"Toe in the Water" - an allegory
An interesting allegorical tale from our friend Bill Wygant of the South End Rowing Club:
June 21, 2025
Morton’s father suddenly passed away. Morton was not sure how he felt about it. On one hand he was glad he now had his father’s gold Rolex, but it gave him the creeps to wear it. He existed in this realm of uncertainty for several months.
One night seated in front of his father’s computer, drinking the last of his Bushmill’s, he came across a picture of a somewhat average looking man standing on a beach at what the caption called “Dover Harbor”. From what he could tell the picture was taken the day before the man was to swim the English Channel. He could see in the background a thin line of land with trees and a sandy shore. Why if that was France it looked fairly close, how hard could it be to swim the Channel? He thought to himself. Clicking off the computer he put his feet up on his father’s desk and grimacing took a careful sip of his late-father’s favorite beverage and stared at a small box containing his ashes resting on the mantle over the fireplace.
Swimming had always fascinated Morton and an idea was beginning to form in his mind. Over the next several days, he spent more time at the computer looking at online images of the English Channel. A satellite view showed it as a narrowing between the North Sea and the Atlantic separating England and western France, small puffs of altocumulus visible at the edges of the picture. He learned that it was by the Channel Roman legions had crossed into a wild frontier and named it “Britannia” in 43 Ad. And by the end of the second evening he had decided that the Channel was a suitable last resting place for his father’s ashes. They would be scattered at the ½ way point during a solo swim he would make in his father’s memory. He felt it was important that his fathers last remains be scattered during some act of significance by his son and according to what he had read this would certainly qualify.
Working through the effects of the last of his father’s scotch he said to his mother at breakfast, “This will make it special, I mean otherwise we might just as well walk out into the garden and be done with it” “ But I don’t think he liked water, he didn’t even know how to swim.” She said. But over bacon and eggs she eventually gave her tearful consent and Morton began to plan his training.
Living in Wichita Kansas he decided he needed to set aside 3 weeks to train for his swim. Performing a web search he settled on ordering an “Electronic-Pilates” strength-building program that advertised immediate results and would electronically fire his muscles in sequential order through out the day. He paid extra for overnight delivery He began using the rigorous exercise program immediately after unwrapping it from the box. Over the next several days the strength of the electrical currents that came from a fairly large battery pack strapped to his core muscles caused him to loose all of his body hair. But Morton was ready to sacrifice mere physical beauty for his new passion for crossing the Channel. His core conditioning provided immediate results, as the on-line embedded video showed. Carla, his virtual Canadian girl friend, was very impressed when she ran her virtual-reality glove over his now completely hairless 6-pack studded frame he had developed during the initial part of his training.
Morton next enrolled in a demanding mental-imaging training program, designed exclusively for the marathon long-distance swimmer. Using a wearable computer he was fed images through an eyepiece of swimmers with perfect strokes swimming in endless pools photographed from various angles. Wagnerian operas were fed into earphones and as a result of the combination of stimuli he grew so excited while driving that he was given several traffic tickets for speeding as he drove around town training for his swim. Privately he admitted to himself the he felt the fact he was given speeding tickets while training augured well for his upcoming English Channel crossing.
The fast-suit Morton purchased for his swim had revolutionized long distance swimming. The latest edition called the Mark XXVIII was a triple layered honeycomb suit heavily encrusted with limestone and then surface bonded with hydrogen and then impregnated with Titanium alloy. Ever since the discovery of how to triple layer a suit and then fill the spaces with hydrogen hundreds of people now flocked to the English coast during the season to swim the Channel. The numbers were so large they had to separate them into 5-year age-group divisions. Morton had entered in the 30-35 year old 50% wet division. To be part of this division Morton had to pay extra for small microchips to be embedded into the fabric of his suit. He would be monitored throughout his swim and if at any time more than 50% of his body surface was in touch with the water his boat pilot would be Twittered a disqualification message and his swim terminated. The 50% wet division was about the limit for novice type swimmers. There were divisions above this, but the standards grew quite rigorous. It was only last year that a pygmy swimmer from the Sudan sponsored by a tire company entered into the elite 000% division and for the first time in history made it across the Channel without coming in contact with any water. However at this elite level the standards are almost impossibly high and he was disqualified when broke down and wept as he was writing his name on an erasable slate at the White Horse tavern to commemorate his crossing. The bar-manager ruled that tears constituted salt water and Twittered a disqualification notice immediately. It was apparent to all who watched that the pygmy was deeply affected because his shoulders slumped visibly as he was led to the door making him appear much smaller than he already was.
