The Middle Ages: We try to wash away some of the sadness with a playful polar plunge


The holidays are pretty much over. Now the challenge is to find a dress shirt that fits the fresh coils of Christmas goose that encircle my neck like a scarf. Or a pair of pants that doesn’t punish my squishy middle.

At our house, we don’t rush to pack away our little Bethlehem. We postpone the cleanup, stretch out when we take down the tree. Might be today, might be three months from now.

After all, I’m the guy with an aunt back in Chicago who kept her plastic tree up all year, just to enjoy the puzzled reactions of visitors when they spotted it in August.


Obviously, for some families Christmas is a form of mental illness.

How else do you explain my fixation with the Pentatonix?

How else do you explain that, on Christmas Eve, I lingered at my local Starbucks for an extra 30 minutes, just to hear total strangers wish each other “Merry Christmas”?

For me, it was a soft lullaby during a very hard season for us. Maybe I just need to admit I’m a broken idiot and move on.

“Such a dork!” a Twitter follower teased when I confessed to the Starbucks moment.

For the record, dorks are incapable of snappy comebacks.

Look, I’m done apologizing for anything anymore, even the Pentatonix, to some degree. I’ll argue till I’m blue in the face that they are the best cheeseball musical performers since Barry Manilow.

Next topic? Whatever happened to novels you devoured? Or full-sized parking spaces?

More on those another time.

Speaking of blue in the face, we took a polar bear plunge in Mother Ocean just before New Year’s. It wasn’t merely a recreational swim either; it was a cleansing, a baptism, a splashy self-sermon.

It was over in about a minute, which I’ll admit is rather quick. Keep in mind I have a cold and grieving heart that is barely beating. These days, blood barely reaches the tips of my ears.

No one wore a Santa hat to our big plunge, and no one had to smash away the ice with the shovel, as they do in New York and Boston, where taking a winter plunge makes no sense at all, unless you’re courting heart attacks and pneumonia.


The temperature of the Pacific that day was a brisk 58 degrees, cold for us, but balmy most anywhere else. When the water temp hits 58 in Chicago, they show up with their Speedos and a case of Pabst.

On this chilly evening, there were four of us, plus a small entourage of hangers-on curious about who would do such an unpleasant thing, in the middle of a nice cocktail party at Verge’s little beach shack near the Jonathan Club.

We missed the sunset, but the cotton candy afterglow lasted forever. The actual swimming? In minutes, we were back in Verge’s hot tub, eating s’mores and toasting the kind of courage that doesn’t come along every day.

“It really wasn’t that bad,” Siskin noted.

“Not bad at all,” agreed Nathan.

“Boys, that’s not how we play this,” I tell them. “We tell people that it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done.”

My buddies seemed taken with this approach, being that they reside in L.A., where seasonal hardships are difficult to come by. I mean, when was the last time you pushed a Buick out of a snowdrift?


“You know, I think I lost a couple of toes,” I announce, and the entourage — not as supportive as you might hope — all rolled their eyes.

What a strange group it was. The little guy was there — like Calvin and Hobbes, we’re each other’s therapists these days, tight as toast and butter.

The lovely and patient older daughter was there too, as was my pal Miller, who is like a big brother to me in these difficult times … a scoldy, difficult-to-please tyrant … yet still a mensch.

Verge was there — he’s everywhere — as was his daughter Malia, and a bunch of her buddies back from their first semester at college. Talk about baptisms. Talk about heartfelt homecomings.

Imagine an L.A. kid going away to school in Philly, then coming home to celebrate Christmas at this playful Shangri-La on the coast? We’re a little unfinished out here, without the polished brass and antique crystal of the East Coast. But still …

According to the pundits, California is either a total mess, or the most splendid place on the planet. Individual results may vary.


But right now, I’ll go with splendid. In January, the slanted sunlight is cinematic, and the air smells like Audrey Hepburn.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer,” Albert Camus once brayed.

New year, new experiences. Dive right in.

Twitter: @erskinetimes