Thursday, November 05, 2009

cement pond

Every autumn when the workmen pull the cover over my backyard pool and close it for the cold weather, I get a sad feeling. Conversely, the reopening of the pool each spring makes me happy. Today I saw something even sadder. The swimming pool at the former University Club, now the UT Visitors' Center, has been filled with concrete.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

rain, man

A nice swim after a torrential storm feels great for two reasons. First, it's as if I have stolen a rainout back from Mother Nature. Plus, the pool water has a clean, fresh taste from the infusion of raindrops. Tonight it also helped clear my head and burn some energy after one-too-many cups of delicious free coffee at work.

While I was enjoying the water, my thoughts went to two swimmers in the news this past week. Natalie Coughlin exceeded my expectations on "Dancing With the Stars." For the most part I'll be splitting my votes between her and Donny Osmond. Both she and he are posting updates on Twitter.

Another swimming story popped up in one of my Google Alerts. The granddaughter of a man named Frank Murphy swam the English Channel. Samantha Simon is only 19 and plans to go for the Triple Crown of open-water swimming. She hopes to swim around Manhattan and from L.A. to Catalina within a year.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

cool summer

The unusually mild weather this past weekend inspired me to try on something I had been saving for the Fall. I eyed it on a previous visit to Sam's Club but didn't buy it right away. When I returned a few weeks ago and saw there was only one left in my size and at a reasonable price, I snatched it up.

In the hopes of extending my swimming season, I bought a Sea-Doo Springsuit. It's similar to a wetsuit, except with short sleeves. I foolishly thought the zipper went in the front. When my wife and son stopped laughing, they told me to go back upstairs and turn it around.

Once I got the suit on right, I started swimming laps but not before pretending to be a superhero. When I wear it again, I will have to get used to three unusual sensations. The suit made me more buoyant, which was great. However the air and water that got trapped felt weird as they escaped. The air bubbles rode up my spine and out the collar as I swam. The water that got trapped in the suit ran down my legs when I got out of the pool, which would be no big deal except that it had been warmed to body temperature and felt like something else.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

bear marketing

As the bear trainer went through his act, it occurred to me that if I told the same jokes three times a day and didn't get laughs, I would change my jokes. Not so at Clark's Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Early in the routine, one of the bears opens a mailbox. The trainer, one of the Clarks, wonders if the mailbox will contain another AOL disc or Publisher's Clearing House entry. AOL disc? Really?

Other than the patter, the bear show was enjoyable. The black bears raised a flag, dunked a basketball, rode on a swing and more. One of the bears rode a Segway around the ring as a promotion for the Segway rides available at the other end of the property. My family and I headed that way so I could finally get a chance to ride one myself. It was fun and I would have liked to stay on it longer than my allotted three minutes.

Before departing the 42nd state on my to do list, we paused for a swim at Weirs Beach on beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

dance hall days

The Dance Dimensions Summer Invitational reminded me of another type of event that I used to attend on a regular basis. My son swam for his high school in the winter and for a neighborhood pool in the summer. The dance competition was a lot like a swim meet.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like lifeguards had to clean up the dance floor or anything. However both events had multiple heats and heat sheets to keep things organized. The different dances were like the different swim strokes. The announcers use code-like jargon and the participants had their snacks, smoothies and a change of clothes at all the tables. Like swimmers, Emily Loyless and Jeremy Norris were wearing warm-up jackets, except that theirs were from the Hotlanta Dance Challenge.

My wife and I could only stay and watch for an hour or so on Saturday afternoon. Most of the competitors we saw were pro-am couples. The dancers know which style is coming but not which song. They have to quickly find the beat and get started. Several of the professionals had participated in "Star 102.1's Dancing with the Knoxville Stars." In addition to Emily and Jeremy, we saw Charles Gibbs and all three Beckers: Mark, Rhonda and J.W. It seemed to me that most of the instructors were younger than their students. A photographer named Tim McGhee was snapping pictures which are available for sale on his website. He took both candid and posed shots.

