My high school English teacher always warned us to, “watch out for homonyms; they can cause you big problems.” I have a new respect for that advice now that I have safely returned from a three-day hiking trip.
Trail map in hand, I had consulted the park’s recreation director about the length and difficulties of the area’s network of rugged trails.
“You may come across some boars out there,” he warned.
Only I thought he meant “bores.”
“No problem,” I said as I laced up my hiking boots and eased my day pack onto my shoulders.
As my friends and I started up the trail, I couldn’t help thinking, “What kind of a rookie hiker does that guy think I am?” As if I had never encountered a bore.
There you are at some party, cornered by some doofus who drones on and on about his Mercedes, his investments, and his yacht. Well, to be honest, at the kind of parties I get invited to it is probably his 15-year-old pickup truck, his unemployment check, and his little dinghy. I mean dinghy as in his boat, not his personal one. Although…never mind.
I have learned how to handle bores. Nodding, smiling, and occasionally murmuring, “Is that right?” I pretend to listen attentively to his recital, delivered in a dull monotone, of the plotline and action sequences of the entire Star Trek series.
I have trained myself to go into a state of suspended animation. My breathing becomes shallow as I slow my pulse to a level barely able to sustain life. My eyes glaze over and I allow my mind to flutter and meander like a butterfly among the wildflowers.
You would think that the lack of eye contact would bother the bore, but I don’t think he would notice if my pupils rolled back in my head and tiny goldfish swam around in the whites of my eyes.
I figured in these remote woods, a bore was more likely to be a beer-swilling outdoorsman than a martini-sipping bon vivant, but the response would be the same. I have been around a few beer-swilling, obsessive outdoorsmen in my day. They can waste hours describing in excruciating detail the process and equipment they used to attract and capture their prey. The fevered excitement of the description is such that one would think they were describing a highly successful “romantic encounter” with a hot woman.
Then they get to the part about the big one (fish or fowl) that got away. The correct response from the nearly comatose listener is an expression of amazement and the words, “Really! That Big? I am impressed!”
As a matter of fact, that is a woman’s correct response to most forms of male braggadocio, if you get my drift.
I considered myself well-trained in the art of deflecting a bore.
Then I traipsed over a hill in those backwoods and came face to face with a whole herd of boars. Not bores. Boars! Very big, fat, hairy, wild pigs with huge tusks and a bad attitude regarding my invasion of their territory. I should have paid more heed to that English teacher’s warning about homonyms.
The boars, as well as my friends and me, froze in mid-stride and eyed each other warily. It now occurred to me that I should have asked that park ranger a lot more questions if only I had understood which kind of boars he was referring to.
Will they charge? Should I run? Climb a tree? Play dead? Do they smell the bacon I had for breakfast and recognize the scent as their cousin Bernie?
“Don’t panic,” whispered my friend Vicky. “They are more afraid of you than you are of them.”
Hah! Not likely. I’ll bet they won’t have to change their underpants when they get back to the lodge. Not that they were wearing any underpants. The only pig I have ever seen wearing pants is Porky Pig in the cartoons. Probably that is just because the artist was not very good at drawing pig genitals.
When I was in school I always drew human figures with their hands in their pockets because I was no good at drawing hands. All my figures looked as if they were searching for their car keys, fishing for change for the soft drink machine, or copping a feel.
Anyway, while I was trying to decide how to respond to imminent boar attack, the entire herd suddenly turned in unison and fled down the hill, dust flying, and their hooves thundering on the hard ground.
I couldn’t wait to get back to the lodge, where I cornered the ranger and described in vivid detail my frightening confrontation and impressive bravery when I confronted the herd of great hairy beasts with the razor-sharp tusks.
He listened attentively, nodding and murmuring, “Really! That big? I am impressed!”
I could have sworn I saw tiny goldfish swimming around in the whites of his eyes.