Friday, August 11, 2006

Todd The Merman

My friend and I were at his place in Chinatown when someone rang the doorbell. I looked at him and told him that in the ghetto that is Harlem, you don’t answer the door unless you know who it is. He reminded me that his neighborhood is as much of a tourist trap and a ghetto as mine and thought that what I said was good advice. After mentally running through the short list of who it might be, opted to not answer. A few moments later, there was a knock on the door. We looked at each other, then he went to at least look through the peephole. Surprise, surprise – it was his friend Todd, fresh from Michigan by way of a long stint in New Mexico. He literally just got in. We decided to take him uptown with us for dinner at Acapulco Caliente, our favorite spot for Mexican food. (It’s really outstanding food – and this is coming from an honorary Texan, so you can trust me.)

Afterwards, we did what we always do after a big meal – we went for a long walk. We decided to take Todd to a place he’d probably never seen before: the Cherry Walk that runs along the west side highway. We walked down Broadway to W. 124th and veered right. As we got closer to the gas station, we noticed a lot of really cool vintage cars from the 70’s parked across from The Cotton Club. As it turns out, Universal was to shoot a movie called American Gangster the next day. Someone had styled out the gas station to look 70’s appropriate, right down to the valvoline cans, even the colorful spinning butterfly flaps on the wires high above us. I made a note to check IMDB for details as we trudged along to the water’s edge.

70's flashback

In no time at all, the three of us found a cement block to sit on. As we talked and gazed at the stars, Todd began to wiggle his way off of the block and onto the expanse of rocks that stretched out all the way to the Washington Bridge. Don’t do that, I said as he began to shift and lower himself onto the rocks. Mere seconds later after he scraped his hands, he laughed good-naturedly and said, you told me not to do that, didn’t you. He perched himself on the rocks and the three of us admired the way New Jersey glittered before us and continued to chat about everything and nothing.

That’s when a strange thing happened. Todd began to take off all of his clothes.

skinny-dipping in harlem

Now what he was doing wasn’t really all that strange to me. I’ve seen people skinny dip before. I’ve certainly done it. But that was my crazy college years in the South, people. That was Austin, Texas – the nation’s capital. They have swimming holes that are designated for people who want to strip and dive in, if they feel so inclined -- clean waters, waters that aren’t polluted and filthy and just flat-out wrong. What’s bizarre is that on our way to this particular spot, we had a conversation about how the city was considering not cleaning up the toxic waste at the bottom of the river that’s been there since way before the Carter administration because stirring it up would make the waters vile, and how they were pretty nasty anyway but cleaner than it was when they started dumping the filth. And there’s a lot of good sediment in there, some 30 years worth. But it’s lying over all the bad gunk, so in the long run how good is it really?

skinny-dipping in harlem

Don’t do that, my friend said as Todd started to get in, because if anything happens to you, I’ll have to jump in and get you. Oh, no you won’t, I said flatly. You’re not getting in that water. He’s grown, that’s his choice.

And off he went.

skinny-dipping in harlem

I’m not such a prude that, if the weather was hot enough and if I were with the right group of friends, I wouldn’t take my clothes off and dive in. I have been to nude beaches up here but this – skinny-dipping in the Hudson River! – was different. I have never seen anyone do this up here, probably because I’ve never seen water that’s clean enough (or far away enough from the prying eyes of the public) to really pull it off. I think I was in shock. I wanted him to stop so I pulled out my digitalcamera and started taking pictures. He didn’t like this – “Hey! Don’t take any pictures of my junk!” – but it didn’t deter him. Not in the least. Even when he saw what we were sitting on – the flat end of a gigantic cement pipeline that spewed green filth and goo into the river – he still didn’t climb out.

skinny-dipping in harlem

Then again, this is the guy that rode his bike to Iowa in three weeks from New York City and instead of getting a hotel room when he got tired, he slept on the side of the road. (Weren’t you afraid that someone would kill you, I asked. My friend laughed and said, People probably thought that he was the killer. Point taken.) This is the guy that’s been living in the forest in New Mexico in a converted school bus with his girlfriend for the past year or so. (What’d you do for a toilet, I asked over dinner. Well, he began good-naturedly, we had a shovel back in the woods with a roll of toilet paper at the end of it.) This is the guy whose idea of camping with his girlfriend is to get on bikes, ride until they’re both exhausted, then find a Denny’s so they can get some cardboard boxes out back, flatten them and sleep on them. When they got there, his girlfriend was like, so I guess there’s not going to be any marshmallows, huh. She was beyond angry. She was incensed. (After he told this one, I turned to my friend and said, We are sooooo never going camping.)

When I told Todd that sleeping at rest stops was a dangerous thing to do, he raised his eyebrows slightly and asked, really? and he wasn't kidding. After listening to one fearless yarn after another, i realized that he's like the Robert Duvall character in Apocalypse Now, the one that the narrator predicted would leave the war without a scratch on him.

I used to know a lot of guys like Todd when I lived in Austin. I wonder what they're doing now?

skinny-dipping in harlem

I told him that I was going to blog the photos but he seemed more excited and pleased by the fact that my friend’s mother would probably get to see his Fantastic Four underwear than any subsequent embarrassment he might feel about taking his little midnight swim in delecto flagrante. So here it is.

skinny-dipping in harlem

Now that his little playmate is back from the southwest, I have no idea what my friend is going to turn into. Not that he would ever jump into the East River. I just don’t want him to be an accessory after the fact to any of Todd’s nutty shenanigans. On second thought, it’s too late. As of last night, we both are.


blahblahblahblahblah said...

OMG, I hope he's okay but those pictures are hilarious! Good luck with your friend. Todd is not going to be a good influence. Hide the alcohol...

Gina said...

That is either profound bravery or immense stupidity. I'm from South Carolina, home of swimmin' holes and three rivers and people that believe in camping on worknights, and I wouldn't even stick my big toe in the Hudson. Perhaps you should have given him a Geiger counter as a parting gift..?

Gina said...

That is either profound bravery or immense stupidity. I'm from South Carolina, home of swimmin' holes and three rivers and people that believe in camping on worknights, and I wouldn't even stick my big toe in the Hudson. Perhaps you should have given him a Geiger counter as a parting gift..?

queenesther said...

you said it, sister. do you live in nyc now or are you still down south?

my people are in charleston heights and i was raised in the south. you couldn't pay me cash money to dip my hand in that water -- and i've seen people come home from an afternoon of fishing out there and actually cook & eat whatever they caught. even eel.

and to think i thought that taking pictures of him doing it and threatening to blog them to the universe would make him stop.

that Geiger counter is a good idea, actually. i think i'll keep one on hand for the next impromptu merman moment.