Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Travels with Dulce

A cat is not necessarily the ideal travel companion

Last spring, when Tres became ill, we were faced with a problem: Because he needed medication, and later, a special diet, we couldn’t just leave him home alone. So when the time came for the fall series regattas, we made arrangements to rent a place from Dino and we began bringing the cats with us for the regatta weekends.

For Tres, in particular, this worked well. He traveled fairly well, and he was always a touchy-feely cat who liked being close to his humans. Dulce, on the other hand, was another story. While she always enjoyed being at the destination, she spent most of the time in the car or truck vocalizing – I think it might be the feline equivalent of “One Hundred Bottles Of Beer” – especially when Pat is driving. She still sings, but not nearly as much, if Tadpole or I drive. We once got some tranquilizers from the vet, but we discovered Dulce is a “talkative drunk” – while sedated, she vocalizes even more!

After Tres died, we thought we would just leave Dulce at home on the weekends. But the first weekend that we left her home alone, we came home to find a very frantic feline. Without her buddy to keep her company, she had apparently been lonely, bored, frightened, or all of the above.

So we decided to bring her with us for the weekends, unless the weekend logistics made that impractical. She does seem to like that better, but for us humans it’s a mixed blessing. It’s nice to have her with us at our destination, but the never-ending chorus on the drive down is, to put it mildly, grating.

While on the way to the Butte this weekend, Pat and I were talking about ways to get Zorro to come up to Heron when we relocate Black Magic for summer sailing up in the mountains. One problem is that Heron is so far from El Paso that if Zorro is going to drive that far, he might as well go to San Diego. Another problem is that he can’t find somebody really reliable to take care of his cats if he’s gone more than a couple of days.

Then a really bizarre idea popped up in my head: Zorro taking his cats with him. Let’s see, that’s eleven adult cats and four kittens – and even if most of them don’t sing “One Hundred Bottles Of Beer,” it would take only a couple to make a whole lot of noise. And the upholstery in the Mercedes would never be the same.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

My conquer-the-world goal

I want to be known in all time zones

This is a snapshot of the most recent hundred visitors to my blog, and what time zone they’re in. The whole meaning of the phrase “it’s five o’clock somewhere” is that, no matter what time it is where you are, somewhere there’s a time zone where it’s five o’clock. Therefore, it’s all right to pop the top off a cold one and relax.

Because time zones are bound up with the philosophy of this blog, I pay attention to them. My goal, eventually, is to call up that combination map and bar chart and find that I have at least one recent visitor from every single time zone in the world. I came close two days ago – there were only three time zones that weren’t represented. I keep hoping.


Man, oh man, there’s a lot to tell

Catching up on two weekends

Last weekend wasn’t a race weekend, but it was busy even so. You may have seen some of the details on Pat’s blog, Desert Sea. He went to the lake Wednesday to take to take a class Thursday and Friday to get certified as a boating safety instructor, and Tadpole, Dulce, and I drove south as soon as Tadpole got out of school Friday. We dropped Dulce off at the doublewide, and we joined Pat at the boat in time for an hour of sailing before the sun set.

Saturday, we met Zorro at the lake and saw his “new” car – another Mercedes, this one a 1985 rather than an ’83, the 300D turbo diesel. It’s beautiful, in near-mint condition, creamy yellow – my immediate thought was of The Great Gatsby – I should probably warn him not to let Daisy drive it.

Zorro needed to take his boat out of the water so he could get it near a mast-raising crane in order to replace a fraying backstay, and that would also give him an opportunity to do some work on the bottom of the boat. So Tadpole and I joined him sailing up to a boat ramp that had a crane, near Dumbledore and Mother Superior’s place, while Pat drove the truck and trailer around to pick us up. We got the boat out of the water Saturday evening, and then Sunday morning Zorro and I worked on the bottom of the boat until Dumbledore and Mother Superior got home from Mass. We then took the boat to the mast-raising pole, which we used to hoist Dumbledore (a retired lineman for the electric company who still loves getting up in high places) up the mast to replace the top end of the backstay.

Next, Zorro, Tadpole, and I sailed south while Pat took the truck and trailer, put the trailer away, and came to the south end of the lake to meet us at the marina. As we neared the marina, the wind died, and we were left somewhat drifting. The original plan had been for Pat to join us for some sailing once we got down there, but with such little wind, Zorro just wanted to put the boat away and go home.

In hindsight, I see that some things could have been better planned, especially from Pat’s point of view. We could have positioned the truck and trailer near the boat ramp Saturday before setting sail, so Pat could have joined us on the water. Likewise, we could have made sure the Mercedes was at the marina Sunday so Pat could be with us sailing southward, and then he could be dropped off to pick up the truck and trailer later. Oh, well … next time we need to do something like that, we can work better on vehicle positioning.

OK, so that’s last weekend. Now there’s this most recent one.

The story of the weekend actually starts Thursday night, when Pat and Tadpole helped a prospective new crew member move stuff from his old apartment to his new townhouse. In keeping with my current custom of blog nicknames, this crew member’s nickname will be where he came from, until I can come up with a better one. So we’ll call him Penzance.

After I got off work Thursday night, Pat and I joined Penzance and a few of his mates at a pub that is very popular with British expatriates because of its authenticity. The beer is plentiful and very, very good. The drink menu also includes a huge selection of single-malt Scotch and a goodly selection of other whiskies, although we didn’t try any of those. The food is quintessentially British; my bangers and mash were better than many that I have had in England, and Pat’s fish and chips were great, too, if marred by the ersatz newspaper (dated April 1, 2009) that came beneath them. One of our companions had just about the most magnificent ploughman’s lunch I have ever seen.

Friday, we picked up Tadpole as soon as school got out, and then we picked up Penzance to go to the lake. We got there in time to help Apple Gal and Apple Guy, who had just bought a very nice Etchells and brought it from California, to put their boat together in order to launch it the next day.

Later, we went to our boat and got together with Zorro, who gave us some useful stuff, such as a line to replace the old port-side spinnaker sheet – so now, both spinnaker sheets are reasonably new but not necessarily ideal, since they’re heavier line that eventually will be used for other purposes. New, lightweight, high-performance spinnaker sheets are definitely very high on our wish list for when we get money to buy them.

Weather predictions for Saturday had been inconsistent – of the four major weather forecasters we look at, two said the winds would be relatively stiff, 18 gusting 24 or so, and the other two said the winds would be around 8 or 10. As it turned out, nobody was right; the winds were variable from light to nonexistent. Worse, the direction changed, and with no discernible pattern. Sheet in, sheet out, spinnaker up, spinnaker down, back up again, reach up, keep it full, nope, better head down, take the chute down again, oops, now we’re head to wind, bear off, got a header, got a lift, head up, nope, not so fast, oh, we’re tacking even though we didn’t change course …

In the first race, we came in second; Apple Gal was first and Zorro third. In the second race, Zorro was first, we were second, and Apple Gal was third. In the third race, which had a downwind finish, we and Zorro got into some exciting tactics at the end, and we were second to him by only 4 seconds; Sutherland was third and Apple Gal was fourth.

Sunday, the wind was even lighter, and it was variable in speed, although at least it had a basic sort of consistency in direction. Sutherland didn’t come out to race; he phoned the race committee to say he had a cold. We ran only one race, the results of which aren’t final yet, because Zorro is protesting Apple Gal’s handling of the start. But if the results stand, Apple Gal was first, Zorro was second, and we were third.

We learned some things this weekend. We observed that sometimes in the very light air, we were moving and the other boats were not – partly that has to do with plain luck, and partly that has to do with the boat’s crew’s ability to react to changes in conditions. We had excellent starts for every race this weekend, primarily because Penzance is a superb tactician, so we’re definitely keeping him on the team. We observed that Apple Gal is definitely a good skipper, even if she’s new to this particular boat (unfamiliarity with its handling might have led to the situation that Zorro is protesting). For all of the races, we were right up with the leaders – and that can’t just be because we have a fast boat; Sutherland also has an Etchells, and he was typically behind even the J/22s.

