I dined today with a lady from West Virginia and a lady from North Dakota, and came away from the table one mixed-up Cigiliano. The lady from West Virginia started talking about “noodling,” which got the lady from North Dakota started on “doodling.”

My interest was piqued when the lady from North Dakota declared, “I’d rather canoodle than doodle or noodle.” I had no idea what either one of them was talking about, but figured I should try to find out.

Apparently, noodling in West Virginia amounts to fishing with your hand, that is to say, reaching into the mouth of a large lazy fish, and once that fish cramps down on your arm, you pull that fish into your boat and let it suck on your arm until it tires out and lets go. Then you clean and eat it. I have to assume monster flatheads don’t have teeth. They must gum their prey as a general thing, and sleep with their mouths open. I would not like to be a catfish in West Virginia. I would never sleep.

Now, doodling in North Dakota is an entirely different sport. Doodling involves the technique of pulling a calf out of a cow. This is not a sport really, though some take it as such, and compete with their neighbors as to the efficiency of their techniques.

The lady from North Dakota said she gives her cow a dram of white lightning to relax her before she reaches in there. Backward calves, it seems, will not survive unless you doodle in and get them out, so doodling is an important thing to know if you live on a farm in North Dakota.

Canoodling, I have learned, is an entirely different sport altogether.

Conversations like these are common aboard a paddle wheeler on the Mississippi River, and they are never dull. One Falstaffian-sized gentleman intimated that he had a hard time maneuvering in his economy-sized shower, and emerged from his shower shrink-wrapped in the shower curtain. He had to ask his wife to help free him. This caused me to wonder what I might have done had it been me. I would have had to push the red medical emergency button and hope help was on the way.

The head of housekeeping made me smile when she told me, “Oh, yes, you can drink the water out of the tap, I’ve been doing it for three months now and I haven’t grown a tail.”

But I think my favorite overheard comment aboard paddle wheelers this summer might have come from a darling married couple in their young 90s:

“We figured we were old enough to hire a couple of caregivers, so we did. But they couldn’t keep up with us and quit.”

I am here to testify, you cannot find more enticing conversation than what you will find on a Mississippi paddle wheeler. I’m pretty good at getting my shovel into a conversation, but there are times when even I have to draw down my colors and enjoy my meal.

 McAvoy Layne is a 30-year impressionist of Mark Twain who can be reached at GhostofTwain.com.

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