Welcome to the Boat & Yacht Report’s Literary Corner. From time to time I get submissions from authors all over the world to have a look at some of their boat-related themes, works in progress, or published works. This hit a chord with me and I decided, while it is still being written, I’d let you have a look at the first two chapters of a novel-in-progress that I am penning. If you find this interesting, please let me know by using the Leave a Comment button at the bottom of the page. And if you have any creative works with some sort of connection to our watery way of life lying there on your desks, in a desk drawer, or sitting in a file on your desktop, whether they be poetry, a children’s story, or novel and want to share or test the waters with the world, just send them on over and I’ll give them a read and hopefully, with your permission of course, put them up here on the site.
Excerpt from: THE GREAT CORINTHIANS
Copyright © 2015 by Ken Kreisler. All rights reserved.
I remember him standing there, the freshening breeze whipping his raven hair back and forth across his brow while one hand clutched the mainsail’s varnished boom with its deep-set grains a myriad and mysterious canvas of visible whorls and curves, the other hand holding the helm’s spoked wheel, its front and back sides inlaid with brass, the teak bungs a bit lighter in color than the mahogany wood it was hewn from. Like all of us, he wore a long sleeve, white cotton shirt, open two buttons at the neck, and no cuff links holding the arms closed at his wrists. His baggy navy shorts hung loosely at his hips and just made the tops of his knees. It was his look. Our look.
I could see the outline of his sunglasses the summer spent in the sun had made around his eyes; the same glasses that now hung rakishly from his neck, held there by a length of fishing line; and the burnished brown color that tinted every exposed part of his skin.
He was a force of nature now, one with it in mind, body, and soul, imploring us all to join him; our Hornblower and Raleigh, our Nelson and Drake, and yes, even our Morgan and Ahab, entreating all aboard to set sail for glory and honor on a once-in-a-lifetime grand adventure. He looked over at us standing there on the dock, all of us barefoot, our blood up, with muscles taut and honed from a season of physical work. In that moment we would even have followed him down past horizons none of us could ever have imagined. And all he would have had to do was ask.
“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you from the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions,” he smiled and said, pointing at the other boat, its crew going about one routine after another in preparation to getting underway. It was the one we would not only have to beat, but beat so soundly and so convincingly, that there would be no question as to which was the better vessel manned by the better crew.
“Colossians 2:18,” yelled Jack as we cheered a deeply resonant and hearty ‘hoo-rah!’ in response.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” I yelled almost maniacal, stepping forward, now totally caught up in the living, growing vortex of what we were about to do.
“Yes, Just Edward, master of the foresail! Timothy 4:7,” Kevin said to me, pointing my way and smiling broadly.
“That’s the spirit! Now, on with it lads. Let’s show these louts what real sailors can do. Let’s show them how we balance and master wind with water and spirit on this fine boat of ours. The spirit is the prize, mates. The spirit of why and how we race the race. It’s what we do. It’s what we are. Mos insisto in nostrum excito! They will follow in our wake!”
“And who are we?” we all shouted as one voice.
“We are The Great Corinthians!” we answered mightily, arms held high, feeling the camaraderie of fellowship that, once touched and savored, may urge one to spend an entire lifetime pursuing in hopes of experiencing it just once more.
And as we clamored aboard, clasping hand to shoulder, turning to the tasks of getting underway that would bind our souls to each other, to him, to our boat and to the wind, we knew, beyond a doubt, every one of us, that this was our time.
On the day after Charles Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, seventeen year old Edward Collins, just graduated from high school and looking forward to entering the freshman class at Columbia University as a journalism major in the fall, sets his sights on landing his first job as one of the dock boys for the impending regatta season, that being from Memorial Day to Labor Day, at an elite and private yacht club on the northeasterly waterfront reaches of New York City’s well-heeled Westchester County.
There, as Edward either sinks or swims, for he has no background or experience within the exclusive world of sailing yachts, or of those whose station in life is far above his, he falls in with a robust and brigand band of young sailors and mariners, captained for the most part by a charismatic, talented, and free-spirited teen who leads his salty cohorts in tending to the wants and needs of the well-heeled yachting set. Over the course of the summer, and as he is quickly seduced by the ways of fine yachts and their polished brass fittings and deeply varnished rails and teak decks; by the natural ebb and flow of water and wind and tide, he will develop, have nurtured and made valid, his own style of maritime swagger and unique view of the world. He will also have his heart broken by a soon-to-be debutante, the daughter of a high-profile and valued club member. And with all the trusting innocence of his youth, Edward will find out in an all too meaningful way when he is tested by the inner workings of money and privilege, and how an act of deception and lack of moral character can threaten to tarnish and attempt to bring down the notion of how true and lofty the meaning of honor and friendship can be.
THE GREAT CORINTHIANS is an adventurous story of bravery and self-discovery; a bittersweet coming of age tale of how best to embrace the responsibility of savoring victory or accepting oneself in the face of defeat; of the angst of unrequited first love, and the often-harsh life lessons and rites of passage that can either strengthen forever, or work to test, weaken, or even break, the ties that bind us together.
THE GREAT CORINTHIANS
Copyright © 2015 by Ken Kreisler. All rights reserved.
“The mind of the master of a vessel is rooted deep in the timbers of her, though
he command for a day or a decade.”
–Stephen Crane, The Open Boat
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
“Such is the human race, often it seems a pity that Noah… didn’t miss the boat.”
“I yam what I yam and tha’s all what I yam.”
How I had come to seek a job at the yacht club that summer of 1927 is one that I have long since stopped questioning. Instead, and with that same bravado I had when I first set out to cast my fate to whatever lay ahead of me by the time I had reached the barely enlightened age of seventeen, between when I would graduate from high school and enter my college studies that coming September as one of the freshman class at Columbia University, accepted the steps that guided me off the train from New York City that late spring day and walk the mile and a half through the well-heeled town to the manicured and seemingly genteel waterside grounds of one of the most venerated and exclusive sailing communities in the country. I had not an inkling as to what it meant to jibe, of what being on the edge of a broad reach could deliver, the importance of beating downwind, or what the difference was between a barque, a brig, and a sloop.
By the time I found myself sitting in the main dining room of the clubhouse, surrounded by 19th century maritime oils on the walls, ones even in my present state of ignorance I knew to be original and genuine, and well-set tables all around me, waiting to be interviewed by the club’s manager and vice-commodore, things in the real world were changing rapidly. Earlier that May, a man by the name of Philo Farnsworth had transmitted the first experimental electronic television pictures. And just yesterday the entire known civilized portion of the planet was notified that Charles Lindbergh had landed in Paris, becoming the first person to make a solo, non-stop transatlantic crossing.
I had worn the only suit I owned at that time, a dark blue affair with what was termed then as having a banker’s stripe in it, and of the proper pants length and cuffed of course. My mother had starched and ironed my white shirt, polished my black dress shoes, and I was using my father’s gold cuff links, his leather braces, and a tie he thought would fit the circumstances I was now surrounded by.
“These are the kind of people that are not like us, Edward,” he said to me as he stood an arm’s length away and showed me how to tie a proper Duke of Windsor knot. “There. Now that is what a correct knot should look like.” He paused, stepped in some, smiled, and grabbed both my shoulders giving them a gentle squeeze before stepping back and putting both hands in his pockets.
