Finally leaving the closet, I go to the garage and take my new bike out for its maiden ride.
It’s ten o’clock. Nobody is out. I ride up Granada passing the old Biltmore Hotel, which is dark and abandoned. Passing the library on University and Riviera, I swear I hear voices and giggling. There is no one around. I think again about how I’m living the fast life, adventures and exploits, hanging out and getting picked up. It feels out of control. Joey deals with his parents in a passive, negative manner; I swear to avoid problems at home, or at least, do my best. School is a challenge coming in the fall. I need friends who are still kids, so I stop growing up too fast. I decide to make swim team a priority, starting the next day. I think about Pete; he’ll be leaving soon. I like him a lot. At least I used my self-control. Am I going to call him tomorrow? Maybe, after I set up the swim team thing. When I get home, I sit at my desk and write a long letter to Tina, detailing my exploits and how I miss everyone. I put in my new address and phone number. I’ll get Pete to deliver it.
I wake up at eight, in time to eat breakfast with Mom and Dad. I get on my bike and head for the University of Miami, on the south side of Coral Gables. I find the pool, lock my bike, and go on deck. The pool is Olympic-sized, 50 meters by 25 yards with a ten meter diving platform in the middle. It’s the largest pool I’ve ever seen. About 50 kids are working out, going the 50 meter long course. At least the workout seems familiar, with a pace clock and various coaches yelling at the swimmers between laps. I ask who to see about joining the team. I’m directed to Coach Earl. He asks my times and doesn’t seem too impressed; fifteen is old here.
“Come this afternoon at three. I’ll work you out with the ‘B’ team. You say you haven’t trained all summer. You need to work on your conditioning before you can handle these types of workouts.”
I stick around to check out the kids. They work harder than I’ve ever done, with hardly any rest between laps. There is little of the horseplay we had in Alaska. The girls seem young, with undeveloped bodies; the guys are tall, like me, cocksure of themselves. The youngest guy is called ‘Zeus’ or ‘Sus.’ He gets the most ribbing, although he keeps up in the water with the best of them. I ride home convinced I’ve gotten into something challenging. I call Pete, who is disappointed I can’t see him that day. I say I’ll call after practice. He’s unsure of the concept of practicing swimming, not a New York thing.
That afternoon Coach Earl seems pleased I’ve come early. I have my Speedo in a bag with a towel.
“The rule is you always wear your suit. At least have it in your pocket, so you’re ready to swim wherever you are. Some kids even wear it to bed, but that’s optional.”
“You mean never take it off? What about jock itch?”
“Buy a can of Cru-X. Also, watch your ears. If they get dry or scaly, or if you get an earache, see a doctor for ear drops. That’s Mrs. Haines over there; she needs your family information, for dues and medical releases. She’ll give you an AAU registration form. See her after workout. If you’re ready, get in the water and do a thousand warm-up.”
“Forty laps?” We are going short course, 25 yards across the long pool.
“Is that too much?”
“No. I’ll get used to it.”
Off I go, into the pool. Soon others are swimming with me. I see that they are checking me out, which makes me swim faster. I lose count at about thirty laps, so I stop, figuring I am finished,
“Castle,” he uses my last name, “did you do all forty.”
“Well, I only counted thirty-six. Do six more.”
I don’t argue about the extra laps – my military background. When I finish there are a couple of girls sharing my lane.
“Coach always counts laps,” one notes.
“I just found out. Is he real strict?”
“Not half as bad as Coach Diaz,” as she nods at the group working out on the other side of the diving pool. “Hi. I’m Cindy. This is Kathy.”
“Hi. I’m Tim. I just moved here from Alaska.”
“You can swim in Alaska?”
“If you go real fast; otherwise you freeze.”
“Here comes Coach. No talking allowed.”
Coach Earl has everyone swimming nonstop. He quickly introduces me and assigns me to a middle lane. Most of the kids are ten to twelve. They’re all good swimmers. We do a series of repeats – ten 100 yard sprints on a two-minute start; the faster you swim the more rest you get. Then a 400 yard individual medley, 100 yards of each stroke (fly, back, breast, free). Then we do eight 100s, this time breaststroke on the same two-minute interval, followed by a 500 free, six 100s – backstroke, followed by a 200 Individual Medley (IM), and finally 4 100s – butterfly. I’m dying before we are half done. No one is complaining. After the second 100 fly I cannot finish in two minutes and have to keep swimming continuously. The five other kids in my lane swim by me like I’m not there. Coach finally says we were done, except for a warm-down 500. The others are out before I finish 300. By the time I am finished, everyone is gone. Except for Coach.
“That’s the slowest 500 ever; a new team record.”
“You said to warm down, Coach.”
“That doesn’t mean to drown out there.”
“I drowned an hour ago. Now I’ve gone to hell.”
“In hell you don’t get to go home and eat dinner. See you tomorrow, Castle.”
Then he turns back to me, “And you will die if you keep smoking cigarettes.”
How does he know?
“It’s my job to know,” he answered my silent question.
