Monday, December 19, 2022

Things Stupid Kids Do: Episode 2, Part III (The Journey Ends)


Things Stupid Kids Do: Episode 2, Part I (The Journey Begins)

Things Stupid Kids Do: Episode 2, Part II (The Journey Meanders)

Let me begin this ending with the victorious cry, “WE BEAT THE TOLL!

Ok, well, by that I mean, at least WE didn’t have to pay the toll when my parents drove up to rescue us.

Where did I leave off? Something about a blue helicopter and a plume of black smoke? Yeah…

My friend and I were still practicing how to be lazy canoers… Ok, wait…

You know what? Let’s just get this out of the way now… the fact that the river was flowing in the direction we wanted to go was actually a big selling point of this trip to begin with. We could both imagine drifting toward home while napping the miles away.

As I was saying, we were hungry and thirsty and sunburned and bug-bit and slightly mad at each other for doing this stupid trip and frustrated at how slowly we seemed to be getting it over with. Paddling didn’t seem to move us noticeably faster. At least, not faster enough to make our aching arms want to keep rowing. So, we drifted slowly down-river. There wasn’t much else to do except watch as that plume of black smoke got closer. Eventually a blue helicopter appeared and circled the dark plume of foreshadowing like moths flutter around porch lightbulbs. We weren’t really talking (probably spending the silence doing mental blame-calculations, “It was at least 51% his idea to do this.”). However, we were curious about what could be the source of all that smoke. As far as we could recall, no other billowing thick plume of black smoke had passed us by on our trip to date. We wordlessly “beached” the canoe at the closest place to observe the thick blackness rising into the sky we could find. I used quotes on “beached” because it was more like “hilled” the canoe. The right side of the river had been a nearly vertical wall of mud for a while now.

Once the canoe was “hilled” we climbed the mud-wall, and I quickly envied my friend’s decision to leave his footwear behind because my sneakers were getting caked in mud. Not the clean kind of mud, either.

We eventually reached the top of the riverbank, and it was nice and grassy with trees and shrubs in abundance. The ground sloped gently downward, away from the river toward a dirt path that seemed to roughly parallel the river. On this path we could see what looked to us like a fancy new black Cadillac limousine all aflame! Fire under the hood, flashing orange here and there underneath the car, windows either open already or popped out by the heat, and the never-ending spew of black smoke coming from the interior of the car.

Now a few things happened almost simultaneously at this point. The flaming smoking spectacle was our main focus, of course. But once we had absorbed what was going on, we kinda entered, “Huh” mode as we tried to work backwards as to why this organized crime type of vehicle would be in the middle of the woods in the middle of nowhere. And as some fanciful and witness relocation sorts of ideas began to form we noticed that there was a red jeep parked a ways ahead of the crime scene and a guy was just standing there watching (hopefully just) the car burn.

Seeing this fellow witness produced another “Huh” event in our minds. Apparently, our minds were loud because he suddenly jerked his head to look at us and RAN to the back door of his jeep, reached in and started to pull something out of the back seat.

I can honestly say that I am not 100% confident of what he was removing from his vehicle in such a hurry. This is because I turned to my friend and yelled “RUN!” Which we did. Why would I yell something like that? Two reasons. First, I didn’t actually know I was yelling it until after I did – so I sorta feel like I don’t need to provide a conscious reason. Second, I didn’t wait to see what the suspect was yanking out of his jeep in such a hurry, but the WAY he was removing the item was the way you would pull a rifle off of the back seat. Yes, yes, I know. It’s possible that maybe he was removing a very large French baguette, but my paranoid subconscious was in charge of interpreting the situation, not my stomach. Ok, sure, maybe it was a… what, a US flag? A US flag to wave a patriotic hello to us with? Maybe a fishing pole because he thought that two strangers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time might hog all the best fishin’ spots before he could set up? Yeah. There are plenty of things that could have emerged in his arms. I guess that I didn’t want to chance it. How embarrassing to have been shot and have my dying words be, “I thought he wanted to share a 6-ft Subway Sandwich with us…

Now then. Where to run? Consider: Our primary getaway vehicle was a hilled canoe. If we went for the canoe, then our getaway route would have been a slowly moving open spaced river. My only real hiding spot would have been behind my friend. But how long would that be a safe place to hide from a sniper’s bullet? Instead, we abandoned our canoe and made use of our feet to continue down river. To give some cover (in case it wasn’t a flagpole the killer was drawing from his car), we slipped about halfway down the riverbank first and then moved as fast as we could downriver. There were some obstacles along our route which helped fuel our adrenaline. It felt as if we would be hearing (or feeling) rifle shots from above at any second, so we maneuvered around as many trees and fallen logs as we could to decrease any shooter’s chances for accuracy. It was pretty easy to run on the fallen wood because I was wearing sensible footwear. My friend, on the other hand, had foolishly left his shoes in the hilled canoe. I bet he envied my decision to keep them on. (Was that call-back too far removed?)

