The weather yesterday was, compared to the day before, relatively balmy. The temperature was in the mid-30s and nothing was spitting from the skies. So at the ripe, yet dark, hour of six am, I hustled Whiskey into the back of my 1966 Simca 1000 and drove up to Rye--a small town on the Long Island Sound just about 20 miles from my apartment.
The horseshoe shaped beach is about 3/4ths of a mile long and girded with the nearly-empty boardwalk of an old and struggling amusement park called Playland. There's nothing in the world so desolate, I think, as a baseball diamond covered with snow. But an out-of-season amusement park comes close. And this one wouldn't see life again till the thaws of April, when the squat Italian men come in and begin the seasonal rejuvenation of their rides.
Whiskey and I spilled out of the car at around 6:20. I had made it through long, sad portions of the Bronx faster than ever and sped through quiet Westchester county. I parked the Simca in an empty lot and we walked the silent beach.
The tide was low and there was nothing on the littoral but single sea birds looking for a stray mussel in the muck or a clam. Up ahead, at the far end of the beach, I saw two men standing on the edge of the brine. We walked toward them.
"Debroye utro," I said to them, using just about all the Russian I know. "Good morning."
They nodded back to me and began taking off their large down overcoats. They were each wearing a small tight swimsuit and they were preparing for a dip in the sea.
"Polarneyy medved," the taller one said. "We are polar bears."
With that they ran with speed into the surf. Whiskey looked askance at them. She seemed to be saying, "It's too cold for your species. They must be crazy." I agreed with her, but couldn't take my eyes off the Russians.
They swam strongly out to a man-made breakwater about three-hundred yards distant, then they turned and swam just as strongly back. Then they emerged from the wet, dried themselves off with the old beach towels they had with them that they had pulled out of small, beaten gym bags. In just seconds they each had their down coats on and their feet had burrowed inside their fur-lined boots.
"You will have a drink with us," the taller one said in a Boris Badenov accent.
"We will drink to health. To the sea. To the old country."
"Long may she wave," I joked.
The taller one removed a Thermos of coffee from his gym bag and the shorter one brandished a pint of Russian vodka. They drank their concoction quickly and shot me a "do svidaniya."
Whiskey and I do svidaniya'd back.
Then we headed back to the city.