House of the Rising Sun
Part I: Many People Ask Why I do These Swims -
The Bermuda 10K is a serpentine navigation of an enclosed bay. Narrow passageways between tiny islands
give way to open sea. There are three check-in points along the shore where the swimmer gets
refreshment and receives a wristband: three wristbands must be presented at the finish to make sure you
do not pull a Rosie Ruiz (who won the NYC Marathon by hopping on the 7th Avenue IRT).
I had my own challenge: I had no prescription goggles or contact lenses in Bermuda. At the start everyone
shot off like it was the running of the bulls in Pamplona, and I was left to fend for myself. I immediately
veered off to the left thinking a distant shore was the first check-in point. A kayaker came and turned me
around as you would turn around a wind-up toy that had bounded off in the wrong direction.
Fortunately, when I finally arrived at the first check-in there were still two swimmers nursing their
Gatorades: Georgia, who would win the 60 and over division (she was the only one in it), and a younger guy
named Shane. We set off together, and I was pleased to find I was just enough faster than the other two
to envision a relaxed swim with them to the finish.
It was not to be. Coming out of the narrow channel at Cockroach Rock into the open sound, we were
confronted by as bad a chop as the organizers had seen in seventeen years of the swim. Georgia
immediately began to lag, and I suggested she draft on us (swim on our toes to cut down resistance). Her
lips were white, and she was no doubt unhappy. The waves made it difficult for her to draft, and I started
swimming backstroke to keep an eye on her. I don't know how I expected to do that, not being able to see.
The gallant Shane had taken off, and I looked desperately for Georgia. I had to make a moral choice: paddle
around and try to find Georgia, or leave Georgia to her own devices. I took off after the gallant Shane.
The waves were pretty bad to the second check-in, where I finally caught Shane. A swimmer is not allowed
to lose his sense of humor no matter how tired he is, and when I asked for a Gatorade, Shane to his credit
asked for a gun with a bullet in it. I decided that since I had failed doing my mitzvoth with Georgia, I would
help Shane to the finish line. He drank about sixteen Gatorades, and was clearly reluctant to continue.
Finally I had to yell, "LET'S GO, SHANE." That woke him up, and off we went.
It was easier swimming to the third checkpoint, as we were in the lee of the sound (whatever that is), and
swimming close to the shore. But at the third check-in Shane got all chatty again with the drink servers
and wristband officials, and I began to worry seriously about stiffening up. I started to swim slowly on my
back to coax him out, but no go. Another swimmer appeared from behind - it was Georgia! I figured
correctly that Shane would not allow himself to be beat by the winner of the women's 60 and over, so I left
the two of them to sort it out. Anyway there were only 2Ks of calm water left to swim.
At the finish, Gretchen from North Carolina had a cold beer in my hand within 20 seconds of being on dry
land - in North Carolina and Tennessee there is a separate competition to see how fast you can get from
the finish line to your first beer. I waited to congratulate Shane, who came in about 3 minutes behind me.
He had lost Georgia again, who came in two minutes later.
Questions for book discussion: None
Part II: The House of the Rising Sun
Well, cold beer still in hand, I talked books with a woman in a black bikini with a ring through her navel. She
taught English at Groton and coached the swim team.
Unfortunately I lost sight of her before I had a chance to ask her if she taught Fielding, but I had been
adopted by swimmers from North Carolina, who were funny and sassy. Two nights earlier, against my better
judgment (breaking training!), they dragged me to an outdoor bar with a good DJ, where Heidi, the team's
best swimmer and a pole dancer ("no professional experience") did a sort of striptease on top of a brick
wall. I asked Gretchen if Heidi were married. "Yes, Orin", Gretchen responded, "she's married to someone
even older than you."
We had our party at a well -worn bar called the Swizzle Inn, also known as the Swizzle In and Stagger Out.
I had dinner at a table which included two Aussies, who I will call Lizzie and Amelia. Lizzie had barely missed
the Australian Olympic team in 1980, and won our 10K race. She was thin with blond hair and a fair
resemblance to the model Cheryl Tiegs. Amelia, dark-haired, was softer and fuller. I tried my senior pick-up
line ("So tell me, do I come into this bar often?"), and was met with blank stares.
There is a certain kind of free-wheeling anything goes bar found in places like Boulder, and Missoula, and
St. George Parish, Bermuda that attracts a certain kind of musician with an alcohol-fueled talent that sets
a house on fire. The difference between this type of musician and the dreary jazz bands of Manhattan is
the difference, as Mr. Twain would have it, between lightening and the lightening bug. Not since Marie sang
'Mack the Knife' in the 70s at Five Oaks in the Village have I seen a place rock like The Swizzle Inn on
The singer (name unknown) played guitar and keyboard, and knew every song, and then some. The
audience was in the mood: when he did something corny like 'Candle in the Wind', lighters would come out
and be waved in the air. He honored requests, according to the ancient tradition. Unlike Marie, whose shots
lined the piano, the waitress at the Swizzle would bring the shot to the singer as he performed, put her arm
around his shoulder and - quick - pour it down his throat. He drank something that sounded like
'Stegermeister', and only interrupted his song long enough to shake his head like he had taken a punch and
give an involuntary 'Hegghh' as the liquid hit him.
The set included a karaoke mike with a long cord that allowed the karaoke singer to strut the stage. I did
two songs - "Satisfaction" and "The House of the Rising Sun". My "Satisfaction" was good -but my "Rising
Sun" - well - I owned that song. I discarded irony and put my soul into it - all the sin and remorse of vice.
The audience screamed back at me, arms held high.
And everyone danced - everyone. I was swept into the arms of women whose names I did not even know. I
used my temporary rock star status for all it was worth. Lizzie gave me a backrub and put a lipstick kiss on
a napkin for me. But it was Amelia who was soft and clingy and mine.
I woke the next morning in a bittersweet and lovesick frame of mind- but no hangover. At breakfast I saw
Lizzie and Amelia, and sat down with them briefly to say good-bye. They were stiff and a little uneasy. I
gave them cards with my email on it. None were offered in return.