Sunday, September 14, 2008

Going Swimmingly

Flashbacks to childhood trauma always result in cheap entertainment, which is why I knew this week I would have to write about my turn in the dunk tank.

It started out as a way for the sophomore class at my school to raise some money during the homecoming football game. But when I climbed in, it immediately turned into something more sinister, basically an opportunity for thousands of angry people around the community to release some pent-up hatred by repeatedly humiliating and degrading a tub of water.

Sitting on that platform, waiting for that first plunge, took me back to one of the diving boards at the Bangor YWCA pool, where as a fourth-grader I fidgeted and shook for several minutes before the menacing swim instructor nearly threw me in the water.

I guess this is what constituted a “swim class” back in the 1980s. As part of the “non-swimmers” group, this aquatic genius had allowed me to fart around in the shallow end for five weeks, dog paddling and doing fruity little kicking drills while holding onto the side of the pool.

Then, on the last day of class, I was supposed to fearlessly dive into the deep end as though it were as natural and intuitive as picking a scab.

Everyone else gleefully hopped into the water, wearing only their swimsuits. I put myself at the end of one line, and another pathetic little guy named Heath kept himself at the end of the other, each of us armored in enough Styrofoam to close a municipal landfill.

When our turns came, Heath and I stood on our respective diving boards, stricken by the simple facts of the situation: breathing was necessary to continue existence, and being underwater reportedly made breathing just about impossible.

Incredulous, the instructor told everyone we were “making a mountain out of a mole hill.” He strode onto Heath’s diving board and tossed him flailing and screaming into the water.

It took me only a second to decide that if my lungs were going to fill with water anyway, I might as well avoid Heath’s humiliation. So I grabbed my nose and hopped in.

The worst part is, that pinhead probably went home thinking he had taught us how to swim. In reality, I didn’t touch the water again for years. To this day, I still won’t go under without holding my nose, and while I can maneuver in deep water when necessary, I generally avoid it, being about as graceful and efficient a swimmer as your average Dodge Durango.

In how many other potentially lethal situations do we expect kids to learn by just jumping in and learning to cope? Imagine if we taught people to drive that way. “Just pay attention and wear your seat belt, and you’ll be fine. Now GET IN THE CAR.”

Fortunately, my inadequate swimming skills were not much of a problem in the dunk tank, since it was only four feet deep. I was able to use some of the larger ice cubes to keep myself afloat until my feet found the bottom.

Overall, it wasn’t that bad. I don’t know what the big deal is about throwing a ball to dump somebody in the water. It’s not like I didn’t need the bath.

The kids had a good time, and the whole experience forced me to reflect on a character-shaping experience from my past, and realize, after much introspection, that I could eek out another 600 words this week by whining about it.


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