Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Middle-aged Man vs. the Water Slide

This past weekend some good friends from California unexpectedly came to Arizona for a visit.  They gave us a call and invited us and our two boys to the swanky resort they were staying at to hang out at the pool. 

The pool was quite impressive—one of those large, meandering pools with different sections, structured in such a way as to make it impossible to see the whole pool from any one vantage point.  For the first 20 minutes or so we all just splashed about in the shallow end of one of the larger sections of the pool, and then my friend suggested we try out the water slide.  I was initially dubious, but my two boys were champing at the bit to try it out, so in an effort not to suck the fun out of the day, I relented.

The water slide was not connected to the larger pool structure, but was rather adjacent to its east end.  From the top of the slide you could not see the bottom of the slide or, for that matter, what it emptied into.  The slide was serpentine, and there was no way to know before the first time you went down what kind of twists and turns awaited you, or for that matter, if you would end up landing in a large, lush pool or a two-foot wide bucket meant for circus monkeys.   Frankly, it was a thing of mystery and I was more than a little surprised that my boys were willing to try it out, because they are usually skittish on anything but the most mundane of playground slides.  But hey, if they were suddenly feeling adventurous, I was willing to come along for the ride.

My Californian friend went first—a rock climber, snowboarder and general seeker of thrills, I’m sure the waterslide had a fear factor for him akin to my fear of getting a haircut—that is to say, pretty minimal.  My friend sat down and pushed himself forward at the top of the slide and didn’t go very far, so he did it again…and still didn’t go very far.  By the time he pushed himself a third time he was out of view due to the curvature of the slide. 

Waiting at the top, my boys and I expected to hear some sort of splash indicating that our friend had reached the bottom, but it never came.  Eventually, a hotel worker who was seated high enough above the slide to have a view of the bottom gave us the okay for the next person to go.  My five-year-old was next and he went through the same slow mechanics of pushing himself down the slide.  I was nervous for him, because I assumed at some point the slide would get steep enough to take him down quickly.  I dreaded hearing his tortured screams as he succumbed to gravity, but they never came.  Soon the hotel worker gave us the signal and my seven-year-old went next.  Starting from a sitting position he did the same slow push-crawl until he was out of view. 

No screams.  No splash.  No ominous music.  The only sound was the cascading water rushing down the labyrinthine slide.  I wondered if when I got to the bottom I would see three mangled bodies adrift in the water.

The hotel worker gave me the thumbs up and I sat down at the top of the slide.  I was anxious and sweating.  (Of course it was well over 100-degrees outside, so I would have been sweating regardless of the anxiousness.)  I started to push myself in the same manner as the three brave men who went before me.  I went around that first curve not sure of what I would see and what I saw was simply more of the curving slide.  So I kept on pushing myself expecting that at any moment the rushing water would take control of my body and propel me forward.  It did not.  I kept on sitting and pushing myself down the curving slide as water rushed under my body.  Eventually I reached the bottom and saw my predecessors calmly waiting for me (and not in the least bit mangled) in a medium-sized round pool about three feet deep.  It was anticlimactic…and everyone wanted to do it again.  We all felt we must have been doing something wrong and that there must be a way to go faster.

When it was next my turn I wondered if it would make a difference if I put myself in a lying rather than sitting position.  I asked the hotel worker about this and he just shrugged.  “Everybody does it different,” he said.

Determined to go a touch faster than a common garden snail, I put myself flat on my back and started scooting myself to see if the rushing water would whisk me away.  For the first five feet or so nothing happened and I was just about to give up hope, when suddenly I hit the first turn and my body was jettisoned forward by the cascading stream.  Like a dead pet hamster flushed down the toilet and torpedoing its way through the pipes, I was flung mercilessly down the winding slide and hurtled into the pool below.  Wow what an adrenaline rush! And wow did my spine connect with the slide hard!

Everyone wanted to do it again…and again…and again.  By the time we were done we all went down five or six times.  Each time was equal parts excitement, terror, joy, and pain.  My kids wanted to keep on going, but a little voice in the back of my head was quickly computing chiropractic and orthopedic bills, and the numbers had too many digits, so I directed us all back to the main pool.  Once there I noticed two large abrasions on my right arm from where I had apparently been strafed by the slide.  A few minutes later my wife said, “Whoa, you’ve got a big red mark on your back.”  This did not surprise me, seeing as how my back and the slide had become sparring partners for a good 15 minutes.

“Yeah, I’m going to feel this tomorrow morning,“ I said.  And as it turns out, I was wrong.  It did not take until the next morning for me to feel it.  About 10:30 that night I suddenly started to become aware of a dull ache in every muscle in my back (as well as several in my arms, legs, and chest).  By the next morning the ache was anything but dull.  Today, two days later, I’m still popping Tylenol like Tic-Tacs. 

I imagine I’ll still be feeling the pain for a few more days, but that’s okay.  Despite the beating my 44-year-old body took, going down that water slide was the most exhilarating experience I’ve had in decades.  For now though, I’ll stick to the excitement I get from playing Scrabble and watching reruns of “Taxi.”  Maybe when I’m 64 I’ll try bungee jumping.