HURRICANE SWIM TEAM
The next morning I dragged myself through practice. Mornings were not long course, which meant I no longer swam with David and now was swimming with the ‘A’ team. Coach Earl said I was ready to move up. I was not ready this morning. I suffered the physical abuse, only throwing up once, yet still finished the session. Coach Diaz didn’t really run the workout. He supervised the college swimmers, who rode us all practice. They had a lot to learn about coaching. I learned a lot about pain. At the end, Wilkie came over and laughed at me. I would have snapped at him but had no snap left.
“Thanks for covering for me about the partying. Coach doesn’t really have rules for me. I just have to perform.”
“You seem to do that well, unlike me today.”
“Now I understand why you worried about your cousin’s visit. He’s bloody radical.”
“I think I’ve retired from the party scene.”
“Jill thinks you are cute. We will not reveal you are gay. I trust that evens the score.”
I wasn’t surprised he knew. I would have denied the stereotype, but David still liked me regardless. It was just another burden on a tough day. I made it to school but was sent home for sleeping in English class. I slept away the day, then made it to evening practice. I was officially on the ‘A” team. Stu’s brother told me to swim with him in the ‘killer’ lane. It meant you were supposed to swim over anyone in your way, not around them. Coach Eli had us doing repeat 100s on 1 minute 10 seconds. I finished each one on 1:09, just time for an extra breath. Everyone had already swum over me, so I was last in the lane. I finished the set, but Coach moved me to the next lane, which was all girls. The one named Lydia asked me about Alaska, my infamous calling card, but all I could do was babble. They all laughed, and I got several hugs, which instantly got full attention from the all-guy killer-lane. The next day, half the killers wanted to be in my lane, but Coach Sean just ignored them. By Tuesday I had pretty much recovered from the weekend, Soon I was fast enough to be in a guy lane, just not the killer one. At least I wasn’t the slowest.
All the swimming behind Wilkie had helped my breaststroke, and in my first meet, I made the “AA” standard in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:03 for 100 yards. My 200 time was 2:15. I had put on another 10 pounds to 150. I was friendly to everyone, but my only real friends were Stu and the other younger kids who all rode bikes around South Dade with us, ages 10 to 14. Stu’s brother Scott continued to be an asshole to him. One day after practice, he called for him, “Hey, Stupid. Get over here.”
I told him, “Stop it.”
He looked at me sideways, “What’s it to you?”
“He’s not stupid.”
“He’s my brother, so bug out.”
“I didn’t say anything at your house that time, but here you’re going to stop it.”
“Why will I do that?”
“’Cause you give him a complex. He thinks he’s retarded. He’s your brother. You should care.”
Scott got in my face. “Mind your own business.”
“Stu’s my friend. That makes it my business.”
He took a swing at me, which I easily ducked. Swimmers are generally lame fighters. Before I could retaliate, Coach Diaz grabbed us both by the neck. He was burly and had us by 70 pounds.
“Stop this right now. I don’t care who’s to blame. You fight. You’re out.”
No arguing there. We both stepped back.
Scott yelled, “Stupid, get over here now.”
Coach slapped him hard on the back of his head. “You get over that name calling now.”
Scott was crushed. Stu was standing there and pushed him toward the exit, then gave me a quick smile before leaving. Coach Earl had observed it all but just looked concerned. Scott was one of the best swimmers on the team. I was new, but Coach knew I was right to stand up for Stu, even if it was to his brother. I just felt Scott was one of those assholes who thought he was so good he could get away with anything. I hoped that was the end of it. Stu would tell me later. Scott better not take out his anger on him.
The next meet was a good one for me as I continued to be the team’s best breaststroker. I finally got a chance to check with Stu about any improvement from Scott. He had been sitting with his family, and as he walked toward me, I could see something was going on between Scott and his mother.
“What up, Stu?”
“Hey, your time was even better today.”
“How about you? What did you swim?”
“Coach makes me swim the 500, but I have trouble counting the laps and stopped 50 yards short.”
“Your time must’ve been good then.”
“Yeah, until they made me do the other 50. It sucked.”
“How come nobody counted laps for you?”
“I hate that race. I never asked anyone.”
“Next time get me. I’ll do it.”
“I hope there’s never another time.”
“Maybe not if you stop in the middle of the race.”
“I thought I was done.”
“You hoped you were done.”
“Yeah,” as he looked at the floor but then gave me a devilish smile.
“I knew it. Hey, is Scott being cool about the Stupid name?”
“Not really. It’s just a habit. I don’t care.” Again he looked down.
“What’s going on with him and your mom?”
“Oh, he missed his goal in his 500, which always makes him upset.”
“Why’s your mom holding him so tight.”
“When he loses he always cries. He says he cares too much.”
“He’s crying? Every time he loses?”
“He doesn’t lose much.”
“Sure, but what about over other things?”
“I don’t know. Swimming’s all he cares about.”
“Listen, next time he calls you Stupid, call him CB. Okay?”
Yeah, Cry Baby. Get it? CB.”
“Okay but what if he kills me.”
