin.
An intelligent ignorant would look at the object that they had just been convinced that they needed and think: "I now need a box seven feet high made from green timber with a door on it connected to the green sides by black, iron hinges -- just so I can remove cloth from my epidermis; fascinating."
Some intelligent ignorants, under the influence of drugs, were known to laugh at this point, their hilarity drawing beguiled attention from the gaping, semi-naked conformists, the latter flocking on the grass like sheep.
The wardens really looked forward to dealing with people who thought that they were clever. There was no greater pleasure for a warden than proving to a "wayward specimen" that freedom was illusory. These "specimens" or "elements" or "radicals" were marched out so that the conformers could release their repressed lust for voyeurism -- and to enable them to feel superior. False superiority maintains the system -- like a substitute for justified patriotism.
After having changed, an ignorant could be cornered by a man in a black frogman's outfit who could look over the specimen before him and say, with amazed exasperation: "Why did you do that?"
The ignorant would say: "Do what?"
"'Do what?' he says," the frogman would bleat. "Un bloody believable!"
Then the frogman would say, in a voice understandably raised, given the stupidity of what he had just encountered: "What cabin number are you?"
"Three hundred and fifty-nine," the ignorant would reply -- for example.
"Three hundred and fifty-nine," the frogman would reply, shaking his head. "You're three hundred and fifty-nine and you entered the water from that side of the pool. Who the hell do you think you are?"
Most victims of this procedure assumed that this question was rhetorical; but they could look guilty, even remorseful.
"Well," the frogman would insist, "who the hell do you think you are? You're an arsehole, aren't you?"
"Yes," the ignorant would reply, "I'm an arsehole."
"Okay, then," the frogman would say, "now that we're being reasonable," (his voice would become so reasonable that it would be difficult to believe that any voice could be so reasonable), "why don't we trot off over there and enter the pool from the correct side? The side that everyone with cabin numbers from three hundred and forty-eight to three hundred and seventy-nine is suppose to enter from. Especially on Wednesdays. Okay?"
"Certainly," the ignorant would reply. "I'm sorry. I should have been aware of this."
"Look," the frogman would then say, "no hard feelings; but you have to look at it from our point of view."
"Certainly," the ignorant would reply.
"Can you imagine," the frogman would continue, "what would happen if we allowed people to enter the pool from any side that they felt like? Imagine the chaos we'd have here if that was allowed?"
"It would be terrible," the ignorant would respond. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
The ignorant, walking around to the correct entry point, would display awkward care, afraid of creating another "disturbance."
In the water the ignorant could be beset upon by frogmen for various offences such as: 1) an incorrect entry manoeuvre; 2): illegal use of the left hand when moving towards the diving-board end; 3): failing to have a shower just prior to entry; 4): spending too much time in one place, (this only applied to cabin numbers four hundred-and-one and two hundred-and-sixteen, except after four o'clock in the afternoon, when it also applied to all cabin numbers between these two extremes); 5): failing to raise both hands above the head just prior to placing the left foot on one of the green exit steps before departing the pool, and 6): other obscurities born from "emergency powers."
After being detained, the offender would be dragged off, his or her body contorted into strange positions by disgusted frogmen. The nature of the offences would be ignored, the punishment depending upon the person arrested, and the way in which the detained behaved, little regard given to what had actually been done.
When someone got arrested, everyone gaped. Offender-gaping breaks routines. A prejudiced fascination would descend, as if an invisible veil of inquisitiveness had fallen upon the swimming pool complex; it was fulfilling watching someone else's life get ruined by unfortunate circumstances. The observer, feeling accomplishment, felt significant. Bias comparison-making aided his self-esteem. It was much easier for both wardens, the experienced, and the ignorant to observe ruination, rather than admiring the free, because no one wanted to experience envy; so they learnt not what not to do, but rather what they shouldn't do, placing most people even further out of touch with what they really should do, resulting in a dissatisfaction easily manipulated to create unnecessary needs.
The need for needs ensured economic gain for the Frogman Party elite. Only members of this party could be involved in the construction of cabins or the supply of towels. Allegiance to the Frogman Party guaranteed a minimum level of success. Nobody doubted that the Frogman Training Centre was anything but a thinly-disguised front for brainwashing.
