Just what jet skis needed: more sound

Published in The Sault Star August 24, 2022

I’ve cemented my membership In the Grumpy Old Men of the Lake club.

The other day a jet ski zoomed by, leaving a huge wake of very loud music. As it sped out across our lake I could hear the lyrics even over the considerable roar of the engine.

Must be one powerful sound system to be audible over the noise of a personal watercraft, which the internet tells me exceeds the decibel level of a symphony orchestra.

But there was nothing classical about the music bouncing from shore to shore. As you might guess, it was rap. And one of the defining characteristics of rap is its use of swear words instead of quarter notes.

So I was moved to muse, on our lake’s Facebook page, that the advent of sound systems on jet skis makes it possible for everyone on the lake to hear the word “motherplucker” at the same time. (Like many people I am prone to typographic errors on social media.)

Within hours I received an apologetic message from a woman across the lake who said she would instruct her boys not to play their music while playing with their jet ski. 

Good on her. A generation ago I too tuned up my own kids when friends informed me they were performing seadoo shenanigans out of sight of my camp.

But I had intended my post more as wry comment than complaint. 

I might joke about using a potato gun to pick off jet skis as they whomp-whomp-whomp past my place, but I’m not among the sizeable cadre of even grumpier geezers who would ban them if they could.

Provided personal watercraft don’t intrude on my morning canoe paddle — and who can imagine a teenager awake at 7:30 — nor into the quieter months on summer’s shoulders, let them have their fun.

I owned one and understand its allure. And, though one would scarce believe it, there was such a thing as being a teenager back when I was a teenager.

Mind you, there was no rap. (Some things are best left uninvented.) I might have been blaring Hendrix or Dylan or the Stones, though that would have required one heck of a long extension cord to power my record player.

And I had to terrorize adults in a converted rowboat with a 9.9-horsepower red Mercury Kiekhaefer outboard that would leave all those 9.9 Johnsons and 9.9 Evinrudes and 9.9 Scotts in its rooster tail. Still crazy ‘bout a Mercury.

No, I don’t blame those kids. Put a sound system on any sort of vehicle and a teenager of any gender is genetically predisposed to turn the dial up to 11.

And how else are you going to hear your music on a jet ski?

I suppose in theory you might putt along at kayaking speed on your personal watercraft, listening to Celine Dion or light opera at sound levels that might allow you to continue to hear conversations should you live past 65. 

But why on earth would anyone putt along on a jet ski? On our lake even balding men, and women whose hair would be as grey as Lisa LaFlamme’s if they weren’t naturally blond, go bar down when they climb arthritically aboard their personal watercraft.

Unless you want your sanity questioned, you jet ski fast. And therefore loud. Hence, to hear music, it must also be loud. How loud? Loud enough to annoy people who aren’t on jet skis at that particular moment.

No, I blame the manufacturers of jet skis, specifically Sea-Doo and Kawasaki, which offer these annoying sound systems as a no-doubt-expensive option. Oh, and the makers of aftermarket sound systems for personal watercraft, who insist without any sort of logical proof that, “Let’s face it, the music shouldn’t stop when you get to the water.”

Au contraire. Even if you’re a teenager, the point of jet skiing isn’t to listen to music. It’s to jump waves and do donuts, wheelies, tail-stands, 180s and 360s.

Must that be done to a soundtrack? Only on a TV commercial, I’d say.

Perhaps those sound systems are intended to serve the same purpose as playing extremely loud Van Halen clips at junior hockey games: to annoy people who came to watch the game. At least that music stops when the action starts.

Or maybe it’s like the extremely loud Van Halen songs played on midway rides, which mask the sound of nuts and bolts falling off the safety equipment. 

But music blaring from a jet ski reminds me of the classic 1979 movie Apocalypse Now, in which Robert Duvall’s character has his helicopter squadron play Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries on loudspeakers while trying to capture a beach from the Vietcong — and get in a little surfing.

What will personal watercraft manufacturers come up with next?

Wireless cellphone chargers?

Heated seats?

Keyless entry?


Display screen?

Bicycle rack?

Baby on Board decals?

Better they come up with collision-avoidance technology, or even brakes.

Oh, and put the brakes on the sound systems.

Got anything to stop this coffin?

Published in The Sault Star July 7, 2022

Building a coffin for your wife strikes me as a grave mistake, even if you have the decency to wait until she is dead before gifting her with it.

Yet I expect many readers were deeply moved when an 84-year-old British Columbia man recounted how he and his grandkids lovingly crafted a red cedar casket for his late wife’s final journey.

Don Robertson’s poignant first-person account was published in The Globe and Mail last month.

But while his story drew a tear from my eye, it also sent a few shudders up my spine.

That’s because in my experiences with both women and woodworking I’ve committed more than a few mistakes-to-learn-from. Too many to count, a committee with a female quorum might chorus.

Make sure the coffin is big enough for you, because I’m betting  you will predecease her

Like many men, most of my woodworking projects have turned out just fine and were used and appreciated. But there’s always something no amount of Gorilla Glue can rescue.

One time I built a coffee table out of pine boards, carefully joined and nicely finished. It looked great and the price was right.

But my design failed to account for the tare weight of a couple of pre-teens roughhousing. The legs collapsed like a mall roof. No amount of reinforcing could make me confident enough to set the good china on that table, if we had had any good china.

Now apply that possibility of an engineering miscalculation to building your wife’s coffin. Even if it has to hold together only as far as the crematorium, that’s too much margin of error.

Mr. Robertson might well be more accomplished in a workshop than am I. (I can hear that female chorus again.) He and a friend build tables and bookshelves out of repurposed wood, selling them and donating the money to charity.

