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Up the Creek (#2) with lights, sirens and everything

Posted by cdonegal on September 19, 2012 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Reggie’s white-water rafting debacle at Harpers Ferry did not quench his thirst for the rubber dinghy experience. When two of his adult nephews came by to visit, they persuaded him to empty the water from his water lounge for a day of fun afloat on the Potomac River. Deflating George, the yellow beast, the four men stowed it with the paddles in the trunk of Reggie’s roadster and headed for the Belle Haven marina on the George Washington Parkway.

The river sparkled with treated sewage from the 300 million gallons a day processed at the nearby Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. Snaky tendrils of hydrilla floated around them in the glistening waters, ropey insubstantial islands in a stream, clogging waterways and fouling propellers. Happily, the SS Jaundiced Minnow (AKA George Raft) had never been burdened by a propeller. In fact, the inside had seen far more water than the outside of the gum boat.

Stripped to the waist, the three sea dogs—well, river dogs—(dog-) paddled upstream, the lesson of the mighty Shenandoah not having been lost on Reggie, who wanted to be sure that they were headed downstream when it was time to return to the car.

They took turns, paddling leisurely, mocked by windsurfers and hooted at by motor craft, enjoying the day and each other’s company. After about 45 minutes, they learned a bit about the history and geography of the river. For example, they learned that the state of Maryland owns the river.

This information was conveyed by the two Maryland State Police officers manning the police boat that had pursued and subdued them. It was not a close race, against the current in a bulky rubber raft v a police powerboat. It made the O.J. Bronco chase look dizzyingly high speed.

The police officers ordered the seamen- filled vessel (Yeah, rivermen, actually but where’s the fun in that? Let’s just move on, shall we?) to cast a line to them so that they could tie them off to preclude escape in their bulky, bright yellow, floating rubber swimming pool.

Let’s just pause a moment to imagine that scenario: Three men in a rubber boat pushing off from the hull of a powerful state police boat to rub-a-dub-dub as fast as their two little paddles could propel them toward the sanctuary of the Virginia shore while the two officers idle after them, attempting to command them to stop while choking with laughter.

No, our swabbies did not envision making a break for it. So when one of the officers asked what they were doing, Reggie answered, “Trying to regain our lost youth.”

I’d like to tell you that the police officers were not amused, but on the contrary, they were barely able to keep a straight face.

When the officers regained their composure, the hailer (as opposed to the driver) asked if they knew why that had been stopped. Reggie suggested that they appeared to be so enjoying cruising down the river on the river on a sunny afternoon that the officers had stopped by to ask whether they might peel off and jump in with them.

“No.” said Officer Hailerman. They had arrested (the technical term, it seems for capturing them. No fingers were printed or mugs shot in the course of this arrest.) the three men in a rubber tub because they had only two life preservers for three people.

“Oh,” Said Reggie.

“Oh, yeah,” said Officer Hailerman. “The channel here is more than twenty feet deep (as if drowning would require using more than the top ten feet of it in a swiftly moving current) and poses a real danger.

“And this”, he said, tearing off a citation “is your tab. Congratulations on your contribution to the Maryland state treasury.” (Disclaimer: that is not exactly what he said, but the allusion was topical and might be as baffling as this non-elucidation to the uninitiated. Actual phrase revealed on request.)

He also explained that they would have to tow them to shore for their own safety. He asked where they wanted to go.

“Well, the car is near Belle Haven,” Reggie said, “but just let us off a little downriver so that all the people at the dock don’t stare.”

“That would be pretty embarrassing, I guess,” the trooper smiled broadly. His teeth glinting brightly in the sun, like Dudley Do-Right after he had done right.

“Sure would,” Reggie agreed.

As they approached Belle Haven Marina, Reggie said, “Just off to the left here is good.”

“Is that where your car is?”

“Well, in the car park, but close enough.”

“Ok,” the driver said, continuing on course.

“Um, you don’t need to go to the dock. We can just….”

The trooper looked at him, positively beaming as they neared the dock…and he flipped a switch, turning on the lights and siren as they landed. And everyone within sight or hearing turned to stare at the hapless, shirtless men shuffling off the boat to untie their rubber raft and slink off toward Reggie’s car, the only sound—other than the blood rushing in their ears—the good natured laughter of two of Maryland’s finest.

And so was born the concept of “having a sinking feeling.”

Reggie Tales (#1) Up the creek with an unnecessary paddle

Posted by cdonegal on September 19, 2012 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (0)

In his mid-30s, Reggie bought a new toy: a rubber raft. Sturdy and durable, it was about eight feet long, the kind of raft Navy SEALS would use if it were not canary yellow. Reggie discovered that it was as effective as a water-filled bed for the back yard as it was fit for river rafting.

In the back yard, Reggie filled the boat with water and stretched out in the sun, his head resting on the lower aft gunwale, as he read novel after novel and the neighbors pointed and laughed and observed that he misunderstood the proper side of the bottom for the water to be on. Reggie didn’t mind. It was in his mind, genius and the height of slothful luxury.