Emily and I will soon start practicing for a reprise of our rumba routine. We are scheduled to perform during the Friday night dance party at Academy Ballroom on June 26. I have to figure out what to wear that night. When we danced in April, my tuxedo was provided by a sponsor. Emily would turn some heads if she wears the same thing she wore Saturday.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

beach bath & beyond

The Snuggie that I bought while sick made somebody think that I would also want another odd item. At least I guess that's why they sent me a link to the Wearable Towel. The similarities are obvious. The Snuggie is a blanket with sleeves. The Wearable Towel is a towel with arm holes.

Weather permitting, I go for a swim every day during the summer. I usually come downstairs wearing only a beach towel around my waist. I grab my swimsuit off the clothesline and pull it on under the towel. After my swim, I put the towel around my waist again and slip off the suit underneath. So it's not that I couldn't use a Wearable Towel, I just don't think that I would look good in a toga. All the guys in the video are sporting six-pack abs and wearing it off one shoulder. Whereas John Belushi knew to wear his toga on both shoulders.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

panic in the parlours

Some rainy weather over the weekend caused me to check my pool's skimmer more often. At one point, I lifted the lid and saw two floating toads. The rain seems to wash critters into the pool every year. Thinking they were dead, I avoided touching them as I reached in and pulled up the basket

Fortunately, they were still alive! I held the basket under the eaves of the garage and let rainwater wash over the toads to rinse the chlorine off them. By the way, Sam's Club jacked up the price of chlorine tablets to $100 for a 40 pound bucket. Anyhow, the toads perked up and I took pictures before releasing them into the woods.

These little fellas got me thinking. I like frogs but I prefer the subset of toads and I like turtles but I prefer the subset of tortoises.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

gnaw-ty gnaw-ty

The men from the pool company got an unexpected surprise when they turned on my pool equipment on Monday. Water started spouting out of the top of the Hayward Pool Products filter. A closer look revealed that some angry critter had chewed through the manual air relief cap and left teeth marks on the access cover. There's even more teeth marks on the corner of the nameplate. Some putty-like substance is plugging the leak until the maintenance crew can find replacement parts for the S-240 high rate sand filter. I wonder how much that will cost.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

on an open fire!

Even Michael Phelps would have trouble burning off all the calories in my Christmas stocking and under our tree. I have been schlepping to the indoor pool at the fitness center at least three days a week all through the holiday season to help assuage the guilt.

Just in time for the holiday eating season, I found a blog called Back to the Fridge by Charlie Hills. I thought about adding it to the blogroll on the right of my page, but the BTTF design doesn't lend itself to easy scrolling and browsing. Instead I view his posts via Google Reader. On Friday, Charlie wrote: "Although the new year is now officially underway, let’s face it: our diets don’t start until Monday." My thoughts exactly! Charlie's tastes agree with mine in two other important areas: TV women and Chex Mix. A lot of guys wisely choose Mary Ann over Ginger but not everyone picks Bailey over Jennifer.

I always get some sweet treats for Christmas. This year I seemed to be especially blessed. I've already mentioned the marshmallows I got from friends and alluded to the gingerbread cookies my kids made. Perhaps my professed affection for See's Candies inspired some family members to load me up with gourmet chocolates.

Today we tried to slice and share some truffles from Joseph Schmidt, Master Chocolatier. One of the truffles in the package of three was supposed to be pomegranate flavor. The others were "all dark" and "extra dark." We couldn't tell by looking at them. The outer shells were a bit hard and broke when we tried to cut them in half. The excellent taste was not affected. Unfortunately the French truffles from Bissinger's were not quite as good. My wife chose the espresso and mint flavors. I took the raspberry. We split the double chocolate and the hazelnut. They were okay, just not as delicious as I had hoped.

The Chocolate Filled Candy Canes we got from Elegant Gourmet didn't do it for me either. After tasting a piece of my wife's, I gave mine away. There was too much candy cane and not enough chocolate for my taste.

