I am at the pool with Cobb and Cobb is yelling at the children here.
“Come on! You can do it! You can do it better than that, men!”
Cobb thinks yelling is good for his health and makes a point to do so daily—the subject of his bellowing a tertiary concern. I trust Cobb implicitly when it comes to matters of health because he is a hirsute young man from Ohio who works at a raw food boutique in Hollywood and is the paragon of something I have no idea how to define. I, on the other hand, am quiet—straightforward to the point of crisis, and sense that I have much to learn. There is hope perhaps. We look something alike—wolfish, maybe is the word, and he especially recalls the zoot-suited specimens of Merry Melodies cartoons—total swagger and always baying up the moon. He was a friend of a friend, or else I may have never met him, but now we’re at the pool—and I am taking notes.
Cobb is hanging on the barrier that keeps the waders from the swimmers, the picture of a studied bumpkin fence-peerer; he’s picked out one boy especially, shouting at him in his lesson, exhorting him to “come on.” He’s clapping like he’s at a baseball game. If he had a beer, it would be empty.
The kid is slacking—Cobb can see it and he’s mad, ears thumping blue with blood. He wants to demonstrate to the kid how to swim like a man for the sheer joy of raising eyebrows—I’m about to point out what we’re witnessing is typical for the twelve-and-unders but just then the kid taps out for a mid-lane breather, sending Cobb completely up the wall.
“Forget what stroke you were doing, buddy? Gawd. You expect to qualify with that kind of attitude? I’m not talking about the Olympics here; I’m talking basic civics. You want to end up a state ward? Get back in the game!”
Heads are turning. This is a community pool and language is meant to be mild as pipesmoke, criticism constructive. Here vinegar is thought as belonging best in potato salad and piss elsewhere entirely—far from the water, certainly.
By the purpling of his stubbled face I can tell that Cobb is overheating, precisely the reverse of the effect we had desired in coming here on this scorcher of an afternoon. He begins to get aggressive, slapping the water with his hand. Someone would surely have said something already, only the other swimmers are scared of him now, or too hot to bother—they bob like logs, on their backs, or sit with eyes closed and legs crossed, pacifists all, pretending not to hear. Even the militant teenage lifeguards, so quick to blow for the merest infraction—trotting on the deck or failing to take a shower—have, upon gazing into Cobb’s crazed eyes, passed his case to fate. I myself learned long ago not to intervene, and so here, only one person talks to him, and it’s not the kid in question (which seems a confirmation of Cobb’s worst fears about his moxie).
It’s a woman who approaches him, boldly—slender, biting at her thumb, walking as though drunken, the way the water makes you.
“Why are you yelling at that kid?” she asks.
“Just my typical hot-day hustle,” he replies.
“I like it,” she says, smiling.
“Like, my hustle? What I do?”
“I’m down in Pasadena. Work at the JPL.”
“Whoa, like rockets and shit?”
“That’s pretty hot.”
“We have a machine that can reach fifty million degrees.”
“No shit. That’s literally pretty hot!”
Cobb laughs. She laughs. She doesn’t look like your typical scientist. Cobb yells at the kid again.
“Quitters are shitters, man! Attack!”
A good lesson in here somewhere, I’m convinced, but time to leave all the same. It’s only heating up, and this is not the point of the pool.
Seth Blake is a writer from New Hampshire.