learning to swim part II: how not to drown

So about the title of this series. When I was a kid I often went to the Collins Memorial Pool in Williamston, named after a local boy who had drowned in the gravel pit. Some fearless people like my brother continued to swim in the pit east of town, but sensible people like me opted for the pool. It was a choice place to perform cannonballs and lie on the hot cement deck, shivering while the sun slowly baked you dry.
If I had been a smarter young boy, I would have feigned drowning like the spectacled nerd, “Squints” Palledorous, in that childhood baseball classic “The Sandlot.” Driven to distraction by the alluring lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn, Squints lets himself drift to the bottom of the pool. Wendy alertly dives in, fishes him out and performs mouth-to-mouth while his friends gather around, aghast. A sly wink gives him away, however, and an outraged Wendy tosses him out yelling “You little pervert!” A sly little smile gives her away, however. They later produce nine children.
I bring this up now only because a) I wish I had been as clever as Squints at creatively channeling my horny boy nature; b) I wish there had been a Wendy Peffercorn at our pool; c) I wish I had learned how to swim better.
Oh I took lessons and all but just enough to keep me afloat in the deep end. I never learned a proper stroke, how to dive nor how to float like a jellfyish; in fact I sank like a rock or Squints. At least I could tread water so I thought I was safe. One day I found out I was not.
Having dived in with my usual awkward posture I found myself underneath someone in an inner tube. I tried to swim away from the tube but still it hovered overhead, keeping me from the surface. It didn’t take long before I panicked with the realization that I was running out of breath. Also the instinctive insight that the non-Wendy Peffercorn-like lifeguard probably couldn’t see me beneath the inner tube. I thrashed this way and that until I somehow escaped its deadly circumference and broke through the surface.
This shook me considerably not only because I did not want to die at age 8, but also because the formerly carefree pool suddenly had become dangerous. All that laughing and splashing concealed the water’s potentially fatal power. It was only a benevolent element if you knew what you were doing in it.
The experience reinforced an earlier incident at Rice’s Resort in northern Michigan. In that case I had not yet had swimming lessons but was standing on a raft in deep water, having been carried there in a dinghy. Another kid, not knowing I was more rock than swimmer, pushed me into the drink where I proceeded to thrash and scream. Fortunately my brother or sister dived in and brought me back to the raft, where I gasped desperately like a fish.
I tried to make up for my deficiency by taking a swimming course in college. There I learned I have no natural bouyancy. “Man, you really sink like a rock,” the instructor told me, helpfully. I got a C.
None of this put me off water, mind you; in fact I love large bodies of it to this day. But I never learned to swim properly so I enter Lake Michigan and lesser lakes with utmost respect. Also I occasionally swim laps at the Y for conditioning purposes but not for pleasure. In fact it is the most boring activity I can imagine. I always practice the backstroke thinking this is how I would survive a sunken ship or fallen airplane. Very unlikely.
Why have I never learned to swim well? Because I can get by without it unless I am in a plane crash. In a similar way I have not learned to do other things well, such as create Web sites or large Twitter followings. Consequently I feel under-qualified to stay afloat in the choppy waters of the Post-Clinton Economy.
This is the economy, you’ll recall, where jobs float away like lifeboats that can’t take on any more people. It’s the classic sink-or-swim situation. If you haven’t learned the requisite skills you can easily picture yourself sinking like the boy Benjamin Braddock after being pitched into the pool in “The Graduate.” Like Squints, Benjamin just allowed himself to sink limply to the bottom.
I have no inention of doing so. I fight gamely to stay afloat. Yet doing so takes twice the energy that would be needed if I knew how to swim well.
Shouldn’t I be doing an easy freestyle by now, getting in my daily laps, climbing out onto the deck and sunning myself while the little children play?
Apparently not yet. I’ve much to learn later in life than I wanted to. Still, learning is an adventure and life is a pleasure. It’s just a matter of finding the right stroke.

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