Apparently, one way or another, he was always going to be haunted by his past.
Here he was on a small island, the only survivor of a shipwreck with nothing left of the ship to salvage except one complete shipping container - somehow miraculously preserved - and when he found it and opened it, hoping for it to be full of a long list of things, what did he find?
100,000 3 inch high rubber duckies, plus one that was 3 feet tall - all in the classic bright cheerful color scheme.
He'd put himself through business college by working as a freelance clown and ever since, silly things like that kept happening to him.
Call it fate, karma, bad luck...whatever. He called it tiresome.
Maybe he shouldn't have joined the World Clown Association.
Without thinking about it, he reacted...by doing a classic prat-fall like he used to do as a clown.
He supposed he should have thought about it, but something in him had snapped & he'd embraced it.
He shrugged and asked himself - 'why not continue embracing it'?
He thought better when he was juggling anyway.
So, while he thought about his situation, he picked 2 bananas, a mango and a coconut from the plentiful fruit trees on the island, started juggling them. To get and hold an audience, any juggling act had to juggle difficult things, so that's what he was used to.
He'd hoped the shipping container would have useful stuff - maybe something to speed up rescue like a satellite phone, or allow him to 'rescue' himself like a motorboat, or at least stuff to make living on the island easier until rescuers happened to come by.
He had plenty of fruit - for now at least - but he didn't know what the seasons were like here, so couldn't guess how long the fruit would still be available.
He knew the island wasn't far from shipping lanes - that's how he'd ended up here after all. But he didn't expect he could build himself a canoe or raft - he knew nothing of woodworking.
So things didn't look good.
He sighed again & sat down while still juggling, but nothing new came to mind.
One factor contributing to his lack of ideas was that a persistent insect kept flying around his face. That made it hard to think - it kept driving him onto odd tangents like just how long it had been since he'd taken a pie to the face, and the fact that he kind-of missed that feeling.
Eventually, in as much whimsy as frustration, he threw the overripe mango high, caught the bananas and coconut he'd been juggling, set them down, & then 'caught' the mango with his face, clown-style - as if it had been a pie to the face.
That squashed the bug.
He smiled at the thought that, even solo, he could still perform the 'dispatch of an edible missile' gag.
He wished he had some cream-pies...
But soon he realized that, with mango smeared all over his face, bugs were leaving him alone. It even felt like it was protecting him against sunburn, a bit.
And it brightly colored his face - making it more clown-like.
He shrugged and embraced the inevitable - like it or not, he was a clown.
One of his 'gags' used to be, to use a brightly colored feather duster to dust things you wouldn't ordinarily dust - like people's heads and faces.
So, supposing that that may help him think, he set off to try to make one.
For the magic tricks he'd performed, he'd learned some things about rope use, braiding, and knot-tying - you had to get it right for your tied-together-silk-scarves gag to work.
So, after some thinking and experimenting with various things, he sat down with a stack of palm fronds and practiced using the fibers in them.
He made strings, and ropes but couldn't manage a good feather duster.
So he played out another old gag - he played 'cat's cradle' with the strings. He got complicated with it and made a fairly complex net, like crochet, & then made a face in his 'cat's cradle' net.
Then he made the 'cat's cradle' face talk to him, or seem to, using ventriloquism.
That had been one of his favorite tricks.
The face in the string said "You know you're never going to get off the island at this rate."
Like he had in his act, he made a big show of overreacting to the talking string, as if it really surprised him.
Doing so helped him relax.
And, like in his show, he replied as if he was comically stupid. He said "Somebody will find me and rescue me. And until then, I like bananas."
"Pffft!" replied the face in the string, "The ocean is an enormously big place & nobody knows where to look for you. A practical person would do something, like cut down logs and use them to spell 'Help' on the beach. That would at least give them something to look for."
"But," replied Lester, enjoying the 'conversation' even though he was only talking to himself, "I don't have anything to cut down trees with, and don't know how to make such a thing."
