*The Annual Tradition: New Sock Weekend

Socks

*New Sock Weekend (also known as “NSW”) is an annual tradition here at the Laboratory.

It begins, calmly enough, by an enthusiastic, if offhanded proclamation: “It feels like a New Sock Weekend.” And this is followed by weeks of unalloyed happiness and joy resulting from the wearing of fresh socks.

Two requirements must be met for New Sock Weekend (NSW) to occur:

1. It has to happen at the start of an expedition.
2. It has to happen when the current crop of socks display a notable lack of vigor.

NSW is a wonderful time of year, looked forward to with great excitement by all Laboratory employees. It is an occasion of bipedal bliss, a hosen jubilee.

It is a transcendent feeling to plunge one’s little piggies into fresh socks, to feel warmly swaddled in blended cotton, to savor that “new sock smell.”

And so, this year, just as with those years previous, the proclamation was issued and new socks were procured after the completion of a careful study of the various available brands.That said, it is important to purchase the same brand annually, as it is necessary to keep order in the sock realm. One should never, ever deviate from purchasing the exact same brand of socks every year, year in, year out.

The guiding principle behind the Laboratory’s sock collection is complete uniformity, so that the component parts need never be sorted.  Thus, we buy the same socks every year.

This year, NSW was a disaster.

The socks acquired were not the proper ones. Apparently, in the excitement connected with the buying of new socks, the Laboratory Purchaser failed to select the correct brand.

Yes, the socks were fresh and new, but, /quelle horreur/, they did not fit into the Laboratory’s sock collection matrix.

Instead of bringing us weeks of happiness and joy, the dreadful interlopers brought misery and angst with their peculiar, impure colors and their diminutive, ungraceful shapes. It was a crushing disappointment, a burden simply not to be borne.

The only benefit these pathetic socks provide is the assurance that the proclamation of the next “New Sock Weekend” will soon follow in their train.

 

The Tale of the Procyon Lotor

 

Artist's interpretation of a Red Raccoon
Artist’s interpretation of a Red Raccoon

 

 

Mysterious Fort TravisCurious Earthen Mound of Fort

Not long ago, the tireless Viktor and I were exploring Fort Travis on Bolivar Island on the Texas Gulf Coast.

It is often the case with fortifications that once a good defensive spot has been chosen by one group of people, a fortification will be erected on that spot, put to use for a time, and then, after some years, another group of people will build a new fortification atop the site of the old, and so on and so on. So it is with Fort Bolivar.

It is a curious fort with several great earthen mounds, which I assumed hid underground and now quite inaccessible chambers. The fort in its current incarnation was constructed between 1898 and 1899, damaged in the 1900 Hurricane, repaired thereafter, and enlarged in 1942. It served as a garrison during both World Wars. It looks every bit its age.

The structure is protected by large, solid, and quite photogenic doors, constructed from massive sheets of steel with four mighty hinges.  The doors are enhanced with strange, target-shaped circles. Viktor and I were entranced by the palpable strength of these objects, and took copious photographs before continuing with a survey of the grounds.

Suddenly, a brief flash of movement caught my eye. Aroused, Viktor called out, “Einida, did you see that?” I had indeed seen something, but since I’d not been expecting to see a moving object in that setting, I had not been sufficiently alert and had failed to identify the fleeing object.

“Was that a raccoon?  But it was red! How could a raccoon be red?”

I could not reconcile these two apparently contradictory facts with my knowledge of zoology.

“I didn’t even know such a thing existed! How curious. My mind is a whirl of questions.”  Viktor’s voice trailed off in cloudy confusion.

I, of course, gave chase to the mysterious creature. (Gentle Reader, I caution you–I am a trained professional, and so I discourage all amateurs from chasing after frightened wildlife.  It could end badly for those who are unskilled in the perilous arts of adventure.)

At any rate, I ran behind a row of cabanas with the stalwart Viktor close at my heels. We carefully and thoroughly searched every possible site for a possible raccoon nest. Did you know they can nest in trees? Did you know they can roost in trees? And what, you may ask, is the difference between nesting and roosting? Well, the former involves taking care of eggs, while the latter involves sleeping.

