The water's fine, or so I hear

The view of the big pool from under an umbrella at the baby pool.

I was sitting at Cumberland Pool recently, under a big umbrella, so it was cool (in the shade). I hang out at Cumberland sometimes, not to swim, but to watch my grandchildren. I used to go there to swim, but it’s been a while . . . like, since I was 9.

My mother took me to Cumberland’s baby pool (which was located in a different part of the park then) for my first six years, and then I started hanging out at the big pool with friends. I always felt as though something was wrong, though, and it took me a couple of years to figure out what it was. I finally realized: It was that I hated swimming. Everything about it.

I stopped going. Forever. Until I began frequenting the pool again when my grandchildren started going. But I don’t swim there, or go into the water, or dress in anything other than street clothes, or leave my chair once I sit down. I'm just there.

So, when I was sitting at Cumberland the other day, my mind drifted back to the times I did enjoy myself there, in my youth—times that had nothing to do with swimming.

Incidents like this: Remember Fizzies? They were like Alka Seltzer tablets, except that they contained sugar and flavor and color, and turned a glass of water into pop (and they didn’t cure headaches or stomach aches). And do you remember when men’s swimming trunks had little mesh pockets inside, in the front, near the waistband, for holding a locker key? And can you picture what would happen if you snuck a couple of bright-yellow lemon Fizzies into a kid’s  mesh swimsuit pocket, and then he jumped into the pool, and everyone who was in on the prank backed away from him and pointed out, loudly, that the water in front of him was turning yellow? Can you see that?

That’s all I can say about that.

On the other hand—speaking of karma, which we weren’t, but are now—when I got to Heights High and was forced to take swimming lessons (you had to have, and pass, as many semesters of swimming class as you had semesters of high school in order to graduate), the school, with about 1,500 boys, had only about 50 men’s swimsuits. And you couldn’t bring your own. That meant that only the boys whose swimming classes were held during first period, and maybe second, would get swimsuits to wear. Boys and girls had separate swimming pools, but, still . . .

So, if you were lucky, you’d get first-period swimming, even though it might be only an hour after waking up, and eating breakfast, and, for most of the school year, during the winter. And even if you were lucky enough to get a swimsuit to wear, only about 12 of the 50 had waist sizes anywhere near 30. Most were somewhere between 46 and 64. So when a kid like me (at the time), with a 32-inch waist, put on suit with a 62-inch waist, and tied the string as tight as possible, and got into the water, the suit turned into a balloon, full of air, which made him look like a lily pad, and then, eventually, the air came out. At which point everyone around him backed away and pointed out, loudly, that giant bubbles were coming out of . . . his swimsuit.

I was able to get out of swimming class a couple of semesters with some kind of trumped-up medical excuse. (Bone spurs? I don’t remember.) And I knew I was going to quit school toward the end of my third year (of three), so I just skipped swimming class, and all gym classes, that term. But that still left three semesters when I couldn’t get out of swimming.

The first time, when they futilely tried to get me to accomplish something, after I told them that I couldn’t swim at all, I tried to trick them. They told me to stand in the shallowest end, and pick up a coin that was on the bottom of the pool. I pushed it over and then up the wall with my foot, while holding onto the side, and grabbed it. I showed it to them, thinking that they would then leave me alone. But they said, “Good. Now you know you can put you head under the water, so let’s go to the next step.” I admitted what I had done, so they just spent the rest of the classes—that semester, and the other two—trying to figure out how to deal with me, which they never did.

But, anyway, I like hanging out at Cumberland. And the grandchildren love the water, and they’re learning how to swim. Which is a great thing. As long as someone who isn’t me has to go in with them.

David Budin

David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 10:47 AM, 07.23.2019