In July, WWNO New Orleans hosted its monthly gathering of the Moth StorySLAM storytelling series. The topic of the night was “Pride.” I shared a story about boyhood pride, and the judges were kind enough to select it as the winner of the StorySLAM. Some friends wanted to know what I shared, so I typed up a version of what I shared.
Photo courtesy of atmtx
Many of life’s great stories of pride are the result of women. Helen Of Troy, Delilah of Samson’s hair, and this story, too, which involves Kerry of Sleep Away Camp.
I had been vying for the attention of Kerry for over two weeks. But I had competition: Kevin. Kevin had outdone me earlier in the term at the camp talent show. I thought I was a lock with my ukulele rendition of You Are My Sunshine. Kevin scored major swoon points with his acoustic guitar performance of Green Day’s Time of your Life. (For the record, ladies love ukuleles, but they need to be older than 15 to appreciate the adorable irony.)
All was not lost. Camp date night was coming up, and it was a movie outing to see X-Men. The plan was this: Regale her with my immense knowledge of mutants. Between whisperings about the adamantium metal fused to Wolverine’s skeleton, I was going to pull the old yaaaaawn and arm swoop. Very Clark Gable, I know.
The love trap was set, and I was going to ask Kerry to be my date the day before the outing at the pool social. Being from Florida, I had a great base tan to show off. If ever I was going to outdo Kevin, this was it.
Things are going well, swimmingly you could say. Kerry and her friends are sitting at the edge of the pool, and I’m treading water like a Navy seal, casually chatting up the movie night. Then Kevin walks up and declares, “I’m going to dive off the jumping board. You should watch.” Before I knew what was happening, I proclaimed, “Good, I was going that way already.”
So it’s Kevin, me, and my buddy Justin queued up at the dive platform. Kevin climbs the ladder and gets on the six foot board. With a rather obnoxious nonchalance, he bounces, leaps, and… performs a beautiful somersault. He plunges through the water with a slight ripple. The girls make more of a disturbance with their applause. Turns out, Kevin had taken dive lessons; something he knew, but I didn’t.
It’s my turn now, and I start climbing the stairs. But instead of getting off at the six foot board, I keep climbing to the twenty foot board. As I’m going up, Justin calls from below, “Hey man, you think you oughta be doing that?” “Dude,” I shout down, “I took diving lessons.” That’s another story for another time, but the denouement is: nope, no diving lessons. Music theory lessons: yep. Diving lessons: nah ah.
But I lived five minutes from the beach, and we had a pool in my backyard. So with the confidence of Prince Namor I climb to the high dive. I reach the top, and I’m having a bit of difficulty breathing. Is it just me, or is the air a bit thinner up here? Just as I’m about to hyperventilate, I look down at the pool and see a bikini-clad speck smiling up at me. It’s go time. I back up, I run, I hop, I bounce, and… I slip. It’s not Greg Louganis bad, but it’s enough of a slip that instead of jumping up in the air I jump out.
With this awkward leap, not only did I have the force of gravity pulling me toward the pool, I had the thrust of my idiocy pushing me faster. I have about a second of hang time, but it’s just long enough for me to have a Wil-E-Coyote moment: I’m going off the cliff with the ACME TNT box but I manage to draw up a sign that says “Oh No.”
BAM! The water supines me, and I single-handedly prove the cohesive properties of water. I linger for a brief moment on the surface, and then I submerge. As I’m sinking, every neuron on the front of my body is firing in pain. But I start to feel a chill on my backside. With the cool undercurrent of the pool freely flowing over my bottom, I realize my swim trunks are around my ankles.
At this point, I could have decided never to surface, and most people would think, “Yep, makes sense.” But my desire to live just barely outweighed my desire to die. With one hand pulling me top side and the other hand pulling my bottoms up, I breach the water—not like the aquatic prince I set out to emulate but rather like a bloated fish carcass.
“Are you ok?,” I hear from the side of the pool. It was Kerry. Around her comes a lifeguard, who plucks me out of the water and sets me on the side of the pool. I am still struggling to breathe, but I am also struggling to not throw up. In the calamity of impact, my crotch had broken my fall, and my fall had broken my crotch. After confirming I was going to make it, Kerry returned to her friends. I hobbled over to the snack bar and asked for the biggest bag of ice I could get. So there I sat, the rest of the afternoon, icing my crotch as Kevin and Kerry played chicken fight. She nearly lost her top; I felt nothing.
Yes, Kevin did ask Kerry to X-Men, and while we all went “together,” I limped to a separate seat when their row ran out of room. In the dark movie theater, I watched several rows back as Kevin pulled the “Yawn move.” I squirmed in my seat, not only because I still could not sit right, but because that should have been me. That was my move.
Standing now, not on the 20 foot high dive but on the solid ground of wisdom, I can tell you this:
Pride comes before a fall, and if you’re lucky, you’ll land on your back.