Monday, December 1, 2008

The Little Black Disk

The Little Black Disk

Brian Sims was an excellent swimmer. Not far from where his family lived in Waynesburg was Coohegan Lake, a grand place for swimming and sun bathing. On weekends, in the good weather, the family would get in the car and drive out to the lake where Brian and his younger sister, Louise, would play in the water, while Mom and Dad sat on the beach and rested.

Brian gave Louise swimming lessons. He taught her to do the crawl, the butterfly stroke, the back stroke, how to kick her feet and breathe in the water. Sometimes she would sit on the float and watch him. Other times she would try to keep up with him as he swam back and forth from float to float.

A couple of times during the summer there were contests. When Brian was old enough he began to compete, and he did very well, eventually winning second and third place against some of the older boys.

When he was 12 he and his folks thought it would be fun for Brian to go to summer camp. Not imagining the trouble that would occur, off they went to Camp Chippewa. It was a 4 hour drive from Waynesburg, had a nice lake for swimming and many other activities for him to enjoy. His Dad checked the registry and found Brian’s cabin. They helped him settle in, met his cabin mates and, after some good byes, they left.

Later that day, as Brian went into the main hall for dinner, he passed a message board with a sign that read “Anyone interested in swimming report to the lake after breakfast tomorrow and be prepared to take a swimming test... Check this board at dinner. Those who pass the test will get a small white disc, those who fail it, a black one. Those wishing to swim must present their white disc to the counselor at the lake.”

So the next day, as soon as he finished breakfast, Brian went to his cabin, put on his swimming trunks and reported to the lake where he met Luke Jones, the counselor and saw a bunch of boys waiting for the test. Luke was a slender, college age fellow with glasses, a T shirt and dungarees. He went through the group and wrote down everyone’s name. Then he said “When I call your name, jump in, swim to the float and back. After your test, go get dressed. Check the message board at dinner. Jack Armitage.”
The first boy jumped in the water and swam well. Brian watched each of them as they took their turns. Some dog paddled their way back and forth, others were better. When Brian’s turn came he jumped in and swam to the float and back in a flash.

Later, on the way in to dinner, Brian went to the message board to pick up his little white disc and was stunned to find a black one next to his name. He removed it from the peg and went to Luke to ask why he had failed the test. Luke said, “I didn’t like your form.”

Brian was crushed. For the next week or so he wandered around the camp trying to get interested in other activities. He tried the rifle range until the rifle jammed. He tried horse back riding but the horses just ambled along between the trees. He watched a boxing lesson but decided that he didn’t really want to beat up on anybody. Mainly he just walked through the woods by himself trying to stay as far as possible from the lake.

Occasionally he would get insults from some of the older boys. “Hey, Esther Williams, I hear you failed the swimming test.” “Want to go splish, splash, Brian?” “Better get an inner tube, Sims.”

Then one day at lunch the head counselor, Mr. Mayhew, called out his name. He stood up and walked over to him. “Yes, sir?” sod Brian. “You have a phone call in the main office,” said Mr. Mayhew.

When Brian picked up the phone it was his Dad.

“How’s it going, Son?”

“Oh. It’s Okay.” The downward tone in his voice gave away his disappointment.

“You don’t sound convinced,’ said his father.


“Well, what?”

“They won’t let me swim in the lake.”

That was a surprise. “Why not?”

“They said I didn’t pass the swimming test.

“I find that hard to believe. Are they all Olympic swimmers there?”

“No. Some of them are good. But I’m just as good as any of them.”

“Well, listen here, Son. I’m calling to tell you that you’re mother and I and Louise are coming up to visit next weekend. We’re told it’s a visiting day. Then we’ll see what the story is.”

“Okay.” That was cheerful news.

“Can I bring you anything?”

“No. I don’t need anything.”

“Okay, then.”

Brian had a sudden thought, “Oh, Dad?”


“Can you bring my medals?”

“Your medals?

“The ones I won at Coohegan.”

:Oh. I’m not sure if I know where they are.”

“Does Mom know?”

“Well, she probably does As soon as she comes in I’ll ask her. And if we can find them I’ll put them in the glove compartment so that we don’t forget.”

“Thanks Dad.”

“Okay. We’ll see you soon. Love you, Son.”

“Love you, Dad.”

The following Saturday Brian was waiting in the parking lot when his family showed up at about 1 o’clock. After hugs all around, his father opened the glove compartment, took out the medals and put them in his pocket.

“Let’s go talk to Mr. Mayhew,” he said. “I called him yesterday and made an appointment.”

Wexler Mayhew was a stern looking man with bushy eye brows, about 50 years old. Next to him was Chuck Sanchez, a robust Puerto Rican, the swimming instructor

. After greetings and introductions Mr. Mayhew said, “Now, Mr. and Mrs. Sims, what’s the problem?”

“The problem is that our son Brian here failed your swimming test even though he is an expert swimmer. One of the reasons we decided to send him here is so that he could swim in your lake to his heart’s delight. Now I want to know why you have deprived him of the pleasure.”

Mr. Mayhew turned to Chuck and said, “What about that, Chuck?”

