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Old Harry, Music and the Lifesaver

In Israel, you are forbidden, by law, from swimming in a pool without the presence of a Lifeguard. It wasnít like that back in Australia when I lived there. My friend Mick even had the key to Sep Prosserís indoor pool in the nearby Sydney suburb of Woollahra. This was the first indoor pool we knew. The two of used to go there on our own for a winter workout, out of hours.

I have been swimming daily at the indoor Gush Etzion pool since it opened in 1985. As required, a matzil, a saviour, as the lifesaver is called in Hebrew, is always in attendance. Many of them just sit around reading the newspaper, drinking coffee, or studying for an upcoming exam. Weíve seen scores of them over the years. In all this time, I only remember once, about ten years ago, that a lifesaver was called into action. There was scream from the deep end. Old Harryís foot touched the hose on the octopus cleaner. The pool staff had absentmindedly forgotten to remove it from the water earlier in the morning prior to the arrival of the first swimmers. Harry, to any third party observer, is not to much of a swimmer. He does some homegrown variation on standard breaststroke, making sure his face or hair never get wet. He swims a number of laps, rarely making it to the end of the pool. Instead he turns around, unpredictablely, five to ten metres from the wall.

On this particular morning, Harry almost made it to the wall. "Save me, save me" he yelled, "Iím being dragged under". The lifesaver, Mr Shalom, was standing at the other end of the pool. In response to the screams, Shalom tears down the concourse, dives into the water a few metres away from the source of the screaming, literally pulling off his shirt in mid-air. We all applauded. It was impressive.

Of course Harry was not in any danger, not at all, but being a little insecure in general, I suppose he really thought he was on his way under. Since then Harry has become very critical of guards who do not spend their time watching over him.

Iíve told you before about some of the characters who frequent our local swimming pool and gym: Sef, Spike and Hadley. But Harry is the supreme personality. We all know Harry from other activities in our town, but it is in the pool that Harry truly excels.

Harry has no problem getting into the shower for a twelve minute stint (we've timed him, often) while ten people are queued up waiting for a quick rinse. Harry just closes the curtain on his shower stall and disappears into another reality. In his transcendental stupor, he ignores everyone in the locker room to the state of oblivion.

But Harry does have very acute hearing. It is really quite amazing. If the lifeguard has a radio or other music playing at about 7 decibels, Harry can hear it as he enters the pool vestibule. His ears prick up like a fox -- two tiny antennae, erect on the sides of his head, rotating, searching for a signal. If he can't hear anything, he moves in closer, into the pool area, even before he gets changed, and he carries out another survey. "Everything's quiet on the western front" -- he gets ready to enter the water.

But if there is any music, he seeks out the lifesaver. Harry is not that tall, but as he approaches his target, his body becomes extremely stiff and erect. He moves in close to the prey, his eyes a mere 2 inches or less away from those of his victim. The casualty feels hot breath on his cheeks and chin. He is unable to even blink. Harry's teeth are gritted. He "explains" why the music must cease. And, by some evolutionary freak of nature, the lifeguards always comply -- they are frozen in fear. Harry goes off for his swim leaving the room in silence, only the loud splash of swimmers still audible.

When there is any dissent, Harry has many tricks up his sleeve: he has bad ears, he is an old man, or the muscularly challenged man with who he usually shares a lane is adversely affected by noise. (He often uses this poor man as an excuse to keep other people out of the lane -- "you'll injure him -- he's very frail -- you mustn't upset him". Once Harry nearly came to blows with a new swimmer who ventured into his lane. "You'll injure my cripple friend -- swim elsewhere before you cause irreparable damage" when he really means to say, "I like this lane for me alone". The new man didn't take too kindly to this treatment. He just got out of the water and pushed away in his wheelchair.)

A radio is actually switched on when I arrive each day, but about ten minutes before Harry's impending arrival, our lifeguard, seemingly in fear of his life, turns it off, completely. We yell at him, "We want music!". Lately we've decided to fight back. We want music! We talk to, and even yell at, the lifeguard to turn the radio back on. We dance around the pool, singing, "Music, Music". Harry pretends not to notice. I think he turns his ears on and off at will. For Harry, our performance is water off a duck's back.

Last Friday, I notice Harry standing up in the water, the lifesaver squatting down beside him. They have a five minute conversation, or more likely, Harry is delivering a long monologue. Afterwards I say, "I don't know what he said to you, but please don't believe a word of it". "No, no, he told me things of great intellectual value, laced with much wisdom." I thought I'd just put my big foot in it again. Here Harry was teaching this man something new, perhaps a lesson in the Torah portion of the week or from the Talmud, or perhaps some deep philosophy, who knows what, and I was rubbishing it. I wanted to melt into the water. How embarassing.

"Yes, he explained to me, in physiological terms, the way that music is detrimental to the health of a person involved in aerobic activity. He had all these scientific proofs. He was very convincing." Whaaat!!! Is this guy a total dill? I tell him it's not true, but he doesn't believe me. Harry has him under his spell.

Yoav, the guy running the gym that day, has just graduated from the Wingate Institute, Israel's National Centre for Physical Education and Sport. I ask him if they learned something about the effects of music on physical activities in his university studies. "No, the opposite is true -- music can be very beneficial -- definitely not detrimental -- maybe don't listen to Israeli politicians".

On Sunday morning I meet the lifesaver again. I tell him what Yoav told me. But I didn't realise how well Harry had prepared his dupe. "Yes, the music might be OK for you, but what about the commercials?". Yes, I scream, WHAT ABOUT THE COMMERCIALS?!

And the next day he comes up with an even better line, "Harry says that it has been accepted practice here for years that there is no music playing while he swims; and additionally, Harry knows all of you really don't want music to be played here -- it's just that you don't know it yet." I think we screamed so loud, the roof lifted into the air for a couple of seconds. Harry has real hutzpah, audacity!

Since Tuesday, weíve been given a reprieve . . . Harry has gone off for a few days of continuous concerts, cantorial music, so now we can have the radio turned up full blast all morning -- while Harry listens to music without us noticing, far away from us.

Please feel free to and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.


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