No worries. I made it back across the lake. Fortunately, I had the waves helping me, pushing me along like a rotted tree limb all the way to shore. Back at the campground Rhiannon and her family were not too pleased by my lake swimming exploits. While most of the family saw my unannounced swim as idiotic, her brothers referred to me as a Navy Seal the remainder of the weekend, which did well for the ego of a man who days prior felt like he stood on the brink of deterioration.
I enjoyed the weekend with her family, even partaking in a late night guitar jam session with her grandpa Delbert, a maestro in the school of classic country music. While he strummed through his repertoire, I played around with a few guitar licks of my own (thanks to my knowledge of the basic blues scale). It’s pretty ridiculous how closely early rock n’ roll and classic country follow the blues tradition. It’s humorous in a sick way to think of how unapologetically the white man stole the blues from the likes of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Willie Dixon.
On Monday, Rhi and I headed to Kansas City where we would part ways for the summer. Unlike me, her preschool teaching job is year-round. I knew I was asking a lot of her – it’s one thing to be away from your significant other for a week or two, but six weeks was asking a little much. She of course didn’t like the prospect of being apart that long, but I reminded her that she knew from our first date about my road trip, and she also knew how much last year’s trip changed my life.
At the airport, the scene played out like a chick-flick, with us saying our goodbyes, kisses and all, and heading off on our own. Watching her walk away through the gate, I realized how difficult it would be to not see her for a month and a half. At that point we’d only been dating for nine months and had already been through many ups-and-downs. Back on the road, I thought about how the summer apart could make or break us. Would we grow apart or would it make us stronger?
From Kansas City I headed north to Des Moines to stay a few nights with my brother Alex. He lost his job at a graphic design firm only a few weeks prior, and I knew he’d probably need something to take his mind off the situation. We planned a mid-week sailing excursion, because as I told him, “If you have time off, you might as well enjoy it.” When I arrived we took a quick trip to the grocery store to get food and supplies (and beer) and then returned to cook up supper.
We sat on the deck for a while sipping a couple Boulevard IPAs and discussing the shitty economy. He explained to me how his firing was a no-brainer for the company. Not that my brother’s not good: believe me, he’s damn good at what he does.
They originally hired Alex as a Creative Director, meaning he’d be the overseer of other designers. But then only a few short months in, the company reconfigured departments and realized they now had one too many Creative Directors. This meant he was back to being a designer but by contract was still making the money of a Creative Director. So when the economy came tumbling down and the company needed to cut corners, the designer being paid to be a creative director was an easy call, along with about a dozen other designers and copy writers. In the meantime, my brother had to sit back and watch other designers skate free, some of which who only weeks earlier were involved in a designer’s nightmare, getting caught plagiarizing a recent ad campaign by Lays potato chips. Alex actually caught the similarity, and how was he rewarded for attempting to save the company from making a major design faux pas? A pink slip; mother fuckers.
I shared with him the changes at my job also. Somehow, during the early weeks of June, I got tricked into taking a promotion as the English Coordinator at my school. This would entail me being in charge of 10 other English teachers, ensuring they have supplies, are teaching the curriculum, and handling all their district benchmarks. Being an unorganized buffoon with no leadership qualities (unless it’s 14 year olds) I didn’t want the job. But somehow, I left San Antonio with the new promotion that would have me stressed out the upcoming year.
My brother understood my fears, stating that he didn’t like being in charge of others the few months he was creative director. While Alex prefers to stay in his office, performing his designing genius on his own, I prefer staying in my little classroom and inspiring minds without worrying about others on campus. We were both shocked at how alike we are, preferring to do our job well without being bothered. After our heart to heart, we headed in for bed. Before calling it a night we checked the weather and were greeted by a nerdy weather man telling us we’d have clear skies for our day of sailing.
The next afternoon we packed up our cooler and headed to Saylor Lake. At the marina we had to wait around in the humid heat for the incompetent marina workers to lower his sailboat into the water (for some reason they won’t let you do it yourself, yet they allow some two toothed yahoos handle all of Des Moine’s expensive boats). After an hour the boat finally arrived, and we were both in dire need of cooling off. With barely any wind at that point, Alex put his little 10 horse power motor down and we putted out to the middle of the lake. We finally settled on a spot, pulled down the sails, and dove into the murky green water. Breast stroking through the refreshing water, I remembered how only days prior I swam across a lake. Although it made me proud, my joints began to ache within seconds. The two of us floated around for a few minutes when I noticed dark clouds to the north.
“It looks nasty over there,” I commented.
“Yeah, I think we’ll miss it though. It’s heading east to west.” He seemed certain, so I didn’t worry, swimming back to the boat. Back on board, the wind began to pick up. We started preparing for our sailing endeavor. Pulling up the jib sailing, I looked back toward the grey clouds and navy sky, and reiterated my concern to Alex. It looked to be getting closer.
“We might get hit by the edge of it. I’ll drive us over to the South bay. Hopefully we’ll miss it.” As we slowly putzed along to the tune of 10 mph, I noticed ripples in the distance upon the water, slowly rolling towards us. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing – I could actually see the storm creeping up on us inch by inch, ripple by ripple. “It’s coming our way,” I yelled over the grumble of the little engine that could. Alex looked back, then back to me with eyes the size of saucers.
“Crap. We’re screwed.” He hadn’t counted on the wind changing directions, and now it pursued us crawling along like a gimpy dog running from the dog catcher. Within minutes the ripples were catching us. I braced myself as it swallowed the last few feet between us and instantly the boat was sent into a frenzy, tipping us back and forth like we were pawns in a game of “Smurfs Ahoy”.
