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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Post details: Ahab rehab

Ahab rehab

Sometimes I find myself uttering random and totally inconsequential sentences - the kind of stuff you could hear from a character in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland rather than from a supposedly rational mathematician. But I like it that way. Not only is it fun to watch people's reactions to such unsolicited buffoonery, but it is also a way to tease destiny out of its den, have it wave its magic wand and throw our lives off kilter a bit.

Last weekend I visited one of my friends in the Bay Area and when we were pondering what to do with a sunny California Sunday, I went for a volley and blurted out: "let's go whale watching". Not that I meant it, mind you. I could have just as easily suggested Lemur hunting, Formula One racing or synchronized felling of a Douglas fir. I really had no desire to see any marine mammals. It was just a lame joke.

In my world whales live in Alaska and New Zealand, so I was quite shocked when my friend pounced on the idea and suggested that we drive to Monterey and catch a whale watching boat there. Still struggling with the morning stupor, I drowsily agreed and that was what we ended up doing. I will never underestimate the entertainment potential of the Pacific Coast again.

As soon as we found a parking spot in the quaint Marine whose boat density reminded me of a rush hour Washington traffic, we made a beeline for a small pastel colored light house, whose vicinity we tagged as the most likely origin of sea faring adventures. And we were not disappointed. In less than 10 minutes we secured three tickets for a boat named Check Mate. We took that for a good omen, considering that two thirds of our party had Czech roots and the remaining one third was pretty good at chess.

No sooner had we made ourselves comfortable on the boat than the engine sputtered into action and we glibly maneuvered through a wooden maze of landing piers, across the harbor area, past a jetty invaded by seals and otters and off into the open sea - ready to hustle some cetaceans. As we were bouncing forth on sizable waves, I noticed that many of the passengers - whether they were bankers, insurance agents, car salesmen, or computer geeks - started to undergo subtle metamorphosis. Like in those B-rated werewolves movies, outcroppings of animal instincts have suddenly dented their behavior; tempestuous determination fumed from their nostrils and their normally smooth and relaxed demeanor stiffened to the point of predatory intensity.

Slowly but surely, our dickey mob were turning into Moby Dick chasers. That glint in the eye, that vengeful finger twitch, that deeply focused stare were all unmistakable signs that captain Ahab took control at the helm. Armed with digital harpoons of any conceivable make - from Olympus to Nikon or Canon - we were about to give our white whale a good run for the money. And since we live in a politically correct environment, I would like to point out that were prepared to give any whale a good run for the money - regardless of the color of its skin.

Meanwhile our skipper was doing his best at the bridge. With the help of his onboard sonar, he located plenty of humpback and blue whales for us to train our lenses on. As the gentle behemoths floated by and every now and then expelled a stream of water and vapor from their blowholes, as they playfully lifted their tail flukes into the air, we were throwing our optical spears at them, humoring our suppressed whaling fantasies in a flurry of clicking activity whose vehemence would put the Oscar's night to shame.

I guess we all harbor our inner captain Ahab in that thick and barely penetrable underbrush which the human psyche really is, regardless of sex, race, religion, tax bracket or baseball affiliation. Most of the time, he is snoozing there in benign dormancy, tucked in under one of our cerebral lobes, but the moment he catches a whiff of that salty sea air - look out! - Pequod's deck is but a thought away.

That kind of makes me wonder who else resides at the murky bottom of my soul: "Excuse me, Mr. Hamlet, are you down there?"


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