Harry Collins gave a tall appearance, most likely because of his rather slim build, but missed measuring six feet by a bit more than an inch. I always remember him being well-groomed and clean-shaven with features that were not remarkable. Most likely he would not have stood out in a crowd. But then again, he was the kind of man who did not have to and nor did he want to.
But for his suit jacket, he was almost fully dressed himself, wearing his gray suit, also one with a faint stripe in the fabric, a pair of black cloth braces with brass fixtures, his six button vest, a light blue shirt with a round, white collar, and a very nice silk tie.
“Yes, as I was saying Edward, they are moneyed people son, with the kind of money that we on the street have come to know as old. And that means they are privileged, with their own rules and their own way of doing things. Trust me son, I know.”
It was said that I got my business sense from my father and my intellectual capacity from my mother. He was a somewhat successful Wall Street broker who, with his sharp, conservative business acumen and instincts, would see what was coming two years hence, and, along with a small handful of others, manage to survive the great economic calamity. Those of his clients, the very few left who had stuck by him and took his advice, were most appreciative during the recovery years later, allowing my parents, and my younger sister who was still living at home at the time for both my brother and I had already found our own ways in the world, to enjoy a level of life he had always dreamed of but never quite achieved before.
What Peter was to Christ, my mother was to Harry Collins. She was the solid raw material, the natural resource upon which my father could build his life, standing by him when he was unsuccessful in his endeavors or decisions and sharing in the happiness and adulation the family enjoyed when things went well. My father always knew who he was and where his shortcomings were and perhaps, more importantly, knew who she was and what she meant to him.
The former Dorothy Tolliver had met Harry Collins during his initial and unpaid six-month internship at E.A. Pierce and Company, being signed up in the senior year of his college studies at City University where he excelled in several areas, the best of which were mirrored in his oft-quoted senior thesis on factors that could affect the somewhat volatile futures market as it related to various bond offerings and certain commodities both here and abroad. Upon her graduation from Barnard, with a magna cum laude standing in her class, and armed with a degree in English literature that was bolstered with a natural way with words both spoken and written—my mother never received anything less than an A- for any paper she wrote during her four-year baccalaureate degree work, once even arguing and winning the battle with an established professor on a B+ rating she refused to accept—she had also been hired by the firm, answering a campus recruitment ad, to act as a tutor to some of its veteran executives as well as those targeted as up-and-comers.
The money was very good at the time and young Miss Tolliver decided to delay taking a teaching position at a grade school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, at least for a year. While still living at home with her parents, and being the last of four sisters still remaining in the house and finally having a room all to herself, she laid out a plan on how best to put away enough money to get a place of her own in the future. To that end, she set her sights on the Greenwich Village neighborhood she imagined would suit her social sensibilities and challenge her intellectual aspirations.
Harry Collins was smitten by his tutor almost immediately. Beyond her comely good looks and pleasing personality and charm, and that devastatingly wonderful perfume she wore, there was something about the young woman; some almost indefinable assuredness that while just out of explanation was nonetheless as real and substantial as granite. There was an enduring quality about her, surrounding her like a gossamer aura, seemingly thin and delicate at first and easily parted, but possessing the kind of moral strength of character that set her apart from others.
It was with these thoughts of my parents, about how they were with one another and what they had attempted to give to me and my siblings that, combined with some of my own self-inflicted judgments and fears, I now found myself staring almost absent-mindedly with some passing interest at the panoramic view of the long horseshoe-shaped cove that lay at the bottom of the gently sloping hill upon which the clubhouse, circa 1850, was built on and decided to get up from my chair and stride over to the window. There was a lot of activity going on both shore side as well as out on the water as small dinghies and launches darted back and forth, guided by what appeared to my landlocked eyes as a young and roguish band of tiller handlers and sailors, quite sure and adept in their abilities as they went about their tasks of setting the anchors for the vast mooring-ball field, one that would soon be dotted all over every shape, design, and length of sailing and motor powered yacht.
Whether intimidated, should I actually get hired, that this would be the kind of work I would be doing, or just allowing my own natural shyness to get the better of me together with the fear of trying to be at ease with accomplishing, to any degree of success or expertise, the tasks of those I now watched, made my mind wander some and away from the activity outside. Instead, I scanned the room until my eyes landed on the calligraphy-styled names inscribed on a rather austere looking roster framed in what appeared to be gilded gold and mounted over a nearby large fireplace, one of many in the sizeable room, its mantle strewn with polished silver cups of varying sizes and, as I figured, importance; especially the particularly large and ornate one positioned in the middle. I moved over for a closer inspection.
He strode into the room from somewhere else, and as I heard his precise and measured footsteps on the highly polished, dark walnut, wide-planked floor behind me, I turned in my place, smiled as per my mother’s direction, and knew this was the man with who rested the decision for my summer employment.
“One always wants to see a pleasant smile upon the face of a handsome young man rather than the scowl or overly concerned look on one who is confused or ill at ease,” she had said to me.
He was tall with a long, character-lined face, high forehead, and wore his silver hair combed back and parted in the middle. He was very well-groomed and it appeared, from the pink hue of his skin, he had just come from a private session with a barber, having been given a flawless shave and hot towel treatment. He had pale blue eyes and carried himself like a banker, corporate executive, or head of state. And a very accomplished one at that.
“Those names there,” he said, pointing up at the roster. “Chilton and Turner. Family names dating back to the Mayflower. And you are?”
“Edward. Edward Collins.”
“Yes, Mr. Collins. Your father is a mid-level broker with E.A. Pierce and Company, originally A.A. Housman and Company, a firm founded by William and Arthur Houseman in 1885 and taken over by the aforementioned Pierce concern earlier this year. Housman was the broker for J.P. Morgan and played a prominent role in calming the trouble back in 1901. That was when he brought Mr. Pierce aboard. The Baruch Brothers were also there at the time,” he added with a much different tone that seemed to emphasize that last statement; a disapproving and somewhat disdainful quality punctuated by a momentary glance away and at nothing in particular. It was as if he had remembered tasting something bad and was trying to get the memory of the flavor of it out of his mind.
His voice had a special timbre to it; an almost hypnotic resonance that at once compelled me to listen to the information I was being given and then at the same time, filled me with dread and insecurity at not having any knowledge of what it was about. And he knew it too.
“But for what my father does for a living, and that he and my mother met there, I did not know all that other information.”
“Unless you were planning to enter the world of finance, and even at your age, I would think there would be no need for it. But you, Mr. Collins, will be attending Columbia this fall with a major in journalism. Yet another writer in the chute. John Daniels, vice-commodore of the club,” he said as he offered his hand across the distance from where he stood, making no attempt to cross the chasm. I stepped forward and gave him a firm shake and saw him smile and nod.
“Yes, well then, Edward, let’s grab a seat over there by the window and talk a bit. Shall we?” He didn’t wait for an answer and quickly turned.
I followed a step or two behind, noticing the confident way he walked and how exact his tailored clothes, that being a tan suit, light blue shirt, navy and yellow striped silk tie, and brown wing tip shoes fit him.