We maintained a pretty good pace until the adrenaline wore off and I started to think about how the assassin could actually have made better time following the dirt path to get ahead of us and just wait for his targets to appear. So, we changed our strategy and started to swim across the river to where we had spotted a half-destroyed bridge. It looked like it had become a popular parking spot for the local high schoolers and skunks, apparently, judging by the smell. I’m not sure (can’t remember) what swimming style my friend selected, but I went on my back facing the slowly receding riverbank, eyes locked on the top of the hill waiting to see the hunter emerge. It’s surprising how fast it can feel like you are swimming when it looks like you are barely moving.

After about 16 days of swimming, we finally made it across the river and bonus (!): BOTH of us arrived with fewer than 1 bullet holes each. With that relief slowly growing in our souls, I scrambled up the side of the collapsed overpass and casually sauntered over to the group of about five teens sitting around some giant concrete blocks. It was a long walk made longer by their quiet non-moving stares. It was handy that they were quiet because only one of my sneakers was making a squish noise when I stepped on it: Squish, - - -, squish, - - -, squish, - - - (you get the idea). I lifted a sheepish hand into a chest-high wave and said, “Hi.”

It should occur to you here that there is suddenly a lot of “I” and “me” in my narration. What happened to my friend? Let me start by saying that he was (still is) a good bit taller than me (who isn’t?) and he was very thin (but not anymore) and gangly (um..). The kids all shifted their gaze behind me, and so I turned as well to see my friend clawing his way to the roadway and then walking Frankenstein-like toward us. WTF?! Turns out his bare feet were absolutely jam-packed with splinters from the old wood we had messed with during our adrenaline race. I honestly have wondered even today (i.e., decades later) if he still finds a stray splinter in a foot now and then.

Although the kids were a bit focused on my friend, I asked if one of them could drive us to a phone (yes, it was THAT long ago). My memory is that they continued to watch my friend, never moving their eyes from him, and answered my every question without dropping their gaze. Surely that’s just a false memory.

When the adrenaline starts flowing, my paranoia gets… growing. Rather than relate our version of “the most dangerous game” (look it up if you need to), we just went with the “our canoe flipped over” story. Maybe the whole town was in on this mafia hit gone wrong? One of the guys volunteered to take us to the nearby gas-mart. So, after a brief walk, we got to his old shockless gold 1970 Lincoln Continental with rusty accents which, after three tries to start the engine, we got to bouncing and rolling for about a mile through the forest and out to a main road. We arrived at the store in no time. I don’t recall whether he took off then or followed us inside, but we straight away asked the cashier to call the police for us, which she did once we told her about our canoe mishap.

The cops showed up and what we wanted was to hurry the hell up and get into their car so we could tell them about the serial killer on the loose without letting the gas-mart cashier hear. Again, let me just defend myself and remind you that when my arousal levels are high (via caffeine or adrenaline) my paranoia levels get even higher. PLUS, you know how those things go in the horror movies?! All it was going to take was for the cashier to listen in and then jump on the gossip network and you know this is where the killer/monster finds out we are going to the police station and that’s where the horrible massacres end up happening. Really, I was just trying to keep the local constabulary safe.

The two officers (let’s call one Judge and the other Jury) stroll into the store and look at these two damp and scrawny kids (one was barefoot, remember). No doubt we were deemed harmless “city boys who don’t know a lick a shit about country goings on” a notion that we no doubt pleasured with our made-up canoe-tipping story. Judge had to ask, “Why would you be trying to canoe down that river, anyway?” We got to use our “to avoid the toll” joke yet again. Judge laughed but Jury pshawed with, “Toll ain’t that bad.” While shaking his head and not smiling ever.

Our outward appearances were probably easy-going to those watching us, but our insides were excruciating. Those of you who celebrated Christmas as youngsters might remember the night before the opening-of-gifts where you just wanted to go to bed around 6:00 pm so the next morning would come more quickly? SMART parents don’t let that happen because a 6:00 pm bedtime would mean a 2:00 am wakeup. No. Way. So, they find ways for everyone to stay up as late as possible so the parental units can HOPE to get at least a sample-sized portion of quality shuteye. Us kids had to endure the agony of every slow beat of the clock. Sometimes it felt like the clock was taking back every third second. But this was exactly how things were feeling with everyone just hanging the hell around in the store shit-chatting about the stupid college student follies.

