Another story of trouble on the water. Different location, same idea.
It was 1993, and our second vacation together in Mexico. We had chosen to go to Isla Mujeres, an island 22 miles (and an entire universe) off the coast where Cancun rested in the sun during the day and took off in sinful decadence at night. Our guidebook told of a trip by small boat to Isla Contoy, a bird and wildlife sanctuary where we would have a chance to snorkel on a reef about half-way to the island, and later swim with small rays in some of the clearest water in the Caribbean.
We were ten people on the open boat, with a short Mayan captain and a 15 year-old boy as first mate. The trip out was idyllic, and along the way the men in the group were each handed a rod and reel with baited line. As soon as you tossed in the line you had a hit, and very shortly we had caught a half dozen small barracuda which were to be turned into our shore lunch later on.
On the return journey we could see a storm brewing to our west. Dimly visible in the distance was the mainland of Mexico. It seemed no time at all until we were in the middle of something really terrifying. The sky turned green-black, a drenching rain began and the winds blew hard enough that all of the passengers held their hats firmly in their hands, as well as anything else that might blow away.
The sea grew rough and our captain adeptly steered us into waves that towered above our boat and broke over us as he tried to make headway. A man sitting next to Robin asked her with a shaky voice if she thought we were going to die out there and her response was a truthful “I don’t know.”
If we were to capsize it was a long long way to the only visible land, and none of us aboard knew anything about what our chances were in the sea in such a storm, even with life vests on.
Instead of panicking, which is what I would have predicted my behavior would have been, I became completely calm. I remember thinking that if these were the last scenes that I would see in my life they were strikingly beautiful ones, and I was going to give them all my attention. The dramatic colors, the looming and gigantic waves, the taste of the salt water as we were repeatedly drenched, the shrieking of the wind drowning out our voices … it was all thrilling and an experience I was never to forget.
This surprising serenity that I describe, by the way, is in no way meant to be portrayed as courage. Courage is quite a different matter, where a person has a choice between easier and more difficult options, and then knowingly chooses the harder one. What I felt here was more a sense of utter acceptance. Everything, and I mean everything, was out of my hands. The only thing that I could do was to clutch at the wooden plank beneath me to keep from being tossed into the sea, and this I did with enough vigor to leave a mark, I’m sure. But no fretting or worrying, no quickness of thought, no physical effort of any kind was going to change whatever outcome was on its way. And the scene in front of us was fearful and spectacular.
In less than half an hour it was obvious that the front was passing and we were through the worst of it. Soon after that we were back in full sunshine, riding on a calm sea. Fortunately, even though he had provided such a memorable experience for all of us, the captain didn’t charge us extra for all the added thrills.
A Dick Guindon cartoon
Our morning bicycle rides into the rural have become even more agreeable with the increasing profusion of birdsong that cheers us on our sweaty way. I’m no expert on bird calls, but there are some easy ones here, the red-winged blackbirds, the Western Meadowlarks, and the Gambel’s quail just to name a few.
Last Wednesday we saw a pair of these pretty little things run across the road in front of us. The quail are not much bigger than a pigeon, can run like crazy, and have beautiful coloration. A designer bird if there ever was one.
I’ve had one of those now I can’t unsee it experiences this week. If you’ve been reading this column for awhile, you know that I often use quotes by H.L. Mencken. I’ve used his stuff because of his intelligence, his wit and sometimes his delicious sarcasm. Usually there was some truth in each one along with a dollop of wisdom.
This week I decided to go further and read the whole list of Mencken quotations found at Goodreads.com and suddenly I found myself in a very different place indeed.
First, let me show you why I have admired his writing with a series of Mencken quotes:
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.
An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will make a better soup.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.
It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.
Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backward in search of the Atlantic Ocean … and missing? That’s the way the mind of man operates.
Pretty good stuff, I think. But this week on Goodreads.com I came across these:
The Jews could be put down very plausibly as the most unpleasant race ever heard of. As commonly encountered they lack any of the qualities that mark the civilized man: courage, dignity, incorruptibility, ease, confidence. They have vanity without pride, voluptuousness without taste, and learning without wisdom. Their fortitude such as it is, is wasted upon puerile objects, and their charity is mainly a form of display.
How far the gentlemen of dark complexion will get with their independence, now that they have declared it, I don’t know. There are serious difficulties in their way. The vast majority of people of their race are but two or three inches removed from gorillas: it will be a sheer impossibility, for a long, long while, to interest them in anything above pork-chops and bootleg gin.
So I investigated and learned that Mencken had kept a diary which was sealed at his request for 25 years after his death. When it was opened a good deal of this repellent thinking was revealed. Bigoted statements … yep, fer sure. I found myself in one of those classic situations – what do I do with an artist whose work I have admired who I now learn was a very imperfect person? Toss out everything they did or wrote and thus “purify” myself? Or do I accept that it might be possible to learn something even from men and women who might have (or once had) a darker side?
I do believe that if we cleared our libraries of the writings of anyone who had at any time expressed bigoted thinking anywhere in their corpus those library shelves would be much more thinly stocked than they are. And if we only allowed the purest of heart among us to be admitted to the library as members, there would be very few patrons in the aisles involved in searching through those half-empty shelves. I freely admit that I would certainly be denied entry if my entire life were to be carefully examined. And if I couldn’t have gained entrance, making my way out of my ignorance would have been that much harder.
The author William Manchester had been a good friend of Mencken’s, and wrote a piece for the Times of New York addressing these problems and the legitimate concerns the diary raises. It makes good reading.
A George Booth cartoon
I’d like to take a moment here to quash some rumors making the rounds. I am not going for the hoochie daddy look this summer. Spending so little time on social media meant that I was completely unaware of the term until listening to NPR a couple of days ago.
The last time I checked out my look in the mirror, it was obvious that my hoochie daddy moment had come and gone at some time in the past, perhaps when I was sleeping. Even though this five-inch inseam length was what I wore all the time in a universe far, far away. At that time, which would have been in the fifties, they weren’t considered hoochie at all, but simply shorts. Also at that time, the skin was clearer, the muscles more toned, and the vibe going out was very close to “Here I am, baby … I believe that I am just what you’re looking for!”
If I were to try it today, I would be besieged by Boy Scouts trying to help me across the street, assuming that if I dressed that way I must have lost my mind (or at least my fashion sense) completely.
BTW, read the legend carefully on the above graphic and you see that there is no Hoochie Grandpa category. That is not a typo. Put a 5 inch inseam on an octogenarian and you get no vibe at all, but a silence as profound as any encountered in outer space.