Sunday, October 07, 2007

Arc of the Diver

Apropos of nothing, an old memory that, well, bobbed to the surface ...

As teenager in a city that in the early sixties had closed the public swimming pools to avoid racial integration, we used to go to various swimming holes. Most often, these were on a river, usually a spot where the muddy waters pooled a bit. You had to watch out for snakes and snags and tricky currents, but it was what was available, if you couldn't get out to Thunderbird Beach.

One of these spots was on the Comite River ("Ko-meet") not far from Central, LA. On one memorable occasion, four of us went there, essentially a place one could break a neck, die young, or both.

There was a high bank, about eighteen or twenty feet above the water, which was only about six feet deep in the center. The bank was angled, so that in order to reach the water, you had to back off, build up some steam, run toward the edge and leap out, a horizontal distance of maybe twelve feet or so. Not that long a broad jump, but you had to get that far, else you would either hit water that was knee-deep, or failing shorter than that, the side of the the bank, which was certainly worth a broken leg at the very least.

It was a measure of our stupidity that we were all willing to do this.

You didn't dive head-first, because the water was shallow. The mud at the bottom was very soft, so you would hit it feet-first and sink to your knees or thighs, and then paddle like hell to break free and get to the surface.

Hey, they were simplier times.

There was this guy. Call him, Jack Woodbridge. Jack was about six feet tall, maybe two-thirty, and a fullback on the football team. A little on the porky side.

So Jack is up last. He makes his run and leaps, way out. So far, so good. Only, he looked down as he was falling.

For those of you who don't know, moving one's head will alter the dynamics of a fall considerably. It's how one does somersaults, a snap of the head forward or backward. Why, when you do a swan dive, you keep your head back, eyes forward, until just before entry.

Why you don't lean a bit forward and angle your head down to get a better look.

I was in the water, near the shore as Woodbridge came down. It was like a slo-mo movie scene.

His quick look was just enough to give him a s-l-o-w quarter-rotation. I still remember the horror on his face as he realized what was going to happen: Instead of landing feet-first, he was going to land flat on his face, in what we called a belly-buster, aka belly flop. There wasn't anything he could do to stop it.

Sure enough, that's exactly what happened.

He hit the water like giant brick. Most of what liquid was in the pool splashed out. We figured people could hear it for miles. It was very impressive.

We had to haul Woodbridge out, the other three of us, and it was hard. From his face to his ankles, he was pure, slapped-face red. He was nearly unconscious, and of course, being teenaged boys, we were laughing our asses off, having absolutely no sympathy for him ...

Ah, the good old days ...

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