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Literary Corner

Literary Corner

STAY SALTY

A once-told memoir that is as good a recollection of an unforgettable encounter on Great Guana Cay in the Abacos as I can muster.

By Capt. Ken Kreisler

Author’s note: The following is a work of fiction based on a loose collection of factual information, personal experience, and extensive travel. Literary license has most definitely been taken. To protect anonymity, some names have been changed and some have not. That’s for you to figure out. I can’t do all the work for you.
I hope you enjoy it. –Capt. Ken

DSC_3343

This is how it happened.

“So?” I said, not yet three sheets to the wind but getting there fairly quickly on the latest round of rum drinks that had come my way. The first one was a Good Mojito; or maybe it was a Mojito Perfecto.

Anyway, it was definitely a Mojito and I know the one before Shaggy’s Hana Bay was something called a Belt of Orion. Go figure.

“Now there boy-o,” Conlan countered, his musical, Irish-lilted accent wrapping softly around my ears like silky, sweet caramel; the big paw of one hand gently resting on my shoulder while his other one waved in the air about us as if he were bringing in the string section of a symphonic orchestra.

imagesConlan was one Capt. Rowan Conlan, a great bear of a man, full and thick through the neck, shoulders, and chest; an ex-pat’s ex-pat, he had seen what had to be seen, been where he had to have been, and done what needed to be done. These days, as he mellowed like fine, single malt Irish whisky, he contented himself with running big, expensive yachts, both power and sail, from the rich haunts of the likes of Palm Beach, Florida, to all of the islands and out islands of the South Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean. If it floated, Rowan Conlan could handle it with his eyes closed; which, by the way, was often the case. But in all the time he has been skippering, he has never once put so much as a scratch on a hull, bumped a coral reef, nor delivered his charge in any condition other than Bristol fashion. And when he needed an extra hand, as with the 140-footer we had picked up in Hilton Head, SC, I got the first call.

“As I see it,” he continued after first downing the last of the backwash of his Captain’s Vacation, “The greatest western film shootout…Yank, of course…was that which occurred between Cherry Valance and Matt Garth, played by John Ireland and Montgomery Clift respectively, in Howard Hawks’ 1948 Red River.” The statement was delivered with the utmost finality, ending any chance of a subsequent retort or counter thesis on the matter. Said and done. Done and said. Conlan was not a man to be trifled with.

Take ‘em to Missouri, Matt!” I replied, perhaps a bit too loud and laced with the kind of over enthusiasm, taking into consideration my present state of inebriation, which resulted in a very poor imitation of Tom Dunson, the John Wayne character. Very poor indeed. Embarrassingly so. Pathetic, in fact. Circle the wagons pilgrim.

“Better than Alan Ladd as Shane, drawing down on Jack Palance as gunslinger Jack Wilson in the 1953 George Stevens directed film of the same name?” I said, perhaps an octave or two too high. “Or how about Will Kane doing Ben Miller and Jack Colby, played by Gary Cooper, Sheb Wooley, and Lee Van Cleef, in that order, thank you very much, at High Noon in Zinnemann’s 1952 film? Oh, and let’s not forget Clint Eastwood/William Munny blowing away Gene Hackman/Little Bill with Ned Logan’s Spencer rifle—played by God himself, Morgan Freeman—along with several others in the climactic Big Whiskey saloon shootout in 1992’s Unforgiven? “

With a bit of self-consciousness, I managed to get control of my pitch and felt assured my words were still coming out of my mouth with some regularity of cadence and semblance of coherency. Yet I knew they were very close to finding themselves flopping around on the floor as they spilled, rushing river-like, from my grinning oral cavity and my condition moved steadily up a notch at a time on the Idiot-O-Meter.

“Better’n than the lot of ‘em, boy-o!” he said, smiling broadly and giving the barkeep at Nippers Beach Bar & Grill on Greatnippersign Guana Cay, Jonny the Boss Man himself—after we had rolled in from a stop at Grabbers to first get ‘toasty’—the ‘another round’ signal. “Reunion rum punch this time, Jonny,” said Conlan. “And let’s be kind with the pour, eh?”

“You’re forgetting The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy,” said Jonny as he set up two new glasses and went about concocting a most pleasurable libation for us. The warm evening breeze swept landward across the water and I heard Thong Gone Wrong segue into Fake Boobs and Belly Buttons, both memorable Barefoot Man tunes, playing in the background. Could it get any better? In a scant few moments from then, it would. By leaps and bounds.

DSC_1039Now, being a writer I am hard-wired to tune into conversations within earshot; letting my scribe’s internal radar unit pick up nuance, inflection, attitude, emotion, personality, and a host of other stimulating and often-provocative auditory experiences I can then filter and translate into words, sentences, and paragraphs, and will hopefully result in being motivated with self-urging to embark on a meaningful creative endeavor, ultimately ending in something worthwhile coming out of the morass. And the lively and spirited tête-à-tête taking place down the bar from where we were now parked had definitely peaked my attention.

“Whaddya mean, it wobbles,” said the smaller of the two men, this one wearing a tuna-themed, faded blue Guy Harvey t-shirt, a pair of salt-stained cargo shorts, and well-worn sneakers. No socks. His sandy colored hair was a wild, wind-swept tangle sitting on top of his head, his Ocean Waves sunglasses hung from around his neck by a length of 80-pound monofilament fishing line.

“The earth…it,” the other man said, bald, his tattered baseball-style fishingimages-1 hat pushed back on his head and somewhat taller with a bit more flesh on his bones, now illustrated with one hand flitting about in front of his face, making the point. “Wobbles. And that, my friend,” he said emphatically and Oliver Hardy-like to an unenlightened Stan Laurel, “Changes its orientation towards the sun, thus affecting the amount of sunlight reaching higher latitudes.” He was similarly dressed except his muted yellow Life Is Good t-shirt featured a stick character holding a fishing rod and he wore the familiar sunglass outline of many a flats water guide on a deeply tanned face.

“I don’t feel no wobbling,” Stan said, hunkering down for a moment before downing the last of his beer and reaching, squinting with one eye as if trying to steady the bottle hovering before his outstretched arm, for his back up. “A bit of spinning now and then but no…wobbling.”

“The point is,” his buddy continued, adjusting his hat a bit more back on his head, “That’s what caused the last ice age, some 10,000 years ago. And even where we come from, down in the Keys? Once the ice receded, it left, well the land exposed.”

“Damn,” Stan whispered, almost reverently, as if he had just had some sort of insightful revelation; some deep understanding of a most complex, unsolved mystery. “That’s why I run aground off a’Lignumvitae Key. Damn ice receded.”

I quickly grabbed a handful of bar naps and hit all my pockets looking for something to writePelikanVintageDetail2 with, knowing full well that as the seconds ticked by, I would be in jeopardy of not getting down, word for word, a transcription of the conversation I had just overheard. And that’s when a small note pad, followed by a vintage Pelikan fountain pen, a 1937 101N Brown Tortoise Shell to be exact, came sliding down the bar, its top on of course, and stopped just to my right. Lest I digress and go off on a tangent I may not come back from, my tie to this particular pen and in fact, my fascination with this specific writing instrument is for another story.

“Y’see sonny, it’s like this,” the old guy sitting two stools away from me said, first down to his almost done drink and then, lifting his head slightly and looking straight ahead, to no one in particular. Jonny, who just happened to be passing by at the time, was stopped in his tracks by the old man’s now-outstretched finger; for the record, the pointer finger of his left hand.

Jonny stood for a moment and waited. The old man slipped three fingers around the base of the glass, indicating the amount of pour he wanted. Jonny turned, grabbed an unmarked clear bottle of some deep amber liquid off the shelf, lifted the already corked stopper off and dispensed the requested quantity. The old man nodded as Jonny left to tend to some business at the far end of the bar, then lifted his glass, hesitating for a moment that I construed to be a ‘thank you’, took a slow and careful sip and placed the glass back down on the bar.

“Y’get a coupon in the mail,” he continued, turning a bit in my direction to three-quarter face me. “It’s for $30. But as you read the fine print, you find out you gotta spend $50 to get the deal. But you don’t need to because all you want is the goods for $30. But, hey, what the hell, ‘I can find something for $20 more’, you figure. So you do. And maybe, a bit more. Now, they got you reeled in ‘cause the items you’re adding ain’t really what you need or want. And it don’t cost them jack ‘cause most of the stuff they’re offering is on some preferred-only, leftover list they limit you to pick from. Leftovers. What they gotta get rid of. Do the math. You catch my drift here?”

DSC_1080He stopped and took another measured sip. “Writer, ain’t ya,” he stated with no interrogative slant to his query. “Can smell you a mile away,” he said before I could answer. “Go on now. Take up that pen and pad there, write what suddenly got you all in a tizzy, thinking what you heard might of meant something and then take your piece of paper and put it in your pocket and read it later. Like tomorrow or, even better, next week. See if it still has the relevance it did when you first heard it; see if it still strikes the same chord and has the same colors, smell, feel and touch. Pay attention to the background as well as what’s going on in front now. If it does, you may have something there. If not, well…” he said, turned fully towards me and smiled. “You catch my drift here. Don’t ya.” Another sip. “And I’ll be having that pen and pad back when you’re done.”

