It was after the
plumber told me about hypothermia that I thought I should get some medical
advice. I called a doctor I'd once had an appointment with in Great Barrington,
a town near where I live. He told his nurse to tell me that I was physically
fit and that I could go ahead and swim. I could hear the nurse laughing even
after she hung up the phone.
really know me," I told my husband. "What does he care?"
Half an hour
before I departed on the three-hour drive to Lake George, I called my old
family doctor in Cambridge. Mass. The old family doctor who'd listened to my
heart for 29 years, who knew its rhythms, its past, its limitations.
I'm crazy to go in?"
said without hesitation. "I think it's potentially dangerous. Bundle up
really well and go down to the lake's edge and watch them. Just because those
people are crazy enough to do it doesn't mean you have to be."
That settled it.
I wasn't going in.
Helene is from
the Bronx and she works as a betting clerk at Off-Track Betting. "I'm
47," she said with a strong New York accent, "about the same age as
Elvis Presley would be, the same era of time; people covered everywhere with
zippers. You know, back then an egg cream was the extent of our high."
full-bodied blonde, and when she walks barefoot on the ice in her bathing suit
greeting the crowd, she moves with style, holding her hands out like a dancer
and twisting them in curlicues. The trick to walking on ice in your bare feet
is to keep moving. When Helene shakes the hands of spectators and chats with
them, she doesn't jump up and down; she gently picks up her toes and shifts her
weight in a barely perceptible movement. She appears more comfortable and
relaxed than the spectators, who are tense and bent over, buried under layers
of clothing, trying to stay warm.
"I don't like
to swim in the summer," she said, squinching up her face. "Why bother?
I came back from swimming in the summer once and I squeezed oil out of my
bathing suit and my eyes got all puffed up for days. The water is much cleaner
in the winter. There aren't germs in cold water. You don't see roaches in
Alaska, do you? I remember the sand at the beach from when I was a teen-ager;
it was so white it was beautiful. Now the Atlantic Ocean along Long Island is
blackish, greasyish and swirly. It cleans out in the winter.