We also confirmed knowledge that we’d previously been told but not shown: Zorro doesn’t like to lose. He’s said that many times in the past, but in the past, he’s just taken his Etchells and done a horizon job on the rest of the fleet. So he’s almost never been in danger of losing – it only happens when he makes a really big mistake like going to the wrong mark.

Not any more. Apple Gal is nipping at his heels. I’m keeping up, too, even though I haven’t been at this racing thing for very long. Zorro has said that he wants to build an Etchells fleet in order to have other boats similar to his to tune with and compete against. But I don’t know that he was expecting this sort of competition to emerge this suddenly.

One of the other frustrating things about this weekend was that not a single boat from the B fleet showed up. As long as the Rock Canyon Marina is down at the south end of the lake instead of up where it belongs near the race course, those of us who have boats there have to get several miles up the lake to the race course. That’s a small problem if there’s some good wind, but if there isn’t good wind, Zorro and I have to have someone in the B fleet give us a tow out to the race course – they all have motors. Sunday, we put our motor on Black Magic for the trip out to the race course, and we discovered that the motor’s gas tank holds enough to get one Etchells, towing another Etchells, most of the way (but not all of the way) from the current location of Rock Canyon Marina to the race course. We had to drift the rest of the way. We handed off the motor to the committee boat during the racing, and then we recovered it afterward.

At the end of the day, we put the boats away, and then we socialized with Zorro at the doublewide for a while before heading homeward, by way of Socorro Springs, which Penzance greatly enjoyed. We came home to find a very lonely and attention-craving Dulce cat.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor, part 6

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

“Oh, but it did happen,” Johnny said, reaching up to the shelf that ran along the top of the settee cushion. “See, here’s the, uh, the club.” He lifted a shillelagh from the shelf and placed it in my lap. It was made of dark wood, very shiny, and surprisingly heavy.

“But you could have come by a shillelagh just about any way,” I said, hefting the club. “It didn’t necessarily have to come from one of the Little People.”

“Well, look,” he said, reaching up to the shelf again. “Here’s the rope I used, as well. Yeah, I know, how can I prove I tied a leprechaun up in it? But really, I did.” He handed me a coil of what looked to me like fairly ordinary rope, about a half inch thick, of twisted grayish-white material, somewhat soft to the touch.

I put the shillelagh on the table and picked up the rope, looking more closely at it. “I suppose I could have this tested for leprechaun DNA … if someone in some medical lab had some leprechaun DNA to match it against – which, of course, they don’t …”

Johnny grinned. “I hadn’t thought of that, but maybe leprechaun DNA would at least be different from human DNA, so you could tell that the guy I tied up wasn’t human.”

“Oh, don’t bother.” I settled back on the settee, fiddling around with the rope. “Still, it was a nice story – kept me entertained all evening.” I looked up and saw a look of hurt and disappointment on Johnny’s face, his eyebrows peaked up in the middle like an earnest puppy. “No, wait, it was more than just that, though.” I reached for his hand. “You’re a fascinating person, and just meeting you has been, well, something special. This is one evening I’m never going to forget.”

“Oh, well, that’s all right then,” Johnny said, hardly sounding mollified at all.

“But I mean it. If you have more stories to tell, I’d be glad to listen to them any time. You have a gift for them.” Johnny had picked up the other end of the rope and was scowling at it, tying it into knots and then untying it again. “Or maybe you could take me sailing,” I said. “I don’t know anything about boats, but I’d love to learn, especially from someone like you.”

Johnny’s face brightened a bit. “Now that, I’d be glad to do. You can stay here tonight, and we can set sail first thing in the morning …” He looked at the nearly empty brandy bottle on the table and then picked it up, swirling the last of the liquid around the bottom. “Or maybe not first thing, but you know, as soon as we get going …” He slugged back the last of the brandy.

“Well, I, uh … I usually don’t stay over at a guy’s place on a first date …”

“Who says it’s a date?” Johnny asked, the twinkle fully restored to his bright-blue eyes. “Listening to the story’s part of your work, right? And tomorrow’s a sailing lesson, not a date. Hey, I’ve got an idea – we can start on the sailing lesson right now.”


“Yeah. You see, sailors need to know how to tie knots, and I can teach you a few right now.” He held up his end of the rope and gestured toward my end. “Here. This is a bowline. It’s used when you need a loop of rope that won’t shrink …” He put a loop in his rope, pulled the end up and around and back down, and I followed suit with my end and then pulled it tight. “There, you got it. You’re a natural – it usually takes people several tries to get the bowline right.”

“Well, maybe I just have a good teacher …”

“Now, here’s another one … the clove hitch. You use it to tie something short-term – it’s not good for a lot of strain …” He looked around for a moment, then picked up my hand and pulled the rope around my wrist, then looped it around again and under itself, making a neat criss-cross pattern. “See how that works?” He held out an arm. “Now, you try it.”

I ran the rope around Johnny’s wrist just the way he had done on mine, ending up with the same neat pattern. “What a way to spend an evening,” I commented, giggling a bit, “tying each other up!”

“You know, you should try it,” Johnny said, holding out his other wrist next to the first. “That clove hitch is the base of a lot of lashings. Work around both wrists in sort of a figure-eight a few times … that’s how I tied up the leprechaun you don’t believe in.”

“Oh, really, like this?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s exactly it,” Johnny said as I made a few turns around his wrists, binding them together. Then he turned around sideways on the settee and brought his feet up to the seat. “Do my ankles, too.”

By now, I was laughing full force, rather than just giggling. Boy, all those drinks were really hitting home. “You’re kidding, right? Is this some weird sort of foreplay?” But still, I went ahead with the rope around his ankles, leaving him hog-tied on the settee. When I ran out of rope, I tucked a loop of the rope under the last coil around his ankle, leaving the end sticking out for quick release.

“There!” Johnny half-shouted, laughing himself. “That’s exactly how I had the little guy, right down to having the slip-knot at the end.” He rocked himself into a more upright position and leaned toward me, whispering, “Now you got me where you want me, don’t you think?”

“What?” I was getting a bit dizzy; I wasn’t sure whether it was from all the laughing or all the alcohol or both, but my vision was beginning to fade out.

He nodded his head toward a tall, narrow cabinet door in the opposite side of the cabin. “You see that hanging locker over there?”

I nodded.

“Go and look in there, in the bottom. It’s all yours now.”

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Friday, March 16, 2007

What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor, part 5

You just know something is wrong now ...

Johnny picked up on the shiver. “Hey, let’s go below. It’s warmer down there.” He helped me to stand up and climb down the companionway, steep enough that it was more like a ladder than steps, and he motioned to me to take a seat on the settee. The inside of the boat was much like the outside, generally well constructed, but in need of cleaning; the wood paneling was grimy, there was a pile of dirty dishes in the galley, and the place smelled of mildew, sweaty socks, and, over all … was that cabbage? At least it was indeed warmer in the cabin, and Johnny turned on a small wall-mounted lamp whose yellow glow seemed to warm the place even more.

Johnny sat down beside me, once again stretching that arm across my shoulders. “So then the leprechaun says, ‘Well, ye caught me, fair and square. Ye’ll be wantin’ me pot o’ gold, now, won’t ye?’ And I says, ‘First things first. I’m hungry.’ And I served myself up that cabbage, and wouldn’t you know, it’s the best food I ever had in my life.”

“You’re telling me that you had a chance at a pot of gold, and you took a pot of cabbage instead?” This was all beginning to seem a little unreal. I wondered whether there might have been something else in the brandy … but then, probably all the alcohol was enough to give me the sort of dream feeling. I could tell my mind was beginning to wander in a hazy way.

“Now, I didn’t say that, did I?” Johnny took a sip of brandy and set the bottle down on the table in front of the settee. “You see, I still had the little guy all tied up, and I knew that I could make him give me the gold before I would untie him. So after I finish the cabbage, I says, ‘Now I want that gold, and I want you to tell me how to get to my boat,’ and I wave the sh-, uh, the club, over his head, and he says, ‘Ye don’t be needin’ to threaten me. I’ll give ye the gold, and yer boat is not too far away at all, at all. ’Tis just a wee bit north o’ here, right where ye left it.’

