It was the same pool I’d gone to all my life. I took swim lessons there. I’d played Nerf baseball in the corner of the shallow end of the pool ever since I was tall enough to stand and keep my head above the water line. But on that day it felt as alien and isolated, like a place I had never, ever stepped foot in.
I took off my ball cap, pulled the tank top over my head and stepped out of my grass-stained Converse All-Stars. I spread my towel on the pool deck, slid my glasses into the right shoe on top of the sweaty dollar for the snack bar, and covered the shoes with my rolled up shirt and hat.
I hardly recognized any of the kids in the deep end of the pool, the “older” section. Just last summer me and my friends owned this section of the pool, now it was like our existence had been cleansed, our presence removed from the historical record.
Eighth grade was gone.
Catholic school graduation was in the rear view and my first ever year of public school, in a public junior high and as a ninth grader, filled every inch of free space in the windshield.
The older brothers warned me not to go to the pool. They said I was too old; it wasn’t cool to be hanging there with “little” kids. But, it’s rather difficult to take advice from the same guys who tried to wedgie your underwear over your head or poured a gallon of milk on your head at Thanksgiving dinner, so here I was at the pool. And as much as I hate to admit it, my brothers may have been 100% correct this time.
A panic arose in my stomach as I thought about turning around and leaving, but since I stood out on the open deck, in my swim shorts, on the hot pavement, doing a little quick foot dance, I decide the less embarrassing path would be to get to the water. My plan evolved to getting in, cooling down, and then exiting the premises.
I’ve come this far, why not enjoy the pool.
I sat on the edge of the pool and cooled my feet. I scanned the pool again for friendly faces. None. I did notice out toward the center of the pool, though, in kind of an island of people, some recognizable faces. The public school kids.
I slid into the water and eased my way closer to the group until I stop about 15 yards away. First things first, there are three girls with bikinis on. Bikinis. Not something you see very often in the Catholic school girl’s circles, that’s for danged sure. Bikinis. After a few seconds processing this information, I decide bikinis are good, very good. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a few good things about public school.
My interest in the group went past the point of bikini interest when I noticed a surfer-boy kid and this mouthy kid in the group. I think the surfer-boy had an older sister who knew my older brother. The mouthy kid I recognized from summer baseball since he played on our biggest league rival.
I stayed my distance and observed. That is what big, husky, athletic, offensive lineman introverted kids do. We hang on the fringes and wait for something to happen. And as a sizeable Bubba-lineman introvert it’s kind of hard to “blend” into the crowd. I tried my best, though. I should have stuck with the plan and been heading back to gather my things and escape, but I was intrigued with something they were trying to do, something that was right up my alley.
The mouthy kid and the surfer-boy were trying to fly.
One of them stood on another kid’s shoulders as this kid squatted underwater. The one standing on the shoulders tapped the underwater kid’s head and the squatter stood up rapidly in an attempt to shoot the kid high into the sky.
The concept was good, but their execution was poor.
As hard as the surfer-boy and the mouthy kid tried, they just couldn’t vault high enough to do anything but barely get out of the water. Their attempts were duds and fizzled like bottle rockets hitting the surface of the pond. The soft, baby-faced kid they used as their underwater launch pad was, quite honestly, doing it all wrong and was the main source of their failure.
Over and over they tried but just couldn’t get it right. I shook my head in disgust, gravitating from my place at a safe introvert distance closer and closer to the group with each failed attempt.
The girls in the bikinis laughed at the boys, and even worse, their interest in this testosterone-driven show-of-male-teen-force faded. The boys began to argue about what was going wrong. The surfer-boy and the mouthy kid blamed the soft kid (at least they go that part right) and they eventually sent him to the sidelines.
They tried in vain a few times to launch each other. These attempts were even more of a failure than previous attempts with the soft kid. After one particularly heinous fail, I couldn’t help but laugh.
“What are you laughing at?”
I froze. It was the mouthy kid. My eyes flittered around the immediate area and realized he was talking to me. I’d drifted to within 20 feet of these kids. I was caught on an island with nowhere to hide, no way to disappear, and fully exposed in the middle of the pool. My brothers were absolutely, positively, 100% correct. I should have stayed home.
“Nothing,” I mumbled.
He looked at me. I looked at him. The anger melted from his face. “You’re a big one, aren’t you?”
I didn’t answer.
“You play for Varsity Sports, don’t you?” he asked.
“I play for Bryant’s.”
“You’re pretty good. You got a nice swing.”
“Thanks, you too.” I looked at the surfer-boy, who had drifted in. “Hey,” I said to him.
The surfer boy nodded. “Hey.”
A moment passed. My whole body screamed at me to leave. Screamed for me to save face, get the heck out of the pool, and never come back. But just as my body was turning, my head blurted out, “You’re doing that all wrong.”
“What?” asked the surfer-boy.
“You aren’t getting enough drive off the pool bottom.”
The mouthy kid and the surfer-boy looked at each other.
I dropped down in the water to where I was almost floating shoulder deep and edged my way backward in an escape route. “You’re jumping good off the shoulders, but you ain’t getting enough drive down low to get you in the air.”
The mouthy kid smiled. “Can you do it? You look strong as an ox.”
I backed away a few more steps and eyed the pool wall’s distance.
The surfer-boy chimed in. “Yeah, come on. Give it a try.”
I stopped in my tracks. Stopped like a tuna caught in a net. There was only one thing to do, move forward.
After half a dozen attempts, the sight of two man-boys flying high and landing with monumentally awesome splashes in the water and their laughs, giggling, and high-fiving, filled the center of the pool. I’d take a deep breath and squat as low as I could on the pool floor. One of them would balance on my shoulders, and tap me on the head when ready.
With every ounce of strength, I’d drive up and jump in the air. Just as I reached the peak of my jump the kid on my back would jump and fly into the air. As I fell back to the bottom, I’d see a shadow in the wave growing larger and as I went underwater, I’d hear the splash of the body hit the water and feel the concussion. It was awesome.
The attention of the bikini-clad girls returned, along with the attention of two-thirds of the people in that end of the pool, and the lifeguards. We boys at the center of attentions did not notice anything around us; we’d disappeared into our own little world. We didn’t even notice the shrill screech of the lifeguards whistle when she told us to quit and eventually made us sit out when we didn’t.
While in lock-up on the hot pool deck under the lifeguard stand, I sat quietly and smiled. The mouthy kid chattered with the lifeguard the entire time and eventually talked her into letting us keep playing our game if we moved to the deeper end away from people.
The surfer-boy rolled his eyes and smiled.
I threw bodies into the bright blue sky for at least another hour. If my legs tired, or my shoulders ached from being a launch pad, they were completely restored with each laugh and “Whoa!” and “Dude!” from the surfer-boy and the mouthy kid.
Finally, it was time to go. I got out, dried off, and dressed. I headed for the concrete stairs leading up to the exit. I heard the mouthy kid’s voice yell out, but I couldn’t understand what he said over the din of summer pool activity. I turned and found him and the surfer-boy, still in the water and again talking to several of the girls. I held my right hand up to my ear to signal I couldn’t hear him.
He shouted, “See you here, tomorrow!”
I smiled, placed my Varsity Sports baseball cap on my head, and gave him a thumb’s up sign. The surfer-boy and the mouthy kid returned the thumb’s up.
I tugged the cap down over my wet hair and walked with a spring in my step up the stairs, three at a time.
It was a great day to be a Bubba.