“ Just don’t tell him what it means.”
Stu looked quizzical, but he really trusted me, so he agreed.
When Stu told me he was calling Scott CB now, I told all the girls in their lane to start doing it. After practice, Scott marched over to me, “I know you started this CB business. What’s your point?”
“I told you to stop calling your brother Stupid, but you haven’t.”
“So your plan is to give me some lame letter name, like BJ?”
I couldn’t believe he just called himself Blow Job. Maybe letter names were common in Florida.
No, man, Cry Baby, CB means Cry Baby. You do cry a lot.
He turned as white as his bleached blond hair, like an albino. Some of the girls had been listening, and as he whipped around, they said, “Hi, CB.” Girls are so mean and so right on.
Catching me off-guard, he threw me to the pool deck and started whaling on me. I just covered my head, and soon Coach Diaz was pulling us apart.
“I told you two no fighting. What’s this about?”
“He called me a Cry Baby.”
“No. Everyone else is calling you Cry Baby because you won’t stop calling Stu Stupid.”
“I don’t care what the reason is. For the next week, you two will swim in the same lane, doing distance work. No questions asked.”
We looked hatefully at each other but nodded to Coach.
“And if I hear anyone here being called stupid that’ll be your last stupid mistake,” as he walked away.
Scott glared at me, and then realized everyone was glaring at him. I knew we had won. Coach’s punishment was either stupid itself, as distance was Scott specialty, or inspired because I had done all that distance work with Wilkie in the summer.
For a week, then extended for several more, we went at each other in the lane doing repeat 500s and 1650s. I wouldn’t give him an inch and learned if I stayed with him until the last 50, I could out-sprint him to the end. I swear he almost cried the first time I beat him. Problem was I couldn’t stay with him on every repeat, and he won most races. He learned to go out so fast that I never could catch him. Coach Diaz had a subtle smile every time I caught him watching us. Scott never talked to me, but I was too winded to care. I had to respect that he put everything into our competition. Also, I remembered it was a scant few months ago that I had cried for thirty minutes after my call to Joey. I even cry during sex. I knew I had grown up, so Scott needed this punishment so he could grow up too.
Coach told us all to keep a personal log, detailing our workouts, the distances, repeats, and times, and how we felt. I wasn’t sure if I was keeping the right stuff and asked Scott what he wrote. He showed his log to me. It surprised me to see all the personal thoughts and feelings he recorded, about his friends, family, the team, even, me.
“Do you want me to read all this?”
“It’s okay. Do you think I say too much?”
“Well, I can tell your Stu’s brother,” I joked. “There’s nothing you don’t talk about here.”
I read that he never thought good things about Stu until he saw how well I got along with his little brother. He was talking about love and how hard it was to say those things.
“You don’t let your feelings out much, do you?” I noted.
“When I do it’s too much. Everyone kids me because I cry at meets sometimes. I can’t help it. It hurts so much when I lose.”
“Maybe if you loosened up about your feelings, you wouldn’t get so overwhelmed. You must be real tense before a big race.”
“That’s why I’m doing distance. It’s just you against the clock. If you get too caught up in racing someone, it can knock you off your pace.”
“I feel pretty lonely doing distance repeats. All I think about is what lap I’m on.”
He looked at me with deep blue eyes. “I think about everything, Tim. Sometimes I’m not even aware I’m swimming. I worry, school, girls, college, my folks. I just get overwhelmed.”
“These logs are good, but you’ve got to talk with someone. Can you talk with Coach Diaz?”
“No way. He only talks at you. I can’t get personal. You’re the first person I’ve ever said any of this to.”
“I know you talk to your mom.”
“Yeah. I forgot about her. She’s always there for me.”
“Don’t be afraid to talk. I see girls hitting on you, but you don’t seem to notice. Take the time to get close to one.”
“How come you don’t have a girlfriend?” he asked.
“I do, just that she’s in New York.”
“I don’t think I would like that.”
“It’s what it is. You should make some moves.”
Scott was a dreamy guy, with short dark hair and bleached tips, blue eyes, and a cute face. Anyone this good-looking should have no problem with girls. But he was a mama’s boy and shy. He needed to be his own person first.
“You know why I ride my bike around with your brother?”
“That is a major mystery,” we laughed.
“Sure, but your brother was my first friend here. He made me feel welcomed. Sure, he’s a pest but I just like him. It’s simple and requires no thought. I used to think too much myself, wanting to be liked, to do the right thing, but it just hung me up. I missed my cousin so much, I cried after calling him on my birthday. Last time we were together, it was great, but I had stopped being hung up on him.”
“Sure, man. You have to sometimes. It helps to get the feelings out. You only cry when you lose a race?”
“The last few years. When I was Stu’s age, I cried a lot. Maybe that’s why I’m jealous he can talk so much. I never talked to anyone then. I was so shy.”
“Well, he had a speaking problem until therapy. Maybe you can get your shyness fixed.”
