Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Time for Swimming

Time for Swimming
non-fiction memoir
by Greg Larson    

My mom’s rules were hard and fast.  It was next to impossible to negotiate with her, but I had to try.  My buddies were all sitting on their bikes in our driveway, spinning the pedals with their thong sandals and snapping their beach towels at each other.  They were getting impatient.

     “Mom!” I huffed, “The guys are waiting for me to go with them to the pool.”

     “You know the rules.” She replied coldly, “You have to wait an hour after lunch before you can go swimming.”

     “But there’s only ten minutes left!”  

     I was trying to be polite in my negotiations, so I toned down my voice, “It will take us that long to ride our bikes over to the pool, shower, and then get in the water.”

     She gave me ‘the stare’ and then she caved in to my logic, “Okay, but don’t get in the water until the next ten minutes have passed……..1:30 at the earliest.”

     I ran out the front door, and let the screen door slam behind me.

     “Geeaawwll, Larson, what took you so long?” asked my buddy Mike.

     Before I could reply, my neighbor friend, Roger, responded to the question with a sarcastic sing-song voice, “Larson’s mommy is afraid he has too much food in his tummy and he might sink to the bottom of the pool and drown if he gets in the water too soon.  HA! HA! HA!"

     I rolled my eyes and then checked to make sure a dime was tucked in the net pocket of my swim trunks.  I didn’t want to be without the money to buy a drumstick ice cream treat when we finished swimming.  The dime was secure, so we rolled out onto the street.  It wasn’t far to the Westlink swimming pool in west Wichita, and if we cut across the ball diamonds and the church yard, it was an even shorter ride.

     It was summer 1961, and time had very little meaning, unless it was part of some arcane rule established by my parents.  We usually lost all track of time when we were having fun at the pool.  We played every possible game, from diving for our dimes, and contests to determine how long we could hold our breath under water, to playing ‘tag’ in the water or just sitting on the bottom of the pool, blowing bubbles.  And we could always go to the diving boards for a change of pace.  Flips, dives, cannonballs and can openers were some of our favorite choices.  But all of us learned quickly that if it appeared we purposely splashed the lifeguard, his or her whistle would blow, and it would be an automatic ten minutes out of the eternity of time for someone ten years old.

     The rock ‘n roll station was always blaring on the sound system, except when the pool manager would cut into the song with the desk microphone and say something like, “The Witherspoons are supposed to go home now…..your mom just called.”  Our two favorite songs were ‘The Stripper’ and ‘A-hab the A-rab’.  We made up a rule that whoever was on the diving board when those songs were playing would have to act silly and wiggle and bounce while swinging their butt wildly just before leaping into the air.  My only concern when I was dancing on the diving board was that I had to quit laughing before I hit the water.

     It was hard to make a big splash, since I only weighed about eighty-five pounds, but I had to make the most of it.  We were always looking for new splash methods and techniques.  I watched an older boy dive off the low board. His entry was funny, though.  It was like an upside-down cannonball, and he tucked his arms, head and neck just as he hit the water.  There was an explosion of water and so much spray that you’d have thought a stick of dynamite had gone off underwater.

     “Mike, did you see that! WOW! What a splash!” I squealed, “What do you call that?”

     “They say it’s called a ‘watermelon’.” replied Mike. “We’ll have to try it!”

     We practiced ‘watermelons’ until we perfected the splash.  So much water was displaced upon entry that I felt an exploding 'thud' on the body each time I dove into the water.

     After so much fun in the sun, we were starving again, so we all went to the concession window to buy our treats.  Then we found a spot in the shade of the building to sit on our towels and devour the purchase.

     One Saturday while I was at the diving boards with my two brothers, we noticed my dad standing by the fence, watching us.  Uh-oh, I thought, what did we do now?  I ran over to the fence and asked Dad if he wanted us to come home.

     “No,” he said as he lifted up the movie camera with 8mm film, “I just brought the movie camera over here to see if I could get some shots of you guys jumping off the diving board.”

     My brothers and I got in line at the high board and we hammed it up a little for Dad.  I had learned to do a flip, so I did my best one for him while the camera was running.

     A couple of months later on a Sunday night, Dad set up the movie projector and the screen, and we watched our recent vacation movies.  At the end of the reel we saw what he had captured on film at the swimming pool.  It seemed unreal to be able to watch myself jump off the diving board and splash into the water.

     “We want to watch the dives, again, DAD!” we yelled.

     So Dad put the projector into reverse, and we watched ourselves on the screen in reverse; flipping up out of the water, wildly landing on the high board, running backwards, then braking to a complete stop.

     We howled with laughter!

     Then he would play the film forward, and once the diving board sequence was completed, he would reverse the film and repeat the process.

     I laughed so hard I was out of breath.  Mom and Dad were laughing with us, too. I thought, you know, my parents aren’t so bad, even if they do make us follow their stupid rules!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Gretta Factor

Non-fiction memoir
by Greg Larson

     We’ve all encountered the travel snafu or the botched reservation.  I’ve had my share.  My business travel was frequent for many years, and it reached a peak while managing construction projects before I retired.  I assumed that my travel issues were no more horrifying than anyone else’s travails, but every now and then I convinced myself that a “Greg Factor” existed in the most bizarre situations…a feeling that the planets aligned mysteriously against me.  I’m just glad I wasn’t in Europe recently when the volcano in Iceland halted plane flights throughout the region. 

