Monday, October 13, 2008
Surprise! or How I Found Myself Floating in Cayuga Lake (Ithaca, NY), Fully Dressed and Surrounded by Empty and Bobbing Beer Bottles
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You should know this: Jane (a friend from Stanford) and I decided to surprise Reija (my newly former roommate) by coming to Rochester for the weekend. We were close-lipped and stealth, and when she came home Friday afternoon from school, we were waiting in her house. "Aghhhhh!" she yelled and hugged us and smiled. "You're here!" We were. And it was a delight.
Saturday, we decided to go canoeing. We didn't know where we could rent canoes near a body of water, so Reija texted a friend. "Go to Ithaca," he said. "There all your dreams will come true."
We went to Ithaca. It was a beautiful drive. I fought the irrational coveting of every person we saw, every house we passed. I mean, I wanted (wanted) to be me, sitting there between Jane and Reija in the cab of Reija's trusty truck, speeding along the highway from Rochester to the land of dreams. Jane studying civ pro, Reija talking medicine, me trying not to quote Mary Tyler Moore at every turn. I wanted to be me there, with them. But I also wanted to live the lives we sped by on the way--to be the one to live in that trailer, hanging laundry in that yard, run past by that messy-haired boy bee-lining barefoot into that cornfield; to be the preacher or the secretary or the custodian of that white-steepled church, changing the text on the roadside sign from week to week: "MOVIE NIGHT: SPEED RACER / THURS 6:45"; to be the women selling honey, pumpkins, and hardy mums from roadside stands; the research paleontologist or the intern, holed up in the upper rooms of the Victorian-era wing of the Museum of the Planet; the mom ushering her young kids into the steel-and-glass hall of the Museum of the Planet, to look at the dinosaur skeletons and stare and stare and stare.
And I wanted to be the people, out on Cayuga Lake, boating, kayaking, canoeing in a blue bow of water ringed by trees of red and green and yellow and brown.
And then I was.
We rented a canoe at Puddledockers on the canal portion of Cayuga Lake and decided to paddle out to the lighthouse at the mouth of the lake. "Do you have any advice for us?" I asked the 20ish-year-old Puddledocker employee who saw us off the dock. "Well," he said. "Have fun. And jump in. It's a great day for swimming." We all three just kind of looked at him. We were sweatshirts and t-shirts and sneakers and jeans. "We're not really dressed for that," I said, thinking of the Moosewood Restaurant, where we were looking forward to dinnering after our afternoon on the water. We strapped on our lifejackets and stepped confidently into the canoe. We were off.
Along the way, we stopped at a park bench alongside the river, at the edge of a golf course. We sat and talked and watched the water, the trees, the river lapping up against the edge of our canoe, which Jane had tethered to a root on the river bank. When we decided to go, Jane picked up some beer bottles. Three beer bottles. "I want to take these back," she said, "to throw them in the garbage." "We could throw them on the greens in the golf course," I said, not wanting to have the beer bottles rattling around my ankles. "They'd find them there." Jane held the bottles and said again, "I want to take them with us." "Okay," I said. "Okay," we said. And we got back in our canoe.
At the mouth of the lake, we decided to canoe out a little bit, to do a loop around a tall red buoy. We'd sat there for a while, watching the motor boats drive by, feeling the wind, being jostled by the water which had gotten a little choppy out on the open water. But it was getting time to turn back, so we made to head back up the canal, when we were rocked by a wave. Jane was singing children's songs in French. We were rocked again. I was sitting in the middle of the canoe and tried shifting to my right, hoping to stabilize the canoe. No luck. We were rocked again--and apparently I made a noise--and we were in the water.
Then we were treading water and grabbing bags and trying not to lose the paddles and I was trying not to kick off the flip-flops I'd borrowed from Reija's roommate and we tried to reflip the canoe, but it was full of water and was floating underwater, and I was afraid we were going to lose it at the bottom of the lake, so we flipped it again and weren't quite sure what to do. We were too far from shore to pull the boat in and the water was too deep for us to have something to stand on. But a boat pulled up--and then a second--and then a third--and we were saved. Jane was laughing so hard. "This is so funny!" she said. "This is SO FUNNY!" she said again.
"They need their canoe righted!" one boatman said to another. I was relieved. "But I'm afraid they've lost their beer forever!" And that's when I noticed our little circus of canoe and paddles and bags and flip-flops and girls was surrounded by a distinctive triumvirate of bobbing beer bottles. Three beer bottles. Three girls. And Jane was laughing so hard. "Wait!" I said, treading water and holding onto the canoe. "We don't drink! We were just trying to take them to a garbage can!" Boatman #1 smiled broadly and raised his hands, palms forward, gesturing in a "I'm not making judgments of you three at all!" sort of way. "Can we do anything?" said a woman in boat #3. "Yes!" said boatman #1. "You can grab the beer bottles!" And as we were pulled on board boat #2 and handed towels and asked to sit back as they tied our righted canoe to their rope line, I looked behind us and saw woman in boat #3, reaching far out into the water, trying to grab an elusive bottle. Her kids were watching dumbly on. I can only imagine the lessons she was teaching. "See, kids? This is why we don't drink and boat."
Back at Puddledockers, the employees there were surprised to see us all wet. "Things haven't been going well for you today!" one guy said, after we told him we'd lost Reija's camera because I didn't know, apparently, how to close the waterproof bag they'd loaned us and probably after remembering that we had called three times for directions because we had made an unnecessary 45-minute loop on our way to the store. "Actually," one of us said. "It's being a great day!"
A great day. A great weekend. It totally was.
(Note: After we left Puddledockers, we headed to Wal-Mart and a dollar store to buy new clean outfits, from the skin out, which is why we showed up at the Moosewood--an awesome, awesome vegetarian restaurant--fully clad in identical but variously colored track suits and hungry hungry and cold. We ate so much good food, including vegan chocolate cake, and drove home fat and dry and happy. Who could have wanted it to turn out in any other way?)