“The reason I mentioned the Pierce firm is that it seems they oversee a portion of a small number of our members’ financial portfolios, and especially a limited but nonetheless, somewhat significant percentage of the investments of our long-time member, Mr. Arthur Cook which in turn, are tended to in part, by your father. For myself and my holdings, I choose to do my personal banking and speculation elsewhere, but that is of no consequence to this conversation. Do you know the Cook family?” he said as we sat at one of the dining room tables I could see easily being set for eight with plenty of room to spare.
“Would you like something to drink, Mr. Daniels?” She was silent in her approach, appearing as if out of nowhere, and waiting for the correct moment when it would be proper to interrupt. She was an older woman, conservatively dressed as I would imagine someone whose occupation was that of a bookkeeper or accountant would be. Or perhaps, someone whose job it was to prevent unimportant people from trying to see important ones.
“Mr. Collins?” he said directly to me, tilting his head somewhat to one side and smiling.
“Uh, no thank you.”
“Half a cup of coffee for me then, Margaret. Black please.”
“Thank you,” she said and left without a sound.
“So,” he said, squaring himself in his chair, crossing one leg on top of the other, and settling his hands, the right one covering the left, in his lap. “Tell me about Edward Collins.” The large class ring on his right hand matched the small pin he wore on one lapel of his suit jacket. While I could see that both said Yale, the numerals indicating the years were too small to notice from where I sat.
I most likely let a bit too much time pass before I answered but not having any experience in being interviewed, and especially with someone possessing the commanding presence of vice-commodore John Daniels, my mind went blank for a moment as I fished around in my brain for something, anything, to say.
“I’m seventeen years old, and will be eighteen this coming August,” I finally stammered, trying to get comfortable in the chair, in my suit, in my voice, in my own skin. “I uh, as a sophomore, played baseball on my high school team, have a younger brother and sister…”
“Do you have any politics Edward? Any thoughts in that area? Anything to say about the current administration of Mr. Coolidge and Mr. Dawes?” he said, cutting me off.
“No, not at the moment.”
“Continue,” he said, remaining quite still and not taking his eyes off of mine.
“I like to read. I, read a lot, that is,” I said.
“Oh? And which of today’s authors do you prefer?” he said, smiling once again, this time more like some predatory animal, toying with its prey.
“I, uh, liked The Great Gatsby, Mr. Hemingway’s In Our Time, and my mother just gave me a copy of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. She thought I would enjoy it.”
“And, as you will be entering Columbia as a journalism major, your own writings?”
“Starting in my sophomore year too, I did some for the school newspaper. I’m, well that is, still working on my voice, uh, in that area.”
The foolishness of being ill-prepared for such questions, and the fact that I was way out of my league here, had taken hold of me as the words spilled out of my mouth and flopped and plopped on the floor, there to congeal and create quite the mess on the highly polished surface under my feet. In desperation I looked to my left, out of the window, trying to escape the now stifling surroundings of the original 19th century maritime oils hanging on the heavy oak paneled walls, the brass sconces with their little linen shades casting a yellowish glow, the great fireplaces and trophy-laden mantles, the deep burgundy-hued leather Chesterfield couches and elegant wing chairs, their hand-carved clawed legs resting on antique Oriental rugs of muted russet and browns and maroon colors in the outer rooms, and people such as Daniels and the specter-like Margaret and all the others who, so far unseen, I knew inhabited the grand clubhouse and the world of regattas and protocols and privilege.
“The sophomore year seems to have been a busy one for you. Anyway,” he said, breaking the silence as I looked back at him, my face not attempting, nor able, to hide my humiliation. “Mr. Cook has asked me, on behalf of your father’s request to him, to look into possible summer employment for you here at the club. Do you understand how this works?”
“Yes,” I answered, a bit mechanically, resigned to my lowly station by my own words.
“Good. So, this meeting was just a formality so we could make sure that at the very least, your physical presence would best typify the kind of young person we feel will represent the high standards and ideals of our organization. On that consideration, you present yourself well.”
“Thank you,” I said, feeling a bit strange now as I realized, and with the floundering way I tried to bluff my way through, that the job, whatever it was going to be, was mine.
“As far as your background is concerned, do you have any experience working around boats, sailing, and with those who own and race them? Do you know of, or are aware of the set of rules governing colors, the procedural methods covering regatta events, the Corinthian attitude towards amateur competition, and the finer distinctions of yacht club membership?”
“I see. Well then,” he said, now leaning forward and placing both hands, palms down, on the table. “As a request has been made by one of our esteemed members to see this thing through for you, we’ll just have you make a go at it. Sink or swim, as it were. You see those boys down there?” he said, still looking at me but motioning a bit with his head.
“Yes, I was watching them before, while I was waiting.”
Margaret had reappeared and placed on the table, what looked like to me to be a fine china cup on a small plate. She poured the coffee from a silver decanter, as elegant in its design as was the cup, and wiped the lone drop of dark liquid from its spout with a white linen napkin she held in her other hand.
“Thank you Margaret. ”
“Mr. Daniels,” was all she said, nodding her head slightly and taking two or three steps backwards, turned and walked quietly across the room and, opening a door, was gone.
“I think that is where we shall place you. Yes. It’s good outdoor activity, will test your mettle, and is of the kind I feel you will most likely benefit from. That is, unless you would rather work here in the dining room, not as a waiter of course, but most likely in the kitchen as a food runner, dish washer, or helping to clear tables. Or perhaps with maintenance or the grounds crew?”
“I’ll work out there, with the boats, with them,” I said without hesitation.
“Good. Why don’t you take yourself down there and introduce yourself to a, Mr. Marks. He’ll show you the ropes and start to get you, as they say on the docks, squared away. Quite the sailor, Marks is. Been with us, let me see, I believe this will be his third season now and he seems to have gotten the attention of those in charge of our racing committee. Won last year’s annual Labor Day Club Employees Regatta quite handily in a rather contentious affair with one of the other boats helmed by a member’s son. They did go at it some but in the end, Marks’ crew did prevail. Could make for a rather interesting rematch. Odd young man, though. He’s a, bit different from the rest. You’ll see what I mean. Now, will there be anything else?” he smiled while lifting the cup of coffee and taking a careful, almost silent sip.
As he looked at me over the rim, I could smell the deep, dark aroma coming from it, an adult scent that I did not understand nor could ever, at that moment in my life, along with many other as yet undefined things still shrouded over in mystery, fathom becoming familiar with.
“Uh, no. Thank you,” I said, not knowing whether to get up and offer my hand, or continue to sit there and reach over the table.
“Edward, you are supposed to ask about your salary,” he said, putting the coffee cup down and leveling his gaze at me.
“Oh. Uh, well then, what is it?” I felt myself go flush, becoming stupid and awkward again after almost recovering from a moment ago, and now beginning to sweat in my shirt as well.
“You will be paid twenty-five dollars per week, delivered by check, the week consisting of six days with a day off on a rotating schedule. Do your job well and there will most likely be gratuities coming your way; that is, you will get tips from the members and their guests. It will not be expected but earned. You will be issued two working shirts, which must always be clean and wrinkle free. There is a laundry service for the help but it will be your responsibility to get it done. Your hair must be neatly groomed and combed and as I see you have yet to shave, need not worry about that for now. Should you start to sprout some growth during the summer, make sure it is gone before reporting for the day. But Marks will give you all the necessary information. Keep your nose clean and take care of the members, their families, and their boats. This is a highly visible position and serving the membership is of utmost importance. And Edward,” he said, in a tone that told me our time together was just about up.
