Whenever I think of that Sunday in the park, I am not reminded of that famous painting of the same name by the Impressionist, George Seurat. Instead, I recall the insipid face of Harold Percy Bagelman and the pimples upon it that were too numerous to count. I was fourteen that summer so long ago in Brooklyn, New York and he was about the same. He had invited me to Prospect Park one beautiful day in late June. The birds were singing the theme to "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." I should have recognized the melody for the omen it was.
I was wearing jeans and a pretty little paisley shirt. I was as kitsch as could be with my straw hat with cherries on top and its matching pocketbook. Harold was wearing red, baggy cotton pants and a tee shirt that read: "Im Harold. Thats Why." What a couple! A couple of what, you ask? Well, read on.
Volleyball was fun and afterwards we went for something to eat. Thats when Harold suggested that we rent a rowboat and paddle out to the middle of the lake. We paid one dollar for this adventure and pretended not to hear the man who warned us as we pulled away from the dock that one of the oarlocks was loose on our boat. Armed with two life preservers that had holes in them, we set sail across the muddy water. (There were no sails, but the water was muddy.)
The water was still and dark and not very inviting. It reminded me of a large sink with many problems, some, I was sure, even Drano couldnt resolve. Strange, squiggly things passed around and under us, and that little voice in my head that warned me about tall men in trenchcoats was telling me to turn back. Calmly, I asked Harold how deep the water was.
"Are you afraid of the water?" he replied, not answering my question.
I wasnt positive, but I had become acutely aware of a new dampness around my ankles.
"Harold, water is coming into the boat!" I screamed so loudly that I scared him and he dropped one of the oars. It was swiftly drifting away from us. Only through spinal manipulation worthy of a Cirque De Soleil performer was he able to retrieve it. (Maybe thats where Harold is today, traveling with the French circus. The Bagelmans moved away soon after this incident.)
"Take this," he said, removing a styrofoam cup from somewhere on his person and giving it to me. "See if you can scrape some water out with this."
I looked down and the water was now at least an inch higher than it was before.
"Row back!" I screamed, trying to bale out the invading water. Harold turned the boat around by rowing furiously, and that brought even more water inside. At some point, I looked up and suffered a mirage. I could have sworn there were even more pimples on Harolds face than there had been before. The boat was filling up fast and even though shore was always in sight, we never seemed to get any closer to it. I was convinced it was the end and I was disappointed. (Even at fourteen, I could imagine more romantic ways to die than to drown with Harold Percy Bagelman.)
Harold told me to hang on and I couldnt decide whether I thought he was very brave or very stupid. I picked up my straw pocketbook with all of the cherries on it and stood up in the boat.
I dont know about you, Harold, but I am leaving!"
And with that I stepped out of the boat and into waist deep muddy water filled with all the strange little squiggly creatures. They seemed excited; maybe they thought I was another squiggly playmate. I waded to shore with my pocketbook on top of my hat on top of my head, bringing new fashion heights to the definition of ensemble. I did not turn around once to look back at Harold, in anger or otherwise.
Harold Bagelman disappeared from my life after that day. If theres a moral to this story, Ill be damned if I know what it is. To this day the thought of that Sunday in the park conjures the fear of water, rowboats, oars, squiggly things, fresh air, straw hats with cherries on top of them, all men named Harold and anyone, male or female, with more than two pimples on their face!
Happy Valentine's Day to all!
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