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  • At lunchtime, the Oceana Pool in Pacifica fills up with large-bodied people over 50 who lurch around on candy-colored pool noodles to Billy Idol, Lady Gaga, and Journey, practicing aqua aerobics.

    When I turn my head to see them underwater, all I can see are their dozens of legs, writhing around in a single direction, then suddenly changing direction to go the other way, like jellyfish tendrils or pieces of kelp in the tide.

    The instructor is a thin and grizzled woman in her 40s, with a wiry, confident body. She strides onto the deck wearing army boots and a black leather jacket, clutching a motorcycle helmet. She slides into the locker room and reappears quickly in a one-piece swimsuit with her hair pulled back severely. She surveys her watery queendom and inspects the flabby aging bodies standing in the shallow end awaiting her command and hoping that if they follow her moves and lurch around to the music she plays with their hands in the air that somehow their jiggly bodies will turn into bodies as thin and as grizzled as hers.

    I think of something a Swedish girl told me — that every man wants a thin woman to show off in public and a curvy woman to sleep next to in bed — and I think how this must somehow apply to the aqua aerobics class in Pacifica, but I can’t quite make the connection.

    The attendees have a splinter group of four, who come before it starts and leave after it ends, and who paddle around on the other side of the pool. They consist of three old women with large topographical thighs and cheerful demeanors, and one old man with a similar body, who, depending on the day, is various levels of grumpy.

    For a while, he had a grotesque purple bruise all across his left shoulder, which he got from bumping a wall in his kitchen. Another time, he told everyone in the showers how he had fallen from a dock into the harbor, and how they had to fish him out with a hook, and how demeaning it was. Another time, he said to me sadly, “I used to be fast,” as I rushed by him one dark winter morning.

    Today, his three female friends climbed out of the pool and gathered up their noodles, leaving the man in the water. As they turned to go, one of the women paused to look back at the man.

    “Good to see you back on the bright side,” she said.

    “What do you mean?” he said.

    “Good to see you back on the bright side. Instead of the dark side.”

    “Well, that’s an awful thing to say to a person,” said the man.

    The woman looked a little bit stunned, and she stood there silently, staring at the man.

    The man turned onto his back, pulled his bright blue noodle underneath him, and floated down the lane, into the deep end of the pool.
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