FINALLY we were escorted to the cruiser and once inside came clean with the cops. Was I a little afraid that one or more of the police might have been in on it? Well, actually… yeah. But I was so tired and hungry and emotionally burned out that I would have been ok with whatever horrific scenario wanted to play out at this point.

We got to the station and they actually had a pretty good idea of who the guy was with the red jeep. We had at least an hour to waste before my parents were going to be able to pick us up, and during that time the police brought Mr. Redjeep in for questioning. Get this… he claimed he was just getting a shovel out of his vehicle to throw dirt onto the flaming car! YYyyyeeeaaaahhhh right! WHO drives a jeep to a burning car so he can just stand and watch it burn only to notice two people looking on and then suddenly remember about a shovel he urgently needs to grab from the back seat?!

My parents arrived, we somehow got the hilled canoe and then we went home for some dinner. All total, I doubt we got more than 20 miles down the Pemi. (I’m not so good with endings, huh?)

Friday, December 16, 2022

High Call Place Urge Phenomenon Void Jump


Another late evening walk with Raphael completed.

All we "caught" was a bunny in the flashlight beam on this cold-crisp-but-pleasant-nonetheless walk. But over the past few weeks we have seen many deer, a racoon, an opossum, a skunk, and quite a few other bunnies. Not to mention quite a few green glowing eyes in the woods - probably deer or racoons... but maybe they belonged to something else? We didn't want to walk through our neighbors' yards uninvited to find out.

I believe that Raphael enjoys the alone time with me - exploring the smells of the evening neighborhood, which must surely smell different from the daytime neighborhood.

While we walk, I very much enjoy looking up at the stars. Tonight was particularly nice with only a few wispy clouds to block the view. No moon to speak of, and much less light pollution compared with when we lived closer to the city.

There is something called the "High Place Phenomenon" which refers to that urge people get to jump from an overlook or viewing platform. I remember feeling that when we would go on a cruise. I would look down from over the balcony at the turquoise waves splashing past the ship when we were out at sea. It isn't the sort of impulse that becomes a compulsion, it's a feeling of "what if" that spreads slightly into something physical. A brief tingle of tension through arms to toes and through legs to fingers. It is a mixed up feeling that wavers and fades. Well, it either passively fades, or it is actively suppressed by my feelings of mortality; the rational knowing of what would happen if I did jump. That's NOT the way I want to exit this reality.

I bring this up because I feel something terribly stronger on our clear-night walks. There is another phrase used to name the "urge to jump" that, for me, better describes how I feel when I look to the stars. It is "L'appel du vide" or "the Call of the Void." People use the French version to make it sound more romantic, I guess. But I think the German isn't so bad sounding either: "der Ruf der Leere." Whatever. My destination here isn't so much about what it is called but how it feels. It is an aching yearning for something that can never be. I want to see, no, I want to VISIT the stars. Each and every one. I want to see the planets orbiting them and explore whatever is on them. Finding life would be great, but I really just want to know what's there. The weather, the formations, the atmospheres... I want to know everything. See everything. There's so much potential to experience. But it is out of reach. It might as well not even exist. All I get is to see the glass windows of the candy store all shaded over. Not even a hint of what's inside. Just knowing something is there is all I get. "No man's sky," I guess. 

This call of the void doesn't feel like the urge to jump, exactly. It doesn't fade after a moment. It squeezes me and pushes bitter sadness into my being. A strong feeling of loss for something I never even possessed. I'm not even close to being able to satisfy my desires... so I pity Michael Collins who came so close to landing on the moon, but never quite got there - and he knew he wouldn't. Nonetheless, I crave that chance - to see it all. But I never ever will. And yet, every night we walk, I look to the stars expectantly.

So nice that I can live in a world where such frivolous thoughts have the chance to carry such weight with me.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Mum + 1

What is special about today?

My mother was born on July 3, 1940. She died 21,627 days later. She never made it to age 60. She didn't quite make it to see the year 2000 and its Y2K hysteria come and go (she missed it by 106 days).

Since she left us, we've moved into three different homes and lived in two different states.

So many pets have since entered our lives. She would have loved and mourned them all.

Family vacations, get-togethers, weekly telephone calls - all missed. I think she really would have loved being able to video chat on a computer or smart-phone (if we could have persuaded her to get one). That technology wasn't really available until quite a while after she died.

