'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
DAD HAS A BOAT – CALL 9-1-1
(Summer vacation edition – This column was first published six years ago. Except for some slight, um, embellishment, it really happened.)
How embarrassing. My first 9-1-1 call. I didn’t actually place the call; my wife called 9-1-1 on my behalf.
A 9-1-1 call in and of itself is not embarrassing. After all, emergencies happen, and it’s nice to know trained experts will show up within minutes at the push of three simple buttons on the phone.
No, it’s not automatically embarrassing to be the cause of a 9-1-1 call. It is extremely embarrassing, however, when it turns out there is absolutely no need for trained emergency personnel to respond, a fact you are trying to explain to all the trained emergency personnel who have responded and are swarming around you like a plague of siren-wailing, red light-flashing, walkie-talkie-wielding locust.
My 9-1-1 call happened on a recent family vacation. I was sailing on a lake in a small Sunfish sailboat, teaching my younger daughter the finer points of seamanship. (Including the little known fact that there is no such thing as a “poop deck.” It’s just a comical nautical term sailors invented to make each other laugh on long, tedious voyages. “Aye, matey, let’s batten down the poop deck!” “Hee hee, oh Vern, you crack me up.”)
It was very windy that day and we were zipping around the lake almost as if I knew what I was doing. (Hint: the key word in the previous sentence is “almost.”) After a while, my daughter was almost impressed with my sailing skills. (Again, “almost” plays an important role in this drama.)
But then I attempted to “tack.” (Another comical nautical term which, to the competent sailor, means, “Turn the boat and sail against the wind,” but to yours truly means, “Flip the boat completely upside down and fling two people head-first into the lake.”)
Surprisingly, an upside down Sunfish, with its mast and sail pointing directly down into the water, doesn’t move quite as quickly as it does in the more traditional upright position. Actually, it doesn’t move at all, regardless of how hard the wind is blowing. It just floats there, a half-mile from shore, and laughs at you as you cling to its side treading water. (I swear, the Sunfish laughed at me. It said, “Hee hee, oh Bill, you crack me up.” I immediately knew it was laughing at me and not with me because I had not recently uttered the words “poop deck.”)
After a short while, we were visited by two small vessels, one offering help, the other laughing more heartily than the capsized Sunfish itself. The help came from a fisherman in a power boat who offered to tow us to shore. The laughter came from my older daughter who had rowed out in a kayak to find out whether or not she had become an only child. After cackling hysterically for far longer than what is polite in that particular situation (30 seconds is acceptable; four minutes is rude), she was finally able to blurt out between guffaws, “Guess what? Mom called 9-1-1!”
“No, please! Say it ain’t so!” I yelled. No such luck. She had indeed made the call. I thought capsizing the boat was embarrassing. As we were being pulled slowly toward shore, I listened carefully for the sound of sirens and scanned the sky for helicopters.
Nothing happened until we were safely back on land. But just as I dragged the Sunfish onto the beach and waved thank-you to the fisherman, the fire department’s emergency rescue boat came roaring up. After I convinced the crew that we were fine and, no, we did not need CPR (“Stop punching me in the chest, please”) and, no, we did not need to be air-lifted to the regional burn unit (although if they had a regional water-logged unit, we might have said yes), they packed up their oxygen tanks, air splints, CAT scan machines, portable operating room, and $76 million worth of other equipment and headed back onto the lake.
As they pulled away, they glanced back at me and began giggling. I’m sure it was because one of them said, “poop deck.”
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