"No, thank you," I said, trying to yank my arm free. "Don't thank me — I'm looking for business," he said. "I'm the hotel's swimming instructor." I saw an out and tried to scurry through. I pleaded an extremely tight budget and told him that much as I'd like to learn to swim, I certainly couldn't afford professional lessons.
"It's only $50 for the whole week, and I guarantee to teach you," he said. "Sorry," I insisted. "Can't afford it." But my former friends turned into instant Judases, in reverse. Instead of accepting money to betray me, they actually shelled it out! Charlie beamed as he told me there was no limit to the lessons. He would simply spend as much time with me as necessary, even if it took eight hours a day for the rest of the week. Wonderful. And we would start right then —that very minute.
Little had I realized when I got up that morning that disaster was waiting for me fourteen flights down. Nothing I could do or say would dissuade him; so before I knew it, there I was, down by the pool. Looking up, I had a good view of the two large sun decks surrounding the pool and everyone sitting there who had a wonderful view of me. And I was a sight to see.
By now, my teacher/tormenter had supplied me with a 1920s-style bathing cap, three sizes too big, which kept slipping down over my eyes and the bridge of my nose which, in turn, was decorated with a lovely rubber nose plug in the latest shade of black. And on my feet, the piece de resistance-two huge swimming fins which completed my transformation into a refugee from a Disney cartoon.
"Okay!" said Cheery Charlie. "We're going in the water now!"
Anything to get out of sight, at least partially; so I started following him-and fell flat on my face. I had never learned to walk with giant webbed feet. He helped me up, and I finally made my agonizing way into the pool-the shallow end, needless to say-where Charlie tried to get my feet off the bottom by promising he would hold me and not let go. Hah! I'd heard that song before. After an hour of fruitless effort, I hoped he was ready to forfeit his fee and give up-or even keep the money and give up. In fact, I'd pay him a bonus!
But I was a challenge, so he continued patiently until he finally won my confidence. And, miracle of miracles, by the end of the third hour, Charlie actually had me doing a very tense dead man's float. I was the stiffest stiff ever, but I was really floating! Dizzy with success, Charlie would not let me quit while we were both ahead. He instructed me to hold on to the ridge at the side of the pool and, hand-over-hand, work my way around to the deep end. The mere words "deep end" turned me to stone once more. Charlie stopped and picked up a long pole. "Look," he said, "Even if you do sink, I can get you with this in seconds; you won't drown." "I know," I said, "the heart attack would get me first."
I think he realized I wasn't kidding (and how would that look in the papers?), so he finally took pity on me and helped me out of the pool. I avoided it and him for the rest of the week.
After I had been home a few months, I read in the paper that the local Boys & Girls Club was offering beginners swimming lessons for adult women. I still remembered that frightening but glorious moment when I had actually floated (was it a dream?) and wondered if I could do it again. At any rate, it would at least be heartening to meet some other "adult women beginning swimmers."
The first evening there, the instructor (a mere slip of a 19-year-old who looked as though she couldn't save a drowning Barbie doll) announced to a shivering bunch of women in the pool, "Okay-those of you who can keep afloat, go to the left side of the pool. The others stay here."
Since I had no confidence at all that I really could float, I decided I'd better be one of "the others." It turned out I was the only "other." As all the frauds who had claimed to be beginners floated gracefully away, the instructor said to me. "You stay here and practice until you can float. Then you can join us."
I tried. I really did. I tried to recall everything that Charlie had told me. I tried to pretend he was there to keep my head above water if I should start to sink. I tried to relax. I tried to figure out what in God's name I was doing there! I spent most of the remainder of the hour skinning my knees at the bottom of the pool, and I never went back for another "lesson."
In my next incarnation, I'll show 'em! And while I'm at it, would you please hand me one more Post-It note ... there's also this ice skating thing, you see.and, oh yeah, skiing.and dancing.and singing.and tennis.and.oh, what the heck, you'd better give me the whole pad.
Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book is Confessions of a Domestically-Challenged Homemaker & Other Tall Tales, available at Amazon.com and other online booksellers. Grandmother Goose: Rhymes for a Second Childhood is available as an e-book on Amazon.com for the Kindle and at BarnesandNoble.com for the Nook at $2.99; the paperback edition is available for $9.95. Her books of humorous essays, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, and If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun can also be ordered at Amazon.com or through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724). Her website is rosemadelinemula.com.
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