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Friday, June 22, 2012

Swim Pal

Hello friends and welcome back to insanity central. If you know your party's extension you can dial it now, but don't expect them to answer as they are all too busy. Get on, or get off as you please, but the merry-go-round does not stop! Wheeeee!

Life is a Looney Tune these days between Mensa gathering preparation, taking care of Mr S., and our own health issues we seem to be chasing our own tails constantly. Even celebrating grandkid's birthdays requires a three stage scheduling conference to accomplish.

One lovely constant is the weather in beautiful downtown Fallon, where cowboys and bikers sit down to eat with people of all colors and kids with rings in their noses, and everyone laughs at the antics of the waitresses. The temperature will be a mild 82 Fahrenheits pushed along by WSW winds of about 25 mph. The allergy meter is pegged by pollen and y'all better break out the sunblock if you are staying outside for long.

Today is our day to take Mr S to lunch and shopping at Walmart for the various things that he wants. We also have to deal with an issue that you would more commonly expect with a teenager; speeding! Not in a car fortunately for all of us, but in his powerchair in the assisted living facility. He has been terrorizing the occupants again and is about to lose his wheels. He will of course claim that he drives slowly and that the staff is "full of it", but we know better, having seen him in action. He gets worn out very quickly when he walks so we have to figure out something before he loses his ride.

I have a lot of issues stacking up to deal with so I had better get to the story for today. Enjoy!

My first high school, McArthur High School, was quite the place in the 1960's. The campus was large and the buildings although familiar to me for most of my life, were still imposing in their largeness. It was situated on 80 acres donated by Mr. J.N. McArthur for the purpose of having his name on something forever, which was a pretty good trade I'd say.
There was something about that school that brought out the devil in me. I could find more ways to get in trouble than you would think humanly possible, and there will be more stories about those days in the future, but right now I want to relate a "minor episode" that took place in 1968.

Swim Pal

The year was 1968, and we were scheduled to "enjoy" swimming in McArthur High School's new Olympic sized outdoor pool for PE class. Rough life, right? I had PE first hour; do you know what the temperature is like at 8:00 a.m.? Cold, painfully cold. The only thing that isn't shriveled to invisibility, are the goose bumps all over your body.

The class was coed, and that was cool, but the instructor for the entire time that we were to be using the pool, was a female coach who was an Olympic wanna-be that never made it. Don't get me wrong, not making it to the Olympics doesn't make someone bad, but saying that the Olympic coaches were prejudiced and didn't know greatness when they saw it; and believing what you are saying was weird. We kept waiting for the punch line, but she was serious.

We weren't allowed to use the 10 meter diving board, nor even the two 3 meter boards; and no diving in from the sides, you had to enter and exit via the steps at the shallow end. Geez, where's the kiddie pool?
The girls had to wear one piece bathing suits that were pre-approved by the coach and no exceptions. If you didn't do as instructed you got a zero for the class period. And every day that you failed to comply, you got another zero.

The guys also had to wear pre-approved suits that were not only lined, but you had to wear an athletic supporter under your suit too! This woman wasn't taking any chances that "anything" might show. As if it could at those temperatures!

The rules were so restrictive and rigid that fun was out of the question, and we're talking about kids who for the most part grew up in South Florida and spent so much time in the water that it's a wonder that they didn't have webbed feet... at least I don't think that any of them did.

There wasn't any "free swim" time at all, everything was structured and timed to the second it seemed. She blew a whistle for entering the water and exiting the water. And again for changing from one activity to another, and to the next one, etc., it was maddening.
Without a doubt the most aggravating and insulting thing was her "Swim Pal" rule. She assigned someone to you as your "Swim Pal", and you didn't get to pick, or even have any say in the choice. Personally I think she stayed up late at night going over "secret files" to find out who you really despised, and then assigned them to you; to be joined to you like a Siamese Twin. You couldn't get into or out of the water unless your "Swim Pal" was within arm's reach. The coach made us hold hands, "For Safety", getting in and out of the pool. You only had "Swim Pals" of your same sex (she didn't want to risk boys and girls touching hands). Can you just picture high school boys being told that they had to hold hands with another guy? We ignored that rule completely and got several lectures about our attitudes. The girls did it, but then, they were girls; it was no big deal to them!

We thought that the strict rules must be to get us into a routine, and that after the first week everything would relax and we would get to have some fun; not true. Do you have any idea how much fun it is to stand in three feet of water, leaning over blowing bubbles in the water, and moving your arms like you are swimming? And freezing to death the whole time! Exhilarating!