On the other hand, a small box of assorted Krause's Chocolates was a very nice surprise for our family to share. They were chosen for us by our daughter's boyfriend who had visited the shop in Saugerties, New York. The chocolates came with a page that identified the flavors by the color of the paper cup and the shape of the candy. For example, the raisin cluster was in a red cup and had a bumpy surface. The butter cream comes in a white cup with a smooth top. Another candy-related gift I received from the same benefactor was a "Star Trek" set of Pez dispensers. As you can see, they're all straight but Sulu.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

next year's goal

In hindsight, another six laps (or lengths if you want to nitpick) might have been possible. I jumped in the pool at the UT Student Aquatic Center this morning during the first Swim For Life event despite my dislike for going shirtless in public. There were many other swimmers, most of whom were under 18.

The lanes were designated from slow to fast, with members of the Atomic City Aquatic Club filling the very fast lanes. I chose a lane in the middle that had only two other swimmers at the time. My first goal was to swim 500 yards, the same length as a race my son would occasionally swim at his high school meets. As I counted off the twenty laps in my head, I thought about my plan to take a break and then swim some more. I also thought about the people who made donations to the American Cancer Society on my behalf. You can still donate, by the way.

The first eighteen laps were pretty easy. I started slow and kept a steady pace until I sprinted through laps nineteen and twenty. Instead of taking a break, I thought I should do a couple of warm down laps, which put me at twenty-two. Still feeling good, I kept going until I reached forty laps, which is 1000 yards. This time I sprinted through laps thirty-seven and thirty-eight and swam at a warm down pace for thirty nine and forty. Then I got out of the pool and rested for a while. I chatted with the staff from the American Cancer Society and met Laurel Chaney, the top fundraiser for the event.

When I got back in the water, I intended to swim another ten laps. I actually swam twenty more before stopping, bringing my total to 1500 yards. My arms were starting to feel like rubber bands and there was a tiny hint of a cramp coming on in my calf. I was pretty happy with myself until I checked the Internet this evening and learned my sixty were only six laps short of a mile.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

the water's fine

The broadcast networks are pitching in to fight cancer on Friday. ABC, CBS and NBC will all air "Stand Up to Cancer" at 8:00 p.m. that night. Dozens of celebrities will answer phones and take pledges.

I will do my small part to help on Saturday morning. I have long eschewed participating in any walkathons or fun runs because that sort of exercise makes me tired, sweaty and uncomfortable. However when Amy Fields of the American Cancer Society asked me to participate in a new event called Swim for Life, I said yes. It's an offshoot of their famous Relay for Life walking event. Swim for Life runs from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday at the UT Student Aquatic Center. I can't swim for four hours but I will swim as many laps as I can. Do you think I could get away with eating the same foods as Michael Phelps for a day? Probably not.

If you are so inclined, please make a pledge to support my efforts. I have a page on the ACS site where you can make a donation online or print off a form to mail in with a check.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

it's alive

Before swimming each day, I use a net to get leaves and pine needles out of the pool. Then I empty the skimmer basket of leaves, bugs and the occasional bad surprise. Once the chores are done, I get in the water myself. As I was swimming the other day, something small and brown got my attention. It wasn't a leaf, as I might usually find. This little thing was swimming too. I got closer and realized it was a frog. I needed to get him out of the chlorinated water immediately.

Last Sunday on the cluster's public affairs show, my guest was Janya Marshall from the Knoxville Zoo. We mostly talked about tonight's Feast with the Beasts, one of my favorite annual events (and one of the top 20 in the Southeast). Janya also ran through a list of current exhibits including Toadally Frogs.

