The Moss Pit – A Memory

In high school I was on the swim team. Though generally it’s least male exponent, I remained an active participant for the last three years of school as swimming seemed to bolster my health over the winter months. There are alot of random aspects of the experience I recall here and there:

  • Friends and aquaintences of interesting character, now gone their separate ways.
  • The various away pools: one with salty water, one with disinfectant troughs you had to walk through when entering the locker-room, and a third that was so sauna-like it sapped your strength.
  • Painting a ceiling tile in the guy’s locker-room with the words to Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”.
  • The day I swam several hundred extra yards until everyone else had left, in order to avoid getting my hair shaved in solidarity with the rest of the team.

But the one thing that really stands out in my mind is the moss pit.

Almost always when we were practicing there were “lane lines” in the pool. Lane lines are the floated ropes, generally made of hundreds of plastic disks, that divide the pool into separate lanes for lap-swimming. Occasionally the lane lines, or some of them, would be taken out of the pool to allow the diving team to have the necessary access.

The event in question must have happened sometime after the lane-lines were taken out, but before the swim-team had entirely abandoned the pool to the divers.

My memory of the event is kind of vague on certain details while others stand out well. I seem to recall that someone on the diving board had instructed the rest of the team to, “Swim under-water around the diving board! I want to see what it looks like when I jump in,” or something similar maybe.

This potentially dangerous request (Don’t swim where someone’s about to dive kids. You could get your spine broken!) was apparently honored, as the next memory I have of the event is an underwater view of a couple dozen swim-suit-clad figures sort of drifting, bodies oriented in random directions, limbs occasionally twitching for stability, in a hemispherical cluster underwater around the diving board.

This was no orgy of writhing, tightly packed bodies though. Aside from the usual akwardness that PDAs cause, there seemed to be an unspoken but general trend away from close physical contact underwater, possibly as the motion restrictions such contact causes potentially induce panic in such an airless setting.

Instead there was ample space between the participants in this exercise and they moved in a sort of graceful yet uncoordinated brownian motion, something like I’d imagine strands of sea-kelp and other debris might. It was in some strange way beautiful and surreal to my aquatic-loving aesthetics. And in a few moments the diver broke the surface and it was over.

Afterward I have this vague recollection of mentioning something about it to Allen Radway and him calling it a “moss pit” (as opposed to the mosh version I suppose), as if it was a phenomena that he’d known about and experienced before in some form.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like much of an experience to write home about, but at the time it seemed so fascinating a thing. Maybe a sort of event that would happen again when folks were in the mood for fooling around on some playful occasion. But I can’t actually remember a repeat of the event or anything much like it taking place again, nor did anyone ever bring it up again.

Over the years the moss pit has taken on an even more surreal quality in my memory. I have difficulty remembering if it was actually a real occurance or possibly just a dream I had. Although the event was brief, and should seem therefor compact in my memory, the few seconds it took have expanded somehow. Different aspects of the event take on different value in my recollection so that certain parts seem plausible, while others I have trouble convincing myself actually happened.

Ultimately it has ended up a bit like a scene from Big Fish where a mundane event taken on some sort of legendary stature (and dubious authenticity) as I try to piece together an explanation that truely captures the zeitgeist of that moment.

9 thoughts on “The Moss Pit – A Memory

  1. I think the sea-kelp image captures it. I was just talking about water (and a fear of water) with someone the other day… like being dropped into the middle of the ocean (I just watched an episode of Survivor Man where he lives in a life dingy in the sea). Your water story gives a good peaceful picture of water.

    I seem to recall you swimming in college? In my own moss pit of memory I can’t even remember how I met you… through Curtis’s swimming or Christina and Jess.

  2. I swam the first three years of college (the last year I was just too busy and begged off).

    Curtis’ swimming and Christina & Jess being my next door neighbors didn’t hurt my meeting you, but I think there wasn’t necessarily a single connection through which we met. As I recall all the guys in the dorm sort of met and hung out alot. It was generally ok to wander into anyone’s room if the door was open, and that the first floor where you lived was pretty much one big social club.

    Over time I think I probably gravitated toward you guys in particular mostly due to common interests.

  3. I’m not entirely sure why “moss” pit. The term just seemed to evoke and fit so well with the tone of the scene as I recall it that I never questioned why it was applied. In my mind at the time I think a “moss pit” would’ve been some sort of soft, idyllic, bryophyta-encrusted grotto into which a person might comfortably throw themselves. Or maybe that the word “moss” was used by mistake when “seaweed” or “kelp” was intended.

    From where I sit now though it seems more and more likely that “moss” was simply used to rhyme (or off-rhyme? Or maybe alliterate?) with the word “mosh”.

  4. It seems to me that water, especially being under water, just has a surreal quality in the first place. The sounds are deadened, the motions are slow and graceful.

    The only thing I know of that reminds me a little of this is when a large group of friends would make a whirlpool in an above ground circular pool by everyone moving their bodies around in one direction until the water gains momentum. I remember specifically being in the Dragwa’s backyard doing this. The memory seems mostly silent with no one really fooling around. Just slow walking with the occasional person that picks up his legs to float with the flow for a moment.

    The funny thing is that I can’t even find any mention of this on the internet, though that’s probably because queries containing the word ‘whirlpool’ and any related words, such as ‘whirl’ or ‘pool,’ get “floods” of links relating to Jacuzzis. Still, it’s a unique experience, perhaps not unlike working on the Wheel of Pain.

  5. I even think we did it twice over two seperate weekends. The second time (as I recall) wasn’t as successful as the first. We lacked the same zeal the second time we tried it. I wanted to throw Howard in the whirlpool, but Thom and Bobert wouldn’t let me.

  6. Peter (K?),

    Perhaps it was the “45,000 yard club” during Christmas break when this happened. I was there, and vaguely remember. Allen Radway. Phil Henken. I can’t tell you the wave of emotions and memories that consumed me after reading your post.

     Tiled fish on the pool wall...
     The small room with 18th century swim equipment outside the men's locker room...
     The new scoreboard...
     Do we really have to swim against Sayre?  They've got 3 guys on the team...
     Really? Black and pink speedo?  That's our school colors?
     Speaking of Speedo...Don't wear it under your sweats for the two hour bus ride home...spongebutt!
     Are the seniors really talking about drinking and smoking weed?  

    Glad to see you’re out of Towanda. I left the State. The only good things there are the friends you had and the memories with them, though both seem to fade away as time passes. 1990 was 17 years ago? Unbelievable.

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