“But that’s a…” I stammered, looking down at the pen sitting there on the bar.

“I know what it is,” he said. “And I see, so do you.”

“Thanks. I will. Absolutely. No worries,” I said, slowly picking it up and holding it in my hand as if I’d just touched an undeniable piece of the original cross.

“Make sure you see to it,” he nodded into his glass again. “You Aussie?”

“No. From the States.”

“Uh huh,” he smiled and seemed to enjoy his next sip a bit more than the others.

Bars like Nipper’s tend to fill up around you rather quickly as the night wears on, especiallyDSC_2251 when you’re somewhat distracted by the effects of alcohol, as in my present case, the various and sundry rum drinks and the fact that I was trying so hard, so very hard, to get my transcription just right.

Therefore, it came to no surprise to me that by the time I had finished my scribbling, or thought I had, and my Captain’s Vacation, which had now, unseen and as if by wizardry, become a Dark & Stormy, both Conlan and I found ourselves pushed shoulder to shoulder to make room for the crush of patrons growing to six deep at the bar, the thrum of some incoherent and incessant Reggae beat somewhere in the background and just audible scattered here and there in the din of the press of people.

Rowan had definitely attracted the attention of a rather lovely cinnamon-toned woman whose male companion had been ignoring her, instead to get involved in a spirited political conversation with some yachties from various ports of call. “Cap,” I said, my tongue starting to feel a bit like a balled up pair of old, long forgotten socks. He wasn’t listening. No, just couldn’t hear me. I tapped him on the shoulder and he turned towards me, a wide grin slowly creeping across his face as he tried to keep his eyes focused.

“Eh?” he said as his head began a slow but steady dive towards the bar as he gallantly tried to fight off the gravitational pull of the earth.

“Rowan. Come on, stay with me here.”

“Oh yeah. Okay,” he grinned, up again. “Okay. Yeah. What? I’m good. ‘Sides, she’s far better looking than the likes of you boy-o.”

“You see where the old geezer went?”

“Weezer? Don’t know anybody goes by the name of Weezer ‘cept that L.A. band…you know which one I’m talkin’ ‘bout?” he more or less slurred and would have kept on going, getting this current jag moving along and headed off in several directions had I not stopped him. “Hey,” he said with a sudden bolt from the blue, “Wasn’t there one of them Our Gang kids named Weezer? In them old black and white films made in the 1930’s? I kind of remember one of them kids nameaweezer.”

“Nah. Geezer. Geezer. Old guy, sitting down there a bit,” I hooked a thumb over my shoulder and in that general direction. “Looked like Willie Nelson ‘cept no braids.”

“Tweezer? Freezer? What ‘chu sayin? Can’t hear ya bud. Makin’ no sense.”

He looked around, saw the crowd that had grown, amoeba-like, around us, smiled, picked up and downed his drink, and said, “Time to blow this taco stand pal.” Before he gave up his stool, he gently tapped the lovely cinnamon-toned woman on the shoulder. “Here now love,” and he whispered something to her and she smiled, nodded her head and slowly, lightly, planted a soft angel’s kiss on his cheek. Rowan had the gift.

imagesOutside, the air was cool and the soft swish of palm fronds and the gentle lapping of the water at the nearby shoreline, helped there by a calm breeze, quickly overtook the din of the crowd and music. An endless carpet of stars stretched above us and looking up I saw the gossamer-veiled and ghostly cloudy remnants of long gone galaxies seemingly drifting by as I readily handed myself over to the giddy inertia and vertigo, slowly spinning around to take in the vastness of it all. And somehow, as we always did, Conlan and I made it back to our boat where we would sleep the contented sleep of the thoroughly plastered.

I heard the knocking but oh, no, did not want to heed its call. No! Please, no! I had beenmorning-after deep. Very deep in a vast whirling, swirling, floating, spiraling, caressed and cared for, protected, most blissfully peaceful sleep. And then it came again, this time more insistent, pulling me back as I turned my head down and looked from where I was now receding; from where I was being called to answer for my sins.

I saw my outstretched arms, my fingers rapidly tapping away on their own as if playing the Rachmaninoff #3 on the piano, pleading not to go and desperately trying to hold on to the ethereal slumber. I was really doing a great job, by the way, with the complex piece as Vladimir Horowitz and Arthur Rubinstein sat nearby, listening to and discussing my work; “What do you think, Vlad?” I had heard Artie ask. “Ach, maybe there’s hope. If he practices a bit more,” said Horowitz as he sipped his Arnold Palmer Lite through a squiggly crazy straw out of a jumbo cup. “Mmmm. I like this. Very refreshing,” he said and smiling, lifted his glass in my direction. And then I was awake.

images-1My eyes opened, that is as best they could, and inside my head there began an incessant pounding that morphed into a throbbing and, quickly changing tempo, became a hammering punctuated by a Doppler effect echoing. I don’t remember sitting up, but there I was, feeling the blood, tsunami-like, rushing into my skull. Surely it would explode if I did not lie back down. And what was that thing dangling out of my mouth? Panicked I had terminal hanging tongue syndrome, I frantically reached for my face and tried stuffing the floppy mass of flesh back where it belonged. Ha! It would fit as long as I could move all the wads of cotton out of the way. Reality was still a ways off, if ever I could recover it.

Self-preservation kicked in and I was attempting a slow recline, back to the supine position when my right arm hit something hard and unyielding. Something cold. Metal. I propped myself up on my elbows and took a peek. Damn! I was in the engine room. On the deck. On the thick, black, rubber mat that protected the shiny aluminum diamond cross-cut pattern deck plating between the two main engines. The bright, ultra blue-white, LED lights were on and the whole space hummed with the constant, low dB purr of our dockside electrical system. I quickly shielded my eyes with one arm. “Okay. Okay,” I yelled. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know. Troop strength. Where the artillery is. Chain of command. Anything. Just, no more. No more!”

653The knocking. I clamped my hand over my mouth to keep myself from allowing any further foolishness to be uttered and, grabbing onto a rather sturdy engine part, lifted myself off the deck and, slowly, like the Frankenstein monster taking his first baby steps, made my way out of the engine room, shuffled through the crew quarters, past the crew galley, and up the four steps to the transom door leading out to the stern deck. The sunlight hit me like a bolt of lightning and I covered up as best I could.

“I’d like my goods back, sonny,” said a voice, seemingly coming from the center of the life-giving orb hanging in the sky.

“Huh? What?” was all I could muster while trying to protect myself from the radiance.

“The pen and pad,” I heard as I squinted at a shadowy figure that was slowly ambling towards me. “The ones I gave you at Nipper’s last night during your literary revelation. Here. Try these.” I saw an extended arm and hand appear holding a pair of sunglasses. I took them and slipped them on.

Shielded from the daylight, I saw Walsh standing there as my synapses, still misfiring, kicked in to some recognition. “Oh. Oh yeah. Yeah! I got it. I remember. Something about running aground in the Keys during the ice age…”

“Whatever. The pen and pad please.”

“Right. Okay. Uh, I know I got them somewhere…” I stammered and began looking for my pockets…pockets? What pockets? Pockets! What pockets! I wasn’t wearing any shorts. I glanced down. Shorts? I was naked! No shirt. No shorts. No shoes. No socks. Naked.

“Unless you got ‘em stuffed somewhere I can’t see, you best get yourself inside and find them. And what the hell did you sleep with last night? Looks like you was lying down with a sizable octopus or a pretty big squid.” I looked down at myself again and saw I was covered with perfectly symmetrical circular red outlines. The engine room’s rubber mat.

1“Oh.”

“Alright, now that we got that settled…” he said.

“Wow. Uh, why don’t I…” I said, turning a bit back towards the open transom door.

“Yeah. Good idea.”

“Uh, so, why don’t you come aboard then, right through here and up the stairs on the starboard side. Keep walking forward and you’ll get to the main deck galley. Meet you there?”

“That’d be fine. Go on now. And I won’t be following behind you. I done a lot of things in my time and don’t mean to start doing something like that. Go on now, give you some time to find your way.”

“Right.”

“Okay. Go on now.”

“Going. Now.”

I stood there.

“Go on now.”

I turned and stepped through the door.

DSC_0940“Hope you don’t mind me makin’ myself t’home. Tasty biscotti, by the way. Mighty tasty.”

“No. Not at all,” I said and handed him back his sunglasses. I had mine in place and was now, fully dressed.

“Thanks. Almost didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” he smiled. “Coffee?”

“Uh, no. Never touch the stuff. Had a bad experience when I was a kid…kind of never got over it.”

“Yeah. Know what you mean. Kid stuff, that is; unresolved kid stuff,” he said with a knowing trace in his voice and a bit of a wry smile on his craggy, deep-lined face, “Can have a long-lasting effect on you if you don’t straighten it out that is.” He dipped the other half of his biscotti in his coffee cup and gingerly, carefully, slowly, somewhat politely, lifted it and, again, with that same feigned, almost-elegant mannerism, put it in his mouth. “Sooner rather than later, if you catch my drift.”

