A Different Journey Header
The Dolphin Club
If you swim along the Eastern coast of Long Island from Montauk west in early June, you are as likely to
encounter a manatee as another swimmer. If you swim in cold, blustery San Francisco Bay in April, you will
see more fellow travelers in a single day than in a lifetime of Easthampton summers. The cynosure of all
swimmers emerging from the 50 degree water is a rambling structure - actually two attached buildings -
known as the Rowing Clubs.

On a perfectly terrible day in March, I was standing immobilized outside the Dolphin Swimming and Rowing
Club. I had already lost my nerve about swimming , and was staring at the makeshift latch that served as a
bell when I was approached by a burly James Caan-like figure who asked me what I was doing there. "I'm a
swimmer from New York," I croaked. The interrogator was Mickey Lavelle, a veteran San Francisco fireman
whose pick-up truck was littered with swimming gear, an old fire helmet, clothes, and a library copy of
something by Stendhal . Mickey pushed me through the door, and proceeded to give me a tour of the
Dolphin Club.

Swimming in the protected cove involves a series of half-mile laps to one or more of a series of buoys that
arc out from the shore with well-worn names like Oprah, the Flag, Bad Bessie, The Goal Posts, etc. You can
either pick your spots, or you can do a circular tour of all the iconic posts, and come back through a tangle
of schooners, frigates, and trawlers that never seem to move. Veterans enjoy taking first-timers
under a
wide pier where the water is pitch black and angry barnacle encrusted pylons seem to leap out at you.

The conversation in the men's sauna after the swim reflects the times, and has lost much of its saltiness,
until, that is, a traditionalist like Mickey Lavelle bursts in like a gunslinger wrapped in a towel. In his
boisterous baritone Mickey delivers an endless string of bawdy one-liners, and like making love to a
900-pound gorilla you don't stop laughing till he stops laughing.

There are several stages to swimming in water in the low 50s. The first - by far the most difficult - is at the
water's edge. You are seized with a powerful urge to quit, to draw back into the comfortable and the
familiar. When you do plunge in, you cross a barrier. The second stage is a period of gasping for breath, and
then trying to regulate your heartbeat and turn your arms over. It takes me longer than most to keep my
head in the water - it stings my face like I have been slapped. The third stage is a period of calmness and
even euphoria, as you come to realize, "I can handle this thing (life)." At some point , however, reality
intrudes, and you come to feel both cold and alone. On the other hand, you are alert and manifestly in the
present: there is no room for the future and past or the emotions that dwell there. From this point it is all
about simply getting on with it. As you emerge from the water, you exchange loopy grins with the other
April 2008