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Appearances can be deceiving, even at sea

On the fourth day of an uneventful week at the beach, I lounged at the water's edge. The sun tiptoed across ripples on the horizon, making ships look melty as they approached the north channel of the Savannah River.

Glancing to the southeast, I noticed an erratic yellow dot afloat beyond the breakers. Oddly, it oscillated through phases of slowly rotating vertically and then resting on the surface. This perplexed me.

Nudging Helen, reclined to my left, engrossed in steamy beach reading, I pointed and said, "Look. Do you see that?"

"What," she responded, resisting pulling away just as Lars and Mona met in a breathy, forbidden embrace on the moors, risking discovery, or worse . . .

"Watch. That yellow thing out there will flip and skid."

She watched. I watched. And we both said, "Ooh," as it bounced in the distance.

"It's an inner tube," I suggested.

"Yeah," she agreed.

"It almost looks like someone is trying to get a better grip."

Momentarily forgetting Lars and Mona, Helen added, "It's way out there. He might be in trouble."

Helen tapped my husband. "Look. Do you see that?"


"What do you think it is?"

"An inner tube that got away."

"No," she insisted. "See how it turns over a few times and stops. Someone is fighting to hold on."

He watched. Helen watched. I watched.

My husband tapped Alan, Helen's spouse. "Look," he said, gesturing. "Do you see that yellow tube out there? There's a man on it who can't swim. There he goes, struggling with it again."

"Man, that guy's in danger," replied Alan

Alan watched. My husband watched. Helen watched. I watched. Lars and Mona watched.

Vrrrrrmmm. Chatham County lifeguards, conducting routine beach patrol, approached on a four-wheeler. I waved them down and the four of us hastened to tell about the live bait adrift in the oceanic food chain.

The lifeguards looked. We looked. Lars and Mona looked. Bystanders looked.

Caught up in our heroism, we offered our services. Alan volunteered his medical expertise. My husband proposed to walk the beach seeking out the fellow's widow and orphans. Helen and I served the muscular, tanned lifeguards refreshments. Lars and Mona paused their personal drama.

Chsh-chsh-chsh-chsh-chsh-chsh. More lifeguards arrived on jet skis. The yellow tube had diminished to a dot on the radar, and the jet ski coalition appeared to search in vane for the casualty.

Thmp-thmp-thmp-thmp-thmp. They called in the coastguard. Coastguard helicopters and boats scoured the salty vault.

As the search continued through the afternoon, a disappointed Alan declared, "A botched operation."

"Yeah," my husband agreed. "They'll never find him now."

"Shark chum for sure," I chimed in.

Later that evening, I phoned the coastguard station. "Yes, ma'am," I presumptuously greeted the operator, "I reported that poor fellow on a yellow inner tube swept out in the Atlantic today. Did they recover the body?"

After a brief pause, she spoke.

"Mm-hm," I responded. "Mm-hm. Yes ma'am. Okay. I see. Well, I guess that's that. No, I don't care to give you my name for the official report." Click.

The team recovered the inner tube. No one was with it and no swimmers were reported missing. Since the whole blankety-blank lot of them was out there searching for a yellow herring, they used it as a joint training exercise. I cost the feds a lot of money.

This news stunned my husband. It stunned me. It stunned Helen and Alan. And it stunned Lars and Mona, who, subsequently re-entwined, resumed tempting fate...

Web posted on Thursday, June 29, 2006

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