“Yes?” I said, standing up for no other reason than I had nothing else to say and wanted so much to be out of there.
“Stay away from the members’ young daughters, those of your age. While they may appear to be friendly and a tempting vision for the young men here, especially the boat crews what with their bravado and seeming ease and expert prowess with tiller and sail, such fraternization is not only frowned upon but is against the club’s rules of etiquette and station and serves as grounds for immediate dismissal. Understood?”
“Well then,” he said as he stood up, “The best of luck to you Edward. Have a good summer and if you show enough of what we like to see around here, perhaps we’ll have you back again for next season. That’s a well tied Windsor knot, by the way.”
He offered his hand across the table, which I again, following my father’s advice, met and left him with a firm clasp. He smiled, nodded his head, picked up his cup of coffee by the dish and crossed over to the window.
“Edward,” he said, not turning around. “Make sure you send a personal, hand-written note to Mr. Cook, thanking him for his trouble. Be careful of spelling and grammatical syntax. But of course, you being a, writer, are already aware of that. Use the club stationary and leave it with Margaret at the front desk. She’ll see to it that he gets it.”
“I will. Thank you Mr. Daniels,” I said and, hesitating for a moment in anticipation he might say something back, which he did not, turned and walked out of the dining room. I made my way through the vestibule and outer lounge and past one of the bar rooms, pushed on one side of the double, oak-doored main entrance and stepped out on the porch, where quite soon, the handsome and varnished, bent-wood and cane furniture with their dark green canvas cushions and nearby, glass-topped tables, would be placed, and into the late afternoon sun of a late spring day.
Laying The Keel
The grounds upon which I walked that day, down the gently sloping and already well-manicured rise, its brown winter coat now green and shorn of its tattered growth, towards the docks and the boat crew huts, had come into being under the ownership of the yacht club in 1850. That was when the four original founding members of a very small but up and coming racing club, leased the then modest home on the hill from a wealthy industrialist who had moved on to another location but had not yet decided to part with the real estate. As the membership swelled, so did its coffers and they were soon able to purchase the property outright in a cash deal as well as acquiring the surrounding land. Then, as fortunes rose with new and wealthier members, they expanded the place until it reached its present and grand appointments.
Generations before that, of course, and in the time when the Boston Post Road ran between New York City and Boston, going right through the now wealthy and incorporated municipality, founded in 1661 according to the well-maintained signs found on both sides of its legal boundaries, itself a smaller hamlet within yet a larger and equally affluent town, it was land inhabited by the Manhatatan Mohicans. The tribal chief, Wappaquewam, was convinced by a prosperous English trader named John Richbell, to allow him to acquire three necks of land on what was known back then as the Westchester Path. It was on the middle neck that the yacht club’s grounds would take root.
While the image of a rough-hewn longhouse occupying the very ground on whose surface I now stepped, or that of hunting parties paddling across the cove in birch tree canoes with sides painted in images depicting animal and spiritual deities, the braves’ bows and quivers secured about their necks as they rowed across the placid waters never materialized in my mind, I did stop and turn around to look back at the grand clubhouse perched on top.
The rambling, two-story Victorian structure, with its three turrets, the largest one in the middle and the one sporting a rather whimsical weather vane in the shape of a whale, with two others steeples of equal height at each end, was built in a somewhat stretched-out V-shape that followed the natural contour of the land.
The finishing touches of the exterior paint, an elegant shade of brown, like the kind I’ve seen in the leather seats of grand touring cars, set against a dazzling white with some gingerbread trim here and there, was still being paid attention to by a group of painters, their scaffolding visible along one of the upper sides of the building.
Off to the side of each of the wings, and far enough away from the main complex so they would not mix with the membership, I could see the small clapboard cottages, shacks, and bunk houses that the summer and kitchen help occupied. They were painted white with green roofs and were maintained by whoever the current tenants were. It all had the look of that of a summer camp.
The first floor of the clubhouse consisted of several lounge and bar areas, a men’s cigar room, separate card playing rooms, one for the men and the other for the ladies, a billiard room, private conference areas, the kitchen, and the administrative office. The main dining room, from which I had just come from, was also located here and occupied the bottom of the V with both sides offering commanding views of the docks and the entire cove through massive floor to ceiling windows, ones that were framed in elegant curtains which could be drawn should the sun be too harsh for breakfast, lunch, or an early dinner seating.
The vista seen through those windows was nothing short of spectacular including the buoyed markers leading out to the vast sound that lay beyond. By dusk and until the first light of dawn, they flashed red to port and green to starboard, showing the safe way in and out to those so anointed as to partake in this protected harbor of privilege and ideal community.
The second floor was accessed via two ornate and carpeted staircases, found to either side of the main floor’s entrance hall, their brass holding rods always polished. A small electric elevator cab was located to the right of the hall and was for those unable to make the climb. Upstairs, there were well-appointed guest rooms for the occasional and special visitors needing suitable accommodations. Situated in the eastern turret was an extensive, double-tiered library, whose offerings included many eclectic and varied reading materials, both contemporary and classic volumes of literature, a special first edition cabinet, and most importantly, the latest business periodicals and books penned by the sharpest minds both here and abroad. There was even a librarian on station starting at nine a.m. and staying until colors and the cannon firing in the evening.
There were also a pair of extra private conference rooms, equipped with tickers and telephones for both the domestic and foreign markets, which were set aside for discussions and meetings requiring such a need for secrecy or for those whose undisclosed information said between themselves, should it become common knowledge too soon to either the general public or those in a position to act upon it, could affect the price of oil, wheat, or some other commodity or stock. No, in a case like that, nothing but an ordered, timely, and controlled situation could be tolerated.
After all, vast fortunes were being made on the speculation of the futures market, and so far, all was well with the inner workings of the country’s great financial machine as it drove on, all pistons pumping, its immense furnaces glowing hot and liquid with explosive industry, guiding itself forward along a highway built and maintained, and sometimes under construction with no terminus in sight, by those same single-minded captains of industry who now also held the wheel.
But as I turned back around, totally unaware of what was happening on Wall Street or any other street for that matter, and not giving it any thought as to how or why it should or would affect me now or in the future, my focus was fully intent on the activities going on at the water’s edge and out in the cove itself.
There was a beehive of movement in progress, much of it accompanied by a cacophony of varying pitched whistles, some skillfully made by placing two fingers in one’s mouth while others used the usual and familiar mechanical device held between clenched teeth. There were yells and a great waving and gesturing of hands and arms, all seemingly random and somewhat confused at first glance. As I kept on watching however, I noticed a rhythm and an order; that each physical gesture was a signal and part of a method and plan leading to a solution to all the comings and goings of the many small and agile boats, some equipped with outboard motor power, others under sail, and all being guided, driven, and manned by young and, by their dexterity and expert timing of working with wind and current, sailors and mariners of great assurance and prowess.
As I noted before, the cove was somewhat horseshoe-shaped, its open end lying out to the west with its rounded edge off to the east. By my untrained eye it appeared to be about a mile wide and perhaps four miles long until its outermost boundary ended and it opened up and emptied out into the sound. Near where I now stood, a series of docks were being towed into place and assembled along what would have been the shoreside of the bay and the shorter of the two horseshoe legs. A duckwalk was also being constructed by a separate crew and when finished, would connect the docks to several pathways at the bottom of the hill.