Morton now suitably arrayed against the elements stands on Shakespeare’s Beach, ready to test himself against the forbidding English Channel. His pre-swim mental imaging routine complete, the sounds of a Wagnerian opera fading in his ears, he lowers his new photo-chromatic race goggles into place and delicately lips the Gu-straw embedded into his helmet and feels the caffeine sports gel flood into his body from the backpack imbedded in his fast-suit. Suddenly the voice of the pilot came out of the loudspeaker on his escort boat.
“Ah…Morton…Yes…it seems we’re having a bit of a problem here… it seems we are unable to get the GPS link to operate correctly…we may have to go without it.”
Morton looked behind him at the line of other English Channel aspirants beginning to line up on the beach. He realized the caffeine from the sports gel had probably might cause him to seem slightly irritable to the ever, polite, British boat pilot.
“What are you suggesting?” He called out in the friendliest voice he could muster.
Just as he got the words out of his mouth the yellow beacon on top of his escort vessel came on.
“Wait just a minute Morton…I think we have it….Just there….” And the beacon stopped again.
Morton’s mother stuck her head out of the boat cabin heavily bundled in a sweatshirt with the words Wichita Yacht Club emblazoned on the front.
“Morty, they’ve lost the thingamajig, he’s saying we may not be able to go!”
Morton thought for a moment before replying and knew what he was about to say would not come out right.
“But Mom I paid for the crossing with a GPS plot, Carla won’t be able to get my position web-plots. How will she know I crossed the Channel?”
The pilot came back on the boat’s loudspeaker: ”Morton, it’s true we seem unable to get a good GPS link…what we would like to suggest is that we use a stop-watch.”
Morton thought for a moment, after reflecting he remembered an Olympic athlete named Jesse Owens had been timed with something like that at the Berlin Olympics, Hitler had watched as Jesse destroyed his dream of Aryan domination and supremacy.
“A stop-watch” the boat’s captain repeated and held up a shiny silver object out of the boat cabin’s window.
Morton stared balefully at it trying to suppress his emotions, but it was no use and he sputtered back
“You idiot! how can my stroke rate, my time decrements for feedings, my interval pacing and my wetted area per stroke be calculated without GPS and you using something the size of a stinking door knob?”
“Morton,” the boat’s captain coaxed, “I fully realize this is not what you expected, but your mother could keep a log of your swim with a pencil on a tablet we have here in the boat and you could have that as a souvenir to prove you got across.”…
“How would that be?” Morton’s mom stuck her arm outside the boat’s cabin clutching the tablet and pencil in her meaty hand and waved it at her son on the beach.
“A fucking pencil!” Morton shuddered as he realized his pre-programmed Twitter-posts scheduled to be sent at his feedings, several of them with witty comments he had written himself, would now be completely lost.
“Morton,” the gentle British voice again floated across the water from his escort boat “In any case we’ve got to get going because we have the 25-30 year olds to get across and they are a very impatient crowd?”….
”Morton, please!” His mother chimed in "your father wanted to be here to see you swim, but after his heart attack all we have left is his ashes.”
Her large arm swung into view outside of the boats window clutching a sack of her dead husband’s ashes in her hand. Morton lowered his head his photo-chromatic lenses darkened briefly shielding his emotions from those on the boat. After this entire swim was as much for his mom as it was for him. She really seemed to now have her heart set on scattering his dad’s ashes in the middle of the Atlantic. It was after all a tribute to his father, who had never learned how to swim, hated the water, but he and his mom knew would be proud of what he was doing.
“Morton, I’m going to call the swim in and then blow the horn then you be a good chap and jump in and start to swim….hurry the 25-30 year olds are coming”
“OK” Morton called back reluctantly and slowly without much enthusiasm walked down the beach and stuck his toe in the water.
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