This has bothered me for a long time. I’m not sure exactly why, but it has even cropped up in some dreams:
My wife and I had just gotten married. Since our first date had included canoeing on Mpls city lakes…Calhoun, Isles, and Cedar…I (witlessly) assumed Mary would enjoy a week-long paddle into the Boundary Waters. I was only 18 and, so, young and self-centered, and apparently had missed some cues (although not all as 50 years later it has worked out) on that first date. Now, being older, wiser, and more obedient, I have realized “ruffing it” for my lovely wife is having to drink out of a ‘plastic’ glass in the hot tub.
But we headed out early that summer morning, having spent the night sleeping in our car at the put-in (an adventure that has not been repeated). We were entering out of Moose Lake near Ely, and discovered it was also an entry for some Boy Scout camps. As I skirted them, heading off away, I noticed one canoe was lagging way behind the group zig-zagging like a drunken loon. I could hear the witless adult volunteer in the stern yelling at this poor kid in the front, maybe 13, to “paddle harder!” Having paddled all my life, I immediately recognized the problem: the bellowing adult had no idea how to paddle a frickin canoe. He had apparently never heard of ‘feathering’ with his paddle or using a j-stroke to steer the canoe. But it didn’t stop him from bellowing at the poor kid who was in a tither, working his butt off to no avail.
I wanted to paddle over and either give this idiot a quick lesson or tell him to trade places, and, so, once in the bow, would realize no matter how he paddled they would not be going in a straight line unless someone steered in the stern. My wife was mortified that I would do that, said it was the responsibility of the Boy Scout leader to ‘straighten’ the guy out. So, I forlornly watched them zig-zag off, a deep husky voice fading away: “Paddle harder!” Possibly ruining a spectacular wilderness experience, maybe for the kid’s life.
I really don’t think the guy was a royal a-hole, intentionally torturing the kid. Of course we all have experienced a-hole bosses, managers, co-workers who are inept, witless…but nothing’s ever their fault. An obvious act of a-holism. But what about the leaders in charge? Assuming they weren’t blind, did they not see the canoe falling way behind, zigging-zagging off to hell? One could think they are the a-holes, at the least witless and therefore should not be in charge. Of course, a world-wide problem. Anyway, being a fairness freak, this one really bothered me. The kid is the innocent one…I know: much like the rest of the world.
I still worry about that poor kid.