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The Luxury of Travel, If Only In My Dreams March 7, 2009

Posted by aetiusromulous in Commentary.
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weber-logo1We shut off our engine and the wind filled our sails.  It was a beautiful clear night with a million stars.  Cruise ships, glittering like diamond bracelets, passed us.  Later, we picked up the lights from Great Stirrup Cay, ran inside and made our first Bahamas anchorage . . .”

This is how my Saturday began, reading e-mail from a friend, he and his wife-to spite me-sailing around the world. 

I met Tim Ramm a lifetime ago while enrolled at Seneca College’s Commercial Diving School.  After graduating, Tim traveled some, dove a bit, and eventually made a small fortune after resurrecting a business and selling it for significant profit.  To make a long story short, I didn’t . . . but back to the e-mail.

Tim and Leslie leave the Bahamas but soon encounter foul weather.  “We slammed into a huge wave and the engine died.  We couldn’t go into a strange anchorage without auxiliary power, so we turned tail, the wind and a large sea blowing us home.”

Leslie attempts to fix the engine while Tim mans the helm and barks orders over the wail of the storm to ‘clean the filters and bleed the lines!’  But rocked by the waves, Leslie drops a tiny screw into the bilge and the engine dies for good.  Hours later, nearing port, Tim braves the wind to take down the mainsail, tethered on while the waves crash around him.  He fights with a tangled genoa that’s become wrapped around the forestay, turns the ship at a dangerous angle toward the jagged rocks, and miraculously the sail billows out.  They navigate the channel, moor the boat, and exhausted, fall into a deep sleep.

I finish the e-mail and look at my Daily Planner with ‘fix the toilet’ scrawled across today’s date.  I’d planned on calling a plumber but the tanking economy and Tim’s high-seas adventure stirs a dangerous mix of testosterone and male pride.

“What’s the plan?” asks my wife.

“Fix the toilet,” I shrug, sailing into a storm of my own.

“No, you’re not,” she says.  “Your back’s out and you shouldn’t be lifting.  Besides,” she adds, rubbing salt in the wound, “you don’t know how to fix a toilet.”

I stand up to argue but my back locks from sitting.  I let out a yelp and in painful half-stance, try to convince her that I have to fix the toilet.  “Tim’s sailing a ship,” I tell her.  “A ship he practically built himself, through a storm!  He’s untangling genoas (whatever the hell they are) and bleeding lines (whatever the hell that means).  I want to go on but her eyes have turned vague; she has no idea what I’m talking about. 

He’s navigating the world buying and selling companies, I think to myself, and I’m stuck here fixing a toilet!  Except it’s worse:  I can’t fix the toilet.  First, ’cause my back’s out, and second, I don’t know how.  It’s not that I want to fix it (who would?), but I’ve got to try (male pride).

“Ah, forget it,” I mumble, trying to straighten.  “I’m gonna meet Rob for coffee.”

“Oh,” she brightens.  “Could you pick up some paint chips while you’re out?”

Paint chips? I think.  Decorating?  Kick me when I’m down!  “No way,” I tell her, picturing Tim.  “Not today.” 

“But you’ll be right by the store . . .”

I roll my eyes, defeated husband.  Not gonna win.  Never gonna win.  “Okay,” I mutter, finally straightening.  “Whadaya want?  Green?  Blue?”

Her face warms with a patient smile, the one she gives children when they say something sweet, or men when they say something stupid.  “No, silly,” she says, flipping through a catalogue.  “I was thinking Misty Glen or a nice Crème Brulee . . .”

I grab my coat and gimp for the door.  “No way,” I tell her, overreacting.  “I’ve got friends sailing the world and I can’t fix a toilet.  I’m not even thinking in terms like that!”

I drive to the donut shop, radio on, economic collapse filling the airwaves.  Meanwhile, Tim’s in the islands on dollars a day.  Master and Commander, I think to myself.  Mr. Self-reliant.  I hobble inside, join Rob at a table and tell him the whole sad affair.

“I know what you mean,” he says when I finish.  “Wife says the spark’s gone from my eyes, that I’ve forgotten how to dream.”

I look at him, expecting a grin or a shrug, but he’s somber, serious.

“It’s true,” he says, sipping his coffee; eyes flat.  “When I hit middle age and the economy died, I realized this was it.  Nowhere to go but down . . . so I stopped dreaming.” 

What’s more mortifying,” asks American essayist Logan Pearsall Smith, “than to feel you’ve missed the plum for want of courage to shake the tree?

So, while Tim sails the world, the economy sputters and Rob forgets how to dream, I head home with some paint chips and a renewed desire to tackle the toilet.  I do it wrong, of course-and hurt my back in the process-but when it’s all done, my beer tastes a little bit better.

I may not know what a genoa is-that ship has sailed-but at least I can still shake the tree.

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