Sunday, February 12, 2012


My son Nicholas (Nicholas Gerald when he was in trouble - Nick -now that he is in his mid-twenties...) has always been competitive.  The middle son of three brothers, he didn't get to be the first and he didn't get the free pass like his little brother somehow always did.  He figured out, early on, that since he couldn't be the baby and couldn't be the oldest, he would just try to be the best.

I remember a camping trip once at the north coast of California - Ft. Bragg area - where we all went down to the beach to play.  All boys like to be climbers and my three were no different.  They were climbing on everything, rocks, driftwood, etc.  They tried their hand at climbing the mostly sheer face of a small hill, but they gave up about halfway up, as it looked pretty impossible.

We were putting out the blanket and picnic basket when I heard this tiny little pleading voice from off in the distance.  "Dad, Dad......HELP!!"  We looked everywhere and though we could hear Nick, we couldn't see him anywhere.  That is, until we looked at the impossible-to-climb cliff and there he was...almost to the top...and stuck.  He would have made it, but he wasn't tall enough to reach the next handhold and it was much too difficult to go back down.

Most parents have "saved their children's lives", multiple times, from fast car stops, choking on hot-dogs, to grabbing them before they ran into the street...etc.

This time was a bit more difficult.  I had to dash over and start climbing the cliff to where he was....all the while telling him reassuringly that Dad was on the way.  

When I got to where he was, I discovered the problem...hand holds are not necessarily footholds and going back down (let alone carrying somebody) was not a solution.  Other than the worry of us both tumbling down a two or three story high rocky cliff, I had it under control.  We had to finish climbing to the top.

The brave adventurer bravado was gone when I arrived where he was stuck.  The all-trusting, 'my Dad is a super-hero' look took over from the 'deer in the headlights' look as I climbed up next to him. There wasn't any time and this wasn't the spot to lecture him about the danger he got himself (and me) in.

His answer to my "It looks like you got yourself stuck" was a proud "Look Dad, I got higher than my brothers."  Which indeed he did...the classic half-full vs. half-empty observation shared by all my children.  It wasn't a sobbing, "I'm gonna die! was "I almost got it Dad, but I can't reach the next rock..can you help me up?"

Since Nick is still here and I am telling the story, you can successfully surmise that we made it.  

Still the adventurer, I am confident he will somehow, always find the next handhold to make it to the top.


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Sunday, January 22, 2012

I REMEMBER - The Houseboat

...Once Upon a Time, I lived on a houseboat.  It was moored in Walnut Grove, California, a few miles south of Sacramento on the Sacramento River Delta.  A friend of mine bought an old used rental houseboat and enlisted my help to remodel it.  The were selling off the whole fleet and replacing them with newer boats.  I bought my own.

The premise was to remodel them into the "everything redwood" 70's style and live happily ever after on the Delta.  I have to say, it was pretty cool.  I stripped all the tin siding off and recovered the 'apt on water' inside and out with redwood. Added a couple of skylights.  New tile shower and kitchen counters.  New carpet.  Removed bunk beds and added double bed with caribou bedspread and skylight above.  Very 70's. It was awesome.

As it is said, every silver lining has a cloud.

1st cloud:  the roof was flat and because of the previous 10 years of college fraternity guys with kegs partying on the roof - it sagged a bit and leaked (hence being up for sale).  First order of business was to cut the roof off and replace with an open beamed ceiling with a slope.  What I didn't realize at the time was that ALL THE ELECTRICAL WIRING was strung through the existing roof beams.  I naively removed the roof and discarded all the junk, discovering to my dismay that I had just devalued my new floating home by 50%, now with no working electrical system.  Thank God for Sunset Magazine's How To... books.  I became a plumber and an electrician quickly.

2nd Cloud:  I was a working carpenter in Chico, California at the time, spending all my weekends on the boat remodeling it. About 250 miles round-trip.  My table saw was in two pieces, the saw and the stand it sat on.  I would dismantle it and carry it up the boat ramp every weekend to use on my job in Chico.  Getting tired of unbolting the saw to the stand on  a regular basis. I hit up on the idea of strong jawed clamps to secure it and then I could just squeeze and release the clamps when it was time to go.  Sounded good.

I was sawing a long 2" x 8" cross beam on the front deck of my boat one Saturday when a speed boat went by pretty fast- ignoring the 5 mph wake rule in the marina.  The rocking  back and forth caused my wood to pry the saw from the stand on one side.  I shut off the motor (thank God) and reached under the saw to grasp the clamp and tighten it down  again.  Note: like an iceberg, the big part is under the water.  Eyes firmly on the 2" of the 10" blade still spinning (motor off) I promptly stuck my hand into the 8" portion spinning out of sight, under the table.  The blade stopped when it stuck in my knuckle of my right forefinger. To the left of the blade was my right thumb and right forefinger.  To the right were my other three fingers.  Did I say 'Thank God' my saw was turned off, yet?  I am not Three-fingered Jack.

Surprisingly,at first, there wasn't a lot of blood.  It was a pretty deep cut from right beyond the base of my thumb to the right forefinger knuckle.  I wrapped a decently clean dishtowel over my hand.  I calmly walked over to my friend's boat, knocked on the window and asked him to run me up to the med clinic in town.  We hastened over and walked inside.  For the first time since the accident, we removed the towel to see the damage.  Not so good.  The towel was pretty well soaked through with blood.  I thought to myself that this was like dissecting a frog, but more personal. Tendons, veins, flesh and lots of blood, etc.  The young woman at the clinic rinsed it off, wrapped it up with gauze and said they could not handle anything so severe and I should go directly to the hospital in Stockton (40 or so miles away) and did I want to call an ambulance.  My friend almost passed out...he did not realize the extent of the cut.  We thought we could get there faster if he drove me, as we were way down on the bayou and the ambulance would have to come from Stockton and then take me back.  There was a little two-lane road along the top of the levy and then a wild ride through rice fields to get to the main highway. I was more freaked out by my friend's wild panicked driving than I was by the injury.  I had to tell him to slow down many times, as I knew we were unlikely to make it to the hospital alive otherwise.

We arrived at the emergency room and luckily, there was an extremely skilled surgeon there, waiting for a union rep that had gotten his finger caught in some machinery that was being flown in for the surgeon to work on.  He agreed to fix my cut - 'to warm up'. before the other guy got there, NO CHARGE!

I don't remember much other than he whistled "Hitch Your Wagon to a Star" the whole time, it didn't cost me more than $50 for medical supplies and that there is a barely discernible scar today.

I eventually towed the houseboat to Chico and sold it for twice what I paid, so some silver did shine through.