By Lewis Helfand
Modern man is strong. Modern man is athletic. Modern man is...actually none of these things, which is why he is always at the gym. I did my part to contribute to the American gym culture and began working out and running, morphing from a couch potato to one something more resembling a thick steak fry.
But something was still missing. Modern man is also supposed to have no fear. Being completely ripped won't matter when gorgeous woman asks you to join her for a swim and you have to sputter in reply: "I don't swim. I'm afraid of the water."
So, even though I was in my 20s, I decided to go to the Ardmore YMCA and sign up to learn to swim. Fear of the water is a common phobia and there are tons of people who never learn how to swim. I figured I would be happy to die at an old age as one of those people. But, wanting to be a truly modern macho guy - and having already written my nonrefundable check -- I decided to show up for the first class.
As I got into the pool, one of the instructors handed me a floating kickboard and told me to relax and kick so he could gauge how much instruction I needed. I grabbed the kickboard, relaxed, and...immediately sank to the bottom. Maybe not drowning was too lofty a goal for a beginner. After the instructor helped me to stand up in the three feet of water, I was handed a floating noodle. Now I couldn't possibly sink. I wrapped myself in the noodle, relaxed, and...immediately sank to the bottom. Moments later, I was wrapped in two floating noodles.
By now, there were a number of other instructors and lifeguards staring at me. There were little children zipping around the pool without the aid of boards or noodles. But I hardly noticed these things. I was too fixated on not drowning because now I was starting to sink even while wrapped like a mummy in floating noodles
To my amazement, my brain actually started to retain some of what I was being shown. And I was now down to using just one noodle and starting to relax a bit. That was when one of the instructors announced something about diving and me. I was sure I misheard her. I still couldn't swim without a noodle in three feet of water. They couldn't expect me to dive into six feet of water.
Thankfully, I did hear it wrong. I was going to dive into nine feet of water. An announcement was made, "Lewis is diving now!" And everyone near the pool came running over to watch.
My classmates stayed in the shallow end shouting words of encouragement like, "You're crazy! You'll be killed!" Two lifeguards stood by me, but apparently felt two would be enough if something went wrong. So, they called over more and there were now a half dozen guards, all holding those red buoy things that Pamela Anderson used to carry on Baywatch. The team of lifeguards tried to reassure me that nothing would go wrong. A hard thing to believe my classmates were still screaming that I was going to die.
As an added precaution, the pool was filled with noodles. This accomplished two things. First, it made me look like an even bigger ass. Second, it guaranteed that no matter what part of the water I hit, I would fall into a pile of noodles and hopefully remain above the water. With the lead instructor counting down. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and lunged forward. They claim I did dive, but I think they were being kind. When I watch the Olympics there's always more to diving than just falling in the pool and having someone fish you out.
This harrowing and humiliating incident was a learning experience. I learned that if you don't learn to swim as a child, then you shouldn't learn to swim. As for me, I headed back to the gym.
That way there would be less chance of bumping into a gorgeous woman interested in a dip in the ocean. The odds were more likely that I could bump into women so exhausted from working out, they'd only be interested in grabbing dinner or catching a Phillies game, or just sitting on a couch. On dry land. That's the kind of modern man I decided to be..