The Big Three

Once upon a time, I was a super thin teenager, with a face full of acne and a farmer’s tan.  Clearasil didn’t seem to help and the Instatan goop left me with little lines of brown on the top edges of my toes, bordered by lily whiteness.  Eventually, I started wearing longsleeved turtleneck shirts all summer, to the amusement (and no doubt disdain) of many.

My self-esteem was rock bottom, and I let my woes focus on three facts:  I couldn’t swim.  I couldn’t skate.  I couldn’t ride a bike.  My conclusion?  I couldn’t have a good life.

Let’s take swimming first.  When I was 6, my parents sent me to a hotel pool for lessons.  At one point, the instructor told us fledglings to line up on the edge of the deep end.  He yelled “Jump!” at us one by one, and if the person didn’t, the hairy-chested so-and-so pushed.  I remember flailing away … and then later waking up on the side of the pool after receiving artificial respiration.  “Yuck!” said my very young mind.

Then there was high school.  Happily for some, Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute in Toronto had a pool, and there were twice a week swimming periods from the beginning of Grade 9 to the end of Grade 12.  Quadruple yuck.  It seemed like I spent my entire high school career floundering around in the shallow end while the guys did laps.  And all of us were nude.

How did I ever recover from all this?

On to skating.  My parents meant well but my skates were ill-fitting and I guess there was no money for fancy new ones.  Flop went the ankles and down went the bod, again and again and again.  My friends were playing hockey.  I was going to skating parties, running on my skates in a hopeless effort to stay vertical and grabbing on to chain link fences.  Friends did loops around me and occasionally came to a professional stop, showering me with ice crystals.  “How’s it goin’, Bruce?”  The girls were more discreet.  They just stayed away.

How did I ever recover from all this?

For dessert, there was riding a bicycle.  Except I didn’t know how.  I was too terrified of falling and smooshing my muscles and bones to even ask Mom and Dad for a bike.  Once more, friends rolled away to destinations (and adventures) unknown.  At least unknown to me.

When I was 17, I got my first job – flipping hamburgers at a stand on Toronto Island, a lovely stretch of lawns and trees.  My spot was at Hanlon’s Point.  Refreshment was also available at Centre Island and Ward’s Island.  One day, my boss came up to me and said “Bruce, take this box of burgers over to Centre.  They need it right away.  There’s a bike at the back.”  Oh … gulp big time.  I took the frozen burgers, walked to the back of the building and spied the sinister two-wheeled job.  Arghh!  I tried to do what I’d seen so many people do – get on the bike.  Didn’t have a clue, and the result was predictable … splat! on the asphalt.  Picking myself up, I glanced around like a fugitive and saw that no one had witnessed this escapade.  Twenty yards away was a grove of bushes.  I ran the bike over there and shoved it in.  After making sure the beast was totally concealed, I ran like hell to Centre Island with my thawing patties.  Sigh.

How did I ever recover from all this?

Forty-eight years later, I’m a happy adult.  As for the big three, here is my score:

Swimming – still can’t
Skating – still can’t
Riding a bicycle – learned when I was 47 years old

Something good must have happened to me along the way



2 thoughts on “The Big Three

  1. A very touching perspective on the adolescent pains we all feel for many different reasons in our teenage years…… and yet your story telling and perspective gives us all the hope that there is an ability to recover and triumph!!

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