Monday, March 02, 2009

Swim Team 101

In high school I wasn't a great athlete. I was born an okay athlete, but then spent several months in a hospital at 5 1/2-till 6 with rheumatoid arthritis and was a trial patient on cortizone. Which apparently worked but left me weighing 162 pounds as a very fat 6-year-old. I was schooled by Ms. Harper who came to the house twice a week, I think, for about three or four hours. She was a public school teacher who taught kids like me who couldn't be in regular school, and she got me up to half-way through the fourth grade by the time I was old enough to enter second grade at St. Luke's school in Whitestone. I've written about St. Luke's, I think, where classes ranged from 79 to 108 kids with one nun. No wonder they needed the ruler. 108 2nd graders would be too much for anyone to handle, particularly sex-starved virgins--which they were at that time.
In any event, when I went back to school as a cigarette smoking 7-year old (and didn't I get my knuckles rapped for that pretty much daily!!!) who'd gotten a social security card at 6 and was working and earning money as a soda jerk at Louie's candy store on 24th Avenue 8 hours a week, the other kids used to run backwards and beat me in races, particularly my pal Tommy Farrell.
But my father and brother Mike loved sports and wanted me to be an athlete and so me and Mike (Mike and I, for you, Ms. KAOS) practiced football and baseball mercilessly. Or rather, Mike drove me mercilessly to become a regular non-sick kid by being brutal to me. He'd make me run 8 or 9 street football routes daily, 15 times each to the left and right. That was something like 240 passes daily, including the suicidal: "Baldy, 10 steps, cut to the left and dive over the curve. I'll hit you falling onto the sidewalk," play.
But it worked.
I got good at baseball with my brother making me make 50 throws from catcher to second base daily for a couple of years. I'm nearly 60 but still have one hell of an arm. As a kid I became an all star catcher in little league, and later made the high school baseball team, though Tartaglia and Johnson were better catchers--and waya bigger and stronger than me--and so I didn't play a lot.
But there was this thing that President Kennedy made people do. It was a 10 or so event physical test. Some of you will remember it: We had to climb a 25 foot rope, climb a peg board, do pushups for 2 minutes, do sit-ups for two minutes, broad jump, standing, run 100 yard dash, and some other things. When I got to high school, a pushup and sit-up fanatic by that time, I wound up something like number 1137 out of 1240 people as a freshman.
By senior year I was number one in the whole school until the basketball team came back from an away game, at which point I dropped to number 8 or 12. Still, not bad for a kid other kids had beaten running backward just 6 years earlier.
During high school I won a lot of awards for writing so decided I'd be a writer. But I also was good at theatre and was in all the plays, generally in the second role to Bob Herbert, who was very good. I also joined the gymnastics team and the swim team. The gymnastics team was not good. I practiced (as 14th man on something like a 12 man squad) for a week, then went to a tourney. Someone got hurt and I was asked to do a routine on the side-horse. I'd never even gotten up on a side horse so needless to say, I didn't do well.
Swimming was worse. I joined because I wanted to learn to swim. I'd missed that chance when I got sick as a kid and wanted to learn. Coach Hoffman let me join even though I couldn't swim because he was proud of how much I worked at doing pushups and sit-ups (66 old-fashioned situps in two minutes; more than 50 pushups in the same time) and how good I was at the rope and peg-board. He was never impressed with my best time in the 100 yard dash, which was 12.5 if I remember correctly). IN any event he encouraged the swim coach to take me. Which he did.
Now, I couldn't swim. I joined to be taught how to swim. And we had a couple of guys on the team, Billy Warner and another guy, who could fly. They would be in the race for county championships. Wonderful to watch. But not me. I just wanted to stay above water and catch up on what I missed when I was sick and fat.
Then we went to a meet. It was a four-school meet. All catholic schools. Bishop Reilly (my school), against St. John's prep and two other schools. I forget their names because they didn't do anything striking. But St. John's did: They didn't wear swim trunks. They were freaking naked with their balls shaved. Twelve or so St. John's Prep kids walking around this indoor pool with their shlongs hanging out, badmouthing us for wearing trunks. Worse: I didn't have a speed-o. I had regular trunks that I borrowed from my brother Mike, who was 22 to my sophmore 15. Nice plaid trunks that fell to my knees. Didn't matter. I wasn't going to swim. I was last man on the team, second or third away from first 12 and only 8 or so were going to compete.
Until a couple of people came up hurt. And suddenly my name was called. I looked to coach, who waved me to the pool edge. I asked what the heck I was supposed to do. He said just swim two lengths of the 50 meter pool and that was that.
So I climbed to the edge: Everyone else had these wonderful poses. They looked like birds of prey, toes wrapped around pool edge, knees bent, arms forward, backs straight, slightly bent toward the pool. I, on the other hand, stood straight, a couple of inches away from the frighteningly deep pool, my hands together in a position that probably looked more "alter boy praying" than "swim meet ready". Worse, the guys on either side of me were naked and they kept pulling their dicks to make them look bigger. And they had no hair! I'd waited 14-15 years to get hair and these hairless guys were just stretching their dicks! To say I was lost was an understatement.
At some point during my completely-lost-why-are-they-naked reverie, a gun went off and everyone dove into the water. They didn't dive, they dove: some of them looked like they sprung off boards, leaping 10-12 feet straight out into the air and then touching the water and coming up 5 yards ahead of where they touched down. I watched in amazement and then realized I was losing time. So I dove. And I went straight down, as my posture indicated I would. And then, coming up about 2-feet from where I left the pool edge, I realized my swim suit had come off. It was down around my ankles! I was not about to surface without a swim suit, so I reached down and got it and got it back on and by the time I did I realized that everyone had already made the 50 meter turn and was coming back toward me! I was lost. I was beyond redemption even if I was wearing clothes!
So I doggie paddled about 10 yards, till everyone in the meet passed me, then decided I'd better feign drowning and did and made my way to the side of the pool and clambored out, fake huffing the whole way.
Eddie Monaghan, a prick, nailed me.
"Why didn't you finish, Gorman? Chicken? Pussy?" he said, chesting me back toward the pool.
"I was choking. Took water..." I said.
"Bullshit. You fucked this team....I'll kill you."
Enough was enough and I stood my ground. Lying, I said, "I took water. You don't like it go fuck yourself."
Eddie was a tough guy who'd been in the golden gloves. Nobody talked to him like that. Especially quitters like me. So he was stunned.
"You're a punk. I could kill you."
"Do it. Do it."
"You're going back into that pool..."
"No, I'm not. I took water..." I lied.
Somehow, he seemed to believe me or thought I was really ready to fight him and he didn't like that idea. Probably I was just scared and embarrassed enough to have been at the end of my rope. And he knew I'd already backed down in the race and was not going to back down again.
"You suck, Gorman," he said, turning and walking away.
Later that day I discovered that we needed one point to win the match against all the teams, and that win would have put us ahead of St. John's Prep in the city championships and we could have gone on to playoff victory. That point would have been achieved if I had simply finished, no matter whether I'd taken a week to do it. By quitting, I'd lost that point and just tied St. John's Prep, but since they'd beaten us in an earlier meet we didn't get to go to the playoff/championships.
I have hated myself for being a quitter since I found that out. I wish someone would have taken 4 minutes to explain it to me, or explained it to me as I was feigning drowning but before I got out of the pool. No one did. I didn't know how to swim. My fault but I've forgiven myself.
I still never went back to the swim team.
And I have never quit anything again, despite wanting to on a number of occasions.

1 comment:

Michael P said...

That's one of those things other people admire in you (never quitting) that sometimes you'd wish the lesson had been explained to you than experienced.