I went to the refrigerator, took out a container of vanilla almond soy milk, and made myself a respectable bowl of cereal consisting of a combination of several whole grain offerings topped off by some home-made granola, a just-right banana, a spoonful of wheat germ, and a sprinkle of blue berries.

“Done that before, haven’t you?” he asked.

“You noticed,” I said as I sat down opposite him and proceeded to replenish my internal ships stores with the right proper nourishment. It was a good start and in direct concord with the First Law of Life on Earth: Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Go Out Drinking With Captain Rowan Conlan. There is no Second Law.

“I didn’t get your name last night,” I thought I had mumbled, my mouth full as several streams of the vanilla soy milk dripped from my chin and back into the cereal bowl that, positioned just right under my outstretched neck and round-shouldered sitting position, waited for just such mishaps. “Flmmid yurnim listnt,” is what actually came out. “Sorry,” I said.

“Guess you also had a problem with speaking with your mouth full? Still up in the air on that as well I see. Walsh. Name is Walsh.”

“Walsh?” I asked as I wiped my chin and sat up straight.

“Just Walsh will do.”

I was ready to dive back down into my bowl of cereal when I suddenly became aware of a rapid change in the atmospheric pressure of the room and, at the same time, that so much of the available oxygen was being sucked out at an alarming rate; so fast, in fact, that I imagined myself getting ready to breathe my last breath. Conlan had entered the room.

images“Well now, boy-o!” he boomed, winked, and smiled, placing one hand on my shoulder while he held my neck in a gentle squeeze with the other. “How did y’fare with them sixteen cylinder engines? Oh, you were a sight there! Now, tell yer old pal Rowan,” he leaned in close, “You favor the port or the starboard?” he loud-whispered and somewhat conspiratorial. “Ha! You were a sight boy-o. Good thing the owners are due in tomorrow.”

Looking across from me, he saw Walsh. “Ah then, ‘tis Mr. Freezer as I remember,” said Conlan, offering a big, wavering hand across the space before I could introduce Walsh to him. “’And a strange kind of name ya got there, but, as the Bard said, ‘What’s in a name…a rose is but a rose.”

“That’d be Act II, Scene II. ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet’. Romeo and Juliet,” he said as he reached across and met Conlan’s hand with his.

“Hmmm. Right fine grip you have there Mr. Freezer…that is, for a man your age now.”

“Uh, Just Walsh, Rowan Conlan,” I said pointing back and forth between Walsh and, then over my shoulder, at Rowan. My headache, dulled a bit by a quick shower and a couple of whatevers for pain, was coming back in spades.

Rowan was as unfazed and untouched by the effects of the monumental drinking we had done as I imagined Mother Theresa would have been had she been out and making the rounds with us, even with all the foot washing and such, and I was always amazed at his ability, dexterity, and stamina in avoiding the horrors of the following day, and sometimes days after, that plagued mere mortals such as myself.

“Well then, that’s a fine Irish name y’got there, Just Walsh. And a tad better’n Freezer I’d say. Just Walsh. And honorable to boot!”

“It’s a long story,” I said to Walsh as I once again lifted an ample spoonful up from the cereal bowl and hesitated a moment before partaking in its wonderful flavors and consistency, hoping the wholesome and nutritional sustenance would soon replace the hellish brew that had presently taken up residency in my entire gastrointestinal tract.

“I believe the lad borrowed these from you,” Conlan said as he first reached into his shirt pocket and then around back, to his shorts. I saw the pen and pad as they were pushed across the marble top to well within an arm’s length of where Walsh sat.

“Thank you,” he said and picking up the pen and pad, got off the stool. “Nice vessel you boys lookin’ after. Fair winds now.”

He turned, stopped, and said, “Mind?’ and pointed to one of the two biscotti left on the plate. “Be my guest,” I said. “Mighty tasty,” he said and, picking it up, walked out of the galley towards the aft door.

“We’ve barely met but I like that you’re a man of very few words, Mr. Just Walsh,” Conlan called out.

Walsh stopped. “You’d be surprised cap,” he smiled and then turned to me. “When you getimages your little ditty there fleshed out and want to discuss writing, come look me up. Your magazine stuff ain’t half bad what with it being limited by the subject matter and the constraints of article length. Also might want to put a lid on that internal editor, most likely from years of corporate filtering, and let yourself go. I got a place over the other end of the bay there. Y’get turned around, just ask anyone where Walsh lives.”

And then he left.

Later that afternoon, after we had finished some work in the pump-room clearing out a bit of growth in the sea chest and making sure the air conditioning intakes were free of any fouling as well, Rowan and I drifted over to the Orchid Bay Yacht Club and while a bit tony and pricey for the likes of us, we sat at the outdoor bar and had one of their signature burgers and one beer. Well, at least I had one beer. A root beer soda, for the record.

DSC_0932“Owners’ll be flying into Marsh Harbour in the morning and I’ll be taking the big dinghy over. They’ll be stopping in at Green Turtle for a business meeting and we should be back by, oh, around 4 p.m.,” he said as we strolled on the ocean side beach to where our boat was docked at the head of the T of the Guana Marina Village.

I always welcomed Conlan’s companionship and I can’t think of a time when I didn’t look forward to being with him. Truth be absolutely told, there is no one, but no one I would rather be at sea with than him. Daring, brave, and absolutely fearless, he is nonetheless totally focused and in tune with what is going on above, on, around, and under the water and is the consummate professional aboard the boats in his command. And while a risk taker he will never compromise safety. Never. But he is a force of nature and getting caught up in his inexorable vortex can sometimes be trying.

I needed to get some writing done—having left the corporate editorial offices a while back, I often freelance for many of the marine industry’s consumer magazines and knew there were several deadlines looming on the horizon for me—and so I begged off the afternoon fishing trip that Rowan had set up with a couple of local fellows from the Albury Brothers boat building crew over on Man O’ War Cay, knowing full well what the après event would inevitably lead to.

ideaAnd then, as if a neon sign came crackling to life inside my head, I remembered what Walsh had said to Rowan as he left us earlier this morning. “You’d be surprised cap.” It wasn’t so much the words but more, how he phrased and said them. My internal radar screen was pinging away and I knew there was more to Walsh than first experienced even though our initial chance meeting was a rather uniquely coincidental one at that. Or was it? Unique, yes. Coincidental? I began to try and do the math in my head and put my writer’s chops out there to test the deep waters of creative imagination. What were the chances of his pulling out a classic 1937 Pelikan and me knowing just what kind of pen it was? For me, the game was definitely, afoot. Oh, and, by the way, that quote is from Shakespeare’s King Henry IV Part I, circa 1597: “Before the game is afoot, thou still let’st slip.” My English lit mentor, Professor Eastmond would have approved, and for a moment, though I did not know why, a thought passed my mind that Walsh would have been very proud of me as well. In fact, I was kind of pleased with myself for pulling that one out of the hat. I’ll drink to that—but not just now.

DSC_0972“Uh, excuse me and good afternoon, I’m looking for Walsh’s place?” I said.

“Walsh?” the old woman asked as her beautiful plum-blue face erupted in a huge smile and her eyes seemed to glow for a moment. “Why, honey, dat whare Walsh live. Ovah dare,” she sang and pointed, her words a wonderful, lilting melody of bygone and inherited Lucayan, British Loyalist, African, and a smattering of this and that influences gathered from contact with here and there. I could listen to her speak all day. “An you tell dat ole man, Mama gonna bring him fresh bake johnny cake and sommeme crack’d conch jus’ soon as I cotchin’ Krayco’s shirt. Ha ha ha!” she laughed, shook her head from side to side, and continued walking in the opposite direction. “He know what I mean. You tell him. Right ovah dare, dat whare he live,” she stopped and pointed again, nodding her head up and down and wiggling one arm and hand and urging me to turn around. I heard her warm and pleasing laugh once more before she disappeared around the curve in the road.

It was a spectacular sunny and mild afternoon with great, puffy-white fair weather clouds slowly drifting by like someDSC_2414 unbelievably immense and never-ending mountain range. Everest, K2 and Lhotse flanked to both sides and being convoyed above the earth by a myriad procession of other formations. The wind was off the sea and the air was satisfyingly pungent with the salt smell and I could hear the muffled and delicate caress of the water on what I knew was the soft white sand of the small beach front just on the other side of the road.

The crumbled and bleached bits of shell, pounded and walked on for decades and most likely generations, crunched away underfoot in a familiar and satisfying manner as I followed a small bend which opened up onto a peninsula-like formation of land that on one side, faced the ocean and on the other, a small bay. I could see where the grading rose, forming a rather wide, flat-topped cliff built on solid crater-like coral rock, perhaps some forty feet off the high tide mark and populated by native scrub and a host of coconut palm trees. This is where the house stood and I had a sudden feeling that quickly swept over me, and as quickly left; that this setting was all too familiar but for some reason, I could not yet put it together. Perhaps it was a variation on a George Carlin quip, and I was having a vuja-de: I’ve never been here before but would very much have liked to.