Of course, she also missed the 911 attack, the Columbia tragedy, too many school shootings, a special type of imbecile "elected" as president (despite 70% of the voting population NOT having voted for him), and these past few mask-wearing years full of anti-vax and anti-mask dip-shits pushing their selfish agendas. But let's not continue down this particular road of negativity and instead just focus on today.

In fact, I should stop listing things altogether. It would be impossible to detail this loss; trying to do so only suggests that the impact of her passing can be quantified. It cannot.

My focus is really just about today. Today in particular. It is seasonably cold, but there is no snow on the ground nor is snow likely until January. There is nothing very special about today except maybe that it is the day before Christmas.

This will be the 23rd Christmas we get without my mother. She went out of her way to make the holiday special for everyone. This was certainly true for my wife and I who spent most of our holidays far from home and family. She kept us connected and close despite the miles and the cold. In 1999, when she died, she not only took Christmas with her, but all the other holidays, vacations, cook-outs, weekly phone calls… and so much more.

What makes today personally remarkable is that it puts me one day older than what my mother got.

I got "more" but it continues to feel like less.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

What I've Been Doing To Usurp Young Minds

I teach college. Or, well, I am a professor in a small private university and so I occasionally speak words out loud to classrooms of assorted technologies, air, furniture, and students. Over the years (omg - so many years) I have developed an occasional habit of not listening to myself and wandering off in my mind to play video games while lecturing.

That isn't something I approve of (nor do I approve of taking naps while driving, nor letting my face show my true feelings when my wife talks about Downtown Abbey or whatever it's called). If my lectures are so boring that even I don't want to listen, we should pity the poor students sitting in the classroom! One solution I have to keep students (and <cough> me) interested is to introduce unusual (BUT ON-TASK) ideas once in a while.

Example: Making up blended words to convey concepts in Sensation and Perception such as "smeat" which is sorta what happens when you smell dog poop on your shoe... you are smelling an odor and your nose is kinda eating it, too. So smell + eat = smeat! (After all, isn't that what somebody once did when they came up with the term "transduction" - seriously... isn't it? Asking for a friend.) I did this very one today, in fact.

Example: Applying principles of Social Psychology to a lecture on how to form and maintain a cult! (A benevolent dictatorship?)

Example: Applying statistics (chi square) in the Methods in Behavioral Research class to FINALLY put to rest the debate about which is better, "over" or "under" when it comes to TP hanging with the bonus resolution to the question of TP usage (folded vs. bunched). Want to know what we found? Take the class, not all education is free!
Example: Back to Sensation and Perception, I have developed a practical application of the vocabulary word "foveate" for personal gains and benefits. NOT to be confused with orbisculate, which is when a grapefruit targets your eye with a juicy squirt. Rather, to foveate is to adjust your gaze on something, like the grapefruit, so that the image is targeted on a specific location on your retina (i.e., the fovea). 
Use "foveate" to claim the last slice of pizza, cake, pie, or lasagna (etc.) by simply saying, "Oh my gosh! Someone foveated all over this last slice... Does anyone want it?" BAM! It's likely to be yours without any fuss! 

Benefits: (1) You get that last slice on the legit (not your job to build other people's vocabulary), (2) you come across as the nice guy for letting everyone know about that disgusting sounding thing that happened to it, and (3) you are viewed as generous for first offerring the slice to others before taking it on yourself. 
Maybe this one should have been kept a secret... if everyone knows it, then it loses its power.

As I write this, we are nearing the end of a long semester of lectures through warm soggy masks. The list above needs to be built upon and I simply lack the effort right now to rehash the past few months. I will return occasionally to build the list so that there are more than four examples. Be patient... you can see that when it comes to blogging, I am a:

                        Organized and
[Poster images via FOTOR.COM a very cool site you should check out!]

Thursday, April 16, 2020

False Memories of a sap.

We signed (sold) on our old house this morning.

It took us about three and a half months to move out and get it in better shape than it was when we first moved into it.

One of the last things I did was to spend some time in the attic cleaning away junk and sweeping the dust. We had originally planned to make it a studio for Cindy to do her artwork. We put in a sturdy work table, covered a large area of floor near the windows with tasteful linoleum to protect the wood from errant paint splops. But it wasn't very temperature friendly for much of the year, so eventually the attic backslid into a storage area.

To pass the time while I cleaned the attic space, I began to imagine all the wasted potential. We could have put some money and time into making it a grand member of the house. In fact (ok, get ready, here we go), we lived there for 20 years and if we had produced a daughter I would have made sure that this space was perfect for my little princess! At age 8 my daughter would have been living in either what we called the guest room, or my office - both on the second floor.