I think I’ll collapse before getting my bike home. Practice starts at three and it’s now six-thirty. I lay on my bed hoping my heartbeat will go down, until Mom calls me to supper. I eat but can’t’t keep my head up. I call Pete but can’t talk. I say I’m sorry but I’m dying. I go to bed at eight-thirty, dreaming I’m doing endless laps, with kids trying to push me underwater. I wake up still wearing my Speedo. I have such a hard-on I worry the nylon will rip. At least I didn’t die. I have breakfast with Dad and take off for the pool at eight. When I walk in Coach Earl spots me.
“You’re not supposed to be here until three.”
“I don’t want to work out, Coach. I think I’ll sink. My arms are lead. I just came to check it out.”
Coach has other ideas.
“It’s a bad example to let you lounge about. Get in that lane with Wilkie and do repeat 1500s. Keep out of his way.”
He points to a thin college kid who is swimming breaststroke.
“That’s 30 laps, every 1500 meters.”
Coach sure knows how to make a guy’s day. I have my suit on, of course. I jump in and start to stroke away. Each lap seems to take ages. I’ve never swum 50 meters long course before. The guy in my lane ignores me, although he makes me swim to the left in our circle pattern, instead of normally staying to the right. His breaststroke is cool. He hardly seems to be working, just slow stretched-out arm pulls with a snap kick. Instead of surging through the water he seems to be riding a dolphin, barely coming up to breathe. Coach forgets about me temporarily, so I’m resting at the wall, when Wilkie finishes his distance.
“And who are you, mate?” he asks in a strong English accent.
“Coach says it’s okay to use your lane if I stay out of your way.”
He smiles. “That’s not the question, and you’re not in my way.”
“Oh, my name’s Tim.”
“How come you don’t have a team suit?”
“I just joined. Is the reason you swim to the left because you come from England?”
“I just do things my own way. Anyway, nobody wears those panel suits. Where did you swim before?”
“Alaska,’ and he laughs. I’m starting to get a complex.
“England’s about as frigid as Alaska. I do like it in Florida. Well, here comes my time,” as he takes off when the clock hits 60.
Coach soon remembers me, and I’m off at the next 60 on the clock, after every 1500. Great, continuous 1500s. I follow Wilkie, trying to keep up his pace as long as possible which is easy as he isn’t swimming hard. At ten o’clock everyone gets out. I feel a bit better. Enough to go home, eat, and fall asleep. At three I’m on time for regular work out. After warm-up, we start fifty 50s on a minute, swimming circle pattern with five or six kids to a lane; at least they all stay to the right. I start out first in my lane but soon fall back as others pass me up. Only this kid, who doesn’t seem too dedicated, is behind me. He keeps talking to me between laps. Coach alternates between yelling at him and ignoring him. He wants to know everything about me, why I’m so out of shape, how old I am, and so on. He says his name is Stu.
“But everyone calls me ‘Stupid.”
“Why?” All I can utter are one word answers.
“Cause my brother calls me that.”
“I used to stutter, then they found out I had a learning disability. I guess I am stupid.”
“I got speech therapy. My grandpa says they shoulda sewn up my lips shut, so I don’t talk so much.”
“You do go on. Time to go,” as I push off the wall.
By six o’clock I’m done in. Stu stays with me, talking as much as ever. I tell him about my birthday and the bike I got. He says to ride to his house in Kendall, so we can ride together. When I ask, he says he’s ten. I get home, eat and go to bed early. I forget to call Pete but do so after morning workout. It’s Friday already. His family is leaving early Saturday for New York. I ride my bike to South Beach. We sit around the pool. He remarks that I’m looking like a jock, with my new muscles. I know he is hurt I didn’t see him for two days. He can’t really understand how physically beat up I am. All my explanations about workouts fall on deaf ears. I feel I am just making excuses. I give him my letter to Tina. We go to play ‘Pong.’ I have to leave at two to make workout. He wants me to come back that evening. I know I’ll be too beat. We promise to stay in touch, and he gives me an awkward hug goodbye. While riding back to the mainland, I feel like a rat for ignoring him. I barely survive workout. I get up early Saturday and meet Pete before they check out. He’s really glad I came. It’s a lot easier talking. We hug when it is time to go and don’t let go for the longest time. He says he’s never had so much fun.
I feel much better.
After leaving South Beach, I ride to Kendall and find Stu’s house. His brother opens the door and seems surprised I’ve come to see Stu.
“You’re the new kid who swims with Wilkie. I’m Scott. I’ll go get old ‘Stupid.’
“How come you call him that? He isn’t dumb.”
He just stares at me for a second, then Stu appears.
“Hi Tim. This is Scott. Come in.”
“That’s okay. You said you wanted to ride around South Dade. Can you go?”
“Sure. Let me tell Mom and I’ll get my bike,” he beams.
As we leave, Scott is still staring at me. “You really like my brother? He’s such a non-stop pest.”
“That’s what I like about him. At least he’s friendly. I don’t have any brothers so I don’t mind.”
“Just start working out with our group if you need friends.”
”I got all I can handle working with the ‘B’ team. See ya Scott. Nice ta meet ya,” and I go off with Stu.