The pool itself was truly beautiful and huge, it could be a lot of fun! It was 3 feet deep at the shallow end and 15 feet deep at the drain, sloping up to 12 feet around the edges of the "deep end"; that place that PE students could only dream about. The 10m and both of the 3m boards were tunable and had excellent spring. The ladder to the high board had really nice steps that you could climb barefoot and not be in pain by the time that you got to the top. The entire pool and it's very large pump house were enclosed by a six foot high chain link fence with personnel gates on all four sides and a big double gate next to the pump house for maintenance personnel to drive through, and concrete everywhere, acres of it!

The pump house had not only the pumps and filters for the pool, but a storage area and workshop for the person who maintained the pool. There were chemical mixing, water sampling, filter cleaning and repairs of all kinds to done with such a big pool. The people who donated the money to build the pool wanted things to be done right, so they kicked in the extra money for this pool man's paradise.

Enter the Pool man!

The guy that maintained the pool, Sam, was a school employee; officially he belonged to the Janitorial branch of the Maintenance Department. In actuality, he was an independent operator. He didn't "do" anything else; not cleaning, not sprinklers, not even ordering supplies for anything other than "his" pool. His qualifications for getting hired were that he had once worked for a pool cleaning company; somewhere... sometime.

Sam was Ed Norton's twin,(Honeymooners), but with dark hair and a seemingly permanent five o’clock shadow. He even had the hat and vest like Norton and a cheap cigar stuck in his mouth but never lit. I don't think that it was part of the deal, but Sam lived in the pump house and of course, paid no rent. Sam was also a drunk and carried a half-pint of booze in the inside pocket of his vest everywhere that he went. He thought that he was really sneaky, grabbing a "nip" here and there, but all the kids knew it, and I can't speak for the teachers, but they would have to be blind not to know too.

Sam was supposed to check the water daily and monitor the chlorine level to keep the pool bacteria free and conform to health and safety codes, etc., and adjust the chlorine level every three days like clockwork. But Sam's clock didn't run on the same schedule; he only dumped chlorine into the system on Monday mornings, shortly before the staff arrived, so that they could smell the chlorine and say, "old Sam's on top of things all right." What he was on top of most of the time was a bunch of laundry bags filled with towels, passed out drunk. From Friday afternoon to Monday morning, Sam was smashed and immune to the forces of nature, including Kryptonite. Nothing could rouse the guy from his stupor!

Which brings me to: "Operation Swim Pal"

We were sick-to-death of simulated swimming and coaches trying to get us to hold hands with a guy that wore his bathing suit up to his armpits and picked his nose all the time! It was time for desperate measures! Fun must be restored, or surely we would all perish from terminal boredom and frostbite.

My long time buddies Ralph and Larry were in the same class and felt the same way I did and we got to talking about what it would take to liven up this situation. Our other regular partner in mischief Sam, met us at Larry's house on the reservation, (they are all Seminole Indians by the way) that afternoon and we sat around BS'ing about one idea after the other; and getting nowhere. A horn honked and we looked up to see our older friend Joe driving by waving, on his way to work at the tribal show where he wrestled alligators! The idea was born in that instant and we never looked back!

Sam said that we could borrow an alligator from his uncle's pens where they let the tourists pay their money to line up and look at the gators; which very seldom moved unless it was feeding time and somebody was tossing them chickens or fish.

There were lots of gators to choose from and we wanted one that was big enough, but not so big that we couldn't handle it.

All four of us had been taught by Sam's uncle and Joe, how to handle an alligator and we were feeling pretty confident when we picked out a five footer from an out-of-the-way corner pen and planned our next steps without even having a try at moving the gator. We knew that we could do it when the time was right.

Putting the Plan into action.

We decided on Sunday night for all of the phases of "Operation Swim Pal" and talked ourselves into a frenzy until the night arrived at last. If it had taken one more day I believe that we would have simply exploded.
First we went to the school and out to the pump house, where we knew that Sam would be and we weren't disappointed; he was passed out on the towel bags like usual. We lifted his key ring and unlocked the big gates and then gathered up all the chlorine bottles that were out and the ones from the storage room and locked them in another locker and then took that key off of the key ring. No chlorine would get into the pool now! We made sure that we could get a truck up to the pool and satisfied with what we saw, departed for phase two.

At the Reservation showplace we pulled around to the back where we could get to the gator pens and parked and nonchalantly wandered around to the front to see if any tourists were still there and what was happening in the pen area. There were a couple of little old ladies in the gift shop and they were the last of the day's crowd. The animals had all been fed and watered, and all the areas hosed down and closed up for the night. Conditions were just right for taking a gator for a little ride.

We went out the front talking to all the girls in the gift shop and making sure that everyone saw that we left. Then we walked a big loop back to the truck and opened the gate (that Sam had unlocked when we were inside) and went directly to our guest for the evening and got in the pen with him. We jumped on him and got some duct tape around his mouth to keep it shut, so he couldn't call for help... Gotcha! So he couldn't bite us, of course!

