Sunday, April 6, 2014

Episode 560: Docking, 1985

So, one Spring, my parents - whom, by outward and simplistic appearances, had the "ideal" type marriage, 18 years together, Churchgoing, never fighting - divorced, and my sisters went North with my mother to NYC, and I stayed in Florida with my father and his newfound financial freedom. Soon after the divorce, my father bought a used sailboat, a little 23' day sailer, with a collapsible mainmast, so that the boat could be loaded onto a trailer and driven down to a boat ramp, to be dropped into the water.

After a few weekends of arising early on a Saturday, breakfasting at the local diner (whereupon I began my lifelong love affair with coffee; this was the late Spring and early Summer of my 16th year, where I had dropped out of high school, and my Friday nights had been spent drinking and smoking pot and snorting coke with friends, and so on Saturday, waking up at 5 am to launch a boat necessitated some sort of chemical assistance), and then driving to a boat ramp and undergoing the process by which the sailboat was transformed from road-legal cargo to a sailing vessel (which took no small amount of time, raising the mast, securing all pins and keels and bolts, easing down a ramp and into the water, etc), my father decided that perhaps he would spend some money to secure a marina berth for the boat, on a river downtown from where we lived, a tributary of the mighty St. John's river, which ran through Jacksonville, out to the Atlantic Ocean. In this manner, we would merely arise on a Saturday, breakfast at a local diner, and then drive to where the boat sat, floating, awaiting only lines to be cast off to become a usable platform for fishing (my dad's interest) and sailing silently through the waves, watching cargo ships and aircraft carriers, monstrous vessels the size of cities, rumble past us on the way to the Gulf Stream and international waters (my own interest).

Thus began one of my favorite Summers ever. In this marina (the name of which I can't recall, nor the small tributary upon which the marina sat - I want to say it was the Cedar river, which might be right), berthed directly across the dock from us, was an older lady named Betty.

I should describe the setting, briefly, if you are not intimately familiar with boat marinas: they are somewhat akin to campgrounds, except that the individual slots are taken by boats, instead of campers. On the dock proper are electrical hookups and fresh water hose bibs, much like a campground, and the docks (typically, several rows) jut away from the land like fingers, each side of which has many boats tied up to berth. The marina in which my father's little boat sat contained perhaps 100 boats, from the small day sailer we had up to million dollar yachts, tied up on the far side, beneath a canopy, and protected by some form of security afforded the wealthier boat owners.

Back to Betty, a retired widower, who lived on her 26' sloop (sailing vessels have multiple names, for what appear to be the same thing, to landlubbers; a "sloop" is merely a single-masted sailing vessel), and - to our benefit, as it is how we came to know her - offered sailing lessons aboard her boat.

My father had spent 20 years in the Navy, and had already taken his small boat out several times, but, as befits a perfectionist, one day, he engaged Betty's services for a sailing lesson aboard her sloop, named "Patience." I tagged along, at his insistence (in hindsight, he may have taken the "lesson" for my benefit), and after a few minutes, it was painfully obvious to all aboard, especially the Captain (Betty), that my father had as much use for sailing lessons as a bird does for a kazoo; while I don't have the inclination or time to detail all of the intricacies of marine terminology, everything on a boat, from the ropes that are attached to the sails (those ropes are called "sheets"), to the ropes that tie the boat to a dock (those ropes are called "lines") has a name and function unique to maritime action. Facing the front of the boat (the "bow"), the left hand side of the boat is "port," and the right is "starboard." There are reasons for everything, I assure you, not merely to confuse the land-bound, again, which I won't get into. My point was merely that none of this was a mystery to my father, nor was the function of a standard rudder (which you push in the opposite direction from which you wish your boat to turn), tacking (the act of adjusting sails to properly catch the wind), navigating by compass, the meanings of color designations on buoys, etc. After a couple of hours, Betty threw up her hands in bemused despair, and confessed that that would be the only lesson dad would get - she had nothing to teach him.

I, on the other hand, was fascinated. As soon as a mysterious bit of maritime knowledge was uttered, I'd catalogue it, ask for historical context, and try to mentally file it with some form of mnemonic ("The 3 R's of navigation," I'd later hear Betty gravely utter, "Red, Right, Returning. When Returning from sea, into a channel, keep the Red buoy to your Right."). "Port," I reasoned, had 4 letters and ended in "T," which equated it with "left," so therefore "starboard" must by the other one. When it became clear that sailing was an activity I loved and treasured, dad offered me a deal - he'd pay for sailing lessons, if I'd go back to high school the next Fall. I readily agreed, and my summer was set.

