With a still lingering crick in my neck from an unfortunate waterslide incident this past summer, I reflect upon other adventures and experiences with water.
I started taking swimming lessons at the old Alexander Park Pool when I was in grade school, and my first water-related trauma occurred on the first day after getting off the bus. Upon entering the changing room, I found all these guys taking their clothes off. This came as quite a shock to me as I had never had that experience before and have tried to not make this a regular occurrence, although high school sports got kind of ugly.
The First Class of swimming lessons was learning to float on my stomach, and with much effort and determination, I managed to avoid even remotely doing this for two entire summers until unfortunately the third summer as I was just splashing around in the pool minding my own business, some older lady of about 16 years old, said, “Hey, you! Let’s see you float on your stomach.” Reluctantly I held my breath, closed my eyes stretched out and floated on my stomach. “You just passed into the Second Class.”
This was terrific! The Second Class was floating on one’s back, and it only took something short of three summers worth of swimming lessons to get there. Mightily encouraged and confident now, after a day or two I successfully passed into the Third Class which was kicking your feet. I easily mastered this and promptly moved into the Fourth Class which was learning to stroke with your hands while kicking. For as complicated as this sounds, I actually blew through that class fairly quickly and found myself in the Fifth Class on the last day of swimming lessons.
The Fifth Class consisted of kicking, stroking and having to turn your head to take a breath, and it was deeper water. I do not like deep water. The snag was in turning my head to take a breath. I would invariably take in some water via a facial orifice or my eyes and would have to stop and bounce up and down on my tippy toes to keep my head out of the water to wipe my face off. Did I mention I don’t like deep water? Well this breathing thing turned out to be my downfall, and I did not progress any farther that summer. And then the next year upon returning to swimming lessons, they asked what class I was in the previous year. I replied, “Fourth.”
That was my last year of swimming lessons, and I spent the remainder of that time basically hiding from anyone who I thought might even remotely feel compelled to advance me back to the Fifth Class ... and a watery death.
Fast-forward about 35 years and I got the idea it would be fun to learn how to scuba dive even though technically I can’t swim but can do stuff that makes it look like I can swim if you don’t watch me for very long. A pool had a free sample lesson where we could strap on the tanks and equipment and go scuba diving in this nice warmish water. I took to this pretty quickly and soon found myself at the bottom of the deep end and quite comfortable with the situation, as no real swimming was involved. So I decided to take the full course. I didn’t think not being an actual swimmer would be much of a deterrent ... as what’s the big deal ... you wear an inflatable vest thingy and carry your own air supply along with lead weights. What could possibly go wrong?
At the dive shop orientation meeting we were told there would be a swimming test on the first day of the lessons involving swimming eight lengths of the pool. I thought about quitting right then and there because if I remembered correctly, the pool was approximately, oh, maybe a mile, mile and a half long ... one way.
But with some thought, I came up with an idea that would be very helpful in completing this test. I very neatly and discreetly sewed an amount of plastic bubble pack to the inside of my red swim trunks. But this wasn’t that big bubble type pack that when you wadded altogether it pops and snaps like a burning fire; no, this was the little tiny bubbles that when ruffled up it sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies in milk. I figured extra flotation would be helpful for the coming ordeal, and if something went terribly wrong, all they would have to do is look for the floating red butt sticking out of the water.
So at the first lesson, I very carefully changed into my trunks while averting my eyes from all those naked guys and walked slowly, as I seemed to make a soft rustling sound every time I took a step. Sitting down was out of the question as there was a muted staccato popping sound upon contact with any hard surface. My plan was to do my Class Four swimming imitation in this pool — that upon reflection could not have been more than half a mile long, one way. And when I needed to take a breath, I would just do a quick dog paddle and then resume my fake swimming. Well that didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. Oh I had plenty of buoyancy but still had to stop several times and grab a hold of the side the pool to take a couple of breaths. After everybody else completed their eight lengths, I think I might’ve had four.
The instructor asked if we all had our laps in, and I replied and lied in the affirmative as I sat on the edge of the pool gasping for air and making snap, crackle and pop sounds. I think everybody else thought I was just excited and happy to be there.
Well I successfully completed the scuba diving course, learned a whole lot and had a lot of fun doing it. I am probably one of the very few non-swimming certified scuba divers in the world. That was a dozen years ago, and of course, I haven’t been scuba diving since. But I also have not been in a room full of naked men either, so it’s not that much of a disappointment ... all things considered.
Short thought: The truth is some people are right and some people are wrong. Believe me, I’m right about this.
Hal Adkins resides in LaMoille. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Adkins’ new book, “Hal Adkins Ain’t Normal” can be found at www.lulu.com or by calling Adkins at 815-638-2152.