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Story Time (previous tales)

Just Paddling Through:

Around this time of year I grow itchy to get moving on outdoor projects. It's not that I particularly enjoy yard work. It's more like once the snow's finally (finally) gone, all the sticks that fell from the trees over the past several months begin to torque my OCD and all I can think of is getting them picked up. At least the ones that are too big for me to run over and crunch up with my lawnmower. Because, while I don't particularly enjoy yard work, I do love using my lawnmower to crunch stuff up.

I was lucky, growing up, that neither of my parents placed much importance on lawns. Oh, they wanted the grass cut, and the leaves raked (or, later on, crunched up with the mower), but they never cared if it was crabgrass, fescue, or Creeping Charlie. As long as what was growing was sort of green and kind of kept short, things were cool. As a result, we never really had much in the way of "spring work."

This changed for me the late 1970s when I worked on the boats for Lloyd Holland at Conneaut Lake Cruises. There was plenty to do each spring. I was lucky there, too, because Bob Kennedy, my de-facto boss on the docks, was always willing to do as much as he could by himself. This meant the stuff that I didn't enjoy, like putting in docks and mucking out bilges, was mostly already done. Add to this my relative lack of physical strength ("Waddaya mean you can't swing a 13-pound sledgehammer?"), and the result was me spending a lot of time swinging a paint brush.

"A coat of paint covers a multitude of sins," my dad used to say. That was more true at the docks than any other place I've ever worked. Our ferry, Redwing, was decades past her last haul-out. There were times when I kind of thought the only thing between the in- and outside of her hull was the paint I slathered on at the start of each summer season.

The sternwheeler, Barbara J, was years younger and in better shape, but she was a much fussier boat to paint. When I was there she was several different colors. The trick to making her look good was to start at the top and paint your way down to the water line, switching colors as you went. That way, you never worried about drips and drabs because you had the chance to cover up your own mistakes, sooner or later.

We sometimes had "adult help." Lloyd's friends, particularly Wayne Koch and John Davis, spent time getting things ready, but they had real jobs. Not like us college kids. And there were some things they just didn't do. For instance, the hulls of both boats took a lot of paint and you had to get into the Lake to do the work. It didn't matter if you stood or floated on a preserver, it was dead-certain that your butt, along with everything else in that general vicinity, was going to be submerged in water cold enough to make you ache. That was a youngster's job.

But, worse than the hulls, by a long, long stretch, were the big paddles on the stern of the Barbara J. They're split down the middle, you see, with a set on each side. Each set has an inside, an outside, a top and a bottom, and each paddle and its support has the same. You paint for what seems like forever and then, turn around to find yet another side that you've missed. Plus, you can't paint the paddles all at once. The very best you can do is half at a time, then wait for the paint to dry, then spin them halfway, then wait for the water to dry, then paint the rest. You can, literally, paint the rest of the whole boat in the time it takes to do the back end.

You have to get inside the paddlewheels to do the job. Stand and sit on the pipe that forms the axle. After several hours of that, your feet and butt, along with everything else in that general vicinity, don't feel so hot. Try real hard not to lose your balance and fall down through the paddles, or across, or worse, straddling the pipe (kee-runch!). Try not to get the paint in your hair, neither, because that's not no sissy latex paint your working with, there kiddo. It's oil-based and that's gonna take turpentine or gasoline to get that out.

There could be other problems with the job. I once came out of the boat house to find my freshly-applied paint on the half-done wheels being washed away by a test-run of the engine and transmission! I was a little angry, at first, until it was pointed out to me that at least they had checked to see if I was back there before proceeding.

It was worth the aggravation, all the same. Few things in the world look better than a freshly painted boat, sitting, ready for another year. The Barbara J very nearly sparkling and the old Redwing taking on an air of elegant decrepitude. Both awaiting first bumps of their clean, white hulls against some blackening tire on some dock post by some bumbling pilot. Me, most likely.

All these years later, Bob Kennedy and I remain friends. We only visit about once a decade, but when we do, it feels like the last time I saw him was yesterday, if you know what I mean. If you ever asked me if I miss working the boats with him, my answer would be a resounding "sometimes." But, if you ask if I'd like to paint the Barbara J's paddles one, more time? That's easy: NO! NO!! NO!!!

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Can we buy real poo next time?


So... This morning I get into the shower.


I’m carrying a brand-new bottle of shampoo. My favorite brand. I use it all the time. Really. It enables what little hair I have to be soft and glowing. Sure does. Yep. I saw it in a commercial. So it must be true.


