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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What do Jay, Jo(elle), and Khalia, Marco Polo, Veterans' public pool, and The American Civil War have to do with each other?

What do Jay, Jo(elle), and Khalia, Marco Polo, Vet's Pool, and The American Civil War have to do with each other?

Perhaps I should tell you a story about yesterday.  This may explain it all.

Now that I'm over 60, I get a free annual pass to Middletown's outdoor pool.  Vet's Pool.  Vet's, as in Veterans.  Of America's wars.  Which includes, I should think, our American Civil War, in which about 625,000 souls spilled their blood, on orders of President Abraham Lincoln, for the Union, and of President Jefferson David, for the secessionist South.  There's about 10 pints of blood in the average human body.  That means 6,250,000 (six million two hundred fifty thousand) pints of human blood, 781,250 gallons, drenched American soil from 1861 to 1865, when General Lee surrendered, for the Confederacy, to General Grant, for the Union, at the Appomattoxcourthouse, in the state of Virginia.

Vets' Pool, which is short for Veterans' Pool, is the only public, outdoor swimming pool in the City of Middletown, Connecticut.  I have not measured its dimensions, but "Many public swimming pools are rectangles 25 m or 50 m long, but may be any size and shape desired."  The main part of Veterans' Pool has a depth of four feet 6 inches.  It's probably 50 meters long by 15 meters wide.  There is also a shallower pool for children, right next to the main pool, but for purposes of this discussion I'll ignore it.

By converting meters to feet, and using an online volume calculator, I calculate that Veterans' Pool contains 281,768 gallons of water in the main pool.  That's about a third of the human blood which was shed in our Civil War to free the black slaves of white people.  I'm a bit surprised, as I'd thought, before I did the calculation, that it would take the blood of more than just over 200,000 people (remember 625,000 died in the war and the blood of one-third of them could fill Veterans' Pool) to fill Middletown's public swimming pool.

Yesterday afternoon, as often is the case, I went for a swim at Veterans' Pool.  Susie's immediate needs were taken care of, I'd taken some photos and video clips of the drilling of the geo-thermal well at the southwest corner of our new house in Bartlett Hollow, and I promised to return no later than 3 p.m. to take Susie to the lab to have another blood sample drawn from her body, so the doctors can figure out if her liver has returned to a sufficiently healthy state to enable her to have the cervical fusion surgery on Friday.

It would take an awful lot of blood samples for liver function tests to extract enough blood, from enough people, to fill Veterans' Pool.  Since our Civil War lasted four years, it would have taken sixteen months of the war, or one-third of the war, for the soldiers of the North and the South to spill enough blood to fill Veterans' Pool one time.  Susie's certainly in a lot of pain.  A lot of pain.  24/7, even when she's trying to go to sleep at night.  And her pain's been going on, continuously, and increasingly, since July 2, 2011, some 38 days ago.  It's hard to fathom how much pain was felt by the 625,000 soldiers who died to free the slaves or to oppose those fighting to free the slaves, over the entire four-year period of the whole Civil War.

One way to calculate that is this.  In each of the four years of the War to Free the Slaves, 156,250 soldiers died, some wearing Union blue, the others, Confederate gray.  An historian might quibble that the battle deaths were not evenly amortized over the four year span of the war.  But you get my drift.  156,250 soldiers per year equals 3,004 each and every day of the war.  429 each day.  Shot. Bayoneted. Garroted. Torn limb from limb.  Bled to death on God's wonderful brown earth.  A lot of pain and suffering, for a lot of soldiers, and for even more of their family members, their parents, wives, husbands, children.  A lot of pain, for a lot of good people.  I think Lincoln once wrote that the Civil War was God's punishment for the institution of slavery.  For every lash of the whip on a slave's back, an equal amount of blood had to be shed on the battlefields, of Antietam, Bull Run, Gettysburg.  Many more.  Lots of blood.  Staggering pain.  All so that Jay, Jo(elle), and Khalia, and I as their invited playmate, could play Marco Polo at Veterans' Pool in Middletown yesterday.