“I’m looking for a Mr. Marks,” I said as I approached and then stopped at a group of them who were working just short of what, as soon as it was finished, would be the main face dock.
“Oh, you are, are you?” he said back at me, his voice decorated with what I assumed to be quite the Irish inflection, and looking me over for a moment before turning back to face the water.
He had a full head of red hair, was freckled across the face and cheeks, and quite tall and broad shouldered with the kind of arms and neck common to someone used to doing manual labor. He was stripped down to a t-shirt and shorts, had on a pair of well-used work gloves and very stained and dirty, very worn out, high-top sneakers of the kind I had never seen before.
“I guess you’ll be the new boy,” he said, grabbing a long plank of wood and handing if off to another who had been waiting there. “Best get rid of that suit and them shoes right quick and get yourself a proper work outfit and a pair of Connies,” he smiled broadly. “What?” he added when I didn’t seem to know what he was referring to.
“Uh, how did you know?” I said, a bit uncomfortably, now once again becoming aware of the insecurity of my surroundings and the fear of my limited abilities, both intellectual and physical, as the feeling seemed to encase me like an ill-fitting coat.
“Boy-o, there’s very little around here that doesn’t get noticed. An’ y’best be gettin’ used to it right from the start,” he said and, looking past me and up at the windows of the grand clubhouse, threw one arm up in the air in a wave. “Hiyadoin’ up there, Mr. Daniels,” he smiled. “The old boy’ll be watchin’ us for sure. Name’s McCurdy,” he said, now lowering his arm and, taking off one old glove, stuck his hand out towards me. “Just McCurdy will do.”
“Edward. Edward Collins,” I said and grabbed at his big paw, watching as it seemed to devour my hand. I would be amazed when I found out he and I were of the same age especially since, at first impression, he had the physical appearance and more defined facial features of one who had already left his teen years behind.
“And what shall we be callin’ you then? How do you prefer to go by?
“It doesn’t really matter. “
“Well then, we’ll settle on Edward for now. A right sounding name y’got there boy-o. I’ll be checkin’ in with me mum on this, but I believe it means you bein’ a wealthy guardian back in the old country. She’s one of the cooks here, up in the big house there, and for sure we’ll be fattenin’ you up some and, from the look of you, fillin’ them shoulders and arms out a bit. Say, you be one of them rich fellers, kin to one of the members maybe, what like to kick around with the workin’ class but havin’ nothin’ to do with them?” he said, his tone suddenly a bit on the unfriendly side. While I obviously knew nothing of McCurdy, there was one thing I was sure of. He was the kind of fellow one wished to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with rather than face-to-face.
“No. Not me. My father does some business with a Mr. Cook…”
“Ah, then it’s a favor to Mr. Cook what got you here?”
“Yes. I guess so.”
“’Tis or ‘tisn’t, Edward. A bit of advice, then: Don’t play the fence, not with this bunch,” he said as he gestured out towards the water. “Never know where you stand that way, whether it be here on the land or out there. It’s just the way things are for some of us.”
“Yes. That’s the reason.”
“Alright then. Favors is part of what makes things move in life. Mr. Cook’s one of the right fellows, an’ I found him to be a fair man. Does good by the boys what does good by him.”
Just then a shrill whistle cut the air, followed by another and another and yet another; the first having its origin way out on the water with the subsequent sounds being relayed to shore. They were at the same time a signal and a call to arms as would a heralding of trumpets indicate, as most of the boys near us stopped what they were doing and gazed seaward, out past the furthest buoy that marked the entrance to the channel leading into the cove. Some donned sunglasses while others, like McCurdy was doing now, shaded their eyes with one hand.
“There be your Mr. Marks, out there and beatin’ downwind Edward. And you’re about to see a right smart demonstration of sailin’ ability. You watch close now, boy-o. Ain’t many can do what he’s about to do. You watch at how it’s done, and done all Bristol-fashion proper.”
From where we stood, all I could see was a rather small boat that had just turned the far corner at the top of the seaward arm and entered the lane of buoys. It was actually a twelve-foot sailing dinghy that went by the name of Buster, with a single sail that was now billowed out and full with the stiff wind.
“He’s got her now. There’ll be no luffin’ ‘till he brings her in, starboard side to,” grinned McCurdy. “And with the wind against the tide.”
There was admiration in the way he spoke, an esteem I rarely heard from those of my age and with whom I generally referred to as friends, and as I stared out at the quickly approaching boat, I could see the way it moved across the water and the spray it now and then threw up as it hit a small wave. But as for nuance; as for the fine distinction of expertise everyone else but me seemed to be observing, it was as if I were a blind man lost in a dark cave, beating around in desperation with my hands and trying to get a sense of where I was.
And then I saw him, leaning out over one side of the boat, stretched out at almost his entire length, his body seeming to hover in the air as if in the next moment he should surely be tossed, heels over head and into the water.
He held onto a piece of line I surmised was attached in some manner so as to control the sail and clutched in the other hand, a shorter line I was sure had to be affixed to the tiller. His repositioning, and that the boat on his side immediately reared up out of the water, made me think that surely this maneuver would cause him to capsize. But instead, the boat seemed to do exactly as he wished and even picked up speed.
Then, as he tugged a bit at the sail line he was holding and the taut sail was pulled in some, the rate of his approach increased two fold and now, by all accounts of my perception of speed and distance, he would most assuredly crash headlong into the yet to be completed face dock, quickly scattering his fellow workers to safety as he dashed his boat to splinters and most likely, a great deal of his own bones.
Everyone had now stopped what they were doing and watched as the boat and its demon helmsman, hell bent for sure destruction, skipped and sped into the very basin where the mooring-field buoys were being set. With just visible and deft movements of the tiller, he avoided one after the other, cutting them so close as to make them bob up and down as he sped by, barely losing speed in the maneuver, and quickly recovering his intended track after passing the last one.
They whistled now, but not in the signaling manner as before. Instead, the shrill calls joined in on an exuberant and excited collective resulting in one steady sound. The kind that was a clamorous declaration of support and admiration and one that would crescendo in its approval to the kind of bravado that was obviously going to be the product of an audacious display of sailing skill and individual bravery.
For some reason I turned away from the water for a moment and glancing up and back at the porch outside of the main dining room, saw one of the big doors open slightly and someone I assumed to be Daniels, walk out and stand there, waiting and watching. I imagined a slightly toothy smile crossing his lips as he patiently sipped at his cup of dark and sharply aromatic coffee. And in that same instant I had a sense of apprehension, as if some vigilant and eternally patient and omniscient overseer, having put into play his own rules of the game, was waiting for things to follow his pre-set course, knowing what the eventual outcome would be.
“Here he comes now Edward. You’ll be wantin’ to see this,” McCurdy said, his voice immediately bringing me back to watching, with the utmost anticipation, what surely was going to be an impeding disaster unfolding before my eyes.