No doubt the attic would have been a dreadful mess of boxes and junk we couldn't part with. Well, I imagined a scenario where we sent her off to space-camp and then got super-busy renovating the attic in secret.

I could see exactly how I would modify the space. First off, a built-in heating and cooling unit. Next some of the walls actually have a lot of space behind them, so I was imagining built in twin beds and some book cases and/or drawers. Better lighting options. The room is actually split 70/30 by a thin wall that has a doorway which would lead to a combination dressing room closet and hideaway place for reading, sulking, or journal writing.

The walls and ceiling would need fresh coats of paint and the floors would need plush carpeting (we don't want to hear her stomping around above our heads dancing to that awful music she listens to). Furniture (desk, chairs, etc.) would be needed, plus a small goodies fridge and microwave. Curtains for both windows and subtle lighting for the stairway so she won't miss a step.

All this in about 5 days! (I would have had more energy back when I did this.)

Now the evil fun part (because it's ME after all).

My daughter would arrive home from camp all excited to be back (because she loves us) and I'd say for her to freshen up because we were going to celebrate her return with dinner at the Olive Garden (it's her favorite restaurant).

She'd stomp up the stairs (because that's the way she ALWAYS goes up or down them) to what she thought was her bedroom, only to find we had gotten rid of her stuff. Her room is now an exercise room (yeah, right - but whatever, this is MY fantasy recollection and I'm a healthier person in it).

Confused and trying not to get upset, she'd look around to see if we moved her stuff to a different room (never checking the attic because that's where the junk is stored). Nothing.

Storming back down to us sitting casually in the living room she would demand to know what happened to her stuff! She'd be loud and assertive, but not in a "let's cancel the Olive Garden" kind of display.

"Oh, that's right," we would feign a memory lapse... "Seeing as your getting older now, we figured you'd want to be moving out of that little bedroom and into a larger place of your own. But don't worry, we set up a cot in the basement if you want to stay there until you find a place." We might even have a cot made up down there to sell this to her.

Stunned, she would start to tear up and my wife would want really bad now to tell her everything, but I wouldn't let her... "Listen, I think we have some sheets for that cot in a box somewhere in the attic. Go up and see if you can find them so we can make your bed before going to dinner."

Basically soft-crying she would slunk her way one step at a time to the attic. We would listen with a slow smile as she got closer to the attic door... we'd hear the door open, then slunk, slunk, slunk, sl...

A golden moment of silence as she realizes that something has changed in the attic. A growing girly scream of excitement would spiral down to us and we'd barely hear her running around on the plush carpet as she explored her new "apartment" in the attic.

Of course we'd demand she come back downstairs WAY before she wanted to leave her new room because we have to go to dinner. And our entire dinner conversation would revolve around what she and her mother were going to do to fix up the space to make it her own. There'd be talk of sleepovers and how her best friend Jessica is going to be soooo jealous, and can she have boys up there?! (Jesus! I just got her and she's already thinking about boys?! That hurt my heart a little...)

Anyway... THESE were the things I was thinking about as I swept the dust from the unstained and now bare wooden floors. And I actually found myself smiling at the "memories" I had made of our eight year old daughter and her new bedroom. What's worse... my eyes actually were slightly watery from the emotions that little girl and her reaction gave me.

Manipulative little bitch.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Things Stupid Kids Do: Episode 2, Part II (The Journey Meanders)

It had never occurred to me that the smiles and words of encouragement I got from fellow undergraduates as I carried a heavy wooden canoe to a river in preparation for a 95 mile "day trip" might be anything but well-wishing. Within four hours of these smiles and words I knew that they were motivated by lust for the prime dormitory space that was on the verge of opening up due to the anticipated deaths of the current occupants.

FYI, a lazy river gets lazier when lazy canoe-ists enter its waters. Bugs (not the nice kind) come out for a lazy brunch (there isn't anyplace to go or hide when you are in the middle of a swarm in the middle of a canoe in the middle of a LAZY river); the lazy sun shines brightest upon the brows of the lazy people sweating lazy drops of sweat which trickle lazily down their damn lazy butt-cracks.

Why the emphasis on indolence? Turns out that four hours of laziness on a lazy river flowing lazily south is enough time to realize that we had made an enormous mistake. Hm, "mistake" isn't a good enough word. There was NO WAY that too lazy kids were going to paddle their lazy asses UP river in the humidity and heat to take-back their commitment to the canoe trip. By this time, we had defaulted into this river wedlock. Locked in. Death, Taxes, This Trip. No deposit, no return. We had traveled beyond the event horizon.

