The novelist, poet and critic John Updike once said, “Contrary to popular impression, writers, unlike pole vaulters, do not know when they have done their best.”
Which probably explains why I, along with 31.5 million people per night around the globe, spent the bulk of July and August tuning into the Olympics and wondering how it might feel to stand in front of all the world wearing a hard-
Sigh. As the cavalcade of beautiful young athletes made its way across the world stage, I resigned myself to the idea that a wretch like me has his best days behind him and that my only hope for such once-in-a-lifetime mind-
blowing experiential exhilaration is now left to banging into large sweaty men during my weekly pick-up basketball games, walking the dog around the lake, mental gymnastics, simple pleasures, blessings-counting and all that other
Then I emptied my cargo shorts pockets, took off my running shoes and shirt and climbed into the dunk tank.
Forget the pole vaulters, it was my time to shine.
It was 3 p.m. Sunday, the very moment the Olympics closing ceremonies were getting underway in London, and an England-worthy drizzle was coming down on the third annual 46th Street Block Party and Kings Birthday Bash. The
event was a fundraiser for a planned playground at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park ($2,500 raised!) and a way to celebrate the communal business spirit of 46th & Grand, as forged by Kings Wine Bar, Patisserie
46, Café Ena and the Colorwheel Gallery, whose owner, Tammy Ortegon, recruited me for the tank.
I was ready.
You got this, my inner Olympian told me. You’ve been working your whole life toward this. Your family and friends are all around you, looking at you, mocking you, lined up five deep to see your Ultimate Fail. Go get it.
Yes: For the first time, West 46th Street was blocked off from car traffic. A steady stream of dogs (and people) ate, drank and made small-town merry. They grooved to the music provided by Twin Town Guitars and good politics at
the Vote No (to voter ID registration and anti-gay marriage amendments) booth.
In the middle of the street sat the dunk tank, my experience with which was limited to watching Gary Busey’s psycho clown in Carny (“I’m high and dry!”), so I went to school on the first few dunkees, including Fairy Godmother
shopkeeper Terre Thomas, Park Board Commissioner Brian Bourne, Susan B. Anthony Middle School science teacher Shannon Edberg, School Board candidate Tracine D. Asberry and Erik Brown, a real estate agent in a cowboy hat
who sponsored the dunkathon. They were all smiling, shivering and playing the fool.
Which is what I’ve done on more than one occasion at Kings, so I was going in undaunted. I climbed the ladder, steadied myself on the cage and took my spot on the gallows, as ready as I could be for the bottom to drop out. From
my perch I could see down 46th Street to the lake. Behind me, local artist Katie Larkin Johnson was taking the art of face-painting to new heights, and little bodies were bouncing around in a mammoth inflatable Dora The Explorer
jumping ride whose namesake’s facial expression and body language suggested she was in the throes of an especially intense moment of carnal pleasure.
One by one they came. Kids from the neighborhood. Strangers. Old friends. Family. I sat on the edge of my seat and taunted them all, told them to throw the ball at the target and sink the old man and fretted about when the
dagger might come. Just when I thought I might get off dunk-free, Eve Loesch, the youngest daughter of Kings owner Samantha Loesch and the late dunk tank lover Mark Loesch stepped up and, resplendent and bad-ass in her
cowgirl boots, nailed me.
Just like that, I was under water the temperature of Lake Superior. Exhilaration accomplished. Water filled my nose, eyes, ears and mouth and hit my brain stem. In that moment, gulping for air and bouncing to the surface, my first
thought was of a laid-up friend whose body won’t allow him to be dunked, and now I wanted to do it again, and again and again.
For the next 20 minutes, I was dunked a couple dozen times — by my old friend Paul Kaiser, my daughter Helen Heyer-Walsh, Kings co-owner Molly Barnes and Eve again, and again and again. The crowd oohed and aahed and old
and newfound frenemies went to the ATM machine to buy more tickets. My wife Jean stood in line but in the end refrained from getting her shots in for fear it might look like “a public flogging,” and she wasn’t talking Fifty Shades
Of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Nice work, my inner Olympian said as I descended the ladder with wobbly legs. It’s not everyone who gets invited to be made to look like a complete idiot for charity, and you seized it. But you can do better. Don’t forget this. Earn
Training started Monday. Wait’ll next year, 46th Street. Just to fair the fight up, I’m bringing squirt guns.