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NO YARMULKES AT THE SWIMMING HOLE

A colleague has her students write about a humiliating experience.

For many reasons, I would not dream of giving that assignment to my beginning classes. I do give optional assignments to my Wednesday night home group, which is made up of advanced, longtime students. In the fall, I may have them write about a humiliating or embarrassing experience if they wish.*

In the meantime, I am thinking about an embarrassing experience in my life. Since it did not involve my family or current friends, I can share it here without alienating or upsetting or humiliating or embarrassing anyone. I will simply sit here and blush alone.

One summer Sunday several decades ago, a friend and I drove upstate and went to a swimming hole near Mohonk that was way off the road and in the woods. Some of the people there sunbathed and swam nude. I was young. Thinner. And far from home. Except for my friend, I did not know a soul.

I took off all my clothes. The sun was shining. It was very hot. Probably 90 degrees. Minutes after getting naked, I headed to the water, passing people both nude and in swimsuits, then stood on a rock and jumped in. The cold water felt great. I paddled around thinking of those Sunday evenings at Camp Tamakwa when the girls’ activities were separate from the boys’. We sometimes skinny dipped. What freedom! Such fun! Not knowing anyone other than my friend that day at the secluded swimming hole near Mohonk, I started to feel that freedom. I got out of the water, climbed onto the rock and jumped or dove back in several times. Yes!

A group of four people emerged from the woods one of the times I was standing on the rock. They were either checking out the place or on a hike. For a few minutes they stood there, staring at the swimming hole, the sunbathers and swimmers as they talked among themselves. I recognized one of the four. He lived in my building in Manhattan on my floor. We often spoke in passing. He was an Orthodox Jew. He always wore a yarmulke. At the swimming hole, he did not have his yarmulke on. He had it in his hand. While perched on the rock stark naked, I saw him waving to me. I did not wave back. I dove into the water and stayed there with my back turned until he and his group left.

The next morning, he appeared in the incinerator room with his garbage as I was throwing out mine. For a few seconds, I thought maybe the day before at the swimming hole, he was waving to someone else (yeah, right) or that maybe when I hadn’t waved back, he thought that the naked woman he had waved to was not me, but someone who resembled me. Or maybe the someone who had waved to me had been a guy who resembled him and was trying to pick up naked me. Or maybe my Orthodox neighbor had been pleasantly surprised to see me and was simply waving.

“What a surprise yesterday,” I said.

He smiled. “It was.”

“Sorry I didn’t wave back,” I said. “I didn’t realize it was you at first. I didn’t recognize you without your yarmulke.”

He and I continued to say hello and how are you in passing, but never spoke again about the day he saw me naked at the swimming hole. Until he moved a few years later, whenever I took the garbage to the incinerator room, I made sure to bundle up.

* Wednesday nighters, if you have EVER been humiliated or embarrassed, feel free to get started on this, take notes, or think about it. I know most of my longtime, Wednesday students subscribe to this blog. I also know which few don’t. Clearly, they and those who don’t read this post will be clueless at our first fall session.

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