Finally leaving the closet, I went to the garage and got my new bike for its maiden ride.
It was ten o’clock and nobody was out. I rode up Granada past the old Biltmore Hotel, which was dark and abandoned. Passing the library on University and Riviera, I swore I could hear voices and giggling, but there was no one around. I thought again about how I was living the fast life, adventures and exploits, hanging out and getting picked up. It felt out of control. Joey dealt with his parents in a passive, negative manner; I swore I’d do my best to avoid problems at home. School was a challenge coming in the fall. I needed friends who were still kids, so I wouldn’t grow up so fast. I decided to make swim team a priority, starting the next day. I thought about Pete; he’d be leaving soon. I liked him a lot, but at least I’d used some self-control. Was I going to call him tomorrow? Maybe, after I had set up the swim team thing. When I got home, I sat at my desk and wrote a long letter to Tina, detailing my exploits and how I missed everyone. I put in my new address and phone number. I could get Pete to deliver it.
I woke up at eight, in time to eat breakfast with Mom and Dad. I got on my new bike and headed for the University of Miami, on the south side of Coral Gables. I found the pool, locked my bike, and went on deck. It was Olympic-sized, 50 meters by 25 yards with a ten meter diving platform in the middle. It was the largest pool I’d ever seen. About 50 kids were working out, going the 50 meter long course. At least the workout seemed familiar, with a pace clock and various coaches exhorting the swimmers between laps. I asked who to see about joining the team and was directed to Coach Earl. He asked me my times and didn’t seem too impressed; fifteen was old here.
“Come this afternoon at three and I’ll work you out with the ‘B’ team. You said you haven’t trained all summer. You will need to work on your conditioning before you can handle these types of workouts.”
I stuck around to check out the kids. They were working harder than I’d ever done, with hardly any rest between laps. There was little of the horseplay we had in Alaska. The girls seemed young, with undeveloped bodies; the guys were tall, like me, and cocksure of themselves. The youngest guy was called ‘Zeus’, and he got the most ribbing, although he kept up in the water with the best of them. I rode home convinced I gotten into something challenging. I called Pete, who was disappointed I couldn’t see him that day. I said I’d call after practice. He was unsure of the concept of practicing swimming, not a New York thing.
That afternoon Coach Earl seemed pleased I’d come early. I had 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 ear ache, 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 were going short course, 25 yards across the long pool.
“Is that too much?”
“No. I’ll get used to it.”
Off I went, into the pool. Soon others were swimming with me. I saw that they were checking me out, which made me swim faster. I lost count at about thirty laps, so I stopped when I figured I had finished,
“Castle,” he used my last name, “did you do all forty.”
“Well, I only counted thirty-six. Do six more.”
I didn’t argue about the extra laps – my military background. When I finished there were a couple of girls sharing my lane.
“Coach always counts laps,” one noted.
“I just found out. Is he real strict?”
“Not half as bad as Coach Diaz,” as she nodded at the other 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 had everyone swimming nonstop. He quickly introduced me and assigned me to a middle lane. Most of the kids were ten to twelve. They were all good swimmers. We did a series of repeats – ten 100 yard sprints on a two-minute start; the faster you swam the more rest you got. Then a 400 yard individual medley, 100 yards of each stroke (fly, back, breast, free). Then we did 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 was dead before we were half done. No one was complaining. After the second 100 fly I couldn’t finish in two minutes and had to keep swimming continuously. The five other kids in my lane swam by me like I wasn’t there. Coach finally said we were done, except for a warm-down 500. The others were done before I’d finished 300. By the time I was done, everyone was gone. Except for Coach.
“That’s the slowest 500 ever; a new record.”
“You said to warm down, Coach.”
“That doesn’t mean to drown out there.”
“I drowned an hour ago, and now I’ve gone to hell.”
“In hell you don’t get to go home and eat dinner. See you tomorrow, Castle.”
Then he turned back to me, “And you will die if you keep smoking cigarettes.”
