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Every dog has his day (part 1)

Every dog has his day

By Bill Stork, DVM

There once was a day when I nearly thought I was cool. It would fly in the face of my very nature to make such a blanket statement. More accurately cool by association, and for brief and fleeting moments in time.

Then I had teenagers.

By virtue of genetics and vocation, I talk a lot. Had she lived until the cell phone, my mother would have stricken fear into the heart of Mark Erdman at US Cellular and his “unlimited minutes and data plan,” like the Green Bay Packers showing up for “All U Can Eat For $6.99 Buffet” at Denny’s.

As veterinarians we practice medicine and surgery, but one of our most valuable products is information. Not to mention, I am a big fan of language spoken well in any form. I live to hear Wayne Laravey broadcast the Packers on Sunday afternoons, but I’d tune in if he were doing play-by-play of a house being painted. My Chicago friends would laugh til they cried at the notion, but I used to listen to the traffic report from Madison. Sure, it was roughly the equivalent of a backup at the one stop sign in Mayberry, but I emulated the cadence and diction of the gentleman who reported. It’s a work in progress, but I try hard to speak accurately, if not succinctly. (Thank you, Sheila.)

In a recent conversation with my daughter, I was really excited to have seen an old friend. Like I had farted on the Maître d' at L’etoile, my daughter rolled her eyes and curled her lip, “Dad, you know you just doubly identified the topic of that sentence.” Guilty as charged, but the penalty was in excess of the crime.

It may have leaked out that I like music. It is a significant point of pride that I have hosted Joel Paterson, Oscar Wilson and the Cash Box Kings at our home on more than one occasion. Joel has been called a freak, a genius, a magician and the “best guitarist in the city” by the Chicago Tribune. He has quietly commanded the attention of purists all over the planet with his multi-track, one man homage to the likes of Les Paul, Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, called "Handful of Strings" (available at Amazon and CD Baby).

One of the most memorable nights in Madison music history came on a frigid January night at the Crystal Corner Bar. The legendary Wayne “the train” Hancock had found himself without a band. His guitarist and steel guitarist had rendered themselves unable to perform in an epic artistic dispute that became physical. JP shook hands, plugged a pawn-shop hollow-body Gibson into a 70-year-old tube amp the size of a carry-on, and proceeded to level the joint. Playing songs he had never heard, with a man he never met.

Oscar Wilson has fathered a dozen children, survived cancer – twice – and is a museum piece. He grew up on the south side of Chicago; his father died of cancer when he was nine years old. In his place were Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, who would sip iced tea, eat his mom’s fried chicken and play the blues on his back porch to pass the sweltering Sunday afternoons.

In 1980, John Belushi bravely predicted that by the year 2006, “The music known as the blues would exist only in the classical records department of your local public library.” “Joliet Jake” did not know about The Big O. When Oscar sways to the microphone, you don’t know what he’s about to do; the band has not a clue. The only thing for certain: it will be Old School and it will be blues.

As things started to come together for this year’s version of our little gathering of friends and musicians, my son Calvin interrupted without looking up and asked,

“You’re not having that old-time hillbilly crap again this year are you?”

For a father who has shared fewer suppers and sunrises with his kids than he had hoped, I find myself counting. My daughter Paige is starting to pack her bags for college in Vermont; her return to Wisconsin is no more certain than Peace Corps in Peru. Calvin is fewer than 700 days away from graduation. The only thing I would bet on in his future is mountains and snow. Wisconsin has only one of those.

September through May, we find ourselves the voice of reason…

“Calvin, I can’t help but notice a 0 in Pre-calculus on January 24”, I pointed out. After a bit of thought he responded, “That’s the day I took my driver’s test,” as if that were all the answer I should ever need.

“Calvin,” I asked, “did you expect Mr. Uhen to take the day off and watch movies in honor of your passing behind the wheel?” No response.

In my experience so far, 13-year-old girls and 16-year-old boys respond in one of two ways: deadpan, or not at all. “Calvin, what did you do all day Sunday?” I asked reasonably.

“There was a rail-jam at Alpine and there were two Olympians there,” he responded with a month’s worth of energy.

When I asked about the looming AP European History exam on Monday, he responded as obvious as a Clydesdale on your toe, “The lifts close at 7:00.”

June, July and August we pack it up and put it away...