DSC_2408I was about twenty feet from the steps that led up to the porch; one that wrapped around the entire front of the house, a handsome two-story, white with a deep green trim clap board affair offering a prominent widow’s walk above, when the screen door opened and Walsh stepped out. It squeaked a bit, about half way through being opened and once again, on the way back to being closed. Squeak. Squeak. A little WD-40 would solve that but in the same moment, I thought, no; it should be there, as is. This was going to be an interesting afternoon.

“Glad you could make it,” he said, his hands stuck down into the front pockets of his khaki shorts. He wore a plain white T-shirt and had a pair of reading glasses hanging from his neck. Dark leather boat shoes completed the outfit. He was clean-shaven with sparse and wispy silver hair on top and his stature was a bit thinner than my mind’s eye remembered but then again, given my altered state last night, I couldn’t be too sure. “Come on in.” Squeak. Squeak.

Ernest Hemingway 462_462 Accent-OTD-m1There was no foyer, only a large living room with several, well-placed seating areas and a sizeable stone fireplace. The interior, as far as I could see, was painted everywhere in a flat white color. And as I looked up and saw the slowly spinning rattan-bladed fan and then at the eclectic collection of wood and leather furniture, large planked wood flooring, and well into the next room with wainscoted walls and a considerable dining table that could easily seat twelve, and the commanding views of the ocean out the front and side windows, the wood-slat blinds open and letting in both the incredible light and the breeze and the tanginess of the air, and the storm shutters propped in the up position, it came to me. Ernest Hemingway.

“You noticed?” he said. “You got that look on your face.”

“It’s the Bimini house. From the opening of Islands In The Stream,” I said, nodding a bit as I continued to look around and take it all in. “Some of what his home in Key West looked like too?”

“To some extent.”

“But…?”

“I got a good laugh out of those two fellas at the bar. I mean, runnin’ aground because of the receding waters at the end of the last ice age…well, ya just gotta smile at that now, don’t ya?” he said. “Come on, have a seat,” he motioned at a well-worn leather chair and sat down on a matching two-seater just opposite.

“Well, look at me, being a poor host. Can I get you something?”

“No thanks,” I said as I sat down. “I’m…”

“Been there. Done that. And more times than I’d like to remember,” he smiled, nodded, and held up one, knowing hand. “Looked like you fellas really hung one on after I left. I always go before the crowds get there anyway. I’ve had enough of those shenanigans. Made a damn fool of myself more times than I’d like to think of. Say now, sounds like I’m repeating some of my phrases. Don’t like to do that. Stuff like that’s got to be avoided. In your conversation as well as your writing. How about an ice tea? Seltzer water?”

“Seltzer’d be fine.”

He got up and went into the dining room and turned right, for what I assumed was the kitchen.

“Lime?” he called out.

“Sure,” I said, a bit too loud.

“No need to yell there, young fella. I can hear just fine.”

imagesHe came back in and put a small tray with two glasses, and what looked like several fried something’s on a plate, down on a side table, its wooden corners trimmed with brass fittings.

“Black grouper fingers. Fresh caught by one of my neighbors’ boys last night. And try that sauce there. Puts a right nice kick to it,” he leaned over, took one, dipped it, picked up a glass, and sat back down.

“Oh,” I said. “I ran into someone down the road called, Mama? She told me she’s bringing you some johnny cake and cracked conch as soon as she can, uh, once she gets someone’s shirt?, I think she said.”

He didn’t say anything but just smiled, nodded, and took a bite.

“You peaked my interest son. ‘Sides that amusing conversation we both overheard…I got it down pretty much word for word if you’ve a mind to compare notes…it was more you knowing about the pen.”

“A vintage Pelikan? Brown tortoise-shell? What I wouldn’t give…”

“I’ve had that pen since 1937, when it was first released,” he said. “That’s when he give it to me. I was twelve years old.”

“You mean..?”

“An’ you didn’t call him Ernest or Ernie or Hem or Mr. Hemingway, I can tell you that. He was, Papa.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, leaning forward in my chair.

“Once sat right there, in the very chair you’re sitting in too. Remember it…well, as sure as you and me is sitting here now. I picked it up years back when they closed up the Key West house.”

“What!”

“This here one I’m sitting in as well. After all, couldn’t break up the set. Now I know this is a bit much for you to take in but hear me out first, and then decide for yourself.”

The rattan-bladed fan spun ever so slowly and the breeze, now warmer with the late afternoon sun, came in off the water somewhat tangier to the scent and, heard through the open windows and blinds, the palm fronds with their long green, brown-tipped lengths, sitting full and on top of the bent tree trunks, whispered softly outside.

My glass, with the piece of squeezed lime caught, suspended in the middle of the drink by several ice cubes, sweated as a rivulet of water tracked down the outside to land on the coaster that protected the top of the wooden table.

I took in another look at my surroundings; and while there were neither animal heads nor facsimiles of dead fish mounted on the walls, the undeniable presence of the writer was there.

And then Walsh began to tell me the story.

Yacht_wheel_wheeler_shipyard_brooklyn_new_york_ny_nautical_marine_maritime_ernest_hemingway_2reg“I first met him in 1935, when he took Pilar down to Key West from Miami. He had bought her from the Wheeler boat building company, up there in Brooklyn, New York, where she was built the year before and wanted them to make some alterations to her like putting in a live well, some sort of engine work, and a big roller across the transom for hauling in all the huge fish he was going to catch. Catch, not release. Only time he ever released a fish was when it broke the line or spit a hook.

“Well, he come over to Bimini three times with the boat; the first being in April of 1935. Hear tell he shot himself in both legs on that crossing, trying to boat a shark he hooked and had to go back to Key West for medical attention. We were all waiting at the Navy Pier where he docked the boat and not so far from Whitehead Street, where he and Pauline and Patrick and Gregory lived. The dock crew strung up the carcass while Papa limped from the boat and got his wounds tended to.

“I remember a fella by the name of Mike Strater was aboard there along with John Dos Passos. Carlos Gutiérrez of course,220px-Ernest_Hemingway_and_Carlos_Gutierrez_aboard_Pilar,_Key_West,_1934 Pauline and the kids too. I kind of liked her the best of all his wives. Papa called her Pilar, it was her nickname and he named the boat after her. That major character in For Whom The Bell Tolls as well. She was most settled in her mind to me, thinking about it now. Never knew Hadley; her real first name was Elizabeth, by the way. Elizabeth Hadley Richardson. Martha Gellhorn, whom he first met over at Sloppy Joe’s, was wound too tight and Mary, well Mary got him at the end. But what the hell did I know back then what with me being ten years old. Kid stuff, eh? But we already spoke about that.

“Hey,” he said to me as I stood there as they helped him up on the dock. “I know you. You’re young Walsh, right? Live near my house over there on Whitehead?”

“Uh huh. You catch it?” I said, pointing to the hanging fish, its skin now tight and dry and faded in color, its maw open and dripping slime, its eyes dead, a gaping bullet hole with dried blood in its head just above the left side.

“Yes I did. Killed it too.”

I looked at the shark again and then back at him.

“You can help my friends clean up the boat. How’s that? They tell me you do a good job, I’ll get you one of them big teeth. Okay?”

images“He carried a Thompson submachine gun onboard. I saw it, lying there on the bunk in the cabin. Told me later on he used it to chase away the sharks when they had a big fish on. Probably had some other weapons with him as well, including the Colt revolver he killed the shark with and shot his legs. Kind of figures. And I was sure looking forward to getting that tooth.

“But enough of that crap. Now…” he said, adjusting his seated position some to emphasize what he was about to say and I suspect, to get somewhat more comfortable.

“This story I’m going to tell you? Well, I ain’t spending time on all the stuff we already know; the countless detractors, the analysis of his writing, the legend, the myth, the carousing and drinking and infidelities and what may or may not be the truth. Been done to death already. No. What I’m about to tell you is the time he was fishing out of Key West on a bet against a woman.

images“That’s right. You see, two of his many fishing pals were Alfred Glassell and a fella by the name of S. Kip Farrington. Now Kip was a Wall Street stockbroker who gave it all up to be a writer and fisherman. And did a right proper job of it, he did. Garnered quite a notable reputation for what he brought to the sport and how he conducted himself during tournaments. Set lots of angling records, was the editor of Field & Stream magazine for some thirty-five years, and wrote a whole bunch of books to boot. Well liked and a real gentleman.

“So, what we’re talking about here got nothing to do with them and instead with Kip’s wife. Now don’t go raising your eyebrows. This is one time where the woman got the best of him without, well, giving it up. You’ll see what I mean.

“Her name was Sara Houston Chisholm and to those of us who knew her, she was always ‘Chisie.’ Word was, the day she started her fishing career was the day she met Kip. They got married in 1934 and a year later, while up there in Nova Scotia, she became the first woman to catch a giant tuna on rod and reel. By the time the news made its way down here, well to Key West that is, Papa had a fit, got in touch with Kip and told them to meet him there and he would take Pilar over to Bimini to settle the issue on just who was the better angler.

