Whale, Whale, Boom, Boom, Boom!

{Mandatory preamble: As with all of my blog posts, the views espoused herein are mine alone and should be construed as neither shared nor endorsed by any organization with which I have an affiliation.}

{Trigger warning: ableism; normalism; sexually explicit content; speciesism; socioeconomic privilege; violence; white privilege}

Well friends, it’s been a hot minute, and my apologies for the radio silence but the U12 hockey season is long and if there’s one thing the league does not give a single flying fuck about it’s the sanity of hockey moms running a side gig like practising medicine, for example. But now that playoffs are over and spring league is wrapping up, this pathetic Canadian hoser has regained – at least temporarily – some semblance of a life. These precious unstructured weeks in the existence of a hockey mom affords me time to do things like think and breathe and replenish the adipose stores that were CoolSculpted off my fingers by 10 straight months of Arctic arena air. Now is the time for me to consider things that were otherwise in the realm of the ridiculous, like sandals and a haircut and catching up on the news. As I scroll through the horror reel of current events, I am naturally inspired by those who are taking a stand against one thing or another, such as poor wages, substandard housing, depraved oppressions, price gouging and the panoply of ways we’ve invented to maltreat one another. And finally it has happened!! The whales are absolutely, categorically done with us homo sapiens and our bullshit, and are quite benevolently only directing their pent-up anger at our marine conveyances. So far. They’re putting us on notice and let’s face it instead of ripping apart our boats, they could quite literally be ripping apart us so we all just need to take a knee here and express gratitude to cetacean nation for their mercy. Several years ago, my son, aged 4 at the time, channeled this cetacean frustration by inventing a poolside game called “Whale, Whale, Boom, Boom, Boom!” in which a clueless dope on the beach – graciously portrayed by my father – gets repeatedly rammed by a huge inflatable Orca, which sends the dope flailing into the deep end of a pool. They played this game for hours, day after day on vacation. Make no mistake, if the whales so elected, we could all be this clueless dope on the beach.

As it turns out, the whales appear to be organizing themselves into a caucus of sorts, which is all fine and cute until they recruit….. the baboons, at which point we’ll all be royally screwed. Listen up, whales! I’m on your side! I get it! The fisheries are an unmitigated disaster! Seaworld is the boorish drunk bigoted third-cousin-twice-removed long overstaying his welcome at the entertainment table! We’ve turned your impeccably appointed and colourful pad into a festering toxic latrine teeming with shit we don’t want. On behalf of the human species, allow me to apologize for the continued atrocities to which you are subjected, including oil slicks and ghost nets and bleached coral and truly diabolical inventions like the explosive harpoon, the Nisshin Maru, and the mankini.

Now, sometimes we get things right for our porpoise-y pals, like granting them freedoms and rights theoretically enjoyed by humans. This is the good news part of the usual story on rinse-and-repeat that has us guzzling resources and belching methane and trampling the first delicate shoots of spring and basically imploding our species. There is nothing more mesmerizing than watching a pod of dolphins just doing their oceanic thing, and now that I am reminiscing about seeing this wonder in person last year, I am reminded that the close of this season’s secondment to the ice rink marks a precious opportunity to absorb 100% of the labour planning the family road trip South. Step one of this endeavour is a SWOT analysis of last year’s trip. Okay, I’ve inhaled once and the S is taken care of. Moving onto W. Where do I begin?? I guess the jump seems logical. Destination one was Pittsburgh because of course the singleton offspring triangulated his way into a route aligned with major league sporting events. We rolled into town exactly 106 seconds in advance of the first pitch and my neurodivergent son was more or less apoplectic at the possibility of the cataclysmic offense that is tardiness. No worries, though, as I’d pre-planned to a T and we were staying at a hotel immediately adjacent to PNC Park on a *low floor* as per the exceptionally helpful website request feature. I flounced into reception as the guys were dumping out the trunk onto a luggage cart in the way that a bear might ransack a campsite.

Check-in went a little something like this:

“Hi, I’ve booked a room for the night, and here’s my photo ID and credit card” I announce to the desk clerk.

“Fabulous, Mrs. Boggild, we’ve got you in 1908 and here’s a list of hotel features and where to find breakfast.”

“Ummm, there seems to be a bit of a mistake as I requested a *low floor* when I booked the hotel? My 10-year-old son doesn’t take elevators, you see.”

“Oh, that is a low floor. A high floor would be something like the 52nd for example” said a clearly confabulating encephalopath.

“How about something on, say, the 5th floor instead?” I countered.

