MARKFINCH,“Adrenaline” ERRRR-R-R!! The strobe light flashes, and the sound of the starter echoes through my head as I envision the start of the race. My body flings off the block in perfect form, and in slow motion it smoothly enters the water. My eyes open, and I look past the block into the water that lies motionless in the large pool in front of me. My mental preparation is almost complete.
My heart pounds harder and harder with each breath that I slowly draw in. Long, deep breaths fill my lungs. Blood pumps thickly through my veins. I enter my own little world to merely keep breathing, and to keep my muscles relaxed. It’s almost time.
“Swimmers, step up.”
My hands shake nervously as I pull the orange Swedish goggles over my eyes. They grab firmly around my head. My foot steps onto the step, and I use my strength to pull myself up onto the block. I shift my body upright in a bold, proud stance and look into the stands above. Through a light-orange tint, I see thousands of people clapping, cheering, and screaming at the top of their lungs, but all I can hear is the entrancing rhythm of my heart. I see each individual face; my parents, friends, and people I’ve never seen before, yet I disregard each one. My thoughts are focused on only one thing. I look at the person on the block beside me, my rival school—my enemy.
Anger fills my eyes. It takes over my entire body as the adrenaline sets in. My heart pounds harder in anticipation of the moment I have waited for my entire life: being one of “the best of the best,” swimming at State. The tips of my fingers start to tingle. The sensation moves up my fingers through my hands. I step to the end of the block and feel my toes slowly descend over the edge. My body bends over, and I look deep into the water at the black stripe painted on the bottom of the pool. It seems to be a part of me and to play a large role in my destiny. My mind becomes one with the water. I am ready.
My right leg shoots to the back of the block as my hands grab firmly to the front. The muscles throughout my body clinch from the adrenaline rush. The crowd quiets down. My eyes widen, and my mind clears. I take a deep breath. As the strobe flashes, my body instinctively launches forward.
ERRR-R-R. The sound echoes through the natatorium as my feet leave the block. The crowd roars with excitement. My body streamlines through the air. I look up in midflight to the other end of the pool and drop my head so my body glides smoothly and flawlessly towards the water. I close my eyes before my hands penetrate. They pierce the water’s thick skin, and all of a sudden all I can hear is the slosh of the water in my ears. My eyes open to see that the black stripe is much closer than before. My smooth, clean-shaven body torpedoes through the water, with bubbles rolling down chest and stomach. My muscles tighten from the chill of the
bitterly cold water. I feel the stubble on my legs push through the goose bumps, but quickly forget about it as I kick intensely with my body slightly angled to the surface. My left arm pulls down in an S-shape stroke to the side of my body to slightly give me an edge before I start swimming.
I quickly kick both of my legs in unison and burst to the surface of the water.
I’m determined to go as hard as possible and push my body to the limit. My arms glide through the motions of the stroke, and my legs kick ferociously to push me as hard as I can go. My head slightly rises, and I look at the black cross on the wall at the end of the pool. The water runs against my forehead and flows smoothly over my hairless head. Midstroke, I smoothly turn my head to the side to draw in a deep breath. I see the tinted, light-orange wall under the water with my left eye, and people shaking their hands and cheering in excitement with my right eye. I can vaguely hear the screams, but I quickly roll my head back into its place and enter my solitary world once again. My body begins to warm as the wall quickly approaches, and my muscles begin to stretch out. I take one final breath as I come in. I do a final double-handed pull and drop my head. My body quickly snaps over, and my feet hit the wall. I am upside down in the “fetal position,” my feet are planted firmly against the black cross, and I push off with all of the force in my legs.
I burst off the wall upside down. My body spins upright, like a dolphin playing in the ocean, and I kick harder than I ever have before. My body is straight as an arrow, and I hold the streamline as tight as possible. My arms crush my head with the force of my biceps holding them together, but I keep kicking as I accelerate. I pull with my left arm like I did before as I get ready to surface.
Both legs snap down, and my body rockets to the top. My arms spin out of control like a savage beast. They pull my body with ease through the heavy water, slightly lifting me up in the water. My back is exposed to the air and has water contouring over my waist down the crevasse of my spine. My feet pound the water, pushing my body forward. I take another deep breath to the right side of my body, look under the lane line, and see my enemy neck-to-neck with me.
PUSH IT,PUSHIT,PUSH IT!!!!!!
