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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Before You Go: ‘Summer Fun’

CRL columnist John Gray is ready for summer.

There’s a difference between a kayak and a canoe. I learned this the hard way several years ago at a nearby lake. My lesson came with a bath and a bow, but we’ll get to that part of the story in a moment.

I woke up that fine summer day craving fish, but opening a can of tuna or stopping at the local restaurant seemed too easy and logical. So I grabbed my fishing pole and a can of worms and headed for the nearest lake. Tossing a line from the shore wouldn’t do because I wanted to catch the BIG fish and everyone knows they hang out in the middle of the lake. So when I parked the car and saw the handmade sign that read “Boats 4 Rent” fixed to a tree with a rusty nail, my plan was clear. Rent the vessel, row out to the deep water and notify Ted’s Fish Fry that I would not be coming by tonight because my frying pan runneth over with fresh trout.

The row boats were all rented, so when the woman pointed at what I thought were kayaks and said, “But we got them,” I was happy to grab a paddle and head for the water. The boat launch at this lake sits right next to the public beach so, like it or not, you have an audience watching your every move. I carefully pushed the thing into the water, put my tackle box and fishing pole inside and then climbed aboard. Without exaggeration, I wasn’t in the boat more than 3.2 seconds when it started to wiggle. My weight shifted right, then left, then right again when the whole thing flipped over dumping me and my gear into the water with a huge “SPLASH”.

There are but a handful of moments in your life so embarrassing you must decide right then and there whether to hang your head in shame or just go with it. Without missing a beat, I stood up and took a bow prompting several of those sitting on their blankets to break into laughter and a smattering of applause.

After falling out of the boat several more times, I stood soaking wet on the shore scratching my head. For years I’d been getting the L.L. Bean catalogue at home and every time I saw a picture of someone in a kayak they seemed happy and confident, bouncing along the rapids with their perfect hair and dry clothes. So I went back to the woman who rented it to me and asked her what was wrong with my kayak. She laughed and said, “That’s a canoe. They tip.”  Thank you, Captain Obvious. I then did what any self-respecting man would do; changed my clothes and went to Ted’s for lunch.

I love summer, but sometimes summer doesn’t love me back. While the canoe mishap left me all wet, in terms of sheer danger, it doesn’t come close to the day I purchased my first gas grill. Mistake number one: I refused to pay the $20 ‘assembly fee’ the nice man at Sears begged me to purchase. I mean, how many parts can a gas grill possibly have, right? Oh, about 1,427. I exaggerate a bit, but it took me a good six hours to put the stupid thing together.

After meticulously marinating some meat, I proudly lit my new grill, tossed the steaks on, and let the sweet smell of barbecue fill the neighborhood. About 20 minutes later, I put my nose to the screen window and realized my steaks smelled a lot like burning plastic. That was odd. I ran outside to investigate and saw what had happened. I had placed the grill flush against the house, not knowing how hot it would get and I was literally melting the siding of my home. Fortunately, I caught it before the house burned down. For years, when family and friends would ask what happened to my siding I’d say, “lightening strike”, then wink.

Call me strange, but one of my favorite things about summer is the smell of fresh cut grass. When it comes to all manners of mowing, I’d be masquerading my misfortune if I didn’t tell you about what is known in the annals of lawncare folklore as the “Nisky Incident”. Five years ago this summer my lawnmower died and, being cheap, I didn’t want to spring for a new one. As luck would have it, I was driving through a gorgeous section of Niskayuna when I saw a lawnmower sitting at the end of someone’s driveway with a sign that said “FREE” resting on top. It appeared to be in good shape, so despite the storm clouds that had gathered overhead, I immediately pulled over the car to check it out.

The last thing I wanted to do was take home someone else’s trash, so I gave the mower a pull to make sure it would start. By golly it only took three tries for the lawnmower to rumble alive. I was so excited the mower was running I didn’t notice that the vibration of the machine had caused the cardboard sign to fall off and get sucked under the blades. In an instant the sign that read “FREE” was shredded into a thousand pieces and shot all over the family’s perfectly manicured lawn. Just then, as if on cue, it started to rain. Hard. I tried to pick up the pieces, but it was impossible as they fell apart in my wet hands. I did the only thing I could do at that point. I shoved the mower in my trunk like a mob boss getting rid of a body and tore on out of there. To this day I picture an older couple inside that beautiful home sipping tea, looking through their blinds saying, “Marge, am I seeing things or is that the TV guy from Fox wrecking our lawn and taking our mower?”

From the bees nest I hit with a weed-eater, to the time I nearly fell off the roof because I used an extension cord as a rope (bad idea), summertime has always been a dangerous time for men like me. But it can also be a magical time, especially for kids. Lightening bugs, camping trips, taking your children to some not-so-distant shore to chase hermit crabs. All great stuff. Be safe, be happy, and by all means be quick about it if you plan to get outside and enjoy this season. Because summer, like childhood, doesn’t last forever.

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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