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stories >> 1998 - 03 - 01

The Springs

      Carl and I went out last night with predictable results. The line of the night was at the wavering point, right before the second pitcher of beer, when Carl hunched up his shoulders and told me, "Come on, leetle boy, and get drunk with Uncle Carl!" But I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about today... a perfect paradise day deep in the heart of Texas. And I think I've got some heavy reading to do later tonight, so I want to capture this while I can.

      The wind was perfect, the sky was perfect, and the air was moving slowly through my apartment. I could smell all of those faint sappy spring smells that Texas puts out, and there's that invisible hum in the air. I laid in bed for an hour, with the blanket pulled up to my chin, and my eyes closed, and that big stupid grin across my face, just feeling how great the day was. I finally got up, showered, blew off Carl's attempt to go out to breakfast and start drinking in earnest again, and just sat outside in the sunshine.

      Seems like paradise has been on the mind of lots of folks lately. I'm thinking about my current favorite pop song, "The Way" by Fastball. I only vaguely remember the chorus:

      And anyone can see the road
      That they walk on is paved with gold
      And it's always summer
      And they'll never get cold
      They'll never get hungry
      They'll never get old and gray

and it just reverberates so well. One of those random Greek words you pick up in philosophy is telos, which doesn't exactly mean "paradise" but more like "accomplishing goal." The end of the line. The reason for doing something. We'll never get old , we'll never get old and gray.

      I decided to go the Springs. Barton Springs, that is.

      So I went down to Rooster Andrews and bought myself a fancy pair of goggles ( Tyr Racetech, for both "training and racing." Cool.). Then I set off down MoPac to the Springs, and just smiled at every car I passed as that perfect air whipped through the Leper and set the head liner a'ripplin. Driving by the Springs, there were cars and cars and cars, and I realized that I wasn't the only one who was thinking about Zilker and Barton Springs today. So I tooled over to work, got out my towel and brand new goggles, talked to Rachel while I pumped up the bike tires and set off around Town Lake with the eventual telos of sweet, sweet Barton Springs.

      I turned left instead of my usual right around Town Lake so that I could torment my lazy quads with that quick pump up that tiny steep hill just before South First Street. Unfortunately, someone jumped out in front of me right before I got to the hill, so I didn't downshift and was pumping and swearing with all my might to get up that damn hill. Everybody was kind of looking at me since I have the habit of talking to myself when I'm struggling through something. "Come on, baby! Come on, bitch! GGRRAAAAAUUUUNNNNHHH!" It seemed like hours, but it only took maybe ten seconds to smack up the hill, and then I was cruising through the easy parts of the loop.

      I took a trail I had never seen before and negotiated a few tree roots, and I came out on the east side of the Springs. I locked up, walked down, and was happy to realize that it was still early enough in the year that you get to swim for free. I chatted up the life guard for a little while, asking her how long 100 meters was in the ill marked pool, and then I stripped down and put on my fancy new goggles. Then I jumped on in.

      After the, I don't know, fifty times or so I've swum at Barton Springs, I'd think that I'd be somewhat used to the water temperature by now. But every time I jump in, that 68 degrees is a brutal shock, and I have to splash frantically for several seconds to stave off shock. Everything... er... shrinks in 68 degree water. After a few minutes, though, it's all okay, and I talk to some guy who's swimming around while I keep doing karate kicks under water to get blood back into my toes. I brag about how cool my eight dollar goggles are ("They're for both training AND racing, you know") and then I set off to do some laps.

      And yeah. I always forget how hard swimming is. It's not like being eight years old playing "Sharks and Minnows" in the deep end of the pool. I fancied myself quite a swimmer as a little tyke, but those, um, 18 years of non swimming sure do catch up. I puff through 80 meters of forward crawl, and then do the last 20 in a miserable breast stroke. My pride is sorely stung, so I fake my way through another fifty meters before I decide that maybe I'll just swim back and forth along the short length of the pool. I do that a few times, and I start getting more interested at looking at the cool water plants along the bottom of the pool. The new goggles are perfect, not a drop of water in my eyes, but I realize that I'm back at the "Sharks and Minnows" level of swimming now so I go ahead and get out.