During the interview, I opined that frogs are the canary in the environmental coal mine. In explaining how fragile frogs are, I mentioned that the chemicals which keep the pool suitable for me are fatal to a frog. I scooped up my swimming companion and placed him among some leaves. I think it was a Mountain Chorus Frog, like the ones who lay their eggs on the pool cover in Winter, although its coloring was more solid. It stayed there to rest while I finished my laps, went in to get dressed and came back outside with my camera. I hope the little amphibian has learned to stay out of the pool. In honor of the Olympics, I'll call him Phrogger Phelps.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

ahoy there

The amazing Michael Phelps did it again. Tonight's race was the best yet. Earlier in the week, his relay teammates won him a gold medal in a great display of sportsmanship. The other day, Phelps overcame goggle adversity to set another world record. However it was tonight's race that left me slack jawed and speechless while staring at the TV.

Phelps looked like he was going to lose throughout the entire 100 meter butterfly event. For the first time in this Olympics, he didn't break a world record (just an Olympic one). Two of his competitors were capable of beating him. American Ian Crocker holds the world record and Serbian Milorad Cavic was the top qualifier in the preliminary heats. From almost every camera angle it looked like Cavic had touched the wall first. The electronic timer gave the race to Phelps by one one hundredth of a second. It wasn't until NBC showed the replay from the underwater camera in super slow motion that it became clear Phelps had touched first. He was still swimming at full speed as Cavic was gliding and reaching for the wall. The last half-stroke made all the difference.

As the swimming events wind down, so does my interest in the Olympics. If something catches my eye, I will watch for a little while but I won't be planning my evening around an event like I did with Phelps' races. Perhaps it will be fun to look for newspaper headlines about track star Tyson Gay. I doubt anyone can top today's San Francisco Chronicle headline: Gay Cruises To Heat Victory!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

pool shark

Backyard swimmers like me can take some comfort from the fact that even the best swimmer in the world can find his goggles filled with water. That's what happened to the amazing Michael Phelps last night during the 200 meter butterfly race. Despite the setback, Phelps still set a new world record and added to his collection of gold medals.

The 12-hour time difference between here and China allows me to watch the swimming events live as I type this. Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines are doing a great job announcing. Imagine how they would have sounded describing discontinued Olympic events like the swimming obstacle race, underwater swimming or solo synchronized swimming. Huh?

NBC and ABC both ran stories on their evening newscasts about the technological advances that are helping this year's Olympians set new records in almost every swimming event. The pool inside the Beijing Water Cube is built for speed. Its depth, lane dividers and gutters all reduce the waves that would slow the competitors. Obviously the much-hyped new swimsuits get some credit. NASA engineers helped design a suit that is more streamlined than human skin. Most important is Phelps' training regimen and swimming technique. I heard him say tonight that one of his best tools is his underwater dolphin kick. His huge feet and gigantic wingspan don't hurt one bit.

The new pool technology isn't limited to Beijing or the temporary above-ground tank in Omaha. Last month my son swam in the new Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center at UT. He and the rest of the City Meet swimmers thought it was a fast pool, certainly an improvement over the old Student Aquatic Center.

On my last trip to Atlanta, I had a chance to see the pool used in the 1996 Olympics. It now belongs to Georgia Tech. They put a school logo on the bottom of the diving well. From my perspective, it looked a lot like the handicap symbol in the foreground.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

man with the Midas touch

Last nights 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay will go down in Olympic history alongside the famous "Do you believe in miracles?" hockey game of 1980. The race was on close to midnight, Eastern time. My wife had gone to bed only a few minutes earlier. I called out to her and convinced her to get up and come watch the TV in my office.

This morning she urged our son to go online and find some video highlights. First he tried to watch it on an older laptop, choosing the option to watch without downloading Microsoft Silverlight. That didn't work. He then found that it wouldn't work without updating the version of Firefox on that machine either. I sent him upstairs to get my laptop. We downloaded the application and finally watched the race. It was well worth it. In fact it was even better the third time around. If you haven't already seen it, click here to watch the race. And then watch it again a couple of times so that we'll be caught up.