“Oh the 4th to 18th floors are all office spaces of an accounting firm. They don’t actually belong to the hotel.”

I willed my median nerve to comply and took the keys from his outstretched hand as I died a thousand deaths on the inside and broke the news to team luggage that the definition of low was demonstrably different from ours in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Cue the negotiations. Would he consider trying the elevator just this one time as a favour to Mommy and Daddy? He could get a slushie at PNC Park! He used to ride elevators all the time! What if we threw a sack over his head and held him really tight the whole way up? Hard no all around. Next, cue the boldfaced lies: Getting trapped in an elevator is super rare! After several rounds of if-then scenarios, attempted bribery, and Freudian psychoanalysis, we finally gave up at his declaration that “Everyone’s looking at me like I’m the asshole, here.” Another epic fail in the ol’ parenting notebook. Elevator phobia was henceforth duly respected, impending rhabdomyolysis and march hemoglobinuria notwithstanding.

If that 9-hour drive – for which I clearly should have propofoled myself – didn’t dissolve the marriage, then my legal spouse’s declaration that he would not be climbing the 38 flights of stairs with our son after a long day on the road certainly did. As I began the ascent, in heels and lugging my computer bag, I fantasized about how best to market myself in my future theoretical Tinder profile: “Snarky and irritable 47-year-old feminist exerciser seeks independently wealthy tradesman-turned-full-time-method-acting mime.” Or how about: “Middle-aged teetotaling bookworm confocal microscopist seeks neat-freak chore-loving vegan whom she can mostly ignore.” Or perhaps: “Amiable but acerbic smart-ish parasitologist who’s easy and unopinionated seeks green-thumb handyman with a lot of hobbies to occupy him and prevent him from pestering.” How much is one to embellish on Tinder, anyway?? As I trudged skyward, my magical thinking became less and less charitable. Let’s just agree that it was a long walk up and leave it at that, shall we?

Into the room we went and immediately noticeable were the lights from PNC Park blazing through our windows. Game was on. I tried – unsuccessfully – to stuff a sandwich down my son’s gullet like a foie gras goose as he frantically switched ball caps and agitated and escalated over the first inning that was clearly underway. Off they went with a cacophonous situational analysis and stream of recriminations emanating from my son’s voicebox and I was left with a couple of hours during which time I  Tetrised the coolers into a micro-fridge that would just have to be emptied again tomorrow and what was really the point of living right now anyway? Forgetting the eventuality that was re-ascent of those 38 flights of stairs upon their return because I was apparently the only adult on the scene with sufficient willpower for mountaineering at that stage of the game, I stupidly took to the gym to run on a treadmill. By midnight the Pirates had won, my son and I had scaled the stairs once again, and everyone was collapsed for the night. Day 1 was officially over.

Day 2 dawned, we departed the Himalayas, and the overland descent South continued. Courtesy of an absolutely typical massive Canadian telecommunications debacle that hamstrung the entire country, naving the old VW through the mountains of West Virginia by intuition was super fun cuz guess who sells paper maps these days? That’s correct. NOBODY! The previously offered slushie was recalled and requested approximately every 23-minutes of the second day’s 10-hour drive through blinding rain and flash flooding, leaving his father and I to marvel at how our own parents survived this exact same road trip in the 80s with double the number of children and precisely 100% fewer electronic devices. ‘Survived’ is kinda euphemistic given the legendary tales of bicycles cartwheeling across the interstate, jerry-rigged tent trailers with blown hydraulics being solitarily erected during hurricanes, nightly campground fumigation with some combination of DDT, potent rodenticides, agent orange, and other sundry mutagens aerating the familial lungs, and of course the timeless favourite of two very bad brothers grinding an entire tray of butter tarts into the upholstered roof of a standard issue Buick LeSabre…..Those 38 flights of stairs aren’t looking too shabby right about now, eh?

Mercifully, day 2 drew to a close and we arrived at dusk. That first breath of warm salt air was glorious. The pod of dolphins appeared offshore and I was spellbound. Within mere hours of setting a single toe on the beach the next day, and with ineffectual nagging, my son’s face had already adopted the scorched earth hue of people under the stairs having a little too much fun with baby oil in Cabo. Oh and he also lost his wallet containing 48 USD which is actually like 7 million Canadian. But I was in a happy place and ready to shrug off such annoyances, convinced that the wallet could be found and that the healing power of aloe vera was totally real. We had arrived and for the next week there was nothing but opportunity ahead! This of course brings me to O, which, in the case of our first agenda item, conveniently dovetails with T: the Serpentarium.

