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Nightswimming

Nightswimming

At the time, I lived in a dump. As a testament to this statement: I had to have my brother reinforce the door because it could easily have been pried open. The air return registers were completely clogged with what looked like dryer lint.

The attic was infested with squirrels that sounded as if they would break through at any moment. There were orange shelf mushrooms growing under the bathtub. If the shower curtain wasn’t completely closed, water would spray to the floor, run out the bathroom door, across the slanted kitchen floor, and gather in the corner, where it would leak into the building manager’s apartment below, and he would soon call to inform us about it. What he should have said was “That shitty apartment you pay me rent for is raining into my living room! Stop it please!” One summer, he gave us a roll of screen and some thumbtacks to provide our apartment with some ventilation, rather than the screens which actually fit into the window frames. Was it a coincidence that I was ill for the better part of a year? Was it only the fault of my shabby lodgings, or was it, as the owner of the restaurant where I worked used to say, that I was “burning the candle at both ends”?

One of the times she said this was after I decided to go night swimming in Lake Michigan in March. One of the chefs at my restaurant was about to embark on a fishing ship in Alaska for the summer. I told him that I had to prepare him in case he ever fell off the boat. We were out drinking at a local microbrewery, and it was just getting dark. I kept convincing him that it was a good idea and then having to re-convince him again. The reason for wanting to leave just then was that I had only fifteen dollars and fifty cents left. My plan was for us to take a cab to the beach– that would take fifteen dollars; then, when we were done swimming, we would call another cab from the phone booth across the street from the park, and we would take a cab to my house, where I had cash to pay the driver.

I somehow convinced him to get into the cab, but I believe his constant refrain was “I can’t believe I let you talk me into doing this.” His tune changed once we got into the water. Clad in only our underwear, we waded into the lake till it was up to our necks, enjoying the light of a full spring moon. My friend said, “You were right, Jerod. This is beautiful!”

His tune would change again when we got out of the water. He was unable to find his clothes (other than his shorts), his wallet, his passport, his skateboard, and his I-pod. This flew him into a rage. He put on his shorts and then began raging about how he should never have trusted me, all the while swinging and spitting upon me as we walked across the beach. Then, when he saw that we had to walk back up a hill, he exclaimed “Fuck this,” dropped to the ground, and began rolling down the hill, streams of piss issuing through his shorts as he rolled. It was then that I realized I had created an ordeal. I gave him my shoes, continuing to walk in my socks. I gave him my jean jacket, which, as he was about 300 pounds, quickly split up the back. And I gave him my scarf, which was a present from a friend who had traveled to Burma, and which he lost forever.

I helped him up the hill but then realized that the phone booth was no longer there. As such, we had to walk to look for a phone, and there weren’t any businesses in that stretch of Whitefish Bay. We got as far as the high school, where my friend again dropped to the ground, gave me my shoes, and told me to come back with help. Not only was he tired; he was also freezing. The water had been warm compared to the air. (He later informed me that as soon as I left him, he began screaming at the top of his lungs. He was so cold that he wanted to be taken to jail.)

I headed off in search of a phone. I passed some churches that were closed and ended up walking a mile before I found a gas station. I called the taxi company, letting them know that my friend was freezing in front of Whitefish Bay High School, and could they send a cab to pick him up. They said they required an address in order to dispatch a cab. Now my last fifty cents was gone.

I looked around and luckily–in this instance– saw an undercover police car parked across the street. I approached the policeman, let him know my situation, and asked whether he could take me to pick up my friend, who was currently freezing on the sidewalk in front of the high school. He asked whether we had been swimming and whether my friend and I were on good terms. I answered no, then yes. He said he would go get my friend and then come back for me.

I waited for a little while, throwing away the weed I had on me in case we were taken to jail. After a short while, I asked myself what I was waiting for. The important thing was that I did all I could to take care of my friend, and now I needed to find shelter. I did not want to end up in jail. I remembered that my brother lived in an apartment a block away and that the back door of his building was never locked, so I went to his house, let myself in, and slept in a pile of dirty laundry. The next morning, I went to retrieve my weed from the trashcan and either walked or took a cab home. My roommate was worried about me after hearing an early morning answering machine message from my friend, letting us know that he was now home safe, but that I was “unaccounted for.”

I called my friend to find that his mother would be picking him and me up to go look for his belongings. He told me that the police had, in fact, picked him up and drove him home and that, contrary to us being on good terms, he had screamed the entire ride home about how he was going to kill me. I assume that they returned to pick me up and found me missing. Anyway, his mom took us to the beach and then to the police department, where someone had turned in all his belongings. She told us we were stupid more than once.