This was the state of affairs on that famous day that Fatz Rummenigge made his first visit to the swimming pool complex. Fatz got his entry visa because of family connections: his grandfather had scored a legendary goal against Argentina in the 1986 World Cup Final and the name Rummenige had been a passport into most places ever since. (Except Argentina).
It was an incredibly hot day when Fatz first burst onto the scene.
As he started taking his shirt off, a warden said: "Excuse me, sir."
"What's up wardie-baby?"
"You're suppose to change in a cabin."
"Sorry, but I'm not supposed to. My doctor has warned me never take my shirt off in confined places. He said: 'Fatz, baby, sweetheart, don't take your shirt off in confined places -- there are loads of guys hanging around these days in white. White, Fatz-baby, is the colour of shirt-lifting. Those babies can surprise most guys anywhere; but in a confined space.....Look, Fatz,'" my doc said, "'I don't have anything against those babies myself; but a guy like you, built like brick turd centre -- let's face it -- use your imagination.'"
Fatz dived in where it was considered to be a disgrace to dive. There was some confusion amongst the frogmen as to who should apprehend him. For years the frogmen had experienced nothing but joy from apprehending offenders. That was until Fatz came along. Fatz was one hundred and ninety-seven centimetres high and weighed one hundred and two kilograms. Fatz was called Fatz because there was no fat on Fatz.
The frogmen looked flabbergasted, as a two bathtub-sized muscle caused tidal waves to rush across the pool. Fatz was also a karate expert.
People looked amazed. Rule-breaking was fascinating; but it was something else when someone got away with it. Fatz emerged from the pool, his muscles shining like gold nuggets; he had deliberately made an illegal exit. He ran around the edge of the pool. Everyone was looking at Fatz. He was standing on the edge of the pool, drying himself. A warden said: "Excuse me, sir."
"What's up?" Fatz replied.
"Did you see the sign?"
"I'm not interested in God."
"No, that sign over there?"
"Yeah, I saw it. Why?"
"Can you please do what it requests?" "I doubt it. It's a policy of mine that I never read signs. In fact, I don't read at all."
"Not a thing?"
"Nothing. Never had to. Doesn't mean that I don't like the look of the words though. You should see my name. Fatz Rummenigge. Beautiful."
The warden failed to hide his disinterest in Fatz's fascination for words. The frogmen had about as much interest in conversation as Fatz did in reading signs.
Fatz picked up the bucket that he had brought with him and said: "Yar sure got some pretty signs here. Too bad I can't read 'em though. See yar. I've got some business to attend to." The dumbfounded warden stared, wide-eyed, as Fatz strolled away. Half-way up the stairs Fatz was stopped by another warden.
"You haven't got a cabin," the warden said.
Fatz said: "No, but I've got an incredible collection of goldfish. Watch this."
Up on the top level, Fatz put his bucket down and looked over the balustrade at the people beside the pool. A frogman, staring up at him, was talking into a walkie-talkie. The frogmen were preparing for an offensive against Fatz. Fatz thought: Perfect. He picked up his bucket and poured its contents onto the frogman who dropped his walkie-talkie, the frogman's fuming demeanour visible beneath the goldfish and frankfurters, mixed in tomato sauce, that now covered his face.
"Why?" the frogman demanded.
"Why not?" Fatz replied. "Are you hurt?"
"Then what are you worried about?"
The frogman pick up his walkie-talkie. Grimacing, he bellowed into it: "Get that bastard. I want his arse out of here in five minutes."
Theatrically, the frogman smashed the phone's aerial back into its socket.
"That," Fatz pointed out, "is no way to delegate. Perhaps you should've said: 'Look chaps, would anyone care to escort this charming guest off the premises. He appears to have had some difficulty in working out how to use the facilities. Why, he might even be able to recommend some fine seafood dishes.'"
Frogmen were gathering at the bottom of the stairs.
"If I'm correct," Fatz said, "that turd at the bottom of the stairs is a pack of frogmen. Or is it a horde, or perhaps even a flock, of frogmen? Forgive me if I've chosen the wrong collective noun. Is it against the rules to misuse collective nouns?"
"We could," the chief frogman said, "do this the easy way."
"Oh, don't worry," Fatz replied, "it'll be easy enough."
