Friday, November 17, 2006

Memories of Nude Swimming at the YMCA

My Life Evading Exercise
by Andrew Saul, PhD

Organized nudity is responsible for it.

When I was a little kid, we boys all swam naked at the YMCA. The one exception was when moms and sisters were invited for special events. Now after some 40 years, I still remember the one kid who forgot it was Family Swim Night, and innocently strolled out of the showers and into the pool room, and the only suit he had on was his birthday suit. He did the fastest about-face I've ever seen, and we never let him live it down.

What's more, we were still swimming nude in boy's gym class when I graduated from Charlotte High School in 1970. Back dives were especially revealing. I know this sounds a bit hard to believe, but it was true: nude swimming was the rule all the way through grade 12 in the Rochester, NY Public Schools. In this near mirror-image of The Emperor's New Clothes, only the gym teacher had shorts on. And, I am reliably informed, only the girls got to wear swimsuits in their gym classes.

But not us.

Of course we all showered together as well. In a scene reminiscent of a juvenile prison movie, after gym class we were absolutely compelled to shower. In the scant three minutes given to us for the purpose, enough teen trauma was doubtless accumulated to last a lifetime. I mean, how do you cope with such a situation? Everybody had to do it, so evidently we managed. And we learned valuable skills in the process: one of my acquaintances taught me how to get dressed without drying first. Another showed me how to remove paint from the Army-green lockers using "Right Guard" spray deodorant as a solvent. Still another kid of the nerdy type was justifiably afraid his books would be swiped, so he showered with his briefcase right next to his ankles.

Our drab high school locker room had a colorful attendant, an elderly Scotsman best known for his unique way of selling required sports accessories from the equipment cage. When you heard the cry "Socks and jocks! Socks and jocks!" you knew that "Scotty" was working his beat. (Could have been worse; I'll bet in Aberdeen he'd have been calling, "Kilts and cabers! Kilts and cabers!")

He died in the middle of my junior year.

It did not help that my high-school gym teacher took a special dislike to me. I was about six-one and weighed, maybe, 100 pounds. This guy, an obese ex-Marine, was also the wrestling coach. He combined the only two marketable skills he possessed into a unique method of selecting sparring teams: He'd line us up by height and have us count off by twos. This meant, of course, that I inevitably ended up with a 6 foot, one inch 220 pound varsity football lineman as my wrestling "partner."

I therefore developed the fasted sit-out in the history of wrestling.

I guess it was the ancient Greeks that seem to have been the original obsessive sports nudists. Long before string bikinis or Spandex, they were quite literally parading around starkers. These same exercise fanatics that brought us the Olympics are surely to blame for Jack La Lane, Charles Atlas, and my brothers. At least these three were decently attired (except, perhaps, for Charles Atlas, but that was what sold his method in the comic books.)

Between the public schools, the YMCA, and my brothers (and later my exercise-nut of a son), I have therefore developed an enduring dislike of all things related to sport. It's not that I haven't tried. I've successfully sat through black-and-white TV wrestling, watching my grandfather cheer the Gallagher Brothers. I've logged a few school homecoming games live, and sat on the bleachers to watch Rochester's Red Wings minor league baseball team get clobbered repeatedly. I watched Cal Ripken Jr. in one of his first games while the stadium announcer wondered aloud if he'd ever amount to anything like his father. It is true that the Wings got a lot better, but my memories are primarily long before Earl Weaver managed them. I mean, I remember us cheering for aging powerhitter and Babe-Ruth look-alike Luke Easter. (Remember him?)

So, like all the neighborhood boys, I played ball all summer. I mean, that's what boys did. For us, born and raised within smelling distance of the Eastman Kodak Company's main plant, it was KPAA (Kodak Park Athletic Association) softball league. It was free, you got a cool shirt, and if you won, you played "under the lights" at the Kodak Park field. That field is now buried under a photographic processing building, but once it was the scene of squashed mustard packets, hyper starry-eyed kids, and loud camera-laden parents. My teams never got even remotely close to being in the playoffs, but my brother's did. It figures.

