Dock Tales - Once Again into the Briny Deep

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The Dock

Springtime around here involves a number of rituals. There is the Baring Of Pasty White Skin I documented a while back. There is the Chipping Of Horrible Stuff From The Barbecue. There is the First Harley Past The Bedroom Window At 3:00 AM. And there is the always exciting recitation ofWhere Do You Suppose I Left The Damned Lawn Mower, a favorite in our family for generations.

But by far the most harrowing rite we perform each year, an event we schedule as soon as we spot the first exposed belly button in the IGA parking lot, is the sacred Putting The Dock In The Lake.

Now for some people who put docks in lakes, this process is relatively straightforward - they go get the dock from where they put it last fall, and then they put it in the lake.

Can you imagine?

These people have docks that were designed and built by engineers – people who have some idea how docks should be built. All the parts match and they fit together as the designers intended, yielding years of easy installation and dock-walking comfort.

For me, the process is a little more complicated. In the first place, about half of my dock came with my house when I bought it. It was at least twenty-five years old, and had apparently been built and maintained by a troll.

The dock, not the house. The house was built by drunks.

After a year or two, my friend Tom, my son and I got the hang of tossing that baby out in the lake. (Again, the dock, not the house. Or, for that matter, the baby. What’s wrong with you?) We knew what piece went where. We knew which poles had the bolts corroded into little lumps of slag, so that the only way to adjust the height was to prop beer cans under the feet. We knew which sections were perfectly good if you just walked on them very, very gently.

Life was simpler then.

Unfortunately, that original dock did not get us far enough out into the lake, so we spent the next twelve years scavenging from friends who were buying those nice new docks. They were happy to have us come over and haul away all the parts of their old dock that were too crappy to burn.

So now the dock goes far enough out into the lake to suit us, but it looks like it was assembled by a committee of trolls. Drunk ones.

We have at least four different widths of dock with four different styles of supports, and none of these components even remotely work together. This means that every thirty feet or so we’ve had to design a “transition,” a connection between otherwise incompatible sections, carefully engineered by whacking on various parts with a hammer until they sort of fit together.

This process is very time consuming. It requires a lot of standing around in waders and staring at piles of stuff we vaguely recall from last year when we dragged the whole mess out of the lake, gesturing with beer cans that are on their way to becoming height-adjusters. This is followed by a great deal of whacking with hammers.

This year my neighbor, no longer able to participate in the annual dock gala, sat in his picture window and watched our most recent effort. In fact, I think he may have popped some corn and had a few friends over.

As we were finishing up and toasting our collective genius at the end of two days of work, my neighbor joined us, wiping good-natured tears of laughter from his eyes.

“You know,” he said, “a couple of years ago you wrote in your column that you were going to label all your dock parts and take pictures of how they went together. Why don’t you do that? It sure would save you a lot of time next year.”

Now you would think we would follow his sage advice, wouldn’t you? You would be wrong.

Copyright © 2007, Michael Ball

Mike Ball is the Erma Bombeck Award-winning author of "What I've Learned... So Far," the book What I've Learned... So Far Part I: Bikes, Docks & Slush Nuggets. This column is an excerpt from the upcoming book What I've Learned... So Far Part II: Angels Chimps & Tater Mitts. Book I is now available in all eBook formats on Smashwords. Book II is not far behind.