Nine Lives

It’s always been held that cats have nine lives, but a friend of mine, affectionately known as the Cat, must be close to running out.  Just how much longer he’ll be around is beginning to worry me.

He’s been the Cat since well before we both retired, and almost no one calls him by his real name—if they even remember it.  The reasons for the nickname are long-forgotten, although he claims to remember.

“Just look at how I move,” he says.  “I’ve got the grace and power of a big cat.”

big cat

Sometimes he stumbles as he says this.

I was telling some new friends recently about my old pal, a guy who lurches through life’s little lessons, always landing on his feet.  At least, that’s how he sees it.  He’s always boasting of how he demonstrates the feline reflexes and agility that only the truly-gifted athletes have.

Such claims are usually accompanied by a sheepish grin, following, for example, a frantic scramble to retrieve the food he has just spilled off his plate at the buffet table.

My friends were fascinated by my tales of the Cat’s adventures, if somewhat disbelieving.  They asked if he were still alive, and enquired about the escapades he’s endured.  I obliged them by relating a few—all true, as sure as I’m sitting here now.

After deciding to spend winters in the south with his long-suffering wife, he began to participate again in many of the athletic endeavours he had previously given up.  With wanton disregard for the years that have passed, he threw himself recklessly into everything.

For example, there was the time a group of us were playing in an oldtimers’ slow-pitch tournament.  We were there, more for a good time than to win.  Hence, the Cat was batting fourth in our lineup, rather than last.

When he stepped up for his first turn at the plate, he swung so hard at the pitch lobbed by him that we thought he’d screw himself into the dirt.  But, the Cat wasn’t phased.

“What—a—ripple!” he declared admiringly, unwinding himself awkwardly from the bat.  “Did ya see the power behind that swing?  Panther-power, just like a cat!”  He struck out on the next two pitches, but with a mighty swing both times.

Later in the game, however, the Cat did make it to first base—after being hit by a pitch he couldn’t twist away from.  On his way down the line, he attempted to imitate the pigeon-toed run immortalized by Babe Ruth, but with mixed results.  It looked fine until he tripped on an untied shoelace and fell.

safe

“I was gonna try out my home-run trot,” he explained later, “except I remembered I don’t have one.  But, I hope you guys noticed how gracefully I slid into first base when y’all thought I had tripped.  Every move is planned!”

Following our final game of the day, we adjourned to the community pool for a swim, a few drinks, and a cook-out.  The Cat was thirsty, but he didn’t stay that way for long.  By the time we got around to eating, he had definitely been over-served.

Sitting fully erect on an aluminum lawn chair, the fold-up kind, he was holding a plateful of food in his hands.  With glazed eyes and a fixed smile, he stared straight ahead, lips moving wordlessly.  Then, ever so slowly, he toppled sideways, out of his overturning chair, and on to the grass.  Incredibly, he never tipped his plate!  Didn’t spill a morsel!

“I wish I’d been there to see that,” the Cat said later.  “I’m sure I handled it gracefully, just like a cat!”

His full day ended with a swim in the pool, something else he doesn’t really remember.  He was walking back and forth across the shallow end, bent over with his face in the water, wearing a face-mask and snorkel.  The Cat likes to take great risks like that.

Inevitably, he stepped into the area where the pool-floor slopes down to the deep end.  He sank like a stone.  When he bobbed back to the surface, still face down, he drew a huge, shuddering breath through the snorkel tube.

That marked the onset of a great thrashing and splashing, punctuated by whooping and coughing, and wild flapping of arms.  The tube, of course, had filled up with water.

snorkel

It took six of us to get the Cat out of the pool, still clutching the mask and snorkel when we deposited him on the grass.  After a few moments of laboured breathing, he grinned up at the crowd staring down at him.

“Notice how I managed to grab the snorkel before it sank?” he sputtered.  “Just like a cat-fish!”

On another occasion, when we all went roller-skating (some of us wearing inline skates), the Cat sailed onto the floor with great abandon.  He managed to remain upright as long as he was moving forward, but turning was another matter entirely.  Over the first few minutes, he became intimately acquainted with every corner of the skating arena.

His tour de force happened when he was resting for a few minutes, leaning on a railing that separated the main floor from the rest area.  Suddenly, the roller skates on both feet shot forward from under him, plunging him straight down.  His underarms and chin caught on the rail, and he hung there for a moment, legs outstretched, before dropping to the floor.

When he recovered enough to speak, he croaked, “Did ya see how I caught myself there, before I hit the floor?  Like a cat!”

