A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


A friend of mine swears this story is true. It was told to him by the brother of a friend of a friend, whose uncle claims to have actually participated in the event.

I have my doubts. Still, Iím an equal opportunity columnist, so Iíll let you decide for yourself if itís believable. But remember Ė Iím not vouching for any of this.

According to my friend (and the aforementioned uncle many times removed), a man in Southern California retired from a long career as a civil servant. All his life he had dreamed of owning a boat, and so the first major purchase from his 401-K was a brand new 22-foot Bayliner. The boat was a thing of beauty, an inboard-outboard done mostly in navy blue (to match his navy blue SUV), with white trim and shiny chrome fittings. He christened it the "Lifetime Obsession" (and hereís a little tidbit to tuck away for future reference: "obsession" occurs in more boat names than any other English word; thereís probably a lesson in that somewhere, but Iím not smart enough to figure it out).

Unfortunately, the man had very little boating experience. So instead of taking the "Lifetime Obsession" out on the ocean for its maiden voyage, he and his wife thought it wise to haul it up to Lake Isabella, in the high California desert. He figured that would be a nice, safe place for a shake-down cruise, to tighten her jibs, to see how her mainsail sets and all that other nautical-type stuff, whatever the heck it means.

So they put the boat in the water and shoved off. The "Lifetime Obsession" performed, but sluggishly. Turns were slow and looping, not crisp like the man had seen in the Bayliner videos. The powerful engine roared as the man tried to accelerate, but the boat just dug into the water and didnít move fast enough to muss his wifeís hair.

"I know boats arenít as responsive as automobiles," he said, "but I was sure it would move quicker than this. I donít think we could even get a water skier up at this rate."

For two hours the couple cruised around Lake Isabella, hoping to discover the secret of the spirited boating experience they were yearning to have. Finally the man decided there had to be something wrong with the propeller or the rudder or something like that. So he motored into the marina to see if someone there could help him figure it out.

The chief mechanic at the marina checked out everything topside, and found it to be . . . well, ship-shape. So he asked his assistant to dive into the water and take a look at the equipment starboard . . . er, aft . . . er, port . . . er, you know . . . underneath.

The tall, tanned young man took a deep breath and dove in. He emerged just a few seconds later, coughing and spewing and sputtering water. At first the couple was concerned. What had the young man seen that had upset him so? But then it became clear that the young man was laughing so hard that he started taking on water. As soon as he could speak, he gathered his composure and looked at the boatís owner.

"Sir," he said, trying hard not to laugh, "you need to take the boat off of the trailer."

Weíve all been there, havenít we? Weíre cruising along, feeling pretty good about ourselves, when all of a sudden something comes along to remind us that we still have a lot to learn. Maybe itís a new technology that changes the way we work. Maybe itís a family crisis that we have no idea how to conquer. Or maybe itís a personal health issue that is going to require a complete lifestyle change. Whatever it is, thereís only one thing to do: learn. No matter how frustrating or embarrassing or personally challenging it may be, we have to learn. Hopefully we can learn the easy way. But even if we have to learn the hard way, we have no choice but to learn. For a lifetime.

Obsessively or otherwise.

# # #

--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through