Black Fly Scullers
1382 Fellows Road
Danville, Vermont 05828
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A FUNNY THING HAPPENED
(On the way to Fly 4)

I often find myself in a somnambulant state of bliss as I drive to the river for my morning row. Today, though, I had a regatta to direct. Thirty-one scullers would soon be looking to me for guidance, advice and encouragement. I better think of something, soon. What was it Edison said? Oh yeah...invention is 99% procrastination and 1% improvisation. Okay, find a pen and paper and jot down a few notes. Let's see...where's that pen? I know it's somewhere under those power bar wrappers and half-empty Gatorade bottles...

"You figure she's out on the road again?" Chet scratched his head as he looked up from the trampled fence.

"Yep. She loves that ditchweed." Reg shook his head. "You patch the line. I'll go find her."

Beverly, the prize Holstein of Winot County, had done it again. She'd run through more electric fence line than all the moose in Winot County. She preferred culverts over pasture and everyone knew it. Bev the bovine, or Bevine, as she was billed at County Fairs, was Winot County's biggest star. It wasn't just the amount of milk she happily gave every morning and evening, it was the protein and fat content; the highest in the nation. "We don't milk her, we cream her", Reg would joke. Some, well everyone, said Reg loved Bev more than anything, or anyone, wife, kids, Faith Hill and his John Deere combine included. Hard to argue, she had big soft brown eyes and, I swear, the longest eyelashes...

As I looked up from finding my pen it was those very same big soft brown eyes and eyelashes I saw peering directly at me. Serenely munching a bouquet of ditchweed, larkspur and Black-Eyed Susans as she casually twitched her tail right in the middle of the road. Only one thing to do: hard right.

"Ah 'pologize 'bout Bev, Tom," Reg called over his shoulder as he closed her in the trailer. Chet drove off to put her back in the pasture. Reg and I stared at my car, straddling the culvert, listing to starboard. "Sure am sorry 'bout your rig, too," he added.

"I'm just glad Bev's okay, Reg." It occurred to me that Reg and I never had a long conversation. A lot of nods, waves and 'reckon this and 'reckon that. But I watched and listened as he and Chet loaded Bev into her trailer. And I do mean "her" trailer. Had her name on it and everything. He spoke deliberately, a low, smooth baritone. Positively bovine. Little wonder.

"'Reckon you might tug my rig out of the culvert?"

"'Ah s'pose we could. Ah'll have Chet bring the tractor." Despite my constraint, there was no sense expressing urgency. Dairy farms is dairy farms and shit happens every day in a dairy farm. So my own personal mishap was just another day on the farm for Reg and Chet. Just like yesterday and tomorrow. No sense rushing around. Cows always got milked twice every day, except for Bev, who got creamed. Everything else got done when it got done. Like my car. So we waited for Chet.

Three men, a John Deere tractor, a set of chains that could moor the Queen Mary II and a car in a culvert. Add some orange and black instead of our Dickies and Coolmax and we'd pass for Department of Transportation workers.

"'Dunno Reg. I reckon we should drag it up to the back road. It'll fall into the culvert otherwise."

"'Reckon so."

Sigh. "Look, guys, ah, I have to get to my regatta," I tried to explain.

"You gotta what?" asked Reg.

"No, that's regatta..." I tried to explain.

"I think he's sayin' he's gonna be sick," offered Chet.

"No that's regurgitate." Strike three.

"Right, here" Reg extended a roll of antacids. Chet nodded.

"Thanks," I surrendered, popping an antacid in my mouth. After a moment, "You reckon I could get a lift to the river?" I altered my course. "I'm supposed to meet my friends there in half an hour. We can play with the car later."

"'Reckon we could," Reg hitched up his pants. "Ah'll run up to the house and switch rigs. Now I swore he said "run" but quickly learned he meant drive the tractor while Chet and I rode the sideboards.

Company of any type, salesmen, meter readers, large animal vets and stranded strangers, breaks the searing monotony of life on the dairy farm. Have you ever wondered why it seems aliens are always landing in cornfields? Dairy-farm families welcome them with open arms. And muffins.

"Can't thank you enough, Mrs. Campbell," I muffled through my third blueberry muffin. And coffee. And cream. And bacon.

"You're welcome, Ryan" she said. "Always nice to meet the neighbors. You're one of those rowers, aren't you?

"Yes, ma'am, I'm one of those," I confessed, accepting the quasi-cultish implication of the pronoun "those".

"We're very grateful Chet and Reg let us dock our shells on their property."

"They're good boys. And you seem harmless enough. Another muffin?"

"One for the road I suppose." I heard Reg's F-250 diesel in the dooryard. "I'd love to visit longer, but I'm supposed to meet my friends at the river in 5 minutes."

"Well, run along then. We'll have supper when you pick up your car. Thanks for missing Bev, dear."

"You're welcome, Mrs. Campbell."

Reg and I rode in silence to the river. By "silence" I mean we didn't speak much. The clang of the diesel engine, and the clatter of chains, chainsaws, shovels, transmission fluid and shotgun shells in the back of the truck rhapsodized us. By "us"; I mean Reg, me and Dale, their Brittany Spaniel. High strung reached new levels with Dale. Probably from having to chase Bev down every other day. The aroma of bug dope and sunscreen commingling with the scent of bag balm must have triggered a pheremonal response in 'ol Dale. He just couldn't get enough of me.

"A left here Reg," I pointed to the cars with rowing shells on top.