“So then I go to the back room, and I get the pot of gold, and that’s when I realize why it’s so little – it weighs a ton. If it were any bigger, I couldn’t of lifted it. I brought the gold out to the front cave, and then the little guy – really helpful bugger, says, ‘Ye’ll be wantin’ yer dinghy, too, won’t ye? I’ve a dolly underneath it, so ye can roll it to the beach.’ Here I am, about to walk away with his pot of gold, and he’s making everything easy for me. I couldn’t figure out what he was about.”

“Maybe there’s something about being tied up that makes a leprechaun especially eager to please,” I said, leaning a bit closer to Johnny and reaching up a finger to twirl a lock of hair that curled down over his forehead. “Or maybe he just couldn’t resist your boyish charm.” Now where had that comment come from? The word “flirt” isn’t in my vocabulary – or at least, it hadn’t been until that night. I just don’t do that sort of thing. That brandy was really hitting hard.

“I wasn’t being all that charming then,” Johnny said, taking my hand in his free hand. “Maybe it was something about being tied up. But I went back and found the dolly, and I got it and the dinghy out to the front cave – it was a tight squeeze, all right – and then I put the dinghy on the dolly and the gold in the dinghy. Just before I left, I untied the leprechaun, and he says, ‘Yer motors’ll be runnin’ all right now. Best o’ luck to ye.’ And then he tips his hat, and he’s gone. Just like that.” Johnny dropped my hand to snap his fingers in the air.

“Just like that.”

“Yeah, just like that,” Johnny repeated, placing his hand on top of mine, on my knee. “So I took the dinghy and the gold and went north along the beach, and there’s my boat, right where the little guy said it would be, and when I put the dinghy in the water, the motor started right up, and I got the gold to the boat, no problem. Next morning, I weighed anchor and motored out of the cove as if nothing had happened, and then I had fair winds all the rest of the journey, so I didn’t even need the motor all that much.”

“So if you ended up with the gold, how come you’re broke now?” I asked.

“Well, that’s the thing,” Johnny said, scratching his head. “I’m not really broke, because I still have the gold. But it’s weird. It won’t let me let go of it. I took one of the coins to an antique dealer, to sell it, and he looks at it and says it’s really special, Spanish or something, like, sixteenth century, I don’t remember exactly what, but it’s worth six thousand dollars. Just that one coin, six thousand dollars, and there’s a couple hundred in the pot. So I’m, like, a millionaire if I just sell these things. So then I pick up the coin to offer it to the dealer, and it, like, got stuck to my hand. I tried to drop it, and it wouldn’t fall. I put it in my pocket, and then I could let go of it, but then when I tried to take it out again, it stuck in the corner of the pocket. By this time, the dealer’s looking at me really funny, and I’m getting worried he might think I stole the coin or something, and I don’t want to have anything to do with the cops, so I walk out of the place. Then when I got back here, the coin was perfectly normal – I could pick it up, put it down, no problem.”

“So you need to have somebody else pick up the gold when you sell it.”

“I thought about that. I have a friend who has a friend who handles special sales – wouldn’t be able to pay me full retail, but at least I’d get something.”

“A fence?”

“Well, yeah, I guess you could call him that. Anyways, I had him come over to look at the stuff, but before he could see it, he fell down the companionway and broke his leg. And then when the paramedics were working on splinting him up and hauling him out of here, one of them noticed a couple of the coins that I had out here on the table, and he started to ask me something, and then he keels over with a heart attack.”

“So you had a fence with a broken leg, and also a dead paramedic in here?” I looked around the cramped cabin. “It must have been pretty crowded.”

“Oh, the paramedic wasn’t dead,” Johnny said. “But that did mean that there were two more paramedics in here to take care of him, so it really did get crowded. One of the new guys leaned on the table, but not for long – he put his hand on one of the coins, and it burned him, left a nasty red mark on the palm of his hand.”

“So you still weren’t able to sell the gold.”

“As time went on, I was getting frustrated. You know, it’s really aggravating when you have something that’s worth so much money, and you can’t get the money because you’re stuck. I mean, I had bills to pay, and I really could use the money that gold was worth. It was completely driving me nuts. Then finally I decided the hell with it, I was just going to throw the gold in the ocean, get rid of it once and for all. No more gold, no more frustration.”

“You were going to get rid of a million dollars’ worth of gold?”

“It got to the point where I just felt like I had to.” Johnny shivered, just an instant. “It was eating me and eating me and eating me up. It got so I couldn’t think about anything else. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t fu-, uh, have fun with women. So I go out in the boat, a long ways from shore, and I take the pot, so’s I can heave it overboard, let some scuba diver pick up the curse as treasure trove.”

“So that’s why you’re broke – you don’t have the gold any more.”

“No, not at all. I got the pot out to the cockpit, and then the handle broke. So then I tried to pick the pot up by getting my arm underneath it, but it’s turned really heavy, so I can’t budge it. So then I decided I was going to drop the coins overboard one by one, but like when I went to the dealer, the coin stuck to my hand and wouldn’t let go. I tried throwing it, and I ended up dislocating my shoulder.”

“I think I get the picture,” I said. “That gold is cursed. Of course, that means you can’t show it to me, either, right? Nice way to end the story, without any proof any of it happened.”

Of course, the story isn't over yet ...

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Programming note

Hang in there ...

The visit counter still isn't working right, but the folks at Sitemeter are working on it. Depending on what browser you're using and how you have it set, you may or may not even see the counter -- if you can see it, it looks like I have actually lost a few hundred visitors.

I've been checking back every few hours, and it appears that right now, the Sitemeter folks are undertaking a painstaking and grueling reconstruction of visit data -- each time, there are a couple more days' worth of visits recorded. According to their latest update on the problem, they have been worried that they might just lose the data altogether, so it's nice to see that they're at least beginning to recover it. If they actually succeed in saving everything (or even almost everything), I'll gladly buy each of these folks a growler of Pickaxe IPA.


What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor, part 4

or, how to catch a leprechaun ...

“I realized it was getting late in the day, and I figured I’d better find a safe place to spend the night, in case the bear was still around. But before I could do anything, a big storm came up, just totally suddenly, out of nowhere. We’re talking forty knots, gusting sixty, pouring rain, hail, lightning, the works. In seconds, I was soaking wet and really cold, and my shirt was getting shredded. I headed into the forest for shelter – I know you’re not supposed to go under a tree in case of lightning, but I really needed to get out of the rain, and I figured if I was under a whole lot of trees, I’d stay away from the tallest ones and hope I didn’t get hit. Still, even in the woods, the rain and hail just kept slamming me. I kept looking for somewhere I could take shelter, but there just wasn’t anything. Finally, I spotted a rock outcropping, and I went around to the lee side of it, and that did protect me a little bit.”

“Lightning does strike rocks, too …”

“Oh, I knew that. But I just had to take shelter somehow. So eventually the rain let up. It seemed like it had gone on for hours, but it can’t have been all that long. When the clouds broke up, the sun was just about to set. Everything was clearing up, and the rain was moving away. That’s when I saw the rainbow. It was the brightest one I’d ever seen, and it looked like it was so close, I could almost reach out and touch it. I even did stretch out my hand toward it, but I couldn’t reach it. I had to follow it.”

“I think I see where you’re going with this …”

“I don’t even know why, but something just kept pulling me along after that rainbow. Then I came to another rock outcropping like the one I’d taken shelter behind, but this one had a hole in the side. And the rainbow was coming out of that hole. Now I was really beginning to believe in magic – all of the stories about leprechauns and rainbows and pots of gold, you know. But I also knew that the little guy was both clever and had it in for me, so I was extra-careful as I went up to that cave. I sneaked as quietly as I could and flattened myself against the rock next to the opening and peeked in.” Johnny finished the beer and signaled to Esteban for another one.

“Oh, no, friend, you’ve had enough,” Esteban said. “I ain’t giving you no more. If you can pay up, maybe I’ll change my mind.” He held out his hand, palm up, rubbing fingers and thumb together to indicate cash.