I’m in the shower. I’m soaking wet (no surprise there). I snap open the lid of the shampoo bottle and hold it over my upturned hand... Nothing comes out. I squeeze the bottle. Nope. Nothing. At all. I unscrew the cap. Beneath, I find a plastic seal.


What the heck? On my shampoo? A plastic seal? Against what? Shampoo thieves? Shampoo diluters? Shampoo adulteraters?  Shampoo switchers with hair removalers?


What's this world coming to? I bought the same brand and size bottle a couple of months ago. There was no plastic seal. Probably some Homeland Security rule or something. The Shampoo Czar declared an orange state of emergency for all bottles. I shouldn't joke, I know, I'll end up on the watch list - if I’m not there already.


I try to remove the plastic seal. Should be easy, there's a little tab to pull. I pull on the tab. The tab pulls off. The seal stays on. I curse (out loud) at the wonderful engineering behind such a design. Now what? I’m nekked. Soaking wet. In the shower. What might I have that has a chance of piercing a plastic seal? My teeth? For a shampoo bottle? Even *I’m* not that dim.


I have a valve at the shower head that lets me turn off *most* of the flow, to save water while I'm soaping up. I don't use it, of course, being a Wasteful American, but it's there nonetheless. I manage to rip open the shampoo bottle's plastic seal using the edge of that shower head valve-handle. A couple pieces of plastic manage to escape. They hurry down the floor drain. To wait several months before causing a clog. At the worst possible time. Plastic's bad that way. Ornery plastic. Mind of its own, plastic has.


I screw the cap back on, trying not to get any water into the shampoo. That'll change the composition of the shampoo. And, somewhere, give a shampoo chemist bad dreams. I hold the shampoo bottle up and, with vim and vigor, snap open the top.


Hold on... What's that coming towards me? It's a big blob of un-watered-down shampoo. Heading straight for my right eye.


!! BLINK, FOOL !! My brain screams.


"Who, me?" Asks my eye. My eyes are sort of slow, sometimes. They've been headed downhill ever since I started wearing bifocals.


Blam! The shampoo lands right on the lashes of my right eye.


!! DON'T BLINK !! My brain screams.


"Who, me?" Asks my eye. And it blinks. I told you they were sort of slow, didn't I? My right eye is now filled with searing shampoo-lava. It burns. With a big B. And a big URNS, too. I hear a shampoo chemist giggling, somewhere (later, when I’m thinking more clearly, I'll put some water into the bottle to get even). I stick my face into the shower stream to flush the chemicals from my eye.




I don't know what mornings are like at your house. But here, it's a whole lot of people vying for limited resources. That's why I’ve always crawled outta bed first. No matter where I’ve live or whom I’ve lived with. I want to be at the top of the schedule. The first in line. I always want to kick off the schedule. It comes from being a second child. Really - ask any second child you know. If they say it isn't true, they're fibbing like a sack of (sham)poo.


Top of the schedule I am. Still, during mornings, everything has to run like clock-work. Everything. It's like the tides at Normandy on D-Day. The orbits of the planets on a moon launch. Everything has to be lined up just so. Bing. Bang. Boom. Including the amount of time *I* spend in the shower.


It's not that somebody's waiting to use the shower. Nope. But. There are only so many butts and only so many commodes, y'know? And, in a house this old, butts, commodes, showers, and faces are all connected by pipes. All in one nice, neat, sweet, perfectly connected string of events. Like the co-incidences that brought you to this point in time.


I'm running behind my regular schedule because of the sealed shampoo. And my face is in the shower because I’m rinsing shampoo-magma outta my eye. My right eye. My left eye wonders what's going on.


Somebody else, somewhere else in the house. Lifts their butt from a commode. Relieved at finishing one of their first tasks of the day, they push the flush handle... I feel a drop in the water pressure - the cold water pressure.


!! FACE...BACK !! My brain screams.


My face (which isn't nearly as slow as my eyes) pulls back from the soon-to-arrive flash of heat. I even manage a step back and away. Some reflexes, huh? Of course, it takes an instant before the water rises to scalding temperatures and another instant before I realizes that the course of the shower spray is now aimed directly at what some would politely term my “naughty bits.”


My brain screamed something at that point. I don't recall what it was. Except it started with bad words and went on with bad words and ended with bad words. I think I used every bad word I know. That's a LOT of bad words. Trust me. Lots. Luckily I was ‘way too busy dancing around the too-hot water to listen very much to what it was I was saying.


I was kind of tender toweling off. My shampooed right eye looked as if I smoked a bale of weed (perhaps I should say what I have read a bale of weed eye would look like. Homeland Security and all that). My left eye looked more angry than anything else. And slow.


Stupid shampoo.