How did he know?
“It’s my job to know,” he answered my silent question.
I thought I’d collapse before getting my bike home. Practice started at three and it was now six-thirty. I lay on my bed hoping my heartbeat would go down, until Mom called me to supper. I ate but couldn’t keep my head up. I called Pete but couldn’t talk. I said I was sorry but I was dying. I went to bed at eight-thirty, dreaming I was doing endless laps, with kids trying to push me underwater. I woke up still wearing my Speedo. Ihad such a hard-on I thought the nylon would rip. At least I wasn’t dead. I had breakfast with Dad and took off for the pool at eight. When I walked in Coach Earl spotted me.
“You’re not supposed to be here until three.”
“I don’t want to work out, Coach. I think I’d sink. My arms are lead. I just came to check it out.”
Coach had 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 pointed to a thin college kid who was swimming breaststroke.
“That’s 30 laps, each 1500 meters.”
Coach sure knew how to make a guy’s day. I had my suit on, of course. I jumped in and started to stroke away. Each lap seemed to take ages. I had never swum 50 meters long course before. The guy in my lane ignored me, although he made me swim to the left in our circle pattern. His breaststroke was cool. He hardly seemed to be working, just slow stretched-out arm pulls with a snap kick. Instead of surging through the water he seemed to be riding a dolphin, barely coming up to breathe. Coach had forgotten about me temporarily, so I was resting at the wall, when Wilkie finished his distance.
“And who are you, mate?” he asked in a strong English accent.
“Coach said it’d be okay to use your lane if I stayed out of your way.”
He smiled. “That wasn’t 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 laughed. I was 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 took off when the clock hit 60.
Coach soon remembered me, and I was off on the next 60 on the clock, after finishing each 1500. Great, continuous 1500s. I followed Wilkie, trying to keep up his pace as long as possible which was easier as he wasn’t swimming hard. At ten o’clock everyone got out. I felt a bit better. Enough to go home, eat, and fall asleep. At three I was on time for regular work out. After warm-up, we started fifty 50s on a minute, swimming circle pattern with five or six kids to a lane; at least they all stayed to the right. I started out first in my lane but soon fell back as others passed me up. Only this kid, who didn’t seem too involved, was behind me. He kept talking to me between laps. Coach alternated between yelling at him and ignoring him. He wanted to know everything about me, why I was so out of shape, how old I was, and so on. He said his name was Stu.
“But everyone calls me ‘Stupid.”
“Why?” All I could utter were 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, so I won’t talk so much.”
“You do go on. Time to go,” as I pushed off the wall.
By six o’clock I was done in. Stu stayed with me, talking as much as ever. I told him about my birthday and the bike I got. He said to ride to his house in Kendall, so we could ride together. When I asked, he said he was ten. I got home, ate and went to bed early. I forgot to call Pete but did after morning workout. It was Friday already, and his family was leaving early Saturday for New York. I rode my bike to South Beach. We sat around the pool. He remarked I was looking like a jock, with my new muscles. I knew he was hurt I hadn’t seen him for two days. He couldn’t really understand how physically beat up I was. All my explanations about workouts fell on deaf ears. I felt I was just making excuses. I gave him my letter to Tina, and we went to play ‘Pong.’ I had to leave at two to make workout. He wanted me to come back that evening, but I knew I’d be too beat. We promised to stay in touch, and he gave me an awkward hug goodbye. While riding back to the mainland, I felt like a rat for ignoring him. I barely survived workout, but got up early Saturday and met Pete before they checked out. He was really glad I came. It was a lot easier talking. We hugged when it was time to go and wouldn’t let go for the longest time. He said he’d never had so much fun.
I felt much better.
After leaving South Beach, I rode to Kendall and found Stu’s house. His brother opened the door and seemed surprised I had 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 stared at me for a second, then Stu appeared.
“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 get my bike,” he beamed.
As he left, Scott was 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 went off with Stu.