After a couple of weeks of lessons, I began to stay out at the marina, rather than return home (which was some distance, by car, and it did not yet know how to drive anyway). I'd sleep on the little boat, and my proximity (plus helpful and intelligent nature), soon led Betty to offer me a "job," of sorts, acting as crew on her little boat. She took the boat out daily, for sailing lessons for other folks, and while she was quite capable of steering and handling her craft, my young legs were much more suited to running up to the fore to haul up anchors, tying off jib sheets, and furling and stowing the mainsail. To me, it was like a unique heaven. I received no money, but she fed me, and later on that summer, afforded me the opportunity to sail across to the Bahamas, as navigator and, I suppose, First Mate.

I watched, always, whatever Betty did - a sailboat acts differently than do other conveyances. Boats drift, as part of their motion, and it is necessary to allow for the lag between when you tell a boat to turn (by pushing the rudder), and when it actually turns. There is a sort of silent mathematical calculation that must be done. A rudder causes the back of the boat (the "stern") to change direction, quite different than a car, which steers by front wheels.since I did not yet drive, boats made sense to me - I had less to "unlearn."

During this same time period, my best friend Chris had suffered through his parents' divorce, as well, a year before my own, and his mother was keeping time with a younger man named Mike. Mike, during the early part of our relationship, was a somewhat gruff and sarcastic, but not yet insipid and evil crackhead that he would later become. Still and all, he thought of Chris and I as young idiots (which is quite ironic, since he was massively uneducated, and much dumber than we were; a favorite memory of mine is when Chris and I were about 15, and Mike was arguing with Marianne, Chris's mother, about something or other, and we were in the room, and Mike paused as he was speaking about some topic or other, and, catching us in the corner of his eye, and realizing we were in the room, spelled out some word he didn't want Chris to hear. There was a momentary pause as the three of us - Chris, Marianne, and I - burst out laughing, uncontrollably; Marianne explained, as she was in tears with laughter, that "Chris knows how to spell a hell of a lot better than you do, Michael"), incapable of achievement in much of anything.

It came to pass that my new hobby became known, to Chris and his family, and on one Saturday, Betty invited Mike and Marianne out for a day of sailing on her boat, as guests. It was a chance for me to truly act as "crew," which pleased me, to spend a day sailing with people I actually knew, and to demonstrate, in some way, that I hadn't been sitting all around summer  moping. 

Mike was always a show off and braggart, someone who can't abide being the least capable in a group, and bantered with Betty throughout the trip about his (imagined) knowledge of the sea, rivers, tides, what have you; the boat wasn't large, but it was big enough, that in between tacks (wherein I'd need to order " 'Ware the boom!" to warn of the boom shifting laterally across the boat, and to release the sheets from one side, tighten the other, and steady the rudder to avoid luffing), I'd sit on the foredeck, listening to the whisper of the wind through the jib, the nearly-silent hiss of the bow slicing through the waves, and the occasional distant honk of a boat horn or screech of a seagull, away from the passengers. This was a habit I'd made, not from anti-social tendencies, per se, but as a reaction to paying guests; on a small boat, the only way for people who'd paid money to enjoy themselves, I reckoned, was for me to make myself as scarce as possible, to work the boat, keep us on course, and to remain nearby but quiet. 

When it came time to return to dock, I was at the sails, tying down and stowing the jib (the foresail, which we'd utilize in open water, but which required too much work, too quickly, to be useful for river navigating), and lowing the mainsail to halfway, enough to afford momentum, but easily controllable. The routine was, about 200 yards out from the marina, Betty would fire up the diesel motor, and I'd secure the mainsail, and she'd bring it home to port under power.

On that day, she fired up the motor, and told me to "bring her in." I'd never steered it into the marina, before, although I'd seen how she did it, a dozen times or more, and I eagerly jumped to the rudder and set my throttle. 

I'll try to explain why this one moment was noteworthy or exciting, though I may fail to do so; the marina, I explained earlier, consisted of docks jutting ways like fingers, which isn't entirely an accurate description; better, perhaps to say, it was like bent fingers. Some of the docks came away from land, and then made right angle turns, to accommodate many different vessels at different angles. To reach Betty's berth, we'd approach the marina at full throttle, and then about 30 feet from a certain dock, you'd cut power to idle, drift, and swing the rudder hard over, so that the ear of the boat would push away from the dock around which we needed to turn, and bow would thread between that lateral dock, as you'd face imminent collision with the next dock, 30 feet further on. At very low speeds, it would be simple, trivial navigation, to ease between turns with a floating cow, but to run at it at full throttle (as Betty did, since she'd berthed there for years, and I was following merely what did seen her do) allowed that only precision would avoid collision.

