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8:09 PM Mon, Nov. 12th

Williams: A hobby shouldn’t have you for lunch

A hobby is something you love to do without being paid to do it. Since I no longer have a fulltime career, I’ve developed hobbies that motivate my metabolism. Very few of them involve séances, facials or bourbon. Or spinach. Or trying to scale a 300-foot sheer cliff with pitons, climbing hammers and carabiners. I’ve often thought of sky diving, but the thought of doing it never led to the actual doing. Even if donuts and coffee were promised at the landing site.

I did get SCUBA training once. I enjoyed learning about the eighty-four separate pieces of required equipment and attempting to put them all in the right place prior to diving. I did not enjoy my check out dive which was scheduled for early December in a rock quarry in Egypt, Pennsylvania. I had a wet suit, but what I needed on that 34-degree day was a wet and warm suit. I will not explain how we were told to warm up the neoprene suits we wore that December.

The dive itself was highly disappointing. Although I managed to avoid becoming an instant cryogenic study case in the near freezing depths, I discovered that there is absolutely nothing to see in a rock quarry in Pennsylvania in the month of December. Nothing but shades of gray.

Of course, one explores the underwater world to witness colorful fish, coral and other forms of marine life. The only thing of color that I saw at 30 feet under the rock quarry surface was a red warning label on my wet suit. I never found out what that label was screaming about because by the time I reached the shoreline staggering around like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the label was missing.

The most unsettling part of the main SCUBA training (conducted in the relative safety of a YMCA swimming pool), was learning about encountering sharks in open water. The final sentence of instruction seared into my consciousness, “If a shark ignores the sounds you’ve made to scare him off and swims within arm’s length, strike him smartly on the snout with the butt of your diving knife.” I sincerely longed for subsequent sentence to explain Plan B if the striking smartly thing didn’t work, but the instructor hurried on to explain the science of buoyancy. At that point, I didn’t give a rat’s patootie about floating anywhere if the shark didn’t appreciate his uninvited rap in the chops.

To this day, I don’t know what to do if confronted by an affronted shark even here on the streets of Chino Valley, AZ. I suppose that’s why I always look three ways before stepping off my front porch at home: left, right -- and down. I also enter filled bathtubs much more cautiously than I used to. That vigilance has paid off since I’ve never had an unfortunate shark adventure.

I finally did experience the color and majesty of life beneath the waves during a dive in the Bahamas a couple of years later. I also learned that my sinuses reacted quite painfully if I descended more than 45 feet in depth. I think that was about the time I seriously returned to table tennis as a replacement hobby.

I’ve found that waving a ping pong paddle around is even more fun than threatening 12-foot long man-eating predators with a five-inch diving knife. And ping pong is also more casual – none of the neoprene stuff.

But I suppose that the best part of ping pong as a hobby is that it won’t have you for lunch.

To comment on this column, email wilaugust46@gmail.com.