But I can spot one flaw even from this distance: He didn’t clear the project with his wife first. The homemade casket was an idea he came up with while making funeral arrangements.

Perhaps she would have approved. Robertson notes his spouse made it clear that she wanted the simplest of funerals. 

But I think some women would be waiting, in whatever afterlife to which they both might be consigned, to haul him over the coals. Assuming that venue had coals.

I suspect each woman has her own limit of items that her partner may hand-craft for her instead of buying at a decent store. For most, their own coffin probably crosses into no-man’s land.

If I broached the prospect to some women of my acquaintance, they might agree to having me craft their casket only if I allowed them to use leftover scraps of pastel wool to knit me a laying-out suit for my own funeral.

Other women I have known might label me an incredibly cheap so-and-so. A few might even take steps to ensure I predeceased them.

The only way some women would accept a coffin put together by their husband is if it came from Ikea. Maybe the kit would be called the VaampirsHomen. 

Coincidentally, a story going the rounds earlier this year had the Swedish big box retailer selling burial boxes in a box. Turns out it was just a hoax promoted by a British spoof site.

But until Ikea appreciates the depth of this untapped market for coffins that can be assembled with an Allen wrench, aging women must shudder at the knowledge that most men have a huge supply of scrap wood in the rafters of their garages.

Like that coffee-table top that I’ve kept all these years.

(By the way, did you know the word “casket” originally referred to a jewelry box, and didn’t come to be a synonym for “coffin” until the mid-1800s? Who says an arts education is a dead end.)

When the red robin comes blobbin’ along

Published in The Sault Star May 31, 2022

It’s been said that growing up is the process of learning that things we were taught in our childhood are not true.

OK, as far as I know it’s just me who said that. 

Maybe I’m lying to you, just like your parents and your Grade 2 teacher. But I think there’s some truth to it.

Especially when I encounter a robin.

Robin hatches a dastardly plot to take over my home

In my childhood robins were exalted by the adults in my life.

Teachers declared it the first bird of spring. We kids would pay homage to that supposed harbinger by colouring line-drawings of robins ripping gyrating worms from the newly thawed ground. Children fought over the red and orange Crayolas every April.

We were urged to sing along to When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along), a bouncy ditty from the 1920s that became an earworm in the 1950s because of several pop pop poppin’ singers.

Our nursery rhyme books included some variation of this: “Little Robin red breast/ sitting on a pole/ nidde, noddle went his head/ and wag went his tail.”

(We were blissfully unaware that the crappy rhyming of “pole” and “tail” was due to adult censorship of this original last line: “And poop went his hole.”)

Mother Goose depicted Little Robin Redbreast as a clever thing, repeatedly eluding a hungry pussycat. In real life the smart money is on the cat.

Later, Canadian folksinger Raffi tried to sell my children’s generation on the nobility of robins with his song Robin in the Rain, depicting a “saucy fellow” with “nimble feet” and a “long strong beak.”

Lies. All of it lies. Except for the poop part.

Raffi said his robin didn’t mind the rain. I say it was too stupid to come out of it.

Because robins are the most dense of avians.

Some birds are reasonably smart, capable of avoiding predators and remembering where they hid seeds (except for the senior citizen birds, of course, who can’t even remember why they came to the bird-feeder).

Scientists have spent a lot of time lately trying to prove birds are more intelligent than we give them credit for. One National Geographic article informs me they are celebrated as “feathered apes.”

But those scientists study avian species such as crows and cockatoos; no one wants the frustration of trying to teach a robin to fly a maze.

Calling a robin “bird-brained” is like calling Donald Trump “boorish”: it insults all of those who could legitimately lay claim to the title.

Robins I’ve encountered in my adult life have demonstrated their utter stupidity time and time again during nest-building season.

A pair of them are doing it right now.

They’re trying to build a nest atop my smart meter. Or rather, Algoma Power’s smart meter.

I’d have to say that very small metal shelf is an incredibly poor spot for a nest, especially when there is an upmarket subdivision of lovely trees just a stone’s throw away.

Location, location, location, robins.

The building site is right beside my kitchen door. I don’t want to be dive-bombed by protective prospective parents when I’m bringing in the groceries. 

Besides, it costs me enough for electricity without another home tapping into my power.

So I have made it demonstrably clear that robin nests are not welcome atop that smart meter. I scrape off their twigs and grass and mud and their vomit and poop at least twice a day. 

Then I shake my fist at the now-homeless birds perched on my power line, whose song is far more scolding than sweet.

I’ve removed more than a quart basket of nest-building supplies from that meter in the past week or so. If I took a day off from demolition duty I’m confident there’d be a substandard nest there and a couple of demented birds trying to smash into my head.

But it is a step up, or a few feet down, from their even-stupider first choice — the edge of the steel roof immediately above the smart meter.

When their sticks and grass and binding materials slid off and landed on the meter, I suspect it was a eureka moment in their tiny minds.

Every year robins try to build nests in idiotic places. Usually it’s atop sentry lights on my house or garage. My property is not zoned for an avian airport, so I push down or hose down their shacks again and again and again.

At a camp at which I used to spend summers, robins habitually built their nest on a waist-high window ledge of the outhouse. Apparently they were attracted by the stupidity of an outhouse with a waist-high window.

Each year children would thrill to having a window seat on nesting robins (it was a great toilet-training incentive), then sob to see little blue eggshell pieces littering the ledge like crumbs on a predator’s plate.

After bearing witness to robins’ procreational inadequacies for so much of my life, I can only wonder this:

If there really is a Darwin, why does the robin species still survive?