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"That's right, just like your furnace there. Central heating shuts off. Gee, you bury a cat up here or something? Bunch of bones." He threw the bones aside. "I say anyone who swims in a lake that's got a foot of ice on it has got to be crazy. Nothing personal, of course."
"That's O.K.," I said, blowing on my hands to warm them up.
"Why don't you do a story about my wife instead?" he said, lying on his back and using the torch again. "She makes all our soap."
It wasn't that I needed a story. I really wanted to go swimming with the Polar Bear Club. I've always loved to swim in cold water. I never feel more alive than when I am standing on my head in water cold enough to make a tadpole cry. Cold water gets into my mind: it eats up that thick layer of lint around the brain. I'm better at problem solving and pushups when I've just emerged from frigid HO. I see colors I don't ordinarily notice. Surfaces I thought of as smooth suddenly reveal layer upon layer of intricate texture. That's why I wanted to swim with the Polar Bears; I knew they were into something good, and I didn't want them to be in while I was out. But hypothermia? Frostbite?
When I'd called Al Mottola, the president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, and told him I wanted to swim with the club, he hadn't said anything about hypothermia. I'd mentioned pneumonia, and he'd replied, "What's that?" So I'd laughed along with him and said that I wanted to join the group in their regular Sunday swim at Coney Island. He'd explained that for the next five weeks the club would be swimming up at Lake George instead, as part of the town's annual Winter Carnival.
"We put on a little show for the people," he'd said on the phone. "Seven of us are going up this weekend. Why don't you come and swim with us? Stay for the weekend."
"Isn't it a little cold up there?"
"Naah," he'd said. "It's all mind over matter. You'll see."
"I mean, isn't there a bunch of ice on the lake?"
"There's a little place there where it doesn't freeze over. You'll see."