FarringtonC-200“Imagine that. He got himself all turned around ‘cause of some fish caught by a woman. But she was not just any woman. No sir. This was Chisie Farrington and I guess that’s what got it stuck in his craw.

“Y’see, she and a bunch of her contemporaries, the likes of Babe Didrikson, Helene Madison, Kit Klein, Helen Wills Moody, Ginny Van Wie, and of course there was Amelia, were shooting and flying and fishing and golfing and writing and getting out in front of life in much the same manner as he was.”

He stopped for a moment and sat back in the chair, looked over to his right, to where the sun streamed in through the open wood slats of the blinds. “Imagine that,” he said. “Seems a bit silly now, to be carrying on like that. Damn silly.”

He turned back to face me and smiled.

“I’m running on a little, ain’t I? Well, come on, hold that thought and let me show you something,” he said and lifting himself up out of the chair, shuffled right along into the dining room.

I followed and as I entered, in the corner and off to the left, was a small, alcove-like second room, with two open windows; one looking out over the ocean and the other of the bay.

“Right in there,” he said.

imagesThere were books and the three walls of the room were hung with framed, black and white photographs. Papa with fish, boxing, in Paris and in Africa, Idaho and Havana and Spain, New York City, the Key West house, with his wives and the kids, Carlos Gutiérrez, Capt. Gregorio Fuentes, on Pilar, with boat builder John Rybovich, Dos Passos, the Life magazine cover, and at the Finca in Cuba and others. So many others. The center of the desk was positioned under the window and gave anyone who sat in the Shaker-like chair a commanding view of the ocean. Atop the desk were an old typewriter, a writing pad, and a Deco-styled reading lamp. A pen, the pen, was lying closed, on the pad with a bottle of ink nearby.

“That there is his Corona 3. I tried to get the Underwood and most likely would have settled for the Royal; should’ve had them years back, but I hear tell one of them Hollywood stars got it for her husband. The Underwood that is. Missed opportunities son, remember that. Like first impressions, eh? You never get a second chance to make one. Funny,” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“His view about having regrets. ‘Those with the least are the closest to being happy. I guess I’m not very happy then,’ I recall him saying.”

He seemed to hesitate for a moment, as if remembering something he needed to spend some time with.

“Anyway, Hadley gave him that one in 1921. That very one. I know. I know. Someone’simages always saying they got it but, that there’s the one. And look here,” he said and stepped forward and picked up something that was lying on the desk.

He opened up his palm and showed me a large shark’s tooth. “The very same,” he smiled and placed it back down on the desk.

“Let’s go out on the deck and I’ll tell you the rest of it. Getting on to the nicest time of day. Of course, that’s my opinion now. Some would argue though. But that’s what makes for point of view, eh?”

The wide, teak-planked porch wrapped around the entire front of the house and made turns down each side so that commanding views of sea, sky, and land could be seen no matter where one sat.

“Guess you were wondering about this big house I got here and me being the only one living in it,” Walsh said as we sat in big, comfortable wicker chairs.

“Came to mind but I’m still overwhelmed by the Papa moment.”

“Yeah, I get it. Most react the same way but I gotta tell ya there son, ain’t too many heard it like you’re hearing it. Gets back to you knowing about that pen. That done it for you…if you catch my drift.”

“Go figure.”

“Now don’t be short-changing yourself. Facts like that deserve to be tucked away and brought out when you need ‘em. Like you done at the bar. The way I got it figured, we wouldn’t be sitting here but for that.”

images-1I nodded and turned away, looking out past the wind-bent palm trees, the fragrant frangipani, the spiky aloe plants and white-flowered Beggar’s Tick; beyond the blue-purple of the pea vine and giant spider lilies, to the scrub weeds on the edge of the cliff and out, where I could see the shallow water, all light green and reflecting the white sandy bottom with dark, grassy spots here and there and then off, into the deeper water, where the coral reef began.

“Been staring at water like that all my life. Never tire of it neither. ‘Cept when I got myself sent overseas. Didn’t like that water at all. Signed up when I was 18 with a buddy of mine by the name of Tom Scanlon and we hit the beaches in Normandy in ’44. I was an infantry grunt and he was a combat medic, not much older than me. We saw things later on that I still don’t talk about. Got out in ’46, married my high school sweetheart and used all that GI benefit stuff to get us going. I finished my schooling and made a good living. We had a couple of investments pay off but I always came back to the boats and my writing. Managed to get some books published; mostly for the kids. Bette and I had seven of them; kids that is. We lost Henry in Iraq in 1991. Got plenty of grandkids and a couple of great-grandchildren. It was her who found this place; time was right, price was right. They all still visit; school holidays and whenever they can. Quite a gathering it is and I’m glad of that since the cancer took the wife a few years back. Sails luffed a bit, again, if you catch my drift.”

We were both now staring out at the water and the pause was neither awkward nor uncomfortable. Instead, it was purposeful and necessary.

“Well then,” he said, the breeze freshening a bit as it shifted around from due east to favoring the north. “There I go again. Now, I’m going to tell you how the rest of it went as best I can remember and just to be above board, I’ll be takin’ some literary license here and there, ‘specially to what was said, to fill in the blank spaces.

375px-Hemingwayhouse“So after that, I became a regular at 907 Whitehead in Key West, coming and going whenever I wanted. Got to fish with him and John, when he was around and who was about my age, and Patrick, who was a couple of years younger than I was. I fished with them quite a lot, especially when school was out. Gregory was there too but he was, oh I think four at the time and Pauline kept him with her whenever Papa went out on the boat.

“The Farrington’s showed up just after he was planning to get on over to Bimini again. We were sitting around one afternoon on the boat going through some old hooks and frayed line to throw out and stuff like that when we saw them coming down the dock. Kip was a dapper sort of guy, well-groomed and well spoken as I remember, but it was Chisie who was the head-turner. Now, it’s not that she was a drop-dead beauty; yes, a good-looking, attractive woman, but there was so much more to her that if you didn’t see it, didn’t look for it, you were really missing out on something special.

“It was the way she carried herself and the way she presented who she was and why she was doing something that really seemed to matter. And because of that, you immediately paid attention to her. You see, young as I was back then? I could tell. Something else I could tell too; and that was how Papa was literally bristling at the notion of a woman besting him at anything let alone his fishing.

“He mumbled something to us as she approached and he stepped off Pilar and on to the dock. Sounded like ‘Didn’t know she was a gimp’ or something like that and he smiled that big smile of his at us that said, ‘I got this one boys’. I didn’t like that. Didn’t like it one bit. You see, I think Chisie had a type of polio when she was in her teens and it left her with a touch of a limp in one leg and, as I noticed when we were out there in the Stream fishing, she had some trouble with one of her hands.

“There was a lot of ‘hellos’ and vigorous hand shaking and conversation punctuated by shoulder slapping all around before Papa invited them aboard to show off the boat and his fishing gear. Kip was a bit shorter and a bit more slender than Papa and Chisie was almost a head smaller than her husband. I remember she wore her fishing hat somewhat cocked to one side and when she stepped aboard, it was with all the assurance and confidence of someone who had done this before, many times, and had not the slightest fear of being on a boat and away from the dock. Papa saw it too.

“And who is this?’ she said to me, smiling my way after tussling Patrick’s hair some. Before I could answer, Papa looked up from the helm where he and Kip and Carlos Gutiérrez had been talking it up some. ‘That there is Walsh. One of the neighborhood kids. Right handy ‘round a boat and got all the makings of being pretty fair with rod and reel. That is, if he keeps at it,’ he said, giving me a wink and a smile. ‘Well now, we’ll just have to see how it goes once we get out there, won’t we Walsh.’ ‘Yes ma’m’, I said noting how her statement was not a question and with my cheeks all flushed, I stood there grinning like some sideshow idiot and feeling as if my clothes were now ill-fitting and my sneakers way too big for my feet.

images“It was Chisie who suggested we go out that afternoon and I got the feeling it caught Papa a bit off his game as Pilar pulled away from the dock. She got right to rigging up several large and small hooks, and along with Kip, our trolling baits.

“Papa, Carlos, and Patrick and I watched as they expertly tied their knots while balancing themselves with the pitch and yaw of the boat as it moved out through the channel, rounded the corner, picked up the sea buoy, and headed out into the Stream and deeper water. There was a moderate chop that day, and further off, a bit of a swell coming from the north by northwest being driven by a front that would sweep down and in from the west over the lower Keys chain that evening.

“Patrick and I were assigned to be the lookouts for any significant weed line indicating a good opportunity to pick up any schooling dorado and it was at least a half hour later that we saw the first promising signs. ‘There,’ I nudged him as I spied a large patch of floating yellow flopping around ahead and to port. ‘Where? Where?’ whispered Patrick. ‘I don’t’ see it Walsh. Where?’ ‘Right there. Over there, see?’ I put an arm around his shoulders and brought him in closer to me so he could follow what I was looking at. ‘Oh yeah! I see it now. Hey Papa! Look, over there!’ he cried out and pointed. ‘I see it son. Good boy. Good eyes. Now, let’s go get some fish!’

