I went boating tonight.

It wasn't exactly like this. The picture on the left makes me think of You've come a long way, baby, which was an ad for cigarettes that strongly and delicately gave women cancer. As opposed to Marlboros and Marlboro men.

I was in a motorized rowboat or non-rowboat with the coach of about a dozen women who'd had breast cancer and who were rowing two skinny boats with long oars. Skinny skinny boats. I had no idea. There were coxswains facing them, giving instruction from the front of the boat while the women rowed and went backwards. This is crew. This is rowing. We were on the dirty Chicago River, with styrofoam cups and all kinds of jetsam floating on it. We were out in Nature, it seemed sort of, because there were trees lining the banks or at the banks, but there was unidentifiable trash hanging from the branches, and there were also walls along the banks, as in Don't hit the wall! There was the smell of gasoline (from our boat) and an industrial polluted smell from all the industry alongside the river--mounds of gravel, rusty bridges, smokestacks, a crane that was picking up pieces of metal and stacking them into a boxcar--but also you could see the Sears Tower and annoying cookie-cutter brick houses. It was quite wonderful. If I had been out in real nature, I don't know how I would have felt. Frightened of the void? Maybe. Here there was no void, really the opposite of void.

The women are part of Recovery on Water, which I found out about a week or so ago. I want to join it and the first thing you do is observe, then work out on an erg or ergometer, a rowing machine in a gym. Some of them were wearing compression sleeves over their arms to keep from getting lymphedema; one of them got lymphodema years after surgery, the coach said. That scared me, because I thought I was immune to it, that I had passed the danger zone. Apparently not.

The coach is a young woman who hasn't had cancer. She coaches at a Catholic school, and some of the boys on her team rowed with the women. They did it originally for community service points, but J the coach says she thinks they've gone beyond the required hours. One of the boys was the coxswain, facing the rowers and giving instruction with some electronic gizmo transmitting his words to all of them. From our boat, the coach yelled things, like Lean back, lean forward, push, don't get the black part of the oar in the water, keep your arms straight, and beautiful when someone did well. I thought of a man I know in the suburbs who goes out in a kayak every morning and the way he described it I could tell he loved it and found serenity and sublimity on the water in the early morning light. One Saturday years ago I was in a kayak with a friend who loved kayaking. We launched from the Rogers Park beach and lots of water got in the very tiny boat and I couldn't understand why the boat was so small. If it were larger we wouldn't have gotten all the water on us. These kayaks were in the lake, which is much cleaner than the river. Though with all the muck in the river there were still fishermen today standing on a bridge and I suppose planning to eat what they caught.

It looked more like this. Image (c) Ignacius Chicago Crew
I kept wanting to get into one of those crew boats and try out rowing and thought about some certificate I got in summer camp asserting that I had achieved one level or the other in Canoeing. I liked Canoeing and Fishing because you got to sit down. Everyone says now that kids are coddled and that every kid gets a trophy and they get inflated ideas about their worth, and it was never like that before, but back in the 1960s and 1970s at summer camp we got certificates for everything. I got one for having the funniest little skit on Titanic Night. (Why we sang the Titanic song and dressed as hapless passengers is beyond me.) That was my most successful experience at summer camp. My sojourn lasted two days. I got mumps and spent a lovely afternoon in the infirmary, waiting for my parents to pick me up while I read Pollyanna and watched the denatured skunk who lived there.

After that, camp was downhill.