Monday, March 21, 2011

A Million Ducks

“Uh Oh! What could this one be about?” I imagine you thinking. What kind of visual does the phrase ‘a million ducks’ conjure up for you?

I think of the training center my erstwhile employer would send me to. It is a lovely facility with athletic concerns, a swimming pool, a lounge for socializing, a great dining hall that offers Steak Night every Wednesday… and a duck pond, right out front. As you walk the path around the duck pond there are dispensers from which, for a quarter, you can obtain a handful of food and feed the ever hungry ducks. Anyone who approaches the food dispensers is treated to the sight of a swarm of ducks, furiously paddling and quacking, trying to be the first in line to get the food.

Walking that path, you would swear there were a million ducks, and they all left their mark in such a way that you would have to step carefully to avoid duck droppings. Cleaning that path every so often would have been a good idea.

More prevalently I think of my friend Paul, a fellow with a sense of humor similar to Mel Brooks’, who, in his wackiness could turn such terror-inducing visuals as ‘snake and mice screams’ into a birthday gala event – ‘cake and ice cream’. In part, this post is a tribute to Paul, whose wacky sense of humor and staggering intelligence make him such a memorable character.

The most elaborate gag Paul ever played on me was attaching a dongle to my computer at work and remotely operating the mouse. I watched the cursor sail all over the screen and exclaimed out loud that my computer must somehow have contracted a virus, or have been hijacked. Meanwhile he, sitting across the room, never cracked a smile or chuckled at my increasing panic. Straight-faced, he watched as I summoned all who were in the office at the time to witness my flying cursor. Of course, when someone did get up to look at my screen he quit moving the mouse, and my coworkers accused me of going crazy. They were all in on the joke, of course.

Paul kept the charade up for twenty minutes before detaching the dongle and allowing himself a great belly laugh… a laugh he later regretted, because I got him back for his prank. I forged a job reassignment, sending him to the overnight shift. I bought a huge cake that said ‘So Long, Paul’ and some ice cream, and I got the Big Boss involved, who presented him with his new duty assignment. The whole crew was there to witness poor Paul, crestfallen, trying to think of how he was going to break the news to his family. Only when I gave him the accompanying card that had just one word: “Gotcha!” written in it did he get that he was being pranked. We all enjoyed a great laugh and good, sweet snake and mice screams.

Change of subject, now.

When I wake up morning, I take a few moments to inventory. How do I feel? What kind of day will this be? Do any of you do this? I have the luxury of doing this every day. It helps me focus on positive feelings and energy, especially since I’ve been feeling so sick and run down for so long.

But today I woke up, took inventory and found that I felt like… a million ducks! A million ducks, all organized and paddling in a row, as one great organism, toward a single goal. All flying in formation toward some great, preordained migratory destination. No conflict and no fighting, no barriers and no bad feelings. For the first time in a long time, I woke up feeling really great! No depression, no problems breathing, no racing heart, no bloated stomach, no muscle cramps, no creaky tendons. Every system go, everything wonderful: I felt like a million bucks!

Except in my head, it became a million ducks. And, in conjuring up a million ducks I thought of my friend Paul, who would use such a wacky phrase.

And that is another novelty. I have been living in survival mode since being here: where will I shop? What will I eat? Who will I talk with (before I go insane from lack of human contact)? What will I do? How will I manage… whatever issue was at hand: money, food, communication, transportation, teaching, ect. The fact that I now have the luxury of thinking beyond myself and my immediate circumstances is definitely a step in the right direction. It means that my affairs here are under control, and I can reach beyond right now and think of others. It is my distinct pleasure, and a huge relief to do so. Today, because of all those ducks, I think of my goofy, sagacious, helpful, generous friend Paul. Oh, the good times we had! Oh, the precious memories!

He recently celebrated his birthday. Happy belated birthday, Paul! I hope you enjoyed snake and mice screams, and I wish you a million ducks.

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