To win more gold medals than Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps needed to be on a winning relay team. Obviously he could not do that on his own, especially against the heavily-favored, smack-talking French team. Phelps swam an American record time in the first leg and still got beaten by the Australian competitor. His teammates took the lead, lost the lead and then came from behind to win the race. Jason Lezak's anchor leg was amazing. Equally outstanding is the jubilation of the American team as they celebrate their victory.

All the teams were so good that even the fifth place finisher came in ahead of the old world record time of 3:12:23. Imagine explaining that one to the grandchildren. "Oh yeah, we broke the old world record. Yet somehow we came in fifth!"

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Sunday, July 13, 2008


First of all, "WALL-E" is a very good movie, despite what happened. We went to see it yesterday to escape the heat at the Smoky Mountain Invitational swim meet, just like last year when we saw "Ratatouille." If this weren't our fourth and final year going to the meet, we could have started our own Pixar tradition.

Our son had to be at the Springbrook Pool in time for team warm ups at 7:30 a.m. While he hit the water, my wife bought a heat sheet and checked his schedule. With 33 teams and a ton of swimmers participating, there would be a lot of time between his four events. He was due to swim at 9:49 a.m., 1:15 p.m., 6:44 p.m. and 8:46 p.m. The five and a half hour window between his second and third races gave us the perfect opportunity to get away for a while. The well-run meet had gotten 25 minutes ahead of schedule by 11:45 a.m. but that time vanished when everything stopped for half an hour.

Although it's an older theater, all the screens at the Carmike Foothills 12 offer digital projection. I now find it hard to watch movies without DLP. The beginning sequence of "WALL-E" is as good as all the critics said it was. I especially got a kick out of hearing a song from "Hello, Dolly!" that mentioned my old hometown of Yonkers in the first few seconds. Maybe it was the hours we had already spent in the sun or perhaps the cool air in the dark theatre or maybe it was the scarcity of dialogue in the story that made my eyelids start getting heavy toward the middle of the movie. I'll have to watch the whole thing again when it's on satellite next year.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

here's another nice mess

The bravest lifeguards in East Tennessee waded carefully into the Springbrook Pool today. Moments earlier the pool had been evacuated and the events of the Smoky Mountain Invitational meet had been halted. The announcer said the delay would last at least thirty minutes. The races are at the deep end of the pool while the shallow part near the slide is open to anyone who buys a wristband and wants to cool off. It was one of the recreational swimmers who caused the shutdown for exactly the reason you're thinking. The lifeguards had to pull on their rubber gloves and collect the specimen. A round of "eewws" could be heard from those watching as the guards scooped each piece into an old chlorine bucket.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

take your mark

There are a lot more people in the stands at the Olympic swimming trials in Omaha than could possibly fit in the brand new Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center at UT, which is hosting the Olympic diving selection camp this week. It's because the Omaha event is being held at the Qwest Center, a building that normally hosts basketball games, hockey games and rock concerts.

The past few nights I've been watching the swimming events in HD on the USA Network while searching the Internet for information on how they got such a huge pool into the arena. First, they put up some yellow tape to give people an idea of where the temporary pool would go. It's technically an above-ground pool, sitting on top of twelve truckloads of sand. Then they brought in the walls in segments, added a vinyl liner and had the fire department spray in enough water to cover the bottom and stretch out the liner. The Omaha World-Herald created a full-page graphic to show the pool's features. Eight rows of seats had to be removed for the pool deck, which covers all the pipes for the filtration system. When the swimming trials are over, local firefighters will drain the pool as part of a training exercise.

The news that Lady Vol swimmer Christine Magnuson made the Olympic team in the 100m butterfly event was on all the local channels. Another Knoxville swimmer competed in the 200m individual medley. Jace Howanitz is the current Tennessee state high school champion in that event. Next year she will swim for Virginia Tech as an H2Okie. This year her time was 9.75 seconds behind the winner, which she will undoubtedly improve upon in 2012. I just wanted an excuse to type H2Okie.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

feedback loop

Do big companies pay any attention to the suggestions we submit? A few years ago I wrote to TiVo about two little things that were bothering me. They have since fixed both issues. Maybe I had something to do with it or maybe it was just a coincidence.

