Airheads

I associate indoor swimming pools with candy.  This I can trace back to my years of swimming lessons at the local high school pool.  After lessons, hair in clumps, skin smelling of salty chlorine, we kids would crowd around the small counter in the lobby.  Lining the wall behind the counter were boxes and boxes of candy.

I remember only fruity, sour candy: Push-Pops, War Heads, Ring-pops, Skittles, and best of all, Airheads.  Every flavor of Airhead, foil-wrapped and glorious.  I preferred the white “mystery” flavor.  Both the packaging and the candy itself was milky white, and so there was no way to know which flavor you had gotten until you bit into it.  Strangely, it always tasted the same to me.  Not quite like cherry, blue raspberry, or grape.  The white had its own chalky, delicious taste.

The candy, eaten while our feet were still dripping into footprints on the floor, seemed to make up for the general trauma of the swimming lessons themselves.  The bobs, particularly, made me feel at the end of each lesson as if I had drowned several times within the forty-five minute window.

Have you ever been exposed to bobs?  They seem extraordinarily cruel to me, even now.  We stood in water up to our chests, and at the instructor’s whistle had to bend our knees so that our entire heads submerged, and then pop back up for a quick breath. This was repeated as many times as possible before the instructor blew his whistle again.  The catch was that we weren’t allowed to use our fingers to pinch our noses.  My poor nostrils exposed, I seemed to inhale a gallon with each dunk.

But when I stopped, when I paused and gripped the tiled pool ledge for even the briefest moment, the instructor–a golden high school boy–gave me a look of utmost disappointment until I felt that perhaps he wouldn’t ask my ten-year-old self to the prom after all.  Then he blew the whistle and the other bobbers sputtered and splashed to a halt.  Some more triumphantly than others, we all climbed the ladder to locker room sanctuary and, if our parents were generous with their quarters, Airheads.

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