The face scowled. "Then use what you DO know, Duh!"
Lester hammed up an exaggerated sad-clown reaction and said, "But I only know silly clowning stuff, and how to manage a business - filling out ledgers won't help me here."
"Do I have to do all the thinking around here!" demanded the face in the string, while managing to look angry.
Getting the string to show expressions like that had taken Lester a long time to master.
"Well thanks, that sure would be nice..." Lester started off as if abashed.
But the string face cut him off. "No. I'm tired of carrying you. You need to figure it out for yourself for once. But I'll give you a hint - don't bother thinking about what you don't know and don't have. Instead think long and hard about what what you do know and what you do have." Then it put on a firm resolute look.
Though the 'conversation' had been extremely silly, Lester felt better anyway.
He carefully set aside the face he'd made with his 'cat's cradle' string, since it made him feel less lonely to have it there.
Then he braided more string while he thought.
He was a fidgeter anyway - he needed to do something with his hands all the time, especially when his mind was occupied.
He thought all afternoon.
When he got hungry and got up to go find something to eat, he found that he'd made quite a bit of string from palm frond fibers.
He'd also made more crochet-like netting from some of it.
He exclaimed, in as comic a manner as he could "This means something!", laughed at his joke & then went to find some bananas.
He came back later with more palm fronds, and sat down to think some more.
By nightfall, he hadn't thought of anything useful he could do to either attract rescuers or to get off the island.
He laid down in the sand to sleep. But he tossed and turned - uncomfortable without a mattress.
Then it occurred to him to try a do-it-yourself air mattress.
He went to the shipping container, got an armful of rubber duckies, then returned with them to his sleeping spot.
Each duckie had been shipped deflated and without packaging - as if they'd been poured into the shipping container so it could hold the maximum possible number of them in its volume.
He fiddled with a ducky for a moment, intending to inflate it, then found that the ducky was self-inflating: when the plastic stopper was opened, springy internal stiffeners made the ducky resume its normal shape & that sucked air in to the opening.
He grinned, then sang in anticipation "Rubber ducky, you're the one, you make sleeptime so much fun."
As he inflated the rest of his armful of rubber duckies, he struggled, but failed, to remember any more of the words to the rubber ducky song.
So in silence, he scooped out a number of small pits in the sand - each almost big enough for a rubber ducky. The pits were set up in a grid just big enough to use as a mattress.
Then he put the duckies in their pits, leaving just a bit of inflated rubber exposed above each pit rim.
He carefully laid down on his improvised air mattress, anticipating that it'd be a lot more comfortable than laying on sand.
He fought with it for an hour - making adjustments and trying again, before giving up and just sleeping on bare sand.
In the morning he was thirsty, and cranky from having slept poorly.
So, in frustration, he kicked one of the rubber duckies, but then had an idea.
There was a pond nearby, but it was just far enough away to be bothersome to go to every time he wanted a drink.
But if a rubber ducky could hold air, maybe it could hold water too.
He scooped up a couple and hurried to the pond to find out.
That, at least, worked fine.
He simply had to unstop the stopper, squeeze out all the air, then immerse the ducky. It 'inflated' under water - filling itself with water just fine.
And when the stopper was re-fastened, the duckie held the water just fine - none spilled out past the tight-fitting stopper.
So he drank his fill and headed back, happily juggling the 2 water-filled rubber duckies, plus a couple of coconuts, since juggling just 2 things was too easy - you only did that to be comedically-pathetic. That could be amusing at times too, of course.
While juggling them, he practiced his ventriloquism skills to make the duckies complain about being tossed around - pretending that the motion was making them sick.
For a finale, he had one get 'sicker and sicker' until it 'vomited' a bunch of sand, which he'd quickly scooped up for the purpose.
It amused him, and he supposed that was worth something.
But all too soon, distractions like eating and drinking were over for now & he was back at the spot he thought of as his 'thinking tree', sitting down to think again.