I scream in my head. It bellows out of my mouth in complete rage as air escapes with it, and I feel the bubbles smack against my face. My body takes control and pushes even harder. Deprived of oxygen, my muscles sting like there are tiny needles penetrating all over my body, but they keep pushing harder and moving faster. I align my head with my body and remember the black line at the bottom of the pool. I stare at it as my body quickly follows its lead. It’s as if I were a freight train gripping tightly to its track. I see the T on the bottom coming up to me in full force. As the T passes underneath, my head drops, and my legs pound in unison one final time. My left arm extends as far as possible and reaches for the wall. My fingers first feel the grainy wall, but instantly after the initial touch, my hand hits solidly. My hand jams into the wall, and pain shoots from my wrist up my arm from the force of the impact. With my lungs completely out of oxygen, I lift my head out of the water and gasp for that first breath of air. My hands feel the warm deck as they are placed side by side. My body shakes in totally agony while trying to pull its 150-pound mass from the water. My leg lifts up and over the wall, and my foot plants down to give my body a final boost. At the end of my lane, my body sags over in complete exhaustion. My rib cage expands and contracts as the crowd continues to roar in the stands above. My head turns to the opposite side of the pool. The timer reads, “Lane 8: 22.23: 2nd.” My body hunches over the block, and my hands stilt my body against it. A devilish smile envelopes my face as I turn and look at the person who had swum beside me.
ANTHONYFORMA,“HowtoFloat” The first thing that we need to get out of the way is the definition of floating. Floating, or crowd-surfing, is a frivolous activity partaken of by restless youths at concerts. It consists of you, the floater, being passed along the surface of a seething pit of long-haired, pierced, tattooed, joint-passing music connoisseurs. These scarcely human people of the pit (the section of crowd close to the stage, where the hard core pack themselves in tighter than a British soccer crowd) elevate their celebration and enjoyment of the music far beyond that of simple auditory culmination. They add the physical aspect to their celebration by completely throwing themselves into the music, much like the ancient Greeks. At any rate, the pit is but the medium on which the ultimate hedonistic musical, self-expression, floating, taxes place. The goal is simple: you attempt to stay atop the surface-of-many-hands as long as possible, enjoy the ride, fall down, take a break (optional), and then do it again.
Now, to the objective observer, floating may seem, as I have hinted, a stupid, dangerous, utterly pointless activity engaged in by burnt and bored teenagers. I agree, but as a neither burnt nor bored teenager, I regard this activity as one of life’s simple pleasures that should be taken seriously and not passed over with such a closed-minded attitude. As for the danger, there is an intricate system of unwritten etiquette, more elaborate and strictly adhered to than that of golf, that will set your mind at ease. This safety theme will become apparent as I administer step-by-step instructions, for any nonbeliever willing to take the plunge. All right then, here goes.
The very first thing you must undertake is to determine whether, in fact, you are within the proper floating weight guidelines, and may float at all. A good yardstick for this is about 175 pounds. This is the top-end limit, mind you, and in my opinion neither you nor the butt-holders beneath you are going to have much fun unless you are under 150. Remember, this is an equal opportunity activity, and even though only about 25 percent of the floaters are of the female persuasion, they usually get along much better than guys because of their lighter weight. There is one clause missing from the otherwise flawless etiquette, though. You ladies will occasionally come across the hormone-driven admirer seizing his chance, in the anonymity of the crowd and your compromising position, to administer a quick fondle. The crowd neither supports nor reprimands this action.
The first stage of preparation takes place in your abode as you are preparing to embark on the holy pilgrimage to the sacred concert of your choice. While selecting your attire and accessories, look ahead to the prospective events of the evening, and keep your own, your possessions’, and others’ safety foremost in your mind. If planning on floating, do not wear your new $40 GAP flannel shirt or your clean suede boots. The shoes will be tread upon, and the statistics on shirt rippage and/or cigarette
burns are high. These fashionable luxuries are best left at home and saved for future frat parties. Your best bet is to delve deep into the innermost unholy sanctum of your closet and attempt to come up with a worn-out, secondhand, oil-changing shirt and its counterpart, a pair of holey jeans. This often works out quite well, in that, upon glancing in the mirror, you gaze upon just the grungesque look you were striving for.