We laughed. I was starting to analyze things again. Now that my emotions were in check, I was comfortable. Perhaps life was too boring without deep feelings. We both agreed to share our logs again (just like girls!). In the water, he almost always beat me, on every repeat. I tried staying up with him and was happy my times were improving. I could ‘psyche’ him out; all I needed to do was vary the pace and he would get rattled and not be able to get back to the proper pace. He would get so mad at me. Long distance swimming is all about pace. I felt we were getting to be friends, but with Scott you couldn’t tell. He stayed pretty closed up. It bugged him that Stu and I were still close. One night after practice, in front of everyone, one of the older ‘A’ swimmers called Stu Stupid. I told him to cut it out. He told me to stay out of his business. Scott backed me up and Stu looked at Scott with big, appreciative eyes. Hey, I was the one who had stuck up for him. That was the end of ‘Stupid.’
Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. This year it came in the middle of the week. Stu and his friends looked forward to the team costume party, and trick or treating afterward. He made me promise to attend and be part of their group. I asked Scott and the other high school swimmers if they would go but was met with disdain. Then Lydia said she’d go if I’d be her date, so she didn’t feel out-of-place. This signaled general approval. The girls all said they’d go if the high school boys went too. The parents were amazed that the older kids were coming, and arrangements were made to have more mature entertainment. Lydia was blonde and lanky, blue-eyed with a dark tan. She had been one of the distance swimmers lately, so we were on a casual, buddy basis. Now that I knew she ‘liked’ me, I was expected to respond. Since she made the first move, I was spared the anxiety of rejection. It was another way of fitting in, and romance was an adventure. In other words, the more I thought about it, the more I got worked up.
We met at her house a couple of hours before the party to work on costumes. We had agreed on Raggedy Ann and Andy. She had sewn patches on a couple of pairs of her brother’s jeans. We sat around in her room in nothing but our Speedo’s, putting on makeup, rouge and eyeliner. Her sixteen year old brother drove us, complaining all the way about getting roped into this ‘kids’ party. By the time it really got going, it was the kiddie games that were the hit. We were not into the Barry White records one parent had brought – too slow! Everyone was in costumes and vamping it up. Lydia and I checked out the other records, a pile of ‘50s singles.
“Mrs. Haines, you must’ve been a real rocker back then. These records are cool.”
They were all the hits we had heard on oldies radio. The first song we played was “The Monster Mash,’
since it was Halloween, with everyone doing their version of the Mashed Potato.
Then Zeus and his brothers got up and lipsyched to ‘La Bamba.’
Everyone broke up. Three of the girls did a Supremes’ imitation with the hand motions and jumping in unison to “Stop in the Name of Love.’
I got up and lipsyched to Sam Cooke’s ‘Cupid,” mimicking drawing back a bow and aiming an imaginary arrow at Lydia.
Then everyone got up and did ‘The Stroll.’
When the party started to break up, Stu pressured me go trick or treating with his friends. Lydia wanted to pass, but I convinced her to come. It was so funny when we went to a door. The mom would look at us and say, “My, but aren’t you big boys and girls.” Our answer was, “All the more treats for big tricksters,” and grabbed extra candy. All Stu’s buddies were speechless about being part of my Halloween ‘date.’ As Raggedy Ann and Andy, we held hands and ran up to ring the door bells, ahead of the youngsters. Lydia let me know that holding hands was enough, shrugging off my arm on her shoulders, while we were driving between neighborhoods in Stu’s mom’s station wagon. She dropped us off at Lydia’s house about nine-thirty.
“You always have such fun,” Lydia commented.
“Yeah. I’m a big kid. You enjoyed it tonight?”
“Everybody enjoys you, Tim. All the girls think you’re a cut-up.”
“Is that what you think?”
“I’m just checking you out. You’re pretty okay, upfront and personal.”
“If you only knew.”
“Knew what? There’s this mystery about you. No one else has gotten Wilkie to be friendly. He seems so old. Your friends are older and younger.”
“They’re all friends to me. Coach stuck me in David’s lane last summer. It’s no big deal. I met his girlfriend, Jill.”
“Really. Is she cool?”
“The best. She lives in the Grove.”
“Is she a hippie?”
“Maybe. They live together.”
“How did you find this out?”
“We went to the movies and a couple of parties one weekend.”
“And, who’s we?”
“My cousin Joey and me. He’s their age. He flew down here for a weekend.”
“Wow. It seems so, umm, hip.”
“Yeah, it was hip, kind of a New York thing.”
“You’re from New York?”
“No. I’ve just been there. The people are cool, if you don’t let them get to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Whadda ya mean? Whadda ya mean?” and we laughed
“You’re strange, Tim Castle,” and she kissed me on the cheek.
Then her brother got home to drive me to my house. He said that everyone, meaning the high schoolers, had gone to the University snack bar and hung out. Not much action there, just a taste of college life. I felt I had made the right decision to go trick or treating with the kids, especially since Lydia had come too. Next day, Stu bugged me until I admitted she had kissed me; it made his day, but of course, he told everyone. Kissing and telling was okay in this case; when it got back to Lydia, my bragging would show I cared. It was all so innocent.