Category Archives: the burgh

I Did It!

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Let me start by saying that i never, EVER post photos of myself in a swimsuit, but this is too big not to. Try to erase the images from your minds when you’re done.

I jumped into the frigid Monongahela River on New Year’s Day and lived to tell about it. Hedge came over on New Year’s Eve and we spent the night drinking champagne and eating all kinds of good food, just in case it turned out to be our last meal. Then we got up when it was still dark out – on New Year’s Day. That may have been crazier than the actual river-jumping.

Party!

Too early to be up on New Year’s Day

Leading up to it, people kept saying we’d chicken out. But these people are dicks. Because once I say I’m doing it, I will do it. And besides – I really wanted to do it – I was actually looking forward to it. Of course, some of those people have heard me bitching about how cold it was in the house, in the restaurant, in someone else’s house, outside, in the car, in the office, in the mall, the store, another restaurant and several more houses. See – I hate the cold, so I guess it makes sense that I wouldn’t want to jump in the river. Back when we had a pool, if the water was less that mid-80s, I thought it was cold. Because of that, I’ll give those naysayers a pass.

We got to the Mon Wharf pretty early – there were only a few cars there. We walked around a bit, looking for The Crappys and checking out the river. We saw some insane brave folks walking around in bathrobes and flip-flops, but we stayed bundled up for the time being.

Still-empty lot

We can’t even believe we’re jumping in there

Pretty soon, the place started filling up with cars and people – some were obvious jumpers – they had robes and towels and crazy looks in their eyes. Other were clearly observers, wearing jeans and earmuffs and gloves and looks on non-crazy contentment.

Pretty soon, The Crappys showed up, and the tailgating began as more folks trickled in. There was some “special” hot coffee, but Hedge and I both passed on the theory that if we got all warm and toasty it would feel worse when we went in.

Some of the group

Slowly, We started to get ready – we put on our swim caps, and they were quite beautiful. We got them for fun, but they turned out to be an awesome anti-cold measure – they kept our hair dry – I’m not a won’t-get-my-head-wet kind of girl, but my years of swim team taught me that wet hair+ cold air = frozen head and a chill that’s hard to shake. Plus, the caps were pretty thick rubber and actually kept our heads warm like hats would.

Next, we took our coats off, so we could start to get used to the cold (though admittedly, the air temperature was not too bad – had the jump been yesterday, I would have died. I’m sure the adrenaline and nerves over the crazy thing you’re about to do helps a little, too, though. At this point, you start to think, OK, let’s just get this show in the road – waiting for jump time is nerve-wracking.

Finally, it was time to move the party up to the water’s edge. Hedge and I came up with a genius idea for getting warm after we got out of the water – we bought a shitload of Hot Hands hand warmers and we wrapped comforters up with them tucked inside. Then we put both comforters in a big plastic tote. We did this before we left the house at 7:00, so by 9:00, the tote was actually warm to the touch. So we dragged the tote and a couple of towel with us to the water and got ready. First, the pants came off. Then a few minutes later, the shirts. Then we died and froze the end.

HOTT!

OK, not really, but when I said it wasn’t TOO cold, I was right – as long as you were wearing clothes and a coat. In a bathing suit? COOOOOOOOOOLD.

After a couple of minutes, we heard the “GO!” and people started jumping. Hedge and I waited until someone in front of us got out, because we didn’t want to jump too near anyone else – we wanted to avoid any accidental elbowing or other minor things that would be no big deal under normal conditions, but in these conditions might contribute to our deaths.

Getting ready to jump

Once the guy ahead of us got out, we held hands and jumped.

We were like, “OK, on three. One, Two…” and then we forgot how to count and just jumped

Going under

Also – this is about the time that The Grimace took up residence on my face. The Grimace was an involuntary facial contortion that in no way represented how I was feeling. I was happy – thrilled in fact, that I had just done it. But my face was saying “Shoot me now!” I was trying to smile and trying to thank @pgha for being our photographer, but my body would not let me. No, my body was all Grimace! Try To Breathe! (Did I mention that jumping in water that cold takes your breath away? It does.)

