This past spring, I finally read “The Swimmer,” John Cheever’s classic short story about post-war alienation, male angst and chlorine. In the story, the slightly tipsy Neddy decides to swim home from a party, house to house, pool to pool. In the end, he comes home to an empty house, symbolizing the emptiness of his life, not to mention the futility of masculinity in the face of impending middle age.
But you can bet your Bacardi that the next day around the water cooler Neddy was all, “Dudes! I totally swam home last night!” Except he wouldn’t have said “dudes” and “totally” because this was the early sixties. Instead he would have said, “Odds bodkins!” and “verily” or whatever they said before slang was invented.
This is what happens to a man in his forties. No matter how burdened he is by the wrecks of relationships and failed schemes, the ability to still pull off a dumb-ass stunt is pretty sweet.
I thought of “The Swimmer” this week when I read that a Windsor, Ontario man – drunk, naturally, because what else is there to do in Windsor? – decided to take a late-night swim across the Detroit River. To Detroit. He swam from Canada. To another country!
Given that Detroit just declared bankruptcy, you would think people would be swimming away from Detroit, but John Morillo swam to Detroit and back. And then he got arrested.
At first I thought to myself, “Dang fool,” because that’s what I say now that I’m over 45; I lower my whittlin’ stick, spit some chaw and say “dang” and “dagnabbit.”
But then I looked at the story more closely (with my good, non-weepy eye) and saw that John Morillo is 47 years old. That’s the same age as me! Suddenly, this was the most exciting news I’d heard all week, far more exciting than any royal birth. After all, anyone can have a baby. Well, 50 percent of the population can’t. But still, how many international rivers has the prince formerly known as “Prince” swum across? Zero!
The big deal isn’t that Morillo crossed the river, especially since in doing so he violated territorial laws, triggered a police search, got arrested, was fined $6000 and is banned from the Windsor waterfront (which quite frankly sounds less like a punishment than a relief). Even Morillo himself admitted he was “really stupid,” to which I’d like to add “really gross”; I mean, the Detroit River!
The big deal is the fact that this guy is old. Not “old” old but certainly too old for a frat-boy stunt like this. But swimming to Detroit had been Morillo’s longtime dream. And encouraged by his mates and far too many beers, he achieved his dream this week. As a fellow 47er, this gives me hope.
You must understand that when you’re in your mid- to late forties, you start to wonder whether your best days are behind you. Sure, you might not have peaked as a complainer, but you do ask yourself whether you’ll ever again find true greatness or the remote.
John Morillo – swimmer, braggart, future bait-shop-grand-opening ribbon-cutter – he reminds us that 47 is the new… well, it’s still 47 but that doesn’t mean one’s best works are past.
Beethoven began writing his ninth symphony at age 47. He was stone deaf and grumpy but, boy, could he swing!
What else has been achieved at 47? Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities. Hugh Hefner: a romp with two Bunnies.
Charlie Sheen is 47 and he’s doing well.
And now John Morillo. He didn’t say, “I’m too old” or “I can’t do it” or “I probably shouldn’t swim in international shipping lanes.” He said, “I can do it,” although after eight beers it was probably more like, “Ahkaddooi’…”
So here’s to you, John Morillo and your Cheever-esque shenanigans. Thank you for reminding me that, despite my age, I too may achieve greatness, though hopefully not accompanied by the phrase “alcohol may have been a factor.”