      Ahh, this is the real point of swimming. The real telos. You've got apres ski, how about apres swim. Probably because I'm so bad at it, nothing makes me tired like the water, and getting out and loosening up feels oh so good. I swap the goggles for those ridiculous bug eye shades I wear, spread out the towel, and just watch everything for a while and let that March sun pound down on me. I think to myself, "Screw melanoma. I'm Lord of my Domain!"

      And it's true. On a day like this, I really feel invincible. I'll never get old and gray. I'm splayed out in the sun, and I hear a steady stream of kids and kid chatter behind me. I hear one of them talking about me,and I feel a quick twinge of self consciousness. Then I laugh a little, and think about how as a younger man going to the pool was quite an ordeal. How we would walk around the pool so stiff, trying to flex our abs just so, trying to hold our arms out so that our lats looked bigger, scowling at everyone trying to be tough. "What a difference," I think, looking down at eight years of beer hanging around my belly and not really worrying that much about it. I hear another kid insistently asking his mom if she "sees the alligator down there" and I close my eyes and smile and let my mind wander around.

      I think back to my first philosophy class in college... was it really 8 1/2 years ago? ... and I think of my first prof, Janet Sepasi. On a day just like this, I had ridden my bike down from UT on what had seemed to be a marathon ride, and I laid in the sun and read a book of poems by Sappho that she had let me borrow. I remember eating a pear, and reading about the textual difficulties of translating ancient Greek (it's all in upper case, with no spaces or punctuation), and I remember just one line of Sappho even now from a fragment called "Love"

      It Burns

Good old Sappho knew what she was talking about. I wonder what Janet's doing these days? She had gotten married to some other grad student, and I never knew what happened to her afterwards. Funny how as I get older I wonder about these things, seeing in my mind a bright thread of someone else's life that wound around mine for awhile and then wandered off to somewhere else.

      Then I think back to a day at Trilogy... it was the summer before I left them, when things had gotten really bad. Carl and I had gone out for lunch. As we drove back into the parking garage, we looked down on Lake Austin and saw the boats and how beautiful it all was and I told him, "You know, I really don't want to go back to work." And of course Carl thought a moment and said, "You know, I wouldn't mind playing hookey today." So off we went, and eventually we ended up at the Springs, me with a pair of shorts I had just bought on sale at Mervyn's, Carl with a can of Fosters' in each fist, and we swam in the cold water and lay in the warm sun. Off to the left of us a pair of gorgeous lesbians were kissing each other, and I lay back and looked up through the live oaks at the softly shimmering sky and thought, "This is where I am truly happy." That was the day when the seed to leave Trilogy really took root.

      I open my eyes a little bit now and see the same sky but different trees; it will be a few weeks before the live oaks have their leaves back. But everywhere there are the subtle signs of lionized March branching into Spring, and I lazily dream about a pair of eyes as blue as the sky above me.

      I wake up a little more and watch the swimmers a little to try to get ideas of how I can improve my own technique. I see someone wearing a wet suit, and some lines from Xanadu, yet another paradise, come into my head. I laugh as the "damsel with a dulcimer" interpolates into "A woman in a wetsuit in a vision I once saw." The sun's getting a little lower, and the kid behind me still wants to know where the alligator is, and I figure it's time to move on.

      I put on my ancient ratty sneakers, drop my new kingly goggles into my pocket, and head up out of the Springs.

      I toodle the rest of the way around Town Lake, unable to resist a few quick races to beat some slow people on bicycles (I get like that sometimes), and I come out back at GE. I put the bike away and ride the Leper home. I'm tired all over, and getting to be starving. I put some water on to make pasta, rummage out a tangelo, and open a bottle of wine. I'm getting cold, out of the sun, so I wrap a shirt around me and stare out the windows. The wine's one of my last bottles of 1994 Gravelstone Chardonnay, and it's as gold and thick as the sunlight streaming in through the windows. And it tastes so good going down, I think of one last vision of paradise, this one from Son Volt:

      Listening to an all night station
      While driving through Louisiana
      It sounds like 1963
      But tonight, it sounds just like Heaven.


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