The beginning of The Grimace

Grimacing

We got to the shore and the next challenge was getting out. It’s a challenge because the “shore” is actually steeply slanted concrete – under the water it’s slippery, and out of the water, it’s high and steep and there’s nothing to grab onto. Plus – lead muscles. Luckily, I looked up and saw an angel – in the form of a swim-suited, be-toweled man – reaching out to help me out. He pulled me out of the water before I died and I wanted to thank him, but see: Grimace. Getting out was great, but once I was out, the cold wind hit me and I forgot all about hedge – she could have been drowning behind me, but all my body would allow me to do was a) Grimace and b) run for the warm blankets. Luckily, the Angel saved her, too.

Still Grimacing

My Angel – dude – if you are reading – THANK YOU!

Holy Grimace!

Hasn’t died, despite my lack of giving a shit at that moment

We got to the tote, threw it open and pulled on our warm blankets and immediately felt great. I wasn’t cold thanks to the blankets and my warm, dry head. The Grimace faded, and I was finally able to say thanks to @pgha, who very sweetly kept taking photos. We stood around and watched some of the other folks jumping, climbing, freezing (I don’t know that anyone else was Grimacing quite the way I was, though)

Happy and warm – relatively

So happy we did it

Once everyone had plunged, we headed back to the parking lot to drink warm up and get out of our wet swimsuits. And let me tell you – when you have just jumped into a freezing river and are standing in the freezing cold with wind chill, modesty goes right out the window. I imagine that no less than 6 people are scarred for life after getting a glimpse of me trying to change under a blanket next to my car.

We put on some warm clothes, thick socks and slippers, and headed to the Hard Rock for some much needed food and a drink or two – mojitos for Hedge and me.

It was a great time, and I plan on doing it every year now – it’s an awesome way to start off the new year.

Awesome folks

More awesome folks

And more awesome folks

Still more awesome folks

Now this is the part where I tell you what a jackass I am. Here’s the thing with me and blogs, twitter, plurk, etc. I “meet” people online – I like them, I talk to them, it’s great. Then, I go somewhere and see these same people in person and I turn into a complete idiot. I am not a shy person – in fact, I am outgoing. If they were all strangers, I would have no problems. But somehow, since I sort of “know” them already, I get all weird. There are the folks that I “know” online, but don’t realize who they are when I meet them. There are the ones I suspect I know who they are, but I feel weird asking – I think that it is part of the “I’m old and out of touch and they won’t know me anyway because I am not a rock star like them” complex that I seem to have (and guys – if you happen to be reading this – you ARE rock stars – every single one of you).

So, I sit back and think, is that so and so? Oh, wait, maybe that’s so and so. And I don’t introduce myself and probably come off as an unfriendly douchebag and then I kick myself for days afterward because I really like these people! And I love meeting new people. And we just had a great time together. And yet I douchily let the opportunity to put faces with names pass because I have some weird old-lady inferiority complex.

So maybe I talked to you briefly, or maybe I took your photo, or maybe I don’t know your name even thought I met you once before and douchily didn’t introduce myself then either, or maybe you took photos for me, or maybe I shared some hot hands with you, or maybe I stood next to you while we waited, or maybe I was near you in the group photo, or maybe you complimented my swim cap, or maybe I just stupidly smiled (or Grimaced) at you. But if you read this – know that I am not as douchey as I seemed – I was thrilled to spend that time and that great experience with all of you. YOU ARE ALL AWESOME! And if you are reading this and have a minute, leave me a comment and introduce yourself, so I can finally know exactly who all you awesome folks are. And next year (or hopefully before then) when I see you all again, I promise I won’t be such a jackass.

I can’t promise I won’t Grimace again, though, because that shit is cold

Yes, I know I hate the cold…so what??

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When I was a kid, our school district was broken down into small neighborhood elementary schools. I went to one in my neighborhood that had kindergarten through 3rd grade. It was a great way to go to school as a child – we all walked together in big groups, sometimes we walked home for lunch (how on earth did we have the time for that?) often bringing friend along.

It was a brand new school building. Actually, my kindergarten year it was still the “old” school – the building where many of our parents went to high school – big and ornate, with stairs that ran all along the hallways so the rooms were elevated. That summer they built the new sleek, modern school, with new desks and fold-up cafeteria tables, so it could more easily convert to a gymnasium.

I was happy there – we had recess and long lunches and art classes more than just once a week. And the teachers were great. There was my kindergarten teacher, who was also the principal. She was a kind older lady, who still understood young children. Even the next year – when my friend Tammy and I got caught carving Gina and Tammy love Donny Osmond in a door with a pop-top (remember those?) – and we ended up in her office, she knew that we really didn’t get it and treated us gently, just wanting us to understand why it was wrong, instead of worrying about punishment.

