Saturday, June 23, 2018

HURLING CAUTION TO THE WIND – My Entry in the Seasickness Horror Story Contest

Few topics are so sure to breathe life into stale cocktail-party chitchat as these: tornadoes, nightmare bosses, cockroaches…

…and seasickness.

I first realized I was prone to motion sickness when, at the age of nine, my parents took me and my brother to Mexico. As our driver, Jorge, wound his way up into the hills west of Mexico City, I started getting queasy. Before long I was hunched over by the side of the road—vehicles with whole families in them slowed to get a better look—heaving my guts out.

I stumbled back into the back seat. Dad assured me I’d be more comfortable if I kept my eyes on the horizon instead of reading or playing games with my brother. He was right.

With that lesson in mind, I’ve suffered very few recurrences of my car-sickness.

     I wasn’t even aware of any motion. After all,
     we were on a river…and still at the dock.

In boats, though, it’s a different story. No amount of fresh air or horizon fixation can spare me the ravages of seasickness. It’s so bad that I once got sick aboard a large, double-decker excursion boat on the tranquil, glass-smooth Illinois River.

It was a wedding reception. I’d just boarded, walked up to the top, open-air deck, and was enjoying my first drink when I first noticed the signs. I wasn’t even aware of any motion. After all, we were on a river…and still at the dock.

But sure enough, as I looked overboard down the side of the boat, I could see she was rocking ever so slightly against the pilings—apparently the tag ends of swells were working their way up the river from Lake Michigan. I don’t think it was more than a couple of inches, but it was enough. I got off, watched them pull away and spent the rest of the sightseeing cruise lying on a park bench.

          It sounded like the hull would surely
          splinter from the pounding.

The worst episode I’ve experienced—one that usually does quite well in the inevitable, “oh, that’s nothing, I….” contest at a cocktail party—occurred on North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound.

I’d been sailing for several days with my girlfriend, her brother and his wife, heading northeast along the Inland Waterway from Camp Lejeune to the charming Outer Banks town of Ocracoke. There we docked and spent a lovely afternoon, intending to head back the way we came the next morning.

But overnight, a big storm rolled in. At 8:00 AM, trying to cast off from the pier, we simply couldn’t budge the boat, held fast against the bumpers by the steady wind. Just up the bay was the Coast Guard station whose double-triangle flags informed us we were in the grip of a gale—meaning winds ranged from 39 to 54 miles per hour. We weren’t going anywhere.

The second morning, despite the continuing force-seven winds, our skipper, a Marine Corps officer, declared he absolutely had to get back to Camp Lejeune that day. So, soliciting help from the crews of nearby boats, we managed to separate ourselves from the dock and set sail—well reefed—across the 30-mile-wide Pamlico Sound for the mainland.

Even knowing we’d be on the Inland Waterway our whole trip, I’d been smart enough to bring Dramamine. So, half an hour before we left Ocracoke, I’d taken a full 100-mg. dose. Once beyond the relative shelter of the harbor, the boat was lifted ten to twelve feet on each wave crest only to plunge thunderously into the following trough. It sounded like the hull would surely splinter from the pounding.

And it was abundantly clear the Dramamine was not going to work.

Because Pamlico’s quite a shallow body of water for its width, the normal rolling swell from a storm there builds into taller, sharper waves, many of which actually break. I could barely hold my footing to vomit over the side, and, after I thought I’d emptied my stomach, I went below decks to lie down.

But that was just the beginning of my ordeal. My girlfriend had been thoughtful enough to bring me a plastic bucket. I don’t think she realized it was the boat’s bilge bucket, and that it reeked of diesel fuel. This, of course, triggered yet another bout of heaving, by now nearly dry.

The dry heaves continued unabated for another four-and-a-half hours, easing only when we finally motored into the marina. It took a full day before I started feeling normal again.

It was many years before I once again dared going to sea. My incentive: you can’t catch a marlin from shore. The reason it was even possible: my discovery of “the patch”—the transdermal version of the drug scopolamine (hyoscene).

I put a patch on that little bump of bone right behind my ear about an hour before hitting the water, and I’m good to go. In fact, the medication in one patch keeps reminding my inner ear that it’s on secure footing for three days. The only side effect for me is an all-day case of dry mouth.

Okay, now I’ll open myself up to a little of that one-upmanship. What’s your worst motion sickness horror story? Leave a comment here or lay it on me on Facebook.

Friday, June 8, 2018

WHAT’S GOING AROUND HERE? / Curious Things That Spin

What does a tequila bottle have to do with spinning?
More than you might imagine; read on...

Ok, a little free-association game: What first comes to mind when you hear the word “spin? For me, it’s spin the bottle, that mortifying little kissing game we played as kids.

Now if you were to approach this a little differently, the question might be, what’s the first thing a kid would think of to play with a glass bottle? Knock it over? Fill it with water or sand? Mold mud around it? But spin it?

Turns out there are all kinds of things that spin, including many you’d never think of unless—like the incurable kid that endures deep inside all of us—you just try them.

Among my most spectacular spinning discoveries:

THE LID OF MY FAVORITE SAUCEPAN – We have this one stainless steel pan—I’ve had it for forty-plus years—whose lid nestles nicely into a channel around the rim. When something’s simmering in that pan the escaping steam turns the lid into a sort of hovercraft; when I rotate the knob, the whole thing turns nearly frictionlessly, riding on the steam and lubricated by a coating of water in the channel. My record so far: 18 seconds.

– A friend recently gave me a bottle of Trader Joe’s tequila. Now I’ve emptied my share of exquisitely-designed tequila bottles, but my focus is normally on what’s inside.

That can change, however, when one has consumed a few caballitos of the stuff. With the Trader Joe’s nectar, what ultimately grabbed my inner child’s attention was the simple, pleasant-to-handle cork-and-wooden-ball stopper.

While chatting one night, I was idly fiddling with that stopper, and just happened to put it, knob down, on the counter and torque the cork as if I were spinning a top.

Not surprisingly, it did spin, but what I wasn’t ready for was just how well, how long and, well, how comically. (Be sure to watch till the thing stops moving.)


– I eat ridiculous quantities of yogurt. One day I took off the translucent plastic lid of a Dannon 32-ounce tub and set it down on the counter. I guess I must have glanced the edge of it while reaching for a bowl. It rotated quite easily. I tried it again, this time with more intention, and it kept going for well over 30 seconds.

My guess is that these lids are injection molded. One result of that process is a little nipple of plastic jutting up in the exact center of the circle. The thing is so precisely made, so perfectly balanced, that when the lid spins on that axis, its outer rim barely touches the counter. With so little friction, it just keeps going and going…and going.

So what spinning oddities have you discovered? Keep you eyes open and your 10-year-old’s appetite for play well whet and chances are you’ll come across a few possibilities.

Then, go ahead, just give it a whirl!