Unbelievably, these were only some of the escapades from which he’s emerged relatively unscathed.  Several years ago, he went river-rafting with his son and a few other lunatics.  One of their favourite activities as they went careening through the white-water rapids, was to fill the bailing-buckets and toss water at each other.

As it was told to me, the Cat forgot to hold on to the bucket on one toss, and it hit another rafter squarely on the shoulder, toppling him out of the raft.  The Cat was quick, though.  With blinding speed, he lunged for his unfortunate victim, missed him by the slimmest of margins, and followed him over the side.

After much floundering and flailing, punctuated by surges of pure panic, the other rafters managed to pluck the two of them from the river.  The Cat was jubilant.

finishing-the-rafting-adventure

“Notice how I went right in after him?” he crowed.  “There was no time to lose!  Poor guy coulda drowned!  Instant response, no hesitation, quick as a cat!”

My favourite of his adventures, however, happened up north, on a winter weekend several years back.  A group of us had gathered at a friend’s farm to boot about on his snowmobiles.

I’m not sure the Cat had driven a snowmobile before, but he approached his designated machine with even more confidence than he usually shows.  Leaping aboard, perhaps assuming it had a neutral gear, he gunned the throttle.  The machine shot forward, the Cat’s head snapped back, and his helmet dropped down over his eyes.  Clawing at it to push it up, he realized he was headed directly for a parked car.

His car!

With his famed, cat-like reflexes, he yanked the handlebars hard to the right, missing the car by a whisker.  As he pulled, however, he fully depressed the throttle under his thumb, and that was his undoing.

Recalling it later, our host said, “He turned away from the car, alright, but then accelerated straight into a tree!  I never saw anything like it!”

snowmobile

The tree put a stop to the brief, wild ride.  The Cat kept moving after the snowmobile stopped, of course, smashing into the cowling and windshield.  Bruises on his chest and a couple of muscle strains were the lasting effects of his thirty-foot expedition.

“Guess I’ve bought a snowmobile,” he observed ruefully, surveying the wreckage later.  He lapsed into rueful silence for awhile, but then brightened considerably.

“Did you guys see how fast I reacted when everybody thought I was gonna hit my car?  I turned that sucker in the nick of time, cool as a big cat!  Every move is planned.”

The Cat’s friends, and they are many, figure he has maybe two of his nine lives left, if that.  We all hope they’re charmed.

Like them, I love the Cat.  But, given his predilection for tempting fate, I make a point of never standing too close to him.

Who Let the Skunk In?

My friend has a house on a large, rural lot on the outskirts of a northern Ontario town.  He spends a good deal of time hunting, trapping, and disposing of the various critters that also inhabit his property. Whenever we visit, it’s comical to watch him stalking his prey, regardless of its size.

Black flies, mosquitoes, deer flies, and assorted other pesky bugs are pursued if they’re inside the house, and swatted if he can catch them.  And he does kill a goodly number; we’ve all seen the splatters left on the window panes.

swatting

He always tells his wife to wash them off, but after a raised-eyebrow glance from her, he ends up doing that job himself.

Mice and chipmunks are trapped or poisoned when they become a nuisance, particularly if they nest in the garage (which adjoins the house) or the workshed (which accommodates tools and lawn equipment).

My friend prefers that his wife empty the traps when some poor critter takes the bait, but she always demurs.  Forcefully, not politely.

Raccoons and groundhogs are fond of burrowing beneath his shed.  They’re live-trapped as a first option, carefully transported some distance away, far on the other side of town, and released.  But, he swears they come back, even claims to recognize them.  We’ve suggested he buy a spray-can of fluorescent paint to mark them, just to check out his theory.

His second option, if the varmints prove too canny to enter the traps, is to shoot them with his .22 calibre rifle.  This sounds to me like a dubious tactic, even though he lives outside the town boundaries; but, apparently, it’s not particularly dangerous.  After all, my friend is a crack-shot—or so he tells us.  We occasionally call him Elmer Fudd, but never to his face.

Elmer Fudd

But, he’s probably right, because once a month or so, usually around dusk, he pops one as it feeds in the garden, contemptuous of the lettuce or bacon bits placed enticingly in one of the traps.  The reason why this killing of nocturnal raiders is the second option is that the carcass has to be disposed of.  Quickly.

My friend prefers that his wife look after that, too, but…well, you can imagine how that works out.