On weeknights, I record "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on WATE. The next morning my TiVo should still be on that channel in case I want to hit rewind and see the visual of something that I heard on the audio simulcast on "World News Now." Sometimes I wouldn't turn on the TV until later when I wanted to see something on "The View" or the noon news. More than a couple of times a week, the TiVo would be tuned to the Discovery Channel instead. The TiVo had switched to it at 4:30 in the morning to record some movie trailers and car commercials that show up in the main menu. I wrote to complain that my TiVo should leave things the way it found them. I suggested that they insert a command to return to the previous channel after recording their infomercials. If there's a button on my remote to go back to the previous channel, they should be able to write a line of code for it. They must have agreed because it's no longer an issue.

On another occasion I wrote to TiVo asking them to make it easier to record future episodes of a show I had sampled. If I tried one episode of a show and liked it, I would have to search for it in the guide to find more. For shows that were still on the To Do List, they have a button marked View Upcoming Episodes. That button would go away once the show was finished recording. I suggested that they keep it around. Their solution wasn't perfect, you still have to look for it under More Options, but it is satisfactory.

I once asked the manager of a new movie theatre to lower the intensity of their hand dryers because the noise was deafening, especially when the bathroom was crowded and all the dryers were in use. They said they would.

Those same dryers gave me the idea for my next suggestion. In the locker rooms at the UT Student Aquatic Center and at most fitness centers, they have hand dryers placed at two heights on the wall. One is for drying hands, the other for drying hair. My idea is to add a dryer lower on the wall for drying feet. I gave my idea to the front desk staff at one branch of a health club. Meanwhile, a friend and co-worker of mine is about to take a new job in marketing at The Rush, a fast-growing chain of fitness complexes based here in Knoxville. I will bug him with my idea until he talks his new bosses into doing it.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008


The lady sitting next to me in the bleachers said today was the first time she had been to the city meet. I told her it was my last. At least for the winter season anyway. I think there will be one more summer city meet in my future. The term is a bit of a misnomer. Schools from Knox and several surrounding counties comprise the Knoxville-area Interscholastic Swim League.

The city meet was supposed to be held in the new Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center. at the University of Tennessee. Construction delays put the meet back in the 40-year-old Student Aquatic Center instead. I'm sure I wasn't the only person who was a little disappointed about not seeing the new building. The gallery was so packed with parents that it was difficult at times to even see the pool.

From past years, I knew that it would be a hot, stuffy and uncomfortable experience in the stands. I made sure to bring a seat cushion and to wear a short sleeve shirt under my other layers. The people seated in front of me were complaining about the odor of chlorine in the air. I had no problem with the smell or the heat, it was the noise that got me. I wish I had brought the earplugs I got from that country music network.

The crowd noise wasn't a problem. It was the ear-splitting sound from the P.A. system that left me in pain. We had to stick our fingers in our ears as the announcer listed which teams would warm up in which lanes. The more enthusiastic he was, the louder he got. I thought my head would explode when he told the owner of a Mazda Miata that their headlights were on. One school's swim team tried covering a loudspeaker with a towel to no avail. Another announcer would occasionally read the results of the boys' events. He was loud too, but not as piercing.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

reach the unreachable star

This isn't going to turn into MetsBlog, I promise. In fact, my plan was to not write about baseball again until the end of the regular season. Perhaps I was still in the afterglow of my trip to see the Mets win two in Milwaukee when I eagerly clicked over to the Daily News website to read about Tom Glavine's 300th win. Another Mets story caught my eye first.

