Riverboarding the Coliseum

inside of a wave tube

“You want to hit the right shoulder. Whatever you do, stay to the right!” This is our riverboarding guide’s final instructions as we approach the watery behemoth appropriately named Coliseum.

Perched on a riverboard, which is basically a large boogie board with handles, I nod in comprehension and glance back at my friend, Steve. Hes vigorously activating his flippers in a push to enter the precise current. A current that will hopefully propel him safely over the frothing mountain range located just meters downstream.

You ready for this? I communicate with raised eyebrows. He gives me a thumbs up.

Focus returns to my own situation. Every foot of river travelled means a corresponding increase in velocity. The need to follow the “line” being carved by our guide grows more urgent by the second.  

My legs are in constant motion as Coliseum’s juvenile offspring rise up to greet me. How they seem to grow right before the eyes! They playfully knock me to and fro, forcing a repeated adjustment of trajectory. A shift to the right here . . . too much! Back off! Need to head . . .where? Too late! I’m into it now and have deviated from the planned route of attack.

Up ahead, our leader glides effortlessly up and over the suspender holder of the target, before disappearing.

Deafened by the noise of the liquid train I’m riding, an attempt is made to ignore the masses of lesser rapids and focus on Mister Coliseum. But they are far from babies and each one commands respect. They thwart all last minute attempts I make to salvage this run. There’ll be no caressing the shoulder for me. This is going to be a shot right between his eyes. I press my face against the board and enter headfirst into the large dip at the base of Coliseum.

Devoured instantly by the famished cataract, the next few seconds consist of somersaulting inside Coliseum’s belly. Apparently foul-tasting, I give him indigestion and he spits me to the surface. Now pinned underneath my board, a new empathy for upside down turtles is fostered. Breathing is possible, however, repositioning is currently unachievable. The backside descent into the jaws of Coliseum wannabe’s commences. I cling to the handles of my board like Rose grips a drowning Jack in the movie Titanic. “I’ll never let go of you!” I whisper softly, between mouthfuls of H2O.

My word is proving solid. Despite being tossed, slapped, rolled, and projected out of the river in an ad-lib imitation of a breaching marine animal. The bond between man and board is often sealed by no more than a couple of fingers. Collisions with anything non-liquid are thankfully being avoided. The aqua rodeo continues for another minute before I am deposited into a comparatively gentle pool. Humbled, I salute the mighty rapid. Well played, Sir.  

“Swim over here. The guide’s voice interrupts this moment of deep reverence.

Wild waters of Huka Falls, New Zealand

Before I join her in a small inlet, I scan the water for signs of my brother-in-lunacy and spot him. His head is just above the water, at the far side of the pool. A riverboard no longer supports him. No worries though. Other than signs of fatigue, he’s swimming fine. Our excellent guide is already in retrieval mode and fetches the wayward board. She swims it out to him.

When he reaches earshot, my brief interrogation reveals that Steve had been caught in a seemingly endless cycle of dunk, rinse, air dry and repeat. Becoming weary of the ritual, he wisely chose to end the romance and breakup with his board. With only a lifejacket for buoyancy, the mighty Ottawa snatched him from the water carrousel and flushed him out of the rapid.

Time to move on. The few remaining rapids are mere ripples in comparison. I give a final nod to the receding leviathan. Its misty hands wave farewell. See you next year.

 

What’s on YOUR “Thumbs up” list?

Portrait of a geek showing thumbs up against gray background

At times, I find myself focusing only on the negative side of life. That is, until I remember that the only one responsible for my happiness is me. In reality, it’s not the CIRCUMSTANCES that control my mood, but rather my PERSPECTIVE. Though I may not always succeed, I am going to try and be thankful for the good things in life. They don’t all have to be big events, the little ones can be just as awesome. Here is a list of three random situations that always bring a smile to my face. These are definitely up there on my “Thumbs Up” list. Please feel free to add yours, add as many as you like. Keep on!
Mark

  1. When I catch my oldest daughter helping her younger sister learn a task, without being asked to!

2. Fun outdoor adventures!

3. Watching a news report about someone helping others!

Oh Yah! I’ll show ya!