He'd brought a fresh stack of palm fronds, so he could 'fidget' by making more string.
Time passed, and at the end of the day, he had a big pile of string, some duckies wearing 'sweaters' he had 'crocheted' from the string, a hammock he'd also 'crocheted' from string, and, more importantly, he had an idea.
He slept well that night in his new hammock.
In the morning he was so cheerful he held, via ventriloquism, a 5 minute 'conversation' with the nearby rocks and trees, using mainly silly babytalk instead of words.
And he did it while standing on his head.
Anyone familiar with him would know that that meant he was very cheerful indeed.
Then he got to work.
He made string, and netting from that string, much much faster when he was concentrating on it rather than just fiddling with it.
The next day, he was ready.
Ready, that is, for a serious experiment.
He had a 'raft' of sorts, and tried it out in his pond.
The raft was mostly string and rubber duckies. String formed a 'collar' for each ducky which held it in place in a big net bag made of lots more string.
The duckies would float and the string would hold them together, he hoped.
And it worked - mostly.
He floated on it just fine, though it was a little hard to get used to - you had to balance right, and not put too much weight on any one spot.
He practiced on it long enough that he fell asleep while floating on it.
He woke up when the raft broke 'ducking' him in the pond.
Examination showed that some knots had come undone - loosened by the water.
Dejected, he went back to his thinking tree, and picked up "Bob" the cat's cradle face which he'd made and kept.
Bob didn't wait to be asked a question but immediately asserted "I'm hungry."
Lester replied, as if confused - in classic clown fashion "But Bob, faces made of string don't need to eat."
"How do you know?" retorted an indignant Bob. "Have you ever been made of string?"
"Not that I can recall..." Lester said, as if trying to remember.
He knew the conversation was silly but it amused him & that cheered him up, which is what he needed.
"Well, what do you want to eat?" Lester asked Bob
"Fishies!" the string exuberantly asserted.
"That sounds good to me too." Lester agreed, "I'm getting a little tired of eating nothing but fruit. But how can I catch fishies - I have no hooks or anything."
"Dummy," accused Bob, "If you can hold duckies in a net, you can hold fishies in one too. Just be quick so it doesn't stay wet too long and fall apart."
"Good idea!", enthused Lester, then set about it.
He tried all day to catch fish in nets he'd made.
It took a lot of adjusting, to get the size right and to know how best to use it, but by the evening he had a pretty good catch.
He didn't want to eat raw fish, so he wondered how to cook them.
Long ago he'd joked a lot about banging rocks together to make fire, so he tried it and actually found a pair that made sparks.
After making sparks for a while, he eventually made a fire.
While he roasted his fish on sticks over the fire, he reflected on his skills and was surprised to note that all the skills which had proven useful to him had come from his clowning experience - none had come from business school.
He laughed at the thought that Mission Statements and Vision Statements were really just another form of clowning anyway - a sad joke. Then he changed his mind, because clowning needs to get people's attention and hold it, but nobody paid attention to Mission Statements and Vision Statements.
He laughed at that too, as he ate his fish.
They were delicious to him even though he normally wasn't a big fan of fish.
He was licking his greasy fingers, and hoping his nets would dry out so they could be re-used instead of falling apart, when he had an idea.
Quickly, he hurried over and applied the grease from his fingers to the string - especially to the knots in it.
Then he went back to the fish carcasses and got any remaining grease, and did the same.
The next day his fishing nets seemed a lot better - they didn't loosen as the day went by.
They were water resistant now.
He was so happy that he actively clowned around for an hour.
Then he got back to work.
In a month he was ready.
With high hopes, he set sail in his boat - the Ducky McStinkyFish.
He had hundreds rubber duckies filled with water, and dozens more - as many as he'd been able to fill - filled with fruit juices.
But most of his rubber duckies - almost 100,000 of them - were filled with air and were contained within nets he'd woven from palm fronds and waterproofed with fish oil.