The Chief signalled for his cohorts to move in. The watching crowd was standing silently, hoping for violent change. A disillusioning boredom had set in with the current regime -- with its corruption -- and with the placid inconsequentiality of daily life.
"When this is over," Fatz said, pointing at the chief, "I'm going to deep fry your fat arse in the world's hottest ever metaphysical batter. Do me a favour -- don't leave."
His promise gave the impending conflict a new dimension -- something personal that went beyond the mere protection of an established order. A dangerous adversary, with the determination to succeed, had made an eerie pronouncement. No mercy would be shown.
The first frogman was somersaulted back down the stairs. A cheer erupted from the crowd: usually complacent and self-interested, the crowd was now enriched by this "benevolent" force. A new method of gaining self-esteem had just been found.
The next frogman was launched over the railing, dumped into the swimming pool below, his humiliated frame floating, like dead wood, on the surface. Other frogmen got their teeth kicked in. One was bashed over the head by a woman wielding a handbag. When the chief attempted to flee, he was cornered by swimmers; their joy in trapping the fiend responsible for their repression was translated into spitting and abuse. All the years of submission were a mask for the vehemence that had been brooding within their weak hearts.
"Go on, peasants," the chief yelled, "prove to me again what a pack of grovelling arseholes you are. Go on!"
The chief's wife was bewildered that her darling of a dictatorial husband could be treated this way by his once-adoring subjects. What an unruly pack of ungrateful thugs! Had they simply just forgotten about all the great work her husband had done? She clung to her husband's arm, screeching: "You're going to regret this."
Silence descended. Fatz worked his way through the crowd. He stood before the chief.
"You," Fatz said, "are suppose to have cabin number two-hundred and one. Why are you standing on this spot? Don't you realise that it's illegal to just stand on this spot? What the fork's wrong with you? Take your clothes off."
"Here?" the frogman asked.
"No," Fatz replied, "up there on the diving-board."
"No way," the frogman said.
"Good," Fatz replied, "I was hoping you'd say that because resistance turns me on."
A bulge had developed in Fatz's lower-abdomen region.
"I," Fatz said, "have a two-foot long dick. You keep this talk up, and I won't be responsible for my actions."
Fear swept over the frogman's face.
"Are you mad?" the frogman asked.
Fatz happened to be wearing white gloves. He picked one of them off and slapped the frogman's insolent face.
"It's not for you," Fatz pronounced, "to pass judgement. But I will allow you the privilege of expressing an opinion. Do you believe that an honourable being should display humility in victory?"
"Definitely," the frogman replied.
"Too bad, hey?" Fatz said, "about my lack of honour. I prefer urinating upon those who choose to stand in my way -- with my two-foot long hose pipe -- of course."
The frogman was now petrified.
"However," Fatz continued, "in these circumstances formality dictates that the vanquished should be handed over to the relevant authorities so that a fair trial can proceed. After all, we must be seen to be above the scum that we have defeated. Otherwise, what would we have?"
A solemn quietude had fallen.
"We would," Fatz continued, "in those circumstances, have placed ourselves on the same spurious level as this. (He indicated towards the chief). And, clearly, a fair trial, one we don't have to endure ourselves, of course, is the best method to enable us to elevate ourselves from the mire populated by trash such as this. (He again indicated towards the former chief). It is absolutely imperative that we divert all potential attention away from our appalling natures, so that we can go forth with only the most noble of aphorisms engraved by imperious virtue upon our swollen breasts."
The crowd were swayed into loyalty by the magnanimity of Fatz's oratory. Every horrible act that they performed could now be attached to a noble idea.
"Ladies and gentlemen, soft, plump, overfed, complacent, complaining, bitchy citizens of Swimming Poolia -- ha, ha, hahhh...just joking -- I leave it to you to decide the fate of he who has caused thee such pain. But, remember, my bladder only contains ten litres, and it's not easy operating to maximum efficiency in confined spaces."
"Feed his balls to the sharks!" someone screamed.
"There aren't any sharks in the pool," someone replied.
"Well get some!"
"Hang him from the diving-board," someone else yelled.