In other words, after a full day of traveling down the river, we finally beached our water craft below the Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park. We climbed the steep bank to the campground area and set up our tent in a place that was least likely to get us caught as non-paying guests of this fine resort. It felt good to have a place to sleep, and cooking up the little bit of prepared food we brought made us feel like Stanley and Livingstone or Lewis and Clark. Those cheap, crappy hot-dogs were outstanding! We dined and mused about our travels thus far. We figured we'd traveled about maybe 30-35 miles of the 95-ish total?

In actuality, it was probably less than 8 miles.

We had finished Day 01 (of 3?) in our grand adventure... ignorance of how little we had actually traveled wasn't exactly bliss; having devoured our provisions, we couldn't help but anticipate how hungry we were probably going to be by the time we got home (in maybe a day and a half?). Had we a GPS tracking device to actually tell us that we had closer to two weeks left to go, we might have panicked a little bit. So that would be bad because it could have distracted us from the class iv rapids we were going to hit mid-morning the next day.

We packed up that morning, relieved we had not been discovered by the park manager, and loaded the canoe with excited anticipation (we had little else to load, having eaten and drank nearly all our supplies). The day was cool but sunny and promised to be excellent for river travels. The water was smooth, gentle, and flowing. What else could we have asked for (except bug spray, drinking water, food, and sun screen)?

The next couple of hours were uneventful except for having to carry our canoe up a steep hill through trees and scrub then over a ridge that marked the eastern bank of the damn we had to get around. (If it hadn't been for the effort, scratches, swearing, sweating, and bruises it took to get around the damn, I wouldn't have spelled it the way I am spelling it.)

At some point as we drifted down the river post-damn, we started to notice that the water was picking up some speed... becoming rapid you might say. Then suddenly we were in it! White frothy water splashing and bouncing us left and right faster and faster usually between the boulders in the river, but sometimes toward them!

My friend sat up front, oar in the water trying to keep us from smashing on the rocks by poking at them, while also screaming navigation pointers like "LEFT!" or sometimes "RIGHT!"

My job in the back of the canoe was to try to steer the tiny craft safely between the obstacles he loudly (and with a slightly panicked tremor in his voice) identified. I couldn't see right in front of us, but I could see further ahead in the river where things were going to be getting a lot worse. There wasn't really a lot of time to think ahead because we were trying our super-duper best to stay in one piece and pointing the right way.

Then it happened. While my friend was screaming instructions, and just as we were heading into the bad spot, I pushed my old wooden oar against a boulder to keep us straight and the oar snapped. In one hand I was suddenly holding a stub of wood (handle and button) while the other hand automatically reached out to grab the blade as it bobbed up from the water. At the time, a significant part of my attention was used up by being impressed that I was able to snatch the broken bit out of the water so readily - I'm sure it looked cool. My friends repeated screaming "Right! RIght! "RIGht" RIGHt! RIGHTRIGHTRIGHTRIGHT!" refocused my attention, but I didn't actually know what to do.

Best I could come up with was to jump ship. I rolled out of the canoe and touched the riverbed pretty easily. My friend had felt the canoe tip when I jumped out and was on board with me being not on board and ended up joining me in the water when he saw the broken paddle. So we were able to physically push the canoe through most of the worst part of the rapids (sometimes having to swim) until finally a safer part of the river showed up. There was a short beach with people doing the whole white-water-rapids experience, plus some picknickers. We walked the canoe to shore and plopped down.

After a few minutes some of the professionals in the water approached us to ask if we were alright. They also offered some food and DRINKS! We accepted and wondered aloud what were were going to do now. We explained that we were on a trip from Plymouth to the Merrimack river close enough to home to be picked up by parents.

"Why?" Asked one of the younger enthusiasts. "To avoid the toll!" was the joke we added...

Mostly this is where we started to internalize exactly how f-ed up this adventure was.

What were the hints?

(1) We were hungry, and were told that our trip is probably going to take a few more days.
(2) We were thirsty, and were told that there were at least four or so more damns we were going to have to bypass. One of which for sure was going to be tough to do. (We kinda thought we did that one already, but no, that was the easiest one of them all.)
(3) We were told that these rapids were "nothing" compared to what was further down the river.
(4) The looks on the faces of the people with more experience than us... Like they wanted to memorize all of our features so they could remember us when they saw our obituaries in the news later. Or, if they ended up finding us drowned and down-river.
(5) The incredibly generous gift that they gave us! An aluminum replacement paddle! I remember asking if they were sure that they could part with it, and I was told it was just an emergency paddle. Not a very good one or one they would want to rely on because it was slightly bent. My friend and I looked it over carefully and were unable to detect even the slightest defect. That really made us feel ignorant and marked for a watery death.

