Now, it was long about time: we sat on the pool deck in neat rows and columns, shivering spiritedly, sucking in all available ambient sunlight like a Goddamned black hole (Brian Kimber sanctioned epithet).
The skies became ashen and sober. Leaves, crisped and seared began to rustle as a whisper of vermouth wind swept them from their hides at the lee of obstacles.
“Looks like a storm might be a-comin’, Geo.”
“Yep Matt, seems…”
“Looks like this one could be a real stinkah, ayuh!”
“Oh, there is a storm a-brewing alright, Matt.”
“Buddy teams, GET IT ON!” the pool instructors shrieked like some deranged banshees!” Those instructors had the pain, they loved the pain, they wore the pain like body armor, they were born again into a world where pain holds the only key. They WERE the pain!
Men sprang to feet and clinked and clanked. There rose the incidental “Buunngggggg” of a head striking an aluminum dive cylinder of air pressed to 3000 pounds per square inch gage (psig). Oddly, the man whose head struck the tanks turned nervously to the man wearing the tanks:
“Sorry, are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine; tanks don’t have nerve endings.” You really had to be there.
We each wore: a set of twin 80 cubic foot air tanks that weighed nearly 90 pounds, a pair of butyl rubber Rocket fins, 12 pounds of lead weight on a nylon strap clasped around our waist with a critically-directed right-hand quick release buckle, a Mark III dive tool with an emergency smoke signal for daytime distress posturing, and a red flare for night, a Buoyancy Compensator, Medium (BCM) for positive floatation, a depth gage, a compass, a breathing regulator of type Con Shelf Arctic Explorer, with a two stage regulator, low pressure air hose to BCM, air supply gauge, and a large volume dive mask.
Total weight: over one hundred pounds absolute; we’re all going to be killed for certain.
Here are the individual human rights violations that comprise the crossover drill, a drill so heinous that spectators are advised not to watch the event directly, rather through a mirror while standing with their back turned to the Colonel Kurtz degree of horror, the horror:
The swimmers are kindly invited to the deep end of the swimming pool by spectres clad in black and tan. The senior spectre propped on a throne atop a towering structure built from the femurs of failed candidates, clasped a golden whistle in its skeletal teeth. Dorsal fins could be glimpsed cresting the surface of the pool rendering eddies and wakes. Prepare to crossover…
That class was divided in halves on opposite sides of the pool. All air was to be purged from our BCMs; no air, no lift was permitted—“Suck ‘em down, boys… suck ‘em dry!! The spectre spat! “Prepare to enter the water… ENTER THE WATER!” the next command boomed.
With a single thunderous splash, the entire class of dead weight pierced the pernicious pond, as men clutched desperately to the sides of the pool, fighting to stay above water. “Tighten it up, chest to back, tighten it up, chest back!” he roared as waterborne instructors pressed our rank tighter and tighter.
Men flailed their arms and fought each other. Lips mimed prayers. The water rocked hard from side to side as if in a seiche, and the force of heavy breathing became more so a whole gale on the Beaufort scale.
“At the sound of the whistle you will crossover subsurface from one side of the pool to the other! This side will dive shallow (indicates one side), and this side will dive deep (indicates the other side)!
“(pointing) What side is this?!?”
“Shallow!” they called.
“(pointing) And what side is this?!?”
“DEEP!” they gurgled.
“PREPARE TO CROSSOVER………..”
And the black and tan spectre drew in a monsterous breath that drew in a gaseous parcel toward him from a diameter of many tens of meters, and…
TWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET sopranoed the gelten siren.
With a cacophony of ten thousand freight trains, the two sides vaulted from the walls, colliding, kicking, splashing, gulping, sputtering, swearing, drowning… fighting to get to the other side.
Under the murk of the drink, chalky-white with the shock of fresh chlorine, the two sides slammed hard into each other like Spartans and Persian Immortals. A deep and soulful groan rose up from the depths of the pool.
The ‘buunnggg’ collision of air tanks from underwater came as a loud CLACK! Men tumbled and shove and pushed, clawing their way through the tangle. Fins and masks, disparate and desperate pieces of dive gear suddenly littered the floor at 12 feet of depth.
I saw: Men with missing fins literally walked along the bottom of the pool like zombies in slow motion, in a horrendous effort to just make it to the other side; there is air and life there!
Worse still, men who could no longer bear the struggle bolted to the surface for air. Spectres prowling the surface intercepted them before they could break the surface, and shoved them back down to the bottom.
Here and there a man shot to the surface like a torpedo, having activated the CO2 emergency lift cartridges on their BCMs. The were pushed to the shallow end of the pool.
Men lay on the floor of the pool, unconscious from shallow water blackout. Sharks dove down and pulled them to the surface. They were farther pulled from the water where they lay face up on the pool deck, rudely arched over the mass of their air tanks.
Medics slapped them and shook them and yelled them back to consciousness. Most began immediately to kick their legs in a finning motion as soon as they came to, as that is what they had last been doing at the moment they drowned. Once they were revived, they were pushed back into the seethe to continue. Most didn’t make it.
Once to the other side the head spectre again filled his chest with a preposterous tidal volume and the shrill bleat of the golden whistle gloated immediately.
Again the thunderclap of men and metal rendered a titan clash at a depth of eight feet of tepid and turbid water. The surface boiled with submerged commotion, still as night save the sound of a bubbling churn, but below the din was unnerving.
A man shot completely out of the pool, I mean from completely underwater he wrenched himself and his one hundred pounds of dive gear completely clean of the water and onto the pool deck with a sickening thud, where he lay whimpering. Enough then, my brother.
Men surfaced buoyantly and floated away peacefully. Men were pulled limp from the dregs of the pool and slapped back to life. The whistle bellowed over and over; it did not rest until eight cycles went by. Eight Picket’s Charges across the wide expanse, to converge on a corpse of trees. Eight charges of Light Brigades… Eight violent clashes at the choke of Thermopylae. Eight.
“Move hand over hand to the shallow end of the pool, you scurvy bilge rats!”
And we did. Mouths were agape—oxygen debt! Lips displayed the short waves of purple and blue—hypoxia! Heads pounded like kettle drums—CO2 build up in your brain man, ordering you to breath man, but you did not, Sir—now you will pay! Nobody spoke; nobody could speak, not for many minutes. My ears rang nonstop, as they ring even to this very day.
But it is over, right?
Sure, it’s over… but only for today. Then there is tomorrow, if tomorrow ever comes, dear boy, and then there are two more tomorrows after that. Sleep tight tonight, brother man. Simply don’t think about tomorrow, and you get a fantastic night sleep, be ship-shape come tomorrow; ready to carpe that diem, right? And as each brother clamped his heavy lids in silent slumber seek, there came that peel:
(dedicated to Mr. Tỳr BjØrn Brakahaugen)