Dateline: Kentucky Lake Greyhawkin'
"Day after day ... "
Which kid were you?
Billy, the stinky kid.
Tommy, the fat kid.
Stevie, the pimply kid.
Joey, the poor kid.
Which kid were you?
The rich kid.
The tall kid.
The short kid.
The greasy kid.
The brushcut kid.
Which kid were you?
I was the stupid kid.
" ... alone on a hill ... "
The classes I went to were for people going nowhere. In meetings between teachers, guidance counselors, principals and my parents and me, I was talked about, never to.
I was a thing.
I was the "Him" in the room.
What do we do with ... him?
Where do we put ... him?
We're not set up for ... him.
"The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still But nobody wants to know him ... "
I watched the clouds outside.
Instead of the blackboard.
In science class.
I looked around the room, at the people within it.
Instead of looking down at the textbook on my desk.
In social studies class, I talked.
In English class ...
In geography class ...
I just left.
"They can see that he's just a fool, And he never gives an answer ... "
Have you ever been labeled?
Given a name other than your real one.
Not name calling, the childhood rite of passage, that hurts, but for most of us goes away with our pimples.
Labels never leave. Society's branding mark. That unseen tattoo on your forehead.
Here's my tattoo. My label. I know it. You know it. If you shine the CSI blacklight on my forehead this is what appears.
I'm counter-clockwise. The lemming who took the stairs down. The rat in the stands watching the race.
A righty on the outside, a lefty on the inside.
Almost 20 years to the summer of high school graduation I was living in Coral Springs, Fla., with Barb and our two little kids. A cul-de-sac, perfect lawn, two-car garage, air-conditioned life.
Just by some sort of plan by the universe, pretty much everyone who lived in this cul-de-sac happened to be from New York ... and two were actually from around my hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.
The first time we looked at the house the guy next door, Tony, was outside washing his car, with a Buffalo Bills T-shirt on. I told the realtor, "We'll take it."
Tony and I became fast friends ... two Bills fans in a land of Dolphins. We sat together and watched a Super Bowl go horribly wrong.
One day his uncle from up north came down to visit. And when he stepped out of the car, 20 years past the last time I saw him, I knew immediately who he was.
The one teacher I had in school who took the "him" out of the room. The one guy who knew that life is a mosaic, and not a blackboard.
At first he didn't remember me, but as the couple days went by, I could see that his memory of me was coming back.
On the last day as he stood by his Buick with the Bills stickers on the back, and was about to head back north, I knew the blacklight on my forehead was back.
"You're that different guy right ... I'm glad to see everything worked out for you. Makes me proud."
I shook his hand and told him thanks, thanks for remembering, thanks for never calling me "him."
"Always distracted ... I remember now."
And the last thing I ever said to the one teacher who cared was this:
"Mr. Plumpis, I was never distracted at all, never have been, all I did was listen to what the teachers were saying, and watch what they weren't seeing."
I feel all of this as I stand next to a boat and rub my finger on the wet deck carpet, and look up at the man fixing his tackle.
And see the blacklight is once again turned on.
This time on him.
The label on his forehead reads this:
And I say nothing.
And neither does Aaron Martens.
We don't have to.
Labeled folks understand.
"The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud But nobody ever hears him ... "
"But the fool on the hill, sees the sun going down..."
"I think the sky is the most interesting thing on earth."
That's an absolute direct quote from Aaron Martens.
A man on the water with his head in the clouds. A man who thinks the most interesting thing on this planet isn't on the planet at all.
But Aaron buddy, hate to tell you this, but you are wrong.
The most interesting thing on earth are people like you.
People who look at the normal, abnormally. It's not taking the same path most took to get to where they went. It's avoiding the waves and being the footsteps in the sand.
It's not something you can teach, in fact, it's something most people try to un-teach. The blacklight thinkers.
I first met Aaron last year at a campsite in Smith Mountain Lake.
He was chasing a spider.
A big spider.
And he was giggling. As were his two kids, Spencer and Jordan. Three kids chasing a bug.
Growing up is a scientific process of time: E=MC/aged.
But for some, the lucky ones, the universe has a gift rarely spoken ... Peter Pan within.
Not so much being a child forever, or acting like a child forever, but, remembering the joy of being a child, the joy of the mysteries surrounding us, the joy of being able to giggle at any age.
