THE BORN LESAR
Yeah, that was me floatin' out there on real water
Since learning at quite a tender age that I am less buoyant than a blacksmith's anvil, it has been my general approach to water to avoid it. That lake, pond, river, swimming pool, it looks fine, inviting even, but I'll just stay over here, on dry ground. It's better for my skin anyway. I hate it when my toes get all squishy and wrinkled.
So it was with great consternation that I approached a water body last week, not with the solid notion of halting at its lapping edge, mind you, but with every intention of climbing aboard in an attempt to float. That's right, float, I said, as in a bowling ball set in a tote filled with liquid. Go ahead, picture that. On top one second, on the bottom the next. Sort of like Bernie Sanders' primary run, now that I think about it.
In complete rejection of my lifelong assertion that the only way not to drown is to not get wet, I recently accepted a friend's invitation to try a new activity, paddle boarding. I watched her do it once, and it seemed so relaxing, so peaceful, to skim across the skittering lake waves, to suspend there, that I blurted out, 'I'd like to try that.' Of course, as women of the female gender are apt to do, she held me to it. Wouldn't you think I'd learn?
Really, though, I have been trying to step beyond my limits a little more these days; to wit, I have added 'ride a pony' to my life's bucket list. For me, a watery adventure may be the most frightening to overcome, as, like I said, I stay afloat less efficiently than osmium (the densest element on the planet; you can Google it yourself). For whatever reason, while most people can tip their head back and relax their arms and legs and keep themselves at the surface, whenever I get so much as a droplet in an ear or a nostril, I panic like a fattened hog when the SPAM truck rolls up the driveway. The only way I could sink faster is if someone handed me a hunk of cement and said, 'Here, take this buoy anchor down while you're going.'
So there we were at lake's edge last week, along a swimming beach. There were floating docks about 20 yards off shore, and kids of maybe 40 pounds were hurling themselves off a 15-foot diving board like skydivers exiting a plane at 3,000 feet. They screamed on the way down, vanished under the surface, then popped back up like fishing bobbers after the bluegill has let go of the hook.
Over on the sand, I was zipping up my life jacket and cinching the straps so tight the veins in my forehead and ankles were bulging. I thought of asking this cute little 5-year-old if I could borrow her Puddle Jumpers foam armbands, but I figured I'd probably just traumatize her when she saw my flailing arms go under with them on. You hate to do that to a little kid.
The paddleboard we used, fortunately, was an inflatable one, and my friend assured me that it would not only hold my bulk, but keep me comfortably afloat while we ventured out to a place I visit about as often as a workout gym -- the middle of a lake. Oh, sure, I fish, in a sturdy boat, but rarely -- if ever -- have I been equidistant from all points of a lakeshore with parts of me touching waves.
The first few feet from shore went well, my long legs lunging for the touch of sand every second. Quickly then, the depth fell, from three feet to where I could see bottom no more, which is one of the triggers that tells my heartbeat to quicken, the pressure in my eyeballs to quadruple, and the adrenaline in my veins to alert every muscle fiber to prepare to kick and scream at maximum fury.
'Just stay calm' I thought, as another scrawny boy of maybe 6 launched himself off the diving board. Cocky little brat.
Slowly I gained a bit of confidence as the inflatable board proved most capable of carrying 245 pounds of flesh, bone, hair and fear across the lake. Paddle in hand, I moved steadily from the comfort of land, trying to forget that I had long ago said to myself, 'Don't be an idiot. Stay dry.' My friend swam alongside, bouyant as a beach ball, and soon we were at the point of distance where had I fell off and panicked, the beach lifeguards would have just looked at each other and said, 'I told you he wasn't gonna make it back.'
But there I was, on a lake, made of real water, enjoying the experience. Along the beach, children shouted in delight. Not too far away, two scuba divers dropped over the side of a boat to explore the depths. A teen-aged boy swam by, showing off for his girl back on the sand, no doubt. We just relaxed out there for a while, then turned back to dock. At one point, it occurred to me how dangerous this really was, as underneath me was maybe 25 feet of water, or a billion, it really didn't matter, if I would somehow slip off this air-filled piece of rubber, I'd be in the lake bottom muck before I had a chance to think, 'Dang, I knew this was a rotten idea.' We made it back with no alarm, however, and it was a pleasant feeling to think that maybe I had stretched myself out just a tiny bit by stepping past a limit I had long vowed ne'er to break. I know, I know, no big deal to you, but water to me is a frightening thing. And Raggedy Ann dolls, but that's another childhood emotional trauma story my therapist says we won't get into for at last another six sessions.
Obviously, I'm not an adventurist, I seldom find it worthwhile to extend myself beyond what I know I can do, just for the thrill of it. Bungee jumping? You gotta' be kiddin'. Cliff diving? You're nuts. I don't even like to drive over 65 mph, or go on a meek roller coaster, 'cuz I figure life's too short to risk any of it in a situation where something can go wrong. Probably explains why you rarely see me in a Bounce House. Those things are death traps.
I may go paddle boarding again, though, now that I know I can. Next time I might even try it without the inflatable diaper.