Friday, June 3, 2011


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!


Anonymous said...

I love swimming. Like you, I had lessons from an early age but it was something I really took to immediately. My daughter swims fabulously now. She recently did her half mile and she's just 11.

CJ xx

jabblog said...

I never had lessons but taught myself to swim at a very early age. The corkscrew sounds fun and I actually swim feet first quite often:-)

Helen said...

I never learned to swim as a child, though my sisters did. I managed to get the basics down as an adult ... I am still very uneasy in water ~ unless I can see an edge and know basic strokes and dog-paddling will get me there.

I thoroughly enjoyed your Jam story.

Bagman and Butler said...

What a great story! You had me on the floor laughing at how you beat the big boys with your two aces -- the corkscrew and feet first! Winning includes picking the right strategy and I'll bet they weren't very happy with you! I confess, however, that I have done the corkscrew...My problem was not direction but instanteous exhaustion. I have a poem for Monday but post the friday shoot first.

The Bug said...

I love your swim story! My poem was going to be about how I don't really swim very well, but it took on a life of its own. I was supposed to have swim lessons but I got tubes in my ears instead - so I wasn't allowed to put my head under water. I didn't stop getting tubes in my ears until 12 or 13 so I never really did learn how to swim with my face in the water.

Sioux said...

I love your swimming piece...charming little slices of your life.

(And your photo at the top, of the two cats walking in the field...They look like they're having a grand time!)

Enchanted Oak said...

I got images of jellyfish and scallops while reading your story. I've seen them swim in manners much like you describe, especially that feet-first thing. Cheers!

Enchanted Oak said...

I was too late to do the rounds for last week's post on the Poetry Jam. Our Mr. Linky disappeared from view. I wonder, will that happen often? The Linky thing on my fatherhood prompt is intact, perhaps because I used my own account. Hm. My email address: enchantedoak@sbcglobal.net

Enchanted Oak said...

Never mind my previous comment. The links are still there! Silly me for not reading more closely.

Brian Miller said...

swimming feet first? dont know if i have ever done that...and imagine it very tiring...hmm...now i hva a challenge when i go to the pool....

Peter Goulding said...

Despite the prose, it has a lovely poetical feel to it already!

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading through your swimming piece ~ many of my own memories came flooding back. Unlike you, I liked water in my face and, as such, became a diver ~ as did my son. Ironically, that is what my Poetry Jam is about.

I played this week for the first time. Hope you'll stop by: Free Fall.

Titus said...

I like the fact that porpoises are more proficient than sharks!
Swimming feet first? Swimming feet first!?