For the first 15 years of his life, my older brother was a round-shouldered, horn-rimmed glasses-wearing, skinny little twerp. The he started working out in our basement. Like a mushroom planted in the dark and forgotten, he grew out of sight. Pretty soon he was a changed guy. Weight lifting had utterly transformed him. Good diet, natural maturation, and contact lenses didn't hurt, but that Sears and Roebuck 20-dollar weight kit did wonders.

The secret, of course, is that he spent the time using it.

And that brings me to my real point:

You either talk about doing it, or you do it. I do not like to exercise. But I like even less having a pudgy belly, backaches, skinny arms, and no chest. That is why I exercise. Of course you and I know it is good to exercise, in the same way that smokers know it is good not to smoke. But knowledge is not enough. You have to experience it.

My exercise hints? Thought you'd never ask:

1) Exercise for a really honest reason: vanity.

2) Exercise with a friend (or relative, if you are desperate) who has the same goals you do. This is very important, and may be essential, to stay on the wagon.

3) Exercise to music. I recommend the Who, the Rolling Stones, good blues (I like Clapton and B.B King), early Beatles and maybe a little Badfinger for the rest of you eclectic ex-hippies.

4) Start small. I began, at my son's insistence, with crunches. When I started, I thought thirty was a lot.

5) Work up. After six years, I now do 2,100 crunches in under 50 minutes. I once saw a documentary about an Olympic athlete that did 3,000 crunches a day, in thirty minutes. She was about five feet tall and weighed almost nothing, except for her muscles. That's my goal, then (no, not to be a woman): 3,000 crunches.

6) Invest as little money as possible. A cheap exercise bike and a pair of dumbbells is a good start. Maybe add a weight set and a bench. Check garage sales, for a lot of people purchase this stuff, and that act constitutes their entire exercise program: the buying of equipment. Consequently, you can outfit your garage, attic, or basement for very little cash.

7) Better yet, keep it all in your living room. If you see it, you will use it. Still better, keep all your gear within a remote's distance of your TV. You can watch the tube while you bike. You can kill an hour of brainless network programming and bike miles in the process.

8) Keep a record. My brother told me that you need to simply beat your own record to be a winner. That's a pretty profound point. I would never have gotten to 2100 crunches unless I'd wanted to beat 2,000, or 1,000, or 30.

9) Vary your program. Although I am a crunch-meister, I also use dumbbells for my arms and chest. I happen to already have strong legs from childhood paper routes, chasing my brothers so I'd not be left behind, biking everywhere as a teenager, and living at the top of a hill in Vermont as a car-less young man. So I don't use the bike as much as you might want to. I also walk home with my groceries, and try for a four-mile walk along the nearby Erie Canal on alternate days to my crunching. Again, take a friend, or a dog, for safety, companionship, and mutual encouragement.

10) Watch the cable exercise channels, especially if you are a beginner. Seeing all those supple, writhing bodies exercising with one great smile is stimulating. Use Richard Simmons exercise tapes, Jane Fonda workout tapes, any workout tapes that appeal to you. Personally, I think the porno industry should come up for air for a minute, and make totally nude workout tapes.

And that brings us full circle: it really is all about nudity. Especially how you, with your clothes off, look in the mirror.

Copyright C 2005 and prior years Andrew W. Saul. From the books DOCTOR YOURSELF and FIRE YOUR DOCTOR, available from Andrew Saul, 23 Greenridge Crescent, Hamlin, NY 14464 USA.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have some things in common. I almost believed you were writing about me....except, my swimming lessons at the YMCA was more like 45 years ago. And, somewhat dramatic as I refused to jump in the deep end at the end of a week of kick boarding. (Are they CRAZY!)

As for the teen showers, it nailed me. Got me called, "boner" and "twang" at the tender age of 13.

And, sports? Well, I liked them but they didn't like my super skinny body. And besides, it was the jocks that gave me the name "twang".

So I escaped to the city, thanks to a Mom that paid tuition for a different High School. I survived, grew to be 6'4" at 220 pounds. Funny, I don't give a shit about those jocks anymore. But, have a dislike for sports in general. Besides, most of the jocks have beer bellies and balded at 35 years old.

Nake? The YMCA must have had an influence on me. I like to get naked. Only problem is, in my house, it's only me that likes that. So, I really don't get naked, except when needed.

In case if you wonder about me and the boner, I did not turn out gay or anything. But, I swear it has a mind of it's own.

9:49 PM  

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