“I didn’t mind that he didn’t say it was me that saw the weed line first. In the short time I wasimages hanging out with him, I liked Patrick and knowing he was younger than I was, thought it was all okay. Besides, I guess I figured he needed all the help he could get what with a father like Papa to contend with.

“Carlos swung the wheel to port, cut the engines down before putting them in neutral and brought us, with enough forward momentum, right near the floating weed line.

’We’ll try for the schoolies first and then rig up for some bigger fish’, Papa said as he moved aft where the smaller, shorter, light weight rods were stacked on the inside and to either side of the cockpit area. His larger gear was secured in the overhead in the main cabin.

’Let the boys have at it,’ Papa said as he handed the rods over to Patrick and me. ‘Sounds good,’ Chisie jumped right in. ‘And how about we team up as well. Me and Walsh here and you and Patrick. We’ll let Kip and the captain there tend to the boat?

“No sooner did I get my line drifting out than I got a hit; sudden and strong as the fish strikeimages-1 startled me and started to run the line off my reel. ‘Watch it now, they’ll be schooling up with…’ Papa never got to finish what he was saying as Patrick’s line also started to disappear and the little boy was trying his best to fight for control.

“Unable to overpower or gain anything on the fish, he pointed his rod at the water. ‘Pick it up!’ Papa yelled. ‘Pick it up or you’re gonna lose that fish!’ And sure enough, he did as the line went slack and the fish spit the hook. Patrick stumbled backwards and would have hit the deck had Carlos not been there to catch him.

“I managed to get my fish close to the boat and looking into the water, saw the iridescent green and blue and yellow of the colorful fish and flashes of the others as they gathered around the hooked and struggling dorado.

“Chisie had the gaff out and, leaning over the gunwale, was getting ready to lift the fish out of the water when it darted away, went back down, and snapped the line. She straightened up, put a cork back on the sharp hook, and looked at me and smiled. ‘Well, that’s one for the fish.’

‘That’s enough for them,’ Papa said grimly, no longer smiling.

‘Ah come on, they’re only kids.’ Kip said. ‘Sides, that’s why they call it fishing and not catching,’ he laughed and gave us both a gentle touch on the shoulder.

‘They won’t always be,’ Papa said and busied himself with bringing down some of the big gear from the overhead. ‘Carlos, we’ll troll on the other side of the reef, out in the deeper water.’

“The boat swung off the weed line and headed offshore. Papa set up three trolling rods, one on each side and another affixed to a rod holder on the chair.

‘You want weedless or Horse Ballyhoo on the rigs?’ Chisie asked.

‘How about we mix them up? See what we get. Y’never know what might be swimming out there,’ Kip said, trying to change the serious mood that suddenly occupied much of the space aboard the boat.

‘That’s okay. I’ll see to it,’ Papa said, his jaw tight as he got busy with the work.

“And he did. Rigged up all three rods just the way he wanted them and for the rest of the day,DSC_0810 or what was left of it, we trolled east and then north, a bit to the west, and then back around to the south without so much as a tickle to any of the lines. Patrick and I played Go Fish—he beat me three times in a row before I gained a game on him—while Kip and Chisie and Carlos talked it up at the helm trading stories of their fishing travels. Papa sat by himself in the fighting chair staring out at the rolling ocean.

“Pauline had invited everyone back to the house that evening and besides the Farrington’s, the place was crammed with some of the local denizens, as well as a smattering of neighbors and friends, and literary types both pseudo, fawning, and genuine. I remember the radio being on; Astaire singing Cheek to Cheek, then there was the Lombardo orchestra’s Red Sails in The Sunset, Johnny Green with She’s A Latin from Manhattan, the Dorsey Brothers’ You Are My Lucky Star, Fats Waller doing Lulu’s Back in Town, and a whole bunch more. Always liked music. Guess that’s why I remember it so well.

“Anyway, me and Patrick and some of the other kids were sitting outside, on the steps a little ways down from the wide open front door. The house was lit up on the inside and the light spilled out all around it. There was lots of cigarette and cigar smoking going on, of course drinking, and we could hear the din of the party inside, the music, and now and again, some loud laughing from both men and women.

images“There was someone talking about some new singer named Sinatra and another conversation on whether Detroit’s Hank Greenberg would be the MVP for the American League by the end of the baseball season with that same team taking the World Series.

“We had some dessert things we were munching on when we heard the door open and shut and Papa and Pauline stepped out, she leading the way, turning right, and walking to that corner of the wooden porch. They didn’t see us and we all kind of stopped eating when she started yelling at him.

“’You think I don’t know what’s going on? You think I’m going to stand by and sit here while you…’”

“’I will do with my time what I want,’ he said to her, his voice sounding mean and angry as if he were speaking through his teeth without opening his mouth.

“’I remember Patrick looking at me for a moment and what I saw in his eyes, even though he was only seven years old at the time, troubled me. Papa then turned away from her and, striding across the porch, his steps making a steady, deep, and decisive sound on the wood, stepped down right by us as if we weren’t there and walked away from the house, most likely, from what I could tell, in the direction of Duval Street. Pauline stood for a moment and then as she moved towards the door, stopped and then saw us on the steps.

“’Patrick,” she said, her voice a bit timorous and strained. “Time for bed and time for the rest of you boys to get yourselves on home. Your folks are most likely wondering where you are anyway.’”

“And with that, he got up, met and held his mother’s outstretched hand, and went on inside without looking back.”

“When Kip, Chisie, and Papa arrived at the dock the next morning,compleat_-_copy Carlos had the boat ready. We would fish this side of the Stream and then go across to Bimini, arriving at the Compleat Angler Hotel late in the afternoon.

“Where’s Patrick,” I asked him.

“Not going today,” was all Papa said without looking at me and I sensed, not really knowing why, I should leave it at that. And so I did. He was the kind of man, and as I would find out for myself as I grew older and moved out into the world, who was easy to read if you paid attention to the signs.

jvhofe11“The morning fishing quickly took on a competitive air and uneasy as it felt, there was an excitement aboard as we headed out past the reef into the deeper offshore waters on the west side of the Stream. Kip, Chisie, and Papa randomly selected which trolling rod, port, starboard or center and all rigged with Julius vom Hafe B-Ocean Size 12/0 reels, would be theirs for the day and bets were placed on the first, biggest, and last fish caught. Papa didn’t want me to go but Carlos said he could use the extra hands, even though they were small, just in case. ‘Okay, but you stay out of my way Walsh. Understand?’ I really didn’t, but I did what he said.

11C9F3EB-43F7-4FB0-9ACA587844E6E5C6_article“The wind was calm and the Stream was down and the sun was alone in a cloudless sky. Far off to the eastern horizon, a line of haze was just visible coming from the direction of Bimini and the Bahamas and presented no change in weather so far but could indicate a front was due in. We would have to keep it in mind and sight as the day progressed.

“The cobalt blue of the deep water was littered here and there with floating weeds but our concern was not for anything swimming or feeding just beneath them. Our quarry was something bigger; something that hunted in the cold water at the 1,000 foot drop-off below our hull and would be searching in the thermoclines, on the edges of all the temperature gradients, and come up close to the surface when it sensed prey.

“Our giant Ballyhoo baits were strung out on rigs that made their pull through the water look as if a small school of the fish were moving along just as they should and unaware of the danger from below. And that’s how it must have appeared to the sailfish that came up very suddenly, showed his head, and took a swipe at Kip’s bait.

“He had good reflexes and had his rod out of its holder, snapped off the port outrigger, and affixed to his waist belt in just a few seconds, then, while keeping his eyes out on the water, dropped back some line in hopes the fish would take it again.

“Easing off the drag just enough to let the force of the rig take it further out about twenty feet, he reset the tension and waited. Sure enough, he had a strike, lifted the rod high in the air, and the fish was hooked.

“Chisie and Papa, he reluctantly by both the look on his face as well as his none-to-eager reaction, pulled in their lines so that the fish could be fought properly without getting it tangled up with the other rigs. I could see that Kip was good at what he did and played the fish well, taking line when he could, especially when it tail-walked several times, and giving it up when he needed to. Carlos kept a sharp eye at the stern of the boat where Kip had now positioned himself, still standing up instead of using the chair, and made sure we stayed on course.

‘That’s it Kip, keep it coming,’ Chisie spoke quietly and smoothly as the fish, now tired from its struggle, began to swim from side to side as Kip eased his stance and moved from port to starboard and back again. ‘It’s going to go for the bottom once you get it closer,’ Papa said as he watched carefully. ‘Carlos?’ he called without looking forward to the helm. ‘I have it Papa,’ Carlos said.