“Sorry, man,” Johnny said, “I’m a bit short this week. Next week, I promise. I’ve got something coming.”

“Oh, you have something coming, all right,” Esteban said, smiling even as he said it. “Adios until then!”

Johnny and I got up and left. I seemed to be walking a bit more steadily; the tacos had soaked up some of the alcohol running through my system. Johnny was also somewhat steadier on his feet, but he was still holding my elbow as if he might want support just in case. I didn’t mind; the closeness allowed him to continue the story in a hushed voice. “So I peeked into the cave to see what I could see,” he said as we resumed walking along the path toward the marina.

“And you saw the leprechaun and his pot of gold?”

“Nothing like that. The cave was definitely occupied; it was full of camping supplies – camp stove, pots and pans, cot, sleeping bag, the usual. It was a mess, too, dirty laundry all over the place, dirty dishes, all that. But nobody was home. Or at least I didn’t see the guy. I realized there was another cave beyond this one, though, so he might be hiding there. That’s also where the pot of gold might be. I sat down against the rock to figure out what I wanted to do next. Should I go through the front cave and look into the back one? Or should I go back and look for my dinghy and boat? The sun went down and it was getting dark. Pretty soon it would be too dark to see, and I didn’t want to be out in the open if the leprechaun came home.

“Then I got this idea. I was tryin’ to remember all the stuff I’d heard about leprechauns, and I remembered there was some way if I could catch the guy, I could make him give me his pot of gold …”

“That’s assuming he had a pot of gold in the first place.”

“Yeah, but by then I was willing to believe he did have one, since he had all of this other magic power.” Johnny staggered sideways a bit, pulling us both off the path and into the sand for a moment, then he regained his balance and got back on track. “So I finally decide to go in the cave and take a look around. I figure maybe I can set a trap for him, b’cause all you have to do to get a leprechaun to give you his gold is just catch him and tie him up, right?”

“That’s what the stories say,” I said, propping Johnny up just a bit more firmly.

“So I shuffle through all the junk in the cave – it was such a mess, I didn’t think the leprechaun would notice things had been moved. I was looking for something to make a trap with, like some rope or something, but there wasn’t anything like that. But I found a flashlight that worked. So then I go into the cave in back, and it’s like this trophy room.”

“A trophy room? What’s a leprechaun get trophies for?”

“Well, not actual trophies,” Johnny said as we arrived at the marina and stopped in front of a gate leading out one of the piers. “See, more like souvenirs of boats he’d sunk – a life ring here, a bell there, a transom board with a boat name on it. He even had my dinghy in there – must have had a hell of a time getting it through the cave opening.”

He fumbled in his pocket and eventually pulled out a key ring, the kind with a foam rubber float on it to keep it from sinking if it fell in the water, and he unlocked the gate, letting me through before him, and then gently shutting the gate behind us. Because of the low tide, the first section of the pier was a steep downhill slope. It was especially hard to get down it because my head was spinning and there was the beginning of a dull ache behind my eyes. “Whoa,” I said, hanging an arm around Johnny’s shoulders to keep from falling down.

“Whoa is right,” Johnny said, putting an arm around my waist as we shuffled and stumbled down the ramp, pausing at the bottom to regain balance. “He musta sunk twenty or thirty boats, and that’s assuming he got a piece of every one. I bet I could go through old news reports of boats that went missing or sank and match them up to those trophies.”

“How do you know he sank all those boats?” I asked as we walked along the pier between rows of boats. “Maybe he just took mementos of people he got the better of.”

“Oh, I just had this feeling.” Johnny guided me onto a finger pier alongside a large but somewhat unkempt yacht, in generally good condition, but in need of cleaning; the teak railings and hatch boards were dull, and the fiberglass gelcoat was chalky. “Something about the air in the place, or something. It was like, see, the little guy, well, he just wouldn’t be letting people just sail away.”

We climbed a set of plastic steps and sort of half-stumbled, half-fell into the cockpit of the boat, ending up seated on one of the cockpit seats. The vinyl seat cushions were damp, and I could feel the chilly moisture soaking through the seat of my jeans and the back of my windbreaker. I shivered a bit. “Hey, I think I got something down below to warm you up,” Johnny said, standing up and again fumbling with the key ring. The sudden cold across my back where his arm had been startled me – I had forgotten it was there. He unlocked the hatch and removed the hatch boards, tossing them somewhere down below, and then he climbed down the companionway, coming back up almost immediately with a bottle of cheap brandy, which he uncapped and handed to me. The first sip seared my mouth like volcanic lava, and I found myself coughing violently. “Easy, there,” Johnny said, chuckling a little as he sat down beside me again. “Now, where was I?”

I recovered my breath and took another sip of the brandy, this time feeling the lava flow down my throat. “You were in the leprechaun’s trophy room, counting up his victims.”

“Oh, yeah,” Johnny said, taking the bottle back and having a pull at it himself, then wiping his lips with the back of his hand. “Anyways, I was looking at all of this boat stuff, and there in back is this pot of gold. I mean, the real thing, just like in the stories. It was kinda small, though. I was expecting something bigger.”

Despite the brandy, I was feeling the increasing chill of the evening. I pulled my legs up under me and resettled on the seat, leaning against Johnny as the boat slowly revolved around me. He put an arm across my shoulders, and I welcomed the warmth. “So then I hear a sound in the outer cave, and I realize the little guy is coming home. I gotta think up something fast. I switched off the light, just as I see a couple things I can use – there’s a rope tied to one of the life rings, and there was this sort of an Irish club thingie …”

“A shillelagh?”

“Yeah, a shilla-, shil-, uh, whatever.” Johnny took another pull of brandy and cleared his throat. “I kinda try to work my way around in the dark, to where those things were, without making any noise to let the guy know I’m there. I heard him moving around, making noise with pots and pans, and I figure he was making supper. Sure enough, before too long, I could smell boiling cabbage. Now how the hell is somebody going to get cabbage in the north woods, I don’t know. But he was boiling cabbage.

“Now, normally, I ain’t fond of cabbage. But you remember, I was starving, and that cabbage sure smelled good to me. I almost thought of going ahead and showing my face, just so’s I could get something to eat. But then I hear him going out the cave and I figure now’s my chance. I switch on the light, and I get the rope and the sha-, uh, the club, and I tie a couple of loops in the rope, so’s I can snare the guy, and I stretch it out across the front entrance. He comes back, he’s doing up his fly, doesn’t see what’s up, trips on the rope. I jump on him, wrap the loops around him, and in seconds, he’s all tied up, nice and secure.”

“That was easy,” I commented, suppressing a yawn, but not succeeding in suppressing a shiver. “You know, catching a leprechaun is supposed to be a lot harder than that.”

to be continued ...

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Photographs from the past

The challenge is preserving them

There’s a bit of a sense of déjà-vu around here. Tadpole’s getting recruiting mail from colleges based on his scores on the PSAT.

Back some years ago, my PSAT score was high enough that I was a National Merit semifinalist. I got tons of recruiting materials in the mail. Most of it, I looked at, but then I dumped it in the bottom of my bedroom closet. I ended up with a walk-in closet knee-deep in college recruiting literature. I also got personal contacts from recruiters from a few colleges that really wanted me. It wasn’t the intense attention that top athletic prospects get, but it did give me the idea that I could go wherever I wished. So I applied to only one college, and I got admitted to that one and also to two others that decided to admit me even though I didn’t apply.

Tadpole’s now beginning to get the college recruiting letters because of his PSAT score. Wednesday, he got an email from the folks at Arizona State. He’s interested in architecture as a possible major, and ASU has a good program – what you’d expect when many of the buildings on campus were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or Paolo Soleri. ASU also has a good music program, which is something Tadpole might consider as a minor. When I was in high school, the high school choir went on tour, and ASU was one of the stops along the way.

So I dug out some old photo albums to show Tadpole the pictures I took when the choir was on tour. I especially wanted to show the buildings designed by Wright and Soleri. It took me a while to find the right album and the right part of the album, and while I was looking, I saw a lot of photos that I had taken back then. I was startled to find out how very much Tadpole looks like his uncle Jerry at the same age – Tadpole’s hair is a shade or two darker, but other than that, the two are almost indistinguishable.