We were operating like pro's up until the time that we went to pick him up. We had handled bigger alligator's before and really didn't expect any problems, but the gator didn't know that; he was a pain! For one thing; he was a lot heavier than we expected, and two; it was like trying to hold onto the propeller on a 75hp Mercury outboard motor. This was the squirmingest gator that any of us had been up against! We got him up under our arms with Sam on the head, then me at the front legs and Larry, (who probably was the strongest of all of us), at the hind legs and started out of the pen and towards the truck. Ralph had to hold the spring-loaded gate open inside the pen and then run around us and work the outer gate and put the tailgate down on the truck.

The gator calmed down a little and we were lulled into a false sense of security until Ralph let the gate slam and started around us. The gator tail-slapped him and just about fed him to his relatives! Larry had to let go and grab Ralph as he was going over a low wall and into a holding pond with two 10 foot alligators who would have loved a "Ralphie-snack ". Had Larry not reacted as quickly as he did the big male gator who was coming up out of the water in anticipation, would have had Ralph by the head!

Sam and I did not have a chance to admire Larry's handiwork though, because as soon as he let go, the gator we were hanging onto went into an "airborne death roll ". I don't know how else to describe it; he was spinning his entire body with us hanging on for dear life to the front end! We fell to the ground with him and by that time Larry and Ralph were able to fall on top of him too and we subdued the beast! From there out to the truck he behaved and we got him loaded and covered with a tarp to keep him from getting chilled on the ride and got our tired and beat up bodies in the front and looked at each other in silence.

Larry said, "Do you want to try and find a smaller one instead?" We thought about it a moment and Sam said, "Hell, we've already got this one loaded up, let's go!" And away we went; for phase three!

Arriving at the pool at about 10:00 p.m. on a Sunday night, you don't have much of a crowd around, so we didn't even hesitate, we opened the gates to the driveway and backed through and closed them again, so if a police unit went by on patrol, they would not stop to see why the gates were open.

Then we backed all the way to the pool fence and stopped the truck. Three of us went through the gate and into the pump house via the door from the poolside to check on Sam (the pool man). The door was never locked because Sam liked to walk out and pee in the pool instead of using the bathroom inside his building. I'm sure he got a perverse pleasure from knowing that all those people who talked bad about him were swimming in that water. We knew that he did it and just figured that the chlorine would take care of it. It wasn't like peeing in a pool was an original idea or anything.

Satisfied that he was still unconscious, we backed the truck up to the edge and slid the coach's new "Swim Pal " out of the bed and onto the concrete where we all piled on to him while Sam took the tape off. We discussed leaving the tape on him , but were afraid that he might drown or something. So with the tape off and four of us holding on this time we eased him into the water to get a little exercise and calm down before his "introduction" to his new "Pal" , the coach from boredom hell.

Monday morning arrived and there was no evidence of anyone having been there at all; the gates were all closed and locked, and there were no tire tracks remaining. All was well and apparently normal, except that there was no overpowering smell of chlorine coming from the pool. And the pool man wasn't in evidence yet to ogle the girls in their swimsuits like he normally did.

One of the things that chapped our butts the worst, was that while we weren't allowed to do anything other than stand around in the shallow end looking stupid, either fake-swimming or doing calisthenics in the water the coach started every session by going up on the 10m board and "impressing" us with her fabulous diving ability. And then swimming the length of the pool, like we cared! Today we cared, in fact we were counting on her vanity or ego, or whatever the driving force was that made her have to show us how good she was all the time. It was vital to the plan!

We had found one of the underwater slates used to communicate when submerged, in the storage area. They were used for the scuba instructor course that was taught after school on Wednesday and were much larger than the personal slates used just to communicate. On it we had printed this message in large letters, "Look before you dive, a Swim Pal suitable for you has arrived!" We then tied this to the mid-pool buoy line so that it could be seen from the 10m board and all was ready.

The coach didn't let us down, she entered the pool area in her speedo suit and her bathing cap and her towel wrapped around her shoulders like a cape. You could almost hear the fanfare. Meanwhile we peasants or, students, were lined up along the outside of the fence on the sidewalk, boys on one side, and the girls on the other side of the pool; can't be too careful, you know.

She made her grand entrance through the gate and walked out to the ladder, each step with toes pointed forward and down, like some kind of ballerina or something and slipped her towel off with a flourish and tossed it onto a 3m board and turned and ascended the ladder to stardom. HA! If she only knew!

She made her way up the ladder and walked out and turned around, facing away from the pool. Damn! She was going to do some kind of back dive and never even looked at the water! How was she supposed to see the sign if she wasn't looking at the water? This was not in the plan!

