Category Archives: safety

Cedar Water

The swimming season is coming to a close. Whether in Cedar Lake or the Pacific Ocean, the subtle shift has begun. Pockets of very cold water, previously a refreshing anomaly, are now asserting themselves like Trump followers. The vanguard will soon become the establishment and while “The Donald” will likely leave the race entranced and distracted by a new shiny object, the water will turn cold.

This saddens me because swimming is what I laughingly refer to as my exercise. I splash, guy4paddle, and tread water with joyous abandon. Between pretending I am Lloyd Bridges in “Sea Hunt” and frolicking underwater, I feel energized, youthful and refreshed. A jogger friend scoffed at the number of carbs I burn and how little cardio effect I gain from my water play. I was going to let his criticism pass or more correctly roll off my back, but when he added I looked childish, I was stung enough to retort, “At least when I finish my workout I’m not all sweaty.”

One of the few things I took from Camp Ockanickon (aside from a lifetime hatred of oatmeal and singing “Mamma’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin‘ Bread”) is feeling comfortable in the water. Camp was deep in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey on a dark, picturesque, spring fed cedar lake. Even at 4’ 4” I could not see my feet standing in waist deep water. This unnerved me and I failed the deep water swimming test (jump in and swim 25 yards any stroke) I was sent to remedial swim class every day after breakfast. As a non swimmers I could not join any other activity until I passed. Too terrified to leap into the ink colored water, I generally needed to be pushed. After splashing around frantically I would grab the pole and be fished out in tears.

In the afternoon during compulsory free swim time my stigma, wearing a red non-swimmer string around my wrist, confined me to the shallow area. Much worse, the caste system carried over to the mess hall, the cabin, and all non-water activities. Blue stringers (50 yards) and white stringers (100 yards) heaped scorn on us (“Red stringers, red stringers why are you here? Red stringers, red stringers have some beer!”). We would then be doused with whatever non-beer beverage was available.

I have been dancing around the most embarrassing part. I was the lowest of the red stringers: I wore nose plugs! Decades later I have difficulty admitting it. Even other non-swimmers scorned me. The plugs, pink to simulate a flesh tone I have never seen on a living person, was the only way I could navigate in the water. Blue and white stringers might deign to come into the shallow end but I quickly and painfully learned they were on a mission to pull back and snap the rubber strap. The sting subsides long before the red mark on the back of my neck. Perhaps that is why I never became a bra snapper in my adolescence.

Some of the counselors were college kids ready for “Hi Jinx” (it was the 50s) like sneaking out to the girls’ camp across the lake after lights out, then regale us with their exploits the next morning. Joey was different. He was an east Camden (N.J.) tough guy who someone (possibly a judge) thought could benefit from a summer of sunshine and fresh air. Even as a child I sensed his anger and despair marooned in a wholesome woodsy setting with a cabin full of brats. His surliness made what happened all the more surprising.

Joey was on lifeguard duty, supervising the shallow (red string/loser)area. Standing on the dock he beckoned me over. I’ll never forget his words. “Hey squirt! Yeah you, dum dum with the nose plugs. Blow a little stream of air out your nose when you go under. Just a trickle. Then you won’t need that stupid s_ _ _ on your nose.”

It was not a Hallmark moment, but I did it and it worked! It might have helped knowing Joey couldn’t care less. Other counselors had more patiently told me to blow air out. When I tried for them, I either panicked and, seeking to please them, blew all the air out at once, or I accidentally inhaled. With the breathing mastered my fear diminished and I was able to enjoy the water. Thanks to Joey I left camp a blue stringer.

My “instruction” was a momentary distraction for a bored, sullen teenager. Joey, if he is living could not possibly comprehend that I still give him thanks every time I wade into the water. “Blow it out your nose slow, dum dum!”

I am not talking about mentoring, adoption, or huge life changing sacrifices and good deeds. My focus is “Joey moments.” Serendipitous chance encounters where a word, an act, a small gesture made a huge difference. The classic is “The Lone Ranger” leaving before he can be thanked unaware of how he has altered history. I am not so grandiose but I really hope I have done small anonymous kindnesses that have been meaningful to others.

Tom H. Cook has often imagined writing a letter of support for Joey to his probation officer or appearing in court on his behalf

Tom in Miata

Let’s Be Careful Out There!

Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?
—Jack Kerouac from “On The Road”

Road rage is the expression of the amateur sociopath in all of us, cured by running into a professional.
—Robert Brault

The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers
 —Dave Barry

Hey! Let’s be careful out there!
  –Sargent Phil Esterhaus (Hill Street Blues)

Could the fault lay in our Google-driven need for immediate (though incomplete) answers and instant gratification?  Maybe we can saddle the blame on the coming of age graduates of a sabotaged public education system.  Perhaps the anomie and stark realization that we are a polarized, hopelessly divided nation facing a grim future of diminished expectations is getting to all of us.  Some suggest it is the powerless grasping for any semblance of control.  Whatever the reason, whether inane or tragically poignant, the roads are becoming more dangerous, and our fellow motorists less civil.  Rather than attempt to understand or make a citizen’s arrest, here are my “fab five” of least favorite transgressors.

Right turn tinted window guy.    You are approaching an intersection at the posted speed with a green light beckoning.  At the crossroads is an impatient cretin who remembers something from driver training class about being able to make a right hand turn on a red light.  Forgotten is the part about proceeding only if no one coming.  The light is green and there will not be a better or more legal time for you to cross, and besides, the driver in the car behind you seems to have his heart set on both of you making the light.  Right turn guy is a sphinx with his tinted windows.  The front third of his car is directly in your path as he decides whether to jack rabbit before you get there, or watch you frantically navigate oncoming traffic.  Neither he nor his car have a reverse gear.  He will not retreat; failure is not an option!  Either way, your rigid adherence to the law is a terrible inconvenience to him.

The tailgater/weaver.  Put simply, their life and time is more important than yours.  Every second counts, and they are losing valuable billable hours marooned behind you on a one lane road.  Their design of an information retrieval system that will render the Internet obsolete is behind schedule.  Some are on the med/surg. team at the Mayo Clinic doing groundbreaking research on the use of hamster bile to treat post myocardial infarctions.  One can feel the telegraphed shaming vibe and aggravating vitriol emanating as they race ahead like Pac Man in search of their next morsel.  If they are so important, why do they tend to drive rusty Dodge Chargers?  (I believe when they get to their destination they scratch themselves, turn on the tube and grab a “brewski.”)

The four way non-stopper  It doesn’t matter who goes first — perhaps it’s the car closest to the equator — but once begun there is a natural and legal order: counterclockwise.  I suspect the same rapscallions who budged the lunch line in grade school are still doing it today.  Perhaps they are unaware or scornful of the corollary to the counterclockwise rule which states “something before nothing.”  In our social contract, we pass to the right but a late arriver must wait for a full rotation to go.  The egregious will “me too” or “piggy back” behind a crossing vehicle.

The “It’s like barely red” dude/dudette  Red is stop; green is go.  Wrong!  After the light turns from red to green, do not proceed with caution but with trepidation.  You may even consider getting out of the car or at least taking a long look to your left and right.  The odds are good that a barreling “entitlement express” will be trying to make the light that has already passed through the autumn colors of yellow and red.  Since it was only yellow/orange the last time they peeked, it seems reasonable that accelerating will get them through the pesky intersection.  Fortunately there is often the sound of a pounding bass guitar to signal their arrival.  Their logic (using the term loosely) seems to be, “I came through this light yesterday at this time and it was green, so I should be able to go, and besides, if I am late again, my manager will kill me.”  The same applies for long left turns across four lanes of traffic.

The “What’s it to you?” non-turn signaler    You would like to make a left turn before all the traffic on your right is unleashed, but there is a vehicle approaching from your left at a speed that would make crossing in front dicey.  Waiting patiently you hope the car will pass before the onslaught.  Oh wait, they are turning right just in front of you.  Miffed or a bit stronger, you look at the driver as he/she completes the turn.  You are feet away, close enough to read their look.  Between arrogance and cluelessness, implied is Where and when I choose to turn is none of your business.”  There is ample time to mull this affront as the window for a left turn has closed and the gaggle of autos, ox carts and rickshaws streaming past right to left now appears to be unending.

Tom H. Cook is aware that he sounds like an old crank.  His defense is that he has always been like this.  He remains an above average driver and vehicular parliamentarian.