His latest escapade took these hunting adventures to a new low, however—and I swear this is exactly what he told me.  While making himself a sandwich after coming home from the office for lunch a few months ago, he saw a skunk digging grubs out of his back lawn.  Although dressed for work, he was unfazed by the prospect of being dosed by its powerful scent.  Charging out the door, he ran at the skunk, stopped ten feet or so from it, and made loud, shoo-ing noises.

As he tells it, the skunk took up a defensive posture, facing him, and stood its ground.  So, my friend went to his shed, grabbed a short piece of two-by-four, and threw it at the critter.  He missed, but the skunk must have got the drift, because it turned and waddled toward the end of the yard, tail raised disdainfully in the air.

skunk 2

Trying to hurry it along and discourage it from coming back, my friend retrieved the wood and tossed it again in the direction of the retreating animal.  To his everlasting surprise, he hit it squarely and down it went.  As he approached, he could see it was still breathing, but apparently unconscious.  Without further ado, he ran for his long-handled spade, slid it under the skunk, and gingerly carried it at arm’s length to the rear of the yard, where he tossed it unceremoniously over the fence bordering the adjacent woodlot.

There was no mistaking the smell, of course; but, knowing he had avoided being sprayed, he assumed it was the ambient scent of the animal that tainted the air around him.  He savoured his victory all the way back to the kitchen.

By then, his wife had arrived home for lunch.  As he came in, she recoiled in horror at the stench accompanying him.  She told him to take off his shoes, remove his clothes, and get into the shower.  Immediately!

Belatedly realizing he must have walked on grass the skunk had sprayed, he left the offending shoes—shiny brown cordovans that looked just fine—on a bench behind the garage, dumped his clothes into a tubful of cold water in the laundry room, and went to scrub himself clean.

In due time, the clothes were washed and ironed, deemed wearable by his wife, and hung back in his closet.  His shoes remained behind the garage for almost two weeks, airing out—forgotten until his brother-in-law came calling.

My friend tolerates his wife’s brother, but has no great affection for him.  He claims the man is always sponging off the family—a thesis borne out when he asked to borrow my friend’s dress shoes to wear to an upcoming function.

“Sure,” my friend said (stifling a grin).  “They’re on the bench behind the garage.  You can grab ‘em on your way out.”

The occasion was a community pot-luck-supper-and-dance at a local service club.  As told later by another friend in attendance, no one at the table seemed to notice anything amiss during dinner, or at least nobody said anything.  But, when the deejay fired up the turntable, and the brother-in-law got out on the dance floor, it was a different story!

dancing

He’s an enthusiastic dancer, this overweight fellow, not particularly graceful or rhythmic, but all the way into it.  He loves that good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll, and he doggedly boogied his way around the room.  In short order, his face was sweating, his body was sweating, and his feet were sweating.  Those shoes were hot!

Along about then, his wife abruptly clasped her hand over her mouth, broke from his grasp, and ran pell-mell for the ladies’ room.

“Hey!” somebody yelled over the music.  “Who let the skunk in?”

Women screeched and ran for their chairs, climbing in ungainly fashion on top of them.  Men began lifting tablecloths, peering under tables, hoping (or maybe not) to spy the offending rodent.

“Open the doors!” somebody else cried, and several people scrambled to comply.

Although the brother-in-law could smell the varmint, too, he had dutifully followed his wife and stood patiently waiting for her beside the washroom door.  The smell didn’t abate.  When a couple of ladies approached, obviously heading for the same destination, he was about to ask them to check on her.  But they stopped, eyes widening, ten feet away.

“It’s in the ladies’ room!” one of them screamed, pointing past the befuddled oaf.  “It’s in the ladies’ room!”

To give him his due, my friend’s brother-in-law didn’t hesitate.  Thinking his wife in danger, he was through the door in a flash, determined to save her from the elusive skunk.  He found her at the sink, patting her face dry with a paper towel.

She recoiled when she smelled his approach.  “Omigod, you’re the skunk!” she proclaimed.  “It’s you!”

He stopped dead, not understanding.

She approached him tentatively, wrinkling her nose, then identified the source.  “Get those shoes off!” she hissed, pointing at his feet.

“My…shoes?” he repeated, still not comprehending.

You’re the skunk!” she said.  “It’s all over those shoes!”

shoes 2

Which is how my friend’s shiny brown cordovans came to be tossed out the washroom window behind the building, and why his brother-in-law exited the ladies’ room, tugged along by his wife, hoping no one would notice his stocking-clad feet.

