I hate the smell of chlorine. It reminds me of my two tours of duty at the YMCA summer day camp in Hollywood, FL. Even though it was a YMCA camp, we never really set foot in the YMCA. The camp was held at TY Park, which means we were outside all day long with only an open pavilion for shelter from the blazing sun, humidity, and daily thunderstorms. I guess heat strokes, melanoma, and lightening strikes were not concerns in the early 1980’s.
They also weren’t really concerned about dehydration. The junior counselors mixed up big vats of “bug juice”AKA generic Kool-Aid, which we could drink at lunch only. Other than that, there was a mildew-ridden water fountain near the bathrooms, or whatever you happened to bring from home. Water bottles were not the norm then, so most kids brought canned soda. It seemed like everyone else had an unlimited supply of Pix (Publix brand) soda in every flavor. I usually had a Capri Sun or two, but this never seemed to be enough. I was constantly thirsty. I even visited the nasty water fountain when I was truly desperate. One time, I even begged one of the Pix rich girls to share some soda with me. She told me to tilt my head back and open my mouth. I obeyed like the stereotypical person wandering through the desert. She proceeded to spill generic cola on my face. I maybe got a drop of liquid in my mouth. I turned around and sulked in my seat.
We were on a field trip when this happened, and all of the campers were crammed into a YMCA van with hot leather seats and no air conditioning. I never understood why there would be any vehicles without air conditioning in Florida. The good news was that we usually went to places with AC when we went on field trips. During each two-week session of camp, we either went to the sticky-floored dollar theater with the fifty cent treat bags, or a cheesy, run-down roller skating rink. Either way, drinks were usually in short supply because we didn’t bring the “bug juice” so everyone had to buy drinks, and money was not something I had. I’m pretty sure I was the only camper who lived in an apartment with a single mom. I was also the only camper who really NEEDED to wear a one-piece bathing suit.
Swimming time was torture for me, not only because I was over-weight, but also because I COULD NOT swim. I am a Native Floridian who still hates all things water related. Boating? I’ll puke. Swimming? I’d rather puke. Diving? Why? The beach? Too hot. Really, I have never in my entire life enjoyed water. Sure, I shower, but that is it. Water always frightened me, so I never wanted to learn to swim. The counselors at the YMCA disagreed with me and they were determined to teach me how to swim.
I was 12 during my last tour of duty, and I was still wearing water wings. Yes, I wore bright orange, “Please, all other campers, come and beat me up” water wings. Every day at camp HELL, I mean YMCA, we had one session of free swim and one session of instructional swimming. The campers were divided by skill level. As you can imagine, I was in a group of my own. It was just some teen lifeguard and I in the shallow section of the overly chlorinated man-made “lake,” while everyone else was swimming in the deep end. I had to do all of the basic toddler swim class stuff like practice putting my face in the water while blowing bubbles. I STILL hate putting my face in water. I had to grab on to the Styrofoam “kick-board” and kick my way across the shallow end. My lifeguard and I had a disagreement as to how this board would be used. I insisted on hoisting my mushy stomach on top of the board and clinging to it like I would surely be eaten by a shark if I fell off. Apparently, this was not the proper way to go about things. Nope. According to this “expert”, people must just hold on to the board with their hands and kick like they are having some underwater martial arts battle to stay afloat. I didn’t do well with this, as you can imagine. After all, I didn’t get to be a 12 year-old non-swimmer by being especially comfortable in the water.
As you can probably guess, the other kids were ever so supportive of my efforts to learn to swim. They were a loving, caring, sharing bunch. I mean, if they were kind enough to share beverages, you know they were really nice when it came to encouraging the freak to swim. Oh, yeah. I was razzed all summer, but I remember one time in particular. Some skinny girl, with dark braids and a two-piece, purple bathing suit came up to me after swimming class. We were drying off on the “shore” of the “lake.” I was letting the air out of my water wings so I could unstick them from my chubby arms. Skinny braid girl (not her real name) picked up a raspberry Pix soda from her Hello Kitty bag, looked at me like my dorkiness could be contagious, and said, “You can’t swim because you’re too fat.” I felt my face get hot. Then, I looked at her and gave her my best retort, “Na uh, cuz fat floats.” Yep, I really let her have it.
I never learned how to swim at camp, even though, by my logic, I should have been able to at least float. Later that summer, after camp had ended, I invited my friend Patty over to my apartment. After spending an hour or so putting on lip-gloss and talking about Duran Duran, we got bored. There was a big pool in the middle of the complex; so, Patty and I decided to go in. At first, I just hung out by the steps, like I normally did, but then a miracle happened. Patty convinced me that swimming was super easy and that I could do it. She kicked off from the wall of the pool, and sort of glided before she started kicking and moving her arms. Basically, I mimicked her movements and I was SWIMMING!! Patty ran to get my mom so we could show her. After that, I still hated all things water, but at least I could swim, fat and all.