But instead of wood crashing upon wood; of a human body flying uncontrollably through the air, itself to be dashed upon the dock, I saw him quickly and deftly sit up straight, the boat now on an even keel. In one motion he tucked the tiller under one arm, and in almost the same instant, with the hand holding the sail line, gave a rapid pull on it that caused the sail to immediately drop. With the wind now gone, the boat had all but stopped its forward motion and, with the outgoing tide on the bow, glided safely into less than a boat’s length away. The dinghy drifted the rest of the way, coming to rest alongside as it just slightly touched the dock. He got out of the boat, tied it off, and smiling to all who were watching, touched his forehead slightly with one hand and bowed.
A cheer went up. A hearty and hale ‘hoo-rah!’ from most all who had been watching and I found myself unable to control my smile or my hands as I too joined in the clapping and whooping and hollering that ensued.
And as I stood there in my dark suit with my black dress shoes on, aware of the perfect Windsor knot against the collar of my starched white shirt, I felt an elusive something brush by and pass very close, so much so that I could take in its exciting fragrance. It was a slight, playful and insistent thing that pushed at me, now so close I could hear it whispering something I could not quite make out and knowing, at the same time and in the same moment that I wanted very much to listen to it again. It was at once delicate and powerful and moving, much like the irresistible effect the moon has on the tides. And then just as quickly, it was gone but not before leaving a memory of the promise of something to come and of the possibility of an unknown and as yet to be determined change. One that I would be given a choice to either follow or ignore.
With the revelry now over and as the work quickly resumed, ramping up to its previous fever pitch, he made his way up from the dock. I could see he was heading straight for where McCurdy and I, along with some of the other boys, stood. I stole a quick glance up at the porch and noticed the figure was no longer standing there.
“There’s hope for you yet Kevin,” McCurdy said. “But you surely would have broken an egg on that landing.”
“Yeah,” he said. “But I feel I’m kind of getting the hang of it.”
“This here’s Edward Collins. He’s the new boy.”
“Just Edward will be fine,” I said to him, knowing full well that McCurdy, given our most recent introduction and upon hearing my words, would be grinning from ear to ear.
“Now,” he interrupted, as if on cue and scratching a bit behind one ear, it almost covered over by his wild red hair, squared himself, his arms folded over his chest. “Would that be Just Edward, because you are a righteous and honorable chap, or Just Edward, the dolt, too dumb to get a stone out of one of his Connies while readin’ the instructions what was written on the bottom of the sole?”
“I’m working on just what a Connie is but I think I’ve got that stone thing figured out,” I said, now finding myself unable to once again, hold back the smile as well and enjoying being the object of the joke so much so that I even relaxed in the comfort of it, somehow knowing that the rag I was getting was in good-hearted fellowship rather than in taunt or torment.
“Well then, Just Edward, seems like you’re going to fall in rather quickly with this bunch,” Kevin said, extending a hand out. “Kevin Marks. Welcome to the boat crews.”
“Thanks,” I said and met his hand.
There was handsomeness about him, one that I would remember years later as possessing the same kind of looks I had seen in a young Gregory Peck in his very first motion picture. It was not so much for the fact that he had very black hair, not quite straight but not overly curly, that seemed to enjoy being tossed back and forth, especially in the light, landside breeze that puffed at and around us every now and then, carrying with it a tinge of salty air.
Nor was it in his somewhat lighter brown eyes and his facial features, a mostly square face with ears flat against his head, which were more or less in balance with the rest of what he looked like. Not overly tall nor broad, especially when compared to the likes of McCurdy, still he, much more than his manly appeal, did have a quality of person about him that was immediately, quite likable. And like many of his comrades and cohorts, I too would find no trouble, much like a moth drawn to a flame, in following him. But unlike being burned and destroyed, the light we pressed on towards was one based on friendship and honor and the kind capable of forging a bond as timeless and as enduring as the sea itself.
Like most of the other workers, he wore a pair of baggy shorts, stained and dirty from the almost non-stop activity that had obviously been going on long before I arrived, an old and worn sweat shirt, its sleeves pushed back up on his arms, its original color suspect and long hidden from the many washings with darker items, and a pair of beat up leather moccasins.
But that would all change with the coming Memorial Day Weekend, the official launch of the yachting season here, and as of Thursday afternoon, just three days away, what with the mooring field finished by then and several boats due in, no one on staff would present themselves dressed in anything but a clean and pressed uniform, no matter what their individual job was or what kind of activity they were involved in. Hair would have been cut to the proper length and all other grooming would constantly be administered to and monitored by managers and supervisors. And it would remain so until the Monday of the Labor Day weekend. For that was when, in rain or shine, with gale-driven or becalmed seas, the last sailboat regatta race, that being the young boat crews taking on all comers, would take place.
It was a privileged tradition dating back to 1861, when the idea for the competition first took hold and became an integral part of the club’s lore, that but for several years during the Civil War, would now continue with its latest contest and my participation at the end of this summer. While September 5, 1882 was the first recognized Labor Day holiday, the initial challenges took place on the day before the annual migration south began and the yacht owners made preparations to send their boats to warmer climes.
Regardless, the participants followed the strict regulations and conventions of the club, ones adhering to in a most sacred and almost holy way, to what was known as The Corinthian Rules of Amateur Competition. And anyone found in violation of those set of consecrated, inviolable, and granite-tableted laws would face the humiliation of the club and all those affiliated and cross-honored institutions.
In short, it would be nothing less than a nautical excommunication and the kind of badge of dishonor all within the yachting community would know of. And therefore, in much the same way as the rings of water made by a tossed stone work their way outwards in ever-expanding circles, the word would eventually reach the world of business, finance, and banking.
All of that was of no concern to me that day. “I’ve never seen anything like that before,” I said, following Kevin and McCurdy up the hill.
“Thanks,” Kevin said. “But, as with anything, if you do it enough times, you get comfortable. This is what I do. Wish I played a musical instrument as well. Or painted.”
“But you still have to have the talent,” I said.
“I guess,” he said and smiled. “I guess.”
Just as we were getting to the top of the hill and picking up the path that led to the boat crews’ bunkhouse, I saw another fellow coming towards us. Where Kevin and McCurdy were rugged and fit, this other boy, of average height for our age, seemed a bit soft and in his physical presence and demeanor, in the way he carried himself I mean, I sensed something of the unsure about him. Not that I was such a good judge of people back then, having had such limited experience in the world, and while I cannot explain it, it was there all the same.
I have found that sometimes these first hunches about someone can ring false and then what follows is a great deal of ground to make up with oneself and that person that could have been avoided in the first place with just a bit of patience and understanding. But not in the case of Mason Goode.
There was nothing notable in his appearance and he possessed a rather plain and unlined face. Not that any of the other boys were as yet etched with character, still with most you could see it in the way they smiled or when engaged in conversation, whether it be of a serious nature or one of telling a tale or a simple discussion of sports or some news heard over the radio. And then again, there was the conspiratorial exchanges and quick and animated banter often associated with talking about the girls, whether real or imagined, that inhabited the thoughts some of my friends or of the young men I was about to take up with. Then it was all wide-eyed and filled with the kind of innuendo that was often whispered with a ‘you-know-what-I-mean’ delivery, even though most times both speaker and listener did not know at all.
He had sandy-colored hair that sat up on the top of his head and wore long, tan khaki pants, a pair of leather moccasins that looked quite new, and a long-sleeved Oxford shirt, white with blue stripes, worn outside of his khakis.
