Deja Vu All Over Again
81-Year Old Bridges 62-Year Gap at OCBP Reunion
October 5, 2013
Déjà vu is an illusion. It simply means a feeling of having already experienced the present situation, but it’s not exactly the same. That’s sort of what I experienced as an entrant in the Lucky Jordan Sprint Swim at the OCBP’s tri-annual reunion on October 5, 2013. And that’s when I experienced a free fall back in time. .. a figment, dreamy, like a magic carpet ride through a twilight zone of days gone by.
In 1951, my dream of joining the OCBP was just that—a flight of fancy for a naive Washington College sophomore mired in the role of soda jerk and short order cook at Lambros Sundries and Fountain on the Boardwalk between Fourth and Fifth Sts. It wasn’t a bad job, but I longed to be outdoors. Bobby Bounds had no openings at his beach umbrella stand and casually mentioned that Capt. Craig was looking for one more lifeguard.
Bob Musgrove, stationed in front of the Shoreham Hotel at Fourth St., verified the search for an additional guard and suggested I apply. He said he had seen me swim and thought I would do just fine. I told him I had no lifesaving badges, knew nothing about surf rescue, breaking holds or the fireman’s carry.
“I’ll teach you,” he said, and that he did. Craig accepted my application and Musgrove, a patient mentor, practiced with me everyday after work for a week.
On a Monday morning, Craig and four of his guards greeted me at 7th St. in front of the Majestic Hotel. I was also greeted by my competitor, a guy many referred to as the “Jerk.” I never knew his name. He was a bodybuilder with bleached blonde hair who swaggered around the beach in a skimpy green bathing suit, envisioning he was God’s gift to women. Nobody seemed to like him and this set the stage for my rooting section: Lucky Jordan (yes, the very same guy); George Schoef (yes, THE George Schoepf—Craig’s successor); Bebe Smith—Lucky’s buddy from the south beach; and Art Mikinski who faithfully held down the fort at 9th St. where the Beach Club drew a plethora of party-goers all summer long.
It was 9 a.m. The beach was empty, the sun was bright and the surf was up. It was playing out like a scene from a Hollywood movie: a slender young man (I hate to this day the word “skinny) with no prior experience and not a lot of confidence going up against a brawny, cocksure adversary who claimed he was a former swimming pool guard.
Smith was my victim, treading water a little over a hundred yards offshore, just beyond the breakers. Mikinski was the Jerk’s victim and when Craig blew his whistle, the race was on. There was only one opening for the job, so whoever lost would go home disappointed.
Racing into the surf, I recalled my mentor’s advice: “Hold the buoy high and walk as far as you can, then drop it, scull a little bit and start swimming.” I got a good start, plowed through some breakers and reached my victim in pretty good time. Smith cheered me on as I passed the buoy to him and turned back toward shore. Halfway in, he yelled, “You can take your time now. The Jerk just quit!” It seems the weightlifter’s muscles tightened up and he didn’t complete the rescue. The guys who were to become my sidekicks gave me kudos and Lucky assured me I was “in.” “You did good,” he said. I passed the rest of the test over the next couple of days and Craig put me on the payroll the following week.
I was assigned to a double guard beach next to the fishing pier in front of the Atlantic Hotel with a former high school buddy, Chuck Austin. Life was good and the slender counter guy from Lambros joined an elite life-saving team in the Free State’s most popular summer resort.
Lucky had encouraged me to enter his swim, a highlight at our reunions. You’ll represent our era,” he said. Heats were held for the 40s, 50s and 60s age groups. I was 81 and would turn 82 in 18 more days. Vic Sprecher, the reunion coordinator was 71, and also the only swimmer in his age bracket. We joined 10 others in the 60s bunch which included three former female guards. The objective was to swim out, loop around a marker buoy and return to shore. Vic, by the way, came in fourth and I brought up the rear. That evening at the banquet, when I received a special award for participating, I joked that the 60s swimmers begged me to join them, knowing that if I did, none of them would come in last!
My flight-of-fancy began when Lucky, sitting high in a lifeguard stand near the water’s edge, gave instructions, blew his whistle and watched as we all raced into the surf. That’s when the first thought hit me. Had 62 years really passed when this very same guy, Lucky Jordan—an icon then as well as now—helped baptize me into the ranks of the best of the best: the OCBP? His commands to start the race were the first echo of the past. More were to follow.
The ocean was calmer this time and I had no torpedo buoy, but the pursuit was still the same. I heard the voice of my mentor, Bob Musgrove, telling me to walk, scull, then swim. When I reached the marker buoy I thought I saw him: Bebe Smith, smiling and nodding his head in approval. It was surreal. It wasn’t him. It was one of Capt. Butch Arbin’s safety guards straddling a surfboard. As I rounded the buoy, I caught a glimpse of a competitor’s upper arm, muscles rippling as he stroked. Good grief…an eerie recall of the Jerk!
My flight of fancy was fading as I came ashore, beaming with pride that I made the entire swim without breaking stroke. And finally, one last tad of reverie ended my return to yesteryear. Just like he did 62 years ago, Lucky smiled and said, “You did good.”
Ells Boyd is Prof. Emeritus, College of Education, Towson University. A certified scuba diver, he writes a monthly column for adventure author Clive Cussler’s website: Numa.net.
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