This is where smarter people would have called it a day, phoned parents for a pickup, and gone on with their lives. But we were embarrassed and just wanted to get out of there. So we jumped back in our canoe and headed on down the river. Neither of us wanting to be the one to pull the plug on the adventure, but probably both wishing the other would.

After about two more hours of lazy floating, baking, and feeding small insects, the horrors of our near-death experience were forgotten like a boring dream. In fact, the trip was exactly becoming just like a boring dream. We didn't have a lot to say to each other at this point (I'm not much of a conversationalist anyway) and the river had gone pretty wide, meaning the river wasn't flowing all that fast. Most of our paddling was side to side to escape the larger swarms of biting bugs.

Then we saw something odd above the trees down the river. A giant plume of black smoke and a blue helicopter circling around it. The river was slowly bringing us to the end of our trip, which coincidentally would also be our next near-death experience.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Things Stupid Kids Do: Episode 3 (SCUBA-Doofuses)

I think that it is very important to begin with the observation that the SCUBA symbol looks quite a bit like the universal symbol for "NO" except just reversing the hues.

When I was in high school, my best friend and I were able to take SCUBA lessons. Not much more to say about that (and it is only peripherally related to this blog entry) except I remember getting to class one evening and I'd forgotten my bathing suit. So I was allowed to dip into the lost-and-found for a "loaner" suit. There was only one men's bikini extra-large suit. I went with it. So, not to put an image in your head, but… Imagine doing that trick where you peel an orange so that it is all in one piece and then sort of try to use that to cover up the mid-section of a ruler. For the entire lesson my suit kinda floated around me whilst all of my goodies bobbed and peaked around the edges of the suit. NOT a fun evening for anyone.

So, back to the main story.

As part of the SCUBA lessons, we were required to purchase some SCUBA gear: Face mask, snorkel, and fins. Because this was all based in New England, we couldn't get the little flippers you probably are thinking of (as depicted above). NO. We had to purchase fins that looked like they were normally only issued to military SEAL divers! These bad-boys were BIG and HEAVY. So heavy that we also had to purchase diving suit boots so the fins wouldn't cut up our feet. Here, this is what they looked like (along with the basic boots).
The idea was that if we had to drag-race speedboats or out-swim sharks (or just deal with the wild ocean currents of New England), these would do the trick. Look at them! They even had vents built into them; very heavy-duty.

All of the above is just so you now know why I had SCUBA boots in my possession. Otherwise, it would just seem like, for "some reason" I have what looks like part of the gimp costume from Pulp Fiction. Depending on the context, the boots could fit what you'd expect to wear as a super-hero, or, as a participant in an S&M orgy.

One of the places my friend and I would frequent was the Methuen Mall. It has since been demolished, but it was THE place for high school kids to hang out back then. One of the anchor stores there was Sears. If you passed all the way through Sears to the lawn and garden section, you came to a semi-outdoor section that featured an above-ground pool filled with temptingly swimmable water. This section could be locked off from the store via sliding doors. BUT, the pool was still technically outside (in the elements) and only out of reach off hours due to the giant (15-feet high) black metal fence in which it was enclosed.

I don't know how many times we walked past or around that pool until one day it occurred to us that we could maybe sneak back one night, jump the fence, and have ourselves a swimeroo in the Sears pool! As soon as the idea struck, we began to plan.

(1) Need to travel light in case we need to make a fast getaway. So bathing suits ONLY!

(2) Make sure there aren't any witnesses, so we should do this around 2:00 in the morning on a week-night (we picked Wednesday).

(3) Don't want to draw attention to our activities by parking our car (white 1970 Ford Pinto coupe - Google this car up folks) right next to the Sears lawn and garden area. So we will park our white car in the darkest area of the parking lot, about half a football field away. Did I mention that the car was white?

Problem: How can we get to Sears from the car and then back to the car across all that parking lot filled with pebbles and bits of glass without destroying our tender teenaged tootsies (feet)?

Solution! Wear our SCUBA boots! They will provide enough protection from small bits of debris AND they are designed (DESIGNED!) to be used in water - so we wouldn't even have to take them off!

We had our plan. Of course, because we were nerds, we did some dry rehearsals.

First we needed to find the perfect blind spot to park the white car in the parking lot.

Found it!

Next we needed to get a feel for how long it would take to run back to the white car.