Raccoons are quite creative in their roosting habits. So I had to think like a raccoon: “If I were a raccoon, where would I roost?”DSCF7918

This led my thoughts off on a tangent–perhaps I could produce a line of bracelets bearing the initials “W.W.A.R.D.,” for “What would a raccoon do?”– but I soon remastered my thoughts and returned from the hazy realms of fancy and back into the rigid world of scientific fact and sound logic.

And so, Viktor and I studied the landscape from what we assumed to be a procyonidic mind-set and still came up with nothing.

It was then that I noticed a storm sewer. “Ah ha!  I daresay that the Rare Red Raccoon may have fled to yon storm sewer!”

I have it on good authority that urban raccoons “commute” to their food sources via storm sewers. So it seemed possible that our elusive friend could be scurrying underground towards her country roost, miles away in a tree somewhere.

Raccoons are cunning, and I imagined that Rare Red Raccoons are even more cunning than most. So, despite the very real possibility that our creature was long gone, we continued our search of areas close at hand.

In so doing I discovered a helpful display that showed the original layout of the old fort. The display challenged me to match random pieces of concrete, old metal, and foundation materials to their points of origin around the fort.

DSCF7919This was just the sort of attention distractor to which Viktor and I are particular vulnerable. And so we combined our goals, and elected to search for the raccoon as well as look for which component of construction material belonged in which spot.

I had passed the cabanas again when I heard a noise coming from within. “Hmm, how odd,” I thought. “It is the dead of winter and it’s highly unlikely that someone has rented this cabana for a reasonable $25.00 a night, or indeed for any price!”

“Viktor!” I whispered while waving and pointing my hands wildly. “I think there’s something in there!”

“Do you want to knock? What if it’s a vagabond? A raccoon? A renter en déshabillé?,” he calmly asked.

“If it’s a raccoon or a vagabond, they probably won’t answer. If it’s a renter, well, then, I shudder to think….”

“Curses!” Viktor ejaculated. “We have no time to waste on further mysteries, Einida. Our skittish friend has most likely retreated to her sylvan fastnesses, and I’m afraid we must do likewise, as the shades of evening are lengthening.”

Days later, we recounted our story to our old friend, Dr. Henry Paget-Lowe, Professor of Cryptozoology, in the raccoon-free comfort of his library. He corrected our misinterpretation of the “Rare Procyon Lotor,” stating that what we had seen was in fact an orange raccoon, a rare specimen created by genetic anomalies. He added that this type of raccoon is also referred to as being in a “rufous-phase” or “melanistic.”

Being thus enlightened, Viktor and I resolved that in future social gatherings we should endeavor to find conversational openings into which we can drop these new and hard-won additions to our vocabularies.

New From The Lab–The Secret Formula For The Perfect Psyllium Husk Health Tonic

Sucrose, natural and artificial orange flavor, FD&C Yellow #6, and silicon dioxide–those are the ingredients found in commercially available fiber with nine grams of sugar.

And should you want to consume sugar-free fiber, you might end up ingesting wheat dextrin, natural orange flavor, potassium citrate, aspartame, gum acacia, acesulfame potassium, maltodextrin, lactose (milk), triglycerides, sucrose acetate isobutyrate, modified cornstarch, Yellow # 6, and Red 40.

I took to the study of fiber when the “Mysterious Fiber Shortage of 2012” occurred. I didn’t have time to investigate the actual cause behind the shortage, but I did learn enough about the subject of fiber to free myself from the shackles of the commercially-produced varieties and their bizarre added ingredients.

I vowed that I would never accept the tyranny of the Commercial Industrial Complex’s unnaturally tainted fiber, that I would find a supply of pure psyllium husk.

So, Einida and I spent days examining the shelves and bulk bins of natural food stores, each one smelling of potpourri and patchouli oil, and cluttered with beads, incense burners, organic soaps, and yoga mats. There were so many products and so many wrong options.

We had to find pure psyllium husk, since it’s the primary ingredient in a fiber solution. We read the ingredient list on bottle after bottle before finally finding a large container with the ingredients simply listed as “Whole Psyllium Husks.”

Next, we had to find psyllium husk powder. This involved visiting more stores and examining more bottles before we found a powder made with actual psyllium seed husks.

My fiber formula was beginning to come together. Victory was within my grasp. But when I mixed up what we’d gathered the flavor was rather unpleasant.

So, we went back to the stores and searched for the sweetener, Stevia.

