The Kayak

July 2nd, 2016

The Kayak

I built a kayak.  Well, Dad and I built the kayak.  I guess it was Dad’s way of trying for ‘bonding’ without tears.  Every once in a while, Dad would make an effort; a sporadic stab at talking with his sons.  He may well have been responding to the promptings of his wife, for Mom, I know (because she told me later) much regretted that Dad was remote to us.  As I wrote before, Dad never had “that talk” with any one of us, it was just one more thing that he could not bring himself to address.  And the building of the kayak led me to a discovery about myself, one which was central to the rest of my youth, which I knew I could never talk to Dad about.

The plans for building the kayak I’d found in Popular Mechanics.  I was big into  Popular Mechanics and Popular Science in my middle-school days (called ‘junior high’ in Des Plaines), a passion that did not survive for very long, but was intense for a while.

The kayak was to be built of sail-cloth stretched over a frame off wooden slats bent to shape the length of the kayak around cross-pieces cut from plywood; the cockpit was a wooden frame, in which I could sit (there were no hatches).  Once the frame was formed, the sail cloth was soaked in water and stretched and tacked onto the frame; when dry, it was painted with several coats of marine paint.

The plans called for marine-grade plywood, a commodity not in abundance in Des Plaines, a former farming community far from bodies of water.  So we used regular half-inch construction plywood, instead, on the theory that it was totally enclosed in the canvas covering and so would never get wet.  That worked out okay in the end.

Sail cloth was also not readily at hand, but by driving  a number of miles toward Lake Michigan, we found a store that catered to the lake navigator.  There we also found marine deck enamel to waterproof the skin of the kayak.  I found a home-made double-ended paddle in a newspaper classified ad.

Construction took place in our backyard — complete with the requisite swearing and fuming from Dad.

Was there bonding?  Not hardly.  But the kayak got made!

The Des Plaines River runs, naturally, through the town, and as Dr. Horst lived in a house on the banks of the river, and would let me store my kayak there, that was a natural place to go.

The Des Plaines River is a major flow for a large drainage area…eventually running far to the south and joining the Illinois River at Kankakee, southwest of Chicago.  Several low flood-control dams are built along its length, two of them in the city of Des Plaines (dams nos. 2 and 3).

When I was very young we would swim in the river on hot summer days, but by the time I was 13, the river was quite polluted: pieces of raw sewage and used condoms could be seen floating on the surface, at times, especially after a heavy rainfall.  (Interesting note, according to Wikipedia: “Between the 1970s and 1990s, serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer both discarded the remains of their victims into the river, after finding no other suitable locations to dispose of them.”)

But I ignored all that, and would paddle around between the two dams, glorying in the fact that I was on my own, I was free there.  It was a beautiful scene (ignoring the shit in the water); the river runs the length of the Cook County Forest Preserve, Under sun-dappled shade by the side of the river, I would pull up into a gentle spot outside the current, and masturbate, undisturbed.

And there, one day, I had the surprise of my young life:  I ejaculated!  Pop!  8 inches into the air! Surprise!

Now I knew what everybody was talking about.  I was a grown-up.  No more the innocent child.  Fortunately, I had read all the pamphlets my mother had given me, so I knew that it wasn’t some sudden illness come upon me.  No, it was a thing of pride. Something I could never talk to anyone about; but that didn’t matter.  It was me.  That’s who I was.  Giver of come.

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