A few friends of mine and I shut down our local bar around 4AM on a Friday night last October. As tradition dictated, we walked a few blocks over to Central Park to find our favorite spot to cause trouble. The rocks by the lake always paid dividends in this respect. It’s somewhere in the area of 72nd St. on the west side of the park.
The path we usually take to get to our spot leads to a rock cliff with about a nine foot drop to a sand bar below. One has the option of jumping down to the level below or walking around and down to get to our little spot. Since I’m a really smart guy, I know that the shortest distance between two places is a straight line. I’m in for the jump. I turn to my friend Sam, who will rarely back down from a challenge, and say,
“Hey, if you do it, I’ll do it,” and I motioned towards the cliff. Sam must have known immediately from the look in my eye what I was going to say because before I could finish an eight word sentence, literally, Sam had hurled himself off the cliff without even looking over the edge first. Wow, balls.
Okay. I had jumped off this particular cliff a few times, and I know it’s something you have to prepare for. It’s dark, it’s a long way down and there is all kinds of nasty debris on the landing.
Sam is a reasonably fit guy, able bodied and strong willed. Even so, I was pretty sure that anyone who did what Sam just did would more than likely not be okay. They would be hurt. My notion was supported by the grunting and moaning coming from the bottom of the cliff.
I crouched on the edge of the cliff, found where I wanted to land and took flight. I landed a few feet away from Sam just as he was getting to his feet. He actually seemed to be okay with only a couple complaints about an aching foot. Good for Sam. Sam is man.
Sam and I got to our spot on the rocks by the lake before the other three guys did. Pat, Warren and Matt showed up a couple minutes later because they took the dress shoe route, around and down.
At our spot we all sat or stood on rocks, talking about whatever, when Warren turns to Mat and says,
“Mat, I’ll pay you $100 to swim across this lake right now. All the way across.”
Mat’s eyes got really big and he immediately starting taking his clothes off and got down to his bikini briefs. This is particularly funny because Mat is a really big tough guy. He’s got be at least 6’4”, 220 pounds, and not fat. Yep, big scary guy standing at the edge of the lake in Central Park at four in the morning wearing bikini briefs. This may not be as uncommon as I thought, as later in life I heard that this is a very popular “cruising spot”. I don’t wanna know.
I’m sure Mat’s enthusiasm in regards to the proposition had a lot to do with the fact that he was newly unemployed. In addition, he had managed to completely botch his state unemployment claim and now receives a total of $38/week income. By comparison, it would be like someone offering me around $3,000 to swim the lake. I don’t blame him for being excited. (See: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity)
Remember, this is October in New York City. It was about 43 degrees fahrenheit outside. Warren argued it was in the low-50’s, at least.
Mat took a couple deep breaths. Even though he doesn’t believe in god Matt said a quick prayer where I overheard something about dirty needles in his feet. I don’t know.
Mat literally set one foot in the water, spun right around and said there was no way in hell he was going to do it. It was way too cold. Of course everyone started goading him but he wouldn’t budge. He said it was just too cold.
At that point I immediately offered to take the bet myself. Warren, who had originally offered the bet looked at me and said,
“No. I know you’ll do it. That’s not the point.”
I had a feeling that’s what he would say. But everybody in attendance was already worked up and wanted to see someone swim the lake.
Warren’s a very bright guy and proceeded to make everyone the following offer:
Warren, Pat, Mat & Sam would each pay me $25 to swim the lake. Someone would have to cover Matt’s portion as we already know he’s broke.
Warren has a gift for working a great deal for himself in any situation. He was ready to bet Mat $100 out of his pocket to swim the lake, and all the other guys would have gotten to enjoy the spectacle on Warren’s dime. Now Warren has worked a new deal to make everyone else pay to bet someone whom they already know will swim the lake. Nice work.
Of course, I take the deal. I strip down to my boxers and approach the water. The film on the top of the water containing algae and god know what else made it impossible to see the bottom. Great. I don’t believe in god either but I think I said the same prayer Mat did. I added broken glass to the prayer.
Mat was right. It was really cold, but probably manageable. I mean, we’re not talking about immmediate hypothermia or anything. I waded slowly into the water, being extremely careful with every step. My focus was so intensely concentrated on the nerves in my feet that I think I could have read a newspaper with my toes, no brail. I could have identified Coke over Pepsi with the soles of my goddamn feet right then, I swear.
Once the water got up to mid-thigh or so, I started swimming because I couldn’t fucking wait to get my feet off the bottom of this death trap. The bottom of the lake slowly dropped out from under me and the cold began to set in much faster than I thought it would.
I swam faster.