Timed it out!

We were ready to go, so a date was chosen. I picked up my friend (quietly) from his home around 1:15 in the morning. Both of us in our late 70's style men's bathing suits (yeah, you should do a Google search on that, too - it will help paint the picture for what's coming up later) and black SCUBA-boots drove to the mall which was about a 30-45 minute trip.

We parked our white car in the perfect pre-selected spot. Hearts pounding, we trotted stealthily toward Sears which had somehow managed to become a full football field's distance away. Our heads were spinning around the whole time looking for any potential trouble. I remember looking back at the white car and thinking how it didn't look very well hidden in the shadows. You know, being all white and all. But despite our racing hearts, our fears of mall security (or the cops) suddenly showing up, and our white car attracting attention, everything went as smooth as butterscotch pudding right up to the Sears lawn and garden center fence.

My friend started to size up the situation and was about ready to use the terrain and the side of the building to scale the fence. I saw that his plan to get in was perfect! But this was when it occurred to me that we would also need to get back out. As I looked around the inside of the fence, I realized we would become trapped inside. Getting out would be next to impossible since getting in meant we would have to drop down from the top of the barrier. Not to mention that our hands would be wet from the pool water which would make it pretty slippery if we tried to shimmy up the fence posts to get back out in a hurry.

Basically we stood there for about ten minutes trying to figure out how we could get out of the cage before we finally just called it a night. Honestly, it was a 60-40 mix of relief and disappointment.
We never did go back. We never did get into that inviting pool. But this is where the story actually begins.

We drove back toward home (Plaistow, NH) and as was our standard method of operation, we stopped at the all-night McDonalds to fuel ourselves up with some food, and then we stopped at the gas station to fuel up the car. We were like a NASCAR pit-crew when it came to gassing up. My friend would take care of the gas cap, unlocking it (this was back when people were paranoid about fuel theft) and placing it carefully on the car roof in time for me to have paid the $2.00 we were willing to spend on gas and to put the fuel pump in the tank. Once fueled up, one of us would replace the pump and the other would replace the gas cap (careful not to lose the key) and we'd be back in the car and off in no time!

Well, this time we forgot to replace the gas cap and when we turned the corner on route 125 to head up the hill and into Plaistow, we could hear the cap scurry along the roof and leap into the darkness beside the road. There was a small gravel lot here (filled with broken glass bottles, rusty nails, dead animals, barbed wire, razor blades... well maybe I exaggerate) so we pulled over and hopped out to try to find the damn cap in the damn dark.

So paint this picture in your head: Two scrawny teens in short tight swim suits, no shirts, wearing black S&M boots, prowling around the side of the road at 3:00 in the morning. Suspicious looking much?

Of course this is when the police finally appear. Oh! Not just ANY police. No... no way-siree! This squad car has my uncle and another officer in it. They are instantly questioning my friend as he is half-ignoring them and half trolling around looking for the gas cap (he was never intimidated by authority figures like I was - in fact he had a tendency to be a tad antagonistic). As soon as I saw it was my uncle, I occurred to me to view the situation from his standpoint. Immediately I went to the car and started peeling off my boots to throw into the back seat. Those suckers are NOT easy to put on OR to take off. So now I am barefoot in this dark gravel (glass, razors, pin-cushions, etc.) lot. Yay for me!

As I am about finished with this, the other officer with my uncle shines his flashlight on my friend's stylish kicks. "What the hell do you have on your feet, son?"

That's when the other officer (my uncle) shines a light on my face and recognition dawns. After a disgusted shake of his head he shines the light up and down my friend and tells us to hurry up and find the cap, then get home.

To this day he probably thinks my friend and I were up to something pretty kinky. Not sure if he ever shared the story with my dad (probably did)… but I never heard about it.

So, what's the big deal? Well this was back during my superficially liberal days when I was secretly homophobic, but outwardly supportive of almost any lifestyle anyone wanted to live. I think I figured it was a safe position to take since I'd probably never even meet someone who was non-straight. There was a strong sense back then that my family, neighbors, etc. would never support alternative lifestyles, so I prided myself in holding such progressive views. Truth be told, if someone introduced themselves to me and openly admitted they were gay, I'd have probably done an about-face and walked smack into the side of a building without thinking just to get away. So this evening was perspective-building for me. I realized I was going to need to do a lot more self-management to be prepared for when that meeting might one day occur.

Take-away moral: Always keep your illegal-activities wardrobe and accessories separate from your law-abiding wardrobe and accessories. Or, always bring a change of clothes when you are going to do something you don't want to get caught doing.