Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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 Chapter 30

A Game

     It was now early on Sunday morning on the peaceful, not yet jet-ski defiled, waters of Mission Bay. Of course, multitudes of birds of many species and descriptions pooped here, there, and yon, smelling up the rocks, boats, and docks. While holding her nose, Sharon still preferred them to the jet-skis.

     Avoiding the special concentrations of odor near the bait docks, Sharon and her friends paddled kayaks while Tim rowed his sloop. She, having avoided the local paper, knew only that Enoch, in the next kayak, was still under suspension.  Carefully advised by his lawyer, he was engaging in various moves that would eventually end up in one or more legal actions. Sharon didn’t want to know the details.

     Tim’s interview hadn’t caused as big a stir as expected, probably because he was only a punter, an injured one at that. The two interviews, taken together, were the subject of an op-ed piece in a national newspaper, the writer largely in agreement with the players. The writer also pointed out that no one in any way connected with professional football had ever before shown much evidence of thinking for himself.

     The team and league had declined to comment, probably on the advice of their lawyers. However, Melissa had a secret source, a secretary in the Sailors’ front office. According to her, the anger toward Enoch was at an extremely high level, intensified by the inability to say anything in public. It was hoped that he would be killed in an automobile accident.

     According to the same source, the attitude toward Tim was simply that of contempt for an intellectual. It was hoped that he would just take his money and leave the league. That was fine with Sharon.

     There had, however, been lots of boating activity. All along, the group had taken up kayaking, with hints and informal instruction from Clint and their other boat-mates. Howie and Sharon herself, the natural athletes, emerged as the stars. Audrey and Meredith had listened to the instructors, and, used to activity, had developed to an acceptable level. Jimmy and Tim had been out of control from the beginning. Jimmy flailed away at the water, as at a personal enemy, but, when paired with Meredith in a double kayak, she had been able to keep them upright on a reasonably straight course. Of Tim, Clint said, “I’ve never seen anyone with such a horrible stroke go so fast.”

Then, on an occasion when Tim had tipped over and started swimming, Clint looked at his swimming stroke and added,  “I can’t figure out why he doesn’t drown.”

But Sharon was hardly surprised. That was Tim. So, now, it wasn’t such a disaster that he couldn’t kayak. In fact, it seemed to her that, with his odd mixture of power and clumsiness, he might be better adapted to a kind of rowing that no one else engaged in. He still faced forward, but had installed ten bungee cords from the oar handles to the mast, some eight feet in front of him.  With the oar blades above the water, he pulled the handles back against the elastics, dipped the blades, and pushed the handles forward. The cords thus doubled the power stroke. It worked quite well, and the sloop was making a wake.

     Enoch and Diana, in a double kayak he had bought, were another odd couple, a little reminiscent of Jimmy and Meredith. Enoch had hardly needed any instruction. But he had never been in a boat, had never learned to swim, and was initially terrified by waves. Diana, used to the waves from surfing, had very little upper body strength. He, in the rear, supplied power. She, in front, told him to close his eyes at certain critical tImes.

     At one point, Diana insisted on switching with Sharon. Enoch and Sharon together could make the double kayak fly, and he was so busy keeping up with Sharon’s stroke that he forgot about the waves. Diana, now in a single, could easily keep up with Tim in the rowboat.

 They got back to the dock a little before ten, and it was remembered that the Sailors, playing in Atlanta, were about to start their game. While they knew better than to watch football on TV, or TV at all, they were all curious. Clint had a TV in a back room at the kayak agency, and they settled in to watch in privacy.

     The Atlanta Falcons had a respectable NFL defense. This was apparent when they sacked Bo Nelson on the Sailors’ first series. Unfortunately, he didn’t get up. By the time that he was taken off on the cart, it seemed likely that he had a broken ankle.

     The back-up quarterback, a rookie named Sam Hanks, had a good arm, but didn’t have good mechanics. In particular, he really wasn’t quick enough in his movements to run an NFL offense, much less set up in time to pass. His first pass to the right sideline was intercepted by the Falcon cornerback for a touchdown. The defense then collapsed, and the score was 35-0 at half time. By then, it was announced that X-rays had shown Nelson’s ankle to be broken. Since Hanks had just proven that he couldn’t do the job, there was no real alternative in sight. Enoch’s reaction was, “I think I’m lucky not to be involved in this.”

Sharon asked, “Couldn’t you still have piled up yardage in the second half?”

“Not without Bo or Tim to throw the ball.”

Tim replied, “I don’t think the punt formation passes would have worked much longer. And I’d be worse than Sam Hanks as a quarterback.”

Enoch concluded, “Once things have deteriorated past a certain point, it’s impossible for anyone on the team to accomplish anything.”

