Friday, February 1, 2013

The Old Man and the Sea

As a kid, most of my favorite books discussed scientific facts about dinosaurs. One of my absolute favorite books, however, was titled "A Little Old Man," which sounds like a title slapped on right before the book went to press.

"You still don't have a title? What's this book about? A little old man? Done. Roll the presses!"

Holy crap! I actually remembered the title and plot accurately!

Not much happened in the book. This little old man lives on an island by himself, does some chores, catches some fish and endures a hurricane. A boat washes up on shore after the storm, and he hangs out in the boat, finds a cat who has kittens and that's pretty much the end of the story.

I don't know why the man was marooned on the island, but he seemed happy. In fact, I really wanted to live on the old guy's island. He seemed to have everything he needed, he could catch fish when he got hungry, he got to explore an abandoned boat, and even had a pet cat.

When I read this book, my family didn't live anywhere near the water, but it seemed very peaceful and relaxing. Although why I wanted to relax as a kid is sort of a puzzling. What the hell was I looking to get away from?

This is where I wanted to retire to after another stressful day of being seven.

If the old man's island seemed interesting, the abandoned boat was even cooler. Several pages were devoted to the man exploring this boat before finding his cat. I was mesmerized by those pages. Maybe my later love of discarded, neglected items owed something to vague memories of the old man exploring this abandoned boat. Or perhaps the little guy finding and keeping a boat would inspire a lifelong affinity for scams in which I could get what I wanted with little or no work

Years passed and I forgot about the old man and his kick-ass solitary life. I was in college but back in Bradenton for Christmas Break. I had been in town for about a week, along with my friend Curt, and we were both planning to leave Sunday afternoon.

Curt called me early on a cold and rainy Sunday morning.

"Get up and come to my house."

As a twenty-something male, you could not ignore a message like that. Many adventures started from such a simple opening, and you certainly didn't want to miss out on any possible excitement.

So I got dressed and drove down to Curt's parent's house where he directed me to the DeSoto Memorial, a series of nature trails where Spanish conquistador, explorer, and Indian torturer Hernando DeSoto possibly landed hundreds of years ago.

"I was walking the dogs this morning and I found something," he said.

I knew better than to ask. It could be anything. Pirate gold, old Penthouse magazines, a secret trail to Crazy Nathan's* house, anything.

We parked the car and walked down the grey beach.

"Check it out," Curt said.

He gestured to a partially submerged houseboat about ten feet out in the river. Holy crap! Just like the little old man!

"The Law of the Sea says that if we occupy the boat, we own it."

I wasn't sure how Curt knew so much about maritime law, but this was intriguing.

We could totally fix it up, I thought. Screw going back to school. We could sail around the world, gaining knowledge of the seas. We'd catch fish when we got hungry. Dock in exotic ports all over the world. Maybe we'd even have a cat, like the old man.

"We could use my dad's canoe to get out there," Curt said.

"Yeah, that'd work," I replied, even though the thought of getting out on the swelling, cold river was taking some of my enthusiasm away.

"Yeah, we could do that," Curt said, his inflection matching my loss of enthusiasm.

After a couple of minutes we realized that we weren't going to occupy the houseboat, so we chucked some rocks at it and walked back to the car.

Like most ideas you have in your twenties, it made a much better idea than reality. My childhood dreams to own an abandoned houseboat would have to wait.

I still don't have my abandoned boat, but I'm constantly on the lookout. 

*Crazy Nathan was a crazy guy who we were somewhat obsessed with. It's a long story. I'll tell you some day.

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