His bike was really beat up, but at least it was a ten-speed. We went all over, Matheson Hammock, Kendall Mall, and even Coach Earl’s house, where I actually felt he was glad to see us; well, maybe not Stu, but Coach was pretty cool. We had a good time and agreed to do it again.
On Monday I was there bright and early for morning workout. I decided I liked long course because it felt like you swam forever on each lap. I didn’t quite understand why Wilkie got his own lane. There was plenty of room. He said to call him David and we chatted some. None of the kids on the ‘B’ team worked out in the morning. The ‘A’ team kids ignored me. David was nineteen and Stu was ten. They were my only friends. I didn’t care; the workouts drained me completely, so I didn’t socialize after practice. I was getting into shape. In the afternoon workout, I started to keep up with my lane. Now I was mostly first. Stu kept up his constant chatter which meant he had to keep up with me. Coach was constantly yelling at him. On weekends we’d ride all over, picking up guys from the team and exploring South Dade. There was a lot of new home construction going up everywhere. We’d sneak into the sites and set up jumps or ride down huge piles of dirt. My bike soon looked like Stu’s. Our favorite place was Coach Tom‘s house in Perrine. He was the University Diving Coach and had been to the Olympics. In addition to the pond with a diving platform in his yard, he had a trampoline. One of the kids was Coach Tom’s nephew, so it was cool to drop by. Our group of bike riders had expanded to ten boys, mostly about twelve years old, all on the ‘B’ team. Stu was the youngest. Two latin kids and I were the oldest. I learned the two brothers were from Puerto Rico. I quickly made friends with them, telling them about my Puerto Rican friends in New York. Vicente said my friends really weren’t from Puerto Rico since they didn’t live there.
“Well, neither are you since you live here.”
“Si, man, but we were born there.”
I realized they may actually be friends with the Bacardi family. We all took turns on the trampoline. When no one was using the diving platform, we could wash off the dirt from bike riding by swimming and splashing in the pond. I understood Coach Earl’s rule about always having your Speedo in case you wanted to swim unexpectedly. I had gotten a team suit which was all orange, just like the University of Miami’s.
The double workouts began paying off as I was close to getting an ‘A’ time in breaststroke. By watching English David on how to get an explosive kick, I soon had the ‘A’ time. There were five of us who had qualified to move up to the ‘A’ squad. I wanted to wait until school started as all my friends were on the ‘B’ squad. Coach Earl’s practices were more manageable. I didn’t collapse once I got home. I had grown over the summer and was now six feet two and weighed 140 pounds. My hair was growing out and was bleached blond. The chlorine made it straight and wispy. Mom wanted me to wear preppy clothes. I told her I was a jock, not a preppy like Dickie. I stuck to my guns, only wearing tees and jeans or shorts. I allowed her to buy a couple of Lacoste polo’s for dress. My newly blond hair was set off by a deep tan. With my green eyes, my reflection in the mirror startled me. I wasn’t a teen who spent hours looking at himself. When I did, I was amazed at how cool I looked. The hair on my legs was coming in blond too, so I always wore shorts. I might be getting conceited, but all it took was 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 was like my new life was a dream. This was the wake-up call.
“Alright, Joey. That’s great. I so want to see you. You can stay here. I’ve 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 felt funny about it. A big time for me was riding down mounds of dirt into muddy puddles. Time for a reality check.
“So when are you coming?”
“Friday night, I’ll call.”
“Perfect,” which it was, since I didn’t want to miss workout, 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 hung up, I sat there thinking what a different person I’d become. The last time we had talked, I cried for thirty minutes. My emotions had dropped down about 90% since then. Most of my friends were twelve, even ten years old. I never even thought about sex. The last time I’d even beaten off was about two months ago when Pete stayed over. My summer had been all sex and drugs for a month then nothing for two. I didn’t even want to get high. Thinking about all the training I had done, I realized I had gotten into myself and excluded the world outside the team and pool. Since I started swimming, I never did this kind of introspection anymore.