Last week I was talking about a practical joke I played on the guys in my barracks. Some of them actually believed I had jumped off the second floor balcony and flown over to the supply building, 150 feet away. I hadn’t, and I was getting worried because some of them sounded like they might try it themselves.
So I told them I hadn’t really done it, but I made a big mistake. I didn’t want to tell them how I had managed to trick them, so I told them what a scientist named J. B. S. Haldane, who was an expert on such things, had to say about the possibility of a flying human being. And when they still didn’t believe me, I looked over at Ross McDowell, the barracks genius, and said, “Hey, Ross. Tell ’em about Haldane, will you?”
You won’t believe his answer.
“Haldane?” Ross said in his usual laconic way.” Big atheist commie. Writes for the Daily Worker.”
Thank you, Ross! If my credibility was low when I started talking that afternoon, it went straight to zero. Trust me, in 1952 it was not wise to use the words of an atheist commie writer to back you up in an argument.
So I gave up trying to convince them I hadn’t really flown. What else could I do?
Well, winter became spring and spring morphed into summer, at which point my credibility rose to the point where the guys almost believed anything I said. But then ...
My outfit, the 103rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, was stationed on Otis Air Force Base, which is located on Cape Cod up in Massachusetts. And for some reason I don’t remember, we were operating a small radar site located off the base at the base of Cape Cod, right beside the Cape Cod Canal.
The Cape Cod Canal, dug back in 1914, did something I have always found interesting. Officially, it changed Cape Code from a peninsula into an island, making it the biggest barrier island in the world. And it is a barrier too.
Before they dug the canal, ships had to sail all the way around the cape, which is 125 miles long, from Buzzard’s Bay to Provincetown.
Anyway, because the 103rd had a small radar site set up alongside the canal on federal property, it became necessary to provide food and supplies for the troops who manned it. I’d heard that the sunrises over there by the canal were spectacular, so I thought it might be fun to hop on a truck and see one. Trouble was, I could never find a truck going over there at a time that fitted my work schedule, so I gave up the idea until Ross McDowell, who was making a trip back to Connecticut one night, offered me a lift as far as the gate to the federal reservation running along the canal. From there it was only a three- or four-mile walk to the radar site, so I decided to hoof it.
Around midnight or so, Ross dropped me off near the guard shack. I showed my ID card, and off I went, strolling along the dirt road beside the canal in the dark. I was young, and in no rush, and it was a cool night, so I took my time. I don’t remember for sure, but there must have been no moon that night because it was very dark. I could barely see enough to stay on the road.
The canal was lined with large stones to protect it from wind and water, and the gravel road I followed was raised above the surface of the water by 15 or 20 feet. My target was the cook’s tent at the radar site because I had a couple of buddies on duty that night.
I had walked perhaps a mile or so when I became curious about some splashing I could hear down below by the water. There was no wind that night, so the splashing, which was very loud, made no sense. A canal is not a river. I suppose there may be some tidal movement or something — I don’t really know — but by and large, a canal should be as quiet as a lake. So, curious, I scrabbled on down over large, rough boulders until I reached the water’s edge.
I could see fairly well by that time. The human eye, believe it or not, when fully dark-adapted, is capable of seeing a single photon of light, the smallest amount of light there is. But even though I could see, that didn’t mean I believed what I saw.
Guess what was making all that racket?
Fish! Big fish! Maybe three-pounders.
Jumping out of the water onto the rocks!
I sat down and watched in amazement as the fish, ignoring the idiot watching them, kept on doing their thing. Hundreds of fish! Thousands of them! Jumping right out of the water onto the rocks.
Some of them stayed on the rocks because they got stuck. Others managed to wriggle back in the water. I sat there watching and scratching my head for maybe half an hour. Then I climbed back up the rocks and headed for the cook’s tent, just shaking my head.
Half an hour later I went into the cook’s tent and ...
You guessed it! Like a dummy I told them what I had seen back there in the canal. And they, of course, didn’t believe me.
So I got a 15-gallon pot, went back to the place where I had heard all the fish, and collected up half a potful of them.
And then, at last, the guys believed me.
And they also came to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Mary Poppins, King Kong, and Puff the Magic Dragon.
Well, would you have believed me? Fish jumping onto the land?
They did clean, gut, and fry the fish however, thanking me nicely for the thoughtful gift.
But you think I could get any of them to walk back to the %$#@! canal with me? I could not! Plus which, I never got to see that great sunrise I expected to see either. Rained that morning.
And so ended the flight-from-the-balcony-cum-fish-jump-into-the-cooking-pot saga — also my short-lived career as a practical joker. I may be dumb, but I know when to quit.
And don’t ask me about the fish. What do I know from fish?