My friend did retrieve the shoes, he told me, after several days had passed, but they were never the same.  They’re currently resting at opposite corners under his workshed, where the coons and groundhogs used to burrow.  And he hasn’t had a critter problem since.

Nor a visit from his brother-in-law!

Oh, the Shame of It!

It takes a big man or woman to admit to doing something about which they’re embarrassed.  Nobody enjoys being made to feel uncomfortable for any reason, least of all for their own stupidity.

But it’s an even greater risk for any of us to confess to something about which we are truly ashamed.  Humiliation, mortification, indignity—who among us would open ourselves up to that sort of approbation?

Take the raising of children, for example.  I have never in my life heard anyone confess to being a horrible mother or crummy father.

These kids are driving me crazy!  They talk back, disobey me, refuse to eat what’s in front of them, fight constantly with each other!  But, you know what?  It’s not their fault.  It’s me who’s to blame.  I’m such a lousy parent!

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No one says that.  The shame would be too great.

Another example is driving.  I’ve never had anyone confess to me that they’re a poor driver.

People are always honking their horns at me!  An’ giving me the finger!  One guy even banged on my window at a stoplight, yelling awful things.  But, it’s my fault and I know I deserve it.  I’m such a crappy driver!

Said by no one, ever.  Too humiliating.

Passing gas in a crowded elevator is another prime example.  When it happens, everybody shuffles uncomfortably, casting sidelong glances at everyone else, but no one ever owns up.

Oops…sorry, everyone.  That was me.  Been having GI problems lately…that’s gastro-intestinal, heh-heh-heh.  Shouldn’t have had that Hungarian goulash for lunch, I guess.  With garlic bread.  But, I’m getting off at the next floor, so you’ll be spared any more of ‘em.

elevator2

Small comfort to those left on the elevator, even if the culprits ever did ‘fess up.  But, they never do.

Those examples are trivial, however, compared to this next one.  People have been known to tell bald-faced lies, often in the face of incontrovertible evidence, rather than admit to doing it.  And, though it pains me to admit it, I have long been one of those deniers, people from whom you would never hear these words.

Yeah, that’s right, I snore!  Every night.  Sometimes I actually wake myself up.  Reminds me of my father.  I feel badly for my wife, because it’s hard on her, too. 

Nobody, it seems, wants to admit to snoring.

The switch for me, which occurred recently, was not because I suddenly decided to accept the protestations of my wife.  My change of heart came after I agreed with my doctor’s suggestion to be tested for sleep apnea.  The results staggered me; I stopped breathing, on average, once every three-four minutes during my six-hour sleepover at the clinic, wired stem-to-gudgeon to their monitoring machines.  And, apparently, I snored—loud and long.

sleepapnea.snoring

I remember waking frequently during that night, and sleeping only fitfully—much as I do most nights at home.  The clinician explained why.

You feel that way because, when the soft tissue at the back of your throat closed off, which is typical for older people, you stopped breathing.  When that happened, your body woke you in order to start the breathing again.  It’s a reflexive, defense mechanism, triggered by your brain.  Without the oxygen your body needs, you could die.

Not the sort of thing I wanted to hear.

Anyway, after a few trial-and-error sessions over a period of weeks on a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, my problems seemed to have resolved.  The pressure kept the soft tissue in my throat open while I slept, allowing for a freer flow of air, and the incidence of breathing-stoppage was reduced to less than once per hour—perfectly normal, I’m told.

I’m also told (by my wife) that I reminded her of Darth Vader when I was asleep.

She wasn’t unhappy about that, though, because I didn’t snore while using the machine.  Peace and quiet evidently reigned as I lay dreaming in the bosom of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

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The very first night I wore the mask, I lasted almost seven hours, removing it around 5:30 in the morning.  My wife reported later that, within ten minutes of doing so, I had begun to snore steadily, after having been quiet all night.  Subsequent nights showed the same pattern.

Both of us agree that dreaming is eminently preferable to snoring!  Numerous studies have shown that people who sleep poorly do not dream, so I am delighted that I now do—as many as three or four different dreams every night.

Excellent fodder for my writing pursuits, I tell myself.

In any case, please be assured that I was always an excellent father to my daughters, I continue to be a very good driver, and I have never passed wind in a crowded elevator.  Honest!

I was, however, an active snorer, a fact to which I now confess.  And, because of that, I am a nightly CPAP user, probably forever—or whatever fraction of forever is left to me.

cpap

Oh, the shame of it?  Maybe a little.

