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Friday, January 04, 2008


Joe and the Amazing Shrinking Scrotum

One of my favorite New Year's Eves in recent memory was the year my wife and I shared a relatively intimate evening--no parties, no friends, no hallucinogens--and went to Central Park, where my wife ran in the Midnight Run while I stood near the Bethesda Transverse, watched fireworks and called my family to wish them a Happy New Year.

I enjoyed it so much that, for a while, I've been hoping we could arrange to be in New York on the 31st to repeat the experience, only this time, I'd run with her, having discovered in the last couple of years that I have legs and am, shockingly, capable of moving at speeds above a stroll.

Given my lame-ass goddamn back issues, I was, this year, unable to join in the run, even though we were in the city. I was pissed.

I wanted my own sort of cool and non-intoxicated way to start 2008. I thought about it for awhile (not, like, days or anything; this is not the sort of thing for which I got all my neurons blazing in rapid-fire mode) and I remembered the Coney Island Polar Bear Club.

You see these guys on the news every year. They strip down to their skivvies on New Year's Day and dive into the the water off Coney Island. Now, I have a fondness for cold water. One of my favorite things on a hot summer day is to hop in the shower, get the water flowing as chilly as I can get it and standing there until ice cream wouldn't melt on my ass. (And, no, I'm not putting a lot of ice cream on my ass.) I also love Coney and am glad to have any excuse to make the long goddamn train ride out there.

So I checked out the Polar Bear Club site and saw that, to participate, you needed to raise $100 in pledges, with the funds going to help a camp in Maine for sick kids. And I thought, "Hey! I love sick kids!" So I sent out a plea to friends and family, came up with half the dough and registered.

Going out to Coney, my wife asked me if I was excited. And I don't know that I really was. More than anything, I was just nervous about getting there on time, getting signed in and figuring out if I was supposed to already have the pledge money collected, or if I just needed to turn in the pledge form.

We got there in plenty of time. I wrote the nice people a check to cover our $100 in pledges, for which they gave me a long-sleeved t-shirt that I'll never wear. Then I had to change. I'd come, you see, in normal-person winter clothes, with the coat and the hat and the scarf and the nice lady, don't bite! But I didn't intend to wear that into the water.

So I stepped into the men's room of a Coney Island changing house. (I'd always thought the term for the place near the beach where one changed into one's swim suit was called a bath house, but apparently, that term is now 100% reserved for skeevy gay sex joints, so we'll stick with the "changing house".) I'm an actor and I've done my share of shows over the years where I was utterly without even a half-assed dressing room and had to change my clothes in cars, closets or crappers, but I don't think I've ever been quite so worried about catching something insidious as I was in that changing house. I kept my feet firmly on my shoes and was as careful as a stutterer giving a blowjob.

Clothes changed, I waited for the festivities to commence with my wife and my friend Deni, who'd come along for moral support and, additionally, to tell me repeatedly that he'd never do something so stupid. I was feeling jolly. Right up until the moment of silence was held for the guy who died doing this last year.

So I was not quite as enthused as the president of the club blew his conch shell and led everyone down to the water. My trepidation was not aided by the anxiety I felt about taking off my robe and exposing to the world my hairy back and recently acquired fat rolls.

Once the crowd--and, man, it really felt like I was running with the bulls; it was something of a clusterfuck--started actually getting in the water, I forgot all that. Partly because the crowd was full of dudes that looked like this:
So I waded on in. And it was goddamn cold. Who'da thunk it? When you're up to your knees in freezing cold water, you body starts to shake in an effort to draw your attention to the fact that you're doing something stupid. I raised my arms above my head and screamed, like I would have on a really awesome roller coaster. It was, I guess, either scream or say out loud, "Jesus God, this is not what I should be doing!"

Then, as I walked further out, my testicles actually climbed up my body cavity and came to rest right near my rib cage, trying to catch some warmth from my aorta. As I got to the point where the water was chest-deep on me, I lost the ability do scream, as my lungs actually froze. I stood there as a couple of waves crashed into me, then I said, "Fuck it" and I dove in. (Polar Bear Club rules state that you have to be fully submerged or you're a giant pussy.) Having done that, I considered briefly whether I should stay in awhile and really maximize the experience. Then my asscheek fell off and I decided to get out.

All in all, this was a really wonderful experience. It was exhilarating. It was even a little bit profound, in that "cleansing" kind of way. The whole event was marred only by the fact that my father-in-law, who was visiting us, had gotten a hideous cold and was not feeling well enough to come with us. I tried to recreate the experience for him by standing in a bucket filled with ice cubes in our living room, but it was somehow lacking.

I had a good enough time that I think I'll do it again next year. But I think I'll get good and drunk beforehand. 'Cause everything's profounder when you're lit.

Oh god, my stomach hurts from laughing.
I am tortured by going to a natural springs here that is freezing, even when it's the summer, but it is open year 'round. Damn you for planting evil ideas in my head. Of course, it was 70 degrees today, but we did have an "ice event" last year. Of course during those, the world comes to an utter stand still. Still, Damn you, and you're not making it easy as far as my one condition goes, now are you?
So you don't have to actually swim anywhere? You just get in the water???
The old man in that picture looks like he dropped a load in his pants.
No, JB, that's just a frozen clump of ass-flakes.

BG--You're welcome to try swimming a mile or two when you do it.

FB--I'm going to have to ask that you please stop damning me.

SW--Are you sure it's the laughing? Perhaps you've ingested too much sorbitol.
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