By Tommy Clarkson from the May 2010 Edition
(The following is a slightly embellished and bit fictionalized account of an almost real event!)
It may be a brother-in-law, next door neighbor or that particularly irritating high school, bellicose bully who has badly gone to seed.You know the kind – those guys (and occasionally women) who, no matter what you say, are the “I can top that” sort!
Yesterday while flying home, trapped at an altitude of 39,000 feet, one sat next to me. Our (dare I call it such) conversation went somewhat as follows: Knowing we would share common space for several hours I introduced myself and initiated casual communication with a light anecdote of how, just that morning prior to leaving for the airport, while playing with a friend’s puppy, it had nipped me.
That was my first mistake. His immediate, several decibels louder than necessary, response was that this was nothing. He, in fact – while helping Siegfried and Roy perfect their act a few years ago – had found himself alone in the large stage cage with four 800 pound Bengal Tigers that had tried to maul him. But, inasmuch as he understood and “spoke” Punjabi
Tiger he had communicated with them, established rapport, playfully wrestled with them for a while and then had calmly walked from the enclosure with them in a state o quiet, docile submission.
Mouth agape, pausing to ponder the sight, I changed topics recounting how much I’d enjoyed barbequed hamburgers, the evening before, with the friends I’d been visiting.
He countered that he found traditional beef too bland and pedestrian, asserting that his favorite red meat dish was three month aged, Himalayan Yak flank filets – smoked over embers of slow burning fresh Gumbo-Limbo wood chips, of the Central and South American Burseraceae family and is related to frankincense and myrrh, spiced with (what those of lesser palates prefer on white meats) a sauce of Lemon Myrtle and Pepperberry.
A bit overwhelmed, I next commented how, the day before yesterday, I had shot what, for me, was a respectable round of golf.
He responded that, following a 72 hole round in which he had shot six holes in one, he’d found the PGA no longer challenging and only dabbled in the sport when Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els ask for his personal counsel and advice – which he assured me they did weekly.
Feeling a bit deflated, I next offered that I planned to soon commence taking tennis lessons. He tersely responded that such sport was “too tame and unchallenging” and preferred sky boarding from 27,000 feet clad only in a velour codpiece so as to fully stimulate and oxygenate his body’s flesh.
Nearly choking on the mental image of his substantial – near 300 pounds – girth so attired, I hastened on to what I thought might be an area of common interest, mentioning how my wife Patty and I had last month found a wonderful week- end “retreat”.
In the vein of finding things, his response was how, only recently, he had discovered a new galaxy while perusing deep space from the Mauna Kea Observatory; while coaching Fabien Cousteau he had discovered four, heretofore, unknown species of fish living at an ocean depth of 5,000 feet in the Mariana Trench and found satisfaction in tutoring a previously unknown tribe of primitive pygmies in the bowels of the Brazilian Rain Forest on utilitarian uses of the internet.
At this point, desperate to find a topic of discussion on which we might have a modicum of parity, I grasped at the fact that, as a youth, I had enjoyed flying kites.
He curtly replied that he tended to “play” at a bit higher elevation inasmuch as he had trained, taught and tutored the entirety of the multi-nation crews for the last eight space shuttles and was the primary consultant for NASA’s planning of a Mars mission.
Numb by this time, I stumbled on to how I had enjoyed playing basketball as a kid. Scoffing, he told me that he regularly counseled the University of North Carolina’s coach, Roy Williams, sat behind the LA Lakers team bench at all home games, and how his great grandfather had actually been the one to tell Dr. James Naismith how to affix fruit baskets to the wall, hence creating the sport in the first place.
Stammering, I then shared how my wife an I were looking for and hoped to soon acquire a Labrador Retriever pup.
He rejoined that he had mastered effective two-way communication with a pet lowland gorilla that shared its housing with a exceptional and uncommon, white Asian elephant and a Siberian Musk Ox. And then, as an afterthought, he added how much that his Costa Rican Sloth and Dingo from Thailand enjoyed riding the back of his Cyprus Dwarf hippopotamus. . . . and then the jet, in which I sat trapped, pulled away from the terminal, began to taxi, heading for take off……..
Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation - Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.
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