In the Underbridge (Part XVII)

(Continued from Part XVI)

“I’ve heard of those games,” Fletcher said. “Those Olympics
Were where that guy Michael Phelps beat did his swim tricks
With something like seven gold medals, or so.
Michael Spitz was his name, I think, wasn’t it? No,
I’d remember that. That’s Papa’s name, after all.
Was it Max? Or Mitch? Moustache! That’s right, I recall
That he had this great bushy black ’stash on his lip,
’Cause I asked my dad, wasn’t he worried the grip
Of the hair on the water would make him swim slow,
And Papa said, maybe, but not so’s you’d know.”
“That’s the fellow,” the turtle said. “Mark was his name
And that moustache–plus seven gold medals–brought fame
To a sport that, until that time, sadly, was lacking
In superstar status or corporate backing.
A world-class swimmer (or runner) got healthy
And possibly famous; he never got wealthy.
Things still didn’t change overnight, but when Shorter
Won gold in the marathon, soon, in short order,
Hundreds of thousands of folks hit the pools
And the streets to start swimming and running, and rules
That a few years before had seemed carved into stone
Started crumbling. Sports get more support if your own
Chosen athletic outlet is one that’s suppressed,
Even if there’s no chance that you’ll ever be best.
As war and then Watergate seemed to spell doom
For the country, along came the First Fitness Boom.

(To be continued….)


In the Underbridge (Part XVI)

(Continued from Part XV)

“Now, turtles are students of history, so
I can vouch for a lot of this, but I don’t know
Whether either of you have the context required
To understand how triathlon was inspired.
Does the name Eddy Merckx mean the first thing to you?
Mark Spitz? Or Frank Shorter? How about Vida Blue?
No, wait, not that last one. He pitched for the A’s
And had nothing to do with the big fitness craze
That swept the U.S. in the seventies; that’s
What we’re here to discuss. (Though the A’s were cool cats.)
The Munich Olympics in ’72
Were what brought Messrs. Shorter and Spitz into view
Of the sports-watching public who, every four years,
Paid spasmodic attention and showered with cheers
The participants in nonprofessional games
That rarely brought players vast fortunes and fames.”

(Continued in Part XVII)

In the Underbridge (Part XV)

(Continued from Part XIV)

“So, why should you trust what I tell you above
[Insert internet search engine site that you love]?
Because I heard it firstflipper from Tita Tiki,
My Auntie, a honu who lives off Waikiki.
(I call her my Auntie, but we’re not related;
The title belongs to our most venerated
Chelonian elders, who, as you’d expect,
Are all female. It’s kind of a term of respect.)
You know that sea turtle you oftentimes see
In Hawai’ian vacation promotions? That’s she!
She’s swum in the waters off Waikiki Beach
Since the sixties. I met her when she came to teach
A chelonian history class at Creek U.
A few years ago. Turtle! If I only knew
Just the tiniest fraction of all that she does,
Well, my head would explode. I’m not kidding! Because
She’s the living embodiment of turtle history;
Anything she doesn’t know’s a true mystery.
Fibropapillomatosis has slowed her
In recent years, so I feel blessed that I knowed her
While she was still teaching. The turtle’s a saint!
If she says a story’s not true, then it ain’t.
And, by the same token, if she says it is,
Then it is: You can write it in ink on your quiz.
If ever you’re challenged by skeptics to cite
Your authorities, say, ‘Tita Tiki. Good-night!’

(Continued in Part XVI)

In the Underbridge (Part XIV)

(Continued from Part XIII)

“Once upon a more intro-cliché-ridden time,”
The turtle continued, “this story that I’m
Now relating took place in a land far away–
Well, a couple of lands…what I’m trying to say
Is that all of this started some years in the past
And the day it’s forgotten is coming up fast.
The difficult part is deciding just which
Of the myriad influences in the rich
Varied lives of the primary protagonists
Of this story to mention. There aren’t any lists
That are truly reliable on which to draw.
That is, lists abound, but they each have a flaw
And though most are not fatal, they all are annoying
To those who are sure they know better. Enjoying
A magazine essay on triathlon’s start
Is much harder if you’ve taken mythsherds to heart
And believe in the deep darkest depths of your soul
That you know the truth behind alcohol’s role
In the triathlon story, or which branch of service
The founder(s) belonged to. It makes you quite nervous
When folks who’ve supposedly done their research
Denigrate as rank rumor or elsewise besmirch
Received wisdom regarding your favorite endurance
Endeavors. There’s no contradiction insurance
That pays off when someone explodes your belief;
Conversely, denial can save you some grief.
Much that you think that you know is more gray
Than Manichean; history’s often that way.

