I got so carried with my Amazon.com short yesterday, and my quest for the goggles, I forgot all about the summer fun.

Here was the deal. I was in a pool shaped wrong for water volleyball, and how are you going to play water volleyball with just three guys anyway? So, not being ones to lie around aimlessly in the sun – where’s the competition in that? – we set about devising the rules of the afternoon. There would be a series of five events, each scored 3 points for the gold, 2 points for silver, 1 point for bronze. I was thus assured of at least 5 points, notwithstanding my pals being two decades my junior. The events were to be: Underwater Distance Swimming, Underwater Breath Holding, Push-Ups, Poker, and Scrabble (there is only so much time one can stay outdoors in Miami in the summer).

I actually used to be able to swim pretty far underwater, and now that I had a pair of Nike goggles, I felt a silver medal or perhaps even a gold was not out of reach. Until it developed that David knew how to do flip turns. I need hardly point out the importance of flip turns in generating the most flowing pushshsh off the side, or the importance of that pushshsh in covering the length of a 12-yard pool. In high school, I had pretty serious trouble with flip turns, living in constant fear that I would go into mine too early (pushing off vigorously against nothing) or else too late (smashing my knees against the edge of the pool). But that was a long time ago, so even what little expertise I had developed had pretty much left me.

Making matters worse, when we did “odd-finger” to see who would go first, I “won” and had to go first. (Just in case you were wondering, it was the first time I had done odd-finger in perhaps 35 years. Yet it is an effective method for breaking a deadlock and one that should probably be used more often in corporate and diplomatic stalemates.) I adjusted my goggles, hyperventilated, and pushshshed. I embarrassed myself with three truly pathetic turns and, thus, did four laps underwater. David did six, so Marc did six-and-a-smidgen. This made David, who feels a deep need to win, crazy. “Two rounds,” he announced, meaning that each of us got a second try.

For my second attempt, I merely dipped my head underwater for a moment and brought it back up, grinning broadly.

“That’s it?” asked the pentathletes.

“That’s it,” I affirmed, knowing that I couldn’t have done better than third in this event so I shouldn’t, if you will, waste my breath.

David, who I may have mentioned is competitive, swam nearly seven lengths underwater and when he surfaced, pretended to be having a seizure of some kind. This was funny, until we realized he had so stretched the edge of his personal envelope that perhaps he was having a seizure of some kind. Fortunately, the pool is even shallower than it is short – yes, you can drown in six inches of water, but generally not if two guys are in there with you (unless they are both truly competitive) – so whatever respiratory problem David was having lasted only a few seconds, and he soon began to deny having had any difficulty at all. Marc merely repeated his previous six laps, fearing (I think) that if he beat David, David might go for a third attempt and truly do himself in.

Meanwhile, I rested.

So the score at this juncture was: David 3, Marc 2, Me 1.

“Who has a watch with a second hand?” was our shared question at the start of event #2. And then we realized none was needed. We would submerge simultaneously and simply see who could stay down the longest. “On three,” I said. “You count.” (I was hoping to trick one of them into counting out loud while I was hyperventilating, but instead we all mouthed the words.) One … two … three.

With my Nike goggles, I watched as first David and then Marc surfaced, breathless. But I was excelling at what I do best. Nothing. I was expending no energy, not moving, not breathing – that was the whole point of this competition: to do nothing. And I was doing it very well.

Soon, the other two started shouting “you can come up now.” But after my defeat in the first event, I felt it was important to make a point. I stayed underwater, doing nothing, for another 20 seconds or so, and then – still underwater – I swam over to the edge of the pool and, with my head still submerged, kicked furiously for about half a minute, watering all the plants to either side of the pool.

Aha! Triumph for the old guy.

The score, as you have already tallied, was now David 4, Marc 4, Me 4.

Push-ups are a very individual thing. I do mine on my knuckles, having once done damage to something in my wrist architecture doing them the normal way. And I go all the way down when I do them and come all the way back up. I do great push-ups. I just don’t do very many of them (or do them very often). David agreed that “form” was critical to a fair event, and offered to do his on his fingertips. Marc’s push-ups were, to put it charitably, non-standard. Though there had been a lot of them, David and I agreed to disqualify Marc’s push-ups.

The score was now David 7, Me 6, Marc 5.

And now we were coming into the “brain” events. The poker was five-card draw, and once we had agreed what beat what – an exercise I’m sure we did wrong because we had decided to leave the two jokers in the deck, which changes everything – I had my stroke of genius. Rather than just play best out of five hands or something, which would have left it entirely to luck, I realized my edge would come if we got strategy involved. (Because I’m so smart.) So I dealt each of us $50 in Monopoly money, with a $1 ante – success wouldn’t be who won the most hands, which is just luck, but who won the most money, which takes brains – and, through skillful betting, bluffing, and calculation of the odds, I proceeded to go bankrupt. Marc had all the money.

David: 9, Marc 8, Me 7.

Which meant we were tied, and a nice way to end the day friends.

(We were tied because it wasn’t even necessary to play the Scrabble – indeed, they refused, so sure were they of the outcome. This annoyed me, but I took the 3 points anyway, and Marc, who is also a writer, took his 2. We were 10, 10, and 10, although David somehow remembers it as being 13 for him. We are not quite sure how.)

I love summer. I hope you are enjoying yours.

Monday, at last: The Physics of Coffee



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