Shea Stadium's days are numbered as the new Citi Field nears its 2009 opening. Some dedicated Mets fans want the team to keep the same big red apple that pops up after a Mets home run. They started an online petition at Personally, I hope the Mets ditch the apple. A commenter on one of the blogs I read today described it perfectly with the word "janky." The sketches of the new ballpark do show a new big apple in the outfield. That's not good enough for the Save The Apple guys. They insist that the same beat up old apple be relocated to Citi Field. I think the move is a good time to begin some new home run traditions. Or at least refresh the old ones. I'm sure the fact that my earliest Mets memories are from before the apple was installed has a lot to do with why I wouldn't miss it. What are some other home run traditions that you've seen?

41-year-old Tom Glavine's milestone victory last night reminded me of a story about an incredible achievement by another 40-year-old athlete. On Saturday, Dara Torres set a new American record in the 50-meter freestyle at the USA Swimming National Championships in Indianapolis. Oh yeah, she took first place in the 100-meter freestyle too. Dara is now on track to compete in her fifth Olympics. The Indianapolis Star also had an interview with the owner of the world's easiest job: lifeguard at the national swim meet.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

back breast fly free

One of the tidbits of trivia I picked up on my recent road trip involves swimming and college graduation. A few prestigious universities require students to pass a swim test during their four years of study. I don't mean this as a slight on my fine alma mater, but I had never heard of this before. Recently more and more colleges that had the swim test are dropping it. An editorial in the student newspaper at the University of Chicago defended the practice:
Besides its implications for the University, the swim test is a crucial part of student life. It forces us to pick up an eminently practical skill on a campus where the teaching of such skills sometimes seems lacking. According to the National Center of Health Statistics, around 4,000 people die of drowning in the United States every year. To put approximately $175,000 worth of education into developing a young mind that doesn't know enough to save itself when a day at the beach suddenly goes sour is enough to make an econ major scream. The benefits far outweigh the costs of facing the irritating prospect of finishing a full course load and still needing to know how to crawl stroke in order to leave Hyde Park with a degree.
Most of the students get the test over with shortly after freshman orientation. Some procrastinate until the last possible moment, meaning their graduation literally hinges on whether or not they can swim 100 yards without stopping. A tour guide at one college repeated a story about the swim test happening at the behest of a mourning parent whose college student child drowned in a nearby river. The story turned out to be an urban legend even if the swimming requirement is very real.


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Saturday, July 07, 2007

meet and treat

It was hot at the Smoky Mountain Invitational swim meet but not quite as uncomfortable as it was last year. The schedule of events showed that our son had a six hour wait between his first and second race. We could have cooled off by taking a cold shower or by paying a dollar to jump into the "free swim" area of the pool. Instead we got in the car and went to a movie in an air conditioned theatre.

We saw "Ratatouille" at the Carmike Foothills 12. All of their screens have digital projection. I am now spoiled and only want to see movies that way from now on. The movie was very good, quickly overcoming one part that I thought was a little slow. It's completely G-rated but the subject matter sailed over the head of the littlest kids in the audience. In fact, they left early. They could have been turned off by the drama of a restaurant losing a star from its five-star rating or by the legal ramifications of a character's paternity.

After the movie, it was back to the Springbrook Pool and the SMI. Like at every meet, many kids had their event and heat numbers written on their arms. At all the meets so far this year, I've noticed a lot of swimmers, mostly girls, with the phrase "eat my bubbles" written on their backs. I'm still waiting for somebody to change it to "breathe my bubbles." Doesn't that make more sense? Several swimmers had their team names written on their bodies. I saw things like "Go Gators," "Go Sharks," "Go Dolphins" and so on. My favorite team name is the "Smokin' Salmon." They swim for a Jewish community center. At a swim meet last month, I noticed a sign posted by the guy who lives next to one of the neighborhood pools. Apparently his name for the local swim team is "Sprinkler Heads" as he implores: "Please, sprinkler heads, do not drive on the grass."

