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Scott Parson, dabbler in typestries and fabulations

Norsk for a Day

As my wife an I were getting to know each other in the early days of our relationship, I explained my lack of enthusiasm for large gatherings of people. I wanted my wife to understand that I was not and could never be as gregarious as she. I didn't make friends easily. In fact, for the years before I knew her, it was a trait that I deliberately cultivated. The punchline was, of course, that I was such a loner she'd have to pay six random guys to be my pall bearers, because there was no chance I could scare up a half-dozen friends to carry me out of the church. I thought it was a clever way to encapsulate my fierce isolation.

This attitude of mine came back to me when my wife let us know that the replica Viking ship Draken was touring the east coast on behalf of Norway this past summer and had moored in the North Cove Marina in Battery Park City off the Hudson River. That was something I just couldn't miss. We made plans to spend a Saturday visiting the vessel during their open house.

Viking Ship

Viking ShipViking Ship

The sea and sea travel had always attracted me. While my aunt watched my sister and me after school, she'd leave the television on, listening to her soaps in the early afternoons, and then random re-runs after that. For me it was the television series Adventures in Paradise. Oh, how I wanted to own a schooner like the Tiki, captained by the character named Adam Troy.

My Dad had similar nautical leanings and often read boating magazines, planning for the day when he'd have the boat of his dreams. The few times we talked life ambitions, we spoke of economical ways to have a life afloat. One way was to hire on to those kinds of schooners that catered to Caribbean tourists. Or save up enough money to put a down payment on a boat, gather a few close friends, sail it for a few months and then sell it off. My Dad perfectly understood my impulses toward vagabondage and my lack of cash.

Reading Moby Dick, Mutiny on the Bounty, High Wind in Jamaica, watching Sea Hunt, I spent a lot of time dreaming of a life on the water. And under the water.

The very first time I made my mother read a piece of fiction I'd written was a handwritten tale about a jolly band of outlaws with a submarine, their own island paradise, and a cavalier attitude about individual property rights.

So here I was on the dock next to the Draken, a replica of a Viking long ship, ready to step aboard a childhood dream. In my closet, I have a model long ship I hope to assemble one day.

We were welcomed aboard, and the Norwegians gave us an impromptu and clearly unrehearsed tour. It was fascinating. I counted the shields lashed to the gunwales and thought how much fun it would be to have sixty friends with me at the oars, roaming up and down the eastern seaboard.

Okay, maybe not sixty. Maybe thirty? Standing at the stern of the vessel, imagining myself wrapped in a bearskin boat cloak and wearing a steel helmet, I did some more math.

The grand total for the headcount I finally came up with forced me to put aside even the fantasy of owning and crewing an authentic reproduction Viking ship with thirty friends happy to work for a case of mead and all the fresh air they could inhale. It was a depressing perspective. My son could, conceivably, call on a national network of frat brothers from college.

Draken deck

My daughter could call on her internet-based posse of game-crazy colleagues. My wife is simply the best connected person I know. But for me the only Viking ship I could possibly fit out would be about eight feet long. The shortest long ship ever to ply the fjords of Norway.

Viking Ship

Which had me staring out over the waters of the North Cove Marina, wondering about my misspent youth, my selfish twenties, my distracted thirties, my restless middle-age, and the fact that I'd never taken time to fit in with others, or take the time to build the bonds we need in friendship beyond family and spouses. Jesus says there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. That assumes a lot about friendship. I'm guessing it wouldn't be a problem for him to get sixty guys to crew his long ship.

Which brings me back to my wife and her incredibly long memory.

A few years back, I'd begun to come out of my well-crafted shell--at work, at our kids' school, at church. I was tolerable in a crowd, and spending time more and more with guys like myself as we worked shoulder to shoulder and socialized in those days.

I recall we'd been at some church function, and I'd spent the whole time actually talking to one of the guys there. A lot like me. Not keen on mingling and not too bothered about it. But we found common ground, so passed a tolerable evening together. On the subway ride home, my wife asked me if I'd had a good time with the guy. I said yes, actually. Yes, I did. It must have been something in the way I said it because she shouted out, "That's six!"

Six what, I asked.

Six pall bearers for you.

It's a relief to know she's on top of that. But I'm still twenty-four short of a crew for my Viking ship.

Text (c) Scott Parson

Images: Scott Parson