Posted by: wrmcnutt | October 26, 2010

The Swimming Rescue as a Personal Assault

Here’s something a lot of you don’t know about me:  I am/was a lifeguard.  In 1980 I trained with the American Red Cross to be a Water Safety Instructor, mostly to get out from under the obligation to work for my Dad’s contractor friend in the summers.  As a WSI I’d be qualified to sit in chairs and twirl whistles at any number of resorts and pools around the Charleston, South Carolina area.  It also qualified me to teach swimming classes.  It’s an odd thing, lifesaving training.  It gets into your bones, your DNA.  It’s been thirty years, but I still self-identify as a lifeguard.

Anyway, I was enjoying my morning coffee over Jame’s Lilek’s Daily Bleat, when I ran across his link to A Short History of Swimwear. Now Lileks generally writes about ephemera, preserving stuff that nobody else cares to preserve.  Why he does so is something of a mystery to many people, but I think it’s because the images, sounds, smells, and “stuff” are what truly define who we are, and when that goes away, we are gone.  In preserving matchbooks, coasters, menu’s, and advertisements, Lileks is preserving who we are, or who we used to be.  But I digress. In the process of preserving his ephemera, Lileks manages to be very entertaining.

A Short History of Swimwear is an annotated series of photographs featuring women in beachwear.  It starts out in the 20’s and kind of peters out in the 60’s.  It’s a work in progress.  I was especially entertained by the paper bikini from the 50’s and “Now is the time on Schprockets when ve svim!”  But of special interested was this.

Rescue TorpedoTake a look under the model’s right hand.  That “life buoy” is actually called a “rescue torpedo,” and is a welded steel tube with points on the ends.  I learned about these things almost thirty years ago when I was a lifeguard in training.  Even back then we were astonished that a bad idea like this had gotten such common acceptance.  Barely visible under the model’s hand is a tow-harness worn over the shoulder of the lifeguard.  The theory was that the lifeguard would carry this thirty pound monstrosity to the water and then tow it to the drowning swimmer.  Then, from outside of arms reach, the rescuer would shove the torpedo through the water at the panicking victim.  Look at the points on the ends of the thing:  you could impale a whale.  Well, okay, a tarpon.  I wonder how many victims were calmed down for a nice wrist tow back to the shore by being knocked unconscious by this thing?  This was, after all, an era wherein lifeguards were actually taught blows to the head to knock drowning victims unconscious.  Having one’s rescue victim pre-concussed by the rescue torpedo would save time and energy.

Remember how I said that I still self-identify as a lifeguard?  I made a swimming rescue this past summer.  So the next time you see me charging into the surf at you, wearing my underwear and carrying nothing more lethal than a pool noodle, be grateful for the time you live in.

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  1. “be grateful for the time you live in.”

    I am just greatful you wouldn’t be wearing that flower print bikini.

    • With MY hips? No fear.

  2. One of your best – ever!

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