The Man in the Purple Speedo

In my little New Jersey town, there is a pool. On sweltering summer evenings, after the worst of the sun has passed, I stuff the kids into the minivan and instinctively head for water. While I park on the grass, the kids vault out of the car and head for the gate.

As my youngest performs a series of skin-blasting cannonballs off of the diving board, I locate a beach lounge under a tree, flop full length onto the vinyl webbing, slip off my shoes and smile at nothing at all. This is my Happy Place. And while the sun sinks towards the line of cottonwood trees into a warm sea of candy pink clouds, and small children in soggy swim diapers waddle past me on their way to the gate, The Diver appears.

Silently, he disrobes, leaving his street clothes on a lounge, and stalks over to the diving board. Patiently, he waits his turn, just another body in a long line of seven-year-olds. When he finally mounts the ladder, I can hear the noise level around the pool dip for a few moments.

All eyes, young and old, are riveted upon The Diver as he walks springily to the end of the board. Positions himself. Concentrates. And then, performs a heart-stoppingly perfect, splashless, back one-and-a-half somersault with a tuck at the end.

I don’t know the Diver’s name. I don’t know where he lives, or what he does for a living, though I think I’ve seen him at my synagogue a couple of times. Perhaps in his forties, perhaps in his fifties, he is a tall spare man with graying curly hair and a generous bald spot.

Year after year, as older families age out and new families join, The Diver is a topic of conversation. It is almost a rite of passage to view his spectacular, gravity-defying feats, while asking the following questions: Who is he? Where did he learn how to dive like that? Was he in some past Olympics? And why does he wear that purple Speedo?

He’s at the pool as often as I am, so he has to know what all the kids are wearing these days, baggy, knee-length trunks. I ponder possible explanations. Is it just comfortable? Does that skin-tight fabric help him cut through the air while he’s making those amazing twists and turns? I’m a writer, so it is only a matter of time before I begin to invent reasons. It’s his lucky swimsuit, the one that took him to the championship of some high-school dive meet in the dim and distant 1970’s. Or this; in a fit of rebellious adolescent anger, he told his dive-loving father he would never swim again. After his father’s untimely death, he regretted it, and now, too late, he is diving for his dad’s love. This one is my current favorite; he was the champion diver of his public-school swim team. He never recovered from the disappointment he suffered when the last meet of his senior season was scheduled for Rosh Hashana, which, as a practicing Jew, he couldn’t attend. Now he is doomed to perform that champion dive over and over again, in his team swimsuit, until the end of time.

Kids adore him, following his every move with worshipful, shining eyes. They don’t care about bathing suit fashion. During this year’s Olympics, he was a local star. Children followed him onto the board after every dive, trying to mold their chubby little bodies into an approximation of his moves.

So, now that I think of it, maybe the Speedo is his lucky swimsuit, after all. The Diver’s grace has inspired generations of children to imitate him. The rest of us grownups just sit there and exercise our imaginations.