NEW YORK'S INSOUCIANT HEAT-WAVE OLYMPICS

On a hot tip from a co-worker I skipped lunch, grabbed the camera bag and rushed the seven blocks from our office to a long fountain in front of the Chase Bank building on Sixth Avenue and 50th Street in midtown Manhattan. No signs were needed to attract the already swollen crowd; everyone seemed to know that this was the place to be.

Being in the know in a flash mob is the delightful part--it's what sets one apart from the cops and security guards. For a precious moment, we all knew that things were about to get confusing for them.

Friday, August 14th at 1pm marked the opening event of the Midtown Games: Olympics, and was attended primarily by the city's punch-drunk, heat-stroked interns. With the blare of a foghorn the crowd closed in like a shield, trumpets sang out "Eye of the Tiger" and five swimmers in Speedos and caps leapt into the burbly water of a decorative fountain to swim its 50 metres or so in elegant racing style. A cheerleader of ambiguous gender danced on the sidelines. Confetti was thrown on the dripping champions. The winner was proclaimed with chants of "USA, USA!" and then the racers disappeared into the folds of the crowd. By the time the police, the building officials and 20 amused rent-a-cops were ready to break it all up, not a swimsuit or medal was to be seen; everyone else was a mere bystander.  By 1:04pm it was time to get back to work. (See the film below.)

A Greek math teacher once told me a story of jumping into the great "fountain of Athens" while fully clothed on a swelteringly hot day. He had done it, he proclaimed, on a dare, a dare from a woman, on the first day he arrived home after many years of living abroad. In his story the onlookers succumb to his heated hysteria--they jump in behind him and splash around until the police either pull them out or wade in themselves. I forget the ending.

We have been promised a second Midtown Game, and a third and fourth, but where or when is so secret I'm afraid I might miss them. After the inaugural event wound down a man approached me and asked if I was "from the journal". I didn't have a clever response so I said no. He saw the camera and asked if I'd recorded the event, and I nodded. He grinned and leaned in, "I was a swimmer.  You didn't recognize me in the cap".  He was fully dry and clothed, with a bicycle helmet, but he tugged on his shorts with his thumb to reveal the edge of a wet Speedo. Then he started walking south. 
 

 ~ COLIN BAKER