The Skinny on Swimming

On June 17th, 1994, television viewers in this country were glued to their sets, watching a slow-motion drama: In Los Angeles, California, OJ Simpson, in the back seat of his friend’s white Bronco, was slow-rolling his way into history. On that same night, in a bar in the South Beach section of Miami, Florida, four friends, finished with watching the surreal play and tired of playing pool, left for the warm water and midnight sands. Four piles of clothing littered the beach near where the friends — naked and nude — frolicked in the water.
In a casual conversation with an acquaintance in St. Louis, Mo., I mentioned the swimming pool in the basement of my high school. The man stopped the flow of the conversation, and asked, incredulously, “You had a pool in your high school?” I’ve since found that St. Louis and Indianapolis, In., had a lack of pools in schools in common. But I learned to love swimming in the pools of my summers in Pittsburgh, and fine-tuned my skills on my high school swim team. I learned to swim to survive and then, to compete. I love swimming. In 1976, when I purchased my house in Madera, California, I promptly contracted to put in an in-ground pool, an accessory that one day, conspired with alcohol at one of my parties to remove clothing and cause (what was never to be called) “The Great Madera Skinny-Dip.” But that activity was not the reason for the pool: I had never before been in a position to be able to swim at will, to walk into my own backyard and plunge into water, since, as I may have mentioned, I love to swim.
When I mentioned to my son that I was going to start doing “crunches” to shave the fat off my belly, he warned me that my six-pack will develop beneath the blubber. “Gotta up your cardio, Dad, to bust that gut.” So, I took my Silver Sneakers to the Ransburg YMCA on Shortridge Road and got into the pool. I had planned to start slowly — Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — but after two days of embarrassingly inadequate laps, I tweaked a muscle in my groin, and, while favoring my leg, tweaked muscles in my back. Sigh.
During my rest and heat recovery, I read my fellow columnist’s history lesson on various presidents’ sporting activities. I was struck by the high incidence of swimming among the group and chuckled when I learned that the Adams boys — John and John Quincy — swam sans clothes, because all the boys in my high school pool swam naked. The only swim trunks in the pool were on the members of the swim team. I was happy to graduate to the red trunks of the Schenley Spartans, but I never really questioned why we were bare-butt in the first place. We were certainly not told that skinny-dipping was a presidential activity. (I am reasonable certain that the girls of my school did not swim unsuited, though rumor has it that some tried to peek into the pool area during the boys’ swim.) By June, 1994, I had laid in a large store of buff-bathing, so when my friends said, “Let’s swim,” buttons, belts and boxers blew into the breeze.
In the poem, “Looking at Pictures to be Put Away,” Gary Snyder wonders, “What will we remember/Bodies thick with food and lovers/After twenty years.” June, 1994 merely flickers in my memories as I lower my body into the pool at the Y, where I join others, who are, perhaps, like me, “thick-dipping.”