David Blaine: Drowned Alive? Part III

Freedive Manhattan!

Now for everybody, not just a media icon in a crystalline sphere. I rode the subway train to Lincoln Center today, and must have set some kind of world record myself. Serial static apnea, or maybe surreal static apnea – what one does when the train car is packed with sweating humanity and stinks, stinks, stinks.

David Is Experiencing Extreme Fatigue was the tag line for a full-throttle press conference this afternoon. Dr. Gunel and Kirk Krack faced the braying legion of reporters and delivered this news in several variations until, finally, all of them more or less got it. “It feels like I’m giving the State of the Union address”, Kirk told me later. “It’s like a wall of cameras, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FNC, BBC….” Yessir, if it pushes images and has a ‘C’ in the corporate acronym, it’s there.

Krack and Gunel left the microphones, but the media stayed on. The faces change – well, not much, really – but the cameras stay the same.  I huddled with Kirk and Martin, trying in vain to swindle them into disclosing the pulse oximeter reading they’d done on David, when a grip shouted down from the ramp. “ Yo, Kirk. Hands.” Kirk and Martin scrambled.


Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/DeeperBlue.net

Grips swung the rather sinister iron ladder into place, centering the platform above the hatch, which a grip popped open. Kirk and Martin were already halfway up the ladder when the word came down: David wants Vivianna !  A startled young woman sprang up from her folding chair in the crew pen and uncertainly made her way toward the sphere.

David Blaine’s hands are the first visible casualty of this enterprise. He’s having his gloves swapped and his hands moisturized and massaged at intervals of several hours now. This time he wanted his personal assistant, Vivianna Karamanis, on the platform and tending to his ravaged mitts.

Kirk, atop the platform and hovering over the crouching Vivianna, signaled to me. I climbed the ladder and peered over Vivianna’s crouching form, down into the sphere. David Blaine does not take his head out of the water during these maintenance sessions. His forearms leave the water, and Vivianna rubbed them gingerly.

Hands of a Corpse

These hands looked very much like those of a corpse I’d once seen pickled in a tub, awaiting transport to a proper morgue. It looked as though the flesh would simply fall off in chunks if Vivianna rubbed too hard.


Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/DeeperBlue.net


Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/DeeperBlue.net

And David Blaine is only 48 hours into the week-long stunt.

I must have been staring, slack-jawed, when Kirk snapped me out of it. “You’re the only media that’s been allowed up here”, he whispered. “Go on, get your pictures.”

The hatch stayed open, and David Blaine’s hands stayed in the air for about twenty minutes before Martin Stepanek re-gloved him and he sank back down. Blaine was back on the job instantly, pressing palms through the glass with the awe-struck spectators as they filed by. A toddler held up a crayoned sign: “ David We Believe In You”.  Martin lowered a plastic sack of red Gatorade into the sphere, and Blaine took a few sips through a tube.

Keeping it clean

The water in the sphere is held at 96 degrees Fahrenheit, circulated and heated by a massive pumping system in a nearby geodesic dome.


Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/DeeperBlue.net

David Blaine is spending calories to maintain his core temperature against that mild but non-zero thermal gradient. Extreme fatigue, they said. After losing fifty pounds in four months, fasting for a week before entering the sphere and now subsisting on an enhanced Gatorade regimen, one supposes that extreme fatigue is a somewhat understated description of the physiological carpet bombing David Blaine’s body is undergoing. Martin thought Dr. Ginel planned to draw blood later in the day. I can’t imagine the numbers will be comforting.

An electric guitarist is tuning up, playing licks. A vocalist chimes in, running up and down some blues scales. There’s entertainment every day at 4PM and 6 PM. The singer is a former street musician who’s now signed with a major label, a graduate, like Blaine, of the street school of the performing arts.

The crowd seems to hold at a fairly constant 100-150 outside the barriers, and files up the ramp to touch the sphere and interact with David Blaine. Some are somber, others giggly, others mildly curious. Most take photos or video.


Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/DeeperBlue.net

Earlier, as I approached Lincoln Center walking along West 63rd Street, I fell in behind a trio of Israeli tourists. Fashion mavens, dressed to the nines, chatting excitedly in Hebrew about boutiqueing, already overburdened with accessories. One caught a glimpse of the sphere as we approached Columbus Avenue. “ Oh! It’s the guy in the aquarium. Let’s go look!” she chirped. “Really, whatever for ?” sneered another. “These Americans ! They have nothing to do so they invent these things.”  Back to the serious business of trawling for prêt-à-porter. But they all looked anyway as they passed by.

The living dead

I asked Martin whether Michael Jackson had appeared, as had been rumored. No. There had, however, been two appearances by a sister of Usama Bin Laden, a friend, it seems, of David Blaine. Later I considered the possibility that David Blaine is, in fact, Usama Bin Laden: what better place to hide out than in a glass sphere on the plaza at Lincoln Center? Eh ? Who’d think to look for him there ?

But that’s silly, the product of a drowsy and overstimulated brain. Mine’s in that condition, to be sure. The Performance Freediving team members are several weeks farther down that path than I am, and David Blaine is on some other level entirely. I’m wondering how I’m going to last until the Monday, May 8 finale – and I’m sleeping in a proper bed.

The Performance Freediving team is at the sphere 24/7. Kirk  covers the 3PM -11PM shift, relieved by Mandy for the graveyard shift 11PM -7AM, and then Martin takes over from 7AM – 3PM.  When one’s shift is over, he is designated the backup and can go no farther than the crew trailer a short distance away, on call for another 8-hour shift. That leaves only 8 hours out of each 24 for a retreat to the team hotel.

It’s no wonder Vivianna Karamanis was summoned up the ladder to minister to David Blaine’s hands. She’s been Blaine’s PA for only three months, but is totally dedicated to the man and the project. “I started to cry when he climbed into the sphere”, she admitted. “I was terribly worried for him”.  Not any more, she said. Now she feels secure. He’s got great support from the Performance Freediving team, and she knows he’ll be okay. He seems happy and upbeat to her. Still, Vivianna is on site 24/7 for the entire week, catnapping in the trailer. All of Blaine’s people are like this:true believers.

A burly, business-suited security guard challenged me. Do I have an ID bracelet? I do not.  I’m with the divers, I said, pointing out the Deeper Blue logo on my hooded sweatshirt. No problem, he grinned. Like everyone I encountered at the venue he had a long list of questions about apnea, freediving and physiology. Any doubts I may have had about the positive yield of this event for freediving are rapidly being dispelled.

The mix of spectators varies with the time of day. Martin, oceanman that he is, quickly doped out the rhythm of the human tides. The suits come in the morning, on their way to work. Then the school kids, with their backpacks. The nurses come when the shift changes at a nearby hospital. College students after that. Then more school kids, and another wave of suits. And at night ? Martin grinned. “That’s when it gets interesting. The drunks, all kinds of strange New York wildlife.”


Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/DeeperBlue.net

The buzz is definitely spreading around. The first day had competition from the nationwide immigrant protests, followed by two days of Israeli holidays in the most Jewish of American cities. But the word is out. As I journeyed from an outlying quarter into Manhattan, ambled about the city center, and then trained and bussed out to Queens, there was never a time when I was out of sight of a newspaper with the Blaine event prominently on display, or out of earshot from a conversation about the event. When I left Lincoln Center I cut through Central Park to soothe my country boy’s nerves – to no avail, as the strollers’ mobile phones were running at capacity and the talk all seemed to be about the man in the glass ball of water.

There’s More!

Read more coverage of the David Blaine event from Paul in our David Blaine: Drowned Alive? Special Feature Series and check out the Photo Gallery and Audio Interviews!