But, ah, the serenity of a good night’s sleep!

 

Gone Camping

My two intrepid daughters, along with their four daughters, have gone camping.  It’s not their first venture into the wilds of Ontario—safely within the boundaries of one of our beautiful provincial parks, of course—but every time they do it, I’m taken back to my own long-ago camping adventures with my girls.

camping3

The first long weekend of the year would arrive at the end of May, and with it our annual rites of spring, traditions that heralded the soon-to-be-arriving summer holiday season.

On my way home from the city on Friday evening, I would notice the heavy volume of traffic on the highway, as several thousand commuters made their way north to cottage-country.  When I’d drive into town on Saturday morning, I’d see throngs of customers at the local nurseries and hardware stores, stocking up on garden tools and materials to aid in the spring planting.

I’d see friends and neighbours on my street—washing windows, trimming hedges, cleaning cars, and emptying garages of all manner of paraphernalia and junk.  In fact, I’d even manage to do a few of those chores myself!

gardening

But my major task of that first long weekend every year was to open up our camper-trailer—a pop-up hardtop with canvas-covered wings that slid out from each end.  We had picked it up from its previous owner on the weekend before Labour Day one year (right after our final camping-trip-in-a-tent ended in a downpour that washed us away).

We had spent the next week cleaning it out and learning how to pack it most efficiently for its first outing on the final long weekend of the year.  As luck would have it, however, the weather was extremely cold and wet for Labour Day that year, and we never did get away.  So, in early October, I backed the trailer up between the garage and the fence, and locked it for the winter.  And there it sat until the blooming of May.

Mind you, I wasn’t all that keen to open it up again, so early in the spring.  I’d have been quite content to wait for some pleasantly-warm day in July.  I was outvoted, though, by my two daughters, who desperately wanted to get inside it, to explore all the gadgets, perhaps even to have a sleep-out.

sleeping

“A sleep-out at this time of year?” I exclaimed.  “No way!  It gets too cool at night.  Camping is for the summer holidays when it’s warmer.”

“You and Mummy used to go camping on the twenty-fourth of May,” my eldest responded.

“Yeah, you told us about it,” piped in the youngest.  “You said it was a lot of fun.  And all you had was a tent!”

“Yeah, and one sleeping bag!” the eldest added for good measure.

I had to admit, they were right.  It had been fun in that one sleeping bag.

Anyway, despite some futile, token resistance on my part, they got their way.  All that remained was for me to ready the trailer for its first occupancy.  Alas, that proved to be no mean task.

I had parked it tight to the fence so no intruder could jimmy the lock on the door to get inside over the winter.  I had also jacked it up on four lifts.  When I lowered it to the ground again, I discovered both tires had gone soft.  Consequently, I spent about twenty minutes with a hand-pump, inflating the tires to their proper pressure.

Ten minutes later, just after I moved it into the driveway, I found one of the tires had gone soft again.  So, I spent another half-hour removing it and installing the spare.  Of course, it was soft, too, and had to be inflated by what was now an extremely-exasperated father.

When, finally, we were ready to open the door, I couldn’t find the key.  After I wasted a good few minutes rushing to and fro, fussing and fretting—a period punctuated by vile imprecations—my wife remembered I had left it in the glove compartment of the car.  Upon retrieving it, I happily inserted it into the lock (which seemed to have grown somewhat stiff since the fall), and broke it off when I tried to turn it.

At that point, as I recall, the girls diplomatically withdrew into the house while I tried to rearrange the fundamental structure of the trailer by kicking it!

Eventually, of course, I did get it opened up.  And the girls gleefully set up their beds inside, despite my feeble claims that they’d be cold.

camper

“I guess it was worth all the fuss,” I muttered sleepily to my wife, as we lay in bed that night, my bruised toes throbbing.  “At least the girls are happy.  They were determined to have that sleep-out.”

But, as you might have guessed, somewhere around three o’clock in the morning, two very cold little urchins crept into our bed and snuggled up real close.

I expect they’ll be doing that very thing with their own daughters this week, snug in their tents under a starry, summer night.

I, needless to say, shall be at home in my bed!

Christening the Boat

As we approach the mid-point of summer, another boating season is in full swing.  My wife and I know several boaters, both power-enthusiasts and sailors, and have long enjoyed many happy hours on the water with them.  Just recently, we spent four days cruising the waters of Lake Memphremagog, a lovely haven in Quebec, with six good friends.

