Friday, December 09, 2016

Things Stupid Kids Do: Episode 3 (SCUBA-Doofuses)

I think that it is very important to begin with the observation that the SCUBA symbol looks quite a bit like the universal symbol for "NO" except just reversing the hues.

When I was in high school, my best friend and I were able to take SCUBA lessons. Not much more to say about that (and it is only peripherally related to this blog entry) except I remember getting to class one evening and I'd forgotten my bathing suit. So I was allowed to dip into the lost-and-found for a "loaner" suit. There was only one men's bikini extra-large suit. I went with it. So, not to put an image in your head, but… Imagine doing that trick where you peel an orange so that it is all in one piece and then sort of try to use that to cover up the mid-section of a ruler. For the entire lesson my suit kinda floated around me whilst all of my goodies bobbed and peaked around the edges of the suit. NOT a fun evening for anyone.

So, back to the main story.

As part of the SCUBA lessons, we were required to purchase some SCUBA gear: Face mask, snorkel, and fins. Because this was all based in New England, we couldn't get the little flippers you probably are thinking of (as depicted above). NO. We had to purchase fins that looked like they were normally only issued to military SEAL divers! These bad-boys were BIG and HEAVY. So heavy that we also had to purchase diving suit boots so the fins wouldn't cut up our feet. Here, this is what they looked like (along with the basic boots).
The idea was that if we had to drag-race speedboats or out-swim sharks (or just deal with the wild ocean currents of New England), these would do the trick. Look at them! They even had vents built into them; very heavy-duty.

All of the above is just so you now know why I had SCUBA boots in my possession. Otherwise, it would just seem like, for "some reason" I have what looks like part of the gimp costume from Pulp Fiction. Depending on the context, the boots could fit what you'd expect to wear as a super-hero, or, as a participant in an S&M orgy.

One of the places my friend and I would frequent was the Methuen Mall. It has since been demolished, but it was THE place for high school kids to hang out back then. One of the anchor stores there was Sears. If you passed all the way through Sears to the lawn and garden section, you came to a semi-outdoor section that featured an above-ground pool filled with temptingly swimmable water. This section could be locked off from the store via sliding doors. BUT, the pool was still technically outside (in the elements) and only out of reach off hours due to the giant (15-feet high) black metal fence in which it was enclosed.

I don't know how many times we walked past or around that pool until one day it occurred to us that we could maybe sneak back one night, jump the fence, and have ourselves a swimeroo in the Sears pool! As soon as the idea struck, we began to plan.

(1) Need to travel light in case we need to make a fast getaway. So bathing suits ONLY!

(2) Make sure there aren't any witnesses, so we should do this around 2:00 in the morning on a week-night (we picked Wednesday).

(3) Don't want to draw attention to our activities by parking our car (white 1970 Ford Pinto coupe - Google this car up folks) right next to the Sears lawn and garden area. So we will park our white car in the darkest area of the parking lot, about half a football field away. Did I mention that the car was white?

Problem: How can we get to Sears from the car and then back to the car across all that parking lot filled with pebbles and bits of glass without destroying our tender teenaged tootsies (feet)?

Solution! Wear our SCUBA boots! They will provide enough protection from small bits of debris AND they are designed (DESIGNED!) to be used in water - so we wouldn't even have to take them off!

We had our plan. Of course, because we were nerds, we did some dry rehearsals.

First we needed to find the perfect blind spot to park the white car in the parking lot.

Found it!

Next we needed to get a feel for how long it would take to run back to the white car.

Timed it out!

We were ready to go, so a date was chosen. I picked up my friend (quietly) from his home around 1:15 in the morning. Both of us in our late 70's style men's bathing suits (yeah, you should do a Google search on that, too - it will help paint the picture for what's coming up later) and black SCUBA-boots drove to the mall which was about a 30-45 minute trip.