Chuck replied, “Well, I didn’t give the swimming test, there was a staff meeting at the time. Luke Jones gave the tests.”

Wexler Mayhew picked up the phone on his desk and after a few seconds spoke into it, “Where is Luke Jones?” There was a pause. “Well, get a hold of him and tell him to come to my office right away, please. Thank you.” He put down the phone.

“The men at this camp are all professional counselors and instructors.,” said Mr. Mayhew. “We’ve never had any serious complaints about the way we run things. I’m sure there is a good explanation as to why Brian failed the test. But we have many other activities here for the boys to do. I’m sure, if you look around, you’ll find it a very rewarding place to be.”

“Yes,” replied his Dad, “but swimming is Brian’s favorite sport and it is unfair to him and to me that he is kept from it.”

The door opened and Luke Jones stepped in. Mr. Mayhew motioned him to a chair, introduced him to the family and said. “It seems that Mr. Sims is quite upset over the fact that his son, Brian, failed the swimming test. How do you respond to that?”

“Well,” said Luke, “he didn’t do very well, that’s all.”

“What did you have him do?” asked Mr. Sims.

“Swim to the float and back.”

“And did he do that?”


“Then why did he fail?”

“I didn’t like his form.”

“Did you say anything about what form he should use?”

“Well no but….”

“Did you instruct him about what strokes you wanted him to use?”

“No, but he was swimming too fast. He was splashing around a lot and it showed me that he really didn’t know how to swim. He wasn’t graceful.”

“Are you a swimming instructor, Mr. Jones?”

“No. I was helping out for the day.”

Brian’s sister, Louise, spoke up, “Brian teaches me.”

Mr. Sims reached into his pocket, took out two medals and placed them on the desk. Brian put his little black disc next to them.

“Mr. Mayhew,” said Brian’s Dad, “these are medals my son won in swimming contests against older boys. This bronze medal he won for distance and this silver one for speed.” Then he picked up the little black disc and said “And this is what you have awarded him. I suggest you give Brian another test.”

“Well, I don’t know about that.” said Mr. Mayhew, “We already have a full roster of boys for swimming in that lake. I suggest you find another activity for Brian.”

Brian watched a scowl appear on his father’s face. He knew what that meant.

“No!” said his Dad, “I STRONGLY URGE YOU to give him another test. Do I need to demand it?”

“You can demand all you want to, Mr. Sims,” said Mr. Mayhew. “I don’t react well to bullies.”

Frank Sims smiled. “All right, then. Let’s negotiate. Here’s my offer. The three of you, with me and my family, will go down to the lake, where you will give Brian another swimming test. If he fails it, fine. But if you think he can swim then let him swim in your lake whenever he wants to. That’s my offer. If you don’t accept it, I will take Brian home with me. And then I will write some letters and send them to every important, pertinent publication I can find. I am a contributing editor of Modern House and Building Design, one of the most prestigious Architectural digests in the country. My letters will be read and printed, I can promise you. I will let people know, people who may have kids of their own, looking for a respectable summer camp for them, about the slip shod manner in which you are treating my son.”

Brian was proud of his dad.

There was a long, silent pause. It was high noon across the head counselor’s desk Everyone was watching him. The issue had now become much bigger than a swimming test. In the silence each man was calculating the strength of the other Finally Mr. Mayhew blinked.

“All right.” he said. “Brian, get into your swimming trunks and meet us at the lake.” Brian took off like a shot.

On the way to the lake the six of them talked about nothing in particular: the camp, the forest, the weather, some of the other boys: small talk. When they reached the lake, Brian was waiting for them.

“Okay,” said his Dad, “what should he do?” They all looked at Chuck who said, “Swim to the float and back” Brian looked across at the float and got a crazy idea that put a big smile on his face. He dove into the water and disappeared.

After a few moments all except Brian’s family began to be concerned. “Well, where is he?” Mr. Mayhew exclaimed. Long moments went by with no sight of Brian. Chuck Sanchez took a step forward as if to go into the lake to find him. When Brian finally resurfaced he was at the float. The counselors were stunned. Louise chuckled.

Brian sat up on the float with his back to the shore watching with joy the undulating water with the jewels of light dancing on the surface, then tipped backward into the lake and swam toward the shore on his back. Partway there he flipped over and swam back to them with easy, graceful strokes.

“Well” said Wexler Mayhew, “I have to admit he’s a good swimmer. As far as I’m concerned Brian can swim in our lake. Chuck, what do you say?”

“Yes, sir, I agree,” said Chuck. And that was that.

Brian spent the rest of the day walking around the camp with his folks. When it came time for them to leave, after hugs all around, Brian said “Thanks Dad.”

“Sure Son. Sometimes life’s lessons come after life’s tests.”

Brian spent the rest of the summer swimming with Jack Armitage and the other boys who had passed the test, even helping Chuck Sanchez by giving them a few pointers now and then. He didn’t run into Luke Jones again and he was glad about that.

Toward the end of the summer there was a swimming contest. Awards would be given out. Brian didn’t enter the contest, as people expected him to. Why should I, he thought, let the other kids win the awards. I’ve got my bronze medal, my silver medal and my little black disk.

The End

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