(Continued in Part XV)

In the Underbridge (Part XIII)

(Continued from Part XII)

“Um, I didn’t hear anything,” Fletcher said.
“Elena?” Her lips zipped, she just shook her head.
“Was something supposed to have happened just then?”
Fletcher asked. “Could you possibly do it again?
‘Cause we missed it. Please, do…what you did, one more time.”
The turtle said, “Come now, you both heard the chime.
You must have! My ears are so small that your eyes
Can’t detect them, I’ll wager, but yours are the size
Of, well, me, so….” He trailed off. Without comprehension,
The two children stared at the turtle. The tension
Increased ‘til it seemed that the Underbridge thrummed
Like a contrabass B-string. Elena succumbed
To the pressure and blurted out, “Please, Mr. Turtle,
We’re sorry, but can’t we just bypass this hurdle?
Our ears only hear in a range of about
Twenty hertz to a thousand times that, so, no doubt,
The sound that you hear, though I’m sure it’s sublime,
Is outside of that range. Is that plausible? I’m–”
The turtle broke in, and said, sadly, “I get it,
You’re right, and it isn’t your fault, so don’t sweat it.
I wish you could hear what I hear–such a loss,
Like a chocolate fudge sundae with no chocolate sauce–
But, hey, it was only a metaphor, right?
We’d best move along, or we’ll be here all night.”

(Continued in Part XIV)

In the Underbridge (Part XII)

(Continued from Part XI)

“What is that, sugar?” Elena inquired.
“Please,” said the turtle, “before we get mired
In what these things are or are not, let me state
That you’ll understand soon, if you’re patient, and wait.
Can you both do that, please?” Fletcher nodded his nose
(And the rest of his face), so she said, “I suppose.”
Since her brother’s remaining wish hung in the balance,
Elena would rally her wait-and-see talents.
“These two grains of sand–”
“San–” She cut off her speech,
Zipped her lip, locked it tight, placed the key out of reach
Underneath her bike helmet, then jammed both her hands
In her pockets. The turtle continued. “This sand’s
A metaphor: Just as your brother and you
Are both better together, these sand grains are, too.
If targeted stick-shaking’s what we should look at
To measure importance, they’d never be shook at.
Each by itself is a small, silent thing,
But put them together, and hear how they sing!”
He clapped them against one another, excited,
And listened in bliss ’til the echoes subsided.

(Continued in Part XIII)

In the Underbridge (Part XI)

(Continued from Part X)

Fletcher blinked, but Elena said, “Papa? It’s Michael–”
“I thought so! And tell me, does he like to cycle
And swim and go running? I’m betting he does….”
Fletcher nodded. “Now, your turn. You know this because…?”
But the turtle ignored him. “Do either of you
Like to swim, bike and run? Are you two tri-geeks, too?”
“Are we tri-geeks?” Elena demanded. “Hold on!
What’s a creek turtle know about triathlon?”
“Tri-ATH-lon,” the turtle corrected, “Just three
Distinct syllables: ATH-lon. Repeat after me–”
“I don’t care if it’s TRI-ath-uh-LON! I don’t care!”
Screamed Elena. “Just tell us: You learned this stuff where?
“Well, excuse me,” the turtle, offended, replied,
“If you’re taking that tone, I’ll just go back inside
And catch up on my reading. I don’t need the stress–”
“Wait! I’m sorry!” Elena said.
“Really? If–”
Elena breathed deeply, then smiled as she spoke.
“Mr. Turtle, please tell us, is all this a joke?”
“You have to admit,” Fletcher said, “it sounds odd.”
“I suppose,” said the turtle. “Okay.” With a nod
Of its head, it stuck out its front legs. In each hand–
Make that foot–it held one tiny, white grain of sand.

(Continued in Part XII)