Turn Up the Beach

Back in the prehistoric days of my life when I was but a wee sapling, I liked to swim like a dolphin likes to swim. I was made of fins, gills, and aquatic thrills, and had a hobby of hightailing it out of land and into the heaven of H2O. Every week, my mom summoned us on a crusade to the local Family Y where we took part in a parent’s dream, translating our psychotic jitters into chillaxed quivers. My mother, being the mastermind that she is, devised the perfect equation to drain our excess energy: Just toss the kids into a pool and they’ll exorcise – ahem, exercise their electricity ‘til it’s more of an angelic voltage. And sure enough, once we spent our joules on a jive in the swimming pool, we emerged like limp noodles, our muscles mushy as applesauce, granting more and more credit to our mother’s genius. We no longer bounced off the walls like boomerangs brought to life and my mother felt complete in her responsibility of ringleader, leaning back into her chair of authority after a long day of scolding the circus clowns.

I can just picture it now: Me up to the neck in water, my bambino bod slashing at the surface, kicking up an eye-stinging storm as my twiggy arms ate feasts of distance. I wouldn’t stop swinging my steaming fists until every muscle in my body felt like it had been tenderized by a massive ax, seasoned with a heaping tablespoon of lactic acid and draped over my bones like molten bubblegum. I knew I’d done a good job of being an otter if my skin smelled like it had been injected with cologne made of chlorine and I was a walking talking creature of chemical stink. 

But the atmosphere itself was to blame for all the awesomeness. The YMCA was a thriving mecca of joy and the pool was nothing but paradise. The place had the vibe of a cathedral – airy and mystical – with brilliant lights beaming down in a slow-moving smile. The surface of the water echoed an electric ultramarine and the air was pickled in a haze of chlorine. Life was alive all around. People were swimming, splashing, and shrieking with mirth. But the most noticeable of all was the writhing beehive of babies floating like fattened buoys in the water. Flocks of children pocked the surface like micro-pimples on the blue skin of an Avatar – it looked like the sea had chicken pox. And once you did a little Jane Goodall glance, it seemed like the population could be divided into two groups of behavior: the attackers and the attacked. 

The attackers cut through the currents like sharks, their voices mounting in a mutiny of high-pitched pirate cries. And the attacked floated like banal beige dumplings in a bowel of soy sauce, their cherubic cheeks blushing with blood flow, aimlessly drifting away. It was a panic at the poolside and everyone was getting stormy as could be, living it up like apes in an asylum. Their mothers sat on the sidelines cheering for the little mermaids and mermen, watching with adoration as the fantastical beasts bobbed about. They’d fidget with their manicured hands and tickle the car keys and apply lip balm religiously, but they kept a stern eye on their champions. 

The children’s arms were always adorned in floaties, their every limb flailing in some way as they snuffed water with their poor inflamed nostrils and gulped down gallons of chlorine. Now I realize why their mothers were so attentive: the kids were begging the Fates to take them, dragging their chins in the water and pleading for a powwow with the Grim Reaper. Every time I witnessed yet another nautical slam dunk I thanked God for the floaties, because without them the lifeguard might’ve needed to do his job. When they stepped out of the water they were red-eyed and snotty, happy to look like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer tripping on a THC high.

And sitting like cranky royals on their thrones were the ever-annoyed teenage lifeguards. They were speckled in acne and bedecked in bad attitudes, and they came in an abundance of different shapes, sizes, and skin tones, but each one of them wore the same pinched lemonsquint as if they’d been trying to expel a turd for five years and still hadn’t become number one in their battle with number two. They were lessons in negative body language, surveying the vastness of their aqueous domain like the sniveling spawns of Poseidon or the poolside police. I swam with civil caution and never ran on the slick cement. But every so often something melted their iceberg scowls: The daily flirt. Surpassing all stereotypes, they became cool as mint and smooth as honey for the sake of impressing their beaus. The guys and girls of the lifeguarding league would converge in a cloud of floral hormones to flirt together, and though I was jealous, I enjoyed the sitcom undertones, brooding like a drama-loving crocodile from the camouflage of the pool, watching the big kids make big memories.

The whole scene looked like a tribal oasis in which aborigines lived ambrosial lives, where they coasted on the crystalline water and lollygagged on the lighthearted laughter and feasted on the golden fallout of the sun that swam in through the skylights. The movement of the moments followed a strictly supernatural pattern, like the Milky Way melting into itself, into chocolate nectar at the core of all creation. The children swam in swirling circles, the mothers obsessed over their amphibious offspring, and the lifeguards revved their egotistical engines ‘til they smoked like burnt steak. It seemed like a predestined memory unfolding yet again in the endless cycle of rebirth. Oblivious to it all, we swam faster than missiles, carving carousels in the currents so strong you’d think we could’ve punched a black hole in the floor.