We parked our white car in the perfect pre-selected spot. Hearts pounding, we trotted stealthily toward Sears which had somehow managed to become a full football field's distance away. Our heads were spinning around the whole time looking for any potential trouble. I remember looking back at the white car and thinking how it didn't look very well hidden in the shadows. You know, being all white and all. But despite our racing hearts, our fears of mall security (or the cops) suddenly showing up, and our white car attracting attention, everything went as smooth as butterscotch pudding right up to the Sears lawn and garden center fence.

My friend started to size up the situation and was about ready to use the terrain and the side of the building to scale the fence. I saw that his plan to get in was perfect! But this was when it occurred to me that we would also need to get back out. As I looked around the inside of the fence, I realized we would become trapped inside. Getting out would be next to impossible since getting in meant we would have to drop down from the top of the barrier. Not to mention that our hands would be wet from the pool water which would make it pretty slippery if we tried to shimmy up the fence posts to get back out in a hurry.

Basically we stood there for about ten minutes trying to figure out how we could get out of the cage before we finally just called it a night. Honestly, it was a 60-40 mix of relief and disappointment.
We never did go back. We never did get into that inviting pool. But this is where the story actually begins.

We drove back toward home (Plaistow, NH) and as was our standard method of operation, we stopped at the all-night McDonalds to fuel ourselves up with some food, and then we stopped at the gas station to fuel up the car. We were like a NASCAR pit-crew when it came to gassing up. My friend would take care of the gas cap, unlocking it (this was back when people were paranoid about fuel theft) and placing it carefully on the car roof in time for me to have paid the $2.00 we were willing to spend on gas and to put the fuel pump in the tank. Once fueled up, one of us would replace the pump and the other would replace the gas cap (careful not to lose the key) and we'd be back in the car and off in no time!

Well, this time we forgot to replace the gas cap and when we turned the corner on route 125 to head up the hill and into Plaistow, we could hear the cap scurry along the roof and leap into the darkness beside the road. There was a small gravel lot here (filled with broken glass bottles, rusty nails, dead animals, barbed wire, razor blades... well maybe I exaggerate) so we pulled over and hopped out to try to find the damn cap in the damn dark.

So paint this picture in your head: Two scrawny teens in short tight swim suits, no shirts, wearing black S&M boots, prowling around the side of the road at 3:00 in the morning. Suspicious looking much?

Of course this is when the police finally appear. Oh! Not just ANY police. No... no way-siree! This squad car has my uncle and another officer in it. They are instantly questioning my friend as he is half-ignoring them and half trolling around looking for the gas cap (he was never intimidated by authority figures like I was - in fact he had a tendency to be a tad antagonistic). As soon as I saw it was my uncle, I occurred to me to view the situation from his standpoint. Immediately I went to the car and started peeling off my boots to throw into the back seat. Those suckers are NOT easy to put on OR to take off. So now I am barefoot in this dark gravel (glass, razors, pin-cushions, etc.) lot. Yay for me!

As I am about finished with this, the other officer with my uncle shines his flashlight on my friend's stylish kicks. "What the hell do you have on your feet, son?"

That's when the other officer (my uncle) shines a light on my face and recognition dawns. After a disgusted shake of his head he shines the light up and down my friend and tells us to hurry up and find the cap, then get home.

To this day he probably thinks my friend and I were up to something pretty kinky. Not sure if he ever shared the story with my dad (probably did)… but I never heard about it.

So, what's the big deal? Well this was back during my superficially liberal days when I was secretly homophobic, but outwardly supportive of almost any lifestyle anyone wanted to live. I think I figured it was a safe position to take since I'd probably never even meet someone who was non-straight. There was a strong sense back then that my family, neighbors, etc. would never support alternative lifestyles, so I prided myself in holding such progressive views. Truth be told, if someone introduced themselves to me and openly admitted they were gay, I'd have probably done an about-face and walked smack into the side of a building without thinking just to get away. So this evening was perspective-building for me. I realized I was going to need to do a lot more self-management to be prepared for when that meeting might one day occur.

Take-away moral: Always keep your illegal-activities wardrobe and accessories separate from your law-abiding wardrobe and accessories. Or, always bring a change of clothes when you are going to do something you don't want to get caught doing.