There was my beloved first grade teacher, who rarely had to raise her voice at anyone – she was so sweet, you just wanted to please her. I remember the last day of school, when I forgot to bring her gift and I cried and cried, so my mom took me to her house that afternoon to drop it off. She invited us I and gave us tea and cookies. If I hadn’t already loved her unconditionally, I would have then.

There was my second grade teacher, who…will, OK, my second grade teacher was kind of a douche – I still remember my friend Marsha and I getting in trouble for something we didn’t do and she simply wouldn’t listen.

But my third grade teacher? Oh my god did she ever make up for any ill will I picked up the year before. I credit her for my love of books. She read to us every day – long chapter books that left you crazy with anticipation for the next day’s installment. And if she saw that you took to reading, she did everything she could to encourage you – like she did for me. She took us on imaginary trips to far off places – we’d get out airline wings on and fly. Then we’d listen to the music and eat the foods and learn so much more than if we had just learned it from a lesson plan.

Plus, we had a great support staff at the school – the gentle nurse, who was forever getting my long eyelashes out of my eyes, the office ladies who knew you by name, and the librarian who made sure we had the greatest books available to us.

But the first person I think of when I think about that school is our custodian, Gus. Gus was the friendliest, sweetest, most caring person. He was always smiling, and always had time for you. When a kid had a problem, or was feeling down about something, they’d go to Gus before they’d go to anyone else. He was as likely as the nurse to put a band-aid on, and quicker than a teacher to break up any hallway squabbles. He knew everyone’s name and their parents’ names and their grandparents’ names too.

His “office” was the supply closet. Any time the classroom needed something, we kids would climb all over each other to raise our hand the highest – everyone wanted to be picked to be the one to go visit Gus. Because you knew that you would be getting more than some colored paper or crayons – you’d get a cheery hello, a compliment on what you were wearing or your latest artwork hanging in the hall. You’d have a real conversation with a grown-up who treated you like you mattered – like you had something important to say. And sometimes, you’d even get a candy to take home and eat later. Gus was everyone’s best friend.

It was a few years before we all found out that Gus was famous. We already adored him as much as humanly possible, but knowing this thrilled us. Our Gus was an even bigger hero in our eyes.

His name was Gus Br1ckner, and he was a swimmer. Not just any swimmer, though – he was best known for long, LONG distance swimming and very cold water swims. He was the original Human Polar Bear. He started the tradition of jumping into the city’s icy rivers on New Year’s Day in 1949 (though he didn’t limit his own activities to just one day a year). He would bring old filmstrips in for us to watch of him swimming in the icy rivers and rolling around in the snow. He held Guinness World Records for cold swims (6 minutes 22 seconds in -18 degree water) and total lifetime distance swim (38,512 miles – the last of these miles were recorded at age 75). He attempted to swim the English Channel 2 times – each time making it mere yards from shore (after swimming 34 miles and 15 hours) before having health issues that required he be pulled out. He wanted to try again in 1960, but it was called off by the authorities because of the conditions.

When I joined the swim team in high school, I was a diver, but being in a small district meant a small team and my coach didn’t like to see empty lanes. So I sometimes was called on to swim backstroke or in the freestyle relay. I took to the backstroke pretty well, but freestyle – Oh My God, I thought I would die. And while I was barely struggling along hating every minute of it (while Gus’ son was serving as an official) I would think of Gus – and how he swam way longer when he was way older. When we’d have to show up for practice at 5:30 in the morning in the freezing Pennsylvania winter, I’d think of Gus rolling around in the snow in those old movies. And I’d make it. He never knew how he inspired me.

When I heard he died back in the winter of 1991, I cried for the sweet, caring, kind man I used to know – even though I hadn’t seen him in many, many years. And I thought that someday I’d like to be a Polar Bear just like Gus was. Last year, I was a relatively new reader of Uncle Crappy’s blog, and when I saw his post on his New Year’s Day plunge, of course, I thought of Gus. I found myself wishing I had known Uncle Crappy better or sooner, because maybe I could have gone (actually, I wished I had known him sooner because he’s awesome). Well, kids – I know him longer and better this time around. And I have met some of the others planning to go. So by god, I’m doing it. On New Year’s Day, I am jumping in the icy cold Mon. And just before you hear my girly scream upon hitting the cold water, you’ll most likely hear me yell, “This is for you, Gus!”