Trying to read the ingredient list on a tiny bottle printed with the world’s tiniest type face proved to be frustrating to me, until Einida reached into her utility belt and pulled out her magnifying glass. Only then was I able to find the perfect bottle of Stevia.

For various reasons I was unable to secure the final ingredient, citric acid, and so substituted it with sugar-free Kool-Aid. If you use sugar-free Kool-Aid as a flavoring, you can make a fiber solution in almost any flavor you choose.

After experimenting with many different ingredient ratios, I was able to create the perfect mix for Psyllium Husk Tonic.

Instructions

Place the following ingredients into a container:

  •    -1/2 cup of psyllium husk powder
  •    -1 cup of whole psyllium husks
  •    -6-8 heaping spoonfuls of Stevia (using the tiny spoon provided in the packaging)
  •    -1 package (0.15 oz) of the Kool-Aid flavor of your choice

Place a lid on the container.

Shake the container vigorously.  Enjoy.

*Of course, Kool-Aid has unnatural ingredients as well, but it is an intermediate step. In future versions of this fiber beverage we hope to use a home-made drink mix instead.

Secret Psyllium Husk Health Tonic

New From The Lab–A Trifling, Yet Thrilling Amusement For Pocket Billiards Devotees.

The employees at the Super Fun Adventure Quest Time’s Laboratory work tirelessly to bring forth new inventions to the world. But for all of their technical and scientific prowess they are inept at shooting pool.

As kind employers, solicitous of the well-being of our staff, Einida and I procured a pocket billiards table for the Recreation Wing of our Lab, but over the course of several evenings we noticed our staffers rather making a mess of things.

We noticed that a simple game of “Eight Ball,” which actually requires fifteen balls, was taking not minutes but rather an eternity to play. What should have been the cause of lighthearted merriment was a laborious and frustrating bore.

The staffers really did not know how to shoot pool, and the perceptive Einida concluded that their chief difficulty was in a lack of hand-eye coordination.

Pool-9_BallOne night, as I watched the staffers fumbling and smashing about with their cues, I thought, “Perhaps there are simply too many balls on the table, that sinking fifteen is beyond the skill levels of the participants….So how many balls could I remove from the table and still have a game to play?”

I knew that the game of “Nine Ball” actually uses nine balls, that players try to knock the balls into the pockets in numerical order. So, when the game starts, all the players are trying to shoot the #1 ball into the pocket.  And so on to #2, #3, and so forth.

And so I started experimenting by playing “Six Ball,” but that also took too long. “Five Ball” was an abomination of irregularity.

The answer, so simple, yet so complex, was found in the beauty of even numbers. Therefore, I present to the world, “Four Ball.” It has the same rules as “Nine Ball,” but it only uses four balls.Pool-4_ball

I quickly contacted Professor Bellanger K. Shahhat, Esq, the master of carpentry and wood-working, who was only too happy to set to work making the world’s first “Four Ball” pool ball rack.

In a twinkling, he presented us with a breathtaking and wondrous piece of billiard apparatus, diamond-shaped, primarily fashioned from tropically-grown and stunningly beautiful purple-heart wood, but with contrasts provided by wood of a lighter hue. All in all, it was an exquisite piece of craftsmanship, as the adjoining photograph will show.

When I introduced the Lab staff to “Four Ball,” they all clapped in delight, but when I produced the world’s only “Four Ball” rack, they gasped in astonishment.

The staffers fell upon the pool table with joy unalloyed. And now, at close of day, after hours of honest scientific toil, they fill the air of the Recreation Wing with the clacking of balls and the shouts of hearty good cheer that result from the observant and intelligent matching of player to game.

The Unexpected Discovery of the Mystical Mushroom of Immortality

Ganoderma

“Excuse me, madame. I overheard your refused request and believe I can offer some assistance,” said the enthusiastic, off-duty, fried chicken pitchman.

The soporific Viktor and I were beginning another long day on the road with a chicken breakfast at a fast-food joint located alongside a highway just outside of Nowheresville, USA. Chicken, biscuits, cole slaw, corn, mashed potatoes, and other viands were on the menu, but coffee was not.

Viktor put down the titanium spork that he always carries with him on the off chance that he will end up eating fried chicken, and glanced at me with a wary eye.

“I heard you ask for a cup of coffee, and it surprised me, since you’re are at a fried chicken place. Most people don’t think to combine coffee and fried chicken,” the unctuous young man added.