"Good sized crowd," offered Reg. "They all here for the fishin' derby?" he mused.

"I shook my head. They're all here for my regatta." I realized my mistake too late. "I'm all out of antacids, Ryan," Reg explored the glove box.

I moved on. "They're going to race their boats on the river."

"Those things," Reg pointed. "Must be as long as a milk tanker and no wider than a zucchini. How much does one of those things weigh?"

Avoiding any word that would trigger another antacids search I explained what was planned.

"Ah ain't gotta be back at the farm for a spell. Reckon Dale and I could watch?"

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"Cain't say I ever saw so many boats in one place without a single fishin' rod," Reg said as his mom set a bowl of mashed potatoes on the table.

"Yup." Reg and I nodded. "Twenty-seven boats all lined up like cows in the milking parlor. Well, not quite. That sure was one crooked starting line, Ryan." Reg critiqued.

"We're a little lax on the rules," I confessed. "I figure it's a long race and the folks at the finish line kind of make things up anyway so why get everyone uptight with being even, you know? It all evens out."

"Reckon so," Reg scratched his ear. "They certainly seemed to be an agreeable bunch. No one seemed too upset when the shotgun went off."

Chet raised an eyebrow. "Shotgun?"

"Doubles as a crowd-control device," I smiled.

"Well, they all flew off like a flock of partridge," Reg continued. "Remember when we were up in Haven Notch last May?"

Chet nodded, "Yeah, Everett was foolin' with his muzzle loader."

"Now that's what you need, Ryan," Reg pointed his fork. "Everyone'd hear that."

I made a mental note.

"Anyway, Reg continued through some fine roast chicken, their oars is 10 feet long and they looked like a bunch of geese trying to take off. Just no honking. It was quite a sight."

In my mind I replayed the start. A low steamy haze persisted over the river. Sun reflected off the sixty whirlpools formed by the oarblades, and the wakes of twenty-seven shells. All was light, waves and water cast against the hazy silhouette of the high banks of the river. Motion and silence.

"More peas, Ryan?" offered Mrs. Campbell, breaking my reverie. Aliens would do well to land here, I concluded.

Over coffee Reg described the post-race confusion. "It looked like floral hall at the county fair. Tomato plants, stargazer lilies, eggs, Maple Crunch, honey and bag balm. They even had a pie-eating contest. I thought you guys got medals?"

"Well, in a normal regat...I mean, race, you hand out medals..." I began.

"But your race ain't normal," chuckled Chet.

"I prefer to think of it as unique."

"Lawyer talk!" Reg and Chet chimed.

"Well those t-shirts are ewe-nique!" Reg drawled. I looked down at the latest misadventure of the Black Fly, her VW Beetle broken down at the base of Mt. Rushmore (or less), seeing the visage of Teddy Roosevelt supplanted by their own, much to the chagrin of the father of our country who could only sigh, "Morde Me!" as Jefferson cast a worried sidelong glance and Honest Abe arched a disapproving eyebrow.

"Wait 'till next year" I teased.

"What about that fella who won?" asked Reg. "If ah'm right he rowed faster than boats with two people in it!"

"That would be Russ Cone" I said.

"Reckon he's a xenophobe?" Reg asked.

"Xylophone?" Chet leaned forward.

"Not xylophone, xenophobe," Reg answered. "Someone who's afraid of strangers."

"Where'd ya get all them fancy words, Reg?" Chet scratched his forehead.

"Books on tape." Reg smiled.

"I reckon he rowed so fast just to get away from all you clowns," Mrs. Campbell smiled with a fresh-baked strawberry rhubarb pie.

"How 'bout that Igor fella," Reg chirped.

"That's his nickname. He's as far from Igor as you can get. But he's the only one who has rowed the regat..., I mean, race, every year since it began."

"I'm still confused about all those 'swarms' you kept carryin' on about." Reg passed me a piece of pie.

"Well, I try to create as many age categories as possible so everyone can get a prize. The youngest are larvae and then we have pupae. Then each successive age category is a swarm beginning with A and going up.

"Kind of like calves and heifers," observed Chet.

Nods around. Sure was good pie.

"My favorite part was the poetry," Reg broke the silence.

"Reg, I think you have been spending too much time in the manure pit," Chet glared.

"No, I'm serious. That was a helluva funny limerick that lady wrote. How'd it go?"

"There was a great oarsman of lore
Who suggested I pull on his oar.
It thrilled me completely,
I pulled it so sweetly
And came back each morning for more."

Chet laughed. "You had me worried that it was some kind of Shakespeare or somethin'."

"Well, we do get some very thoughtful entries," I confessed, but we select the finalists after a half dozen bottles of wine so our collective taste runs to the bawdy, but publishable."

"I like it," Chet finished his pie.

"Well, let's see 'bout getting your car, Ryan."

"Okay," I stood up. "Mrs. Campbell thank you for a wonderful meal."

"My pleasure, Ryan. We enjoy watching you and your rowing friends. And thanks again for missing Bev." She handed me a plate wrapped in foil.

EPILOGUE

Counting the regatta proceeds in the bingo hall at the Winot County Fair, the Black Fly declared Fly IV an unparalleled success. "Not much time to rest on our laurels," he mused. "Every year a record turnout but still barely enough money to buy sculling trou." he smiled over at his sweetheart, Kitty Corrigan, in her Tony Llama boots, leather chaps and cowgirl hat. She winked. "Got some backstage passes to the Shania Twain concert then it's off to the rodeo!"

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