Monday, November 30, 2009
Of Regret and A Night Running from the Law
"There ain’t nothin’ like regret to remind you you're alive"
As your life reveals itself to you, you may find lucky choices mixed with regrets and the sting of the past sitting somewhere in that place in your middle body that only seems to exist for such emotions. They all led you to Now. But you may also find, like the peeling of an onion, that the layers that seemed to be truth and the layers that seemed to be nothing but mendacity may trade places -- this is the trick of time, I think.
Who’s to know if something as seemingly insignificant as my sitting home alone on the night of my high school prom changed the direction my life -- was that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings in my life? All I know is that I did sit home alone that night and then? Then I went on with things. One year later I would spend a night running from the Law and while it felt like the roar of a lion instead of the flutter of insect wings, its only consequence would be to equip me with a story to tell and a realization that regrets can be fleeting.
There was a country club, somewhere in the wilds of Connecticut that was the place to skinny dip, after hours, in the summer, under the one light in the parking lot or the polluted moon. We knew it as the Jewish Country Club -- which only distinguishes it as a Club that many of us were not members of. The thing about Westport back then was that there were lots of clubs and while they didn’t say it in their bylaws, the memberships were doled out to whites only or gentiles only and this, I suppose, necessitated the need for clubs that made themselves equally exclusive by admitting only those who were excluded elsewhere. See? It was complicated to some but not to most -- and it was a civil way of handling a completely uncivil habit.
But the point here is not to expound on the history of uncivil rights in Connecticut -- the point is to identify this immaculate club with the 9 hole golf course, spacious club house, and most especially the swimming pool that drew a number of underage skinny dippers from various drinking establishments to partake of its waters.
The first time I swam in this pool was with a great number of people. We were home for the summer from college, our freshman year was over and done with, and as the bar that we were lingering in closed and sent us out into the hot summer parking lot, word got round that we were all going swimming. Now we lived in a beach town and the parking lot we were loitering in at 2 am was only minutes from the Long Island Sound, but it was rare for any of us townies to swim in the Sound at night. We were of the Jaws generation -- a night time swim in the beautiful green waters of the Sound only meant one thing to us kids -- Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss were going to be examining our remains sometime the next day and then the town would go bankrupt for the summer because all the tourists were too afraid to swim. So pool hopping was a big night time behavior of the young set in my town.
It was a nice pool, not Olympic sized, and it was advantageously near the parking lot, so there was a light that shone down on the pool. Just enough so we could find our way there and proceed to swim and party in a pleasant safe glow. There was something just so fine about skinny dipping on a summer’s night after drinking in a stuffy stupid bar with a bad dance floor all evening. The skinny dipping was an antidote to all the bullshit -- suddenly there we all were, just a bunch of kids with not a lot of attitude, and certainly none of our clothes and it cured whatever airs we were trying to put on.
That first night was fun and light and seemed to last for hours, although I am certain we all got our swim in hastily and then headed partially-clothed and barefooted back to our cars to make it home before the sun rose and our families took notice that we had been out all night. But it was that night that I met my first boy -- the boy who would stay by my side for the rest of that summer and would break my heart when it came time to return to college.
A few weeks later we returned to the pool, just the boy and me. We left the bar before all the others and agreed that the full moon was just right for skinny dipping at the Club. We were elated to find we had the place to ourselves. We parked, took off our shoes and padded down to the pool. We stripped to our bare naked selves and dove into the shimmering cool waters -- the moon seemed to be the only being on earth besides us. But five minutes in to the swim we were rudely reminded that we were not alone and that we were in fact breaking the law. A cop car pulled into the parking lot and two Westport policeman got out -- they shined their flashlights down on us and said “Okay, oughtta the pool!”
I looked at my boy and he looked at me. “I am NOT getting arrested naked. My grandmother will shoot me.” My boy agreed that getting arrested naked was a bad thing, “But what are we gonna do?”
“We’re gonna run.” There was a chain link fence that surrounded the pool - it had a gate on the parking lot side and another gate on the backside that led into the dark, to the wide open spaces of the golf course. We hoisted ourselves out of the pool as the cops continued to stand at the edge of the parking lot, we looked up at them as though we were headed their way. I looked at our pile of clothes next to the gate that was closest to the cops -- those clothes seemed a million miles away, there was no way we could grab them and get out the back gate before the cops came down the hill. We were going to have to abandon our clothes and run naked. We emerged from the pool and stood facing our enemy for just a moment and then we spun around and sprinted for the back gate. “WHOA WHOA WHOA! Where are you two going?!”
We blasted through the back gate and disappeared onto the golf course. My boy was tall and lanky and I was little and lanky and we ran so fast our feet never seemed to touch the ground. The moon was bright and we knew we had to stick to the sand traps and the forested edges of the green. The flashlights were bouncing behind us. The cops were shouting at us but they weren’t gaining on us -- they were slow and fat and they had clothes on. We dove under a thicket and huddled on our bellies -- I felt like a rabbit, all out of breath and tingling with fear. The cops were getting closer, we held our breath and each other as they passed us. We waited until they disappeared on the moonlit horizon and then we crawled back out. “Can we make it back to the pool and get our clothes?” I asked my boy.
