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The Great Amphibian

I was in Golden Gate Park watching the gentlemen race their model yachts on Spreckels Lake. I used to go there a lot to take my mind off things. The scene was always the same: a dozen or so men in their seventies, eighties, even nineties, decked out in fishing caps and khakis and sneakers, pacing the sidewalk, remote controls in hand. The men were always in a hurry, scurrying to keep up with their yachts, but the yachts themselves never went very fast. The yachts were so slow, in fact, not even the ducks seemed to be bothered by them.

It was a small lake, manmade and gracefully shaped, seductively curvaceous like the amoebae one studies in grade school. The lake was surrounded by a wide sidewalk. Along the edges of the sidewalk were several wooden benches with little brass dedication plaques in loving memory of this or that person; there was even a bench devoted to someone’s cat. The character of the lake changed from day to day, depending on the weather. On this particuar afternoon the placid surface was covered with a thin green film.

There was a new guy at the lake. He was tall and broad, probably not a day over 65. His boat was brand new, bigger than the others, with a showy red hull beneath the billowing white sail. He was very tan, as if he’d spent the last twenty years of his life in Florida, and he wore a blue baseball hat instead of the regulation fishing cap. He was being aggressive, pulling all sorts of bogus maneuvers. At one point he swung his yacht around and slammed into a smaller one that was attempting to pass.

“Please get that monstrosity out of the way,” said the fellow with the smaller boat. He had an old-fashioned mustache and dyed black hair, and he wore an odd pair of white gloves with pearl buttons at the wrists. Every time I went to Spreckels Lake—I’d been going twice a week for several months, ever since my husband left—this fellow was there. He had always struck me as the quiet, meek sort, so I was surprised to hear him challenge the new guy.

“What did you say?” the new guy asked.

“This is a gentleman’s sport,” the fellow with the white gloves said. “There is a protocol. Kindly move your boat.”

That’s when the new guy said, “Fuck off,” and pushed the gentlemanly fellow into the lake.

The man disappeared beneath the water for a few seconds. Then his head bobbed up, his knees, the white tips of his shoes, and he began to float.

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