First of all, never swim if there is no lifeguard on duty. However, if there is no lifeguard, it’s OK to go in as long as you are wearing a duck-shaped tube with a head that squeaks when you squeeze it in case you need to summon assistance.
Second, always swim with a buddy. If you have no friends because of your surliness, arrogance, or propensity not to bathe, try searching the internet for a tolerant individual full of pity.
Third, never go into the water immediately after eating. What you ate will determine how long you need to wait. If you’ve eaten a single saltine, jump right in. If you’ve eaten two or more pizzas topped with anchovies and eel, wait two to three hours. If you’ve eaten a whole turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes, it’s best to wait about a week.
Of course, it’s always wisest to consult your mother about the correct interval between eating and swimming. She knows. If, however, your mother is deceased and you go in and something terrible happens, you can look forward to being haunted forever by her voice in your head saying, “You never listen!”
Fourth, always wear a bathing suit unless you are incredibly unattractive. If you are hard to look at, wear a tent and a hockey mask.
While it’s tempting, never go into the Delaware, especially when the shad are running upstream to spawn. Aggressive fisher-folk are stacked up in the river bow to stern with a dozen rods in each boat. You could end up being served as a fish-fry treat at the Lambertville Shad Festival.
Certain hazards should be weighed carefully before entering the water. If sharks are present, do not go in unless you swim really fast. If there is lightning, it is best to lie flat and pretend to be a flounder. (Whoever heard of a flounder being struck by lightning.) Never dive if you see sharp rocks sticking out of the water. Always protect yourself from sunburn by wearing Kevlar body armor or sun screen with an SPF rating of 4,000 or higher.
If you hear broadcast warnings of a riptide or severe undertow, it is best to stay in bed.
Never go in if there is ice on the water’s surface no matter how thin unless either grandparent is either a penguin or a polar bear. You can survive in thirty-two degree water for not much more than fifteen minutes unless you are incredibly drunk.
If you can’t swim at all, you can go into the kiddie pool provided that an adult is present and you don’t go in over your ankles.
If you are embarrassed about hanging out in the kiddie pool, consider swimming lessons. Be aware that it’s best to begin lessons during infancy. [Disclosure: I threw my daughter into an above ground pool (actually, I placed her gently) when she was six months old. She swam underwater just like a tadpole. Since then, she swims three times faster than I do despite the fact that I earned an Honorable Mention in the 1962 dog paddle Olympics.]
If you are older than six months, it might be too late for swimming lessons, but they might make an exception in the Water Babies class at the Y—for a price.
Many people are reluctant to learn how to swim because they don’t like putting their heads under water. If that’s the case, consider growing gills along with webbing between your toes like Kevin Costner in Waterworld. You will find these anatomical adjustments especially useful in the next few years as the ice caps melt, the oceans rise, and the higher elevations of Hopewell become waterfront properties.
Once you’ve completed swimming lessons, you are probably skilled enough to become a lifeguard or water safety instructor yourself. Either title will elevate your role among humankind from being a mortal to being a tanned god or goddess.
While the job tends toward the tedious with lots of sitting high above everyone else and watching eagle-eyed for signs of swimmer distress like coughing, splashing frantically or disappearing, should one of those dramatic displays occur, you would have the opportunity to become instantly heroic and earn the admiration and adoration of just about every witness. In such instances, it’s best to act really cool and say something like, “Just doing my job,” before asking for a modest gratuity. [Disclosure: I was a lifeguard when I was eighteen, bronzed and buff, and am still waiting to be cast in some mindless TV series.]
Finally, if you ignore any or all of the above cautions and meet with disaster, just remember, “I told you so.”
Robin Schore lives in Titusville.