Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Swimming is Easy - Part I

Swimming is a simple process, with only two easy steps!

1.) Die.
2.) Reincarnate as something than can swim, like a manatee, or Aquaman.

I got this, lil' bitch

I didn’t learn to “swim” until after I had graduated college, which proved my fears that a swim test was required at every stage of the educational journey completely wrong. (I blame sitcoms.)

My dad tried to teach me to swim, but he tried the way his father “taught” him. The story goes that one day my grandfather rounded my dad and his two brothers up for a day at the lake. They were all around six or seven, and had no experience with water aside from mud puddles, or a few stolen moments with the water hose.

Their enthusiasm lasted until my grandfather marched them to the end of the dock - really just a bunch of wooden boards tied together - and bum rushed them off the edge. They tumbled into the water, and started to flail. When they grabbed the dock, my grandfather bashed their hands while shouting at them to "Swim, goddamn it! Swim!"

Through the miracle of shouting and old timey perseverance, they learned. Now that I'm an adult, I suspect my dad originally had other brothers, but the story was revised to suit the number of survivors.

not pictured: uncles leo through robbie

When I was the tender age of six or seven, it was time for the ancestral right. My family was on vacation at a fancy hotel. There was an indoor pool, and embroiderin' on all them towels.

I was not yet fearful of water, so I played in the kiddie end. My dad was swimming around and guilelessly asked if I'd like a ride. “Sure!” I said.

My eyes grew larger as we cruised past three, four, finally six feet! I knew how tall I was, and I could imagine how many of my floating, lifeless bodies stacked up it would take to reach six feet. It didn’t matter though, because I was on the dad boat, destination: fun!

Then we were at the deep end; to this day, the words fill me with terror. Without warning, without even the tiniest comment, the dad boat became a dad submarine.

He submerged, leaving me as human flotsam.

I didn't immediately drown. I was fuzzy on the mechanics of it, but TV had taught me it went "splash splash sputter die." I managed to tread water for a few hope building seconds; my dad must have watched in pride, knowing he carried genes that were hard coded for aqueous survival.

also, good taste in music

Seconds later, water flooded my every orifice.

I'm not sure how long my hydroviolation lasted, but eventually a kind stranger - the first of a noble breed - pulled me out and laid me gasping on the tiles. "Are you okay?" he asked, and I was too shaken to tell him that I think my dad tried to kill me. Instead, I sputtered a watery thanks and sulked back to the hotel room. "You'll get the hang of it next time, son," my dad said.

How wrong he was.


Flash forward a couple of summers. I was somewhere in the neighborhood of nine years old, maybe ten; certainly nowhere near the ghetto of puberty.

One Saturday, my brother and I were forced to visit relatives we denied ever hearing about. To ease our disappointment that we were not spending the weekend with Mario and Luigi, we were told that we could swim in the pool.

At the time, I didn’t "learn" from experiences like human science said I should; I was a constant control group, staring at the buzzer that brings food pellets, hungry and confused. Of course I got in the water - why wouldn’t I, brain damaged thing that I was?

I had a peaceful few minutes in an inner tube, and then I heard my older brother laughing as he pulled me ass over teakettle into the water. I tried not to panic, failed, tried not to panic about the fact that I was panicking, super failed, then gave up and let the water do as it willed. Passive resistance might have brought down British rule in India, but water is infinitely more patient.

there's also the issue of Bengal water tigers

That day, it was one of my cousins who rescued me. From the side of the pool, I listened to the adult’s theories as to why this kept happening to me - most involved my copious "book smarts", but my curious lack of "street smarts"; some postulated I was a "quitter."

As humiliating as that was, the last straw for my dad came during our much beloved first Florida vacation. My memory paints it in the sun bleached colors of a 1960's poolside ad, the women in oversized white sunglasses and one pieces, the men named Rick and Randy.

This time, dad wasn't running his boat trip con; he sat in a deck chair, watching the girls go by. If I remember correctly, and I probably don't, I was the only member of my family in the water. I found my way to a floating haven, a bouncy plastic chaise lounge set adrift. I carefully crawled onto the thin plastic, warm from long hours of sitting in the sun. It was bright, and the pool sparkled like a promise.

I dipped my toes.

I closed my eyes.

I heard "Hey, that's mine!" And then it all went to hell as I was flipped into the water yet again.

Body and brain bitterly divorced once water covered the crown of my head. Brain wanted to think its way out of this; body wanted to start moving and figure it out later. Neither wanted to cede custody of will, and the battle raged on as I drowned.

I made a noise somewhere between a choke and a scream, and my dad slowly looked over. "Ooooooh," he thought, synapses as ponderous as glaciers, "he's in the waaaater again. Maybe todaaaaay's the daaaaaaaaaaaay." My screams were then choked off by that invasive bastard water, and down I went.

A tall man with dark brown hair strode into the water, picked me up, and laid my stupid body beside the pool. He was the father of the boy who pushed me off my aquatic throne. On his way to chastise his son, he noticed I wasn't surfacing.

The next morning, the tall man brought a floating raft to our hotel room. It could have held three of me, and looked like nothing more than a series of giant Otter Pops glued together. My family thanked him, and my dad held the pool toy awkwardly while looking right at me.

enjoy the cool, refreshing taste of not death

After years of misspent efforts, he had finally gotten tired of other people saving me - he wisely gave up on the whole swimming venture. I smartly decided to stay away from water for the rest of my life, finally having learned something. 


  1. Best story ever. I still can't swim well and would probably just drown if I had to rely upon said skill.


  2. How do I subscribe to your blog!? I heart James!

  3. Angie - I added a subscription link on the right hand side called "Somebody's Watching Me."

    Bryan - Thanks! I try not to rely upon my swimming "skill", as that's how I've almost died in the past.