Donald Freed
International Playwright
and Master Teacher

Please Sir, Take My Seat

by Lance Fogan

The dam—massive and gray above the lake—grows larger as my car coasts down the freeway off-ramp. Moments later I lift the forty pound, twelve foot-long, epoxy-carbon white board up and off the roof rack. Straining, I pull back and balance it on my knee and hip, position my hands and carry it to the shoreline just feet away. Dry earth anchors the bow as the stern undulates with each wave. Next off my car’s roof-rack comes the aluminum mast and then I carry the boom and folded sail onto a grassy knoll.

I stretch the sail over the boom. My groaning helps as I pull with all my might the sail’s nylon outhaul rope that’s wrapped through the pulley-attachment at the boom’s end. The sail stretches while the boom-end digs into my belly. The tight flat sail is ready to catch every part of the wind.

A long-sleeved blue shirt hangs over my swim trunks; the strap under my chin secures a wide-brimmed hat. I slather on sun-protection and for the next couple hours I’m separated from the cares of the world.

Today, I’m the only windsurfer wearing a life-vest. The others—the young “jocks”—don’t use one. I had cared for enough near-drowning comatose patients in the ICU. I cinch up my vest—tight!

I lift the mast, now with attached boom and sail, up atop my head; my raised arms stabilize the rig as I carry it to the water’s edge. The mast and rigging clangs into the board’s universal-jointed base. The floating board is rocking side-to-side as I step on. Balanced, I bend

and grab the uphaul rope, lean back and begin to hoist the heavy sail that had swallowed water as it lay on the lake. Muffled groans accompany my straining thighs and back as the sail, pregnant with water, slowly rises up with its attached mast. The water disgorges from its pot-belly and splashes into the lake. It’s all done with practiced timing, pivoting and coordination.

I turn my rig into the wind; it catches the sail. The white, lime and pink triangle swings sharply around the tall mast, threatening to push me into the drink. A quick study of the wind’s direction, then a short step, a pivot and I balance on the narrow, two-foot-wide fast-rocking board. I draw back, arms tense; sailing gloves grip the boom. I ease up but in an instant silent gusts fill the triangled sail and I tip toward the water. I lean back, squat, and pull on the boom with all that I am. The maneuver slowly inches the mast leading the sail back toward me as the warm wind boosts my speed. My sailing shoes hold onto the wet surface and my duel with the attacking wind has begun.

I grasp the boom with my left hand and then with my right I quickly slip the boom’s looped rope onto the down-curved harness-prong around my waist. The strain on my arms lessens. The sail catches the gust. My run over cool water begins; two foamy wakes trail veering wider and wider.

My windsurfer glides; its bow planes up six inches, breaking the water’s shining, bending mirrored sun. Silent power buffets the sail. We break small white-capped waves that slap the board. Linear bands in my tanned thighs stiffen as I lean back; my weight in the dark-blue waist harness tethers me to the boom. We pull as one—boom, mast and me—perfect balance. Yes! I’ve got it. Arms and grip relax again.

I’m skippering my craft—in the groove now—sliding past a floating white and red buoy. We’re heading for a field of seagulls bobbing on waves. They watch. They wait. On cue a gray and white cloud trails, squawks and rises up; wings dip and whoosh and crash the air above me.

I’m a Greek statue; a picture in an art book. My front leg bent at the knee, frozen, and holding that position, I glide the half-mile across the deep lake. My hat brim flaps as water sprays my dark glasses. Softly crooning in the back of my throat, “I’m sittin’ on top of the world…,” I smile, imitating Al Jolson. The sun, hot and high over the western saw-toothed peaks, watches. Distant trees on the shore are blown and bend as one army. I’m disconnected from the land; I’m unplugged from the world and in another dimension.

The air is ninety-eight degrees. I head toward that big oak across the lake. I let go of the boom, and the sail and mast drop into the water. My board stops instantly. I follow them in, plunging off my board into the delicious coolness. My wet shirt and trunks will keep me comfortable on this torpid southern California day. But, I scamper back onto the board. You never know what’s just under that murky surface; what’s lurking at my dangling feet. Ever since “that movie,” who knows? While I wouldn’t expect a Great White in Castaic Lake maybe an escaped pet alligator that’s grown to over two hundred feet? Back onboard I look down into gloomy darkness. The sail and mast are pulled up again and I make a fast getaway.

The next day I boarded a crowded local bus. Standing room only. I grabbed a vertical metal pole, and began envisioning windsurfing again later that afternoon. There’s a buzzing overhead. I look up—the black fly alights on the window. I become aware of a man rising from his seat behind me. He said something and I turned my head. A middle-aged man looked at me, “Sir, take my seat.”

What is he doing? What is he saying?

Again, definitely to me, “Please, sir, take my seat.” His clear dark eyes smiled steadily into mine.

“Oh, no, thank you. I’m all right,” I replied, anxious to unfuse our gaze and look away.

Doesn’t he see me? Doesn’t he see who I am, what I am—my vigor, my health, and that I’m standing erect at seventy-two? I’m more than my white beard and baldness.

He was insistent. He repeated it again. Several seated passengers were now looking up at us. I felt heat and tightness in my face. Bending my head, I scratched behind my left ear and looked down at the empty seat. I’d better take it. With a taut smile, I said, “Thank you,” and sat down.

Turning my warm face, I saw the mute irony on the wall next to me; white letters engraved into the royal-blue plaque spelled out: “Give up your seat to the elderly and the disabled.”