Before you panic, let me explain something about alligators. An alligator doesn't like or dislike people, it only sees things as something to eat or something that might try to eat him. People are too large to be on the menu of a five footer, so there was never any danger to any human, as long as they don't grab the gator, which would make him fear being eaten and would try to get away by rolling and tail slapping and biting if necessary to save itself. A gator in an Olympic size pool has more room to outmaneuver any attempts to catch him than in any pond in the Everglades, so he doesn't even feel threatened.

Now back to the action.

The Queen of Aquatica has risen upon her Dais and is preparing to amaze her captives with her death-defying dive, (if she only knew) and we were at a loss to figure out how to correct this error in planning... we had no plan"B"!

Suddenly a solution came from the most unlikely source; Sam the Pool man! He wandered out in a drunken stupor, with a bewildered look on his face, holding his pants up with one hand. He walked over to the pool and apparently didn't know that anyone else was there, because he just let go of his pants and started peeing in the pool. His pants naturally fell around his ankles and the man didn't have any drawers on! He was naked from his belly button to his socks! When Sam looked out into the pool he made eye contact with our green visitor and he screamed! The gator was swimming towards him, and I guess he thought that he was doomed or something, because he passed out and fell over backwards, pants around his ankles and exposed to the heavens... and the 10 meter board.

The coach had her concentration broken when Sam screamed and sent a ferocious glare down towards the fool who had interrupted her "moment", and then she had another, more intense "moment", as she realized that he was lying there exposed to the world and she was staring at, what she was staring at! And then she screamed even louder than Sam! And she had not even see the gator yet.

There was general pandemonium amongst the gathered crowd and a little twinge of disappointment from us; this didn't work out as planned. She was supposed to see the gator in the pool and have a hissy fit and we would all laugh, etc. 

But all things come to those who wait. As she was climbing down the ladder from the 10m board, the coach was having a hard time keeping her eyes off of the man below, now obviously; that was just because she was concerned about his welfare and had nothing to do with... anything else. As she reached the concrete and managed to look away, she finally spotted the gator swimming along the edge of the pool and it must have been too much for her, because she fainted; right on top of Sam and wouldn't you know it, the photographer from the school paper was there covering an "event" that a "little birdie" had told him about. Go figure!

I wondered when Larry did it, but it was clearly a stroke of genius on his part, although maybe for not quite the same reason, but still genius.

When we had checked on the pool man prior to unloading the gator, Larry had pulled Sam's belt off and fastened it around the alligator's middle, right in front of his hind legs. It was probably to make handling him easier, but that belt was all the evidence that the staff needed to have, along with him being drunk, exposing himself and peeing in the pool that is. It was clear that Sam the pool man had done all of this himself; after all, he was the only one with keys to everything.

We volunteered to catch the little fellow and take him away and that created some suspicion among the wiser of the old hands around there. They weren't saying anything, but I think that they knew all right. And they were happy with things the way they worked out and didn't want to hear any variations of the story that might upset the outcome. So we shut up!

Because of the large amount of water for him to maneuver in we had to modify the normal jump and grab, catch method. We prodded him along with the long poles used to scoop leaves and the like from the water and a rescue pole with a curved hook on the end. Once we had him in shallow water Sam and I jumped in on him at the same time. Sam went for the head and I grabbed the hind legs with my arms and wrapped my legs around his tail.

We both had ropes tied around our waists to haul us in with once we got a hold on the alligator, and Larry and Ralph did just that, and in a hurry too, in case we had the wind knocked out of us and were trying to drown or something silly like that.

The gator didn't put up much fight and that worried us, we'd better get him warmed up! He had been in cold water for 10 hours without being able to get out and warm himself in the sun and he was not responding like we figured that he should. We asked for permission to take the gator out to the Reservation where the Seminoles would better be able to help him and got it!

It was too ironic; we got an excused absence for the rest of the day and we put him in there in the first place!
The pool was closed for the remaining three weeks of our "swimming" section of PE, while they drained the water and had the pool cleaned by the new professional pool service which had quickly been contracted to take over maintenance of the facility.

Sam the pool man was fired and when they checked through his office in the pump house, they found evidence (in two different sets of log books) that he had been selling chemicals and supplies to private pool cleaning outfits, mostly chlorine and filters, for as long as he had been there.

The coach went back to Home Economics, were her degree was, and each PE teacher conducted their own classes after that, much to the delight of the students who were allowed to swim and even play water polo, and volleyball, In the DEEP end!

We couldn't stand the guilt and told the Principal that we had put the gator in the pool, not Sam. He gave us a short lecture and then said in light of what they had found out and the money that would be saved because of it, he considered it a closed subject as long as we didn't try a stupid stunt like that again. 

We said, "No Sir, we'll never do that again, it was too much work!" 

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