Hanging onto the rocks, I floated in the white foamy water rolling over the falls. The current crashed against my body like a hundred jets in a jacuzzi. Completely relaxed until the racing water ripped my trunks off. Before I could react, my swim trunks disappeared into the rapids.
The summer of 1985, I flew from Catania, Sicily to Plattsburgh, NY for 30 days of leave to visit my family.
Usually, I flew on a Military Airlift Command Flight from Sigonella, Sicily to Naples, Italy to Rota, Spain to Philadelphia. After clearing U.S. Customs, I would book a flight out of Philly to Burlington, Vermont. It was late when I arrived in Burlington. To pick me, my parents would catch the fifteen-minute ferry ride from Plattsburgh, New York to Grand Isle, Vermont then drove thirty minutes to Burlington International Airport.
This time, I decided to fly exclusively commercial flights. MAC flights were far less expensive but in a cramped DC8 airplane. The US military contracted various airlines for the cross Atlantic flights.
During the ’80s smoking was still permitted on all flights. You were six abreast in a hot, itchy uniform on a smoke-filled jet with the bar running like a port dive filled with sailors.
That year I had reenlisted, and with some extra money from my bonus, I flew in style, with in-flight movies, better food, and comfort. I flew from Catania, Sicily to Rome to New York to Plattsburgh. Instead of taking the ferry, I caught a taxi home from the Clinton County Airport.
My brothers were out of school for the summer. Alan was entering his Junior year at Plattsburgh State, and Terry was entering his Junior year at Plattsburgh High School.
We were going to have a blast!
My previous vacations to Plattsburgh were in the winter. With everyone working or in school. There was not much to do. I had lost contact with many of my childhood friends. Facebook was decades away. Short of hiring a private investigator, people were hard to find. Many of my friends were in the service stationed somewhere else. Some had gone to college and did not come back. I had no wheels of my own.
Yes, I spent much of my time BORED.
Not this time! It was summer.
With the Adirondack mountains, Lake Champlain, and the many rivers and tributaries around Plattsburgh, there are limitless outdoor activities for summer-time fun. Swimming, fishing, hiking, camping were on the list.
My brothers and I decided to go swimming at one of our old swimming holes, The Blasted Dam. During our teen years, we swam, fished or got into trouble at one of two dams on the Saranac River. The conditions were probably considered dangerous. As the saying goes, God watches out for fools and children. We were a little of both.
The properties had No trespassing signs posted all over the place.
As teenagers, the authorities might have just chased us out of there. But I was twenty-four and Alan was Twenty-one. I was a member of the US Navy; I was supposed to be a responsible adult.
The temptation for a trip down memory lane turned into my undocumented episode of Naked and Afraid. Thank God, Smartphones didn’t exist yet.
Shorts ripped off by the same hydro powered force that generated kilowatts of electricity for many decades. My loose fitting swim trunks -probably borrowed from my brother — did not stand a chance. They disappeared into the dark rapid moving water. A frantic search, the shorts were nowhere to be found.
Of course, those two knuckleheads could not stop laughing at my calamity. After our search, Alan tore off on his bike like a bat out of hell toward home which was roughly two miles away.
Terry stayed for moral support and a few extra chuckles.
While waiting in the water for my deliverance, troubling thoughts went through my head.
What if other people show up?
What if the police show up?
As a navy guy getting arrested for public nudity was not on my list of things to do that summer.
After what seemed like hours in the water, I was beginning to get cold. Skin shriveled in more places then I like to mention, minutes turned into hours.
While standing — NAKED — waist deep in the Saranac River. A couple shows up to do some fishing. They waved. Ducking deeper to chest deep into the waist-deep water. I waved back and smiled.
Yes, the water is fine; but no don’t come in, raced through my mind.
The way sound travels across the water; I could hear them talking over the loud crashing falls where the dam had been blasted open. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Terry was talking with them.
Occasionally, they would look toward my direction. In my paranoid state, I was sure Terry was recounting the story for a few laughs.
Despite the distance from them, I thought I recognized the man standing with Terry but not the woman. I hoped he did not remember me. As I had thought, it was that guy. I had partied with him a few times while I was in high school.
I just hoped they didn’t decide to jump in for a swim and get close enough to realize I was in my birthday suit. The idea of skinny dipping did not bother me as much as the fact this was not on my terms.
Thank God, they did not decide to take a swim.
After what seemed like an eternity to my relief Alan finally showed up with a pair of shorts and brought them out to me.
The drawstring tied extra tight; I headed straight for land. No George Costanza moment that day (Jerry Seinfeld reference).
Explaining to the couple what had happened made for a funny story.
Out of all of the things we did that summer, this stands out as the most memorable and funny.