Mom had planned a visit to Chicago, a rarity to be sure, and we hadn’t yet figured out what to do with her once she arrived. How would we entertain her, or better yet, how would Julie entertain her? I had scheduled Friday off and so that day’s and Saturday’s events would involve me, resulting in me having a little more say in what we would be doing. Mom is seventy-six years young, so that fact figured into our decision-making. It was also July and the temperatures were in the upper 90’s. I suggested a water park. Surprisingly the other two fell for it. I hadn’t been to a water park in quite a while and was greatly looking forward to Friday’s scheduled trip.
The day arrived and we packed up towels, suntan lotions, sunglasses, snacks and drinks and headed to the park. I wasn’t expecting much, due to the fact that this was a local park and not a resort, but as we drove up to the front of the facility, my expectations were heightened. In the distance I could see a large water slide, the corkscrew variety, with lines of people climbing the stairs to the top. My eyes grew large as I imagined the trip down the slide. I thought to myself, “This is going to be a blast.”
As we paid our money and entered the park, I found myself in a trance, not hearing a word that was being spoken, rather feasting my eyes on all of the opportunities that the park had to offer. There was a “lazy river” next to the large slide over to the left. In the center was a large wading pool which transitioned to deeper water, eventually coming to an area that had another slide, this one not the corkscrew variety, but the standard slide with water gushing down into the deep end of the pool. Next to the slide I saw it: a diving board! “Hey Julie, they have a diving board! It’s not a high dive, but it’s still a diving board.” Julie mumbled under her breath, “You’ll probably break your neck,” but I heard, “That’s really nice honey.”
I was suddenly transformed from a grown man back to a twelve-year-old kid. I thought, “I have to experience all of these” and hurriedly placed my sunglasses and towel on a lounge chair; as if I would miss out on all of it if I didn’t move fast enough. Julie and Mom were more interested in the lazy river, but I headed straight for the corkscrew slide. I noticed a trail of one and two person inner tubes going up the stairs of the slide and stopped a lifeguard walking by, “Where do I get one of those inner tubes?” She responded, “You wait over there as people exit the lazy river and give up their tubes.” As I stood in line I could hear the familiar sounds and smells of the swimming pool experience coming back to me; the squeals and giggles of the little kids, the mothers telling little ones, “Don’t run!”, the whistles coming from the lifeguards as they disciplined the overly rambunctious boys, and the faint smell of chlorine wafting through the air.
I finally received my inner tube and quickly made my way to the top of the slide. I noticed two lines as I reached the top; one with tubes and one without. I was informed that the other line was for those without tubes and realized I had made a mistake; going down a slide on a tube is boring and slow, but I went down anyway. Once at the bottom I crossed the lazy river and deposited my tube in the holding area and nearly ran back to the slide; intending to go down the right way.
Reaching the top again, I thought about my trips to Whitewater in Branson and the advice I was given by a lifeguard there. He told me that the best way to go down the slide in order to maximize my speed and thus my pleasure and enjoyment was to first cross my ankles and place one heel on the slide. Next was to arch my back and have only my two shoulder blades touching the surface. What this does is minimize resistance by having only three points of the body touching the slide at any given time. It made sense to me and I was determined to repeat the instructions this time. I sat in the water at the top of the slide, waiting for the lifeguard to give me the go ahead and when she did, I launched myself down the slide in a manner reminiscent of a bobsled participant in the Olympics. I went so fast that I nearly scared myself, thinking I might be thrown completely over the edge, but maintained my speed all the way to the bottom. Upon entering the water I popped up and suddenly felt extremely dizzy. Gaining my balance, I staggered out of the water and grinned at the lifeguard at the bottom of the pool and said, “That was fun!” She gave me an odd smile as if to say, “If you say so gramps.”
By now I was looking for the next adventure and headed over to the pool on the other side of the park; the slide there on my radar. It wasn’t a very tall slide and going down wasn’t exciting, so I made a mental note not to repeat the effort. At this point I ventured back to the lounge chairs, but noticed Julie and Mom not there, and I rightly assumed they had gone to the lazy river. I joined them and excitedly told Julie of my experience on the corkscrew slide. She didn’t seem as excited as me and said, “That’s nice honey.” After the lazy river and a quick rest on the lounge chair I set my sight on the diving board; saving the best for last.
Standing in line at the diving board I struck up a conversation with some other boys, I mean some kids in the ten to twelve-year-old range. I asked them, “Have you bombed the lifeguard yet?” A couple of them cocked their heads as they looked up at me and answered, “No.” I said, “Bombing the lifeguards is the most fun. Watch me and I’ll show you how.” I was planning on doing my patented “preacher seat” which if done properly would more than soak the lifeguard sitting atop his perch, overlooking the deep end of the pool. I could only think of those days long ago when Andy, Jim, Gerald and me would spend hours at the Municipal Park Pool, bombing the lifeguards and daring each other to do various flips and tricks off the low and high dives. Can you go back in time and repeat the past? I was about to find out.