“I, sir, am not most people,” I carefully said. I was overcome by a troubled mood. Without my matutinal mud I neither work nor play well with others.

“Well, madam, I happen to run a coffee business during my off-duty hours. Would you care to indulge in a sample?”

My heavy-lidded eyes widened. What miracle of java might this be? Is there hope of saving this doomed day? I nodded to the man in hasty agreement, indicating my willingness to sample his wares.

“Are you familiar with Ganoderma, the ancient Chinese mushroom that was once only consumed by royalty? Peasants faced harsh treatment, amputation, and even an early reunion with their ancestors for ingesting the Royal toadstool.”

“Why, no. How fascinating. How fantastic. An unexpected cup of coffee that comes with a tale of peasants, royalty, and forbidden mushrooms? Oh my.”

The Mysterious Coffee Peddler continued, “This coffee is brewed from those ancient, Royal mushrooms and has fantastic health properties. It isn’t merely a cup of coffee, it’s a delicious tonic of health and vitality. It contains anti-oxidants, and other health-stimulating properties.”

I was intrigued. And so, he handed me a cup of hot water, and two packets of coffee wrapped in a piece of paper normally used for food packaging.

I whipped out my knife and deftly cut a slit in a coffee packet. I was careful not to mangle the packaging, as I wanted to study it further.

As I moved to pour the powder into the cup, a complication arose. My cutting had not in fact opened the package. So, I firmly grasped the material and gently pulled.

The powdered miracle mushroom coffee rose into a cloud. It showered down upon my raiment and from thence to the floor.

“Blast and tarnation!” I exclaimed.

Viktor calmly responded, “Isn’t this what usually happens when you attempt feats of dexterity without caffeinated lubrication?”

I sighed in acknowledgment and began to recover what bits of the powder I could from my stylish traveling jacket, soon reclaiming enough to make a small cup of the miracle mushroom coffee.

I mixed water and powder, then slowly took a sip, wondering about what new world of exotic flavors my taste buds would be entering.

“It tastes like a latte.” I said. “It’s quite nice… sweet and mild.”

After I enthusiastically quaffed the elixir, the Mysterious Coffee Peddler asked, “So,  how do you feel?”

Viktor raised an eyebrow, telegraphing concern.

“Why, I feel fantastic. My mood has lifted and I feel as if I could conquer any challenge that came my way,” I said elatedly.

“Well, madam, many people do mention a feeling of exhilaration and a sense of well-being after consuming this miracle brew. And it barely contains any caffeine at all! Isn’t that fantastic?,” he added, looking quite pleased with himself.

My smile faltered, and I gamely said, “Oh…wonderful. Thank you for sharing this marvelous health tonic. I will do more research, when I return to the Lab. A good day to you, sir.”

As we exited the premises, I whispered to Viktor, “Perhaps that salesman should learn never to tell someone afflicted with a caffeine addiction that his coffee product has very little caffeine.  His volunteering of that all-important detail snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I was almost on the point of making a purchase….”

Some time later, I contacted the esteemed Professor of Mycology, Dr. Lysistrata Mudge, and asked her about the Ganoderma, the “mystical mushroom of Immortality.” She assured me that the mushroom actually does exist and may indeed have been an ingredient in my beverage.

She pointed out that modern studies of the fungi have confirmed some of the beliefs about its healthful properties. It has been shown to reduce cholesterol, stimulate the immune system, and to lower blood pressure.

I will have to delve further into the world of the Ganoderma.  It is a fascinating topic, and worthy of future experiments, especially now that such work no longer bears with it the threat of Imperial punishment.

The Tale of the Titanic Truck Stop part 1

Not long ago, while exploring the wilds of interurban North America, the intrepid Einida and I happened upon, what was for us, the hitherto exotic and undiscovered world of truck stops. Like most people not part of the freight-hauling fraternity, we had assumed that such establishments offered gasoline, steak and egg breakfasts, Red Sovine eight-tracks, and little else, but we were wrong.

Oatmeal_dispenserThis hidden wonderland upon which we happened has restrooms staffed with live human attendants, and it offers an oatmeal-dispensing machine, and an array of fascinating products, not the least of which being canned lasagna that comes with a chemical pack with which you can heat up the dish.

O, if I could but count the times I have yearned for canned pasta to fill that void created by the monotonous hours spent staring at the white lines of the highway. And now before me on the shelf, priced well within the range of any ordinary consumer, was a can of self-heating lasagna.