Although it was a hot and humid day yesterday afternoon, there were very few people in the main pool.  After parking my backpack, folding chair, towel, glasses, and book on the lawn next to the pool, I stepped down into the cool, clear, clean water and pushed off to the other side, underwater, then in a surface crawl.  There were only five other people in the pool.  A father and his son, and three boys about 10 years old each: Jay and Jo(elle), brothers, one lighter-skinned than the other, and their cousin, Khalia.  Khalia had a face which reminded me a little bit of Charles Barkley, the big, brash, aggressive former NBA star of the Philadelphia 76'ers professional basketball team.  And Khalia was somewhat larger than his cousins, in the same way that Charles Barkley was stockier than his teammates.

I asked the boys what game they were playing in the water.  "Marco Polo," said Jay.  "Wanna play?"  Being extremely flattered, and appreciative, that they wanted a 61-year-old man with a gray beard to join the fun and get some great exercise in the process, I immediately accepted their invitation.  I introduced myself, "I'm Bob.  Who are you guys?" They said their names.  It took me a few more tries, as the game proceeded, to memorize their names and faces, and also determine that the two "J's" were brothers, despite the fact that one of the "J's" has a dark chocolate skin tone, very beautiful, especially in the bright sunlight, and covered with a sheen of shiny chlorinated water, and even more specially because of his bright, beautiful, friendly, and totally innocent smile.

"So what are the rules?"  One of the boys told me whoever's It, meaning Marco Polo, has to keep his eyes closed and call out, "Marco."  The other players then have to reply, loudly and immediately, "Polo."  That enables the It guy to chase the Polo voices in the water and try to tag one of the Polo boys and become the Marco guy.  And so on until the lifeguard, with exasperation and condescension in his voice, calls down from his post atop the lifeguard's chair, above the fray and all, from Mount Olympus it could have been, how disdainfully he said, finally, "You'all's peekin' with your eyes.  That's not the rules of the game.  Ya' might as well just play Tag."  I complained that I had not peeked and Zeus thundered back from the heavens, to my young play companions, "Yeah, at least HE's not lookin', but yuz' all's peekin' so go back to playin' what yuz' really playin', which is tage."  After a round of denials from the J brothers, and a bit of trash talkin' to Mr. Zeus by their the J-boys cuz', Charles Khalia Barkley, I taught them what I knew (not much) about how to make a swimmer's racing turn, although I missed the wall on the push off after trying to show them how to tuck the head down towards the bottom of the pool and curl around in the other direction, hoping (unsuccessfully yesterday) to push off firmly with the feet to gain some small advantage in the swim meet event I momentarily imagined I was competing in.  After showing them how to float on your back by holding a deep breath and pushing up with the toes, and then laying with arched back on the surface of the water, and watching them try, without success, to imitate me, I told them I had to leave the pool to help my wife, but I hoped to see them tomorrow.

I don't know how Jo(elle) spells his name.  Joel?  Joele?  Joelle?  He pronounces it like Jo-elle, but I suspect that that may be a more feminized version of the prophet Joel's name, which his parents did not elect to name him.

So what do Jay, Jo(elle), Khalia, Marco Polo, Veterans' Pool, and The American Civil War all have in common?  Without the spilling of all the blood of all the soldiers who fought the Civil War, America would have remain a divided and racially segregated place.  Jay, Jo(elle), Khalia, and I would not have been allowed to swim together in the same public pool.  Or, to be more accurate, I would have swum yesterday in the better-maintained Whites Only public pool, and they in the rattier Colored Only public pool, which would have been created and maintained if the North had not beaten the South, after all that blood was spilled, and enough to fill Veterans' Poll three times over.  (See, calculation of "Pool facts", infra.)

And what's the connection to Marco Polo?  Marco Polo was an explorer, an adventurer, a traveler.  His journey through Asia, far from his family and friends in Venice, lasted 24 years.  After 61 years in the same kind of place, I am at the start of a new journey, which may well last another 24 years, or more, if by God's grace (or Mother Nature's grace, for those of you who are religious skeptics, and uncomfortable with the language of faith) I live that long.  That journey has taken me away from some of my friends, even at times from Susie, and it's taken me to new places, new experiences, new people, hopefully some new friends.  And I hope to retain as many of the "old" friends as are willing to continue to have me as a friend.

The two J-boys, cousin Khalia, Marco Polo, Veterans' public pool, and The American Civil War, all seem at first glance to have little or no connection to each other.  Perhaps it's now clear to you what connection I've experienced with all of them.

Thanks for reading.

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