“Oh, this guy is in for the night of his life!” he affirms. He is captain of the boat. His two hot harem girls remain near the stern of his power yacht. Another man roams around in the back as well. This man, not the captain, looks ineffectual. He is bald with a handlebar mustache. Douche, I think. I hate handlebar mustaches. (The guy I met at the Adventist Church in La Crosse was the first cool guy with a handlebar mustache I’ve ever met. So kudos to you, kind sir. You are a first. :)) While Handlebar mumbles around, swirling a Miller Light in the 28 foot yacht, the two women snipe glances at me. My Sea Eagle is being towed… again. “You want to ride up here?” they ask. Hell no! I think. “No thanks,” I say. After my boat capsizing debacle, remaining squarely in my boat where I can steer and notice every little thing that happens to my baby, er, boat is the only option allowed… hotties gawking at me or no. “You sure?” Todd asks. Todd, the captain, is cool. The yacht is immense, powerful. The dude has money, I think. The women continue gawking and Todd starts dancing. He’s moving his butt like a 40-year-old, though later I find out he’s 49. White dudes dancing is funny; middle-aged white dudes… funnier. “Shake it!” I scream. I’m feeling good. I had my sail up after having just left Slippery’s. “What the hell are you doing!” Todd said.
“Paddling down the Mississippi River.”
“Paddling down the Miffer River, my ass!” He swirls a Bud Light around.
“No, really, going all the way to the Gulf.”
“Fuuuuucccckkk youuuuuuuuuu,” he says and starts laughing. The women start laughing. Handlebar looks like he’s at a zombie convention. “Ahhhh man,” Todd continues, “throw that piece of river trash a rope.” He starts laughing harder and shaking his ass more fervently. Women – gawkers. Sound travels very well on water, probably about 10 times as well as on land. Sound does not travel will mixed with yacht motor; but, as I tied my boat up, refused to get into theirs for fear of another dumping, and watched Todd throw a beer over his shoulder that hit me right in the bread basket (Nice pass! Freaking Stockton to Malone!), the water/motor equation was balanced such that I could, pretty much, make out what Stacey (Todd’s wife) and her friend were talking about: “You think he’s hot?” “Do you?” “I dunno.” “Yeah.”
“Let’s fire this baby up!” Todd bellows as he revs the motor. “This too fast?” he checks. That was real sincerity. He’s being extremely sarcastic telling me to go F myself, calling me river trash, and being an all around dillhole (ha, ha, get a blog, Todd, if you want to respond :)) but he’s also being very mindful of me and checks back every few minutes to see that I’m still there. “How ya doin’, Ryan?”
“Good!” I give him the thumbs up.
“Like I give a shit!” He starts moving his rump to Bob Seger. “Little too tall, coulda used a few pounds…”
Girls continue gawking. Handlebar looks like he might die with his eyes open. Maybe he’s an observer, I think, not a talker.
I can hear Todd over the motor: “This guy has no idea what he’s in for.”
What? What does that mean? The flirty vibe of the women coupled with the sarcastic, anything-goes nature of Todd’s ramblings set my mind into motion: Okay, so what does ‘night of my life’ actually mean?
Todd chats with the ladies a bit; they start giggling.
Night of my life to me means like 1,800 supermodels all yearning for you-know-who. Like, imagine a starving animal who would bite its own limb off out of a trap for food. Okay that’s how starved these women would be for me. Like, “Ryyyyan, weeeee neeeeeed youuu noooowwwwww!” Commence bodily attack. “I’m ready for you whores; bring it on!” Then they rip me to shreds, I die and make the cover of Newsweek – MAN DEVOURED BY HUNGRY HOT WHORES. Okay, yeah, so my fantasies are a little far-fetched. Anyway, the yacht party kept going on and on like this. Todd would make some comment like “He’s in for the night of his life.” The women would giggle. I’d fantasize about some palace where I was worshiped as a god. I would like be put on a pedestal and then disrobed and then all these hotties wearing bikinis made out of snake skin would inform me that I was their personal slave… Or are they my slaves?….. Uhhhh, anyway so someone’s a slave, and the whole damn palace is made of chocolate. There’s like wine flowing from the ceiling. Michael Jackson’s Gotta Be Startin’ Somethin’ (“you’re a vegetablllllleeee….”) would be playing 24/7. There’d be springer spaniels everywhere I could play frizbee with, meat, grapes, lamb, beer, wine, A FREAKING SLIP N’ SLIDE!!! Okay, that’s the night of my life! I can’t wait, baby! Bring it on – night of my life, yeah yeeeaahhhhhh! “Hey Ryan,” Stacey says to me when we arrive at the dock. “would you like me to do some laundry?” What?
