Benchwarming: A Sit-Down Tour of New York City
Don't just do something, sit there.
-- Zen Proverb
The Wrong Way Regatta
A string of benches in Central Park follow the east
shore of the rowing pond, just north of the graceful Bow Bridge. If you spend 45 minutes sitting
on one of these benches, I can promise that you'll
leave with an enhanced sense of self-esteem.
It won't be the kind of self-esteem that follows accomplishment, nor the sort you might
acquire after ten years sitting on a saggy psychiatrist's couch. No, this is a quick hit of good feelings with a half-life in ratio to your time spent on
the bench; it is a rush of superiority that comes at
the expense of others' inadequacies. But at least
To achieve this therapeutic effect, you need
to know the basic law that governs the act of rowing a small boat. I apologize to those readers for
whom this lesson is unnecessary. The law is thus:
Always row facing the stern of the boat. Although
this makes it difficult to see where you're headed,
it is the only way you will return to the boathouse
without losing the full use of your back and arms.
If you row facing the bow, you have to push
the flat, stern end of the boat through the water.
This activity is the equivalent of cutting day-old
bread with the flat side of a knife -- but on a much
grander scale. If you row facing the bow, you'll check
several times to make sure you're not dragging an
anchor. You'll curse your gym -- with its exorbitant
monthly fees -- for it has seemingly done nothing to
increase your strength or endurance. And even so,
you still won't be able to see in which direction your
boat is headed.
It's fortunate for those of us on shore that not
all mariners are privy to this ancient secret of the
waves; it is from this ignorance that flows the
esteem-plumping quality of these remarkable
benches. So sit down, get comfortable, and let the
serotonin reuptake inhibition begin.
Watch the muscle-bound hunk wearing a tank
top row facing the bow. He gives each stroke enough
thrust to burst the tribal tattoos inked around each
of his biceps. His girlfriend, sunning herself in a
prone position, is oblivious to massive energy he
exerts to force the boat forward at a rate of 20 yards
And not far off, an overloaded boat circles like
driftwood, unable to free itself from a feeble eddy
that pulls it ashore not five yards from our perch.
At its helm, a slight man in a sweat soaked T-shirt
is wrong-way rowing with all his might. His face is
cherry red; his trembling arms make slow, shallow
gashes in the water. Will we rise from our bench
and offer him the simple guidance that will release
him from this agony?
Sure -- we could. But we must consider the
embarrassment our meddling would inflict. Nothing
is more important to a man than his pride, after all.
No, it's better not to interfere with the ecosystem
of the lake. And much more fun, too. We must only
hope that someone on board knows CPR.
But wait! A boat emerges from behind a grassy
island. Its pilot faces the bow, but somehow his craft
cuts forward through the water. Has this intrepid
seaman reversed the laws of backward rowing?
Relax: He's facing forward, but his strokes are re-
versed. He uses his powerful pull stroke to with-
draw the oars from the water and then engages
his much weaker push strokes to power the craft
forward. This technique will suffuse his arms with
muscle-deadening lactic acid in less than 25 yards.
Shortly, this guy will require a pond patrol rescue
and will have to rely on someone else to comb his
hair for the next few days. But he did give our egos
a scare for one brief, terrifying moment.
But then we fall back into our euphoric state,
watching a dad rowing his young son across the
still waters. Dad shows his boy the finer points
of wrong-way rowing and we smile as they inch
across the pond, comforted by the knowledge
that the next generation is being groomed for our
amusement. We are assured that these benches will
always provide a place for us to bask in a heady, if
undeserved, sense of superiority.
Article © Barry Udoff. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-09-23