Tadpole saw a lot that he liked on the ASU website, so that’s now on his list of institutions that he’s considering.

Meanwhile, I found a lot of interesting stuff in those old photo albums. I have pictures of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad from 1972, the second year it was operating. I have pictures of the Very Large Array radio-telescope from when it was still under construction and only partly functional. I imagine those pictures might be worth contributing to an archive somewhere.

And I also found some pictures of Fuego when he was small, that might be good for some blackmail. The one with the chocolate cake is a family classic that everybody has seen, but how many people have seen the one about scrubbing ears in the bathtub?

Meanwhile, I have all of these old photos in decrepit albums. The albums are the cheap sort with self-stick pages, and over the years, they have lost their stick. I have also learned that this sort of album doesn’t really preserve photos, because the pages are too acidic. I’m going to need to work on a new system. I hope Mother Superior and her friend Chronicler are available to help -- there's some good history here to preserve.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Pi Day

A holiday for geeks

This afternoon, at 1:59:26, we should all have stood round and taken note that we have come full circle, no matter how irrational it might be.

And if you want a song to sing, go to this link.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor, part 3

Our sailor continues with his narrative of his adventures in the Northwest.

“Well, I figured bears are big and clumsy, right? So I could outrun him, I thought. But then he started gaining on me, and I realized I had made a big mistake. I kept running and running into the woods, and he kept getting closer and closer, and I can almost feel his breath on the back of my neck when I spot this tree that has a couple of low branches that I could grab if I jumped high enough, which is what I did. I managed to get up to a higher branch just as the bear made a swipe at my feet – his claws snagged one of my shoes and pulled it off. I kept on climbing until I was about at the top of the tree.”

“What did the bear do next?”

“He kept trying to jump up, but it was pretty clear he couldn’t climb the tree. One time he grabbed one of the lower branches, and it broke off. I was sure glad I wasn’t on it when that happened! Then he went round and round the tree, and he clawed at the trunk. I had visions of him shredding my leg the way he shredded that bark.” Johnny shivered slightly and knocked back the rest of the whiskey, then tossed the empty bottle in the direction of the trash barrel near the bench. It banged off the rim and landed in the sand with a soft thunk.

“So you stayed up in the tree until the bear left?” I got up to pick up the bottle and dropped it into the nearly empty barrel, making an echoing, clanging noise.

Johnny winced. “Ooh, that’s loud,” he said. Then he leaned back on the bench. “Yeah, I stayed up in that tree until the bear left, and then some. He stuck around for hours, and then he left, and then he came back a while later, and then he left for a longer while, but he came back again. Finally he was gone for a good long while, and I climbed down from the tree. Hurt my foot too, the one that didn’t have a shoe on it.

“So then I realize I’m lost. It’s midnight, and I don’t remember what direction I was running to get where I was. I’m looking up to see if I can see any stars, find my way that way. Done that before, lots of times out at sea. But I can’t see the sky because the trees are too thick. So then I think, well, you’re supposed to find north because that’s the mossy side of the trees, right? You can’t do that at sea, but you can do it in the woods!”

“So you found north and started heading west?”

“No such luck. These trees had moss all around, on all sides. Either north was every direction, or this was a part of the world where the old rule didn’t work. I couldn’t even tell whether maybe the moss was a little thicker on one side of the trees, because it was really dark. There wasn’t any moon, and those trees were so darn thick there wasn’t even any starlight to speak of. There’s all this noise, though, bugs buzzing and little things squeaking and hissing and clicking, and some birds, maybe they were owls, making these sudden whooshing sounds right over my head.” Johnny was now shaking, even though the damp breeze off the ocean wasn’t all that cold; he moved closer to me on the bench. “And I was still worried about that bear, whether he would come back again.”

“So did you just start walking, or what?”

“Oh, no, I remember being told that if you’re lost, you’re a lot easier to find if you stay put. Not that anyone was searching for me that I knew of. But I figured I might be able to see better when the sun came up anyway. So I got back up in that tree, not so high up; I was too tired to climb unless the bear came back, and I waited for the sun to come up. It seemed like forever, and when it finally got light, I still couldn’t see the sun because the sky was sort of overcast. But I was able to get a vague idea of where east was since it was a little brighter that way, so I headed west.

“I got to the shore about noon. It wasn’t where I started from, so there was no sign of my boat or the dinghy. I had no clue whether I was north or south of them. My foot was really hurting by then – there were all sorts of rocks and sticks that I stepped on. I thought about taking off my other shoe so I’d be hurting equally on both sides, but then I realized that would be silly. I just wasn’t thinking straight any more. I’d had so little sleep, and I hadn’t had any food in more than a day. I decided to look for something to eat.”

“At least you should have been able to find some berries to eat or something.”

“Well, there were plenty of berry bushes, all right. But that damn bear had beat me to them. He only left a couple of berries here and there. Not enough to even take the edge off.” Johnny straightened up on the bench and put his hand on my shoulder. “Hey, that reminds me, I’m hungry. Let’s get a bite to eat.”

“With what money?” I asked. “Didn’t we just spend what we had left on that whiskey?”

“I know a place they’ll let me run a tab.” Johnny stood up, wavering only slightly, and offered me a hand, which I took. I found my head was feeling a bit fuzzy as I stood up, and we ended up leaning on each other as we walked down the path to a taco stand that was still open. We took seats at one of the flimsy metal tables in front, and Johnny waved to the man behind the counter. “Hey, Esteban, let’s have a dozen of your fish tacos!”

“You know, Johnny, you didn’t pay me yet for the ones you had last time,” Esteban said, nevertheless pulling out tortillas and beginning to fill them. “I see you’re working on another mark, though, with your stories. It’s a wonder how you do that – tell ’em stories and get ’em to feed you.” I had to suppress a smile at that remark. Maybe Johnny got other people to pay his way in exchange for being entertained, but I was broke. No need to let Esteban know that, of course.

Esteban brought out the tacos and two bottles of beer. Johnny and I tore into our tacos, and I enjoyed the nutty taste of the very fresh corn tortillas and the savory chunks of seafood with just the right amount of tangy salsa. “Ah, that hits the spot,” Johnny said. “Now, where was I?”

“On the shore, discovering that Mister Bear had eaten all the berries.”

“Oh, yes.” He took a swig of beer. “I tried to think what else I might do for food. Like, maybe I could try fishing, if I could find something to use for a line and hook. I was looking around when I realized there were mushrooms all over the place. Now, I’m not an expert, but I was hungry. I didn’t know how to tell which ones are poisonous, but I figured if I ate just a little bit of one kind, and that was OK, then I’d eat only that kind until I ran out and had to try another kind.”

“And if the first mushroom wasn’t OK?”

“I didn’t want to think about that, except to hope that if I only had a little bit, it wouldn’t be too bad. So anyhow, I ate a few bites of one, a big, flat one, and it was delicious. I couldn’t help myself, I ate the whole thing. But I didn’t seem to be getting sick, so I had another and another. Then I got thirsty.” Johnny chugged the rest of his beer and signaled to Esteban for another. “I realized that there was a whole lot of seawater out there, but I hadn’t seen any sources of fresh. I made a choice – I hoped my boat was north, and I went that way looking for a stream.

“It was late afternoon by the time I found one, and I was really getting desperate. You’d think if mushrooms grow in damp places, they’d be full of moisture, but the ones I ate just really sucked all the water out of my mouth. So when I finally got to that stream, I just laid down on the ground and stuck my head in. It was cold, but man, it was good.

“Then I got up, and I realized there must have been something in those mushrooms after all, because otherwise, I knew I couldn’t possibly be seeing what I was seeing. There was that little guy again, and he was standing right across the stream from me. ‘Now ye’re wishin’ ye’d given me that ride, aren’t ye?’ he says. I’d forgotten all about that. He says, ‘If ye’d given me a ride, I would have made ye rich. But ye didn’t, and ye must pay the price.’