A short example of the “show, don’t tell” technique used in writing Angry little boy

Jackson Cruz scratched nervously at the bed bug bites that covered his torso. The cigarette burn scars, Jackson had never held a cigarette, on the back of his right hand stretched as it squeezed the grip on the nine-millimeter pistol. The bank employees and their customers simultaneously cringed. Jackson squinted up at the security monitor on the wall and noticed that he was standing in front of the height chart fixed to the door jamb. His spiked hair poked his vertical dimension up an inch. I wish. 
Things had gone way too far! The money from the last two bank robberies was buried near a beautiful lake located miles from this overpopulated, crime-ridden cesspool. It rested in the exact spot where he hoped to build his dream home. Nature called to him. He preferred the company of animals to humans.
Growing up, he’d been the runt in a family of six boys. The whole brood, including mother and stepfather had been crammed into a two-bedroom apartment owned by a slum lord. Things hadn’t worked out. Even blindfolded, he could still make a sleeping bag out of old newspapers and plastic bags that would see you through a snowy winter’s night. In his later teens, Jackson worked sporadically, he was still picking wood splinters from his hands.
This was supposed to be his last “job.” The clock on the wall indicated 9:30 am. The bank should be nearly deserted. Instead, he was sharing oxygen with a dozen customers, plus four staff. He should have just bailed.
The cause of the unexpected company escaped him, until his eye caught the tear away calendar at the service desk. How had he missed such an obvious fact? The calendar declared that today was Friday, July 1. The last business day before the holiday weekend. He should have been alerted by the unusual number of American flags hanging from businesses and porches as he drove up here in the Mustang that was now parked less than a block away, its tampered ignition wires hanging out from the steering column. The broomstick with the leg straps had been discarded in a nearby bush.
Everyone is right! I am an idiot! Jackson began to grind his knuckle into his temple as punishment. The knuckle fit perfectly into the raw flesh.
“We have you surrounded!” An amplified voice came from outside, somewhere near the front door.
Jackson kissed the cross on the necklace that hung around neck. Nanna had given it to him for Christmas when he was a child. It’d always fit perfectly. There’d never been a need to lengthen the chain. He knew, that at this very moment, she was watching him through a hole in the floor of Heaven, and her heart was breaking.
The only solace for him now, was that he wouldn’t be returning to the grimy root cellar he shared with his brother. But then again, if he didn’t do something quick, the rest of his days would be spent looking through iron bars.
Lying on the floor, only steps away, a woman who looked to be in her seventies clutched a Louis Vuitton handbag to her chest. On her trembling wrist was a plastic band covered with glued-on sparkles. A poorly shaped heart, cut from construction paper with the crayoned words I luve u, was fixed off-centered on it.
It was “do or die” time.

clue

This is a short example of show, don’t tell. Good books should be full of this writing style. Though to make the story more realistic, it may be necessary, at times, to include jargon that is exclusive to members of a certain occupation, social group, or time period (I apologize if I have forced any readers to consult Google). The usual goal is to include clues that most people today can easily identify with.
You can be sure that someone else burned Jackson with the cigarette, since he’d never even held one.
Being the runt of six brothers, he was probably bullied. When things didn’t work out, he became homeless. Probably for awhile, since he could make a bed out of newspaper blindfolded. We know he lived in a northern city because he’d survived snowy nights out there.
He eventually found some work in what was most likely construction (splinters in his hand).
Obviously, he’d hot wired the Mustang. The broomstick and leg strap contraption needed to reach the pedals, tells just how short he is. The fact that his childhood necklace still fit him indicates that he is also very slim.
He is self deprecating and self abusing. Everyone is right! I am an idiot! His knuckle fit perfectly into the raw skin of his temple – he’s done this many times.
The fact that he lives with a brother shows that he has reconciled with at least one member of his family.
The presumably wealthier and older woman lying on the floor? Take a wild guess who made that bracelet for her.
It was “do or die time.” I’d say that woman’s day is about to get a whole lot worse.
There are also a number of other clues that are contained in this clip. Can you spot them?

