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Friday, August 11, 2006

A Tall Ship, Etc., Etc.

Tonight is technically the last Thursday night class of the session at Old Town. To be technically the last class is, of course, to be the best kind of last class. In our case, however, it was also, technically, the penultimate class.


Tom and Chris Kastle have been teaching the Shanties and Sea Songs class at Old Town for the last seven summers. Summer is a great time to teach this kind of class. It's also likely that it's the only time of year when the final class has a high probability of being held on board the Tall Ship Windy.

However, given the nature of Tom and Chris's work, summer also means they have a lot going on, so a couple of our meetings got rescheduled. For us, that unfortunately meant missing several because of travel. Last week, we missed the performance planning class on account of the wrong end of our dog exploding (not that any end of a dog exploding is a good thing, mind you).

Today, despite no planning, just-missed traffic reports, closed expressway on-ramps, and some truly ominous-looking skies, we headed down to Navy Pier for our sail and class "graduation." As we walked down the pier, following our vague directions (and M tried, repeatedly, to surprise me into admitting that I knew something more specific than "across from the Billy Goat," which I did not), the first fat rain drops began to fall. We spied the Billy Goat, Windy, and Tom at about the same time.

Tom informed us that we were in a holding pattern, and pointed out Chris and several of our classmates hanging out in the shelter of the Billy Goat's outdoor patio. As we scored a table near them, it began to well and truly piss down rain to a soundtrack that ranged from Tears for Fears to Gloria Gaynor to Culture Club. M and I got the memo pretty late that we were shooting for a pirate-themed cruise. My only nod to it was to throw on one of my many skull-and-crossbones t-shirts. As shame was cast upon us by classmates' (many of whom do various faire activities) efforts, we realized that we both had things at home from which we could have cobbled together something. Ah well.

After two torrential showers, the rain actually did let up. We had more than the minimum number of paying passengers, plus our class, so we were good to go. Tom is one of the captains of the Windy, so he (now in his pirate garb plus tevas, which I learned are actually physically grafted to his person) was urging the paying folk to really immerse themselves in the experience by doing all the work for the crew. M and I bought into this twaddle and helped to raise the mizzensail along with S (another Outlaws of Country Refugee) and a crew member. I'm pretty sure I did nothing but get in the way, but I was IMMERSED in the experience, I tell you, especially as we sant "Roll the Old Chariot Along" all the while (in fact, Tom was so into the shanty that he failed to notice the speed and efficiency with which all the sails had been raised).

It's been a long time since I've been on a boat that really felt like a boat, and it was an ideal evening to be out on Windy, with strong wind, pleasantly choppy water, and brooding skies. For most of the sail, the class was down on the main deck. Tom started with an easy-to-improv shanty, passing verses along the line of people hanging about. Basically, one just picked any profession to insert into the lyric (e.g., "Oh to be a sailor on the . . ." ) and everyone joined in thereafter. Unfortunately, this wound up nailing one woman who'd quite emphatically stated that she hadn't planned on leading anything. It also drew "Oh to be a nuclear reactor operator . . ." which got my vote for favorite improv of the entire session.

From there, various people who'd prepared a shanty to lead stepped forward (M and I declined, although I had cheated by sneaking my class packet on to the boat in case someone decided to press the issue). Despite the fact that we, at least, had never heard some of these, all were joined in with gusto by the class and various other passengers and crew. At some point, a young girl (probably 8 or 9) who may or may not have been with one of the people in the class, stepped to the mast and very quietly launched into "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." She did a bang-up job of it (and later got to do a more literal bang-up job of putting the hammer to the tiny little canon to announce our return to the pier) and seemed pleased with our work as her back-up singers.

After a lovely 90 minutes or so out on the Lake, we returned to land as some class members continued singing and others noodling on the tin whistle and concertina. The class and some guests then repaired to Charlie's Ale House for food and libations. We wound up sitting at the end of the table that was less likely to sing and more likely to talk about Chicago in general, opera (of both the Lyric and COT variety), and Mamet. I also wound up sitting across the table from the wife of a classmate, and she happens to coordinate the writing program at DePaul. We got in some good general kvetching about the sham that is teaching writing in most places (my place of employment obviously included). And so like water, we seem to have found our own level.

Early weather iffyness aside, it was a very enjoyable evening. I'm sure the nontechnical last class next week (in the guise of a BBQ at Tom and Chris's house) will be pleasant, but I'll miss going down to my inland sea.

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