SI Vault
Gilbert Rogin
February 14, 1994
With the first million laps behind him, the author has a good shot at circumnavigating the globe. Totally awesome!
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February 14, 1994

The Black-line Blues

With the first million laps behind him, the author has a good shot at circumnavigating the globe. Totally awesome!

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God: More than once.

Garbage yardage, which is what mindlessly swimming laps instead of doing sets is called, gives rise more to this kind of meditation than, say, to cite the example I started out with, pondering the existence of God. The black-line blues is what swimmers call the mood that leads to such rumination, the black lines being those thickly drawn on the bottom of the pool to delineate the lanes, lines that only lead you remorselessly back to where you started.

To dispel the blues, I lay down three tracks as I do my laps. The first is the hum, kind of like the bass line in hip-hop in that it underlies everything else. But you can't swim to Snoop Doggy Dogg—I've tried. Humming is good because you don't use up a lot of energy and you do it with your mouth closed, so you don't drown. Today I was humming Vivaldi's G major violin concerto, FI, No. 173—mainly the hooks—which was in heavy rotation last month. Yesterday it was Cher, Beavis and Butthead's I Got You, Babe. Your pool playlist shouldn't include anything too up-tempo; it's going to mess up your rhythm.

The second track is lap counting, which I've dealt with, and the third is thinking, heavy-duty and otherwise. In fact I composed this piece in. successively, the Four Seasons Hotel pool ( Los Angeles), the pool in the basement of St. Bartholomew's Church ( New York City), and the Norwalk and Westport ( Conn.) Y's.

Me: How about when I was driving my car and panicked because I couldn't find my car keys in my pockets?

God: Truly pathetic.

I have swum in a 50-meter pool, passing over, at the deep end, beneath a 10-meter tower, a man in an old-timey diver's helmet, cleaning the bottom. I have swum in a 12-yard (approx.) pool, 200 furious, wave-tossed laps, forgetfully crashing into the walls at the ends. I have swum in a driving rainstorm. I have swum with snowflakes settling on my back. I have swum in 48� water. I have swum in 90� water. I have swum in a pool while it was being drained, my knees scraping the bottom as I made my final turns. I have swum from darkness into light and from light into darkness.

From light into darkness. As I turn my head to breathe, I see a last, lemony fragment of sky. On the next lap it's gone. The palm trees rising from the beach and above the pool deck betray the dark by being darker. It is still except for my wake, quiet except for the splashes and gurgles that mark my progress, the organic notes of my exhalations underwater. Then, suddenly, always unexpectedly, the pool lights come on and my shadow is flung upon the far wall. I am transmogrified. I am a dancing man. I am emblazoned and I am exalted.

In competition you swim on the lines, in workouts between them. The hitter's my man; interlineation; long, narrow spaces in which to revise your work, your life. I am compulsively scribbling between the lines, but who can read what I write?

The best swimmers have a feel for the water. They reach out and capture it, pull it toward them, mold it, making something that disappears in the act of creation. I am swimming from light into darkness amid murmurs of, I don't know. Freddie Jackson, Bach. Crash Test Dummies and incanted numbers, writing my life story, such as it is; behind me not a trace remains.

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