The gift is to be lucky enough to be the child of a parent who giggles.
And chases spiders.
"db, I'm just a big kid. Kids make me forget all the bad stuff that goes on, all the things that bother me. Having kids let me be a kid again, and I don't stay grumpy as long as I used to."
He giggles at that thought.
But to understand Aaron, you need to know Lesley, his wife of 13 years.
Two hours after an interview with Aaron he called me while gasing up his boat:
"db ... this is Aaron ... Aaron Martens."
"I know dude, I see your photo on my phone."
"Oh cool ... what kind of phone do you have?"
For the next 10 minutes we talk — mainly he — talks about phones. And this is the spot where Aaron loses many people. I have interviewed/talked with Aaron a bunch of times, only to have a train of thought go away because a bug flew by.
Or a big cloud went overhead.
Or a nice truck drove by.
But if you tune out that part, you are missing the essence of Aaron. Because while it might not make sense to you, it makes perfect sense to Aaron, who has the ability to see what we might not see, or by now, filter out.
Aaron sees the flow that is life.
Sees that the butterfly, and the cloud, are connected.
And that everywhere leads to somewhere else.
" ... phone. But db I just wanted to call and tell you to not leave Lesley out of your story. Without her I would be ... "
And his voice just trailed off.
And I gave him his time to watch the connections in his mind that the love of his wife of 13 years brings.
" ... and the eyes in his head, see the world spinning 'round ... "
In almost 30 years of asking people questions, and remembering pretty much what it was they said, no one has ever said this to me. Listen, here's the exact quote from Aaron:
"You have nice skin."
I have a witness to it, Karin Zona, Mark Zona's wife.
Happened just the other day, at the Triton Owners Tournament. It was about 300-degrees outside, so we, me, Karin and Aaron, were standing under one of the tents put up for the event.
And Karin and Aaron were talking about skin care. Lotions and potions. With Aaron pretty much doing most of the talking ... and the dude knew his stuff.
Karin: "Mark sometimes has this problem with ingrown hairs on his neck."
Aaron: "Really, which way does he shave, with or against the grain, does he use gel, what kind of ... "
db: I've got nothing to add to this conversation but I don't know how to put that in quotes.
But what went on was a 20-minute conversation about skin. And during the conversation I learned about the sun ... about not using deodorant with aluminum in it ... and how wearing wool socks when it's real hot keeps your feet cool.
String theory under a tent.
Everything Aaron talked about was a complete connection to what came before it and what came after it.
It is not possible to know Aaron in a 30-second soundbite.
It is not possible to know Aaron from his brief moment on stage.
It is not possible to know Aaron without watching the connections he sees.
Lesley: "db I learned a long time ago that I could either fight it, or embrace it ... and I have chosen to embrace it and let Aaron be Aaron. And it has changed me, for the better."
Aaron is about 40 yards from us and has my DROID phone pointed up to the sky and is spinning around on a dark road watching the Google Sky Map App put labels on the "coolest thing on earth."
Lesley: "People say some things about him that hurts him, and he tells me it hurts him, but those people don't know him, and they just laugh at him ... "
Those blacklights again.
" ... but there is joy in Aaron ... there is a sense of fascination in Aaron ... there is excitement in Aaron."
And possibly jealousy in those with the blacklights.
The last time I leaned up against Aaron's boat and we talked as he rigged I asked him this question: "Tell me the things you like, what you like to do/be."
Here's Aarons list in the exact order it was given in his exact words:
"Skin care is important ... wearing pants and socks ... hats ... health ... being a surgeon ... but also being outside ... backpacking ... hiking ... mountain biking ... bugs ... snakes ... all sorts of creatures ... deep-sea fishing and deep-sea exploration ... the sun and nuclear fusion ... astronomy, love to look at the sky at night ... bats ... dinosaurs ... and fossils ... time ... New Age music ... and my kids."
And all that I could do was smile.
Because in one breath, Aaron connected people to the planet, the past to the present, science to sentiment.
Which in Aaron's world is as the flow should be.
"I wish I was an astronomer ... I look up there and just think about the vastness of it all ... and wonder how nice it would be to know that there were a million earths out there."
And as I followed his eyes toward the stars, I only had one wish.
To see the million earths Aaron sees.
But especially to see the one earth out there.
The one earth.
" ... and he never listens to them,
He knows that they're the fools. "
The Fool on the Hill
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.