For some period of time we lived on a lake ourselves, and had our own boat, a twenty-foot inboard/outboard that seemed the epitome of Muskoka chic when we were out and about in it.

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A sleek, blue-and-white fibreglass craft, a bow-rider, it took us on languid cruises in the early evening, and we’d wave casually at neighbours as we passed their docks.  It pulled us across the water on sunny afternoons, slicing and skimming the waves on water skis, at least until we fell.  It even served as a gentle cradle for young grandchildren when tethered to the dock, gently rising and falling in the lapping water.

We had that boat for almost fifteen years.  But never, not in all that time, did we christen it with a name.  As I think about that now, I’m baffled.

You see, the names people give their boats have always intrigued me.  In fact, over the years, whether boating with friends, visiting tropical marinas, or sauntering through boat-shows, I’ve enjoyed a fascination with the names that grace the hulls.  My favourites are those that employ clever plays on words, those with double-meanings, or those that hint at their owners’ occupations.

I’ve seen scores of them over the years, even jotted down some of the more memorable creations.  Ecsta-Sea is one I recall, and IntimaSea, bespeaking a hankering for bliss and solitude on the open water.  Anchors Away, I suppose, implied a desire to be ever on the move.  And there was Log-a-Rhythm, which I thought might belong to a retired math professor who loved the roll and sway of the bounding main.

I saw Squanderlust on a double-masted craft, all shiny teak and gleaming brass, and I thus supposed it cost someone a small fortune.  Miss Behavin’ struck me as a clever name—although everyone aboard seemed to be comporting themselves quite properly, at least while I was watching.  The guy who owned Tokin’ Reward, I was pretty sure, had profited from the illicit drug trade.

One imposing cruiser, with a middle-aged woman at the wheel, bore the name Alimoney, and I silently congratulated her.  Can’t Get Enough, embossed in graceful script across the stern of a large yacht, referred, I assumed, to the owners’ love of sailing.  And I was pretty sure a retired lawyer or judge owned the Legal-Ease.

I liked Slalome, too, conjuring as it did the image of a graceful, veiled dancer atop a single water ski, sending sparkling rooster-tails soaring into the bright sky overhead.  But the owners of Three Sheets to the Wind, I thought, must have altogether too much time for drinking.   Another of my favourites adorned the rear of a garish craft, which either had more than one head aboard, or belonged to a retired con man: Four-Flusher.

There was the Good Ferry, perhaps implying a generous benefactor’s involvement.  Summer Lucky might have spoken to the owners’ belief that some others are not.  And In Limbo could have implied either an irresolute skipper or a love of Caribbean dancing.

Most boaters and sailors, at least in my experience, use feminine pronouns when they speak of their crafts—as in, She’s got a lovely way about her!  I, on the other hand, invariably referred to my boat with the impersonal pronoun—It needs more gas if we’re going to take it out.  Whenever I consciously tried to emulate those real boaters, I felt slightly ridiculous personifying an inanimate object.  It was a boat, not a friend!

Anyway, it’s gone now, that boat, sold along with our home on the lake several years ago.  But if I were to own it still, and if I were to affix a name to it—in keeping with my fascination with boat names—what, I wonder, might I come up with?

Would it be something clever, such as Buoy-O-Buoy, to convey my joy at being at the wheel?  Would Over-Bored be too cynical, implying that I have nothing better to do than race around the lake, burning fuel?  Would PenmanShip be appropriate, given my penchant for writing, or is ship too grandiose a word for a bow-rider?

Perhaps I’d choose something to reflect my rudimentary skills and ignorance of things nautical; Worst Mate could work.  A remote possibility, if my wife would join me on watery excursions, is Miz ‘n’ Masta, except I don’t know what a mizzenmast is.  And I’d hardly be the master!  Maybe, as a retired educator, I might go with School’s Out.

Of course, one’s financial health severely limits one’s boating pursuits, so the notion that I’ll ever again own a boat is far-fetched.  With the rising price of fuel, the soaring costs of docking, storage, and insurance, and the depreciation that swiftly erodes the purchase value, the whole issue is moot.

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But I did notice that our Quebec friends have not named their boat, either—a large pontoon-boat by Bennington.  It transported eight of us with no strain as we cruised the sparkling waters, its 50 HP Yamaha outboard motor a mere whisper in the summer breezes.  We noshed, drank, and conversed amiably for hours out there, comfortable in the plush leather seats, shaded by the Bimini top.