Incredible! This discovery thenceforward and forever confirmed me in my love for truck stops.

And my options weren’t to be limited by pasta. There were “Heater Meals” of green pepper steak with rice, chicken and noodles in mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes and beef. I was spoiled for choice.
Canned_pasta

I forced myself to look away and regain the composure and objectivity so necessary in an inventor/explorer. Still, it was difficult for my mind to take in the enormity of this discovery. It meant nothing less than that I could eat a hot dinner _IN MY CAR!_

Farewell also to those awkward nights of setting off hotel room smoke alarms while attempting to use a panini-maker. No longer will I find myself in a jerkwater town, after an experiment has run late, unable to eat because all the restaurants close at 10pm. Instead, the trunk of my car will be a larder, packed deep and wide with any number of meal choices.

There is but one matter that remains unresolved, and I hesitate to mention it. Though completely sold on the concept of self-heating meals, I haven’t yet actually opened that first can of self-heating lasagna and tried the meal out. But soon I intend to set up taste tests for everybody in the lab, so we can analyze which dish is the most tasty.

So in the meantime, as you roar on your busy way from city to city, please reconsider the humble truck stop as a worthy place of visitation. A dizzying array of extraordinary products awaits your studious consideration.

The Quest for the must have Hard Hat Adventure Accessory

hard_hats_and_pith

The ordinary member of the human race takes up an occupation because of economic need, and, if he or she is lucky, because the skills required of the job more or less match those which he or she possesses. There are a few blessed and curious souls, however, who fall in love with the idea or ethos of an occupation first, and pursue that occupation as an outward manifestation and real fulfillment of that idea.

Quite often the aspirant to a specific occupation will adopt the clothing, ornaments, equipment, and other external trappings of his desired occupation before he officially enters the field; thus, a would-be author might affect a tweed jacket and pipe or an aspiring soldier might dress in olive drab, khaki, or camouflage military wear. The soul and body of the aspirant will be surrounded and pervaded by the idea of his goal, by the ethos of his dream occupation, and will thus be goaded into taking actions that will achieve his ends.

It is sometimes, therefore, surprising to the wide-eyed initiate when he discovers that what he thought was merely a glamourous and stylish accessory is in fact of very real and practical value in his chosen field. This is especially true in the field of exploring.
One day, not so very long ago, the redoubtable Viktor and I happened into an Army/Navy surplus store. For us, even a poor military surplus store is a buffet of wonders; an excellent store, such as this one, is a bonanza.

Looking around its generously-stocked shelves I was reminded of that famous exchange when Howard Carter first peered into the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Lord Carnarvon asked, “Can you see anything?” And Carter, mesmerized, replied, “Yes…wonderful things.”

And so as I wandered the narrow aisles that day, I espied high upon a shelf a collection of pith helmets–a veritable United Colors of Benetton array, in stacks of blue, white, camouflage. My fancy took to wing and I began to imagine the various seasons, climates, and locales where one helmet would be preferable to the others. I imagined traveling the world with my pith helmets comfortably encased in a trunk custom-made by Louis Vuitton for that express purpose.

I was sorely tempted to purchase at least the stealth pith helmet (in dusty camouflage tones), but I feared that if I purchased only that one and not all the others that it would create in me a lingering feeling of inadequacy and incompleteness, of sartorial inferiority and indecision. And as it is, my collection of unusual millinery already includes one pith helmet, albeit a rather plain one.

I bravely plowed on.

There were, of course, many more different sorts of head-gear and head-covering for sale, from cowboy hats to biker bandanas to Indiana Jones fedoras. Indeed, in that part of the store, there was not a surface horizontal or vertical that did not bear some sort of hat upon it.

Further on in this wondrous place I discovered a switchblade comb, and a belt pouch for the storage of one’s hand cuffs. And suddenly there, in amongst a rather chaotic assortment of bags, pouches, and ponchos, appeared an object for which Viktor and I had devoted six months of arduous hunting: the Hard Hat Shade!

The clouds parted and a massed choir of cherubim and seraphim floated down to sing their heavenly praises. It was a glorious moment indeed to find such a specialized piece of equipment in this store of fascinating martial flotsam.

For months, the stoic Viktor and I have suffered in the blinding sunlight because the hard hats we must wear for our work and exploration are without brims.

