Monday, October 12, 2009

Growing Up: Fools in the Pool

In the summer, there were two options in Tekamah. Doing farm work, or going to the pool. I preferred the latter.

In elementary school, I was a "crusher". Most of my crushes involved the pretty girls who decided to lifeguard each summer. I was notorious for being whistled, nearly hourly, at the pool, just so the lifeguard would come up to me and tell me to behave myself. Curiously, my suave skills at attracting the ladies have developed little since my elementary school days. Perhaps this is explained by my overwhelming urge to irritate rather than to attract. There is a reason I title these blogs "Growing Up". I'm still in the process of doing so.

Early in my elementary school years, I was given swimming lessons by one of those lifeguards. (Worry not. This was before the time I even knew what "girls" were.) I had eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before this lesson, which is important only because I had a serious case of the kid belches during the lesson. When the lifeguard said, "Ew, is that peanut butter?", I decided my days of peanut butter were over. If a lifeguard thought the smell of peanut butter was gross, who was I to judge? (Since then, I have developed a strong dislike of peanut butter anyway.)

I always admired lifeguards. High school students sitting, twirling the whistles around their fingers? Oh, the power. By age 6, I wanted to be on the swim team. More time with the lifeguards.

This required lessons of a more rigorous sort (maybe -- I'm not sure they were required, actually.). One evening a week, two friends, myself, a parent of one of us would go down to Blair and take serious lessons. It was a sad day when I received a FAIL my first time. Why? Because I couldn't do the dead man's float. And seriously, why was the skill necessary? Floating face-down in a deep pool, only gasping for air after a long number of seconds. Repeat for several minutes. Why? I refused to do it out of principle. Principle, I say!

Truthfully, it's because I did not like staring at the base of the pool so far down. And my friend couldn't do it, either. Why fail alone?

So, we tried again the next semester, this time easily passing. At this point, I could join the swim team. (If I recall, it really wasn't a requirement, but it seemed logical to pass swimming lessons before competing in swimming competitions.)

Joining the swim team was among the more interesting things I did as a child. First, it was one of the few sports I actually had some skill at. My favorite stroke was the butterfly, which was hated by pretty much everyone else. So, they had me compete in that my first year, and I actually received several medals in various swim meets.

The individual medley (IM) -- I was not so good at. I usually came in last. Endurance was not my skill. I was a swimming sprinter. (As it turns out, this would rapidly change as I grew up. Sprints would become a skill of the past, and endurance would only marginally improve. True of swimming and running.)

I dreaded the IM. I was asked to do it every time. Ugh, I hated it. I hated being last. I hated being tired after being last. I hated the breast stroke. I always lost because of the breast stroke. I don't know what was so hard about it, but I was terrible. Just terrible.

Swimming practice involved the following. A free-for-all for about thirty minutes. Swim until you can swim no more. Then swim in various competitions with friends. Then another free-for-all. After this two-hour session, attempt and fail to get out of the pool. No matter. That's when they opened the pool anyway.

Going to the pool in Tekamah was THE social event for kids in the summer. That's how I kept up with everyone. Otherwise, I was at home doing some various chores (or more often, not doing those chores), or playing football, basketball, or some concoction of a sport involving a ball with the neighbors. I preferred "gutter ball" at the pool, though. Throw a wiffleball into the opposing gutter of the pool, protected by a various number of friendly opponents. You know those movies or TV shows where the nerd with no sports skills was always picked last on a team? That was me, and there was a reason.

I adapted to this lack of skill by becoming seriously amused at other people's insane obsession with winning meaningless sports competitions. When others would mock my lack of skills, I typically just mocked myself. Quickly, I was no longer chastised and would soon be the one doing the chastising. Sometimes, not caring is an advantage.

But I did care about those lifeguards. Dunking a friend in the pool was easily my most common pool vice. But those twirling whistles. Such power! And the lifeguard would come over, tell me to quit being a brat, and sit back down staring at me. True love.

Soon, the sun was setting, my skin was shriveled like a worn sandy beach, and I trudged myself out of the pool into the smelly locker room past the lifeguard office out to my undersized bike, and rode slowly home. The forecast for tomorrow: Rain and 60s. Didn't matter. Every day was a pool day.