The misty rain soon overtook us, and the waves began to white cap, pushing us to and fro. The waves picked us up every few seconds, and the little engine would be completely out of the water, buzzing in pain. “This engine isn’t doing us any good,” Alex yelled to me as he bent down to turn it off. “We’ll just have to guide our way to that bay using the rudder. I’m going to go up to the front to put the jib sail away. Take the rudder and keep us steady.”
He balanced his way up the deck to the front and I grabbed the rudder, attempting to keep us from any sudden movements that would send my brother overboard. When he reached the jib, he began stuffing it down the hatch below. Just as I began getting the hang of the whole rudder thing, the wind decided to switch directions and within a second the entire boat laid perpendicular with the water, on the brink of being capsized. I was almost upside down, looking into the water in front of me. It was like riding a Viking Ship at an Amusement park, but not quite as fun.
My eyes moved from the water below, to my brother, hanging on for his life up front. “THE OTHER WAY!” he screamed, motioning with his thumb to the right. I pushed against the rudder, feeling the weight of the boat fight back. As I strained Alex continued screaming, “THE OTHER WAY!” He again motioned the same way. I was confused. I was pulling the direction he motioned but did he mean to pull the other way? I never could get a hang of the whole goofy foot style on“Skate Or Die”.
I started pushing back the way I had been in the first place and it sent Alex into a rage, standing up and attempting to run up the deck screaming, “NO!” I knew by the look in his eyes that I had done something terribly wrong. As he neared me, the ship sent him flailing to the deck face first. I quickly pushed back on the rudder again, somehow leveling us as Alex stared at me in shock. He gathered himself and lowered down next to me, ripping the rudder from my incompetent hands. I tried to explain the whole confusion with the thumb directions, but he didn’t seem in the mood. I don’t blame him, I had almost capsized his boat. “Go down below and pull down the rest of the jib and lock the hatch.”
I ran down to the living quarters and hurried to the hatch the best I could, balancing the entire way. I locked it up, feeling ashamed for being such a worthless Skipper. When I returned to the deck the weather had gotten worse. The waves shoved us violently, the rain picked up to a down pour, and Alex struggled to keep us level with the water. “Stay down below,” he shouted over the thunder. “There’s no reason we should both get soaked.” I stayed in the entry-way watching my brother lead us through the hellish storm. My nerves wouldn’t allow me to sit down and relax. Was this it? Was my end going to be at the hands of a storm? Yes, I swam across a lake and back two days prior and both of us had years of lifeguarding experience, but something seemed out of sorts on this day. The weather man’s prediction had been completely wrong, and now we were stuck amidst one of the worst storms I’d ever witnessed, from land or boat. If the boat did flip or sink, I wasn’t completely confident that we could swim our way to shore amidst the crashing waves.
Just when I felt it couldn’t get worse, it did. Lightning, tons of it, like darts striking the water all around the bull’s eye: us. 20 foot tall metal masts and lightning equal a recipe for disaster. Alex reassured me we’d be fine sitting upon the fiberglass body of the boat. I was skeptical, watching the lightning tease us from all directions. The rain decided to also kick it up a notch, and soon we were in Iowa’s version of a hurricane.
Alex couldn’t hack it anymore. We needed to both be safe below, and he knew it. After pulling up the rudder, he threw the anchor overboard, knowing it wouldn’t catch in the 40 foot deep water below, but hoping it would eventually catch onto something before we crashed into the rocky shoreline. He locked up the doorway, leaving the two of us in the darkness below, swaying to the motions of the boat. We sat and watched out the small tinted windows as we slowly approached shore. I could tell Alex felt nervous, wondering if his boat would soon meet its fate. After a few minutes, Alex whispered through gritted teeth, “We’re going to hit it.” We watched in agony when suddenly, a jolt rocked the boat to an abrupt stop. “The anchor caught!” Alex said, the first moment of celebration all day. Sure, we were still stuck on a lake during a lightning dance party, but his boat had survived.
With the rain, wind, and lightning still raging, we laid down in hopes of calming our nerves. Plus, we both needed to rest with sea sickness taking over. After an restless hour, it sounded like the rain had died down. Alex sat up to check our surroundings and noticed a house boat sat near us with a speed boat tied up to it. As he observed them, he said, “There are people over there partying on the deck. Morons.” I sat up to take a look and could see the drunken college crew chugging beers as thunder battled with the sounds of their blaring rap music. As I returned back to my resting position Alex continued. “There are two people making out on that speed boat.” I lifted my head once again to discover more was going on than just a quick make-out session during a lightning storm.
“Dude, they’re having sex.”
“No…” he said, voice trailing off at the realization that I spoke the truth. On one of the boat’s bucket seats sat a balding, beer bellied drunk, as a pudgy girl in only a stretched wife-beater rode upon him like she was straddling a bucking bronco. He lethargically sat back while she thrust her child baring hips as if her life depended on it. Just then a bolt of lightning hit the water right behind their boat. Unfazed, the obese bronco-buster continued her impassioned performance, sending ripples up and down her cellulite body and out onto the water surrounding the swaying boat.
“What idiots,” Alex said, laying back down, not interested in the show. Unlike him, I couldn’t take my eyes off the freakish display. Not because I was getting some kind of sick voyeuristic thrill, but because the sight of the two heifers humping boggled my mind. Hours earlier I feared for my life, and these two sweaty love-turds were having intercourse without a care in the world. It was a fornication fuck you to Mother Nature. “Strike us down if you like, but we’re going to enjoy this moment regardless.” As much as the image of the two porkers made my sea sick stomach even woozier, I admired them. With death crashing down around them, they were enjoying every moment, and in some strange way, I could learn a thing or two about living from these manatees.