NOVEMBER 24, 2009 11:12AM

Naked Thanksgiving Swim

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25 naked squirming ten year old boys standing with their toes probing the edge of the Olympic sized swimming pool in the sticky chlorinated warmth on the day before Thanksgiving.


Naked swimming was standard practice for the boys. The girls wore black, shapeless suits. But the boys got nothing but shame. I was the third boy from the left. Squinty eyed blurry dreaded terror. Couldn’t really see anything but the endless foaming blue water, green and grey pennants hung from the ceiling, an outline of a grandstand above the tiled walls. Frozen in the creepy warmth with no clue at all how to swim.


They probably stopped the naked boy swimming practice somewhere in the last 30 years. Sometime after it put a lot of shrinks kids through college and stamped a silicon terror memory chip on the years of little boy brains lined up on the side of the pool, curled toes, stretching, ready to jump.


Splashing in dizzy blue fear, stomach tight steel coil, that omnipresent weight carried underneath that little boy buzz cut, scared big eyes wondering, what is wrong with me? A weight that never went away, pushed me deeper down to the bottom of the pool.


Then the voice.



That voice pulled me up. Bass note strong. But a different kind of strong. Not like the soldiers or the baseball players or any given grown up strong. A kind of strong that said: he was scared too.


That voice and that music blared over the loud speaker system in the pool during the swimming class. So simple. So clear. So new kind of strong. Everyone could hear it, but it kept me afloat. In bass tone iron:


“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine

  I keep my eyes wide open all the time.

  I keep the hand out for the tie that binds.

  Because you’re mine, I walk the line.”


Then the scary warmth of the pool gives way to the cleansing grey winter winds of November the second I step outside the gym.


And even before the groaning table of opulence is filled with the turkey flavored extravaganza, even on the day before Thanksgiving, there is a pinprick of an idea that the booming bass voice is the music of what it means to say thanks.



Then two naked souls, a bit older but still very young. On a lost moss dripped Faulkner forest road miles from even a whisper of another human being, or so I imagined, on the way to see her mom in Gulfport Mississippi. It would just be the three of us this Thanksgiving. That’s the thing about Thanksgiving. It could be two of you, three of you, or one of you. Caution! Danger or joy or a mixture up ahead.


The tiny forests pond  just a sliver glimpse from the road.


“What if someone sees us?”


“They’ll think we’re on a picnic!”


And she laughs. When a southern woman laughs, the tupelo honey flows sweetening your very life breath. When a southern woman’s voice says your name there are brand new stars that explode like diamonds in an endless sky.


“Here, I said, this will help.” And now the voice has turned to harmony. Listen. A happy gliding San Francisco guitar sailing on harmony


“Now the first days are the hardest days

  Don’t you worry anymore.”


And we leave the car naked, run down the forest path, splashing into the silent forest pond.



While the song of thanks sings way beyond the two naked kids in the forest, way behind the lyrics. The song of thanks sings to anyone who can hear the harmony anywhere:


“Come, hear, Uncle John’s Band

  By the riverside

  Got some things to talk about

  Here, beside the rising tide.”


And we swim.




And now.


With all the ghosts of Thanksgiving pasts gathered and paid homage. From the sticky bad to the comforting to the promise and the joyous. Remembering every one.


A November rain sleets down to wash clean Chicago again. And the house is warm and dry.


Love fills the home where terror once rippled down the line of the 25 naked boys waiting to splash.


And thanks couldn’t even begin to tell the story of your living love, who approaches cooking the meal, right this moment,  the way Michelangelo must have gotten ready to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.


So the Voice, from the swimming pool  and the Harmony from the forest pond bubbles out from these pages so to all those who find themselves in fear, or in separation from their voices, or in combat, or wracked in the infinite  number of shapes and sizes of anything from terror to sadness that any kind of gathering around a holiday table can bring.


The Voice from the swimming pool and the harmony from the forest pond gives a fist bump of joy to anyone and everyone who is exactly where they want to be. To anyone who ever stopped by this page and let me know you were here, my thanks is beyond words. And if you came by more than once, my gratitude is boundless.


As to what comes next, I’m clueless. And of course I’m worried. Who wouldn’t be?


But I have heard these voices.


I have been known to jump.


So I sing to the world.




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Wow very powerful stuff. Is this fiction?
This is haunting and poetic, Roger. We all have such vivid memories as we age and some never leave and become more vivid than anything recent.

Do you know if the painting is a Hockney?
Lea--good guess because there is a Hockney light to it---but it's Edward Hopper.

OE--This one is non-fiction. All of it. The boys really did have to swim naked. I didn't learn to swim till I was 40. (That last sentence was fiction!)
From the terrors of the swim to the gratitude for a lovely Michelangelo to that uncomfortable uncertainty to the deep gratitude, this resonates with me. And I say this, with all seriousness: None of us ever knows what comes next, even when we think we've got it all planned out. That truth is simply more sharply, and painfully, clear now than many other times. But I know that whatever temperature, color, or condition the next pool is, you'll be fine swimming it together. Keep the faith! And if you ever feel it falter, read some of your work and see how it has touched us--and why we are grateful for you.
Beautifully written piece. Kudos.
I could spend days here sitting with each vibrant image, lost in every turn of phrase. This one wraps around me like that coil you mentioned, but not out of fear ... out of electricity or magic that takes away time and walls.

You know that movie Big Fish? At the end when he is carrying his Dad down to the river ... that kind of magic. That may not make sense, but it's hard to stick words to magic.