I got to the middle of the lake and was getting kind of tired. I stopped and treaded water for a few seconds to get my wind back. Apparently it worried my friends when they stopped seeing the splashes because they all starting screaming words of encouragement,
“You’re half way there man!”
“You can do it!”
I have pretty smart friends, but to this day I’m surprised at how scripted their encouragements seemed.
“Shut up dicks! I’m just resting!” I yelled back.
They shut up.
I started swimming again.
I was wearing a really old pair of boxer shorts in which the elastic in the waist was completely worn out and stretched. While I was swimming, the drag of the water kept pulling my boxers down. Accordingly, I had to stop swimming to pull up my stupid underwear several times. This began to take up a lot of precious energy and was completely killing my momentum.
I had to let the boxer shorts go.
I hated this idea for several incredibly obvious reasons, but the job had to be done. As hard as this decision was initially, I have to admit that it was a rather liberating experience when I finally roundhouse-kicked the boxer shorts off my left ankle with an aquatic propulsion force matched only by the finest U.S. made nuclear submarine.
I gargled through the last third of my swim across the lake at Central Park completely naked. The other side started getting closer and closer and finally I felt the bottom again. Oh god. Not again. Being the genius that I am, I didn’t think about having to deal with the bottom while getting out of the lake also. To make things worse, I am now naked. (See also: Completely Exhausted)
I stay in the lake, laying motionless in the shallow water with only my head sticking out. I look around for my friends, moving only my eyes.
I feel like a naked Navy Seal.
Fuck its cold.
I started shivering pretty badly and decided I had to get out of the water. I floated up as close as I could to the bank, where the water was only a few inches deep. I stood up and made a hot-coal’esque scramble through the shallow water to the shore where I found a sadly small tree for cover.
There I was standing two feet from the main walking path, shivering violently and completely naked. More than the sole embarrassment of being naked in public, I was really concerned that a gaggle of hot twenty something chicks would walk by and think that my penis was really that small.
“No, no! It’s the cold, I swear!”
It’s amazing how priorities change in extreme circumstances.
Thankfully there were no hot girls around as far as I could tell, and I could see my friends coming around the path carrying my clothes. They were still pretty far away.
I screamed at the top of my lungs,
“I WANT MY PANTS WITH MY FUCKING MONEY IN THE POCKET!”
I see my friends chuckle from a distance and continue to take their sweet ass time walking up the path. Sam seems to be limping.
Another sudden priority shift.
Let me try to explain something about being naked, cold, and alone in the middle of the night in a location where record numbers of murders and all kinds of mind-blowing violent crimes occur:
Every second seems like a fucking year. I cannot stress this enough, as the proper words do not exist in the English language.
The guys obviously didn’t understand the urgency of the matter.
“HURRY THE FUCK UP! I’M NAKED AND I AM GOING TO GET KILLED!”
This got their attention.
Speaking of getting attention, I realized that the exact words that I screamed should have been chosen more carefully. I mean, if some sicko really was lurking in the shadows of Central Park waiting for the right victim on which to pull off some crazy sex-murder, which guy would they target? Probably the one standing there screaming about being naked with money in his pants, right?
All my friends started laughing hysterically from a couple hundred feet away. I was not laughing. Warren, great guy that he is, starting jogging up the path with my clothes but he was laughing so hard that I wasn’t sure he was going to make it. It was the first time I’d seen someone almost fall down from running and laughing at the same time.
Finally he arrived to find me, sure enough, shivering and naked. He was laughing so hard he couldn’t even hand me my clothes. I had to snatch them from him and get them on as fast as possible, which isn’t easy when you’re wet.
Pat, Mat and Sam all found us a minute or so later. Sam was definitely limping.
We headed back up the path to leave the park and go home. I used the time to collect my winnings from everyone.
Warren was still laughing.
Sam wouldn’t stop bitching about his stupid foot.
Pat complained that the whole thing wasn’t worth his $25.
That’s Pat in a nutshell, but you gotta love Pat.
Mat had a silent defeat about him.
The sun was starting to come up.
Alas, the punchline:
We were all walking down Broadway, tired, drunk and just blocks from home. I was also getting a little queasy, and I wasn’t sure why. We were passing by a group of tourists who were standing in front of thier hotel waiting for a cab with their luggage. At the exact moment that we walked by the tourists I vomited, while walking, never missing a beat. The tourists all gasped and looked shocked and a little scared.
Immediately, the tourists’ shock turned to absolute confusion when I turned to them and quipped ever so matter-of-factly,
“What? It’s just lake water.”
***Later that morning, we all woke up to Sam’s voice on the answering machine. He was in the hospital with a broken heel.
Read the original New York Moment.