It was my turn to go and I ran down to the end of the board and bounced as hard as I could, but the board wasn’t nearly as stiff as I anticipated and instead of bouncing up I bounced out, and my preacher seat became an awkward jump, nearly resulting in a belly buster. As I swam to the edge of the pool, I glanced back at the diving board and noticed the boys all chuckling at my mishap. As I got back in line, I told the boys, “That board’s too loose. They need to tighten it up. Watch me again; I’ll get it right this time.” The second time I made the proper corrections and although not at the perfect angle, the effort was successful. Unfortunately, the strong westerly wind caused the splash to miss the target, instead soaking the deck of the pool around the bottom of the chair. As I exited the pool I asked the lifeguard if he minded me bombing him and he said, “No, it’s really hot out here. I could use the cooling off.” Reaching the back of the line, the other boys were complementary of the splash, but seemed disappointed that the lifeguard remained dry.
Now I was more determined than ever to pull this off. My third attempt was a bull’s eye and as I exited the water I was feeling pretty proud; the lifeguard was smiling and wet and the boys in line at the back of the diving board were smiling and giving me the thumbs up. Thinking to myself that my work was done, I went back to the lounge chair to rest and brag a bit to Julie. “I bombed the lifeguard” I said with pride. Julie looked at me with incredulity; not saying a word, but intimating that I needed to grow up. For thirty-five years Julie had tried her best to drive the “little boy” out of me and for thirty-five years I did my best to resist. On this day, I was winning.
A few minutes later, I went back to the corkscrew slide and while in line I explained to a couple of eight year olds how to go down the slide at maximum speed. One of the boys was listening intently and I noticed as he took off that he was in the proper position. I watched him go down the slide from my perch at the top and he was flying. I was proud. I too flew down the slide on my second attempt and upon exiting the pool had to steady myself from falling down; again due to dizziness. I repeated my smile as I walked past the lifeguard at the bottom of the slide on my way out of the water.
After another trip to the lazy river and the wading pool, I was ready for a repeat performance on the diving board. This time the lifeguard was a girl and I told the same boys, my new friends, that she was the next one to get soaked. My first attempt missed, I was still having trouble calculating wind speed, and I asked her if she minded getting bombed. Her response was similar to the first one. After all, it was ninety-six degrees and anything to cool her off seemed welcome. My second attempt was right on target and with water dripping from her body and hair, she thanked me as I walked past.
I decided to change things up a bit and asked the boys if they had done any back flips off the board. “We aren’t allowed to,” was their response. I thought that odd and when it was my turn I asked the new lifeguard, “Can I do a back flip?” He said back flips weren’t allowed. Disappointed, I then asked, “What about a gainer?” He seemed confused and answered, “I don’t know what a gainer is, but go ahead and do it and I’ll let you know.” After I executed the gainer and reached the edge of the pool, the lifeguard looked down at me and said, “You can’t do that either.” I smiled and shook my head in disbelief, but was satisfied that I had snuck in one of my favorite diving board tricks. I noticed that most of my little friends were doing front flips, but hadn’t seen anyone do a one and a half flip. I was sure I could still perform the dive, as I must have done a thousand over the years.
Having to modify my approach, due to the extremely loose board, I took one step, then the bounce, and executed a one and a half for all to see. It wasn’t flawless, but since no one else was doing them, it would do. The boys asked me, “What was that?” and as I gave them the explanation, I felt even more proud, until a teenager did the same trick, only much more flawlessly than I had. This led me to do another one, in an attempt at redemption. The second one was much better executed and I decided that I had done enough.
I came back to the diving board one more time and noticed a couple of other adults, men of course, trying to bomb the lifeguard, but since they were doing can openers and cannonballs, they weren’t successful. They all seemed pretty impressed as I bombed the lifeguard one last time. By now I was pretty worn out and I spent most of the rest of the time at the park sitting on the lounge chair or lying in the shallow water at the edge of the wading pool.
We decided to go home after three hours and I was pretty satisfied with myself. It was like I had gone back forty-five years to the days I had spent around the pool with my friends; bombing lifeguards, doing tricks, diving for pennies and rocks at the deep end and listening to the juke box play “Money” by Pink Floyd; all the while noticing the girls in bikinis as they strolled gracefully past. Besides age, there were two major differences this time around: those many years ago I would have never asked for permission to bomb a lifeguard or do a gainer, and back then I wouldn’t have been sore from head to toe for the next two days. Thinking about it now I wonder to myself, “Will I still be doing these things when I get old, say sixty?”