The Yellow Light of Sobriety

I am not a good smoker, of anything.  I once attempted to smoke a cigarette at a bar to fit in with my bad-ass cousin, but she was onto me immediately.

“You don’t really smoke, do you?” she said.

“No,” I said, and quit cold turkey after two puffs.

Adding treats to the smoke never helped much either.  On the four or ten occasions I tried to smoke pot, I had to be coached through the entire process, with someone talking me through it every step of the way.  “Ok, my thumb goes where? Now what do I do? How about now?”  I could never get the hang of it, especially if it involved complicated paraphernalia, and people would just end up getting mad because I’d cough it all out prematurely and waste their expensive stuff.   In the end, I decided it was too much hardship for too little joy: the smoke hurt my lungs and there was nothing joyful about sitting around all night thinking people were plotting against me. Just say no, Nancy Reagan? No problem.

But, because I didn’t smoke it, it put me at a disadvantage. I never noticed when other people were smoking it, and I could rarely tell whether other people were high or not.  When I’m not doing something, I always assume that no one else is doing it either.

For example, when I went to Hatteras for a week to learn how to kite and the higher-ups were always having “Safety Meetings,” I thought they were having real and actual Safety Meetings. Kiting could be dangerous, especially when you’re first learning:  Of COURSE they’re having Safety Meetings! I was GLAD they were having Safety Meetings.  Go! GO to your Safety Meetings! Keep me safe!  I marveled at how calm and patient they were with me (an angry, impatient learner who would try the patience of a saint), but I just thought they were that calm and patient, naturally.  I didn’t find out until Thursday what a Safety Meeting actually meant.

“WHAT?” I said, shocked. “You’ve been holding out on me all this time?” (“Holding out on me,” I said, as if pot was one of my great passions.)  That night after dinner, I got someone to talk me through the step-by-step process, and I immediately drifted off to sleep in the hot tub, and almost drowned myself. And I thought kiting was dangerous?  (I’m just glad I didn’t die that way; that would have been embarrassing.)

Then, years later, I went to work in a kite school and was told that the guy in charge was a “wake and bake” kind of guy.  Initially, I thought this meant that he liked Shake ‘n’ Bake chicken so much that he’d wake up and eat it for breakfast. I knew he smoked, but because I wasn’t looking for it, I didn’t see it when it was happening (which was apparently a lot). If I thought it was odd that he’d go out on the boat with five kiteboards and return without any of them (“I don’t know where they all went! They all just floated away!”), I chalked it up to the forgetful brilliance of a master instructor.

“No, no, no, no, no!” my coworkers informed me. “You know when he takes his little man-bag, straps it on his shoulder, and then leaves for an hour or so? Where do you think he’s going?”

“I thought he was going to lunch,” I said. He usually went out around 12:30 and then came back around 2:00. “A really long lunch?”

“Ha,” they said. “Just watch.”

“Well, I’m not really good at noticing stuff like that,” I said, “Next time he does it, walk by my office and give me a sign.”

Sitting on my desk at that moment was a little yellow kite-line management tool that someone had given me to test.  It was an invention that was supposed to guarantee that you’d always hook up your kite lines correctly and avoid getting dragged to your death via your own stupidity.  Ironically, the only time I used it was the ONLY time in five years that I ever hooked up my lines incorrectly.  Had I not re-checked them before launching my kite, I’d have surely been dragged to my death.

The tool was made out of high-quality bright yellow plastic, and it looked like the world’s most perfect flashlight. That’s what everyone thought when they walked into my office and saw it sitting on my desk. “Oh, cool! Is that a flashlight? What an awesome flashlight!”  It was the perfect size, nice and substantial, and it felt good in your hands – not flimsy and breakable like some piece of crap you’d find at the Dollar Store. You could clonk someone on the head with it and probably do some damage. It would’ve been the best little flashlight in the world, if only it had had the sense to have been born a flashlight.

At that moment, while looking at the best little flashlight that wasn’t, I had one of the best, most inspired, albeit simultaneously unprofitable Eureka Moments I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t have them often, so I remember them when I do.

“The Yellow Light of Sobriety!” I cried, swinging the little yellow thing around by its cord the way a lifeguard swings around a whistle. “Behold, the Yellow Light of Sobriety! When the Sanctity of Sobriety is being violated, let the Yellow Light of Sobriety be swung!”

And from that day forward, whenever Wake ‘n’ Bake would go running off with his little man purse, one of the guys would emerge from the main office, look at me pointedly, and swing the Yellow Light of Sobriety.

Under such brilliant illumination, dozens of strange little mysteries suddenly started to make sense, and never again did I have to wonder how five large kiteboards could magically float away unnoticed.


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