Some people take to the water like a Texan takes to the buffet line. I am not one of those people. In fact, to this day I am constantly vigilant whenever the O-Dog or Fletchmonster find themselves in the pool - lest we have one of those "Tommy Lee" incidents.
"They're fine," my wife chides. "My cousin is in the pool with them.
"I don't give a flying rat f*** if Greg Louganis is in the goddamned pool..." I reply, hawk-eye glare over a sh*tty can of Budweiser.
My wife's comfort level with the aquatic milieu is much more relaxed than mine. She's one of those to whom swimming came naturally. Years of swim team, water ballet and lifeguarding have shaped her into Aquagirl. Me? I'm flotsam.
I was doomed from the beginning. Every time my Aunt Margarita visits me from England she loves to tell the story about how she fished me out of ankle deep water in the Riverside Park pool when I was three.
I drive by that pool every once in a while on the way to the adjacent hockey rink. Half of me wants to laugh, since the wading can't be more than 2' deep at the most; the other more sensible half wants to pass legislation that wading pools should be no deeper than the distance between the base of chin and the nostrils of the average two year old.
A gigantic spatula needs to be on hand to flip any toddler unfortunate enough to find themselves face first in the water.
Eventually, I overcame the trauma and ventured out on the beautiful beaches in Punto Fijo, Venezuela. Who could resist the pebbles, seaweed and the chafe of gritty sand in the a**cheeks? Splashing around waist deep water might have assuaged the aquaphobe in me, but it did very little to turn me into a bona fide swimmer.
Fast forward to 1978, where we find our hero, an eleven-year-old Prego wading in the shallow end of the Rees Street Pool. Water-logged and curious he walks around the perimeter to the 'deep end'...
[Now that sounds like a catastrophe in the making, but had it turned out badly, this would have been the last chapter of a very short biography written by a bereft member of my family.... Or kind of like in the bio-pics on Ray Charles or Johnny Cash.
The Injun lost his idiot brother at an early age.
"And then he (sniff) jumped into the pool... (turns away from camera. wipes tear)
The trauma drove him to immerse himself in a steady diet of quaaludes, Ron Cacique and Salsa music, when Behind the Music continues.]
I don't remember quite what the conversation entailed or who it involved, but in a nutshell...
Kid: You don't know how to swim? It's easy! Just jump in the deep end and do 'this' with your arms.
Me: Daaaah... okay.
And In the meantime, I'll never forget the vision of a non-descript female life guard "sgogrfrffffdtttt"
rapidly approaching the edge of the "prferfgtyyrtyyyyaaaa"
edge of the pool, jumping in "gggooogggfff"
and coming into focus just as she fishes my scrawny a** out.
"Cough-cough-cough.... WHEEEEEZE... Cough-cough-cough....
And what did I do once this angel of the gods miraculously snatched me from the Grim Reaper's soggy death grip? I did what any other little f*cker would have done in that situation.
Run like a motherf*cker.
Lifeguard (to herself): Hey! How 'bout a little thank you, you little bastard?!
I don't know if my sister Zilt witnessed the incident or not, but it might have been my dumb a** who told her "The life guard had to get me out of the pool. Please don't tell Ma & Pa."
Needless to say the first thing she says when she says when we get home is, "Prego almost drowned in the pool!"
Prego: Uhhh... Yeah... (sniff-sniff) That kid Darren pushed me into the deep end... (sniff-sniff) and the lifeguard had to get me out...."
Dad: The next time you see that son-of-a-bitch, you kill that f*cking son-of-a-bitch.
Everyone is a son-of-a-bitch to the old man -- even my sons (since he has co-opted the rights of it for use as a term of endearment)
The "pushed in the pool story" stuck, and I never found the need to come clean to the parents. Sh*t. My mom's gone, and my dad could care less -- Darren never got his a** kickin', and for 28 years, I've carried the guilt of not having thanked the lifeguard. Instead, I've made it a point to thank everyone in a thankless profession.
Toll booth f*cker? Thank You.
School janitor? Thank You.
Crack dealer? Thank You.
The guy who puts the scented cake in the urinals? F*cking THANK you.
The guy who picks up elephant shit after the parade? Duuuuuude.... Thank you.
Pickin' up condoms in the parking lot of a Styx concert? Thanks....
Wiping Rosie O'Donnell's coarse pubes from the dressing room sh*tter for a living? Thanks.
As for the swimming pool? I finally got the hang of it somehow. A sh*tty gym teacher in Venezuela might have had something to do with it, and no... I didn't thank him.