VMI: Ass in Bucket, Head in Bucket


20 October 2009






In 1964, I was a rat at  the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia. Like every other rat, I had one semester of swimming and one semester of boxing, wrestling and handball.


Now rat swimming was interesting on several fronts to include the fact that all rats had to swim nude and all the pass/fail swim requirements of the instructor that had been in the Navy in World War II and had his ship torpedoed out from under him. For example rats were required to swim 50 yards underwater without breaking the surface once (to avoid burning ship oil); jump off  a platform some 50 feet above the water (jump off sinking ship without  breaking back) and treading water (bobbing actually) for an hour. But this is about “ass in bucket, head in bucket.”


At our very first class for rat swimming, the instructor told us he expected each and every one of us to shower thoroughly before we came onto the pool deck as why would we want to swim in a giant pool of other rat’s body dirt and we had to swim nude.


So swim classes began and it was the same every day. We would arrive at the pool, get out or our uniform, take a shower and then assemble on bleachers out on the pool deck and wait for the instructor to give us his agenda for the session. This went on for the rest of week one but at the start of week 2, once we were all assembled on the bleachers, the instructor appeared carrying a bucket and when he got in front of us, kneeled down and fill the bucket to the very top with pool water. He then sat the bucket down on the pool deck and said, “Ok, I told you all to take a shower each and every time before coming out here. Now we are going to find out if you have done what you were told.” What? We all thought but did not say.


WWI veteran then proceed to look the class over and pointing beyond me, picked out the absolute hairiest rat and told him to come down to where the instructor stood.


Once Mr. Harry Rat was on the deck, the instructor said, “Ok, now stick your ass in the bucket and swish it around real good.” Now I know there was not one laugh out loud as rats just did not laugh at anything that early in the first year but know I laughed inside and was so very glad it was not me down there.


So Mr. Hairy Rat sticks his ass in the bucket and proceeds to raise back up, but “no”, “Not enough”, said the instructor, so back into the bucket the ass went.


Finally, the instructor said, “That ought due. You can join your brother rats.”


“Now,” the instructor said, looking over all of us, “I need a volunteer to come down and stick their head in this bucket.”


Silence. A minute of silence and then another and then another.


“So you are willing to get into a pool where Mr. Hairy Rat is swimming around because it is somehow clean but no one is willing to stick their head in this bucket with the very same pool water?”


Again silence and no volunteers.


“Ok, back to the showers.”


So back to the showers we all went and we showered and returned to the pool deck. When we got there the bucket was empty and once again the instructor kneeled down and filled it with pool water. Again a rat was called down and his ass swished around the bucket. Again, after enough swishing the rat was told to rejoin his brother rats and a “head in bucket” volunteer was once again called for. Again, no takers and so back to the showers.


This shower, pool deck, ass in bucket, call for volunteers, went on and on until finally, someone actually volunteered and once his head had gone into and out of bucket, we were actually allowed to enter the pool for the actual lessons of the day.


After that initial bucket test, we were not tested again for some time but the next time, we all knew the drill and so did the instructor and it only took maybe 2 roundtrips to the shower, deck, bucket, no volunteers, before a volunteer came forward.


Now you can laugh or say, “How gross,” but I have always thought the instructor had the right idea: shower before getting into the pool. You want to swim in someone else’s ass water?




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