Sunday, July 30, 2006

Just a stone’s throw

The most important thing I learned during my six years as a Boy Scout, besides how to look awesome in a kerchief, is that you should always set up your tent as far away from Mr. Coe as possible. Mr. Coe was a fine man with a good heart and poor hearing, and his favorite activity was clanking pots and pans at 5:30 in the morning as he cooked up what must have been a ten-course breakfast. Why he couldn’t just eat Slim Jims and Fruit Roll-ups for breakfast like the rest of us, I have no idea. But if you had the misfortune of setting up camp anywhere in his vicinity, you’d jolt awake at daybreak, convinced that someone was filming a Braveheart battle scene outside of your tent.

I thought of Mr. Coe recently as I browsed homemade videos on the website YouTube is a horrible, hypnotic waste of time. Most of the videos that people post there are poorly recorded, utterly pointless and otherwise have little redeeming quality, which makes the hours that evaporate away while you’re watching them all the more inexplicable.

One of the videos, titled “Skipping Record,” showed a middle-aged man, looking like a skinnier version of Jerry Garcia, step up to a river bank and wing a flat stone out across the water. The man stands and watches as the stone pitter-patters on top of the water until it is so far out that all you can see are the tiny little splashes and the barely-perceptible wake that the stone has left behind. The man turns, pumps his fist once and walks off camera. This was the Guiness World Record-breaking stone skip, thrown by Kurt Steiner of Emporium, PA. If you’d like to try to beat it, you’ll have to skip a stone forty-one times. And if your personal record is closer to ten like mine is, you’ll probably need to talk to your local major-league ballplayer about performance enhancement.

Mr. Coe’s son Andy wasn’t too big on stone-skipping, but he was the best overall rock-thrower I’ve ever seen. When you’re on a week-long canoeing trip and the fish aren’t biting, there’s not much else to do at the end of the day but to stand on the river bank and chuck rocks, which we all did enthusiastically. There’s the old legend that George Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River, which might well be true, especially if George enlisted the aid of a cannon, but I’ve personally witnessed Andy Coe easily clearing the Upper Delaware River when most of the other kids were doing good to plunk their rocks halfway across.

One day, we pulled under a bridge near Narrowsburg, PA to eat lunch. Mr. Coe walked up the bank and out onto the bridge, which was a considerable height up from where the rest of us sat.
“Hey Andy, bet you can’t throw a rock all the way up here!” he yelled down, as he turned and shook his behind to taunt his son.

Andy stared at his father for a moment, picked up a walnut-sized rock, tossed it to himself just to get the feel of it, then hurled it up towards the bridge. Too late, Mr. Coe tried to jig out of the way, and he howled as the rock careened off of his shin.

That throw made Andy the Pecos Bill of our scout troop. Every year, the bridge got higher, the rock got bigger and Mr. Coe’s howling became more profane.

I picked up the paper yesterday and saw that Andy just got called up to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals. OK, I made that part up, but if this story ever gets made into a movie, that’s how it should end.

You can bean an email off Mike Todd’s eyes online at

Update: In case anyone gives a hooey enough to check it out, here's the world-record stone skip. This is a different angle than the one I described above, but you can see it better here:

Did you see all forty skips? I might have missed a couple of 'em. But if this guy's nickname isn't the Skipper, something is seriously wrong.


  1. I look horrible in a kerchief, never been in girl scouts, and couldn't skip a rock if my life depended on it. But I LOVE slim jims, so.... Great Story, Mike!

  2. At a recent wedding reception, boychild fired a stone that took out another kid's tooth. In fairness to our boy, he'd been cornered and pelted by that kid and another and was really just trying to defend himself. It was a fluke.

    If he grows up to be a professional thrower of any description, you'll be on my list of people to brag to!

  3. melodyann -- Nobody looks horrible in a kerchief. Those things rule, much like yourself.

    Anna -- Go boychild! You should take that kid to a carnival and have him knock some milk bottles over. It'd be good training before he goes pro.

  4. So let's see you looking awesome in a kerchief! You can't say something like that and then just go and leave us hanging! It's cruel. And unusual.

  5. I could never skip stones, could toss them in the water, but not very far.

    On a throwing note. We coached little leage (we being husband and me) and this one year, first practive of the season, kid gets front tooth knocked out by ball. And on the warmup for the last game of the season another kid gets front tooth knocked out by a ball. The thrower of both balls??? that would be my husband. hehehehe

  6. was a boy scout too. funny. never cooked and ate a hamburger on the grill that wasn't half raw. i don't think there were as many germs and bacteria in those days.