Assignment : Jump into Puget Sound, Stop Global Warming
posted by December 11 at 10:00 AMon
Kristin Wheeler, a community organizer for Greenpeace, contacted me because she wanted me to jump, in my underwear, into Puget Sound with a polar bear as part of a global-warming awareness campaign called “Keep Winter Cold.”
I drove to Alki Beach on Saturday and looked for Kristin and her activist friends who would be jumping into Puget Sound with me. I found them across the street from Tully’s, near the statue of liberty, huddled in groups and shivering. The icy cold wind was blowing hard, whipping people’s hoods into their faces, causing tears to stream down their cheeks, and snot to pour out of their noses.
Kristin stood on a picnic table and announced to the crowd, “I’m so glad you all are here! Welcome to the polar bear run!” There was silence except for the low howl of the wind. “Again, Greenpeace is not responsible…” Kristin stammered a bit, apparently forgetting the next line, “…if you have a heart condition or other medical conditions, please jump into the water at your own risk,” she finished.
What was most notable about Kristin’s speech was what she didn’t tell us: the reason why jumping into a body of water in December would advance the case for stricter laws against polluters, better gas mileage for cars, and less reliance on foreign oil. A polar bear falling through melted ice would make for a more coherent visual, I thought to myself.
“Where’s the bear?” I asked Kristin. “He couldn’t come today,” she said to me, rushing to grab a Greenpeace banner. She didn’t recognize me.
“Are you from Cornish?” a young woman with braided hair asked me. “You look familiar. Were you at the Gilead bomb drop?”
Gilead who-see, what-so? I was flattered this woman thought me an activist. Was it my expensive jacket and cashmere scarf that gave it away? I told her no, I had no idea what she was talking about, and I asked her why she was jumping into Puget Sound in the middle of the winter. “I don’t know, because it’ll be fun.” Fun? Staging a public musical against global warming would be fun. Dying of hypothermia, less so. I asked her if she was concerned about her immune system. No no, of course not. “This is our Everest,” her friend said.
People started taking their clothes off. It was really a sight to see, all of them undressing. The crowd all had onesies, Speedos, and swimming trunks underneath their clothes. I was wearing teal American Apparel briefs I’d bought with my friends on a dare. I undid my jeans a bit as the wind forced tears down my cheek. I was crying and undressing at the same time, which was fitting because I really didn’t want anyone to see me in my inappropriately sexy underwear.
I went back to the picnic table with my undone jeans and looked for someone as terrified of pneumonia as I was. I instantly bonded with the Greenpeace intern. She didn’t want to jump into the water either but felt pressure to do it from her boss. She looked miserable and cold. I asked her to join me in my new plan: sabotaging the assignment, pissing off Kristin, and watching from the sidelines. The young woman laughed uncomfortably and looked at me with awe and just a bit of jealousy. I felt like a real rebel.
Before I knew it, some men started yelling “aAHHAhh!” and everyone ran down the stairs, onto the beach, and into Puget Sound. I watched from the picnic table as they screamed and held on to each other in the water, shivering in rapid spasms. I felt a bit left out, and wondered if I had missed an opportunity to make new (weird) friends. Mostly, though, I felt relieved no one could see my body hair.
Afterward, I pushed my way into a picture with a particularly attractive activist. “Wow, we did it!” I said to him. “Yeah man,” he responded, apparently failing to see all the clothes I was wearing.
This was when Kristin finally recognized me, just as I was unfairly sharing the limelight with a real activist. “Steven! You didn’t jump in!” she yelled. “I know,” I said to her, “I thought everyone would be wearing underwear… and…” I really had no excuse.
“This is what you get,” Kristin said to me in a mock-angry tone and hugged me with her wet swimsuit. I was surprised she was not more upset; I had completely ignored the assignment and I hadn’t helped her at all. Actually, I had been working against her, preying on weak activists and instilling them with self-doubt .
But Kristin was too busy to really care. She left me to look at all the pictures her friend had taken, and I stood alone for a moment, lightly coated in her sweaty fishy water, and looked out at the beautiful Olympic Mountains and the blue waters of Puget Sound. And that’s when I realized something: it was really fucking cold and I wanted to go home.
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