“I says, ‘What price?’ and he says, ‘I kept your boat from going anywhere, and I sent that bear after you, and I’m still not done wi’ ye yet.’ Then he disappears again, and this time I could swear I saw a puff of smoke. I even thought it smelled perfumey, like baby powder. At this point I’m really regretting those mushrooms. I’m seeing things and hearing things and even smelling things. I went to where the guy had been standing and looked for any sign of him, you know, footprints and stuff, but there was nothing. At that point, I’d about convinced myself that he hadn’t really been there in the first place and I’d just imagined everything.”

“But the leprechaun was actually real, wasn’t he?” I finished up my beer, and Johnny signaled Esteban for a fresh one for me and another for himself.

“Oh, he was real, all right,” Johnny said. “Those mushrooms weren’t doing anything to me at all. I just didn’t know that yet.

to be continued ...

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Two donuts and two rolls

No, it’s not a high-carb breakfast, but something scarier.

The first race weekend of the Rio Grande Sailing Club’s spring series regattas saw some pretty stiff winds and the destruction of a lot of equipment, including some sail batten pockets, a spinnaker sheet, a spinnaker or two, a main halyard, and a 1983 Mercedes 240D.

Saturday’s winds were predicted to be (depending on which weather service one looked at) 10 to 15 mph, gusting around 20. As we headed out to the race course, the winds were much less than that, and the Etchells, having no motors, needed a tow to the race area. Shortly after we got there, however, the winds did come up to the predicted levels, and we had three exciting races.

This year, the racing is divided among three fleets: the Etchells in their own separate class, the A fleet of higher-performance boats, such as J/22s and J/24s, and the B fleet of slower, cruising type boats. Black Magic came in second in the Etchells fleet in all three of Saturday’s races, losing to Zorro in the first and second races, and to Sutherland in the third. We broke a spinnaker sheet during the second race, but even without a spinnaker, we did all right.

After the racing, Zorro came to spend the night with us in the place we’re renting in T or C; we headed back to the boat later to work on replacing the broken spinnaker sheet and re-running the traveler controls. Then we came back to the doublewide, where Zorro and Tadpole looked up weather reports online, and we remembered to set our watches and clocks for Daylight Savings time. We had had a long day, and we were tired, but with morning coming an hour earlier and us being up late, we didn’t end up getting much sleep.

Sunday’s weather was predicted to be much fiercer, with steady winds between 15 and 20, and gusts possibly as high as 30. The committee called an unusual course – instead of the usual straight upwind-downwind course, it was a Harry Morgan-type course, with a triangle followed by an upwind-downwind. Several of the boats, especially in the B fleet, decided not to race, although one of those suffered damage when his main halyard went astray, tangled itself up in his prop, and had to be cut off – and then his engine cooling system got clogged up, too.

During that race, Black Magic suffered some damage to the heavy-air jib, in particular, some torn batten pockets, and we had a spinnaker pole end let go of the sail, and we had a jib wrap itself around the forestay as we rounded a leeward mark, costing us some major distance. One of the other boats suffered spinnaker damage. We finished second, way after Zorro; Sutherland didn’t start.

After that race, Zorro’s crew, Twinkle Toes, had to leave for Albuquerque, so that was the only race the Etchells sailed Sunday. The other boats stuck around for another race in increasingly screaming conditions. We heard later of at least one spinnaker being blown apart, and other boats, lines, and hardware suffering damage.

We and Zorro put our boats away and patched up a couple of things, as well as adding to our shopping list of boat stuff we now need to buy. The day’s racing was immensely satisfying – up until this weekend, I hadn’t flown the spinnaker in anything more than 8 mph, so being able to run it – albeit with a few mishaps – in heavier conditions was rewarding. Zorro was especially pleased with how well we had done. But it was also exhausting, leaving me with aching muscles and all of us tired.

We had a late lunch, and then Zorro had to leave in order to get to El Paso, because his son was coming in from out of town to visit him. We stopped by the doublewide and gave him a couple of cans of his favorite diet cola for some extra caffeine to keep from falling asleep at the wheel. As he was preparing to set off, he did something he doesn’t usually do – he fastened his seat belt. That turned out to be one very smart move.

A half-hour later, I got a call on my cell phone from an unknown number. It was Zorro: “I just rolled my car; can you come rescue me?” Despite the extra caffeine, he had fallen asleep at the wheel, drifted into the median, which woke him up; he then overcorrected, spun around twice and off the side of the freeway, rolling twice on the way down a 10-foot embankment. Thanks to the seat belt, and the fact that 1980s Mercedes were built like tanks, he was not hurt. Some young people saw the accident and helped him out, including lending him their cell phone, which he had used to call me.

As it turns out, Sutherland and his crew, Teddy Bear and Dixie, were returning to El Paso when they passed by the scene and stopped to help Zorro and give him a ride home, so we didn’t have to take an extra trip south.

Because we often had sails piled up in the back seat of the Cavalier this weekend, I had been riding with Zorro a lot, and I always fasten my seat belt, especially since I was once in a car accident that would have killed me if I hadn’t been wearing one. As the weekend went on, Zorro was putting his on more and more, a habit I was glad to see him picking up. And Sunday afternoon, that habit paid off big time.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor, prologue

Now that I know what the end of the story is, I needed to add something to the beginning. So here is the new beginning; if you are following the story, you need to read this part first, and then the first and second installments. I have provided a segue into the first installment.

I awoke, knowing something important had happened the night before, but otherwise not exactly being capable of rational thought. My head was experiencing shattering lightning bolts of pain, as if sledge hammers were being pounded against it on alternating sides, WHANG WHANG WHANG WHANG WHANG, incessantly. My mouth felt as if my tongue and the inner surfaces of my cheeks had been replaced with cotton balls, and there was a nasty sour taste that I wished I could swallow away, but there was no moisture with which I could accomplish that swallow. My stomach was churning up a hurricane-force storm as well, sending little spikes of bitter acid up to the back of my mouth, where the cotton worked to hold the acid in place.

There were sounds out there, most especially a loud moaning sound that I was eventually able to identify as that of ropes under tension, creaking. I had a feeling like whatever I was lying on was not stationary, but rather was moving in a light up-and-down motion. Gradually, my senses regained some ability to register my surroundings, and I realized I was lying down on a fairly firm surface, and my head was propped up on a weird structure that my hands probed and I eventually identified as a sloppily coiled-up rope. I seemed to have some vague memories of something having to do with that rope, and those memories seemed to have some importance, but my brain wasn’t making those connections.

I came to realize that the clamor in my ears was really just my own heartbeat. I found myself wishing that it would stop, because being dead would be preferable to what I was now feeling, which, now that I noticed, seemed to include a sensation of being rocked back and forth.

Eventually, I worked up the energy to crack an eyelid open, and I regretted the lightning bolt of sunlight that entered in and pierced right through the eyeball to slam another shock of pain through my brain. I let the eyelid snap shut, but not before I’d taken an admittedly blurry snapshot of my surroundings.

I was in the cabin of a sailboat … I seemed to have some vague recollection of it from the night before. I was lying on the settee, with a table in front of me. From the angle at which I was lying, I couldn’t see much of what was on the table, just an empty bottle that had once contained cheap brandy. I could sort of sense that there were a couple of other things on the table, but I couldn’t see them well enough to know what they were.

How the hell had I ended up here, I asked myself. Vague pictures flicked themselves up on the inside of my eyelids, a charming fellow with bright-blue eyes, a tale he was telling me, something about his boat. Yeah, it was a good story he was telling me, I began to remember …

I was sitting in this bar, when a sailor came in …

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor, part 2

Our narrator has encountered a sailor in a surfer bar, a sailor with a story to tell ...

To our right, the waves were washing in, with a gentle crash as each row of rolling breakers came on shore – there wasn’t much surf, and the tide was on the ebb. The air was damp and a little bit cool, with a light smell of salt and iodine, and I could feel my hair springing out in uncontrollable curls as the moisture hit it. Johnny leaned in close, keeping his voice low as he continued his tale.