So they turned out to be really nice people, and there was no sex paradise. Damn. I think Todd was just a little drunk (they all were) and got a kick out of implying that I would be gang raped or something once I got on shore. It turned out that they were just partying and horsing around. Handlebar was going out with the other chick, I found out. Part of me was wishing for the sexual wonderland; the other part, the practical part, was happy they had a dryer for all my clothes. Todd let me use his garage to air out my wet books and other gear. Once on land, it seemed, the anonymity of sexual innuendo was gone. It’s much harder to be a miscreant when you’re known. The lights from their riverside home in Wabasha shone on our faces. Everyone was somebody now. No chance to be anonymous. Stacey’s friend turned off the flirtatiousness altogether. When I was in the bathroom, I could hear them through the door in the kitchen. “Don’t you think he’s hot?” Stacey asked her friend. “No!” she affirmed. With boyfriend there, we were squarely back into real society, not on the river where “what happens on the river, stays on the river!” I shoulda had one of the girls get in my boat!
It was nice to hang with these guys. Handlebar and girlfriend went to bed. Handlebar literally said two words the whole time I was there. Todd, Stacey and I stayed up while I pretended to drink (I didn’t really feel like beer) and listened to their stories.
Todd: “This river…” He slicks his hair back. “This river, I mean, I lived in Wabasha my whole life. I live in Rochester now. When I was a kid we did the stupidest stuff. My claim to fame was that I could barefoot waterski and cross both wakes. That was…”
“You could not!” Stacey giggles.
“The hell… Yeah I could. We would so some crazy trick in front of Slippery’s and then we’d walk in like playaz! I was a playa!”
Stacey starts lauging. She is in love with him. I don’t know what all the flirting and Todd’s prepare-for-the-night-of-your-life-ing was all about, but these were genuine people. “I met Stacey in Rochester,” Todd continues. “I was a dope! I mean I was recently divorced. I was fine with being a single dad the rest of my life and then…” They look at eachother. Todd is about 13 years Stacey’s senior. “Duhhh, gee, Stacey, you wanna go out sometime?” Todd mocks himself explaining his 9th-grader-esque awkwardness around the woman he was to marry.
“And I had no idea!” Stacey affirms to me. “Everyone at work did!” Stacey was giving eye exams at an optometrist. Todd left his glasses “accidentally” four times before he got the nerve to ask her out. Todd retains a little bit of that playa edge to keep Stacey on her toes. “I freaking went to my 30-year high school reunion last night. I was bombed out of my mind. And I wore these contacts to impress my old girlfriends,” he snickers as he takes off his glasses to rub his eyes. “I think they were impressed.” He winks at Stacey.
“And he comes in!” Stacey exclaims. “And he gets in bed with the contacts on! Do you know how bad that is for your eyes?”
“You don’t…” Todd is still a little drunk. “You don’t need to take ’em out…”
“Oh my god, yesss! you do!”
“Look…” They start hugging and kissing and horsing around. I’m glad I didn’t mess with the wife… I think. I don’t know if that was ever an option, if they were ever really serious, but I’m glad this is my experience and not the other one. I look at Stacey again. Ummmmm, I think I’m glad this is my experience.
Stacey continues to dry my clothes in mother mode. She helps Todd raise his kids from his first marriage. “You need anything else?” she asks. It’s funny how roles can be donned on and off like hats: sexual hat, flirting hat, mother hat, friend hat, enemy hat. We all have labels for everything and for everybody, even ourselves. Right now I was wearing the “weary traveler” hat and Stacey was wearing the “motherly I-will-help-you-out” hat. Todd was cycling between “sarcastic son-of-a-bitch” hat and “helpful, older guy, I-really-appreciate-what-you’re-doing-and-I’d-like-to-help-you-out” hat. I was grateful for the latter hats and happy to put on my “I-hope-I-get-to-sleep-in-a-bed” hat.
The next day Handlebar and girlfriend left. Todd let me use his internet and asked me a barage of questions as I typed the Capsizing post – the usual ones: “How long you think this’ll take? Why did you do this? Does 11 Visions make any money? What does 11 Visions mean?”
