When The Observer was a lad, our swimming spot of choice was the Round Hole, a geographical oddity where the Saline River made a hard turn to the left. The result was a vast eddy that had cut an almost perfectly round pool, the bottom scoured straight down to bedrock. The depth of the Round Hole made it perfect for rope swings and, if you had the cojones, Tarzan-worthy leaps from the giant cottonwoods that leaned out over the water.
This Round Hole story concerns, in turn, a young man we will call C to spare him further humiliation. C was always a little crazy as a kid, always jockeying to be the center of attention. That's what he was doing at the Round Hole that day. Specifically, he was trying to catch the eyes of a group of teenage girls, a little gaggle of them in their cute swimsuits and river-smelling mermaid hair, voices tittering like piccolos.
To that end, C hatched a scheme. He was always a climber, and soon he had scaled one of the leaning cottonwoods that shaded the Round Hole. Up and up he went, us egging him on, until finally he got up to the finest web of branches, so high that each seemed, from far below, to be no wider than a hair. Surely, this day, we were witnessing a tale that would live for the ages! Would he just keep going, until he disappeared into the hazy summer sky, like a sorcerer climbing an enchanted rope?
Then, C reached out, took one last handhold to climb even higher, and there came the sharp "crack!"
There are seconds in a every life that seem to stretch out to hours, even days. The moment when C pinwheeled away from the narrow trunk of the cottonwood over the Round Hole — already gathering speed on the way to his destiny at near terminal velocity — was one of those moments. Worse for his prospects with the young ladies he'd been trying to impress, he shrieked as he fell, making the noise a cartoon villain might when Bugs Bunny secretly lit his pants on fire: "Ahhhhheeeeeeeooooooooooaaaaaahhhh!" Though it clearly wasn't high enough to kill him, in The Observer's mind as we write this, we see him falling from a height so great that he might have been dropped from a passing plane, possibly from a geostationary satellite.
After the great spectacle of watching C fall — Icarus, having flown too close to the sun on waxen wings, being punished by the gods — the moment when he hit the water was a bit anticlimactic. Though we'd kind of expected him to explode in a ball of flame like a downed helicopter in a Chuck Norris movie, what we got was totally predictable: a spray of water and a gargantuan slap of flesh on surface tension, loud enough that it made several of those standing around say, "Oh, Jesus!" and cringe, as if we'd just watched somebody get their tongue pierced.
The silent look that passed between The Observer and a friend showed that we were in agreement that he was probably dead. But then C bobbed up in the middle of the pool on his back, floating limply, then loosed a weak, wounded-cow sound: "Oooohhhhggggggggghhhhhhhhh."
Eventually, one of us finally stopped laughing long enough to swim out and tow him back to shore by one wrist, a young god turned into a piece of driftwood by his hubris. For added hilarity, we found that the impact had been so great that his swim trunks had blown apart, leaving him wearing something like a shredded tutu over a set of see-though net underpants.
We can't quite remember how we got him dressed enough to get out of the water and past the girls who were there that day. That part, perhaps thankfully, has disappeared from The Observer's noggin. So much has these days. Which makes us think: Before the summer's over, we may have to go back and seek out the Round Hole. If we're lucky, the boy we once were will still be there in the sun, sitting in damp shorts on a tree root, shooting the shit with the best friends he ever had in his life.