I prefer quiet birthdays, as I find a birth day to be a good day to rest and take stock. I wanted to figure out a simple experience that would be fun, and yet be something I do not ordinarily do.
I told my wife that what I really wished for my birthday was to go for a paddle boat ride at Towne Lake Park in a giant duck.
Towne Lake Park is one town north of us, a charming, tree-lined park surrounding a small lake or very large pond, depending on how one reckons such waters. One walks about a mile and a quarter if one is walking around the lake.
Today the lake levels were remarkably low, which did not constern the great white herson, and positively seemed to assure and comfort the oft-shy little blue heron. We walked over to the little concession kiosk, where one could buy candy, soft drinks, or half hour rides on the paddle boats.
I must confess a not-entirely-secret love for paddle boats, pedal boats, and manually-propelled boats of every kind. My idea of a good time includes rowing, pedalling, paddling or shimmying a craft on calm waters. I am not a sports-adventure guy, hugging onto the shore of the rapids like those fellows I saw some years go on a rushing river in the deep woods in British Columbia.
My speed is instead more like this:
Our first moment of suspense on this sojourn was whether the frighteningly light rain that blissfully fell yesterday and also a bit this morning would have swamped the boats with too much water for easy use. The seats of the giant white swan boat proved unequal to the rain, but the duck was salvagable. The owner used her mop to pull water from the seat, gave us extra life jackets upon to sit, and we were quite well-fixed.
The shop proprietor, a brassy woman from the northern regions of our fair nation who felt aggrieved that she had opened early at the request of Fun Run participants who had nonetheless brought their own Gator Ade (and, parenthetically, I always wonder why people don't support things like park concessionaires, who can significantly enhance park joy). She helped us, though, right up to throwing us a "help us" whistle to use in case we ran aground.
At this point, the trip took a very gurdonark turn. When I lurched forward from my seat in the duck boat to grasp the whistle, I managed to dislodge the glasses perched atop my head. They now sit in Davey Jones' Locker, no doubt correcting the vision of some worthy privateer. The proprietor of the shop felt badly, but I assured her these things happen. I myslf felt a bit grumpy about it for five minutes, but soon the mood passed. Why should it not pass?
The last time I lost a pair of glasses was when a canoe trip went quite well south with my nephews and I in mid-row, so I am used to the idea of water and missing glasses.
Pedaling a paddle boat is a bit like turning 47. In one's early days, one pedals for dear life, hoping to set water-speed records and prove one's mettle as a paddle-boater. The duck-boat in questino was not the old-fashioned "paddle" type, with a Old Man River He Don't Say Nothing Delta Queen look about it, but instead the very model of a modern Tom Swift submerged screw and rudder contraption. This duck could waddle, Tony Curtis would say in Operation Petticoat, had the duck only been pink.
The aging metaphor continues,though, with the realization that one gets about as far with a steady, almost languid effort as with a hard burn at the pedals. Soon, one is a Master and Commander of lake wave currents, wind, passing live ducks disappointed about the lack of duck-food being thrown from the boat, and other nautical knowledge.
Eventually, as the trip wears on (a full, and not over-quick half-hour), one realizes that one can just ensure the boat is not running aground and just enjoy the ride. Being 47 is a lot like that, except that with a firm haircut policy one's personal duck can be less feathersome and wavy than the park duck.
Losing glasses is rather a bother when one wears "progressives", which is the fancy word for bifocals without a line on them. They cost a bit more, not a fortune ,but money that could be used on curtains, dishes, a double broiler or the Digital Audio Workstation Reason 3.0. At least, though, we had our quest for the afternoon set up. We would go to Eye Masters.
Eye Masters is a chain "glasses in one hour" place. When we arrived, they were having a "2 for 99 dollars sale". I am never very encouraged by such sales, because I know that my own prescription never qualifies. Soon a charming and attractive woman named Claudia was handing me frames to try on, while my wife constructively weighed in on the lack of merit of the great majority of them. The tortoise shells I rather liked, Claudia and my wife assured me, made me look old. I don't mind looking old, but apparently this was not the kind of old that is "in".
Soon we had picked out frames, which gave me some assurance that I would not have to live the Lou Reed life in my old fourteen-prescriptions-ago sunglasses that suffice when my regular glasses no longer suffice. Sadly, the glasses will not be ready until tomorrow afternoon, which means that I am just one Ducati motorcycle and red and black racing leathers (like that woman in traffic the other day with the long French braid danging from her helmet) from being a hip-shaded bike fiend.
We stopped in the wonderful antique mall next to this particular eye doctor shop, where we browsed at gorgeous grandfather clocks we'll never buy, and I got a 1932 childrens' book called "Deeds of the Brave". It seems to me that the Brave spend a lof of time fighting needless battles and being martyrs when they might devote more effort to building hospitals and ensuring everyone has an education so good that they enjoy reading books like "Deeds of the Brave".
We went to dinner at Ralph and Kacoo's, a chain New Orleans-style restaurant in our hometown that we enjoy. We each had broiled ruby red trout (a curious trout with a salmon-y look and taste--not so odd if one understands about trout and salmon, but curious). Then we did some grocery shopping and went home.
Birthdays are like flowers--delicate blooms upon which one superimposes a gloss of idea.
After dinner, we came home, where our phone answering machine had charming messages from my father, my in-laws, and my siblings, wishing me the joy of the day.
In the bottom of Towne Lake, my eyeglasses, no doubt still crooked, smile.