Sharon was curious what the popular reaction would be, so she went next door to the combination bar-café, where people were watching the game. A lot of them were obviously disgusted, and one man seemed to sum up the general feeling by saying,

“We’ll have to watch this team the rest of the season.”

Someone replied, “If we drink twice as much beer we won’t care.”

That brought a laugh, and Sharon didn’t detect much real anger. This might have been because the city had never adopted the Sailors, and was obviously not about to. They were still Charger fans, but the Chargers weren’t ordinarily televised in San Diego.

      No one wanted to watch the second half, so they returned to the boat to have lunch. The lunch, as usual, consisted of bits of food assembled somewhat haphazardly, but, at the end, their hunger was mostly satisfied. Diana, still thinking about football, said, “When they had Enoch and Tim, the Sailors almost beat a good team. Without them, they got slaughtered.”

She was immediately accused of attaching too much importance to winning and losing, but it was admitted that her point would be noticed, no matter how much anger might eventually surface toward Enoch and Tim. As someone said, “Tim can’t be blamed for having a broken leg, and Enoch would have played today if they’d let him.”

     Christopher was scheduled to play boats with them that afternoon, and Duane would shortly be dropping him off. Since their location was hard to find, Sharon went out to the road to greet them.

     She had done some deep thinking about Chris’ visit. Here was a very smart boy with few social skills, and, quite likely, very little small talk. As she recalled, he was about six three, very thin, wore glasses, and looked very much the intellectual that he was. The contrast with Enoch and Tim would be extreme, and Chris was the sort of boy that Sharon was always careful not to overshadow athletically. On the other hand, he had freely accepted their invitation to come kayaking and rowing, seemingly without any pressure from his father. Was it just in the hope of having further conversations with Tim and Enoch?  

     Another possibility was that he liked girls, Diana in particular. In their previous conversation, Duane had intimated that Chris didn’t have anything approaching a girl friend, but, it occurred to Sharon that he might turn out to be a little like Tim in one respect. That is, a male who liked to have attractive women around him, even when he wasn’t getting any sexual action. It then seemed that she herself might possibly be to Chris what Audrey and Meredith were to Tim. Well, why not?   

      In the event, Chris was smiling when he got out of the car. Sharon hadn’t seen that in their previous meeting, and hadn’t been sure whether he did smile. It might have been because he now knew that he wasn’t going to be beaten up. Indeed, with Tim and Enoch on hand, not to mention herself, there would be none of that.

     The other guest, half skidding into the parking lot, was Melissa, amazingly not accompanied by children. It turned out that her husband was marginally more reliable than the baby sitters, and she had managed to land the children on him with some excuse. Sharon didn’t even want to imagine what it might have been. But, anyway, the numbers came out nicely for her little plan.    

     Enoch and Diana would take their double kayak, while she and Chris would take another one rented from Clint. She would be in front, and could easily paddle the boat without help. But Chris, behind her, could copy her stroke. As she wouldn’t be able to see him, he would be under no pressure. However, by the feel of the boat, she would have a fairly good idea of what he was doing. Melissa would accompany Tim in the sailboat, and could entertain him as she saw fit.

      Sharon and Tim had organized a game in which the two double kayaks would attack the sloop. Everyone was to be armed with large plastic water-guns. Pink and green, and the size of small machine guns, they had a space-age look. The object was to see whether the defenders on the sloop would be able to reach a particular buoy in the ocean without being doused. Alternatively, the defenders might be able to get the attackers first. The whole thing was in analogy to ancient naval warfare with the sloop playing the role of a galley. The water gun people on smaller vessels would play the role of bowmen and javelin throwers. It wasn’t clear how effective Melissa would be with her water weapon, but, as in the ancient case, Tim could let go the oars and take up a weapon.

     It was, on another level, an old strategy: If people aren’t well acquainted, get them playing a game, and they soon will be. Sharon had read a novel in which the hosts at a party tied previously unacquainted guests together with one another in pairs as they arrived, leaving them the problem of untying and separating themselves. That did seem to be overdoing it, but Sharon was hopeful about her game.

     Coming from the northeast, with its many natural harbors, she had been surprised and intrigued by the dredged channel between stone jetties which linked Mission Bay to the open ocean. At one end, there was always calm water with, at most, a little chop. At the other end, one could encounter almost anything. The channel mediated between the two, and could give warning of what might lie outside. On this day, Sharon was happy that the channel was sleepy. Moreover, looking down it to the horizon from her sitting position, only a few feet above the water, she saw a smooth line with no undulations. Good. Chris was a newcomer of unknown tendencies, and, even though Enoch had made great progress, she doubted that he was ready for, or even aware of, the seas that the great ocean could hurl at the channel mouth.

