Noodlin’

So, if you are my Facebook friend you can’t have helped but notice that we are putting a pool in. I mean, like all the way in, the ground. This has been a life-long dream of my lovely wife, but, quite frankly, not exactly on my top ten list. All the standard reasons apply: the expense, the upkeep, the chemicals, the expense. Did I mention the expense? Plus, it may come as a surprise to some of you, I don’t care for large bodies of water. The hot tub is cool because you are basically sitting in a seat, immersed in hot water, with adult beverage in hand, listening to music. But any more water than that leaves me cold.

There’s a reason for that.

It’s 1967 in Elizabethtown, KY and I remember it like it was yesterday. On a cold, cloudy spring day Mom sends me up to the community pool to learn to swim. That may sound odd to you youngsters out there but in 1967 there was nothing unusual about an 8-year-old taking a towel and walking a mile to a public park. I waited in line and finally got my chance in the chilly water. A young man (likely a boy, really) had me roll on my back with his support. And then he removed that support and told me to float. He may as well have told me to fly – I would have been just as successful. Terrified, I sunk immediately. I don’t recall if he gave up or I did but fear won out. Swimming was not for me!

But wait – there is science here.

It turns out (I discovered many years later) that many people have negative buoyancy. Depending on the makeup of the body – ratio of fat/muscle to bone density – it is entirely possible that a person cannot float but will sink. And that was me in the E-town pool and the poor kid who was my instructor could not have known that.

I walked back home, cold, wet and defeated, and told Mom I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. And she said fine, but you aren’t allowed at the pool. No argument here – who in their right mind would want to leave perfectly good land to flounder in the water? I did not find out until many years later that my mother could not swim and was afraid of the water too.

Now my wife, Diana, she’s a floater. I’m talking almost mystical levitation in the water. In the hot tub she has been known to go floating by. But in real water? It’s diabolical. She nearly skims across the surface of the water, defying gravity and maybe some other physical laws, barely touching the water, like some kind of human hovercraft. It’s uncanny. You know, back in the day an accused witch was put on a chair at the end of the pole and then submerged. If she floated – she was a witch. If she didn’t – well, she was dead but at least not witchy. I’m not saying my wife is a witch but something ain’t right with her extreme buoyancy.

A few years went by and I had the occasional pool experience but until we moved to Woodbridge, VA in 1970 I still couldn’t swim. My parents rented a townhouse in a place called Greenwich Hills and the community had its own pool. And, despite Mom’s declaration of a few years back, I walked there by myself to enjoy this new benefit. I learned to love the nighttime because there were fewer crowds and, ultimately, learned to swim by myself. Not Olympic-gold-medal-potential swimmer but at least I didn’t drown.

I still was never comfortable in the water.

Oh sure, I did my teenage reservoir swimming, swam with my kids in hotel pools, ventured out into the ocean occasionally. But I never felt comfortable, safe, secure in water over my head. I basically put up a brave front and hoped for the best. So far, I have not drowned but I am sure I have come close many times. Okay, every time I got in water.

Flash forward many years and to Diana’s lifelong dream of having her own pool.

The pool is in the ground. I got past the expense and maintenance arguments. And, really, the idea of not having to swim in Other People’s pools had some appeal (you know what I mean – inviting yourself over, screaming kids everywhere, the hot sun, no restroom or refreshments handy). Plus, she has worked her whole life and there is no reason (other than me likely drowning immediately) for her not to have what she wants and a handy place to practice her otherworldly floating ability.

Enter the noodle.

If I had access to brightly colored foam noodles when I was eight my whole life might have turned out differently. It turns out that there are many ways to take one or two of these cheap and simple extrusions and float. I mean full buoyancy. You can tuck them under your arms, between your legs, behind your neck. I have even perfected the between the legs plus under arms technique for astounding flotation. Maybe not sixteenth century witch-pond floating but suddenly I am a floater! Watch me bob and twirl and enjoy water. Suddenly I’m in the water for hours at a time, in tune with the water, floating free of gravity, letting the rhythms of the water lull me into a place of peace.

Noodlin’ around in the water has given me hope.

I think noodles should be carried on every boat. If the Titanic is going down and I’m on it – throw me a couple noodles, any color, hole or no hole, I’m surviving. No noodle? Down into the icy drink I plunge. Noodlin’ has taken what was once a near-terrifying experience for me and made me glad I sunk the kid’s inheritance into the back yard. And yes, for the record, it does help that it is in my yard. No twenty-seven screaming kids, no random Cannonball! splashes happening. No incessant Marco! Polo! (what the hell is THAT anyway?)

I can noodle at noon, noodle at happy hour (with appropriate adult beverages, of course) and, wonder of wonders, noodle at night. Like tonight, as we floated with Pandora jazz playing, wine in hand and watched the full moon rise over the trees, with the bright red light of Mars glowing. Night noodlin’ has become my sport of choice. In short, with a pool in my back yard and a noodle handy I can see myself getting very comfortable in the water after sixty years of avoiding it.

I don’t know what ever happened to that poor kid instructor back in Elizabethtown. But it wasn’t his fault. He was lacking the very technology that would have made a swimmer and water-lover out of me – he just needed some noodles.

I think I’m going to like Diana’s pool.

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