Right now, here in Ohio, it’s about 92 and humid today. This got me thinking about pools. That in turn got me thinking about the first important lesson I ever got in a swim class…


Youth swimming was a big deal at the Strathmore subdivision’s pool. Whether you were a pollywog or a tadpole or a minnow determined whether you could use the intermediate pool or were relegated to the kiddie pool. The big, big pool was beyond all our dreams and was only for those who graduated into levels with exotic names like “beginner” and “advanced beginner.”

I was five and just trying to get myself from tadpole to minnow so I could flop around unhindered in the intermediate pool. No one ever pooped (hardly) in the intermediate pool. Once you’re past pooping indiscriminately, the thrill of swimming with poop kinda diminishes. To get away from the poop, one had to learn such difficult moves as holding onto the side of the pool and kicking and pushing off from the side of the pool –all real minnow material.

But standing between my minnow badge and me was the instructor, Scott. He was a high school guy with hair that looked the same dry as wet, and, in place of regulation swim trunks, he wore too brief cutoff denim shorts with extra fringe. All in all, he gave the impression more of someone who herded children into a windowless van than into the shallow end of the intermediate pool.

But Scott had a special way with kids, a way that set him apart. He hated them. We were all “little shits,” or, if he was feeling poetic, “little tard fucks.” He was always screaming at us for one reason or another. And that was for us rising minnows who, in his eyes, could kick water properly. Lord help you if you couldn’t perform the tasks required of a rising minnow –or acted like a five-year-old in a pool. Scott would come at you with a vengeance. I swear I saw him lift a girl out of the pool by her hair for overt splashing.

One day, our third or fourth lesson, we were working on pushing off from the side of the pool. The goal was to make it as far as possible on the surface on sheer momentum before slowing and sinking. I’ve never had much natural buoyancy; I’m somewhere between the engine block of 1978 Pontiac Bonneville and Natalie Wood.

I pushed off from the side. I went straight to the bottom.

This would not fly with Scott; I was in deep shit.

I resurfaced six feet from the edge of the pool. The first thing I heard when the water cleared my ears was Scott bellowing, “What the hell was that?” I turned; he was headed towards me. His face was splotchy red with anger –brightest near recent acne eruptions. He wiped a strand of oily hair out of his mouth. “I’ll show you how to push off,” he hissed. Now I know on the page it may look like a completely innocent statement; that nice swim instructor is going to help the child. To me at the time it seemed like that assistance would involve his hands around my neck somehow. It’s all in the presentation.

I tried to back up, but Scott commanded me to stay where I was. I froze. I didn’t want to make this worse. He was now only two steps out of arm’s reach. I knew I didn’t deserve whatever fresh hell this was coming my way just because I’m a crappy swimmer, but my options were limited. I wanted to get out of the pool and run. Run down the street. Run across the LIE. Run up our driveway, up the stairs, and under my covers. However, my job was to listen to the adults. At least that’s what I was told when my mom dropped me off. And Scott was what passed for an adult that afternoon.

I got hit with a fore-splash of his arrival. I had to act. Then, in rapid succession, a feeling of calm overtook me as if my body was telling my brain not to worry, body’s taking care of this situation. My eyes began to twitch upwards, and I could feel the water pulling me down. The water would save me.

I went under, right to the bottom. No buoyancy whatsoever. I like to say I fainted, but I could still hear things like Scott yelling, “Quit messing around!” The sound even traveled underwater, so you know he was really pissed. Keep yelling, you’re just drawing attention. The idiot had no idea I had just upped the stakes. Kid goes down and good luck keeping this from his bosses, the adultier adults.

My eyes remained closed, but I could feel the change in water pressure as feet gathered around me. I then felt someone scoop me up and deposit me on the side of the pool. I could feel waves of concern hitting me, even from the real adults. I could probably open my eyes now.

But if I keep them closed, this friendly cocoon of concern will stay closed around me. It’s about me now, and everyone has to be nice because I almost nearly came somewhat close to drowning.

Then people started touching me. I didn’t like that. Standing around murmuring is one thing, but when the shaking starts, it’s time to open your eyes. By happenstance, the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was Scott bending over me. Strands of his hair reached down to me like the tentacles of particularly greasy Long Island octopus.

“How’s it going, buddy?”

Buddy?!? This guy’s my buddy now? He’s the reason I’m laid out on the edge of the intermediate pool at Strathmore. No. I let out a scream that straightened Scott right up and shimmied a few meaningful inches away from him. My body language was not lost on the adultier adults.

The technical term is a vasovagal syncope: A trigger –in this case stress, but practically anything can be a trigger –will cause all the blood in your body to rush to your feet, away from your brain. Then you faint.

How you handle yourself after fainting is up to you.

It comes in handy.

The high school girl with whom we finished our Minnow class was named Marcy. She knew to be nice.


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