I was happy to answer. Stacey gave me a plate of macaroni. The kinky, crazy people on the yacht were all but gone now. We had settled into our roles as mother, father and adopted son. Much better this way, I thought. I looked at Stacey again. Damn!
“We’ve really cleaned up this river,” Todd says to me with a swell of pride. He’s in love with it, the river; you can see it. “I’ve seen bald eagles come back in my lifetime due to the efforts of people in this area. I once counted 37 bald eagles outside my window in a single day. When I was a kid, you’d be lucky if you saw one all year. I wanna live here till I die,” he says. He nods his head up and down as if he were crying, but he’s not. Todd bought the property from his folks. “My parents didn’t even tell me they were selling it!” he affirms. “I found out when friends of theirs asked me how high the ceilings were! I was like, ‘Why do you want to know that?’ And they said, ‘Because we’re thinking of adding on.’ I couldn’t believe it! My own parents didn’t even tell me. I grew up here! It broke my heart.” Todd’s parents had felt embarrassed needing to sell their home even if, perhaps especially if, that meant selling it to one of their children.
“Yeah.” Stacey is rubbing Todd’s shoulder empathetically. “It was hard. To this day, I don’t get it. The good news is we got it.”
Todd looks out on the river. Crazy man is completely gone now. Sincere, deep-feeling man is staring at an island they call Sioux Encampment. “That island used to be a place where all the Sioux would come to have a sort of family reunion.” He looks proud again, crying without crying. “I can’t leave here,” he says. “I mortgaged my home and I’d do it again to keep this place.”
I Stay Another Night
I can’t help it. Internet, refrigerator, and home-cooked food are all too enticing. “Yeaaahhhh I guesss you can stay another night,” Todd says bringing sarcastic man back. “Let’s pick up a pizza!” Stacey says. “You have to drive though!” Sweet, I think. I get to drive for the first time in a month. Stacey’s SUV has this camera in place of rear-view mirrors. The monitor shows you what’s directly behind but I keep treating it like a mirror and reversing the angles while trying to back out of the driveway. “You’re going the wrong way!” she screams. “Oh ,” I say, “there’s nothing but weirdos in Minnesota anyway; if I kill one what’s the difference?” She starts laughing. On the way back a guy looks like he’s going to tear out of his driveway and hit us. I blare the horn at him. “I know that guy,” she says. “Oh crap,” I say. “I shoulda flipped him the bird.” She laughs. “Yeah m—er f—er, the name’s Todd Hein!” I mimic Todd’s voice. “You gotta problem, just come and say it to my face!” I blare the horn again and Stacey laughs harder. Damn!
Thank you once again to Todd and Stacey, truly good people. At my mom’s behest, I wrote a poem for them. The conversation with my mom went something like this:
Mom: “You need to write people poems on the river!”
Me: “Como se what?”
Mom: “You know, then you’ll be known as the river man who left poems as thank-you notes.”
Me: “Mom, are you on crack?”
Mom: “Just do it!”
Me: “(sigh) All right.”
The poem I left Todd and Stacey Hein went something like this:
Thanks to the Heins
For a wonderful time
You’re simply the best
In spite of the jokes about sex
Don’t ever change
Though you may be strange
This experience I would not exchange
But try not to be so deranged
I thank you again
I feel I have a new friend
If this movie is a success
It will be because people like you… by whom we have been blessed
Thank you sincerely,
I got lots of “awwwwww”s from Stacey and hugs. Todd gave me a man hug and then said he was going to hook me up with the owner of We-no-nah Canoe, which he did! I’ll tell you about that story later. I left the next morning. Stacey looked like a nurse in her eye clinic uniform. Dddddaaaammmmmnnn!!!!!!!
“Any time, bud,” Todd says and is sincere. He is wearing his sincere hat, and I think… this is the one he feels most comfortable in.
Okay, so look, y’all, I’m in Iowa! Yes, yes, I KNOW! I made it out of Minnesota. I felt so bummed thinking I wasn’t making any progress, and boom! new state! So I’m jazzed again. My current postion is Lansing, IA. I’ve eaten, I’ve shopped. And I know I’m about a week behind on these stories but I’ll catch you up. Once again my number is (512) 828-2471 if you wanna drop me a line or send a text of encouragement. On to Davenport!