Boat Stories – Part Two

Maritime disasters all seem to be unique, and each has their own, bizarre sequence of events that led to their untimely demise. The Edmund Fitzgerald was loaded with oar, caught by a storm, and took on too much water; the Titanic sped with over-confidence into the iceberg laden waters of the the North Atlantic, and the builder’s use of brittle steel and inferior rivets made it incapable of withstanding the breech in its hull; the Poseidon, of course, was caught by a freak, tsunami-launched tidal wave that capsized it, killing all but five passengers.

But every single boating accident has one thing in common: they all began because someone decided they really wanted to buy a boat. My father bought his twelve foot aluminum in May of 1961 for $164.68. Oh how it must have been exhilarating to start the spring with a two-year old toddler, a pregnant wife, and an aluminum boat. There is no mention in my mother’s financial log of the purchase of a trailer, so, no doubt, the boat was transported on racks attached to the top of their Ford.

From my own memories, there was a trailer for the boat, and for a number of family vacations, the boat became a way to transport camping supplies. I remember a trip to northern Minnesota, back to where my father’s grandparents homesteaded, during which we camped, and put the boat in a smallish lake to fish. It was still probably a row boat at that point, but perhaps it had a small outboard by then, and the focus of each day was getting the boat in the water to fish.

My mother had a deadly fear of water. The one time I recall her in it, she gripped both sides of the boat as she herself was gripped by terror, her eyes wide and staring without seeing. There had been an incident in her past involving water, and she did not want to relive any part of that incident. My father was very cynical of this; he did not understand her fear, nor why she would not confront it, and so there is just that single image I have of her in that boat.

I don’t know if my parents ever argued over that boat. If they did, it would likely have been over the succession of outboard motors that began. Different lakes impose different limits on the size of the motor, some as small as one horse power, others allowing up to ten horsepower. My father had a variety, with one horse, two horse, two-point-five, five, and nine-point-nine. With each one was a gas tank, and so, along with the clutter in the garage, there was also the expense involved. And what good is a boat if you don’t invest the time to actually go fishing. My father was in the habit of taking a week’s vacation in the summer to fish with other men. Perhaps that was the secret of their marraige, the guaranteed separation, time for each to be without the other, and so the boating paraphernalia was a worthy investment.

So what was the disaster with this boat? Only in that the family outgrew it, and led my father to believe that he needed a newer, larger boat. That is a dangerous itch to scratch, and one that, time reveals, can not be relieved. As for the boat, my brother now has it, 47 years after it joined the family. He has replaced the rotten wood, and proven it sea-worthy. Without question, my father got his money’s worth from that boat. I only worry that the boat may seek its vengeance on the second or third generation. Putting a boat in the water is like keeping a gun in the house: at some point, there’s going to be an accident.


Boat Stories – Part One

My father was a fisherman and thus began his tragic love affair with boats. His first boat was a twelve-foot aluminum purchased at Sears. It had two bench seats, and my Dad customized that with extra benches around the inner rim, his theory being that he could rest equipment and make his fishing more effective. My brothers and I watched with great anticipation as the boat took shape. I imagined grand afternoons on the water, touring, blasting through waves, and generally having fun. I was young and naive, and had no idea that, where my father was concerned, boats, water, and fun just didn’t mix.

This will be an ongoing series, that will continue with those first forays onto the water, the inevitable upgrade of boats, and the few bright moments that somehow slipped into his dealing with water craft.


Trouble Sleeping

I have a problem sleeping sometimes, usually because I’ve had coffee late in the evening. There is no small irony in that, after a certain point, coffee does nothing to keep me awake. I turn into a zombie, but not a flesh-eating, undead zombie; I’m more of the kind of zombie with a nervous twitch, clammy, itching skin, and a swollen bladder. I stagger around the kitchen trying to find some morsel of food that will help keep me awake, but I know sugar will be just a nail in my coffin, and almost everything in an American pantry turns into sugar.

Once I concede the point and admit that I can not stay awake any longer, my caffeine-induced irregular heart beat returns to normal as my stress about staying awake can finally be released. I fall asleep quickly in this state, and why shouldn’t I? I am exhausted to the point of collapse, and frequently doze off in my chair before finally giving up and going to bed.

I had a sleep disorder briefly, back when I was in the fourth grade. I found fourth grade very stressful, and would worry about the intrigue and politics in the classroom. I didn’t have a good friend in the classroom, and so I was perpetualy on the outs of the dominant social circles. The one friend I had, Nick D., constantly fought with me, tried to make me his bitch, and was somewhat obsessed about sex. When we sat next to each other, he would share his drawings of the sex acts he wanted to perform on various girls. It was, for me, rather uncomfortable.

That was when sex was explained to me in the form of a story told about someone’s cousin who had performed the act. Oddly enough, it was told at lunch. The perfect place for such stories is at a bar while drinking, but we were too young for that.

My fourth grade teacher, Miss Carson, was also drop-dead gorgeous. I don’t know when it’s normal to have a crush on your teacher, but in the era of mini-skirts, it became normal for me. I never asked the other boys if they felt the same way, as I never asked any follow-up questions regarding the cousin who was putting out, because I was shy about such things. So internalizing such intense thoughts was no-doubt a large part of my trouble sleeping.

