Monday, July 22, 2024
HomeFreedivingDavid Blaine: Drowned Alive? Part V

David Blaine: Drowned Alive? Part V

I finally heard English spoken in the New York City subway system.


Hodadowahhodadowah !  Today, as the F train was about to pull out of the RockefellerCenter station, the meaning became clear: Hold The Door. All New Yorkers think trains should be held just for them, personally. Self-centered? That’s why this town’s so nuts – it’s in 7 million different orbits around 7 million different people all at once.

But in New York, it’s not what you hear – it’s what you overhear. The crowd in orbit around the Drowned Alive! event is so large today that I’ve got to make my way to the barrier by way of the  Avery Fisher concert hall lobby.

David Blaine on big screen
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Inside, the ambient sound is whispers and murmurs, the lingua franca of high art. The carnival around David Blaine can be seen – must be seen, through the immense glass panes of the lobby walls – but it is not heard.  Instead, I overhear two middle-aged, sleek, exceedingly well-groomed men strolling the marble floor together. “… no, not today”, one is saying. “He’s going to come out on Monday”.  The other man giggles and tosses his shaven, bearded head. “What a way to come out ! Imagine, if you finally decided to come out, and find someone nice, and then when you do you say ‘Hi there, let’s go spend some time together in a transparent bubble full of warrrrrrrm water!’ ”. On to Carmina Burana.

So everybody in the city knows about it.

The New York City Ballet lobby espresso bar, a devastatingly fashionable young couple (she, a skeleton in a black sheath, he all Wall-Street-Saturday) eyes concert programs. He drones on: “ … the CIA director resigned unexpectedly, Kennedy’s son the Congressman had to turn himself into the Mayo Clinic, spot gold closed at over six-eight-two, Tony Blair –” No! his companion cuts him short, not looking up. Really ! But what about the man in the bubble? “.

The Man in the Bubble is feeling great today, best yet according to his Physician to the Stars. In fact, not content to be the subject of a television spectacular, David Blaine’s got hold of a TV camera inside the sphere and is busy shooting footage of his visitors.

David Blaine with TV Cam
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Adapting the body

I wonder aloud whether this apparent phase shift in David Blaine’s adaptation to the sphere bodes well or ill for his return to earth. Dr. Ruden allows as to how it may well make re-entry all the more stressful.

This reminds me of something I learned as a doctoral student thirty years ago and thirty blocks uptown, but I can’t quite recall the term. Adaptive stress syndrome ? Something like that. Organisms under stress seem to suddenly and thoroughly adapt, but are actually in self-destruct mode.

In another time, two weeks in the combat zone and I’d told my commander I was very nervous and couldn’t sleep. That’s normal, he’d assured me. A few weeks later, I’d told him I felt fine, was sleeping like a baby and generally serene. “You were better off before,” he sighed. “Now, your body is eating itself alive.” I was 33 then, as David Blaine is now…

Mandy floats by as I reminisce. It must be late afternoon, I think. She’s on her way to the trailer to grab some sleep before going on as primary safety at 11 PM. “Hey!” she calls to me.  “Get yourself up and check it out around 4 AM. We’ve got a whole crowd of cross-dressers, Goths and vampires who come every night.” She disappears with a wave. Vampires ? I glance at the sphere. I wonder what they see when they look at David Blaine in the water. Soup ?

Kirk and Martin appear, sit with me by the fountains for a while, then disappear on the run after a devastatingly beautiful young Personal Assistant barks curt orders at them. “Meeting! You ! And you, too !”  Drowned Alive! is not a static event. Keeping it going requires  something between a company and a battalion of human beings: 174 at last count on the official roster. Shelly Ross is the commander, the executive producer for ABC who makes all these disparate moving parts operate together. She refers to Kirk, Martin and Mandy as Our Dream Team. Dream Team? “Yes!” is her ruling. Why? “They know their stuff, they can deal with the media, and they’re fairly good looking”.