The thing was, I never hesitated or even gave a second thought; that, the first time in my life, was a moment where  I knew I could perform. I knew I "had this." I knew exactly how mane beats to wait, from idling the motor down, until I began my turn, and how to turn again, as we rounded the lateral dock, to force the boat parallel to the berth, to slide it in like a glove, and then, to jump onto the dock and secure the line, before the boat floated out of reach of the dock. I had seen it several times, and more importantly, Mike was getting nervous at my approach speed, as we entered the marina.
"Don't you wanna slow down here?" he asked, attempting a casual tone. I didn't reply, focused on what I was doing, and Betty just smiled at him - she had faith in her pupil.

"You gotta watch this turn!" he said, more urgently, not even pretending apathy any longer, as I swung the rudder hard over, watching another vessel heading seaward on my starboard side, threading the needle between two docks and a vessel guided merely by inertia and then - bump, with the gentlest of knocks, the rubber bumpers on the side made contact with the dock and we slide into the berth, and I leapt off and grabbed the bowline and looped it over the mooring post.

I gave Mike a half-smile, as he and Marianne made some sort of congratulatory noises about how proud and impressed they were, or whatever - I learned what I learned for me. I already knew that I could do it. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Episode 559: Gifted

I wrote an earlier post, which ended up being a bit more mean-spirited and snarky than is reasonable.

I have perceptions and insights to the world, unique to myself, which are not always nuggets of gold, merely because I think them. I spend all of my time these days in a jet stream that flows through a tunnel; calling my days, hours and minutes "spoken for" is akin to labeling the Pacific as "moist." I am in the midst of a voluntary compulsion to embrace the inevitable.

I can cry out loud, or smile silently. I am not attempting to be cryptic, I am merely working my way up to any point I may have (I admit nothing). 

I propose an analysis of the term "gifted." When one hears the words (scripted and in full adherence with approved cliches, to be sure) of a professional athlete, one is assured that no matter what talent it is that the athlete (in this example) might possess, true achievement is not reached without copious practice, repetition of labor. Natural ability seems to be an evolutionary proclivity, a base upon which to build, but honing skills is a matter of focus. 

Great thinkers may have been born with a propensity to question and ponder, but absorb and study the thoughts of their predecessors. One need not invent the wheel twice. The greatest thinkers do not assume that the wheel was properly invented, however, and begin the analysis afresh. 

The common factor between accomplished plodders and innovative geniuses, however, is the amount of effort expended to reach the goal. To spend ten minutes thinking and ten hours griping about thinking is not useful; thus separates the cream and the milk, the wheat from the chaff, the winners from the losers. 

Is it wrong to be a loser? What if one is without a competitive drive? What if one is so aloof to refuse to acknowledge the competition? 

I know of many people who were "born" gifted; imbued with natural talents. I have known some successes, and many failures. I, myself, have not reached anything resembling an actuation of my full potential. I don't berate myself, as such, but in fact I do - I am proud of when I do get out of my own way enough to win small victories over my own confusion: my marriage, my friendships, my children, a few of my paintings, a couple of songs I have written, some of the stories I have written (when I get locked in, I can truly turn a phrase). I think that mostly I like to impress myself (and an occasional loved one; the approbation of peers - of which I have few, I said arrogantly - makes the sun shine on my face), and one thing I find to be true, the one truth among truths, is that Yogi Berra was right: "It ain't over til it's over." 

Also, "Never give up, never surrender." Death is the last refuge of the scoundrel. While the heart beats, there is a chance. A chance for glory, a chance for redemption, a chance to right all wrongs, to make the world better, one soul at a time.

I hope that I have touched a few lives, in my journey, in fact I know that I have: that hubris, that vain glory, is why I go on. I serve others, to serve myself.

As you were.

Episode 558: BELIEF

I have asked God to hold you close.

He does as you ask, usually?

Comfort is on the way.

How would being squeezed by a mythical Creator give me comfort?

You will feel the warmth of his touch and feel his love.

Sounds like a motel date rape. 

You are suffering and He feels your pain.

He sounds rather like a sympathetic junkie.

Blasphemy is the refuse of the sarcastic scoundrel.

Religion is the refuge of the simple.

I Hearken his rapture! 

Not soon enough. If it means your unsolicited gibberish no longer befouls the ears of the thinking melancholy.

Let me make you some tea and give you my testament.

I will gladly accept the tea, if you just write your testament down for later perusal. I have auditory dyslexia.

You backwards hear stories people?

That is a common misconception. Some psychological studies have suggested that dyslexia is unreal or unquantifiable.

You need faith to feel His touch.

Stop it. Don't tell me about the time that Bigfoot used crystals to align your chakras with your aura.

Don't you believe in anything greater than yourself?

I don't believe in belief.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Episode 557: Cameron Diaz recommends hairy bush, with which the author agrees.

