"People either love it, or they hate it," Fred proclaimed again, for the umpteenth time. His reddish face almost glowed against the gray sky. The combination of giddy grin, round cheeks, and fine, yellow, tousled hair yielded a face far too boyish for a man in his mid-fifties. But the always-present twinkle in Fred's eye was ever so slightly diminished today, and I knew why: he feared that his intuition might be mistaken and that I might not, after all, take to today's activity. His concern was compounded by weather; it was far from ideal for this, my first sail. Why was it so important to him that I like sailing anyway?
Given our relatively short acquaintance, it startled me that I could read his face so transparently. But in the few months since Nancy and I had moved into our still unfinished house, Fred had become more than just a next door neighbor. Oh, we certainly had our differences. Fred was old enough to be my father, and our personalities were as far apart as our ages. He was always teasing, playing practical jokes, and smiling quizzically. I was quieter. Compared to Fred, one might say I was comatose. Yet we both seemed to know that we had something in common, something strong.
We also shared a few similarities, at least in the area of interests. Typically impulsive, Fred, upon learning that I rode a motorcycle more than a car, had gone out and bought a brand new one for himself. And I guess we were both builders, of a sort. He was down to the nagging little finishing details on the house that he and Louise had built with their own four hands. Nancy and I were not nearly so far along on our little A-frame, but we had decided to go ahead and move in as soon as the sheet rock was hung. We would finish the rest ourselves, enduring life on a bare concrete floor and eating out of a microwave while we painted, built cabinets, and nailed trim. We weren't pioneers. We just wanted to pay for the house out-of-picket and avoid the customary thirty-year mortgage. Most of our friends thought we were nuts. But not Fred.
It was on a cold January night, right after one of our spaghetti get-togethers and Fred first mentioned his passion for sailing. While Nancy and Louise loaded the dishwasher, Fred walked me out to the back patio. There, with just a hint of ceremony, he pulled back a canvas to reveal a sleek little mass of fiberglass, cables, ropes, and pulleys. I tried to act politely interested as Fred, lost in an almost childlike enthusiasm, began to teach. He showed me the ropes ("Naw, sheets are not sails; sheets are lines"); the rigging ("this is standing; this is...