     Sharon could feel and hear Chris paddling energetically behind her, perhaps splashing a little excessively. That should smooth out in time, and she called back for him to save his arms by rotating his shoulders and using his feet on the fixed pedals as much as possible.

     With a moderate ten mph northwest breeze, Tim, with Melissa’s help, had set a little sail to aid his rowing. As the sloop heeled a little and forged ahead, it looked as if she and Chris might have trouble catching up when the game began.

     The starting position was a bell buoy on which a group of sea lions were playing push and shove with a lot of barking and grunting. The goal was another buoy a couple of miles offshore, and several miles to the north.

     The water weapons they carried on the boats were several times as effective when shot with a following wind, as opposed to being fired against it. They would thus have to get to windward of Tim in order to attack effectively. Since he was marginally faster, it would be impossible, but for the fact that, not being able to sail directly into the wind, he would have to tack at least once. It was a bit like German U-boats having to get ahead of a zig-zagging convoy to a favorable position, and also like the attempt to ‘get the weather gauge’ in the days of sailing men-o-war.

     The game was mostly Tim’s idea, but it was surprising that Enoch, used to such intense competition, was so ready to throw himself into almost any sort of game, no matter how strange. At such times, he forgot to be afraid of the waves.

     In all of Tim’s games there were matters of strategy that had to be decided at the beginning. Enoch suggested a rather elaborate plan, but, while letting him think that she agreed, Sharon decided that she and Chris would go straight for the goal.

     All the time, Chris was asking Sharon about paddling technique. He was certainly interested, and seemed to be having a good time. She hoped only that he would hold out for what promised to be a long chase.

     As they separated from the other kayak, giving rise to the alone-in-the-ocean feeling, Sharon could feel a little more push from behind her. It was clear that Chris was stronger than he looked. And then, she reflected, being bullied, usually in one-against-many situations, might make one stronger,

     Heading out to sea on his first leg, Tim, with a freshening breeze, was rowing with just the windward oar as his boat drove through the waves. He had an arrangement for increasing the tension on either set of bungee cords, and, then, with both hands on the handle of the one oar, he could row quite efficiently. With the cast, he couldn’t brace himself effectively when the boat tipped, but he also had an arrangement for tying himself in place. All the while, Melissa sat on the cabin roof, occasionally waving limply in the manner of a prom queen.

     It looked as if the other kayak wouldn’t be able to keep up, but Sharon still hoped to cut Tim off when he eventually went about on to a course for the goal.  After they had gone half a mile, Chris called ahead to Sharon,

“Look, Diana’s stopped paddling.”

There was a satisfied tone in his voice. He, after all, hadn’t stopped paddling. But there was also a restraint. One wasn’t supposed to take pleasure in beating girls. When she looked over, she saw that Diana did, indeed, have her paddle resting cross-ways on the kayak. Sharon called back.

“She hasn’t been paddling very long, and she’s done well to get this far.”

In fact, Sharon wasn’t surprised. Diana was trying to become a new woman in many ways at once, and, of course, there was a limit. Enoch, behind her, was paddling like crazy, but it wasn’t enough to catch Tim. Sharon called back to Chris,

“It looks like it’s up to us.”

Eventually, she did feel Chris begin to slacken. But, at that moment, she saw Tim come into the wind, sail flapping. As he came about, he had to shift to the other oar, which wasn’t easy with his cast. He also had to get Melissa moved out of the way. It thus took some little time before he got the sloop settled on the other tack, on course for the buoy. In the meantime, Sharon and Chris had gained ground, and had gotten into a commanding position. With a final maximum effort, they got to the buoy first. But it took more to win the game.

     Sharon got them turned parallel to Tim’s course, but a little to windward. Chris picked up the water gun as Sharon kept paddling. Melissa was on the cabin hatch with her water gun, and she and Chris opened fire at the same time. The breeze thwarted Melissa’s barrage, which landed far short. Chris, with the right elevation, caused Melissa to scream as the cold water soaked her. Chris then transferred his fire to Tim, who didn’t scream.

     Enoch, with Diana now paddling, came up in time to join the celebration. Sharon looked back at Chris. It might all be silly, but it seemed to be his first victory at anything outside the intellectual realm.

     The paddle back was leisurely, and, when they returned, a little after Tim, it was time for hot pastrami sandwiches at one of the delis. In the conversation, Chris had questions for Tim on a variety of subjects. Tim would answer happily, but with conditions which prompted yet more questions. Sharon wondered if Tim could ever be a traditional teacher, dealing with people who didn’t have lots of questions.

Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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