“I don’t know - they are going to circle back soon.”
We contemplated staying in the thicket, but it was damn thorny in there. We agreed we needed to get our clothes and get to the car. So we took off and ran back to the pool. We got to the pool and picked up our clothes and then ran for the car, but just as we got to the car, the cops showed up. They were running up the hill from the pool, their bellies swinging with handcuffs and holsters and billy clubs. My boy looked at me, “We’re fucked now!” but we weren’t because I looked toward the club house and saw an escape route. The club house was made up of two large buildings that were joined together by this long arching walkway which led out to a patio that overlooked the golf course. The moon cast this beautiful light down on the patio. We threw our clothes down and ran for the club house. The cops shouting, “HEY HEY HEY! STOP!” But we didn’t stop. We dashed through that echoing tunnel -- again the light from the flashlights danced all around us. We didn’t slow down as we crossed the patio and jumped a two foot stone wall that turned out to have nothing but nothingness on the other side. We were flying through the darkness, my naked boy and naked me and finally, we hit the ground. We rolled and rolled and scraped our knees and rose back up on our feet. “You okay?”
“I’m okay. You okay?”
We looked back to see the wall we had jumped off of -- it seemed to be twice as tall as us and the flashlights were coming. We took off again and turned as we ran to see the cops jump off the wall and fall and fall and fall. We heard them crashing to the ground and swearing, “JESUS CHRIST!”
I was certain we might have killed one of them and if not, I thought for sure they would kill us when they caught us.
We ran and ran down this long straightaway that by day was milled about on by golfers and their caddies. The cops were up and running again and we veered hard to the left side, the Sound side of the course. I could smell the salt water and see it shimmer through the trees and beyond that were the tiny lights that flickered from Long Island and the tip of Manhattan. We found another thorny thicket and dove like foxes underneath it. Now we were tired. And we were bashed up. The mosquitoes were sucking our blood and the cicadas were laughing at us. My boy held me as our chests heaved and collapsed -- there wasn’t enough air for us at that moment. The cops continued down the middle of the course. They were jogging and swearing. Their lights were sweeping across the greens and the sand traps and peeking into the thickets...we pushed farther back into the thicket and held our faces down...we couldn’t let them see our eyes.
What was going through my mind as I lay their naked and bleeding and itching? I was determined not to get caught at that point. I knew that it would be the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to me. I saw my grandmother’s face and she was furious with me. I saw the little paragraph in the Westport News Police Report and it explained how we ran half the night naked from two of Wesport’s Finest. How we were handcuffed and brought to the station without any clothes and how we stood in front of the magistrate at 4 am to be charged and sent to a holding cell. I shuddered at the idea that our great family friend Mac, who was a former and highly decorated Westport Policeman and was now the Chief of Police in Wilton, my boy’s hometown, would call up my grandmother and ask her what kind of delinquent I had become? He would say something about how he taught me how to swim and now? Now I was a hardened naked criminal.
We laid there under the thicket for a long time. The cops kept running back and forth -- we could hear their radios squawk occasionally. My boy and I began to wonder why they didn’t call for any back up? We decided they were too embarrassed to call for help. Who would believe that they had spent the past four hours chasing two naked kids around a nine hole golf course. Maybe they just wanted the glory of arresting us all on their own.
And just like kids, we didn’t think past our next few minutes. We wanted to get back to the car, but it wasn’t safe to make a move. But then the signs of morning started and this brought a whole new element to our being naked fugitives from justice -- the light of day would shine down on us and there would be no hiding. The birds began to sing and that first finger of day light was beginning to glow and the moon had left us...he’d had enough of us for one night. And then something amazing happened. The cops gave up. We saw them trundle up the center of the golf course and disappear around the club house. We crawled out of the thicket and ran slowly along the edge of the greens back towards the club house. We could see the headlights of the police car make one grand broadcast across the parking lot like the lights of a Hollywood premier and then we saw the Law’s red tail lights disappear out onto the main road. They were gone.
We made our way to the car in bluish light of morning. We no longer ran strong and tall, we were huddled, with arms crossed, ashamed and bloodied. We were relieved that none of the Club staff had arrived yet. We found our clothes right where we had left them -- next to the car on the pavement. We scooped them up and got in the car. My boy started up the car and we drove down the street where we proceeded to get dressed. We couldn’t believe it was over, that we were just going to go home now.
The sun was shining when I walked in the kitchen door. My grandmother was sitting at the kitchen table. She was furious. “Where have you been all night? Look at you! You’re a mess!” And I was a mess. I was covered in mosquito bites and bloody scratches and my hair was filthy with briars. I probably looked like I had been wrestling with a bob cat all night.
“You don’t want to know Mom.”
“Yes I do. Where have you been?”
“Please don’t make me tell you. Just be happy I am home, okay?” I just walked right by her and went upstairs. I went to bed for an hour or two and then I went right back out. I drove down to the beach and there I soaked my battle scars in the salt water of the Long Island Sound for the rest of the day. I never did tell my grandmother what happened and she never asked about it again.