“Showing off again, Marks. Very impressive, as usual, to some,” he called out as he approached.
“Watch this,” McCurdy said to me in a slightly conspiratorial way as he smiled and leveled his gaze at the approaching boy. “Whattya know, whattya say, Goody?” he called out in a voice laced with seemingly lighthearted joviality.
“It’s pronounced, Good. The ‘e’ is silent,” he said sullenly and with impatience, grabbing a quick glance at McCurdy and then, with a slight nod at Kevin, his dark eyes darting about some as if making visual contact were something he wished to avoid.
“Then why is it there?” McCurdy said and stopped, as we all did now standing a few steps away from him.
“Obviously beyond your understanding,” he said.
“Ah come on Mason, lighten’ up the load a bit. You still wincin’ from that trouncin’ we give you an’ your boys last year? That was one hell of a race, boy-o. An’ we give it to you good too. I worked on varnishin’ that transom myself so’s you’d be getting’ a good look at it from start to finish.”
I saw him flinch slightly and blink once too often. It was as if he were removing a rather nasty splinter from the fleshy part of his palm, and missing grabbing it a few times with the tweezers until finally getting it out only to discover a small sliver still there under the skin and a bit too deep to go in again. When that happened, there was nothing to do for a time but live with the discomfort.
“I hear you got a new boat boy. This him?” he said, choosing to ignore what McCurdy had said and looking at me.
“Edward. Edward Collins,” I said and stepped forward a bit, offering my hand.
“Mason. Mason Goode,” he said, again emphasizing the correct pronunciation of his surname.
His handshake was half-hearted and much like making the effort for him was not worth what he would be getting back. He let go first, and I got the feeling he wanted to be done with the whole convention.
“He going to be one of your, Great Corinthians Marks?” he said, this time his voice mouthed the words so that they were singed with sarcasm and finished off with a vitriolic attitude.
I was a bit taken aback at how quickly this had become adversarial and was somewhat confused at all the goings on when Kevin stepped in. Then things changed.
“That will be for him to decide, Mason,” was all he said, delivering the message in a non-threatening way while at the same time, diffusing the somewhat charged atmosphere.
“I guess you heard Lipton has Shamrock over at Jacobs’ yard on City Island,” Mason said, changing his tone and now, being bested by personality, was looking for a way out, perhaps even to gain some ground with this information.
“And Resolute will be visiting Seawanhaka. You never know then, do you Mason? Maybe they’ll have a go at it right here. By the way, you got a boat in mind yet?”
“What?” he snapped.
“Oh, don’t you know? There’ll be three Herschoffs. All thirty-one foot Fisher Island rigs, right here for the summer. I’ll be tending to Kestrel for the Dunleavy’s.”
“The other two spoken for?” Mason said, his voice going up an octave.
“You’ll just have to find that out for yourself,” Kevin said.
I had been watching with fascination as Kevin and Mason squared off and noticed how, with this last statement, the conversation was over and everybody knew it. Mason had let a little too much time pass before coming back with a response.
“I guess I will,” he finally said and with that, walked away.
“You watch out for that one,” McCurdy said to me before I had a chance to ask who Mason was. “Yeah,” he called out. “See you around the docks, Goody.”
“What was that all about?” I asked as we again began to make our way towards the crews’ bunkhouse. I saw Kevin stick his hands into his pockets and shake his head some and smile, and while McCurdy turned to me to say something, a quick and sharp whistle coming from down the hill caused him to stop.
There were two of them and as McCurdy waved, they raced one another up the hill to where we waited. Quick and agile, more like cats in their lively movements, they were smiling and elbowing one another up the steep grade, legs pumping in counterpoint to their arms, in what was obviously, good-hearted and spirited competition, finally rushing past us in tandem and falling to the grass, huffing and puffing.
“I won than one,” the taller of the two said in one breath.
“No you didn’t,” said the other, gasping a bit between his words. “I had…you by a… chin.”
“No you didn’t. I stuck out my hand. If there was tape there, I would have busted through it sure as anything and definitely way before your chin.”
“How could you be sure?”
“I was watching you.”
“No you weren’t. I was watching you and I didn’t see you watching me.”
Yes I was.”
“The good Lord was sure havin’ pity on their folks when they was born when He arranged for one of them to get kidnapped by the last of the Barbary Coast pirates and sold to a traveling Rumanian circus. Imagine these two being in the same house as babies,” McCurdy said.
“Come on. Who won McCurdy? You saw,” the smaller one said as he got up and brushed off the grass from his elbows and knees.
“I beat him this time Kevin. You tell him,” said the taller one as he too got up and, after sweeping the shock of brown hair off his brow and eyes, brushed off some lingering grass from one shoulder and, turning him around, from the back of the other boy’s shirt.
“Thanks,” he said.
“You’re welcome. But I still beat you,” he smiled and pushed the smaller boy away, again in what could only be described as affection and care.
While they were indeed brothers, and as I would find out, one of them not kidnapped by pirates, Frederick, the taller one, and Jack could not have been more different in both appearance and personality. They were dressed more or less in the same manner as all the others; a pair of shorts and t-shirt and those well worn, high-top sneakers I had figured out by now were the Connies McCurdy had mentioned.
Jack was a gregarious fireplug of a boy, with strong legs and shoulders for someone fifteen years old. Frederick, senior to his younger brother by eighteen months and who could be at times somewhat introspective, was thin but not skinny. Instead, and as fit as Jack, his physique was more lithe, as if his muscles were tightly coiled springs whose force was ready to be released at a moment’s notice. Where his older brother’s hair favored a mostly brown color, Jack’s was that of a shorn corn husk and worn close to his scalp. Neither possessed what could be called handsome looks but both boys had a hardy and almost devil-may-care quality about them that made them at once quite likable and fun to be around. And though seemingly in constant competition, they were as devoted to one another as siblings could be.
“Hey, Jack, Frederick, say hello to Edward,” Kevin said.
“Edward,” Jack said, sidling up to me and shaking my hand with a big smile on his face. “You seen it too. Go on, tell him I won.”
“Hey, I tell you, from where I stood? It looked like a tie,” I said, immediately enjoying being part of the banter.
“That is a diplomat,” Frederick said, shouldering his brother aside and offering his hand. “Glad to meet you Edward.”
“We hung Just Edward on him,” McCauley joined in, clasping me on the shoulder hard enough so I could feel the power in his big hands.
“Just Edward?” Jack asked, squinting in the sun.
“Alright, that’s enough of that. We’ll explain it later. Edward’s joining us this summer as part of our crew,” Kevin said. “We’re on our way up to the quarters. Are you guys done?”
“Got three more anchors to set on our line,” Frederick said.
“Okay. We’ll be down as soon as we get him a bunk,” Kevin said.
“Bunk?” I asked.
“Now, don’t tell me Daniels didn’t tell you,” he said, grabbing a quick look up into the sky and then over at the main clubhouse. “The boat crews work around the clock, in shifts. We run the launches back and forth from the mooring field to the face dock. Once things get going, and they get going really fast, we’re always on call. There are four crews, each with five to a crew, and ten launches, two to a launch. One helmsman and one to handle the lines and help people get on and off. That means we live here. In there,” Kevin said, pointing to the white clapboard bunkhouse, with the green roof, ahead of us.