Debates erupted, without semblance of order, as to how "the perpetrator" should be dealt with. Someone stepped up and said: "His arse must be booted into oblivion -- we're all agreed on that -- however, the means by which we arrive at this pulverising of posterior, at this belting of bum, at this ramming of rectum, at this annihilation of arse, at this, as the Americans would say, this flagellation of fanny, is far more important than the result itself. Let's face it, he's dead, (the head frogman's wife gasped in disbelief), but we still have to consider the sensitivities of the heads of other swimming pool complexes in this area. What's of the utmost importance is the rest of the world's perception of our 'integrity.' How else are we going to be able to con them into parting with all that cash that just floats around the globe in search of somewhere to perch itself if we aren't prepared to undertake some form of judicial facade that fairly, but inevitably, leads to this arsehole losing his head, whilst, at the same time, creating the illusion that we have a pretence to decency? That we're politically stable enough to accept piles of cash? In my opinion, the prisoners, (the other frogman had been rounded up), could be used as a jury. The press could claim that these 'innocent men' had been forced to obey orders, and that now, thank God, justice, in the form of Fatz, has come along. (The caged frogmen nodded their heads in agreement). Fatz could act as magistrate. A nice, little, two-week trial with a guilty verdict and Fatz is your uncle."
Everyone was impressed with the way this chap had adroitly arisen from obscurity to carve out a niche for himself as the Minister for Justice; everyone, that is, except the head frogman who screamed: "My uncle -- he's not!"
"Some people," Fatz sighed, "find it so difficult to avoid self-obsession. You're botty going to be spanked and that's that."
After two weeks of listening to evidence against "the Butcher of Swimming Poolia", the chairperson of the jury rose and said: "Merlin Loins, Caesar Frogmenti of the now defunct Aqua Empire, self-appointed anointer of corrupt chlorine, we find you guilty of being a total arsehole."
"Oh, dear," Fatz said, surprised, spinning to face the accused, "that doesn't look good, does it?"
Merlin showed a considerable degree of emotion. He was outraged that those "hypocrites" had had the temerity to climb the dubious ladder of moral superiority to cast judgement upon him -- him!! He would come back from the dead and murder the lot of them! He would make sure that every child they fathered would perish with leukaemia! He would ensure that every atom in their immediate vicinities would carry the seed of their puss-ridden deaths! He would make sure that aliens would abduct them and then vomit, into their poisonous guts, the most putrid concoction of heinous fluids imaginable! He would ensure that lamp-posts, covered with protruding nails, would be rammed up their orifices! He would make sure that every last one of his erstwhile associates would have their testicles wrapped in cables that were going to be churning with trillions of volts so that their resulting screams would drown out the noise from a million jet engines! He would drive ten-inch nails into their foreheads and get leeches to suck out their pitiful excuses for brains! He was so livid that he said that he would tie God down and put a gun to his head and get him to turn the waters of Swimming Poolia into sulphuric acid so that "every last one of you unctuous excuses for toad droppings gets obliterated from the face of the earth!"
The gallery's hysterical laughter rivaled the intensity of Merlin's vitriol; eventually, while claiming that "every last one of you insipid morons will get your collective epidermis scraped off by cheese graters, and your rotting carcasses stretched out in the sun so that if heat doesn't murder you first, the insects will," his fuming mouth finally got muffled in a bitchy struggle that included yelping, biting and twisting.
"My God," Fatz remarked, "show some composure, man. You're supposed to be British. How about some dignity? Now let's do the whole thing again. Jury -- what's your verdict?"
This time Merlin had no choice but to be quiet. His entire head had been taped up so that the only things showing were his infuriated eyes. The chairperson completed her task without the fuss that had disrupted her first attempt to bring "sanity to these proceedings."
"Merlin Loins," Magistrate Fatz then said, "you are a vile, malicious, ill-bred, reprobacious, ill-mannered arsehole, who, for years, caused all these innocent people -- these people whose purity knows no bounds, whose probity in the face of your enmity was unlimited -- untold suffering! I sentence you to two days of having your scrotum sliced up by razor blades, and then, into the resultant wound there shall be deposited chilli, arsenic, rat poison, toxic waste, plutonium, and, of course, rosemary with a dash of lemon, placed until such time as you produce an exquisite high C whose melody will be used as our new national anthem. I can be sentimental when it comes to history. This feeling increases when one becomes a leader. That'll make you proud, won't it? Don't disappoint me -- yea who shall redeem thyself before the slicing blades of justice!"
