Off My Dock: The Case For Rocket Science

Remembering the past helps shape the future.

Off My Dock: The Case For Rocket Science
Off My Dock: The Case For Rocket ScienceTim Bower

“You know, some days I really miss carburetors.”

It was an odd opening line by my good friend Chuck Larson, who had ascended a stool at the Lake View Inn and scattered a bag of pretzels on the blue Formica bar top.

“Well, some days I miss my second wife, but I generally keep it to myself,” I replied as Wally the bartender delivered Chuck’s beer.

“I’m serious,” said Chuck. “The world is just too damn complicated. It used to be if my outboard wouldn’t run, I could pull off the cowl and fix it in the driveway. Now I take it to the shop, and the first thing Dan does is plug his laptop into the motor. I used to get a lot of satisfaction from fixing my own stuff. And what was wrong with carburetors anyway?”

Chuck took a gulp from his glass. “This is all due to the government!”

Discussion of politics above the county level is generally forbidden at the Lake View, but Wally demanded elaboration.

“So the government banned carburetors?”

“In a roundabout way,” said Chuck. “Because we have to meet fuel economy and have sweet-smelling exhaust. So now we’ve got outboards with fuel injection and a computer that could guide a spacecraft to the moon, and my tools are gathering dust.”

Chuck slipped off his stool. He preaches better on his feet.

“It’s the heavy hand of the EPA, and thank goodness the new man in Washington is going to nip that bunch in the bud.”

For a moment Bob Uecker’s radio call of the Brewers game was the only sound in the Lake View. Then a voice from the end of the bar shattered the awkward silence.

“Hey Chuck! As long as we’re bringing back carburetors, how about DDT? Best insecticide ever!”

That started the ridicule.

“Yeah! Hey Chuck, you know what I miss? Lead paint.”

“How about polio? Do you miss that, Chuck? What a great disease.”

“Hell, let’s bring back Tricky Dick Nixon, since you’re so nostalgic …”

“No, wait … the EPA was Nixon’s idea! And Chuck hates the EPA. Har, har, har.”

It was up to Wally to stop this.

“So Chuck, I’m sure you recall Camp Shaginappi. And do you remember why they closed the camp down?”

Camp Shag was across Lake ­Winnebago. The Scouts had to close it in the 1960s when the lake got too polluted for watersports. When we were kids, there were stories of floating, ah, sewage, in the swim area.

“Environmental regulation cleaned up the lake, which is now a walleye factory. And Chuck, you catch more than your share. Without the EPA, this bar might be called the Turd View Inn. So if you want to fix something, start with your memory.”

Without skipping a beat, Wally turned to me.

“I miss your second wife too.”