Sailing With Mr. White

Is it really necessary to curtail freedom to preserve it?

Back in the early seventies i was teaching at Midland College, and a friend of mine i’ll call Mr. Black phoned me with the news that a mutual acquaintance, Mr. White, had invited him to go sailing, and he was wondering if i’d like to join them.

There were few opportunities to sail in west Texas owing to the scarcity of lakes…and boats, so of course i accepted the invitation. Black drove us over to White’s house, and we piled into his car with the boat behind us on a trailer for the seventy mile trip to the closest lake.

Lake J.B. Thomas was created in a frenzy of desperation and creative thinking in 1952 by damming the Colorado River (the tiny Texas Colorado River) at a point out between Snyder and Big Spring where there was sufficient terrain variation for an earthen dam to create a shallow lake.

Unfortunately, the designers neglected to factor in the possibility of drought, so the lake has filled only three times in its history, the last being in 1962.  Since 1969 it has never reached half full and sits there, shallow and turbid, a pitiful excuse for a lake except that it serves as the primary source of potable water for the cities of the Permian Basin.  On the other hand, west Texas is windy, so the sailing is good.

As it was for our excursion.  Since the lake sits in a barren wasteland and is surrounded by a wide bathtub ring of dead scrub, scenery proved no distraction and we could focus on the pure joy of the sailing.  Which we did for the afternoon and then returned to Midland.

Well, you ask, is that all?  Where’s the adventure?  The excitement?  The blow ye winds heigh-ho drama?

That didn’t come until several years later when i learned some back story and discovered that i’d been invited as insurance.

See, I learned that Mr. Black was having an affair with Mrs. White and feared that if this had come to Mr. White’s attention, there might be a terrible accident out on the lake in which it would be revealed after the lake was dredged that somehow the anchor chain had snapped loose at the boat and whipped itself a number of times around Black’s neck.

And then, as luck would have it, Black, perhaps stunned by the blow to his head from the end of the chain, the evidence of which being clearly visible in the autopsy, would have fallen overboard, taking straight to the bottom with him the anchor, somehow entangled in his clothes.

And alas, while the lake is shallow, it is murky, and the accident, of course, would have happened in the deepest part of the lake, so White’s heroic dives would have turned out to no avail, and the whole incident would have been written off as an unfortunate accident.

Black’s brilliant addition of a third party of course prevented the accident, and it is always a joy to learn that one has saved the life of a friend.

Meanwhile, i’m not returning to my unhealthy fascination with flues, but here are some i couldn’t pass up.



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  1. Mr. Black
    Posted 23 May 2015 at 03:41 | Permalink

    The story is accurate, as far as it goes. I know, I was (and mostly still am) Mr. Black. But the ending is inaccurate. Our friend the Sock Model did not “learn several years later” about the Black & White affair.

    It was disclosed as Sock Model was dropping Mr. Black off at the home he then shared with the then current Mrs. Black (the current Mrs. Black is the 3.0 version, the then Mrs. White being the less than perfected 2.0).

    In a sort of obligatory tit for tat, Sock Model muttered, rather endearingly, that he was… gay.

    To which Mr. Black said, sure, we all know that. Life went on.

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 23 May 2015 at 19:20 | Permalink

      I suspected you might see through my changing of the names:-)

      I am perfectly capable of making minor adjustments to the truth for a better story; however, i do this on very rare occasions because the truth is almost always sufficiently bizarre. What does happen, as in this case, is incomplete recall. I could not remember how long it was before i was told the critical information about my role, so i just guessed.

      And i damn sure didn’t remember my endearing reciprocal honesty that makes for a sweet memory from a treasured old friend.

      The bitter irony here is that my inadvertent adjustment of the truth had the effect of weakening, rather than improving, the story, but i’ll leave it as it stands.

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