Sunday, September 2, 2012

NO SWIMMING ALLOWED by Peter Nolan Smith


September 9 posted a sultry warm day for the lingering summer of 2001. My friend Alia had a Porsche Boxer waiting at the Newark Customs. The convertible had just made a trans-Atlantic voyage. The British diplomat asked me to accompany her to pick up the two-seater and I agreed on the stipulation that we drove north along the Hudson to New Paltz.

"Where to?" The blonde mother of six was game for anything. Her kids were in school.

I extolled our destination of Lake Minnewaska Park and the boreal beauty of the farther lake's slanted granite beach. "

"One last swim before autumn."

"Sounds good to me." Alia's family dated back before the invention of sliced bread.

The Customs officials were helpful in processing her car and we threw our bags in the trunk, then she pointed the Porsche north.

Alia's car had diplomatic plates. She kept the car below 90, except for the uphill runs on the Northway. State troopers only maintained downhill speed traps. The wind ripped through our hair.

We made good time listening to her collection of 80s hits.

Our friendship dated back to London.

Leicester Square.

1986.

A young blonde girl arrived at the Cafe de Paris in a rubber dress. Her provocative attire earned immediate entrance and I was slow to realize that this sliver of a blonde was a diplomat for the shards of the English Empire. It never really mattered to me what she was. Alia could quote Ovid in Latin.

Exiting at New Paltz Alia switched to the radio. NPR reported how America's delegation at the South Africa conference on racism had contested the vote on Israel's mistreatment of the occupied territories.

"That's not good." Our new president was born-again. Israel was always right in their eyes.

"Israel has a right to protest any accusation as does the countries opposing it." The blonde diplomat was 100% on the side of compromise to achieve peace.

"Stolen lands." I felt the same way about the north counties of Ireland, but said nothing.

We were on a road trip and the day was far too beautiful a day to ruin with an argument over oppression. I directed Alice through the college town. The students crowded the sidewalks with smiles on their faces. None of them were going home until Xmas.

A few miles out of town the sheer cliffs of the Shawangunk Ridge rose from the valley. Hundreds of car lined the road to the park. Climbers were attacking the ascent routes. The lot for Lake Minnewaska was surprisingly empty, but I figured that it was after Labor Day and school was back in session.

Throwing towels over our shoulders and carrying bathing suits in hand Alia and I set out for Lake Awosting. Few hikers were on the carriage road, which had been built for vacationers at the Lake Mohonk Resort. Alia and I enjoyed the panoramic vistas of the Hudson Valley and after 30 minutes Lake Awosting came into sight.

The deep blue water surrounded by evergreen pines.

No one was on the granite beach or in the lake.

A female park ranger on an ATV rolled up the trail and the hefty officer in her 30s braked within a foot of us.

“Where you heading?”

“Lake Awosting.” I had been coming here since the 80s and once I had jumped off the cliff into Lake Minnewaska. It was a good drop of 70 feet.

“You’re not going swimming there?” Her voice adopted a threatening tone of authority.

“Why not?” I was dumbfounded by her interrogation. This was America, the Land of the Free.

“Because it’s against the law to swim in the lakes after Labor Day.”

"My friend has been saying that Lake Awosting is the best swim in the Catskills. We thought that we might test his theory." Alice's accent was pure Oxford, which was the language of command.

“There are no lifeguards.” The ranger gunned her engine, as if she had been instructed to enforce this mandate by GW Bush himself.

“I can swim three miles. What’s the problem?”

The problem was that lawyers were waiting for some drunk fool to jump into the lake and break their back, so they could sue the state parks for several million dollars.

“It’s a stupid law.”

Alia touched my arm. She had diplomatic immunity and a good deal of tact.

I only had a sense of outrage, but in this America the law was the law and we turned away from the forbidden pleasure of Lake Awosting's crystal-clear water.

“I hate this America.” GTOs, fighting with your fists, and Schlitz beer were extinct.

"It's the times. Not the country."

"Let's go back to New York." It was the last bastion of the Free.

On the trip home the radio announced that the USA bailing out of the Racism Conference in South Africa in protest of a nearly unanimous condemnation of Israel for their occupation of Palestine.

“Another thing I hate about America."

"What?"

"Nothing.” Anti-Zionist talk was as popular in this America as swimming after Labor Day. I needed a drink.

Alia and I stopped at a bar in New Paltz. Three beers later I was ready to resume our return to New York. Alia was sober. She never drank liquor. Her thrill was speed and the Porsche hit 140 on the Freeway.

It was the only freedom left in America.

Speed.

And Alia could drive fast.

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