The one-story structure had eight windows, four to each side of a single door in the middle. Above the door, cross-crossed like two dueling swords, was a pair of wooden oars, and between them, at the space above the point where they met, was a small, old-fashioned anchor.
“Home sweet home,” said McCurdy.
“Okay. Here’s what we do,” Kevin said, a plan already worked out in his head. “I’m assuming you’ve got no gear with you, nothing. Right?”
“Yes,” I said, feeling a bit uncomfortable now. While I had no trouble staying out now and then, I had never been away from home for more than a weekend at a time and then, at a cousin’s or some other relative’s home. Now I would be sharing space with nineteen other boys. “My father got a phone call telling me to come up for an interview. That’s all I was told.”
“Okay. You live in Manhattan, right?”
“McCurdy. Go up and find out the train schedule back today and when they start running tomorrow morning,” Kevin said.
“Like this?” McCurdy answered, gesturing at his work-stained clothes.
“Right. Uh, tap on the office window and explain to Margaret that we need a train schedule to and from Manhattan. Better yet, ask your mother.”
“She ain’t gonna like it either but it’s better than dealing with Margaret.”
“It’s only to ask for a train schedule and besides, you’re not going through the dining room. And your mom’s on our side.”
McCurdy turned and jogged his way up the hill and soon disappeared behind the building.
“You guys get back to work. I’ll be down in a few minutes and I’ll help you run the lines out and finish things off,” Kevin said to Jack and Frederick. “And Frederick, you run the boat. Jack, you can take it tomorrow.”
“Ah, come on Kevin. I been working the line since Sunday,” Jack said.
“Hey, he’s about my size Kevin. He can borrow some of my stuff,” Frederick said, smiling over at Jack.
“Thanks,” I said, still feeling a bit inadequate at not having all the information I needed. It was like when I didn’t ask Daniels about my salary.
“Well, we’ll work on that,” Kevin said. “Okay, get going.”
“See ya, Just Edward. Don’t worry, we got your back,” Jack smiled and, tapping his brother on the arm, led the way back down the hill. “Welcome to the boat crews!” he called out, turning around and grinning and waving one arm.
“Come on, let’s go,” Kevin said to me and began walking off at a quick pace.
It took me a step or two to catch up and I followed him into the bunkhouse. It was a big, rectangular room and as I stepped inside, and even though most of the windows were open, I was met by the familiar odor of a locker room, much like the one at school and in a similar state of masculine disarray. There were two doors; the one we came in from and directly opposite, on the other long side, another one and four windows to the left and right of the doors and two on each end.
Up in the rafters and hanging from lines strung every which way, were a riot of pennants, hundreds of them, seemingly of every color combination possible, some faded with age and others still vibrant with letters in fancy script or possessing numerals or symbols, their secret meaning known to only those on the inside, and all representing the collections of the many crews that had inhabited the bunkhouse over the years. And in the corners stood wood masts, rigging, block and tackle, canvas, small triangular-shaped sails, and short and long oars. Scattered on the floor in piles were oarlocks, pelican hooks of all sizes, coiled up line, worn and salt-water stiff leather gloves with the fingers and thumbs cut off at the second knuckle, fids and other marlinspike tools, thick hemp boat fenders, and bent and barnacle-encrusted brass propellers.
Sixteen cots, with small wood tables and a lamp alongside were set up, one under every window along the two long walls of the room. The other four beds, two on each side, were located under each of the far side windows with the same table and lamp set up. At the foot of every bunk was a medium size steamer trunk, some of whose lids were open with their contents seemingly spilling out and on to the floor as if trying to escape captivity.
“It’s not pretty. Doesn’t have to be. You’ll be grabbing a couple of hours of sleep between shifts and not much else here. It suits the purpose,” he said looking around. “There. Over there. That’s us,” he pointed off, down the line. “One, two, three, four, along the wall and that fifth one under the far window on that wall. We like to keep the crews together. We’re known as Boat One Crew. Over there is Boat Two. And on the other side, Boats Three and Four. You’ll meet the rest of them later, most likely at breakfast in the morning. As soon as McCurdy gets back, we’ll get the timing straight.”
“Hey Kevin, I’m, uh, sorry about, well…” I began to say.
“Ah, never mind. We’ll get it sorted out.”
It was the way he said it and how I was feeling that started to put me at ease and I began to promise myself that I would now think about things more carefully; stay a step or two ahead of what I saw and heard in anticipation of what could be coming my way. I would ask the question and get the answer.
“I hope I didn’t mess things up for you and the others,” I stammered.
Just then, the door opened and McCurdy walked in. “Sometimes, boy-o, it truly is the luck of the Irish,” he said. “Mum told me one of the drivers is pushin’ on down to the city in about half an hour and runnin’ some fresh produce errands before going over to the Fulton Market. He’ll be there for quite awhile before he starts to come back. Where’s home?”
“Upper east side,” I said.
“Why then, he’s practically going right by your door. He can drop you off and by the time he starts back, he’ll put in a call to your home and you’ll be ready to meet up with him for the ride back. Come on, I’ll take you up by the road and we can wait there,” McCurdy said.
It was a great plan and with its play about to be put into motion, I willingly joined in the conspiracy, feeling a shudder of excitement run through me. I felt safe in their company, ready to stumble and lurch my way into their good graces; become one of them and, while partaking in the adventure, learn to do something so different and thorough enough so that someone would take notice, as I did while watching all the work going on, that there was no doubt I knew what I was doing and able to do it well.
I looked at Kevin for approval. “Go,” he said. “We’ll cover for you. Besides, the higher-ups will be leaving soon. None of them stay on the premises now. When you come back, get off at the same spot and walk on down here. It’ll be late and we’ll wait for you. Save you some dinner as well. Go on.”
“Okay. See you later,” I said and began to follow McCurdy outside.
“Hey Edward, wait a second,” Kevin said and walked to the back of the room, grabbed at something on the floor and came back to where we stood. “Here.” He handed me a dark green canvas sea bag, the kind that you see sailors often carrying, slung over one shoulder.
“You can have it. Anything you can’t fit in that bag, you won’t need,” he said, smiling.
I caught my ride, told my parents and my siblings what I would be doing, shed my dark blue suit, starched white shirt, and shiny black shoes for a pair of blue jeans, my school sweat shirt, the only sneakers I had, and packed my sea bag.
“Edward, here, this is for you to use,” my father said to me, as the driver had phoned and I was almost ready to leave. He handed me a small leather case, the one I used to admire and covet growing up as a child and something I recognized as one of those objects that I perceived as defining being a man. It was his toiletries kit, the one that held a toothbrush, comb, and other necessary items for one to have while traveling.
“Have a good summer son. And don’t forget to call your mother, at least twice a week,” he said before stepping forward and embracing me.
“I will,” I said.
“I have a sense that you are going to be quite the man. Now, go say goodbye to mom and your brother and sister. I’ll walk you down to the street and wait with you.”
Before I got into the truck for the ride back, my father handed me some money.
“It’s just to get you started until your first paycheck. Then, you are on your own,” he said as he closed the door, waved goodbye, and walked back towards the front door to our apartment house as we pulled away from the curb and headed north.
“Thanks dad!” I called from the open window. “Thanks!”
To be continued…