From time to time, when the time was right, Reggie emptied the water from inside the boat and set the boat on the water. Sometimes he used it to raft the white water at Harpers Ferry and sometimes on the swift moving waters of the broad Potomac River, where the channel is sufficiently deep to accommodate ocean-going vessels.

Harpers Ferry lies at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, if his eight grade English teacher was to be believed, but Reggie insists on claiming that Harper’s Ferry (he continues to use the apostrophe long since dropped by everyone else, to the great peril of both the endangered apostrophe population and the world’s supply of electronic ink) is the confluence of the Susquehanna and the Monongahela, somewhat out of ignorance born of misremembering what his social studies teacher had said, but mostly because he savors the rhythm of saying “the confluence of the Susquehanna and the Monongahela rivers.” How many times in life does one have the opportunity to speak such lilting and informative—if incorrect and misleading—multi-syllabic words?

Be that as it may—or may not—one brilliant day, Reggie convinced his friend Mac that conditions were perfect for white water rafting at Harpers Ferry. Much to his chagrin, he was forced to choose between the Potomac and the Shenandoah, as neither the Susquehanna nor the Monongahela was anywhere to be found in the vicinity.

So it was that the pony-tailed Reggie and his balding companion stowed the rubber raft in the back of The General McClellan, Mac’s neon yellow charger (I make no representation of whether the allusion is fair or fitting) and headed for Harpers Ferry.

The balky foot pump was operating at less than peak efficiency, so the two found themselves blowing up the raft by mouth, a painfully long procedure as unsanitary as it was exhausting in the bright heat of the midday sun. But when the proud raft, dubbed George for cinematic reasons apparent to few under the age of retirement and fewer outside of a nursing home (or inside, if truth be told) was fully inflated the rafters “put in” as they insisted on saying, at the sandy shore next to the old town’s picnic area close to the arsenal. Donning their life vests like water armor, they pushed off into the racing waters of the Shenandoah.

The rush and roar exhilarated them – for some 30 or 40 feet, until the raft jerked to a stop atop a rock jutting out of the water. They paddled cartoonlike a few strokes, but the raft didn’t budge. They butt-hopped a few times, hoping to allow the raft to lift over the jagged rock. Nada.

Reggie, in the bow, looked over his shoulder at Mac, whose thick glasses were misted with spray. Mac looked at Reggie, whose grin was beginning to show signs of wear. To the silent stares of unacknowledged visitors on the edge of the historic site of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, the two crawled over the sides of the raft and lifted it off the rock, scrambling to board again before it continued its headlong rush along the mighty Shenandoah.

But the boat had gone less than 20 feet when it ran aground in the shallows between two rocks, the rafters’ bony butts feeling the slow drag of the sand beneath them. Neither looked at the other—or at the growing crowd of amused sightseers who never had expected to see such sights. Certainly not at this site.

They pretended that all was well, butt-hopping subtly to fool the crowd. Children shouted, but they could not make out the words. The two men sweated in the burning sun, the burn of shame adding to the sunburn that had begun to redden them while they were blowing up their raft, even before the embarrassment had begun to deepen the blush.

Like boys on a reluctant toboggan, they scooted and butt-hopped until they saw that it was no good. The adventure was going downhill, but the boat was going nowhere.

The river’s water rushed around them, but this time they slithered, more than crawled--over the sides, in the apparent hope that doing so would make them less noticeable.

For the next hour, their hopes rose and fell as they tottered over rocks and scraped the sand. The water sounded as if it were a rushing flood, but the lack of rains over previous months had made the promise far greater than the reality.

At last, they surrendered to Mother Nature’s cruel joke and decided to give it up. Sunburned and exhausted, thirsty and frustrated, they realized with a growing admixture of alarm and dismay that they parking a second car downstream, where they planned to emerge, would not have been amiss. Now they had to retrace their agonizing journey. In their exhausted state, the narrow rock-strewn strip on one side of the river and steep cliffs on the other discouraged portaging the heavy raft. With a chagrined look upstream, they silently turned and with the resigned air of a pair of alternating Pozzos and Luckys, they began hauling the wide body of the blocky raft against the current, snagging on rocks and dragging over sand to regain the General McClellan, one unlucky enough to haul while the other un-Pozzo enough to push and lift alternating as towing the boat became too much of a drag. And Godot never came.

A fine sight they were as they fell, spent and ironically parched, at the water’s edge and dragged themselves ashore under the bemused gaze of a new crowd of visitors to historic Harpers Ferry.

They never again would attempt the adrenaline rush of white water rafting, at Harpers Ferry or anywhere else. In fact, the mere mention of the activity sent them into almost hysterical laughter, perplexing their friends and mystifying family.

But the raft adventures were not over. Not nearly.

An Introduction to Reggie Tales

Posted by cdonegal on September 19, 2012 at 9:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Reggie is the best-intentioned man I know. He is bright and funny, handsome and charming, and sometimes a complete idiot. He is, in short, a moron—not in the technical sense, of course; his IQ is in the genius range, but he is gullible and naïve and sometimes just doesn’t think things through, sometimes with humorous results, sometimes tragic or at least dangerous.

Reggie is my dearest friend.

And Reggie Tales are true.

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