May 23rd, 2012:

A Swim in December? In Long Island Sound, New York? By Victoria Giraud

In the early 1950s while my dad was getting his Master’s Degree at NYU, my family lived in Fordham Hill Apartments in the Bronx. I attended PS 33, just off Fordham Road and next to the elevated subway, where I met and made fast friends with Jackie.   We have kept in touch ever since as I moved to Kentucky, Libya, Virginia, Germany and finally to California. Her life has taken her to the Midwest, New England, Hawaii and then she ended up in Northern California. Who could have guessed at 10 years old we’d keep in touch (remember letters by snail mail?) and see each other over the years in various places and eventually live in the same state?  Life is a mysterious journey.

Right after Christmas in 1959, when I was just about to turn 17 (January 1), I took a train from Northern Virginia to visit Jackie and enjoy the excitement of New York City from a more grown-up point of view. Jackie made sure I saw the highlights (some of them with dates)— “Destry Rides Again” a Broadway play; 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 up to this time had been limited to younger guys, so I was thrilled to pretend I was a college sophisticate, not a high school senior!

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

One night they took us to a casual restaurant/bar called The Barge, which was right on Long Island Sound. Our dates 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 the adventure with my mother.

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

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, but I recall we left our coats inside. He instructed us to watch him carefully and then 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 this a stunt or some kind of trick? Although he didn’t reappear for a few minutes, Ray assured us Gerry would be fine.   Before we got too worried, we saw hands and then a head appear as Gerry 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 chuckle at himself before freezing to death. 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 kept 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 nearby home 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! Too bad there was no YouTube in those days. At least we had a camera to document it for posterity.

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