Having selected your clothes, you now move on to shoes and accessories. Here’s where safety becomes of the utmost importance, both yours and others. High heels are not recommended, because they make it quite hard to stand. Neither are clogs, platform shoes, or combat-bootish things, because of the high tendency of unintentional head kicking that floating inevitably entails. For this reason, tennis shoes are the way to go. Not only are they virtually painless when in contact with the head, but they also provide much-needed stability and spryness. When picking out jewelry, if any, select small earrings and small necklaces. I doubt you’d enjoy getting your large hoop earrings or long chain entangled with someone who is traveling the opposite direction to you. Simple enough.
The next stage goes down upon arrival at your destination. Some organization needs to be done before leaving your vehicle. Money goes in the front pockets. Do not take your wallet. If you choose to, I can virtually guarantee its liberation by an asshole or gravity. Nobody wants that.
You are inside, walletless, purseless, adorned in subcasual attire, and sporting your harmless tennis shoes. You are ready to go now. As soon as the opening band begins, even the most untrained eye will instantly recognize the aforementioned stage area. The Trinity. The band, the pit, and the holy floaters.
Once you’ve spotted the area, you now have the (not as simple as it may seem) task of getting there. This impossible drudge through the sheep-thick sea of endless shoulder-to-shoulder bodies can be made infinitely easier if this one thing is kept in mind: Nobody cares! That’s right, that seven-foot guy with the nose ring and the grim reaper tattooed on his forehead will not even raise an eyebrow when you smash yourself between him and his girlfriend. How do you think they got there? Never let this revelation leave your mind. This squeezing, shoving, smashing, sifting of human particles is perpetual and can become quite physical. There’s always people moving in, and there’s always people moving out. They don’t care, and neither should you.
When you finally reach a turbulent, tight place, you’re ready to float. Now, what constitutes sufficient human density for floatal support, you may ask? A general rule is, if your body is not smashed against a minimum of four others, you are not in deep enough. Another criterion that needs to be met is that of turbulence. If you can stand for a full second with both feet planted in their original places, you’re not in deep enough. If this is your dilemma, then you need to know that deeper usually equals “closer to the stage.” Generally, the closer you get, the deeper you are.
This solved, it is now time to begin. You may want to take a few moments to mentally and physically prepare. Make sure your money is deep in your pockets, and your cigarettes are buttoned down securely (boxes tend to hold up better than soft packs). Relax, take a few deep breaths to cleanse the soul and mind. You may feel the need to close your eyes and envision yourself going up, floating, and falling.
When, at long last, you feel you are truly ready, anxieties extricated, inhibitions forgotten, here’s what you do. Get the attention of two fellow space-sharers; this shouldn’t be too difficult considering their faces are but inches from yours. More often than not you will have to incorporate two total strangers, because you tend to get separated from friends in the turbulence. All that is needed at this juncture is a thumbs-up motion, coupled with the optional mouthing of the word “up,” to induce a jocular grin and nods of approval. Before you allow your newly met float instigators to instigate, it is vital that you warn (with a tap and a thumb) your immediate stageside neighbors, so that they won’t be caught off guard. By this time you will have two sets of anxiously clasped hands awaiting you. Take one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind into them. You will be propelled into the air with zest and a smirk. The hand owners often feel a part of your conquest and enjoy being called upon. Up and away you go.
You are now in the midst of the main event. You now lay your back on the forewarned outstretched hands. Note that you will usually be started toward the stage, unless you are in the first few rows. Always take this into consideration. What happens next is fundamental to physics and crowd psychology. The first hands will pass you from above their heads, since they could not support you if you were not in motion. As they pass you onto someone else’s head, their hands will instinctively support you (no one wants you on their head), and at the same time transport you away. As this motion begins, you must take great care to not kick the heads of your original propellers.
Though they truly do enjoy having you, everybody instantly pawns you off on his or her respective random neighbors. You are floating. As you float, take heed not to thrash your legs in any manner and to keep your arms above sea, or head, level. Now enjoy yourself. Lift your head up and look around. If you are so inclined, feel free to sign a few words to the band. It is not abnormal for a lucky floater to slap hands with a lead singer. Remember to enjoy the music and watch out for people’s heads.
