... Or Get Eaten in your Sleep

"Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” is a quote generally attributed to Picasso, but was probably just generated by some internet bot at some point. Which is especially terrifying, because of the profound truth of the statement.


I once asked a fine-arts buddy, "Why did all that baroque art crap look like that, when they knew full well that it didn't actually look like what people looked like?"


He pointed out, "Well... that's just what artists did at the time. No one had done anything different. And the first renaissance artists who did were probably mocked as idiots for breaking the rules of art."


When I was a kid we had these two dogs, Hughie and Pauly. I could tell a million stories about them -- as any pet owner could of their beloved childhood pets. But there's one that's always stood out.


Paulie was this little mutt. Maybe part bichon and part... I dunno... some other fucking thing. He was about beagle-sized and frightfully smart. His single favorite thing to do was dig holes under the fence, then immediately go to the front door and scratch to be let in. I was always put in the mind of Steve McQueen from The Great Escape; like he was getting out just to prove that he could.


Hughie as a big, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid golden retriever. I should mention that he was stupid. Dumber than a crate of wet potato chips. His favorite thing was getting pet. To the point where if you gave him a dog biscuit and then started petting him, he'd forget he had the dog biscuit and walk around with it in his mouth for the next 20 minutes... until he went to lick the drool from his lips and a dog biscuit would fall out. Which he would just stare at and cry in confusion. He was the sweetest, gentlest, big-hearted dog I've ever known.


So this one time Paulie gets out and when we open the door to let him in he decides to run across the street to play with our neighbor's dog for a bit. I'm standing at watching this unfold with Hughie sitting placidly at my heel at the open gate.


And that's when it all go sideways.


When Paulie decides, "The game is over, I'm going home now." And the other dog gives chase. There is nothing aggressive about the other dog's behaviour to my eyes.

Hughie, this sweet, gentle, Forrest Gump of a dog, saw it differently. What he must have seen is, "That other dog is chasing my friend and my friend might be in danger."


I had never once (and he was probably about 10 or 12 at the time) seen Hughie act the slightest bit aggressively. But he went apeshit. All 90lbs of him attacked the neighbor's dog, defending his friend. My father basically tackled our dog and then lifted him up over his head to get him off the much smaller "threat."


We were very friendly with our neighbor and her dog was rattled (obviously) but otherwise unharmed. We were all a bit rattled. But no one was worse for the wear. Paulie happily trotted into the house looking around like Eddie Haskel for who might give him a dog biscuit.


It's events like this frightening moment when I was 17 years old that make me now, 30 years later, grimace and cringe when I hear the phrase, "It will probably be fine."


Because it probably will.


Until it isn't.


I thought about this moment tonight as I was walking Ruby and Tally. And passed by some of our neighbors who rarely leash their very excitable, very puppy-energy mid-sized beasties Nelly calls "the floppily doppilies" They're some curly-haired breed of sweethearts, but not the best behaved.


In our neighborhood dogs are always supposed to be leashed. It's in the (voluntary compliance) homeowner's association rules.


Which, full disclosure, I don't exactly follow. Tally hates walking in the jungle on a leash. Tally is also the best behaved little thing ever.


Ruby is always leashed, usually by a harness. Because she's a big, powerful, intimidating-looking pitbull with a bark that touches the part of our brains that is still a small, skittish, hole-dwelling mammal in unwelcome ways. And she's got a lot of puppy-energy herself. She's probably not going to do anything to harm anyone, she's a love-bug, too... but why risk it.


So we follow the rules with the one dog, but not the other. Because we know our dogs. I know our dogs. With an elevated level of caution informed by watching the sweetest, most peaceful dog ever turn into a goddamn T-800.


I always steer Ruby away from the floppily doppilies. Even though she's leashed. She's turned into a giant muscle made out of jaws and joy. There are times it's hard for me to control her even with the harness. So why risk it? Why risk unexpected behaviour?


Or, perhaps it can be said, expected-unexpected behaviour. Because Ruby loves Tally in ways that mirror the ways Hughie was protective of Pauly. She obviously knows Tally is older and worships her like an older sister... always playing (gently) with her. Or trying to anyway. Because Tally only half-tolerates the play.


Gotta learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.


{Non-divers... here's your cue to check out.}


In every class I talk about how, during pre-dive checks, a bubble-check must be done. I explain that I can field-strip and probably repair almost any make and model of regulator with only the things found in the (admittedly extensive) save-a-dive kit in my truck. Hell - I could probably do it mid-dive just with the contents of my pockets (especially my wet-notes, which are like the wardrobe to Narnia at this point).


So if I see bubbles and I say, "It's bubbling, but you're good," I'm speaking from a pretty informed place. I know with a high degree of certainty why it's bubbling and whether it's a potential critical failure or just something that needs a bit of lube at some point in the near future.


However... if you can't do that. If you can't describe exactly which o-ring is probably letting a bit of gas through, or which part might have a bit of dust lodged in it... if the bubbles have no explanation...


"It will probably be fine," is not the right answer.


(Nor is, "It always does that." I had a coworker once who dove with a failing HP hose and then gauge for months... he meant to fix it. And he had as extensive a technical understanding of the gear as I did. But he just never got around to it. Hell... he still might not have as far as I know. I actually don't remember him ever fixing his shit. In truth: it wasn't critical and there was no way he was going to run out of gas before his clients, not ever, not no how. But it wasn't the best example.)


Hughie never hurt a fly. At one point we got a tiny kitten and both my father and I held Hughie's collar as we introduced the two of them. The kitten dug her claws right into his nose and he spent the rest of his life in dread of her.


But that one time, with just the right set of circumstances, the holes in the cheese lined up. And my cuddly angel of a dude almost ripped another dog to shreds.


There is no way to prepare for every single situation in the world. But there are predictable patterns. There are ways to expect outcomes.


And when you've grown informed enough to foresee some shit, then you can start pressing around the edges of the rules.


I don't think there's anyone who would accuse me of being a follower. Shit, half the time people tell me, "You gotta..." I do the opposite just because DLTBGYD.


The trick is to know what rules are inviolate (Don't put salt in your eye) and which are infuriatingly stupid (Judging people on the amount of melanin in their skin is perfectly normal). And that takes practice.


That said: Pouring salt into the eyes of bigoted fuckwits is hilarious. Do that.


Recent Posts

See All

"You're looking at rebreathers? You have to buy an XXXXX. It's the only good one out there." "Don't even bother with those scooters. They're stupid and you're stupid if you buy one. You should buy

Nelly threatened to divorce me. This was years ago. I had told her I was going to issue her a Boat Diver certification. I was still a reluctant PADI instructor at the time and thought it would be fu

Did you know what you were getting into when you first started diving? I didn't. I'd done a couple of "Discover Scuba" type afternoons during tropical trips over a few years before committing to a fu