‘A little closer and I can grab the leader,’ Chisie said, now positioning herself just in front of Kip with the dancing rod now alive with the struggling fish. ‘Okay, okay. One more turn in,’ she said and leaning over so far I thought she might pitch right overboard, grabbed the line, wrapped it once, then twice around her gloved hand, and the fish was alongside, just like that.

‘Walsh,’ Kip called out to me. I literally ran the distance from where I was standing with Carlos and was at his side. ‘Here,’ he said, ‘Hold the rod.’ He gave it to me and from where I was positioned, I could see the fish near the transom. Kip leaned over and took the line from Chisie, gave it a tug and a turn and popped the hook right out of its mouth and I watched as the fish, its sail peaked, floated just below the surface, its dark blue and gray and black colors wavering in the water, realized it was free and slowly, undulated its slim, strong body, disappeared back into the deep.

‘Good fish there,’ Papa said and, taking out his wallet from a back pocket, took out a $20 bill and handed it over. ‘Your first is always the one you remember most, eh Farrington?’ he laughed heartedly and slapped Kip on the shoulder. ‘Now, let’s look for something really big!’ he added. ‘Something we can boat.’

“Never once, that time, or for the rest of that day, did he acknowledge Chisie’s expert line handling and the way she skillfully conducted herself during the action, no matter who had a fish on the line.

“Papa caught the next two; a small hammerhead and then a Wahoo, none of which had himimages in the running for biggest. He wanted to shoot the shark in the water in hopes the blood and ruckus would raise a big mako but Kip cut the line and it swam away before the weapon could be drawn.

“The day dragged on and those once far off clouds were now piling up, one on top of the other, massive and imposing. ‘I think it’s best we stay on this side of the Stream,’ Papa said, nodding upwards at the sky. ‘Looks like Bimini is out.’ Everyone agreed.

“Kip lost a king mackerel right at the boat, a very small sail spit Chisie’s hook, two more Wahoo, one for Papa and one for Chisie. We ate lunch, they all drank beer, and I spelled Carlos at the wheel for a time, climbing up on the stool he sat on and sitting on my knees so I could see out the forward windows. And it was then, while I had my hands on the wheel, intently watching the swing of the compass needle and looking out as several gulls hovered and picked at the surface of the water, that Chisie’s line got hit and hit hard.

“Carlos was quickly back at the helm and lifted me off, carefully placing me on the deck. ‘This is a big fish Walsh,’ he said without ever taking his eyes off Chisie as she lifted her rod out of its holder and placed herself in the fighting chair aft. ‘This is a big fish,’ he said again as she watched the line disappear from the reel.

“Papa and Kip brought their lines in and once the rigs were aboard, placed the rods on the deck. ‘Take those baits off the hooks, tie things up, and move the rods inside the cabin and put them below and make sure they are out of the way,’ Papa said to me, leaning over and looking me straight in the eye. ‘Right now,’ he said and then turned and watched Chisie’s back as she seemed to have stopped the fish and leaned into it, trying to raise the rod some but unable to do so.

“I heard the pitch of the engines diminish and then there was nothing for anyone to do but wait. Pilar moved through the water, wallowing some in the gentle swell as Carlos kept her on course. I started to say something, to break the monotony of the droning, of watching Chisie in the chair one hand placed above the reel of the bent rod with the other gently covering the handle and gear mechanism, but Carlos looked at me and shook his head back and forth. I walked aft and stopped just short of the cockpit.

“Papa was sitting on the port gunwale and Kip stood to starboard, holding onto the outrigger on that side with one arm while he looked out into the water. He took a step over to the chair.”

‘What do you think Chis?’ he said quietly. The boat dipped, rose, and dipped again.

‘Think?’ she said as she held on to one, then another muscular tug. ‘Whatever it is, it feels pretty big.’

‘Marlin?’

‘Could be,’ said Papa. ‘Could be. Bull shark maybe. Pretty deep though. We sent that rig down further than the rest. Mine was mid way and Kip’s was just below the surface and sometimes skipping out of the water. Do you want us to take it for a while?’

“Chisie pulled back on the rod and Kip locked each side of the reel to the chair.”

‘No way,’ she said. ‘I got this.’

“She had been at it for almost an hour before we all saw the line start to straighten out.”

‘That fish is coming up,’ Carlos said as he worked the wheel to keep her in the best position while we motored ahead enough to maintain just the right tension on the line.

blue-marlin_476_600x450“And it did. Exploded right out of the water about a hundred yards aft and off to port. A big Atlantic blue marlin, wriggling its massive body once then twice, trying to shake the hook from the side of its mouth.”

‘Wow!’ was all I could say. Papa looked away for a moment, leaning over the side of the boat and down into the water before he got himself back into what was happening on deck. Kip stood behind his wife and placed his hands lightly on her shoulders.

“Chisie held the rod high and reeled furiously, trying to take up as much of the line as she could, knowing full well that the fish would quickly hit the water, maybe run a bit before jumping again and perhaps make another dive. Either way, she was in for it.

“The fish did not dive deep but did go under, now pulling steadily on the line and we could all see the strain Chisie was undergoing especially with her bad hand. She smiled up and over at Kip and he kissed her gently on the top of her fishing hat.

‘You can take a break; there’s three of us that can hold it while you rest,’ he said to her. ‘No one is going to think any less of you for doing so. And you know that.’

“She nodded her head up and down, smiled, and leaned back in the chair. ‘A little while longer. Just a little while,’ she said.

“About a half hour later, the fish came up again, this time not leaping up out of the water but instead, with its head held high, kept shaking back and forth.”

‘I think we can turn it now Carlos. Get it close in on the boat so we can put a stick in it,’ Papa said as he began rigging the long harpoon. ‘Then we’ll slide it up over the transom rollers. May not be able to sling it up on the gin pole. Looks like 400 pounds to me so we better make sure it’s dead.’

“Chisie had gained some more and the distance between the fish and the back of the boat was getting closer and closer. She pulled back and held the rod up high and in to her body.”

‘Carlos, let’s back down a little, slowly, and let her get some more line in,’ Papa said.

‘The engines went into neutral and then into reverse. Chisie dipped and pulled and the fish turned and we watched as it began circling, its huge head and a great deal of its body on the surface.

‘I hope the sharks don’t come up after it,’ Chisie said.

‘I haven’t seen any,’ Kip said.

“Closer. The fish was very close now and I could see how really big it was and where the hook had taken hold. In a very short time, it would be close enough to get a line slipped over its head and put the harpoon into it. And then it would be over and it would be dead.

‘I don’t think I want this one stuck,’ Chisie said to Kip.

‘What?’ Papa almost cried out, the harpoon ready in his hands.

‘It’s my fish and I’ll do with it as I please.’

‘You damn women are all the same!’ He was furious.

“Even closer.”

‘It’s your call Chis,’ Kip said to her, having already dropped the stout line that he would have used to hold the fish against the boat’s hull.

“By the time we got back to the dock, the weather had closed in with low,images gray clouds replacing what had been a mostly blue sky and the air was thick with humidity. Papa left the boat before anyone else saying he had something to take care of in town and that he would see us all for dinner back at the house.

“The wind-driven rain started later that night and we never did make it over to Bimini the next day. Dinner was just that with no crowds and no party atmosphere. Pauline insisted I ask my parents and my younger brother and sister as well and the evening was rather sedate and somewhat boring for us kids with some lively table conversation usually coached and radiating from the Farrington’s. Chisie sat next to my mother and Kip was on the other side of the table, flanking Pauline, who had several of her friends over as well. Papa was not there and nobody asked why nor asked where he was.

“On their way out, and as everyone said goodnight, Kip took Pauline on the side and handed her an envelope. I saw them exchange a few words as she nodded and placed it on a small table by the front door. I didn’t know what it was but I kind of guessed, thinking about it later on, that it was the money they had rightly won from the fishing bet.

“Kip and Chisie left Key West the next day but came back a few weeks later and did get across to fish Bimini during that time. You’ve seen the photos of them and Papa on the dock with those big marlin hanging by their tails and everybody smiling,” he said and paused a moment. “I never did hear anything else said about the fish she let go, that night at the house, or about the money I imagined was in the envelope. “But I do remember when she came back there in 1936 and was on board another boat with Kip when she caught a 542 pound blue fin tuna,” he said and paused. “Now that’s a coincidence.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

hearsts-cosmopolitan-published-hemingway1“Oh, most likely nothing. But that year, September, 1936? That’s when he published The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber in Cosmopolitan magazine. Kind of funny when something like that sneaks right up on you. Maybe should have seen that coming a long time ago.”

“I’m not following you,” I said.

“Well, you read it again and when you do, consider that day we were out on Pilar and Chisie there lets that big fish go and how steamed he was at her for doing that.”

“You mean…”

“I’m just saying. He often turned most of his women, whether between the pages or the bed sheets, into something else. And as he saw it, something not too nice. You just go read that story over again,” he smiled and, looking out at what was left of the light, went silent for a moment.

“Well, you know it all turned out. He went to Spain and met Gellhorn there, had his falling out with Dos Passos, came back to Key West, fished and divorced Pauline; she stayed there with Patrick and Gregory until 1951, the year she died,…” At that, he seemed to trail off, not wanting, I imagined, to bother with the rest of it.