Floats can last anywhere from two to sixty seconds, depending on crowd density and the weight of the participant. Bonny little girls tend to last an average of thirty seconds. Thin guys, under 150, about fifteen. With all floats comes the inevitable fall. This is perhaps the most demanding aspect of the entire process. Sometimes you will fall feet first, which is a luxury, but just as often, you will do the deed head first. This step takes much self-control. Have no fear; 99.9 percent of the time someone will catch your head, if only inches from the ground. This is the responsibility of the crowd, and yours when not floating. The demanding part of this is that you must not attempt to save yourself. In doing so, your groping arms will not only harm a potential savior but, perhaps worse, it will hold them back and prevent them from saving you at all. There is no other way to go about it; you must passively plummet head first towards the ground with faith. It is much like playing “trust me” in elementary school (falling backwards into someone’s arms). The highest laws of floating etiquette are that you have faith, save others from cranial destruction, and help people up after the fall so as not to be trampled. Do all this and you will have a safe, enjoyable float. You will have also broadened your mind by experiencing this strange ritual. When you are picked up safely off the floor by some loving freak of nature, it’s time to do it again.
AMANDASCHREIBER,“WhereIsthePerfectPet?” I have a cat that hates hockey, understands that the forepaws are used on doorknobs, talks back when she gets yelled at, and knows that fresh brewed coffee means love. I had a parakeet that got me hooked on the Beastie Boys. My betta fish liked me, ignored my roommate and ignored everyone once he figured out that the mirror was there just to tease him. My gun-shy hound dog was a wonderful waltz partner. My toad thinks he is either a tree frog or John Dillinger, and is currently trying to get himself and his girlfriend back to the wilderness they have never seen. Friends and family look at all my pets that have such individual personalities and tell me that I am lucky. To an extent they are right. Serendipity has a hand in making me choose one animal over another when I am presented with a whole litter. Not one of these people realize the amount of hard work that goes on before luck takes over.
I have had my share of duds too. I had a goat that was addicted to amphetamines, an incontinent rat that loved to snuggle, an iguana that tried to remove my thumb whenever I came close (and I was his favorite person), and a parrot that had plucked himself as bald as a Thanksgiving turkey. All of these pets were hand-me-downs—the result of not enough research and an attempt to save money. Through my experiences I have found that the best way to select a pet is to carefully consider all the factors involved, remembering that my pet is an investment, and that I get what I pay for. Of my three most recent pet purchases two are still alive. The third was sickly and died a few months after I bought her. Each of these pets was brought home after varying degrees of research and with vastly different results.
My cat, Mistral, was bought after months of deliberation by my parents. We needed another cat to keep our older barn cat warm during the cold Michigan winters. Since Mistral was to live outside, space was not a concern. We wanted to get a kitten, hoping that the older female’s maternal instincts would take over and lead her to accept the newcomer. Also, getting a kitten greatly increased our chance of having an influence on the kitten’s developing personality. We checked the animal shelters and found a beautiful black kitten. We brought her home, only to discover her major flaw: no matter where we set her, regardless of noise or activity levels, she fell asleep. This was not a good quality in an animal that needed to be constantly alert for danger in the day-to-day of barn living. We took her back to the shelter and kept on looking.
Next we checked ads in the newspapers. Many families had kittens available, but most of these had characteristics that we did not like. Some kittens were a little too old. Some were uninterested in us. Some just did not look right, due to local inbreeding. Some of the litters had been raised in facilities so filthy that we should have called the SPCA. We avoided pet shops because we wanted an animal that would have had no prospects otherwise.
Finally, after nearly a month of searching, we found the perfect litter. Born and raised in a clean home they had been abandoned by their mother. Their grandmother tried to nurse them, but she was spayed and gave no milk. The humans had hand-raised and hand-fed them nearly from birth. I played with them for nearly an hour while my mother inquired about their health. How many had survived being abandoned? “Six out of the original seven”—a good sign since most kittens do not survive hand-rearing. Shots? “No, but they are still too young.” Ok, they looked round and healthy. How
many litters did the mother have prior to this one? “Four, all healthy.” When all six of the kittens swarmed up my pant leg to sit on my head and shoulders and hang from my shirt sleeves I knew this was the litter. I narrowed it down to two choices: one with octagonal ocelot markings, or a striped tabby with spots on her tummy. Luck took over and I selected the striped one. Mom still was not satisfied. She wanted to know what became of the other litters. “Sold by newspaper ads.” Mom wanted references, owners of kittens from the previous litters. She got the numbers and called on the cell phone. Before we could go, the seller had some questions of her own, a very good sign of a responsible breeder. What kind of environment would the kitten have? Where would she live? How many other pets did we have? What kind? What brand of food did we feed our other cat? A whole slew of questions, designed to trip us up if we were bad pet owners. The smiles on the faces of my mother and the seller told me I would have a new family member that night. Now a house cat, Mistral is seven years old and is the most vociferous, opinionated, and spoiled member of our household. Only my fiancé can compete with her for my love and attention, and even then just barely.