Here are some of the more unusual situations I've encountered over the years during my travels:

• The pilot’s voice came over the speakers on the plane, notifying passengers of the weather on a Friday night flight I was taking from Denver to Kansas City: “Well, folks, the weather in the Midwest isn’t looking real good. The airports from Omaha to Dallas are closing due to ice storms, so we’ll have to land the plane this evening in Houston.” I finally made it to Kansas City on Sunday.

• A flight attendant called over the speakers for Mr. Larson to come to the front of the plane, and bring all personal items and onboard luggage with me.  It was late on a Friday evening (the Greg Factor usually occurs on a Friday evening).  After I walked up the aisle to where the passengers were boarding, she stated, “Sir, we’ve discovered your ticket is dated for tomorrow’s flight, so we’re going to ask you to deplane.”  I had to fly “standby” and my luggage was lost when I changed planes in Pittsburgh.

• I once arrived at LaGuardia airport in New York, only to discover that a taxi strike had just begun.  Airport officials herded us to a multitude-sized crowd, and they told us to wait for buses to take us into the city.  Once on the buses, the passengers had to negotiate their destinations with the driver (I called that one the “New York factor”).

• Hotel clerk in Ontario, California: “I’m sorry, but we don’t have a reservation listed for you.”  I showed her the confirmation number, but that did no good.  I finally called the travel agency, who then called the clerk, and finally she checked me into the hotel.

• I’ve heard this line numerous times: “This is the first time this has ever happened.”

     Even when not traveling, I’ve experienced a slow waiter or waitress (or maybe it was a slow cook).  There’s also been the long wait at the doctor’s office, when I’ve watched a legion of patients, all arriving after me, get escorted back to the exam rooms while I read several chapters in my library book.  I’ve learned to go with the flow…just accept fate.

     Then I started traveling with Gretta.  Things were different.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but circumstances seem to get resolved in wonderful ways when I travel with her.  Maybe it’s her infectious smile combined with plain old luck.  Whatever it is, I call it the “Gretta Factor,” something of a magic carpet mojo that makes the pathway quite smooth while traveling.

     The first Gretta Factor I experienced was on a bike tour in Wisconsin.  We checked into the hotel at the beginning of the trip, and the clerk stated, “Sir, we’re booked full tonight, so I’m going to upgrade your reservation to the Eisenhower Suite with the Jacuzzi…at no extra charge.  Will that be okay?”

Other Gretta Factor situations:

• After touring St. Peter’s at the Vatican, we walked out the main doors and noticed a crowd forming on the square below us.  Helicopters circled above and men wearing dark suits and earpieces ran about.  Then the Swiss guards marched onto the square, followed by the Pope’s motorcade and limousine.  The timing was impeccable.  Pope Benedict was making his first official visit as Pope, traveling to the Italian Prime Minister’s office, just about a mile from the Vatican.  We lined up with the crowd and watched the Pope wave to us as his limousine rolled past.  While the crowd was dispersing, we saw several nuns run towards the square, while tears streamed down their cheeks.  They had missed their lifetime opportunity to see the Pope, and were visibly upset.

• Upon arriving at a tenth-century chateau in France, our bike tour group checked in at the front office.  The Gretta Factor occurred when the tour participants were assigned rooms.  Gretta and I were escorted to the main suite, where Charles de Gaulle had once stayed.  The oriental rug in the sitting area was the size of a small dance floor.  We were somewhat embarrassed and tight-lipped next morning at breakfast when we heard more than one couple complain about their small rooms.

• At another chateau, the Gretta Factor steered our tour guide to us, and he handed Gretta the key to a private stone cabin on the grounds.  While the other couples stayed in the main chateau, we had our own private building.  It had once been the forge, and then a bakery at the chateau, but was now a quaint private suite with adjacent creek and waterfall.  The other cyclists were envious and we eventually gave them a tour of the storybook cabin.

A storybook cabin

• A few years ago, we celebrated my birthday at Huntington Beach in California.  I had booked the car and beach hotel in advance, reserving the lowest cost compact car and the least expensive room at the hotel.  To my surprise, at the rental car agency, a PT Cruiser convertible was parked in stall number one, marked “Larson.”  The agent said, “If you don’t like it, we can get you another car.”  We popped the top, and drove along the coast, with the wind in our hair and the sun in our faces.  I felt like a Beach Boy and all the while we smiled and commented about our luck with the Gretta Factor.  I pulled up to the front of the Huntington Beach Hilton and we went to the front desk.  I thought we’d probably get a room with a dumpster view, but the Gretta Factor continued.  The clerk pulled up our reservation on the computer and said, “Sir, we have upper floor rooms with a view of the beach or the city, whichever you prefer.”  We spent time on the beach, waded in the surf, and watched the surfers ride the biggest waves I’d seen in ten years of traveling to southern California.

Crusin' in southern California

     It’s no small coincidence that Gretta was not in my car recently when I made a left turn towards a gas station.  I was trying to save a few dimes by filling up the gas tank in Kansas City, Missouri.  There was a sign (which I did not see) with small print which said “NO LEFT TURN AFTER 4 PM.”  It was 4:20, and the car ahead of me was turning left with its turn signal flashing.  The police officer who directed me into an adjacent parking lot didn’t care that I was unfamiliar with the area.  He didn’t even want to see my insurance or vehicle registration.  He was too busy writing tickets.

     I thought, I wish Gretta were with me.  Maybe she would have noticed the “no left turn” sign...maybe not, but no matter what happens, it's just more fun when Gretta is alongside.