More nets held supplies - fruits and dried fish.
And still more nets and string were available for patching at need, and for fishing while he traveled, in case food ran low.
The net that had taken him longest was the one that held a bunch of palm fronds together as a sail. Whole palm fronds were tied together with string so they could approximate one big sheet. They were also tied to strong nets front and back to give them strength.
Nets can't catch wind.
Palm fronds by themselves aren't strong enough to resist wind, like a sail must, without getting torn up.
But the palm fronds fastened to strong nets in front and back worked. It made a usable sail.
Having nowhere else to attach a mast he'd tied it to the Big Ducky.
Big Ducky - the 3 foot tall rubber ducky - was named Herbert now. Herbert served as Lester's saddle - the place where he sat while sailing. It wasn't very stable but was the best he could do for anything but laying down. To further stabilize it, he'd filled Herbert with water to add some mass. The extra water would also give him the ability to stay alive longer while hoping that a passing ship saw him and rescued him.
His 'mast' was really a small sapling he'd simply uprooted and torn the branches off of. It was mainly for holding the sail up into the wind. But the mast did not resist the force of the wind and impart it to the boat, like a mast on a normal boat would.
Instead a series of strong ropes did that.
So even though the mast was comparatively flimsy, it proved to be adequate - all it had to resist was the force of gravity pulling the sail down, not the force of the wind pulling the sail forwards.
While he'd prepared, Lester had been talking more and more to Bob the face in the string, and to Herbert the Big Ducky.
It kept him cheerful, which helped him keep working. But he suspected it was eroding away at his sanity a bit.
It didn't help when, sailing away but still within sight of the island, a big storm struck and lightning repeatedly hit near Ducky McStinkyFish.
Lester burrowed down into the main net, surrounded by the rubber duckies, in hopes that they'd insulate him and protect him from the lightning.
Whether it was that, or something else, he didn't know. But something preserved him.
So Lester, Bob, and Herbert sailed Ducky McStinkyFish out into the shipping lanes.
It wasn't long before a ship came into view.
Lester waved excitedly but was bemused when the ship passed right by without stopping.
Soon after, another ship came by and did the same.
So did the next and the next.
The fifth ship passed close enough that Lester heard laughter coming from it, from which he finally guessed the answer to the riddle of why no one would stop and pick him up.
Everything about him and his ship were silly.
He had on a huge floppy hat he'd woven to protect him from the sun. He was also wearing some shoes he'd woven to be very large so they could act as flippers when and if he needed to swim.
Something had made him dye them bright colors.
Practicing with fruit juices, flowers, crushed up shellfish and the like to try to find and make the right dyes had left his clothes, face and even his hands, brightly dyed as well.
So he looked very clownish.
And Ducky McStinkyFish was the very essence of clownish appearance, being both brightly colored and quite absurd.
Further, he passed the time, and filled his need to fidget, by juggling incessantly.
Observers on the passing ships thought he was a joke, not somebody needing rescue. So they waved, laughed and moved on.
For some reason, nothing Lester tried ever made them take him seriously.
Apparently it is common for people to go crazy, at least a little bit, after a long and arduous solo journey like Lester had.
So when the trade winds finally blew Lester into a port 2 months after he set sail on the Ducky McStinkyFish, the local authorities who rescued him had real trouble deciding whether he had gone insane, or whether he was just particularly skilled and persistent at portraying his clown persona.
Either way, Lester, who'd fully embraced his former stage name of Lester Von WiggleEars and long since mastered the art of comically wiggling his ears, made a mint appearing on TV shows like Good Morning America. Not only did he have an amazing story to tell, but he clowned around and was very entertaining as well.
He had a particularly good series of jokes about Mission Statements.
This was written when a friend challenged me to write about being stranded on a habitable island with one shipping container full of 'anything you want'. I decided to be silly with it.
If you liked this story, you can find more of my stories at:
In case the url gets stripped off, that's ~calculonius on the site fanfiction dot net