In the eyes of a teenager, adults are categorically uncool, “You’re not wearing that in public are you?” With eyes that have aged since my last prescription sunglasses, I turned my hat backwards to get close enough to the dashboard to read the gauges: “Dad, if you’re gonna wear it backwards…”

We look for hooks. Until this year I thought I had it made.

June 18, 1992, was a Thursday. I know that because it was my 4th day at the Lake Mills Veterinary Clinic, and I confirmed it on Google. The 8:00AM appointment was an Airedale Terrier who thought he was a Corriedale Sheep. Having grazed his meticulously fertilized back yard, he found himself what you might call “bound up”. I was new to town and looking to make friends and connections. The owner, Gray, was as tan as the dog’s curly brown coat, so once Moose was literally pooping like the proverbial goose, I asked about the trailer hitch behind his Chevy Blazer.

“What do you pull behind that truck?” I asked hopefully.

“Barefoot Warrior Supreme with a 250hp Yamaha”, was the equally enthusiastic response.

With regard to ski boats and friends, there tends to be a dynamic. I like to think of it as symbiotic. Those who have boats need help putting in piers and lifts. Unless you’re Bugs Bunny playing baseball, you cannot by definition drive and ski at the same time. Those who make the payments may call the same relationship parasitic. Ahh, semantics.

I stuck out my hand and responded, “I have three 5 gallon gas cans, and can drive in a straight line.” We exchanged numbers, and 22 years, three kids and two boats later, we are still friends.

In the early ‘90’s, we once pried the proprietor of boat storage from a stool at Moe’s. The ice had come out early on a leap year and we were bent on being able to stake claim to having skied Rock Lake in February. There are pictures on the wall of Laker’s Athletic Club to show that we braved 6” of snow and driving winds to claim the month of December, and prove definitively we had not a lick of sense.

Then, in February 1996, my daughter Paige was born.

In the past 18 years, we have spent far more time behind the wheel, than in the water - teaching our kids and their friends to get up on a pair of skis. The thrill of watching your daughter rise effortlessly out of the lake on one ski is exponentially greater than a barefoot beach start or a slalom course run at ’38 off.

If there is a sensation greater than sharing a passion with your children, I can’t conceive it.

There are faux-antique signs for $19.99 at every marina and gift shop within skippin’ distance of any body of water: "A boat is a hole in the water into which you throw large sums of money".

The Stork Corollary would follow: "A boat is a hole in the water from which you extract memories".

Having been on the receiving end of a fortunate father for my first 28 years and a generous friend for the last 22, I have never made a boat payment.

I learned to ski behind a 16’ aluminum Starcraft with an 85-horse Johnson outboard, under the instruction of what had to be the most patient man ever born. I carry a thread of guilt that teaching me to slalom ski cost Wayne some measure of his seemingly endless sanity. By 8th grade I was big enough to pull the boat around the lake and aim it where I wanted to go, so we upsized. The “Cat Dancer” was a 21-foot inboard outboard, just smaller than a Mississippi River tugboat.

Recall the nature of my dad and the ease with which a construction worker is dislodged from a blue collar dollar. She had a motor that was darn near silent, except for the ticking of the lifter in the third cylinder. Repurposed from a Singer sewing machine, you were not going to pull a 10-person pyramid in the Tommy Bartlett thrill show.

While some boys ogled girly magazines, I pored over advertisements for Ski Nautique, Mastercraft and Malibu in “Water Ski Monthly". Occasionally we would get a glimpse of one across Lake Shelbyville. The notion of ever driving, or God forbid, skiing behind such a craft… unthinkable.

The boat that my kids would learn to ski behind had no such limitations. The 1994 Malibu Echelon looks like a fighter jet without the wings. Powered by a fuel-injected 350 borrowed from a Corvette, she could pull the Tommy Bartlett pyramid on their bare feet.  At slalom speed, she throws a wake so polite it never breaks the sizzle as you carve an edge from one imaginary buoy to the next. Technology before its time. Pick a speed, program the “Perfect Pass” cruise control, and the speedo needle would never move. Twenty years of meticulous maintenance later, she looks like the day Gray pulled the plastic off the seats.

From Paige giggling uncontrollably, riding an inner tube in her swim diapers at idle around the lake, to Calvin’s aerial 180 on the wake board last year, the Malibu did it all. For a half-dozen Tuesday afternoons in the summer time, I had ‘em… or so I thought.

To be continued…

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