Call me Icarus.
I love the ocean - I mean, who doesn't? But if you spent Christmas clinging to the wreckage of your capsized sailboat out in the middle of Long Island Sound like I did, you might have second thoughts. And you probably wouldn't need me to tell you that the freezing cold sea feels like a lot of icy knives trying to skin you alive, and an almost heart attack is probably not the day at the beach you had planned, so-to-speak. And no, I'm not making this story up for dramatic effect, or using my poetic license to add fancy heroic adjectives - in fact the opposite is true - I'm downplaying things so you'll actually believe I was as idiotic as I was.

What can I say except all the cliches are true? It's amazing how fast mishaps unfold, wait, WTF? Didn't plan on going swimming today, and damn that water's... yikes! But keep your cool - a level head is your best weapon. Don't panic like a little girl - unless you are one already, then go right ahead. Stay with the boat. Positive attitude. Sense of humor. Don't give up hope. Or the ship. Or the punt for the pole.*

After an hour or so of hanging on for dear life, I have to say it was first time in my life I was glad to see the police show up. And the conversation on the way in was the longest I've ever had with an officer of the law - without the cuffs on, I mean. As we got to the dock, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a couple of perfectly good cigars that I had left in my coat from a party the night before. I asked the sergeant if he'd mind if I lighted one up, you know, to celebrate the rescue. Y'up. I guess that part didn't make it into the press release.

Seriously, I'd like the takeaway today to be something else, a perspective that is almost always realized after the fact, kind of like staircase wit. We should all live life all-in, but we've also got to have the courage and imagination to see the sinking of our dreams, when it happens, as part of the adventure. Ain't easy, especially when the sinking is literal.

I'll quote from a book called Youth by Joseph Conrad, which I was coincidentally reading that morning by the fire, before we set sail to make my point. Our hero is on a ship off the coast of England, and they get caught in a storm, all of a sudden:

"The sea was white like a sheet of foam, like a caldron of boiling milk... there was for us no sky, there were for us not stars, no sun, no universe - nothing but angry clouds and an infuriated sea. The sails blew away, the ocean poured over her... and we turned (the pumps), we turned incessantly, with the water to our waists, to our necks, over our heads. It was all one.

And there was somewhere in me the thought: By Jove! This is the deuce of an adventure - something you read about - and here I am only twenty - and here I am lasting it out as well as any of these men. I was pleased. I would not have given up the experience for worlds."

They towed my beautiful broken boat to the beach, where we eventually drained most of the Sound out, righted it, and wrestled it back onto the trailer. We got home and were only a little very late for dinner (which for me is early), which was a good thing since all the in-laws were there and already into the hors d'oeuvres, if you know what I mean. No one had a clue anything had happened, so were acting like nothing had, and my immediate thought was Breughel's Fall of Icarus (pictured above), a masterpiece that's always paired in my mind with Auden's Musee de Beaux Arts:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window

or just walking dully along.

When I was asked what we'd been doing all afternoon, I said "the backstroke." There's a joke in there somewhere, son, as Foghorn Leghorn would say. Of course our tale was told, and the social media dam burst spectacularly, and in less than a New York second. I'm happy to say that the silver lining is that I got enough 2 cents worth of advice in the next few days to make me a millionaire many times over. I kept telling everyone I did have a plan, but then I got punched in the face.

If you want a better idea of what this botched monograph is trying to say, why don't you immerse yourself in a learning experience that you won't have to go to some fancy retreat and pay big bucks for? Here's what you do: sign up and participate in your community's "Polar Plunge" next month. When you come out of the water, instead of getting bundled in a blanket and sipping a mug of hot cocoa while your mother takes you home (and you take self-congratulatory selfies) - lie face down on the roof of the car still dripping wet, grabbing on to whatever you can so you don't get flung off, while she drives you over to the local tv station like a moderately-hypothermic orangutan on parade. Once the camera crew stops filming, and laughing, go home and try to close the door behind you because the world is already there, trying to beat it down. Your phone will be lighting up like a pachinko parlor on Saturday night in Tokyo with all the calls and texts from everyone: friend, fan, and foe chiming in about your indomitable ignorance and imbecility. You're famous, not anything like you always wanted, and only because you didn't freeze to death.

I'm almost kidding. Hot-showered and shaved and seated at the head of the table for a Rockwellian feast, I tried not to get nostalgic. But I was turning "What ifs?" over in my mind and gazing off into the abyss when, Neuman, my easily-bored, completely unsentimental and always-hungry 14-year old son asked me, with a hint of a smirk: "Are you going to pass the potatoes today, Captain?"

*There's a scene in John Boorman's terrific Hope and Glory where George is teaching his grandson Bill to pole a boat (punt) down the river. Bill is trying to get the hang of it, but gets the pole stuck in the mud. Instead of leaving the pole and staying on the boat, he holds onto it while the boat continues downstream. He's hanging on to the pole for dear life when George paddles back and picks him up, while delivering this classic line:

"Never give up the punt for the pole."

January 14, 2024 — Johnny Mustard