Now when we are exploring or doing an archaeological dig in an Equatorial region we have had our local equipment bearers hold up tarpaulins to shield us from the sun’s punishing rays, but U. S. Customs always give us a devil of a time when we try to bring our bearers back home with us, so we have been forced to look for inanimate sources of protection. And we usually find sun umbrellas to be impractical out in the field because of the frequent winds.

The more practical of you might object, “Why not order such a product online?,” to which I would offer the explanation that adventure gear should be acquired during an adventure. Convenience, we have so often found in our line of work, is not the hand-maiden of discovery.

The Hard Hat Shade has a brim that spans a distance of fifteen inches from edge to edge. It has a handy flap that drapes over the neck in the manner of a French Foreign Legion kepi. (No one should end up looking like a redneck merely because his occupation requires him to spend his adventure time outdoors.)

The overall effect is that of a beekeeper’s hat without the veil. And since the Hard Hat Shade comes in bright white it will go perfectly with any explorer-wear ensemble that you might choose to wear between Easter and Labor Day.

This is a must-have for any serious explorer.

A Chronicle of a Voyage to Point Bolivar

stilton_rendition

“Do help yourself to some more Stilton, my dear Viktor. I think you shall find it creates the most delightful effects.”

My colleague, the esteemed Professor Beckford Ganymede Hornblower, passed the cheese over to me, his eyes twinkling with merriment.

I helped myself.

“Some Oloroso Sherry as well?,” he asked.

How could I refuse?

As the smoky nectar warmed my vitals, I reflected upon how much I have come to enjoy these postprandial meetings in the Professor’s book-lined study, a room suffused with the scent of old paper, Moroccan leather, and Latakia pipe tobacco, a room shrouded in perpetual midnight.

My brain began to fog, and I had the strange sensation that I was stumbling around deep in the waters of the Professor’s aquarium, which bubbled sedately over in the corner.

“Curse it all, Professor!,” I said, as I set my empty glass upon a side table, sprang up from my over-stuffed leather chair, and crossed the room to the heavily-curtained window. “Curse it all, I cannot abide this inactivity! If I go many more days without an adventure, I shall go mad with boredom!”

“Then, my dear Viktor, you must mount an expedition!”

Thereupon I enumerated, in tiresome detail, all of the reasons, economic and otherwise, why the fair Einida and I were currently confined to our home paddock. To punctuate my frustration, I went to the large and rather rare world globe that is serves as such a unifying decorative note to the Professor’s study, and gave it a spin. When I saw the Professor’s eyes bulge out and his mouth droop, I realized I was abusing his great hospitality, so I placed both palms on the globe so as to impede any further movement.

The Professor’s shoulders slumped again, his eyes brightened, and he sank back into his chair. “You must go to sea, young man!”

And now the Professor was on his feet, scurrying about like a preoccupied mouse, stretching and squashing his diminutive frame as he reached for first this book and then that. Confused, I returned to my chair and watched this amazing performance play out.
Pulling a rare folio from a shelf, he turned towards me, absent-mindedly blew dust off the volume, and said, “Was it not just the other day that you were telling me of your interest in ships?”

“Well, yes, but….”

“But nothing, my good fellow! If you’re interested in ships and the sea, there’s no finer place for you to start than the Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry.”

DSC_3954_r
And with that he dumped the stack of books upon my (unprepared) lap, and my eyes followed his stubby index finger as it pointed to a photo of the vessel in question.
In what seemed like no time at all I stood, like Admiral Nelson, at the bow of this ferry, wind whipping my garments behind me as I gazed resolutely at the brown boiling sea before me.

The gun metal clouds and strong, incessant winds were no match for the engine of this sturdy vessel as it churned its way across the mouth of Galveston Bay.

The mixture of smoke and spilled fuel and brine worked its olfactory magic upon my fancy, and transformed the dear Einida into the shade of Lady Hamilton.

Amazing to me that I had not heard of this magic carpet ere now!

DSC_3803_r

The Bolivar Ferry was truly a delight. Of the five ferries that serve this port, we found ourselves aboard the “Robert H. Dedman.” And yes, while we did in fact remark upon the inauspicious sound of the name, due to our consecration to the steady and stolid tenets of science, we did not allow ourselves to fall victim to the humbug of superstition.