“I think he really managed to settle things with himself and Chisie later on when she hooked and boated a broadbill swordfish. First woman angler to do so. Sent her a note; they called it a cable back in the day. ‘Perfection! The real record is to take the first one, because if you catch the biggest fish, someone eventually is going to catch a bigger one,’ he said to her. I remember it word for word because she showed it to me. But then again…ah, what’s the point?” he finally said to me as he looked out at the ocean as the last remaining daylight waned and began to slide down over the western horizon and disappear.

“Y’know,” he said as he got up from his chair and stepped to the side of theDSC_1035 porch, now facing the bay to the west and the last arc of the sun as the earth slipped away into late dusk. For a moment, I saw him bathed in a warm red, orange glow. “For as long as I can remember, I never saw that green flash everyone talks about down here. Never once. How about that.”

“I tell you something; I’ve never seen one either,” I said

“Good news is you most likely got lots of time left. Me? I don’t buy green bananas these days. Well then, you keep looking and maybe, one sunset, you’ll get lucky. The thing is son, to keep on looking. You catch my drift?”

“Sure do.”

“Now look at the time. Flies when you’re having fun, eh? I guess Mama’ll be coming by pretty soon with that cracked conch of hers; course there’ll be some jerked chicken, fresh-baked johnnies, and some other tasty things. Might tasty things. Brings her family over as well, her son and her daughter and all their kids and, how do they say it these days? ‘Significant others?’ You’re welcome to stay.”

“Sounds like fun but I have to get back to the boat what with the owners most likely there and Conlan’s gonna need some help.”

“Open invitation. Anytime you’re in town then.”

I stood up, took the few steps over to where he was, and offered my hand.

“But what about the pen?”

“Oh yeah, that old pen. It’s what started things going between us, didn’t it? Well let’s save that story for the next time we catch up with one another. Whaddya say?”

“Deal. And, thank you. It’s been enlightening to say the least.” I took his firm grip.

“Well, you’re very welcome then. And thanks for listening to the ramblings of an old man.”

“That was far from ramblings.”

“Alright now.”

I turned to leave and got to the bottom step of the porch and stopped.

“I didn’t get your first name,” I said.

“Just Walsh will do son,” he smiled and laughed.

“Yes. It will.”

I held up my arm to say goodbye, turned and began walking away.

“You got plans to use what we overheard at the bar in anything you’re working on?” he said.

“I’ll let you know. Promise,” I said.

“You stay salty now,” he called out.

“Yeah, Just Walsh, you too,” I waved again and watched him open the screen door and move inside.

Squeak. Squeak.

For the moment, I was able to still see him surrounded by the yellow glow of the lights inside the house where I imagined him crossing through the living room, past the dining room, maybe with a momentary glance towards that writing space and then into the kitchen, there to prepare things for his evening with his friends.

pink-house-2I smiled and continued walking down the crumbled seashell pathway, past the pastel-colored homes and stores of his little neighborhood and out on the main road where I thumbed a ride back to Guana Village Marina.


“All that because you knew what kind of pen it was? Well now boy-o, it looks like all that so-called well of useless information y’got stashed up there in your noggin paid you back some,” Conlan said as he gently poked at my forehead with one of his meaty, sausage-thick fingers as we sat at Grabber’s looking to most likely close the place pretty soon.

By the time I had gotten back to the boat, the owners, along with their guests, and Conlan holding court and regaling them with stories from near and far, were all gathered in the main salon. Some familiar jazz music I had heard before was playing in the background, soft and just below conversational tones and along with several bottles of wine, there was a nice assortment of hors d’oeuvres set out on the stylishly modern coffee table around the convivial and strategically placed seating arrangement, that, of course, was in total harmony and balance with the rest of the décor and artwork that adorned the interior.

According to Rowan, the wife, a self-taught and somewhat respectable gourmet chef in herimages social circle, was also a fung shuist. Balance, harmony, and of course flow. And as we were going over to Grand Bahama in the morning, it was a no brainer for us to excuse ourselves under the guise of getting things ready for the early morning crossing and checking our weather window. Hence the late night respite at Grabber’s.

“Troy, my boy, me and the lad here will have just one more of your excellent Guana Grabbers and then we’ll be off, to leave you and this fine establishment to the winds of chance as we let loose our lines and shove off for points unknown and to adventures yet…adventured!” Conlan said to our barkeep, he already in the midst of breaking down for the evening. “And that would be one each, my good man. One. Each.”

“Where you guys heading off to?“ Troy asked, hoping to hear of some distant and exotic port of call as he put our drinks together; a wonderfully poised and perfectly balanced blend of pineapple and grapefruit juice, a splash of Grenadine, light, dark, and coconut flavored rum, and a lime twist. Cherry garnish is optional.

“West End Grand Bahama,” I said wryly and with the beginnings of the idiotic grin of the slightly-but-getting-somewhat-more inebriated.

“Some real unknown parts you boys heading for there,” he smiled. “’Bout 75 nautical miles or so?”

“That’s from up there at Moraine Cay!” protested Conlan as he thrust out a feigned pugnacious chin. “And taking the route to the south of Mangrove and Great Sale Cays, I might add. ‘Sides, we’re sitting here in Great Guana. So, it’ll be a bit farther as I see it and the crow flies.”

“Enjoy. It’s on me,” Troy said, smiling and shaking his head with all the fun goings-on as he put our drinks on the bar, and got back to closing up.

“You sir, are a gentleman, and a scholar,” Conlan said and after a wobbly slide off the bar stool, stood up ramrod straight before leaning over and offering one big paw of a hand out to Troy. They shook. “Said and done and done and said,” said Conlan.

By the time we finished our drinks, we helped Troy fit the storm shutters in place and watched as he hit the main electrical breaker and shut off all the lights. It really was, time to go.

As we walked back to the marina, the conversation went back and forth between what each of us thought was the best movie fight scene. Rowan insisted it was the 1945 black & white Cagney flick, Blood On The Sun where the aforementioned lauded actor has a knock-down, no-holds barred judo brawl with the evil Oshima, and our hero ending it with a good old-fashioned series of American-style bare knuckle jabs and roundhouse punches. I countered with Scorsese’s 1980’s Raging Bull where Jake LaMotta’s doomed rematch with Sugar Ray Robinson is both surreal and brutal.

“Come on Rowan, after he gets his ass kicked, DeNiro’s LaMotta says to Johnny Barnes’ Robinson, ‘You never got me down, Ray!’ It’s all-time,” I said, not wanting to even bring up Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon or the fisticuff mastery of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne or Daniel Craig’s 007. I figured I’d save that for another flavored and alcohol-stoked one-to-one.

imagesBack at the boat, I checked all the lines, quietly secured the doors and hatches, and after noting Conlan, already asleep in his wheelhouse quarters, and knowing he’d be right as rain as soon as dawn made an appearance, headed for the rack and a very good night’s sleep.

We spent two days at West End and then crossed over to Ft. Lauderdale for a haul-out at the Lauderdale Marine Center, there to check in with customs, deliver the boat for some scheduled work, and meet up with the first mate/engineer and her regular captain who had some family matters to take care of up in Boston.

Rowan went over the ship’s log with them, got us squared away with the owners, and justimages like that, we were at the airport’s departure terminal. I was going back to New York and he was bound for the offices of Edison Chouest Offshore in Cut Off, Louisiana, there to do a month’s stand-in on one of the company’s big supply ships running out to the oil rigs.

“Look up a good buddy of mine when you’re down there. Capt. Ed Baker. You two will definitely hit it off. Promise,” I said.

“Will do.”

“Hey Rowan,” I said as I hitched my carry-on up to my shoulder and offered my hand out to him. I watched as it disappeared in his paw after which he grabbed me in a manly embrace. “I got one more thought for you.”

“Yeah?”

“Did you know that the first Godzilla suit worn by Haruo Nakajima in the original 1954 Toho production vanished and is still missing?”

“Did not know that boy-o, but I do now. And a better man I am because of it.” He smiled broadly, gave me a soft cuff on one shoulder, turned and strolled away.

“Stay salty Rowan,” I called out.

He didn’t look around but I knew, just by the one raised arm he gave me, what he was saying.

Always was and always will be. Said and done. Done and said.”

Until the Muse and I share yet another encounter, fair winds, shipmates. Fair winds.

DSC04213

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2014 in Literary Corner

 

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Literary Corner

Literary Corner

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.

Corinthian story preface

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.

 Corinthian story wingding

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.

 Corinthian story frontispiece

“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.”
                             -Mark Twain

                 “I yam what I yam and tha’s all what I yam.”
                                                                                    -Popeye, Sailorman

Corinthian story chapter 1

Chapter 1.

Incoming Tide

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.

“No sir.”

“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?”

“No.”

“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?”

“Yes sir.”

“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.

Corinthinan story chapter 2

2.

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?”

“Yes.”

“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…

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2012 in Literary Corner

 

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