Fatz then smashed a mallet into a mahogany pad; a standing ovation broke out around the court.
Fatz stood up and started bowing. The clapping sounded like a fire. Merlin's eyes were beads of infuriated hate.
"Thank you, thank you," Fatz said, "please, ladies and gentlemen, some quiet please . . . "
The clapping ceased and the silence was clamorous with expectation.
"Thank you again, ladies and gentlemen," Fatz said, "thank you."
Fatz looked back at Merlin and said: "Look, Merl-Baby, I hope you didn't take that stuff about scrotums and arsenic and plutonium too seriously. A man must be forgiven for his Shakespearean indulgences. I've got plans for you, Merl. Big plans. Cut the tape off his face."
People groaned and laughed as the tape got ripped off Merlin's face, Merlin whining and howling as his facial skin got pulled and stretched like Plasticine. He rubbed his face, grimacing.
"Look, Merl," Fatz said, "I was so impressed with your speech a few moments ago that I've decided that you should be on the stage."
"Here, here," someone yelled out.
"Absolutely," Fatz said, nodding his head in that person's direction, then looking back at Merlin. "Look, Merl," he continued, "I've decided that I'm going to build the Royal Fatzean Theatre and I want you to be its main star. It's obvious that you've got a thing for oratory. I want you to play Dick The Second. I want you to get up there on those floorboards and let it all hang out. I want you to reach down deep inside and pull out every last vestige of torment and fury and love that broods, like a clamorous whirlpool, in the storm of your Hamlet-like soul. I want you to go forth into new emotional territories, like a metaphysical explorer in pursuit of that which is pure and resonant and so worthy of our refined, sensitive contemplation. Only you, Merl, can draw this out in others, drawing it out and drawing it out, plucking it out as if you had at your fingertips a silk cloth of honed thought, drawing it out from the everyday mind trapped in its web of thorny indulgences; yes, Merl, you've got it, that thing intangible, that voice of projection and tone and volume, that instrument of euphony blessed by the divine touch, that heart of poetic outrage so essential for the galvanising of the collective mind. You've got it all, Merl, and my God, man, you're going to use it like it has never been used before!"
The applause, refreshing in its spontaneity, brought Fatz to his feet. The lights dimmed. A tremendous hush descended. The spotlight that began shining upon Fatz's face created a marble, classical bust of "Fatzean translucence."
"Thee," Fatz said, "who hath upon wet tile walked swagger sworn, who hath stood upon the high board of lonely office and looked across aquiline fields aglow, gazing--"
"Into halcyon horizons clear," (Merlin rose, the spotlight now on his face), "and seen celestial possibilities whose only limit is the mind's work; he who hath forsaken the luxuries of home for the distant light of salient sacrifice shall cast his shadow upon Fatzean board--"
"So that gain becometh culture and culture becometh gain, the two the same, life a creative pulse, endeavour's thrust chiselled fine--"
"Our only weapons the pen and the tongue."
The applause was mixed with astounded whistles and delighted shrieks. Fatz and Merlin joined hands, bowing, Merlin's forehead almost touching his toes. Flowers started raining down from the gallery. A woman, wearing thick glasses and a necklace of thick beads, started crying out: "Bravo, bravo . . . "
"Change has come to Swimming Poolia," a man in pink racing bathers cried, his cheeks moist with the benign magnitude of this development, his thick, fine, black hair gleaming in the spotlight that now shone upon him, "Change," he cried, "change -- society at last united by the elevation of ingenious, imaginative ritual into the place previously filled by bland, dividing, material acquisition. Change . . . "
He swept his right hand through the air, his fingers spread apart, others weeping with joy.
Another senior member of The Royal Fatzean Society -- a clear replacement for The Frogman Party -- had obviously been found -- He of Donned Pink With Speech Sublime -- and red silk-velvet ceremonial curtains were drawn to give this incident the recognition it so thoroughly deserved in the annuls of history.
"Change," they howled. "Change . . . "
No word ever appeared to be so beautiful.
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.
Want to comment on this story? Click Here to go the Literary Review Discussion Forum (for the subject, enter "Comment on story The Swimming Pool")