Sometime before end of summer we will pack up and head for a couple of days to Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks. Again this year, I will be arriving sans bathing suit.
While I appreciate the natural beauty of the place, and the cozy cabin owned by Alice and John, my wife's sister and brother-in-law, and their unfailing hospitality, the "lake" part of Blue Mountain Lake inevitably gives me the jitters.
This is owing to the fact that, before an hour or two has passed, someone is certain to suggest we all take a "dip."
The problem is, unlike tortilla chips, I am ill-designed for dipping.
My feeling, generally, is that water was invented for eel and Arctic char and not men in Speedo trunks who ought to know better, or showoffs straight from the Brazilian waxing salon. Body exposure aside, it has never been clear to me why it makes more sense to be shivering in water over your head than relaxing lakeside with the newspaper and a glass of cabernet.
"Oh, boy, water's great today," some cheery dog-paddler will call out from beyond the end of the dock. Politeness is supposed to prevent you from noting the intrepid swimmer has turned blue and is chattering like one of those sets of windup false teeth we bought as kids.
If one seems too devoted a landlubber, however, the swim crowd soon becomes agitated, I find.
"Come on," the call will go forth. "A little water won't kill you."
That proposition, of course, is highly debatable, but, showing restraint, I only smile patiently, wave and return to the sports page. If the demand for participation continues unrelenting, and usually it does, I sigh, take off my T-shirt, empty my pockets and, in cargo shorts, belly flop off the end of the dock.
A great cheer is sure to go up from the delighted Aquamen and Esther Williamses. I acknowledge the crowd by freestyling quickly back to solid ground -- yes, I can swim; I just prefer not to -- and head, resolute, to the cottage for a quick change of clothes. A second cabernet usually is required.
"Finished already?" someone will shout as I depart.
"You bet," I will say. "Finito."
Where did it all start, my water aversion?
As a little fellow, I visited Aunt Ann and Uncle Jack each year just before Labor Day. They had a bungalow near Southampton and swimming in Peconic Bay was a must. But the rocks underfoot made even wading an extreme sport. On an old 16-mm movie reel, I can be seen knee-deep in the bay with a dreary expression that hinted strongly I yearned to be back in Brooklyn. Not a good start.
Then there was Coney Island. Mom and I would take the subway from Bay Ridge a few times each summer. I loved the place mainly for Nathan's franks, cotton candy and bumper cars. What I didn't like so much was getting wet. Saltwater made me itch. What was the point?
"Ma, can I go for a frozen custard?" I pleaded.
"You just had one," Mom would answer. "At least stick your toes in the water."
A little older, I felt obliged to join other 69th Street kids when they headed to Sunset Park pool on August afternoons. I wasn't crazy about changing in the locker room -- chubby boys have an elevated sense of privacy -- and found the pool no more enticing. It was so jammed with sweltering city dwellers, a "swim" was more like taking a bath with the neighborhood. Also, I don't like the smell of chlorine. When exactly does the fun start, I wondered?
I tried the Hotel St. George pool, too, in Brooklyn Heights -- less crowded but still risky, in my estimation. By now, girls were an issue. This was in the pre-bikini days, but, still, it didn't take long before boys of 13 and 14 noticed significant topographical differences between the genders. Not exactly Johnny Weissmuller, I kept myself wrapped in a towel and plotted avenues of escape if a giggling cutie-pie should walk by on the way to the diving board.
In adulthood, I slimmed down but swimming -- lake, beach or pool -- remained dead last on my summer agenda.
Every once in a while my wife, Wink, a Jersey girl who loves what she calls "the shore," will ask no one in particular, "How did I marry someone who doesn't even bring a bathing suit to Blue Mountain Lake?"
I like to think I offer other virtues. How about a little love for the guy who puts down his newspaper and brings a warm towel when, dripping and chilled, you come out of the drink?