Quivering with apprehension, I took off my boots and socks. Now flip-flopless, I had cold feet — not metaphorically. Ice-white, they were in even more shock than I was.
I undressed as slowly as possible.
At the elegant New Year’s Eve dinner the night before, in the Hamptons, I heard myself say, “Why Not?” over bouillabaisse. Prosecco was involved too, but it seemed like a sober and even spiritual decision. I hadn’t done anything daring in far too long. This year I’d be braver than last.
Sorry, this isn’t about sex.
I love parties with great booze and food. It was thrilling to talk about books with such a literary crowd, and I got to dance. I propped my just-published novel against a bottle of Maker’s Mark on the bar. Tacky, yes. The wildly successful, wacky British mystery writer in a fascinator wasn’t interested in a free copy, and neither was an out-of-it, incoherent editor of Major Authors who asked me, slurrily, “Didn’t we have a thing together?”
If a publishing contract were involved I’d have considered it.
Just before the fun ended, someone handed me a sign-up sheet for the Food Pantry Plunge the next day. There were snide remarks about the three hungry people on the entire South Fork, but in fact hunger exists in the land of truffled porcini. I’d finally be on an A list! I wrote my name and a check.
Off came my mittens, hat, scarf, coat, sweatpants. Atlantic Avenue Beach, 38 degrees and cloudy. When the bullhorn sounded, I disrobed the borrowed blue terry cloth revealing the black and white polka dot bathing suit I’d been dying to wear. The fantasy was Mexico or the Caribbean.
A witness later told me I wasn’t the oldest plunger, but I saw only laughing teeny boppers in bikinis and goosebumps and starlet couples holding hands. Brave, handsome men whose wives proudly held towels and thermoses of cocoa. Some people wore costumes I had no time to look at. Someone gave me a warming slug of tequila from a beautiful silver flask for courage just before someone blew a horn and 450 of us ran screaming towards the forbidding white-capped sea.
Diving into the winter ocean sounded awful, but even worse was no ocean to dive into. I ran as fast as I could over the endless, frozen rippled sandbar, praying I wouldn’t trip and be trampled. Time and tide wait for no man, and low tide went on forever. The water was far away. Others plunged ecstatically, but my feet were in agony. I bent down and splashed myself a few times with the ankle-deep surf before racing back to the beach.
I didn’t deserve the bracelet, the commemorative hat, or the high fives. I was supposed to get my head wet, and I’d done a lot less than that.
Somewhere between terror and relief, I remembered what bravery feels like. It was a joy to feel part of a mass movement, which hasn’t happened since I was tear gassed at the Pentagon. I missed out on the free chili, but I didn’t really deserve it.
Later, when friends back home asked me why I’d done it, I said I’d been eager to show off the new bathing suit. Not the first time vanity has gotten me into trouble, but definitely the coldest.