It Is What It Was

Orlando, Xmas, 1998

My mother picked me up at Orlando International late in the evening. I’d had two connections on my all-day flight from Oakland (stupid Southwest) and I was exhausted. I was looking forward to getting to her house and crashing, as she usually took me around the local malls on the days before Xmas and I’d need all my energy to endure that. As she drove me to her house, as is her habit, she pointed out various changes to the scenery since my last Orlando visit.

“That’s the new Marriott Courtyard.”


“And can you believe that apartment complex? They have TEN pools!”

“Ten. Wow.” I leaned my head against my window and half-closed my eyes.

“Oh, and this new tall building on the right? Carol’s daughter just bought a place in there.”

“Nice.” Who’s Carol?

Two blocks from the entrance to my mother’s 50-year old subdivision, my eyes widened. Across the parking lot from a rather ordinary strip mall (grocery store, drugstore, bank), was a heavily-wooded free-standing building with a logo that was rather familiar to me from my Ft. Lauderdale days.

The Club Baths. (NSFW!)


My mother saw me turn in my seat as we passed. “Oh, that place? Some fancy gym. Brand new. Very popular. Cars there, day and night! They have a big outdoor swimming pool, but you can’t see it with that huge fence.”

She couldn’t possibly know what the place was. I just nodded. “Oh.” Unbelievable. A hour later I stood in my mother’s moonlit backyard while she complained about the city coming to take down her orange trees. Some kind of tree-disease control program. And then, drifting across the hedges, the backyards, and a dozen swimming pools, I heard a faint, almost indiscernible voice, tinny and metallic.

“Room 227, your time is up, honey. Please see the front desk about checking out or renewing.”

I shot a frozen look at Mom, but she didn’t seem to have heard anything.

The next morning as we pulled out of her neighborhood, we sat at the traffic light, directly facing the “fancy gym” on the other side of the street. A muscular young man drove up in a jeep, jauntily hopped out, grabbed a backpack from the back seat and strode towards the front door. Mom took a careful turn onto Michigan Avenue.

About a block later, she laid this on me: “You know I used to belong to that place.”

“What place?” Joe asked with great apprehension.

“That gym. I worked out there for years until it got too expensive.”

“Um. You did?”

“Oh, yeah. It used to be Spa Lady.”

Gentle readers, do you know how much it pained me not to make the joke? My brain still hurts from holding it back.