Women, ladies, females of all sentient and self-aware ages:

Please don't completely shave off your pubic hair.

I am strictly responding to another blog, one that's surfaced on my search engine, and it is amazing how, in this day and age, credibility is proffered with the mere existence of a URL. I include myself in that category, as well; my column might be stumbled upon by a university professor or a teenage dropout with equal ease, and equal relevance.

These are my opinions. Nothing more. I have some small readership, stalwart and true, and I do not presume to speak for any masses: I don't represent the Geotechnical Drillers of America or Floridians or even just "men" in general. I represent me, and even with that limitation, I don't always agree with myself. My writing is meant to entertain: to amuse, to provoke thought, to engender exasperation or the impetus for debate. To be ignored is the danger inherent in art; an artist can understand praise or disagreement, but has difficulty processing indifference.

At any rate, I have no additional deep thoughts about the foliation of the pudenda; I am Pro-Bush, in that sense alone, and my favorite slang terms for the vagina area of a woman (often misused: the vagina is the opening that leads through the cervix to the uterus; the vulva is the luscious exterior view that the pubic hair would decorate) are twat and snatch. I especially love "snatch;" it (unlike vagina or vulva, it has multiple meanings) is a word I love to type as much to say. Snatch snatch snatch.

Please consider, if a man's opinion has any meaning (I am aware that one's personal grooming is one's providence - outsiders have no say in the matter), the health benefits of hair, as well as the timekeeping aspects of pubes: if your pubic hair has migrated to your thigh, where you could only wear a bikini if you wanted to broadcast the presence of the wolverine in your panties, then it must be almost Spring, and time to shave for bathing suit season. If you like to wax or Nair, once a year, say in the Summer, when you don't want to bother shaving every single day, because you're on a family vacation and are thus constantly in a bathing suit, then you know that by the time the fur rebounds, it has become Autumn, and time for maintenance trims only until the Winter passes.

These are just my thoughts.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Episode 556: I Count Trees

I count trees, on that level 
beneath where I think.
When we walk in the woods,
I should have led with,
but I am outside of time
as I transcribe my 
parody of satire.
I wear darts or layers,
Summer Fall Winter it doesn't
bring relevance to the table to
denote how moods
lose their guide. 
I can't people without people,
and my way is easily lost,
whether I count trees or not. 
I admire the Montana man who had a
Go Bag in his car for a family outing
and his family lived through a disaster in
the frozen wilderness and my wife and I agreed
that would be me if I were dumb enough to flip 
my car over and so even in my praise I am arrogant

enough to forgive my own endless mistakes
but in reality I am really realistic and I am
tense and pre-panicked at the thought of all upcoming
tasks which I know bring danger or challenge
and like hiding in the closet when the crackhead broke 
into the house that he used to live in, but that I currently was
(So he was considered a burglar or junkie Yegg by the fuzz) 
and I defended my life,
I was stalwart but pathetic and I lived in drawing blood,
a memory which isn't that interesting but I tell it still
although I'm bored because I wasn't brave or true, I was
scared until my pants were soiled, so I can't wave my own flag at that
and so I don't often tell that story. My point was, I still do that -
many things terrify me and I have to do them anyway and I don't shirk -
I know something will kill me. Something will end my story.
But not THIS. And definitely not THAT. So, I do it.
Last week I realized (I am smart but stupid slow) that I have changed
in the intervening years of driving on bad roads with bad cars in bad weather:

I drive terror around in poor access every day, and so controlling a 
Detroit missile on paved roads, even with frozen water on them, is
not even a partial thought of a partial challenge. Life is easy, really. The part
that makes it hard is my own head making anthills bigger than they are. 
I saw a video the other day, a "science" thing that had some guy pouring 
molten aluminum into a fire ant mound, and then digging it out, and it made
this lovely, crystalline sort of metal sculpture, the molten metal followed every tunnel and crevice and it was lovely, but all that occurred to me was "nobody likes being bitten by fire ants, but what the fuck? We just watched a video of an absolutely dismissive genocide. The ant colony was deemed so irrelevant it was a thousand times more cruel than a kid with a magnifying glass, toasting ants in the Summer sun, this was a deliberate,
 planned slaughter of an entire city just to make a video for YouTube." I thought something along those lines. And I fucking hate fire ants. Bugs don't bother me, mostly, I am lucky to have anti-insect pheromones, or something, except for ants. Ants bite me, and my skin reacts. But I still wouldn't murder without reason.

Now, if they were crackhead ants, attacking me in my house (that used to be his), then I could stab them with hot aluminum knives, and I'd feel not as bad. 

Anyway. I lost my poetic rhyme and reason.