 

How to torture Charlie

The time is 4:45 am. The blood red numbers of my ancient alarm clock are now outlined in my retinas after I’ve closed my lids again. The whippoorwill perched somewhere outside my window is still singing its namesake, going steady for a moment before falling silent, then starting again, as if confused by the early morning light that has begun to chase away the night.
Stupid o’clock, that’s what some might say. But this is my time. Time to write. Time to wake those characters up, or maybe one is already awake, paused in mid-air, after beginning a one- hundred-foot plunge from a cliff, hovering between life and death, defying gravity, defying logic.
My feet hit the faux-hardwood, that’s just a fancy description of laminate flooring. My brain is somewhere between a sleepy fog and alertness. But things are beginning to stir inside this old cranium, the other world is springing to life. By the time I creep past my slumbering daughter’s room, I feel the need to race downstairs and press the “On” button of my computer.
I move across my “office,” or the kitchen, as some in this household like to call it, towards the laptop sitting on the table. I halt mid-way. Not so fast Mister, I need some liquid brain food.
As the kettle slowly works the H20 into a bubbling mass, I power up the electronic portal. The screen lightens from midnight just before the desktop icons appear. The “New Book” shortcut icon is selected and the laptop’s internal circuitry labors to pull up the first draft of my fetus-staged novel.
*Charlie, the main character of the story, is there (not literally, of course, I swear). His arms are crossed and his mouth is bent into a sour puss expression that would push internet guru, Grumpy Cat, off the public radar. Charlie is seated in front of a steaming plate of terrestrial seafood creatively named, Rocky Mountain Oysters. These are the first cousins of Prairie Oysters. If you need to pause here to look it up, please be my guest.
“I am NOT going to eat that! You can’t make me!”
“Charlie, you are going to eat those. I told you before, this is a key part of the story.”
“Well then it’s a dumb story then!”
“Oh, so a story about you being the hero, becoming rich and getting the girl is foolish?”
“Well, not those parts. But eating something this disgusting is fatuous.”
Fatuous? When did this joker become such a wordsmith? Funny, I don’t remember building this trait into Charlie’s DNA.
A couple of keystrokes later and Charlie is savoring every bite, as though consuming a juicy burger loaded with extra bacon.
Sorry buddy, not my fault, this story needs to flow.
The kettle pops and I make the coffee before settling in to tackle the rest of the story.
The words necessary to make Charlie eat the delicacy have filled the remainder of the page and moved me on to the next.
The Blank Screen: On good days, a fresh palette to create a wordy picture. On bad days, a taunting reminder of why I am glad I kept my day job.
The exchange with Charlie seems to have converted this one into the latter.
“Do something! Type anything!” My inner critique, always close at hand, pleads.
I take a deep breath. No worries, I got this. Here I go, watch me now.
A quick stretch, another deep breath, and begin . . . nope.
My Encino Man fingers remain poised over the keys, held in place by ambivalence. The blank screen is now a billboard advertising my failure to string together a simple sentence.
Then, from somewhere deep inside a primitive nook in my brain comes an old, yet familiar elementary school tune. I begin a hunt and peck for the lyrics . . . ABCDEF . . .
Letters appear! The screen fills!
Huh? What am I doing? Get serious now!
No, I like this! Maybe I can turn this action/adventure novel into a musical. My index fingers take the lead and begin a spirited rendition of Chopsticks. The f and j keys take the hardest pounding and almost threaten to liberate themselves from the keyboard (if you are currently on a laptop, I’ll bet you just checked to see which keys I would have hit the most, didn’t you?).
The trick works. My writing neurons are now firing on all cylinders.
I spend the next while writing, reviewing, re-writing . . . undoubtedly frustrating poor Charlie as he tries to fend off bad guys and save the day. I can almost see him throwing his hands up in exasperation. “Didn’t I just defeat this guy? Why doesn’t he just stay down! This story is so puerile!”
Then, before I know it, there are foot steps in the upstairs hallway. The rest of the family is coming to life. The real world calls. Time to go. Sorry Charlie, I promise that tomorrow I will get past Chapter One.
*Not his real name. He’s asked that I conceal his identity.