His bike is really beat up, but at least it is a ten-speed. We go all over – Matheson Hammock, Kendall Mall, and even Coach Earl’s house, where I actually feel he is glad to see us; well, maybe not Stu, but Coach is pretty cool. We have a good time and agree to do it again.
On Monday I’m there bright and early for morning workout. I decide I like long course because it feels like you swim forever on each lap. I don’t quite understand why Wilkie gets his own lane. There is plenty of room. He says to call him David and we chat some. None of the kids on the ‘B’ team work out in the morning. The ‘A’ team kids ignore me. David is nineteen and Stu is ten. They’re my only friends. I don’t care; the workouts drain me completely, so I don’t socialize after practice. I’m getting into shape. In the afternoon workout, I start to keep up with my lane. Now I’m mostly first. Stu keeps up his constant chatter which means he has to keep up with me. Coach is constantly yelling at him. On weekends we ride all over, picking up guys from the team and exploring South Dade. There is a lot of new home construction going up everywhere. We sneak onto the sites and set up jumps or ride down huge piles of dirt. My bike soon looks like Stu’s. Our favorite place is Coach Tom‘s house in Perrine. He is the University Diving Coach and has been to the Olympics. In addition to the pond with a diving platform in his yard, he has a trampoline. One of the bike kids is Coach Tom’s nephew, so it’s cool to drop by. Our group of bike riders has expanded to ten boys, mostly about twelve years old, all on the ‘B’ team. Stu is the youngest. Two latino kids and I are the oldest. I learn the two brothers are from Puerto Rico. I quickly make friends with them, telling them about my Puerto Rican friends in New York. Vicente says my friends really aren’t from Puerto Rico since they don’t live there.
“Well, neither are you since you live here.”
“Si, man, but we were born there.”
I realize they may actually be friends with the Bacardi family. We all take turns on the trampoline. When no one is using the diving platform, we wash off the dirt from bike riding by swimming and splashing in the pond. I understand Coach Earl’s rule about always having your Speedo in case you want to swim unexpectedly. I now have a team suit which is all orange, just like the University of Miami’s.
The double workouts begins paying off as I am close to ‘A’ times in breaststroke. By watching English David on how to get an explosive kick, I soon have the ‘A’ time. There are five of us who qualify to move up to the ‘A’ squad. I want to wait until school starts as all my friends are on the ‘B’ squad. Coach Earl’s practices were more manageable. I don’t collapse once I get home. I grow over the summer and am now six feet two and weigh 140 pounds. My hair is growing out and is bleached blond. The chlorine makes it straight and wispy. Mom wants me to wear preppy clothes. I tell her I am a jock, not a preppy like Dickie. I stick to my guns, only wearing tees and jeans or shorts. I allow her to buy a couple of Lacoste polo’s for dress. My newly blond hair is set off by a deep tan. With green eyes, my reflection in the mirror startles me. I’m not a teen who spends hours looking at himself. When I do, I am amazed at how cool I look. The hair on my legs is coming in blond too, as I always wear shorts. I may be getting conceited, but all it takes is a phone call from Joey to shake me up.
“Hey, bro. Guess what? I did that movie and got the bread – a thousand bucks. You still want me to come down?”
It’s like my new life was a dream. This is the wake-up call.
“Alright, Joey! That’s great. I so want to see you. You can stay here. I got a cool room.”
“No way, Jose. It’s first class all the way for this guy. I’ll get a hotel in the Grove. We’ll do it right. Are you ready to party?”
But I feel funny about it. A big time for me is riding down mounds of dirt into mud puddles. Time for a reality check.
“So when are you coming?”
“Friday night, I’ll call.”
“Perfect,” which it is, since I do not want to miss practice, or to a lesser degree, school.
“So how’s Helen and the monsters?”
“Just the same. Dad wants to throw me out. He got into my room and found some pot. He says he’s gonna call the pigs. I forgot to lock the door just once. What a drag. Sweet Jane still asks about you. Ya must’ve done her good. She’s shacked up with this business type, who gives her jewelry and shit. She tells everyone how pitiful he is. She says she’s givin’ up on sex. But she wants pictures of you and has givin’ me a Polaroid to bring shots back. We’ll have to shock her with some really graphic ones. Hey, what’s wrong? Yer not talkin’.”
“Just listenin’ to ya cause ya talk so fast.”
“Ya gone Southern on us, or should I say y’all?”
“Hey, I can’t wait to see ya, Joey.”
“Well, don’t cum in yer pants. I’ll call Friday night when I’m there, man.”
“It’s a date.”
“Alright. That’s my little bro.”
When he hangs up, I sit there thinking what a different person I’ve become. The last time we talked, I cried for thirty minutes. My emotions have dropped down about 90% since then. Most of my friends are twelve, even ten years old. I never even think about sex. The last time I beat off is about two months ago when Pete stayed over. My summer has been all sex and drugs for a month then nothing for two. I don’t even want to get high. Thinking about all the training I’ve done, I realize I’m so into myself, it excludes the world outside the team and pool. Since I started swimming, I never do this kind of introspection anymore.