By The Bakersfield Californian
I heard the news at lap 12, somewhere between floating on my back, walking 50 meters sideways and doing the freestyle with a pool buoy stuck between my knees.
"Have you heard?" asked Gail, who was swimming next to me. "They're going to eliminate the folders."
Eliminate the folders? How could they? How will we cheat on our yardage, check how many laps our fellow swimmers have claimed to swim and send each other messages?
I am part of a group that swims at McMurtrey Aquatic Center, a terrific outdoor swimming pool downtown. It costs $3 a day to swim, which includes a hot shower. Some people try to wring their $3 worth by taking an extra long shower, stating that chlorine requires a thorough rinse.
We are part of the morning crew (the pool is open between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m., 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 5:30 and 8 p.m.), a hearty bunch who have the pleasure of watching steam rise off the surface on the coldest days and witnessing unimpeded sunrises in the mountainous east.
If the swimmer chooses to fill out a card, he or she is issued a file folder -- colors include blue, red and tan and there has been at least one request for pink.
The folder has the swimmer's name on it and a lined piece of paper stapled inside on which the swimmer can log the date and the yards he or she claims to have completed.
"Claims" because the running joke has been that some swimmers add the mileage to and from the pool or the number of times they turn over in bed to the laps they swim. When one reaches certain markers -- 100, 300, 500 or 1,000 miles -- the staff prints up a flier heralding the achievement and then posts it on the wall for all to see.
At 100 miles, the swimmer receives a plush blue towel, at 1,000, a gold plaque on a locker. There are swim bags and other goodies in between.
The folders have given birth to repartee, light kidding and posting notes in one another's folders should, for example, unexcused absences pile up.
"Congratulations on your recent retirement. Good luck in the future, a future which we realize does not include swimming or exercise of any kind."
"Your friends at the pool"
These notes are placed in the appropriate files by the desk staff. Most recipients leave the notes in their file as evidence of their popularity, and others take them off-site to store them in a secure location.
Eliminating the files and replacing them with a clipboard, on which swimmers would write their names and yardage, threatens to unhinge the culture of note-writing that has taken over the pool.
"I've heard it was some sort of efficency move," Gail said. "They want to save money."
Save money? How will we talk to each other? How we will comment on each others fitness, willpower or inordinate commitment to late nights and excessive amounts of wine without notes and folders?
"You can fill out a comment card if you disagree with their decision," Gail said.
A comment card? I just saw "Les Miserables." How about we man the barricades? Produce a bumper sticker saying "Save the Folders?" Occupy the pool when it closes and refuse to leave even as they are rolling the pool cover over our noses?
We are not decrying the age of Facebook, texting or tweeting, but there is something satisfying about old-fashioned note-passing. It's like being in second grade again.
Wednesday, I showed up at the pool. The desk was clean and the folders were gone. They had been replaced by a clipboard, a pen and a note on the wall announcing the change.
Man the barricades.
"Do you hear the people sing?
"Singing a song of disgruntled swimmers?
"It is the music of a people
"Who will not be 'folderless' again!"
These are the opinions of Herb Benham and not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.