Bug said !swim swam swum! for the Poetry Jam, and I’ve been mulling it over since. But the only thing that comes up is prose. So that’s what you get.
I love to swim, but I hated learning how to swim. My mom took us for lessons on Saturday mornings at the YMCA way across town. Not the nice Y at Ocean Beach (though maybe that one didn’t exist yet), but the huge old scuzzy one that had several levels, and a boxing gym tucked away downstairs.
When you went in there was a waiting area with lots of chairs and a bank of vending machines, and a huge picture window that overlooked the pool. The shallow end was by the window, and all the moms would watch their kids have their lessons. Or they would just read magazines. They didn’t always watch, because they didn’t always know if you’d been yelled at be the instructor or made to do laps. So after, when they asked how the lesson was, it was always a tough thing - if you kept quiet you might well get away with stuff, though if she’d seen you splashing Kathy Considine it was way better to just say sorry up front.
Mostly I didn’t mess around making trouble. I had enough trouble just not drowning. In the little kids class, Minnows, they’d line you up along the wall and you weren’t supposed to hang on to the side of the pool while watching the demonstration of what you were supposed to do next, or waiting for your turn. They’d yell at you if you did. One or two instructors for a dozen kids, there was a lot of waiting. But the bottom of the pool sloped down toward the Deep End. They lined us up more or less with the taller kids toward the deep end, but I just wasn’t as tall as they thought. Standing on tiptoe to keep my face above the water, I’d get cramps in my calves. So I got yelled at for hanging on a lot.
The main thing I hated was water in my face. I still hate water in my face. I used to hate taking showers, even, because of the water in the face. But you can’t learn to swim properly without putting your face in the water, so eventually I did and eventually eventually graduated through Fish and Flying Fish and Sharks to Porpoise.
Now, I love to swim like a porpoise. They mess around and have a lot of fun. Porpoise do not waste their time going back and forth and back and forth. But in Porpoise you had to start off the session with 18 laps. Yech. I hated swimming laps. The water was so crowded you were always breathing somebody’s splash. People were always coming up and passing you. Everybody passed me - I was easily the slowest in the group, and they often got tired of waiting for me to finish, so I got off with only 16 laps or so, but with everybody watching the last one.
The other things the advanced classes did were diving, and flip turns. Now, both of these involve getting water in your face with much more force than usual, so you can imagine I hated them. I still can’t do a proper flip turn. I can’t seem to hold out against getting water up my nose, which would make my sinuses hurt for the rest of the day. So I was afraid of getting water up my nose yet again, and never learned to do the turn right.
Then swimming lessons were over. Perhaps I finally just graduated. I don’t remember what you had to do to get out of Porpoise. I couldn’t turn. My diving was nearly as bad. If there was a time limit for the quarter mile I exceeded it. I was good enough at towing people, though, and I could make it across the pool doing the butterfly. Barely. What I liked to do was just mess around, sculling in circles, seeing how high I could jump out of the water. And survival floating. I love that, it’s like meditating.
In high school I declined joining the swim team. It wasn’t so much the early morning workouts as the idea that once again I’d be the slowest one that kept me out. Not that I knew I’d be slowest among the girls at Kearny. None of them went to the Y where I had learned to swim. And there weren’t any guys on the team of course.
Instead, I started the Lifeguard course at the Peninsula Y down by the beach. That was a great Y. It was new and clean and all swimming. No sweaty boxers, or guys with cigars out back under the eucalyptus trees. And since I had weekday classes, sometimes my Dad would pick up mexican takeout form El Indio on his way to get me at the end of the lesson.
I was still the slowest at doing laps, but it wasn’t such a big deal : the warmup period was more informal and you could do any stroke you wanted. If you were doing the lifesaver’s carry stroke, on your side with the kick inverted and your top hand out of the water, you were gonna be slow. And finally you were encouraged to swim with your head out of the water.
The great part was at the end of the session. We always had one-on-one races, and the person judged less likely to win got to pick the stroke. Here I had two aces, and I rarely lost a race. I was unbeaten against the big boys with their summer lifeguard jobs already lined up.
My first ace was the corkscrew. Never heard of it ? Ah, it’s that silly stroke where you do one arm like the crawl, the other on your back. You spiral through the water. The thing is not to get off course. I would fix the far end of the pool at every crawl stroke, like a ballerina doing spins. The guy in the other lane would be all over the pool.
The other ace was swimming feet first. Not many people practice that. I prefer swimming feet first on my back, though once you have the hang of it, on your front is faster. The thing is to keep your toes out of the water, and your butt up.
I never did finish the lifeguard course. Our instructor had problems and had to cancel some classes, and then various things came up and we moved out of state.
So that's for swimming. If a poem presents itself I'll post again. Click here for the Poetry Jam!