“You see, at this point, I figured I was dealing with some sort of crackpot.” He staggered a bit and caught my elbow, steadying himself while looking like a gallant beau graciously offering an arm to a lady. “There wasn’t really any other way I could explain the guy. No way I wanted to let a nut-job anywhere near my boat.”

“So what did you do?”

“I tried to put him off. ‘I got problems with my dinghy,’ I says. ‘I can’t pick you up.’ He says, ‘And what sort of problems might they be?’ And I says, ‘Motor don’t work.’ And he says, ‘It does now. Try it.’ And I know he knows I was bluffing, ’cause I don’t have no choice but to start the motor.”

“So then you let him onto your boat?”

“Oh, hell, no. I says to him, ‘I don’t trust you. I’m not letting you come aboard. For all I know, you’re going to rob me.’ And he says, ‘Oh, no, far be it from me even to think of such a thing. No, I’ll be makin’ ye rich, I will.’ And I says, ‘Like hell you will,’ and he says, ‘No, not like hell. The Evil One never truly makes anyone rich.’”

“I’ve always heard the Little People have a sense of humor, if a bit warped.”

We were walking past a late-night beachside package store, still open. “Let’s stop in here and get a little something,” Johnny said.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“I only had a little at the bar. I’m OK.”

Neither of us had much money, so we selected an inexpensive – OK, not inexpensive, cheap – bottle of (what else?) Irish whiskey. As we returned to the path, Johnny, keeping the bottle in the bag, twisted off the cap and took a deep swig, and then he handed the bottle to me. The liquor burned viciously as it made its way down my throat, leaving a puddle of fire in my stomach, but at the same time it left me feeling exhilarated. I wondered what that was about.

I gave Johnny a quick reminder of where his tale had left off. “So after the little guy made the joke about the Devil, what did you do?”

“Well, I still didn’t trust him one bit. I says, ‘You’re not coming on my boat, anyhow.’ And he says, ‘Ye’ll be sorry,’ and I says, ‘No, I won’t,’ and he says, ‘Ye don’t know just how sorry I’ll be makin’ ye.’ And then he just disappears. One moment, he’s right there on the shore, and the next moment, he’s not.”

“I take it that’s not the last you saw of him?”

“It was actually a while before I saw him again, but he certainly made his presence known. I stayed at anchor in that cove the rest of the night, but I didn’t sleep any. The guy creeped me out.”

“Are you sure that wasn’t just nerves?”

Johnny took a deep pull at the whiskey bottle. “Yeah, that, it might have been just nerves at that point. ’Cause then, I didn’t realize what power he had. I didn’t learn about the power until later.”

“So what happened the next morning?”

“I went up on deck, and it was a dead calm. There wasn’t the tiniest shred of any sort of wind. Never mind the prediction had been for about perfect conditions, a nice steady breeze to carry me along my way. So then I went to start up my diesel, and it wouldn’t start. It just coughed a bit and let out a cloud of really foul smelling smoke. I looked in the fuel tank, and I discovered it was all sludged up with fungus. And l always put biocide in, every time I fuel up, even if I think the source is safe, so that was really odd.”

“I don’t suppose I even ought to ask whether you might have forgotten, just once, at a very unlucky time?”

“Oh, absolutely, there’s no way I could possibly have forgotten.” Johnny stumbled a little, and we went to sit down on a park bench near the path, facing the water. “Anyhow, now I know my whole fuel system is shot, not just the tank but the fuel line and all of the injectors and everything. I know I’m looking at a heavy-duty overhaul before that engine is going to run again. The question is how to get it to someplace where it can be repaired. So I look at the dinghy – in that total calm, that little motor could pull the bigger boat. I try to start it up, and it doesn’t. I take it apart, and I find that the spark plug is broken, cracked up the middle. No problem, I have a spare. I go below to get it, but all I find in the parts kit is an empty box that I had thought had contained the spark plug – it’s missing.”

“So you had no choice but to wait for the wind.”

“Well, under ordinary circumstances, sure. But with all the freaky stuff going on, I wasn’t sure that cove wouldn’t remain completely calm until the Final Judgment. By this time, I’m beginning to think that little guy isn’t just an ordinary Irish midget in lumberjack clothes. I decided I was going to row the dinghy ashore and look for him.”

“Let me guess. The dinghy sprang a leak and sank before you could get there.”

“No, actually, it didn’t.” Johnny took another slug of whiskey and paused while I choked down a gulp. “I got to the shore all right, and I beached the dinghy. I thought about hiding it, but I figured why bother, the little guy was going to do something to it if he really wanted to. I hunted and hunted all over the shore for footprints, broken twigs, anything that might have given me a clue about where he went, but there wasn’t a sign – or at least any sign that I could find. I’m a sailor, not an Indian scout.

“Then I hear a sound that lets me know I really shouldn’t have come ashore. It’s this snuffling, snorting sound, and when I turn around, I see this bear. No ordinary bear, either. This is the biggest one I’ve ever seen, and he stands up, and he’s about fifteen feet tall, and he’s looking right at me. He’s between me and the dinghy, so I can’t get away that way. I picked up a rock to throw, and then he growled, and I realized I don’t want to make him angry, which is what throwing a rock at it might do, and then I realized he already was angry when he growled and showed his teeth. I dropped the rock and started running.”

Johnny tipped the bottle up again. I could tell it was running low when he handed it to me and it was very light. “Well, since you’re here, I take it you got away,” I commented. “How did you escape?”

to be continued ...

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Look who’s on the road now!

And he got a 97 on the road test, too!

Well, Tadpole is no longer dependent on other people to give him rides around town. He took his road test this afternoon, and he passed it with flying colors – he scored a 97 out of 100 possible points, and the examiner who gave him the test was really impressed with how mature his driving habits were, and how well he responded to such things as unpredictable pedestrians.

So now he has his provisional license, which means he can drive without a supervising adult in the car. There are a few restrictions, such as not being allowed to have more than one unrelated teenager in the car with him, and not being allowed to drive between midnight and 5 a.m. except under special circumstances. If he goes six months without an accident or ticket, he graduates to the next level of license, with fewer restrictions.

He’s also working on a program of training and testing offered by our car insurance company; when he passes that, our insurance rate will only be half again what it was before he got his license, rather than double.

Meanwhile, we now have three drivers but only two cars, so Tadpole is looking for a set of wheels. A friend has offered to sell him a 1975 Datsun (a classic, I’m told) for a mere $85 – it will go for about 5 miles before overheating and needing to be turned off for 6 hours to cool down. So it would get him to school in the morning and home in the afternoon, but it wouldn’t be good for much else.

In a couple of days, if I have time, I will revive the poll about what car Tadpole should get … meanwhile, all of my faithful (and even not-so-faithful) readers are invited to offer suggestions, and if any of you actually have a car you’d like to sell, tell about it, and why it would be the ideal car for a teenager who participates in Boy Scout activities, often has to haul a very big string bass around, and might sometimes tow a boat here and there – but who’s going to have to buy his own gas, so he’s interested in fuel economy as well. Even if you don’t have a car to sell, tell what you think would be the ideal car for Tadpole; the best suggestions will be featured in the poll.

Monday, March 05, 2007

What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor, part 1

This was a little think-piece I did about a year ago ... I worked on it for about two weeks and then forgot about it. I give it to you now, in honor of St. Patrick's Day. I haven't finished it yet, so you readers have an opportunity to say how it ought to end. Who should win, the leprechaun or the wiseguy?

So I’m sitting in this bar, an in walks this sailor. How did I know he was a sailor? Well, there are things you can tell. For one thing, his face. It was tanned, but not evenly, the way a guy gets sunning himself on the beach while waiting for the surf to come up. This guy’s forehead and eye area were paler, from the hat and sunglasses he must have worn when he was out on the water. And the tanned portion of his face was rough, weather-beaten, marked by a pale scar running down his left cheek. For another thing, there was his language – saltier than any surfer would ever use. He used the s-word plenty, and the f-word came out often, and once in a while that politically incorrect n-word would show up. Then there were his hands. He had long, slender but strong fingers that might have suited a pianist, but his palms also were calloused from years of hauling halyards and trimming sheets. There’s nothing on a surfboard to cause that sort of hardening.