I purchased Emma, my parakeet, completely under my own direction. This twenty dollar bird (plus cost of supplies) turned out to be one of my most expensive investments ever, behind only my computer and my car. Prior to purchase I did a lot of reading. I had it all worked out: how big a cage she needed, how much time should she spend outside of the cage exercising, how to bird-proof the apartment, what kinds of food were best, how much sunlight she needed, what the temperature should be, what games would be the most fun for us and most educational for her. I even set up a system with my flaky housemates so they would watch their feet when she was loose. I was a regular parakeet expert, all I needed was the parakeet.
Unfortunately I did not have a car and had to rely on my housemates to take me to the pet shop. I should have taken days to go in and observe the birds for about an hour at an time. By doing this I would have had a better idea of their individual personalities. Moreover, I could have known that none of these birds were healthy. Instead I quickly selected the parakeet that was the most aloof to the others but interested in me.
Emma had a great personality. Quiet most of the time, she carefully selected the best moments to cut loose and squawk. It thrilled her if my housemate put ice in the garbage dispose-all or if she could hear my other housemate typing papers. Emma came home over spring break and tormented the cat. Every time Mistral turned her back to the bird cage Emma would whistle sweetly to her, just to see the cat twitch. We played hide-and-seek in my apartment’s living room. I tolerated the Beastie Boys for her sake until one day I realized I was hooked too.
My first sign that she was sick came when she started losing weight. Then she stopped whistling “hello” when I returned home from classes. She could barely hold onto the perch. Three vet. trips and nearly six hundred dollars later she had her first seizure. She died a month later. I looked back through my books and found something I had missed: her aloofness and disinterest in the other birds was an early sign of her illness. I thought I was an expert, but more observation at the pet store and a closer reading of the “illness” section of my books would have resulted in a longer-lasting partnership. I do not regret the money I spent. I only regret losing such a sweet companion.
My most recent purchase was a Chinese Fire-Bellied Toad whom I named Ruben. In a good mood, I was on the way home from visiting my new boyfriend (now fiancé) at work and I decided to stop in at the local pet store. I just wanted to hang out with all the neat animals that I did not own. There was a beautiful terrarium with a waterfall and several species of amphibians. As I crouched down to look a toad pushed his way through the fire-bellied newts and kicked a tree frog out of the way to come over and put his paw against the glass right where I sat. I gently laid my finger by his paw. He puffed himself up and let out a single, mighty “Bark!” I knew right then that I had to bring him home. I grabbed a book on aquaterrium structure and amphibian care, spent about eighty-seven dollars on supplies. and Ruben and I were headed for home.
All the way home I thought about Emma and kept telling myself how stupid I was to repeat my mistakes. But every time I looked over at him sitting on my passenger seat in his Tupperware container my heart melted. I spent the rest of that day setting up Ruben’s tank, and the next year learning about his species. I learned on-line that his species is very social, preferring co-ed environments. Recently I bought him a female named Chloë and I have never seen him happier or more active.
Ruben and Chloë are cases where providence was looking out for me. Occasionally they do something that none of the books or on-line discussion forums talk about and I worry. Because of my lack of knowledge there’s always a great deal of “uh-oh, what next?” involved. However, I go with my instincts and so far I have been lucky. I am not certain I like the anxiety. Who would? As a result, I suggest that everyone should research their pet before purchasing it regardless of the type of animal, whether it is a dog, ferret, or Chinese Fire-Bellied Toad. Impulse buys are dangerous because not everyone has a lucky star or a good intuition for animals. My luck lies in having grown up with a variety of animals. But I must stress experience is not everything; research is a must. Potential pet owners should consider all the factors, including the environment, space available, the amount of time available to spend with the animal, and cost. If a buyer cannot afford to spend everything necessary to care for a pet and buy it from a reputable source, the buyer should consider a slightly cheaper species of animal. More than anything, the buyer must remember that pet ownership is a contract between the owner and the animal. The pet provides companionship while the owner supplies a nurturing home. Research can describe how to set up that nurturing environment; responsiveness to the animal tailors the environment to the pet’s specific personality.