My son swam his last event around 6 p.m., eleven hours after we had arrived at the pool. We rewarded his performance with a trip to Brooklyn's Original Pizza in Lenoir City. Nick, the owner, remembered us from our last visit and probably from the Knoxville Yankee picnic. He also said that he just saw me on stage at the radio station's Fourth of July concert.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

that's what chlorine is for

Part of owning a backyard pool is sometimes finding a dead animal in the water. Two summers ago I saved a box turtle that had fallen in. This year I haven't been as lucky. At the beginning of the swim season, five (dramatic) chipmunks ended it all in my pool. I suspect that they were in search of a drink during the current Tennessee drought. Three of the chipmunks were floaters. The other two I had to retrieve from the bottom using a net on a long pole. A couple of listeners have sent emails suggesting that I purchase a product to help the critters climb out of the pool before it's too late. One wrote to tell me about the Frog Saver Lily Pad, the other about the Froglog.

My wife and I had lunch with Dr. Bill Bass and his lovely wife Carol yesterday. We talked about plenty of stuff besides the Body Farm but when the conversation did turn to forensic anthropology, I asked about floaters (no, not Ralph, Charles, Paul and Larry). Maybe the chipmunks were still on my mind (no, not Alvin, Simon and Theodore). Dr. Bass told us about a study on bodies in water done at the Body Farm that was described in the book "Death's Acre." He also told us about a failed effort to test an underwater body cage in the river. More research needs to be done in this area. I didn't get around to asking Dr. Bass about bodies in Lake Tahoe. I remember reading that the cold, deep water keeps them from ever floating to the surface. Before the conversation moved on, he jokingly suggested that I enroll at UT and do a Master's thesis on floaters.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

thank you, Thing

Imagine yourself going for a swim in at a beach in Florida. Maybe you get too tired, maybe you get caught in an undertow. Next thing you know, a lifeguard is dragging you out of the water. He's unusually tall and powerful. You look up and realize that your life has been saved by Lurch from "The Addams Family." If this were an episode of the show, you would probably run back into the ocean as the laugh track swelled. In reality, you would have been swimming some time around 1953 and lifeguard Ted Cassidy had not yet landed the role that would define him forever. The article about Lurch's previous career was my favorite link in Perry Simon's Talk Topics column on this week. If the Internet is to be believed, Cassidy worked at a Dallas radio station in 1963, ad-libbed his famous "you rang" line and his cremains were buried in his own backyard.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

wash me

The outdoor swimming pool at the University of Tennessee seems to collect a lot of dirt or algae on the bottom during the fall and winter. I think the pool might be kept open all year for some competitive local swimmers to practice. Somebody with a sense of humor swam to the bottom of the diving well and left a message in the dirt. Take a look:

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

backstroke, breaststroke, sunstroke

Today was a long day. We spent 12 hours at the Smoky Mountain Invitational Swim Meet. It's held at the Springbrook pool in Alcoa, the town named after the aluminum company. My son swam in his first event around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. His next races were not until after 3:30 p.m. During the long wait, my wife, my daughter and I would periodically go to the locker rooms and take cold showers in an attempt to beat the heat. We could have paid $1 each for wristbands to use the slide in the shallow end of the pool for an hour but the showers were free.

As usual, I did a little people watching. I saw a dad with a very creepy ponytail. I saw swimmers using a Sharpie to write their event and heat numbers on their hands and legs. I saw a poker game being played by a group of shirtless 12-year-old boy swimmers with figures like Bobby Bacala.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

silly ribbit

Several Mountain Chorus Frogs have been heard in our backyard since February. Despite our efforts to discourage the lovestruck frogs from mating on our pool cover, there are dozens of tadpoles now swimming in the rainwater collected there. In preparation for the upcoming pool opening, my son and I have been siphoning excess water off the cover. Before starting a siphon, my son filled a bucket with rainwater and leaves and then used a skimmer net to collect as many tadpoles as he could see. Trying to save these tadpoles feels like the right thing to do but we may just be making it more difficult for ourselves. There's a pretty good chance the tadpoles which grow into frogs will return to their birthplace next year to make even more tadpoles on our pool cover. Here's a couple of baby pictures and a short video of the little swimmers:

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