In fourth grade, I was also susceptible to panic about my future, and I thought not getting enough sleep would cause me great harm, jeopardize my future, cause me never to be worthy of a smoking hot woman like Miss Carson. The panic fed off itself, often driving me to tears. Of course, it just meant that instead of falling asleep at 9:30 p.m., I fell asleep at 11 p.m. Still this caused me panic.

In college, I went for long stretches an five or fewer hours of sleep. I was studying Computer Science at a time when you needed to use punch cards to enter your program, and it was just slower to get anything done. I also wore it as a badge of courage to have stayed up late, later than my friends studying Economics and German, and so that also fed off of itself, encouraging me to stay up late instead of learning better habits and getting my work done at appropriate times. The other Computer Science students behaved similarly, and we fed off of each other, nodding with respect as we passed each other in the North University Building Substation at three in the morning.

It no longer bothers me to miss sleep. I have learned that I can easily function on three or four hours sleep for a day, and so there is annoyance, but no panic in being awake at odd hours. So let me elaborate on the annoyance.

In many cases, I’m annoyed with myself for having drunk coffee so late, making me susceptible to waking up again when disturbed. But I’m also annoyed at the disturber. First and foremost among these are the dogs. They will bother us to be let out, or if they’re hungry, and I may not be able to get back asleep.

For years, the children were disturbers, and my son woke me nightly for a variety of reasons until he was eleven. These were bothersome, but I blamed myself for not having taught him to self-soothe and put himself back to sleep. (I blame myself for a lot of things.)

There is also my wife. We have gotten ourselves on different schedules, so she will often come to bed after I’ve fallen asleep. Her normal routine, washing her face, brushing teeth, and changing into pajamas, is occasionally accompanied by questions such as: “Are you asleep?” and “Did I tell you what the cat did today?” If I mutter a reply in my slumber, this may start a conversation, and that may awaken me. She will then fall asleep, and I will be up until 3 a.m.

But now I don’t panic, and I work on one of my various side projects — web site development or blogging — and count it as simply a time bonus. We lead busy lives, and those late nights are some of the few scant hours I can call my own. If it wouldn’t hasten my death, I might just make a habit of it.

Death comes soon enough, though.


Garage Band

There was a time in the not-so-distant past that the garage was the official man-cave, a domain of dirt, grease, and dangerous tools. Calendars from Rigid Tools adorned the walls, and broken memories from a man’s life lay scattered among the jars of nails and screws on the workbench. Projects begun and abandoned lay hidden beneath the bench, obscured by gasoline cans and the box in which came the weed-whacker. Bicycles are jammed into the corner and held in place by the lawn mower, and an impossible tangle of baseball bats rests against the door jam, just one angry breeze away from an oversized game of pickup sticks.

But in this modern era, women exist in the garage, claiming space for their SUVs and gardening supplies. They may have even cordoned off a section for the annual garage sale, accumulating the cast-off clothing from the family with delusions of a future cash haul.

With two adults commanding the attention of a single place, conflict is sure to follow. The mess in a garage can determine the fate of your marriage, especially if you live in a temperate zone. More specifically, if it snows where you live, parking inside of your garage should not be seen as a luxury. So neither spouse should dare consume more space than would be considered fair, but fair in a marriage is not fair by any other measure (say, for instance, a courtroom setting).

In a normal, modern home, there are things that go outside (lawnmowers, rakes, and various dangerous liquids) and things that go inside (furniture, food, clothing) and the garage becomes a no-man’s land, jammed with crap from both inside and outside. When one spouse upsets the balance, something has to give, and it’s usually one of the cars.

You can tell which families in the neighborhood are on the road to divorce by measuring the number of cars parked on the driveway. If one car is out there regularly, say the husband’s, you know he’s either a slob and packing his side of the garage with lawn tools he doesn’t really use, or he’s a wimp who lets his wife fill his side with old, “skinny” clothes intended for the next big sale. This marriage is fine, because they have worked out a system that can sustain the marriage, even if the husband’s soul is ground into mincemeat.

If both cars are out there, it means both spouses are slobs and their house is probably more of a disaster than the garage but, again, they are meant for each other and they have a working system that will likely sustain their marriage. No problem in that house.

But when there is one car in the driveway and it changes regularly — husband’s car one day, wife’s car the next — there is trouble inside the home, and they are fighting over parking privileges. That’s a marriage that is on the rocks, and one day soon, the switching will stop because there will only be one car driving home.


Cubicle Farm

I was once in my cubicle, settling down to enjoy an iced tea, when something bad happened. Like most cubicles, it was cramped, and to make up for the lack of space, I had taped project documents all over the walls and shelves surrounding my computer monitor. It’s one of those principles to help you remember things by keeping them in your periphery sight. So I had papers everywhere.