Fairly good looking ?”, Kirk pouts. I remind him it could be worse. He could have ended up in politics instead, politics being show business for ugly people.

Stand back people!

The crowd around the sphere is now simply huge. The plaza is full. New arrivals are nearly falling off the edges. The line to mount the ramp and  Interact With David Blaine! is now thirty minutes long, even with two lanes running and time at the sphere severely limited by men who seem to have stepped out of an espionage thriller.

Martin is slightly apprehensive about the prospects for crowd control Monday night, the climactic ending for live network television. So is one of the top security men, a former US Marine and present New York Deputy Sheriff. “I’m supposed to be off Monday night”, he tells me solemnly,”But I may have to come in here on my own time and help”. This is New York, after all. A city which lost some three thousand people when attacked just five years ago. Paramilitary forces have moved through the event venue, helmets, automatic weapons in tactical slings.

Has Robert DeNiro been here today? That’s the question. I don’t know, why ask me? I suppose my props suggest I Know Things. I carry a black journal and a pen. Robert DeNiro or virtually anyone else could well have been here and gone unnoticed.

Standing in the secured crew area next to the sphere, I exchanged a few words with a very pregnant youngish woman with big sunglasses. “Paul!” Kirk called to me from the other side of the pen. I excused myself and walked over to him. “That’s Rachel Weisz” he whispered. I looked back. Rachel Weisz was smiling, childlike, and waving to David Blaine. I don’t know who Rachel Weisz is. Kirk is exasperated by my socially-crippling ignorance of pop culture. “She was in The Mummy !”. More chaos – I don’t know there’s a film so titled, and think he’s referring to the woman’s delicate condition. Martin has to intervene and restore order.

The communicator

But Pat Smith already knows pretty much everything. He’s the publicist in charge, the orchestrator of all media, the communicator. Pat is the consummate professional, and a walking encyclopedia. He knows who’s who, and what’s what. Anything I need to know, I ask Pat.  When Deeper Blue goes breakthrough and I need a public relations man, Pat’s the guy I’ll be calling.

David Blaine & Pat Smith
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center has been totally transformed since I left it 12 hours earlier. Huge scaffolds everywhere, arrays of massive loudspeakers, a camera crane and a giant video display screen have been erected, and more’s coming. The Monday night finale is only some 50 hours away now, and preparations are in full swing.

David Blaine writing slate on big screen
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Free Willy

The Dean of Underwater Imagery (and director of Ocean Men) is on the set, snapping stills,  shooting video and scoping out the geometry. Bob Talbot shot the footage for the event promos, down in Grand Cayman with David Blaine during Sink Faze training in March.

David Blaine - Bob Talbot
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Bob’s in high spirits, digging it all. He’s filmed an awful lot of underwater man-hours, but this is the first time he’s filmed a diver diving on dry land – and in the heart of Manhattan.

David Blaine - Bob Talbot with Blaine
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Somebody orders the ramps cleared, the public held back from the sphere. Requests for cooperation boom out over the now-thermonuclear wattage PA system. The water fountains shut down. In short order, the area around the sphere is eerily silent.

Up Close and Personal

I tread gingerly up the deserted ramp. David’s isolation is suddenly too stark, and I am drawn toward the lonely man in the bubble. We’re all alone there, just he and I.

David Blaine - Paul Kotik
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

I press my chest to the sphere’s acrylic wall. David sees the logo on my shirt, and becomes very animated. Thumbs up! The okay sign! High five! There’s a microphone beside me, and a loudspeaker inside the sphere, but we’re like two old dive buddies. No need for words. David Blaine is a real waterman. Our eyes meet and converse. David points to the logo on my shirt and we exchange another round of thumbs-up.

Then I realize the little vignette is anything but intimate – it’s a tight shot on the giant video screen.

David Blaine - Paul Kotik on big screen
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

For, live at Lincoln Center, this is Paul Kotik. Good night.

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!

Paul Kotik
Paul Kotik
Paul Kotik has been a Staff Writer and Freediving Editor for He lives in Florida, USA with his family.