December 29th, 2010:

A December Dunk in the Hudson River

Me, Gerry and Jackie at The Barge -- Beer and Babes!

The Hudson River in New York is not meant for swimming in the winter months. This month’s blizzard on the East Coast can attest to that.

Yet a Fordham University senior got a surprising taste of freezing river water years ago, and I was a laughing witness. Christmas season is a great time for amusing memories.

During the 1952-53 school year, I met my good friend Jackie, when my family lived in Fordham Hill Apartments in the Bronx. I attended PS 33, just off Fordham Road. Jackie and I became instant friends and have kept in touch ever since. She eventually settled in Marin County in Northern California. Life is a mysterious journey!

We wrote letters and exchanged visits over the years. Right after Christmas in 1959, when I was just about to turn 17 (January 1), I took a train to visit Jackie and enjoy the excitement of New York City.

Jackie made sure I saw the highlights (some of them with dates)—a play on Broadway: “Destry Rides Again; a movie at Radio City Music Hall, which included the Rockettes dancing; a drink at a Greenwich Village night spot, and a meal at the Jaegermeister, a special German restaurant. We even saw “Wild Strawberries,” a Swedish Ingmar Bergman movie—now a classic.

My very pretty friend was dating a few fellows, but the primary one at the time was Gerry, an older man of 21 and a Fordham University senior. Gerry fixed me up with Ray, a junior class friend of his. My dates had been limited to mostly younger guys, so I was thrilled to act older and sophisticated!

The fellows were entertaining and I felt quite comfortable with both of them. Being an Army brat does lend a bit of cachet in life.

One night they took us to a casual restaurant/bar called The Barge, which was right on the river in New Rochelle. We ordered a pitcher of beer and the bartender didn’t bother with ID for Jackie or me. Not quite 17 and I was out having beer! It wasn’t something I’d tell my dad about, but I would certainly share it with my mother.

After a beer, Gerry, who was quite the comedian and a bit of a showoff, led the three of us outside to the barely lit back patio, which jutted into the water, to show us the view. It was freezing, and I think we left our coats inside. He instructed us to watch him as he ran to the other end of the small patio, jumped over the wooden border and disappeared. Since there was water all around, we assumed he’d jumped into the water. Why?

Was there a trick: he didn’t reappear for a few minutes.   Before we got too worried, he slowly pulled himself back over the side, bedraggled, soaking wet, panting and shivering.

“I knew there was a small shelf you couldn’t see and you’d think I was an idiot for jumping in the water,” he told us, trying to laugh. By this time we were all laughing at his mistake as he blurted out, “It turned out that the shelf wasn’t solid and I went straight into the water.”

Trying to warm up after a winter swim

Gerry was shivering and dripping as we stealthily made our way through the bar and out to the car, trying not to be too loud with our laughter. Ray  found a blanket in his trunk, Jackie added a muffler, and we drove to Ray’s for a change of clothes for Gerry.

Gerry had literally put a damper on the evening in his attempt to steal the spotlight! It was unusual, hilarious and unforgettable. Amazing what a guy will do for a laugh and to impress his girlfriend!

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