And so, the question gnaws at my mind—what would I call their boat if I were asked to christen it?  A cynical choice might be Hole in the Water, as in something to pour money into; I do remember that aspect of boat-ownership all too well.  Daddy MoreBucks might be appropriate, too (although I was far too polite to enquire about the financial aspects of our hosts’ lives).

On a cheerier note—because it’s a deck-boat—All Hands on Deck, or perhaps Decked Out, could work.  Or maybe All Agog on Magog, to reflect the enchanting locale.  I might also consider Yamahappy (although only if they keep the Yamaha motor), Boat of Us to reflect their togetherness, Didjabringwine (no explanation needed), or Throttled Back to echo their lifestyle.

Mind you, they haven’t even hinted that I should suggest a moniker, so my ruminating on the matter is likely in vain.  It is their boat, after all.  Still, it does seem a shame not to have a grand name for such a luxurious craft.

So, what would I do if it were mine to own and mine to name?  Unfortunately— despite my love of boating on the open water—my pecuniary circumstances would be likely to influence the selection.  I think I might have to settle on For Sale.

boat sale

And then I’d hope my friends would be the highest bidder.

Obsessive?

A friend of mine has long been a far-reaching, outside-the-box thinker, seemingly knowledgeable on any subject, no matter how esoteric or mundane.  If plotted on a graph, conversations with him would not reflect a normal back-and-forth pattern between us, regular and predictable along the spoken axis; rather, his portion would appear as jagged deviations from the anticipated flow of talk, spiking off in all directions from what might be expected.

the-free-thinker

He never tells a lie, so far as I know.  But his conversational pattern reminds me of what one might see on a lie-detector print-out—the lines ordered and sure while I’m speaking, careering wildly up and down on the page when it’s his turn to talk.  His free-thinking tendencies result in tangential observations I sometimes have difficulty understanding in relation to what we’re supposedly talking about.

My pseudo-psychological label for his thinking process is random-hysteric.

By contrast, I am as predictable as the sun at dawn, and as ponderous in my thinking as he is not—my label, perhaps, fixed-stable.  Although I love my friend dearly, it can irritate me when he strays from our conversational path, rather than continuing along what I perceive as the direct route from A to B.

stable

“What’s that got to do with what we’re talking about?” I often cry after one of his rambling excursions.  “Stick to the point!”

More often than not, he’ll simply shake his head at my apparent obtuseness.  But he doesn’t change his approach.  In his wide-ranging mind, everything he says is related to the topic at hand.

Deep down inside, though, I suspect the problem is mine, not his.  I am a plodder in most things.  It’s amazing how many times, as I journey from here to wherever, I am unaware afterwards of almost everything lying between point of origin and destination.  Stop to smell the flowers is not an adage I have ever rigorously adhered to.

When flying, if I know the expected time it should take to get there, I become impatient with deviations to the flight-path that might delay arrival.  When driving, I hate if we pull in at roadside attractions or scenic lookouts because stopping means we’re not actually getting to where we’re going.  When reading, I constantly check how many pages I’ve read and how many are left yet to read—even when I love the story.

When swimming in our pool, I count each lap faithfully, and get annoyed if I feel I’ve lost count.  It was actually a depressing moment when I first learned that a lap is properly measured as two lengths of the pool, not one; I felt cheated, as if I had lost half the number I had accumulated.  And worse, it got harder to keep accurate count!

swim2

Because I alternate strokes after each lap—freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, sidestroke—I have my own counting pattern: 1-1, 1-2, 2-1, 2-2, 3-1, 3-2, 4-1, 4-2, 5-1, 5-2…until I hit my goal, 20-2.  And then, while showering, I go over it in my head, trying to ensure I didn’t miscount.  Obsessive?

If you look up the word methodical in the dictionary, my picture will be there.

And so it is in conversations with other people.  I absolutely love when they stick to the topic, acknowledge what I’ve said before beginning their reply, listen politely when it’s my turn again, offer their further thoughts when I finish, and (I really must say it again) stick to the topic.

Because I’ve long been aware of this eccentricity of mine, it has occurred to me that it might be one of the reasons why, when I find myself in a social setting with several other people enjoying conversations with each other, I’m often the only one not directly engaged—a gadfly, as it were, flitting from eavesdropping here to overhearing there, nodding and smiling as if I were part of each exchange.

talking3

But never mind.  A plodder I may be in just about everything, but in writing I find my escape.  For some reason, it seems not to disturb me that I can ramble on, hither and yon, from the start of an essay to the end—likely confusing many readers as to my thesis, my conclusions, even my thinking (such as it is).