Have I mentioned before how deathly afraid of snakes my son’s father is?? No? Well, it’s true, and to give you a flavour of how afraid he is, imagine if you will him reaching for a bucket atop a woodpile and wondering to himself why that marine rope was coiled around the handle, only to grab said marine rope and have it turn to look him in the face with serpentine surprise and fiery rebuke. The decibels of the bloodcurdling scream released from his larynx convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had kneecapped himself with an axe, a hypothesis that was only rejected once I saw him blasting away from the woodpile in a manner befitting the elite former 800-m sprinter that he is, if the objective of the race of course were to also shatter the sound barrier. No surprise then, that in true Oedipal fashion, my son was dying to visit the serpentarium with his father. Remembering fondly the 76 flights of stairs I had ascended in heels a mere 48-hours earlier, I easily sided with my son on this one.

Off we went, pulling into a parking lot that was literally dripping with head-height Spanish moss that grazed one’s face and neck as one disembarked the vehicle. This did not bode well. In we proceeded to the dimly lit and intensely humid environs of hundreds of snakes. Big snakes, little snakes, venomous snakes, high snakes, low snakes, snakes coiled in trees, snakes splayed on rocks, albino snakes, colourful snakes. Literal. Snakes. Everywhere. Here and there were a few lizards and baby crocs and perhaps a newt or two, but mostly it was a snake show. I surreptitiously scanned the perimeter for the AED. Diaphoresis as a sign of impending cardiac arrest was of no use – it was hot as shit in there. Every man in sight was sweating buckets. My son’s joy was palpable, giddy at the prospect of a gift shop selling replica snakes at the end.

We wound through the exhibits, ending off at a terrarium containing an anaconda with a head the size of a dinner plate and a body as thick as a smokestack. Pretty sure it lunched on bison…. The exit gave way to the outdoor “enclosures”, which became mildly alarming as we proceeded by ponds of increasingly large gators and crocs. Not for nothing but I feel like those giant tails could just propel those 14-foot bodies right out of the water and over their rinky-dink barrier fence ….. Wait, was that police tape over there?? Ah yes, they must just keep it up year-round so as not to inconvenience the local emergency response teams and medical examiners when they are summoned for what I can only presume to be very frequent…..incidents…. The ponds of crocs gave way to ponds of… wait now…. what were those? Red-slider turtles!!! Dozens upon dozens just baking on rocks or floating in the shallows. Miraculous! We have a pet red-slider and let me tell you something about this turtle. Acquired in June of 1989, Duke has now outlived all co-pets including three Labrador retrievers, one ancient and petrifying Yorkshire terrier, three allegedly domestic (but probably sewer) rats, and two of the longest living felines about whom I’ve ever heard. I would love to pass the torch on this one. An ad hoc family conference a la “What about Bob?” was assembled right then and there: “Family conference! Family conference!”. All cognitive resources were to be directed towards hatching a plan to smuggle Duke into this magical turtle place where he could be amongst his peers and live under the protective gaze of truly gigantic crocodilians, a deterrent to raccoon and weasel attacks if ever there was one. The patriarch’s brain appeared offline for some reason, perhaps still skittish about the drapey moss or lethal predators or some such thing, but my son and I had a wonderfully lively conversation about all the steps we’d need to take to operationalize the redomiciling of our long-lived carapaced ectotherm, none of which we felt were tacitly illegal. I deemed the outing a success, and he got his 8-dollar rubber snake. Thereafter the vacation proceeded uneventfully; the wallet was never found.

So here we are a year later with Duke one year older and truthfully no closer to either figurative or literal turtle heaven. These little dudes live forever, even if you die from salmonellosis. The jubilant turtle-side planning now a faded memory; my duty to care for him clearly unbroken. The lessons learned from last year have guarded against any potential dependencies on elevators and cellular telephones and especially major league baseball, but of course all such lessons could have been learned by paying a little bit more attention to the rhythm of our actual life rather than that which is aspirational. This is perhaps the lesson in which the whales are trying to school us all now. They’ve put us on notice, yes, but in doing so they’re giving us a chance to make things right. Forget the striving ambition, the unaccountable ‘someday’ aspirations. Humble ourselves to their reality now. And then take that next small step that cumulatively and over time will help right the listing ship into which their lives have been turned by us. I hope I see the dolphins again. I hope they’ve joined the caucus. From this point forth, I know I will do my part. Join me, and don’t be that dope on the beach who gets boomed into the abyss.


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