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Leonard Neufeldt Not So Neutral Ground: Dick Thompson “Personalreflections on G. Richard Thompson,” or “Dick”as he is known to his colleagues: such an assignment, welcome as it may seem, means reliance on powers of recollection,and for many of us retireesmemoryis rather likethe largeinner tube Dick Thompson exuberantlylaunched with a perfect doughnut spiral from near the shore of Wildcat Creek over bushes liningthe shore to the grass beyond. Well, almost over the bushes. On its way to its intended destination, this signifier was intercepted by the top of a bush that turned out to have thorns. I didn’t hear the quiet hiss that startedup immediately,but Dick,who at that time had much better hearing than I did, knew exactly what had happened. And so at this rest stop he held his finger like the proverbial Dutch boy over the leak in the tube. After we returned to the stream and he explained the problem to me, he settled into his inner tube and continued to press a finger on the leak. We still had a few miles to go, and I wondered if his pressure-point strategy would outlast the trip downriver. It did, but toward the end of ourjourney, his body was submergedexceptfor afootoccasionallybreaking the surface,and hishead cranedupward,bobbing on the surfacein perfectsilhouetteas the sun set. Only Dick knew how far down the tube was, and what was left in it. Much of thismisadventurewas myfault.I had measuredourtubingdistanceonmylocalmapand authoritatively-that is,without even the slightest concession to jouissancdeclared it to be some three and one-halfmiles,whereasit turned out to be six. “Len,”Dick demurred several times in the last two miles, standing chest-deep in midstream with a finger pressing into the slack tube, “how did you measure the damn distance?”Or did he say “Nick,”the short form of my middle name that he used for reasons of phonetics and friendship ?And finally: “I thought you were an expert in these things.”Our Wildcat Creek was comfortablywarm ;that lastcommentwas aschillingasthe mountainvalley streamon which I learned to ride tubes through riffles and white water as a boy.Yet again my expertise had turned out to be less than reliable, less reliable in this instance than Dick’s limp inner tube. When we reached the bridge where I had parked my car,we climbed the bank and drove back upstream to retrieve Dick‘s car, then drove in twocars to my house for food,wine (fruitjuice for his son and two daughters), and a close look at the map I had used. He and my wife inspected the map at a very close distance even though neither was nearsighted,and both shook their heads knowingly. A NEW FRIEND When we relaunched our tubes after Dick’s encounter with the thorn bush, we noticed that Ian, his son, had started out well ahead and was now a small object heading directly into a large tree that had fallen halfway across the Wildcat, no doubt during the spring freshet. Since I was consideredthe strongerswimmerandwas in front of our pack, Dick called for me to overtake Ian and guide him out of danger. When I reached the tree and its undertow, Ian was nowhere to be seen,so I slipped out of my inner tube and swam at right anglesto the currentalongthe tree on the upriver side. Not findingany sign of Ian, I called as loudly as I could, and he answered from the other side of the tree. Having noticed his danger, he had maneuvered his tube to the crown of the tree, left the tube to slip under the top branches, waited for it to swirl around the end of the tree, 146 Poe StudiedDark Romanticism Dick Thompson Wildcat Creek in Indiana and attached himself against a branch on the other side. “I’vebeen waiting,”was his comment. Together we paddled to a bar and waited for the others to overtake us. I explained that his father’s oversized tube was slowlyshrinking. Ian’s watery pause and ourjoint wait for the arrival of the others must have been something like Dick’swhen I was being driven from the Indianapolis airport to West Lafayette for a campus...


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