In any event, our dark thoughts were soon lifted by the sheer size of the Dedman Ferry. It measures 185 feet in length, and can carry five-hundred passengers and seventy vehicles. Our Einida gasped in glee to learn that the vessel can even carry several semi-trailer trucks (“big rigs,” to the hoi polloi) at one crossing. Indeed, I think it was Einida’s lifelong, abiding, and lady-like interest in interstate commerce that steeled my resolve to plight my troth to her all those years ago.

DSC_3980_r
As I swept the ship under my gaze, I noticed the pilot house on one end, and then, at the opposite end, another. A ferry with two pilot houses? What crystalline logic! What brilliance of design! The pilot is spared the challenge of constantly steering half the day in reverse by the simple expedient of transferring operations to the other pilot house.

A seaman of leathern aspect approached me. Clearly, our enthusiasm for the ferry had attracted his attention. He parted his wind-chapped lips and laconically commented, “Look ye to the aft of this here ferry and of the larger ships, and ye may see the dolphins dancing in their wake.”

I headed post-haste to the stern, but saw nothing. Meanwhile, the intrepid Einida busied herself snapping photos of what seemed to her the ideal lair for an evil genius. “Why,” she explained, “it even has its own submarine!”
DSC_3979_r
She was right. Envy coursed through my loins, until closer inspection revealed to me a sign for a pleasure ground named “Sea Wolf Park.”

It is an old and sometimes bitter truth, confirmed and consecrated by time, that parks as a rule do not make good lairs.

But yes, the submarine is in fact the genuine article, a World War II vessel, the “USS Cavalla,” by name. And alongside it is a very rare Destroyer Escort, the “USS Stewart.”
My dreams of settling down and opening a quiet, small-town super-villainry practice being temporarily crushed yet again, I spied a large ship off in the distance. I went to the upper deck for a better look.

The upper deck includes a rather spartan, utilitarian lounge, lined with windows, and furnished with hard benches, where, during the eighteen-minute crossing, more delicate passengers can seek respite from the elements. I positioned myself on the outdoor deck beyond the lounge and began to take photos.

One of my great passions is taking photos of ships. Galveston Bay is chock-full of them–real, full-size, ocean-worthy ships, the sort that put the amateur boatman’s dinghies and sailboats to shame. And the nearby Port of Houston is one of the largest and busiest in the world.

I sighed, as I dreamed of building a laboratory on Galveston Bay where I could indulge in my ship photography passion to the fullest, during breaks between experiments of evil intent….

The ship that fueled this fantasy was incredibly vast. It appeared to be a container ship. I looked down to the lower deck and spied my Einida. The wind whipped the hair from before her face and, unbidden, she looked up over her left shoulder, found me immediately, smiled and waved and mouthed her astonishment at the ship’s enormous size.

It took many long seconds–eternities even–for my brain to process that latest intrusion.

It was a horn. A loud horn. And it came from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
DSC_3948_r
By some strange instinct I looked up at the large ship ahead of us and noticed that it was now veering to its port side off its course and bearing down at fearsome speed upon to the Dedman.

There was a frenzy of activity as hands on both the container ship and the ferry ran back and forth, frantically doing whatever they could to prevent the collision. As soon as the full extent of what was about to happen took a coherent form in my brain I leapt for the ladder and flung myself downwards to the lower deck, to my Einida!

I looked around in panic. I saw no one else. I saw Einida, staring straight ahead at the grey wall rushing ever closer.

I ran, I stretched, I extended my arms, my hands, my fingertips, convinced that I could save my beloved if only I could enfold her in the protection of my arms.

I put out my right hand still further. Einida was cold to the touch. She turned. There was no expression on her face. She looked not at, but beyond me.

All went black, followed by a metallic crash, a reverberating ring, a flash of light, and a convulsive rush of air.

There was a noise, unfamiliar, familiar, a sound, a nasal drawl.

I opened my eyes upon the face of Professor Hornblower, ringed in lamp-light, puzzled, concerned, amused.

I snorted, drew in shallow drafts of air through my nose and mouth, blinked wildly, looked around, tried to clear the fog from my head.

“I say, old man, you knocked over the drinks tray.”

Ears still ringing, I rubbed my eyes, wiped the sweat from my forehead,

“Well, well, Viktor, seems you had quite the siesta. But you will recall I did warn you about the powerful effects of Stilton.”