This is possibly my favorite piece.
There's this: "On a lost moss dripped Faulkner forest road" that hangs in your mouth like that Tupelo honey southern laugh.
And there's the place where it doglegs from memories to wishes and blessings past all lonliness and fear.

I'll take this "thanksgiving" over "Thanksgiving" any day.

Haunting and beautiful. Happy Thanksgiving.
This is really fine CG. A couple of notes of grace and peace in a pool of uncertainty. Apropos that it be Hopper, he's all about isolation. You're choosing warmth and gratitude as a balance. Funny for me to read about tough guys and anorexia and swimming through uncertainty all in a morning. (Where else could this happen? ) Gratitude.
Innocence lost... very haunting writing!
This is another powerful post, Chicago Guy. You are such a brilliant writer. i love how your writing utilizes all of the senses. You bring your world to life for us.
This was full of such powerful, vivid images and then such a sense of peace and appreciation of beauty. I am totally a child of the water and so, I not only responded to the writing but I am in love the song at the end - thanks for the intro to Jack's Mannequin.

Naked boy swimming is a painting waiting to happen.
excellent! lots of right on turns of phrase--right now the one sticking with me is "splashing in dizzy blue fear"...
This bare[ing] of the soul writing that you do, haunts in lyrical way. Happy Thanksgiving. ~R~
Once having been here, how could we ever keep from coming back. Not only do I return, but your URL is a gift I give to the most beautiful souls around me. That way, they can know that there are others like them in an ever more uncaring world. Happy Thanksgiving ChiGuy!
Homerun, ChiGuy . . . homerun. If I'd had to learn to swim naked, I'd never have learned to swim.
I thought I had endured most of the routine terrors of youth, but I never had to line up naked. What the fuck-all were they thinking? I found the showers and locker room scary enough. Your prose continues to improve, more daring, more vivid. There is no limit to where your talent can go. Just keep swimming, I guess.
thank you for sharing your words, your world with us
:) I thought Thanksgiving was a simple harvest festival ... but may be not?
In these days of equality, I say it's time to have the girls swim naked. But for the sake of safety, let's have them be a few years older than 10.
Warm and unusual memories of Thanksgiving told in your iconic style. Well done!

Beatifully told. Oh how I too recall those naked swim classes in public school (Detroit).

" all those who find themselves in fear, or in separation from their voices, or in combat, or wracked in the infinite number of shapes and sizes of anything from terror to sadness that any kind of gathering around a holiday table can bring." I can so relate to this over the years. Everyone of them different. Thanks.
Wonderful. Happy Thanksgiving!
Maybe it's best we don't know what's next; or we wouldn't have the courage to meet it. When times are dark and difficult, we wonder if things will ever get better. But we muddle on, and scuttle along the surface of the water, trying not to think how deep it is, down there.

That's why we learn to swim; so we'll have a way to get across without sinking.
AHP--or I could read your comment. Thank you so much. About an hour after I wrote this, I was standing in front of some sweet potatoes in my local market, and turned to look straight into the eyes of my first wife---who I hadn't seen in almost 20 years. She introduced me to her husband. "Jim, this is Roger, my ex-husband." Had the marriage worked, it would have been 26 years this year. But of course I never would have known the Sistine Chapel. Fiction pales in the face of that. One never knows!

IM-- I have a very specific goal in my head to take away the time and walls---so it is gratifying that it comes through.

espiritgui--It;s funny because Hopper is about isolation, but by being so, he somehow conquers if for me.

Happy Thanksgiving O'Really. You are a good soul.

MAWB---you got that right!

Gwen---it's that chlorine smell!

Melissa-- Jon Stewart doesn't feature much music on The Daily Show. So even before this guy opened his mouth on the last show before the Thanksgiving break, I expected good. And the back story on this guy is alone is worth the price of admission. But this song. The 4 note harmonics of the theme. I fell in love with it instantly. For me, that's rare. I find this a world class piece of music, I hope people give themselves the treat of listening. It's that good.

Mistercomedy--Thank you!

Chuck--It always surprises me when people ask if something like this is fiction---I WISH I had the talent to make this up! It always know it works when I am tired and euphoric at the same time afterwards.

Everlearning--to say I'm thankful for you is an understatement. Whenever the occaisional thought of my total banishment from the OS cover float through my head, I am heartened by you. Happy Thanksgiving my friend!

Owl and Jim---No kidding about the swimming naked. To this day i am not exactly Michael Phelps. Jim, this was only a high school or two or south of you!

grif---I always wondered it they stripped down the boys anywhere else. Detroit too. Geez.

TC--There was one very naked girl in part two of this!

Carolina and Steve--Happy Thanksgiving guys!
Rolling---at it's heart, it is a simple harvest festival. But bringing in that harvest always takes some work.

Shiral--Maybe it's best we don't know what's next; or we wouldn't have the courage to meet it.---that is a really good thought. Something I've never thought of. Thanks for that!
Wow. I could identify, I could resonate. I was there.

Thank you so much for this, CG.
Thank you Gigi and Kathy!
I love this...the Voice from the pool and the Harmony from the forest good! Thank you for this midnight oasis where I can come to cool my mind and let the ebb and flow of your words carry me along to places I have and haven't been, visit people I know and people wish I knew....This is a great place to visit and each time I leave, I get to bring another warm, chocolate chip cookie with me. Happy Thanksgiving!
JGAH--Those cookies are good!