So I was drinking iced tea at the time. I go in streaks; sometimes it’s coffee, other times hot tea, and others still it’s iced tea. So I lean back to take a chug of tea, iced tea, sweet, cold, and I’m bored and bothered at my tiny cubicle with paper all over the place, and so I tip the cup to my lips, and the ice tea goes down my wind pipe. I spit this huge gulp out, spraying half of my cubicle and my computer. The sound is like a sharp roll on a snare drum.

This being a cubicle farm, all of my neighbors come to see what has happened. When they arrive, tea is now dripping from every sheet of paper onto my desk, my monitor is soaked, and puddles have formed in between the keys of my keyboard.

So I gave everyone something to talk about that day.

I’m going to explain to you a few of the things that are wrong with living in a cubicle:

![[Cubicle Farm]]* too small
* not enough desk space
* no amenities for cleaning
* no running water
* too noisy
* neighbors too close
* no privacy
* no escape

My cubicle is six feet by seven feet, smaller than a normal issue. I can’t stretch my arms without scraping my knuckles. In prison, your cell is eight feet by ten feet, and you get to nap on a bunk, and you have full bathroom facilities right there. I know there are drawbacks to being in prison, but at least the guards will open doors for you. At work, you have to open doors for yourself.

Not only are the cubicles small, but your neighbors are so close that they become like family. You don’t get to choose your family, and you don’t really choose your coworkers either. But you have to learn to get along. Sound carries in a cubicle farm, so you quickly learn a lot about your coworkers if you care to pay attention. There are some things you simply have discuss on the phone at work.

Um, I’d like to make an appointment.
Well, I’d rather not say, can I just get an appointment.
I have this thing.
Yes, a thing.
It kind of hurts.
No, not all the time, just when I touch it.
I don’t touch it like that, but it itches.
Yes, it itches, so I scratch it.
I’d rather not say where the thing is.

Heaven forbid if you need a second opinion about your thing. So the people around me know about that problem, but it’s okay, I know the social security number and credit card numbers of all my neighbors.

The worst part of phone conversations in a cubicle farm are speaker phones, because both your neighbor, and their guest, speak louder to be heard across the phone circuit.

If you will refer to page seventeen, there is a typo.
Page seventeen?
Yes, seventeen, third paragraph.
Which paragraph?
The third.
Okay, what about it.
No, wait. it’s the fourth paragraph.
Mine doesn’t have four paragraphs.
Why not?
I don’t know.
Hold it, did I send you the latest?
I don’t know.

Nobody in the row can get anything done until those two get on the same page.

You just hear too many sounds in a cubicle farm. You hear the chairs creak and bump into the edge of the desk. You hear people arguing with their wife, or trying to talk reason to their son (at least my neighbors hear that). The one sound that bothers me the most, though, is the sound of someone clipping their nails. I know it’s a simple, common sound, and something we all must do, but when I hear it, I’m never sure if they’re clipping their finger nails or their toe nails. It bugs me.

People eat at their desk, so you begin to smell things. There’s maple flavored oatmeal in the morning, and then a horrible succession of lean quisine: salisbury steak, quesadias, chili con carne. Then the leftovers come out, and you get spaghetti, beef stew, and chicken stir fry. I sit next to the microwave, so I get every smell and learn to identify the cook by the odor. I can also set my clock by the popcorn schedule: Teri at two, Thurston at Three, and Fred at Four. I’m not complaining, because I could be sitting next to the men’s room, and you do not want to set your clock by that schedule.

After you eat at your desk, it’s time to nap at your desk. It’s something that no amount of coffee can prevent. But I’ve learned to sleep with my head up, and keep my hand moving unconsciously on the mouse so that the screen saver doesn’t kick in and give me away.

I worked in one place, a State Agency that will remain nameless, where people would bring yoga mats to spread out under their desk, and they would nap there. I always thought it was cute, so I’d make sure they had milk and cookies waiting for them on their desk when they woke up.

Because a cubicle reminds me of being in a public bathroom without a door on the stall, I feel very exposed. I also sit with my back to the door, so I have a rear view mirror set up so I can see who is there. I think we all know that the real real reason for that is to know whether or not you should hide the web page you have displayed when someone enters. But, to be honest, I’ve gotten over that. If you close the web page quickly, you’re just admitting guilt. I leave it open, and stare at the person to see if they look at my monitor. Especially when I’m shopping at Victoria’s Secret. I’m just daring them to ask me what I need to buy from there.

Another reason I shouldn’t complain is because I have a window. It’s a small sliver, but it’s something, and most people would kill to have that little bitty bit. Warner Brothers had a cartoon about a naughty little boy named Ralph that stared out the window all the time, and then lost himself in an adventurous day dream. I’m the same way, so when I see the parking lot gate malfunction across the street, I think, I’ll save the day. Let me get my trusty jackman tool, and I’ll fix that right up. Or if someone has trouble lighting their cigarette, I want to run right over and strike a flint for them.

Let’s face it: anything is better than work.

We people are animals that like to stay in herds, and cubicles are slightly better than standing around next to each other while trying to earn a living. And we’re not quite as bad as veal farms, where the animals are chained to their stall. But at least then food is brought in, and waste shoveled out for you.

If I could use a yoga mat for my naps, I might just apply for a job there.