Volume 26, Number 4

Swimming I

Bob Hartley

We walked quickly, dicks flapping, feet smacking, air thick with chlorine. We sat on the long wooden bench, hunched over, elbows resting on thighs, keeping space between us, making sure skin never touched. We spoke to each other in low tones, but never looked at each other. We looked down at the tiles or straight ahead at the water. We waited for Coach Bower, buzz cut, white sport shirt, shamrock logo, fat pouring over green shorts, white tube socks, black orthopedic shoes, to take a breath and blow the whistle.

My dick sprang to attention at least a dozen times a day. It’d gotten so bad my father, Bud, ordered me to cut my shower time or get a job. “Water bill’s as much as the fucking mortgage,” he’d said.

The one thing that kept me from getting hard was Hitler. Thoughts of torch-lit rallies and book burnings usually did the trick. That day, it was his failed invasion of Soviet Russia. Somewhere I’d read his mistake was initiating Operation Barbarossa in June. By the time winter came around, German supply lines were stretched too far. With supplies thin, the old Wehrmacht was fucked. They got bogged down and the Russians shoved their Aryan asses back to the Fatherland. I pictured them in retreat, walking corpses, coats tattered, boots split, black, frostbitten feet, too exhausted to march with any cadence, the once-great blitzkrieg now a lump of flesh that would spend the rest of the war being hacked from behind.

But what would have happened if, like the Batu Kahn, the bastard had chosen to invade in fall, a stocked, full-bellied Nazi horde, raising swastikas, building the camps, packing the trains and filling the showers with Zyclon B? On the one hand, my relatives would have been slaughtered, and I’d never have been born. On the other, I wouldn’t have been sitting on a bench with a bunch of naked gentiles trying to maintain a flaccid dick by thinking about the failures and triumphs of an anti-Semitic megalomaniac. Whistle blew. Jumped in.

The next thirty minutes were a free swim. I liked them because they allowed me to stay separated from the heterosexual pack and their constant chatter regarding pussy. I was particularly done with the subject of what my fellow classmates, if given the chance, would do to the pussy of the science teacher, Mrs. Lynch. They’d pound it. They’d bang it. They’d wreck it. They’d tear it up. Apparently, their utmost desire was to mug Mrs. Lynch’s vagina.

Guy Bensen did not think about Hitler. When the whistle blew, he tried to hide his hard on by crouching and stumbling toward the water. But Bower ordered him to stop and stand straight. He was so hard it looked like he could be picked up by his cock and spun.

Bensen, tall, rounded shoulders shaking, bony arms crossed, stood staring down at his feet. Bower handed him a towel. Bensen took it, but didn’t move. Bower slapped him. “Do it,” he said.

It was 1974 and corporal punishment was intrinsic to the pedagogy of St. Tim’s. Although Bower had used the open-hand method, he kept a whiffle ball bat available for swift application to asses. But plastic wasn’t the only material to engage our flesh, and some teachers were very creative. Each semester, Mr. Cirriano, the sophomore biology instructor, offered extra credit for the student who created the best wooden paddle. That semester the winner was particularly resourceful. He drilled holes into the paddle, which not only cut down on wind resistance, but encouraged the raising of welts. Halfway through the semester, Cirriano broke it on a boy and another opportunity for extra credit was born.

Bensen, the pink print of Bower’s fleshy hand on his cheek, shuffled to the diving board. He walked out, covered his dick with the towel and began, in a trembling voice, to sing the school song.

St. Tim is our great old school, In our hearts, you will always rule, Forever We will praise your name. You’re the guide of youth! The Home of Truth! When we’re men, we’ll love you the same, RAH! RAH!

Bower hollered, “Again.” The third time around, before Bensen reached RAH! RAH!, the towel fell. Bower stood, one hand on his chin, smiled and repeatedly screamed at the boy on the plank. “Again.”

Besides making swim class a goddamn nightmare, Bower taught sophomore English and typing. I, unfortunately, was a student in both classes. The first day of English class, he told us he didn’t know shit about literature, but he knew grammar and spelling. I’d found out that was true when I turned in a story about a criminal who dies and is forced to spend eternity being tormented by his victims. I’d read a bit of Dante and, because Catholics are usually suckers for that kind of shit, thought it was a guaranteed A. But, because a few times I’d written witch instead of which, when he handed it back, on the back page Bower scrawled, Learn to spell. C+.

The boy covered himself with his hands. He shivered. His voice cracked. Behind me somebody shouted, “Fag.” We laughed. I laughed too. I had to.

Just before the bell rang, Bower ordered Bensen off the board and told him to get dressed. We all knew what would happen. Every class had one or two. It would be the last time he’d be with us. Instead, for the rest of the semester, he’d remain clothed and sit in the balcony. I never understood why this was done. If getting a raging hard on due to being in the presence of naked boys was a sin, why was sitting in a balcony overlooking a pool full of naked boys the punishment?

In a way, I envied Bensen because he wouldn’t have to endure naked swimming anymore, but I didn’t envy him the rest of his days at St. Tim’s. He’d spend most of them being shoved, tripped, slapped, punched and kicked. When it wasn’t the students, it would be the lay teachers. When it wasn’t the lay teachers, it’d be the Christian Brothers.

To the Roman Catholics who ran the place, a stiff cock was all the proof needed. It didn’t matter if he was or he wasn’t, Bensen was now a faggot, and that’s what faggots got. I wouldn’t let them do that to me. I was the faggot who would play it straight. I would shove my lust deep, crush it. I’d think about Hitler.