Saturday, July 24, 2010

Three Fates Considered

On November 17, 1961, Murray Karp was feeling a bit peckish as he left the Scollay Square "T" Station in Boston. He was in town buying a pocket watch in an age of wristwatches, and had in mind a jewelery shop near city hall plaza. It was there for as long as he could remember. Perhaps 10 years had passed since the last time he made his way into the city, but not much had changed. He found the watch shop closed. A sign on the door reported an illness in the family, and that the store would soon reopen.

Murray's thoughts turned to his empty belly. The aroma of steamed hot dogs lured him to one of many vendors outside the subway station. It was there that he got himself a hot dog that he later told his wife had "hit the spot." His mistake was in getting the second dog, which felt like overkill. He broke out into a cold sweat while waiting for the trolley car, and briefly felt that he was going to be sick.

At the exact same moment 12,000 miles away, two men paddled a dugout canoe along the coast of southwestern New Guinea. Their not-so-quaint 40 foot double pontoon boat was swamped by a large wave, and the two men were knocked into the warm tropical waters. The two men were Michael Rockefeller, son of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and Dutch Anthropologist Rene Wassing. Several local guides went for help, and Msrs. Rockefeller and Wassing did what any one of us would do in a similar situation, try to float and cling to the overturned canoe. And probably not think too much about all the hungry things lurking beneath the waves.

About a day passed, and it became clear to Rockefeller and Wassing that they may not survive their misadventure. Help may or may not have been on the way, that depended on the separate fate of the guides who went for aid.

Rockefeller decided to seize control of his own fate, turned to Wassing, and said, "I think I can make it." He was referring to the three mile swim to shore. He paddled away, and was never seen again. Rene Wassing was rescued the next day.

What do Murray Karp, Rene Wassing and Michael Rockefeller have in common? Nothing. Not a damn thing.

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