Granted, there is always a starting point for each piece; but I seldom know at the beginning where the end will be found, or on what grounds I will trespass as I look for it. Most of the time, I just stop writing when it seems best.

There is a lovely peace that steals over me, and a surcease of compulsive demands, when I hie myself off to write.  Perhaps my brain draws respite from its normally-plodding behaviours as I lay down on paper the thoughts jostling each other for escape.

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Once there, however, those thoughts are fixed.  As Omar Khayyam wrote (according to Edward Fitzgerald’s 1859 translation)—

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

And so, here I shall stop for now.

On Etiquette

A decade or so ago, after almost forty years of marriage, my wife left me.  Oh, it was nothing permanent, thank goodness—just a weekend excursion she took with one of our daughters, who was visiting us in Florida with her two girls.  They left me to look after our grandchildren.

I was delighted, of course, not only because I love the girls, but because I knew it would give me an opportunity to put into practice all those theories about dealing with children that I’m forever espousing to my wife.

 Hah!  So much for that plan!

It wasn’t that my theories were without merit.  They were based on an assumption that children—and adults, for that matter—are responsible for their own behaviour, and should be held accountable for the consequences of that behaviour.  Pretty simple, really.  Our world might well be a better place if more people subscribed to that thinking.

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Now, before I go any further, please don’t get the impression that I ever told my wife how to raise our own two daughters.  Far from it!  She always brought her own common-sense approach into play during the many hours she spent with them.

But I couldn’t resist the opportunity—after I’d been away from fatherhood for so long—to put my theories into practice, dispassionately and all-knowingly, with my granddaughters.

However, I didn’t reckon on the fact that my daughter had learned the lessons of effective parenting only-too-well from my wife.  And the extent to which she’d been successful was brought home to me that weekend.

Right from the get-go, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any fault with my grandchildren.  On both mornings, they got up and made their beds, got themselves washed and dressed, and then wakened me.  Gently, with a kiss.

After breakfast, which they helped me make, they cleaned off the table without being reminded.  Then off they went, outside to play until it was time to walk to the pool—their favourite pastime.  The closest we got to a confrontation was when they asked if they could go barefoot.  I told them about fire-ants, and they readily dropped the subject.

pool

It was quite frustrating, because I wasn’t getting any opportunities to practice my pet theories.  Finally, however, I figured my chance had come.  We went out for dinner that first night, to a local place offering bbq ribs as the house specialty, and that’s what we ordered.  It was the perfect moment to direct the girls in the proper etiquette for dining out.

I tried to begin when the salads arrived, but I wasn’t fast enough.

“Use the small fork for your salad, Gramps,” offered the youngest before I could tell her the same thing.  I nodded obediently.

When I tried to say something else a few moments later, the oldest said, “Gramps, you shouldn’t talk with food in your mouth, remember?”  I nodded again, in guilty agreement.

Then, a minute or so later, while I was still watching for some breach of etiquette from them, the youngest piped up again.  “Please don’t let the fork scrape against your teeth, Gramps.  And your napkin should be on your lap in case you drop something.”  I hastily complied.

When the platter of ribs arrived, I received more advice from the oldest—even before I had done anything wrong.  “It’s okay to pick up the ribs in your hands, Gramps, but don’t lick your fingers.  Just wipe them on your napkin.”

ribs

“Gramps, don’t eat so fast,” said the youngest a few minutes later, “or you’ll get a tummy-ache.”

This went on through the entire meal.  I was lectured to, scolded, and encouraged, all at the same time, by my own grandchildren.  Worst of all, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.  Probably because, eating so fast, my mouth was always full.

But then, at long last, I found a way to seize the upper hand.  It was time to pay the bill, and I was the only one with money!  Confidently, I marched with the kids up to the cashier, flashing a broad smile at her as I pulled out my wallet with a flourish.  Rather than returning my smile, she merely looked at me—somewhat curiously, I thought.

Nevertheless, I paid the bill masterfully, adding just the right amount for a gratuity.  As we left, I bestowed one final, beaming smile on the cashier.  And again, she didn’t return it.

After we climbed back into our car, I turned to the two girls.

“There!” I said.  “That’s how you settle up after a good meal.”  I just knew they’d be impressed, and I smiled condescendingly at the two of them.

Ewww, Gramps!” they chorused in unison.  “You’ve got a big piece of meat stuck between your front teeth!”

Alas, being a grandpa isn’t always easy!

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