He was immediately noticeable the moment he came in the door, as a ripple of energy flowed through the crowd the way ripples flow outward from where a stone is dropped into a pond. The actual noise level dropped a notch as conversations quieted, and even the silly surf music from the cheesy sound system broke off, but the feeling of sound increased, as if there was some subsonic hum in the background. “Hey, Johnny,” someone said. “Hey, hi,” someone else chimed in. Johnny waved back as he made his way through the crowd, seating himself on the empty barstool next to mine and hitching one foot up on the mock-bamboo foot rail.

“Gimme a vodka tonic,” he said to the bartender. “And get this girl a fresh beer. On me.”

I hadn’t noticed that my beer glass was empty. I also have enough gray hairs that, well, let’s just say it’s been decades since anybody ever called me a “girl.” “No, no, you don’t need to do that … really, I don’t even know you.”

“Well, we’ll have to fix that, won’t we? My name’s Johnny,” he said, holding out his hand to shake. “I’m a sailor.”

“Kathleen,” I said, shaking his hand. “I write.”

“There, now we know each other,” Johnny said. “Now I can buy you that beer.”

The bartender brought us our drinks, and I took a sip of my beer, wondering what this guy was up to. If he was trying to pick me up, he was about as subtle as a freight train, but somehow I got a feeling that wasn’t what he was doing. There was something else he wanted, but I had no idea what. For that matter, there was very little about the guy that I could pin down – I couldn’t even make a guess at his age; with his thick, tousled black hair, brilliant blue eyes and slim, muscular build, he might have been in his twenties, but his weathered face might belong to a septuagenarian.

“So you write,” he said. “That’s good. I have a story to tell.”

Why, I wondered, would a sailor go into a surfer bar and home in on the one person in the whole place who could take his tale to the world? I get lots of offers from people who have stories to tell, who want me to ghostwrite for them; I always turn them down. But storytelling is a long-standing family tradition – my ancestors hail from Blarney – and this guy’s tale, even if not suitable for publication, might be worth a listen. “Tell me more.”

“I have this boat, see … well, shit, I wouldn’t exactly be a sailor if I didn’t have a boat, would I? Anyways, I used to sail all over the world. You name it, I’ve been there. South Pacific, Panama Canal, Straits of Malacca, oh, I’ve had adventures. But this, hell, you’re not going to believe it.”

“Try me.”

“You got lots of time, right?” he asked, draining his vodka tonic and lifting the empty glass toward the bartender. “Another one of these. And keep ’em coming.”

“I’ve got plenty of time.” That was true enough. No family, no love life, no nine-to-five regular schedule, not even much of a home to go home to, just a tiny box of an apartment off a back alley. I could think of a lot less pleasant ways to spend the evening than listening to a sailor’s tall tales.

Johnny took a deep gulp from his drink. “This time I was headed for Alaska. Inside passage from Vancouver. Great scenery, good weather – most of the summer, anyways. I shoulda known something was not right, though.”

“How so?”

“The animals, they were all acting weird-like.” Another large volume of liquid vanished down his gullet. “The sea lions, and those little guys, the otters, they would go round and round my boat, and then suddenly they’d dive away and disappear. The birds, too. And on shore, there was this moose that just kept up with my boat for hours, just watching me, except suddenly one moment, it was gone.”

“So what happened next?” I sipped my beer – or rather, I started to sip it, but then … well, maybe it was being face to face with someone who was really slugging his drink back, but I found myself taking a healthy gulp.

“This guy came out on the shore. I mean, we’re talking utterly untouched coast here, nobody lives within hundreds of miles, but there’s this guy standing right there, waving to me. Funny-looking guy, too. He was dressed up like a lumberjack, blue jeans, plaid shirt, but then when I got closer, I could see he was really short.”

“So there was a short lumberjack waving to you.” I finished off the beer, and the bartender brought both of us fresh drinks. “That’s maybe a little odd, but …”

“Oh, you don’t get it. When I say this guy was really short, I mean really, really short. Like, maybe two feet tall.”

“A midget lumberjack?”

“And he had on a bowler hat, too.” More vodka tonic vanished. “Fucking weird. I was at a pretty deep cove, so I pulled in to anchor. It was close to sunset anyway, and I didn’t want to be sailing in the dark. Next thing I know, he’s calling to me, he says, ‘If ye’ll give me a wee bit of a ride, me boy, I’ll make it worth your while.’”

“So the midget lumberjack in the bowler hat was Irish?” I asked. “You’re not trying to say that you met one of the Little People?” There were certainly leprechauns in my family’s store of stories, but then … well, I did mention we’re from Blarney.

“At first, I would never have believed it. I mean, those are just stories, right? Besides, what’s a leprechaun doing in British Columbia, dressed up like a lumberjack? It’s a long way from Ireland.”

“Maybe his family emigrated about when my ancestors did. Came to seek a new life during the potato famine.” I discovered I was beginning to get caught up in the story.

“There, you see?” Johnny finished off his fourth drink and paid up. “Why shouldn’t the Little People come to the New World, too?” Waving to the bartender and the other people in the bar, we stood up and left. We headed down the hike-and-bike path that ran along the beach, going nowhere in particular. I definitely wanted to hear the rest of the story.

To be continued ...


Sunday, March 04, 2007

One year ago this weekend

A special anniversary

Looking back, I realize that this is a very special anniversary. One year ago this weekend, Zorro, Dino, and I went out to California to retrieve Black Magic and bring her home to New Mexico. The adventures are recounted in this post, this post, this post, and this post. Along the way, I got a new theme song, and I really got to know two people I now count among my best friends. It was quite a journey.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Igudesman & Joo

Classical – not classic – humor

Since our home computer connection is mere dialup rather than broadband, I haven’t much gotten into heavy broadband-eating websites with lots of pictures and video. However, Tadpole’s bass teacher introduced him to these two utterly hilarious classical musicians whose work is available at YouTube – so immensely funny that Tadpole was willing to spend big chunks of time downloading the videos. Igudesman & Joo are a violinist and pianist who combine classical music talent with a warped sense of humor.

While much of the humor in I&J’s repertoire is about classical music, it’s readily understandable even to those not familiar with Bach, Beethoven, or any of those old guys.

Seeing these videos makes me want to ask: When are these guys going on tour, and will Albuquerque be on the tour schedule?

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Yale vs. CNM

The comparison isn’t as far-fetched as you might think

I must thank Scheherezade, of Stay, for giving the inspiration for this post. In her blog, she refers to a eulogy of William Sloan Coffin, a longtime professor at Yale University. When I read it, I was struck by how much is the same in post-secondary education, whether it’s Yale Law, or Central New Mexico Community College. The students are often wrapped up in their own little worlds – whether it’s the elite societies at Yale or the basic need for survival at CNM. As instructors, we can encourage our students to go beyond their own worlds and become more involved in the world at large.

Here at a community college in an impoverished state, the focus is pragmatic – teach the fundamentals of analytic reading and expository writing, with the goal that, when our students graduate from our program, they will have the mechanics of college-level reading and writing that will allow them to succeed in college coursework. Once they get the associate degree at the community college, they will easily be able to move on to the bachelor’s degree program at the university next door.

But I find I can’t stop at the nuts and bolts of rhetoric and grammar. I have to teach more. I have to teach my students critical thinking, so they can understand the validity of an argument. I have to teach logic, so they can make their point clearly. And I have to show them how to put the human element into their writing, because logic alone doesn’t have the impact of logic backed up with emotionally moving human stories.

Along the way, my students get involved with the world. They see something bigger than just surviving until the next paycheck, or surviving the next big exam. They don’t have the same sorts of worries as Yale students, but just like Yale students, they can become trapped in their own little world. In my class, they choose issues to research and argue about, such as global warming, gun control, and red-light traffic cameras. And in the process, they begin to see the world with a wider field of vision.

I have actually had people ask me why I bother – these are “only” community-college students, so why should I be asking so much of them?

The answer is that I ask so much because they are capable of that much. They just need to be shown that they are. Who knows – one of them might someday earn her way into Yale Law.