Fix

Daily writing prompt
Describe your ideal week.

I’ve been barging about the shop, pulling out half-finished projects that don’t seem to interest me and looking wistfully at old photos of sea and sky. A bad symptom is that I’ve been spending time looking online for one particular boat I lost track of years ago. Here is the issue: I require occasional doses of salt in the air. I need the smell of tidal flats, a view of a rolling horizon, or the marine weather forecast cutting through the hubbub of the marine supply store where I am perusing foul weather gear. I miss the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the coast. All our trips have been inland this year, and the wettest terrain I’ve seen has been Lake Champlain. Wet but not salt.

I do not need perfect days at the beach. The sky can be cloudy and heavy with rain. Walking along the shore with the tide brushing my toes while an incoming squall threatens is just part of another perfect day seaside. After I dry off, I’ll head to the coffee shop and watch the rollers hit the breakwater.

It could be perfect to have an entire week along the coast. A month or longer – moving from town to town, harbor to harbor would be best. But I’ll have to settle for a weekend fix. There was a time when all of those smells, sounds, and sights formed a daily part of my life. I’d sit on a dock and gaze at the sea. I’d poke along the seawalls looking for any interesting thing the sea had decided to offer up.

It’s that time of year again. I have to get a fix. Too long away and I begin to feel like a disaffected imposter in my own life. My occasional withdrawal symptoms can be dealt with easily enough; get me to the coast – fast. I’ll be myself again by evening.

I fully understand what Melville was getting at:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world…

Sailor’s Hornpipe

The other night I fell into musing as my wife watched Pirates of the Caribbean. My mind slipped back to a time years ago and in a place far away:
They did not belong. They stuck out like sore thumbs, aviators; Brown Shoe Navy types, while everyone else was Black Shoe Navy, Merchant Marine, fishermen, or seaman of odd stripes. The Blue Anchor Tavern is a sailor’s bar. We looked at Tuey, the bartender, who shrugged, looked over at “Thing,” the bouncer, and noticed that Thing was counting crisp new bills. Such low standards, they looked like ones. 


Don’t get me wrong; all Blue Anchor franchises serve the general public, but not the genteel general public. The genteel make trouble; they Don’t know that, like Liberty Hall, you can “spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard.” they think we are just unsanitary. They react badly to the midnight Kaile dancing, the dirty song karaoke competitions, or the wet t-shirt competitions for who has the biggest beer belly. This lot of aviators, left in the middle of the axe throwing competition – mumbly peg with small axes. Their team started losing. Really.

In any case, at four AM came the last call; the last tourist was ushered out, relieved of most of their worldly wealth by Thing and Tuey. Silence spread thorough out the gathered congregation. It was time for the morning hymn before we all stumbled to our duty stations, bunks, watches, cots, styes, and homes. Wives, husbands, family, and superior officers would sullenly ask where the hell we had been, smell our breath, and curse, “That Damned Blue Anchor!” Our knowing wink would be all that would betray us.


Years later, and sober for years, my wife looked up from the movie she was watching and innocently asked me what the ditty I was humming was. The Sailor’s Hornpipe, I replied. And I sang her a bit of the Morning Hymn:



She said that she didn’t get it. I sighed and said, “Well, I guess it’s just one of those things; you would have to be there to understand it.

Cruising

Daily writing prompt
What are your future travel plans?

Let’s not be theatrical. We aren’t going to Tahiti, Madagascar, or Desolation Island soon. Prince Edward Island, on the other hand, would be pleasant, and I’d love to drop into Halifax. I’d be uncommonly pleased, as a matter of fact, to noodle around any of the Down East coastal towns, make myself a nuisance on the waterfronts, and become a curiosity at the diner where the fisherman eat -eschewing the tourist trap around the corner. OK, I wouldn’t mind Tahiti, but then again, I’d become the wharf rat. Making a nuisance of myself asking the fishermen what was in the nets that day, visiting the local franchisee Blue Anchor Tavern for a catch of the day lunch, and as they informed me of their coast, I’d tell them of mine.

It’s true. I am an obdurate and unrepentant lover of all things coastal. You ask why I am not reading travel magazine articles on western National Parks or exotic locations on Bali with phenomenal food. I guess it’s because I fell in love with cruising coastal Maine while young or going to sea on a March morning and waking the next in the middle of a north-sweeping Gulf Stream. Noodling around coastal islands with wise locals in the fog and being told exactly where each island lay based on a lifetime of pilotage can’t be found in a tourist trap. Nor can timing your passage up a coastal river just so, to get your masts under a low bridge. 

So, given the opportunity to cut my loving wife free from her job for a while, I’d head out for a frolicking detour along the coast of New England and the Canadian Maritimes. Hey? Have you ever heaved a lead line? Did you know there really is such a thing as mark twain on it? You should try it sometime.

Weather Report

Daily writing prompt
What do you listen to while you work?

Working to music is something I have never understood. When I lived on the coast, I used to have a small radio tuned to the marine weather forecast. The drone of how high the tides would be, wind direction, and precipitation formed a repetitive background in the shop. The climate was essential. For maximum effect, there needs to be some scratch in the broadcast. It needs some hiss, scratch, and background noise for sentimental reasons. Last winter, I decided to go for that feeling in the shop once again, but all the radio would pick up was the Central Massachussets and Southern New Hampshire Broadcast. I just can’t connect with what’s going on on Mount Monadnock. Call me insular, but I am a coastal boy trapped among the flatlanders. Right now, my soundtrack in the shop is the hungry Robin chicks housed in one of the apple trees, the sound of mowers, and steady whisp, whisp, whisp of gouges slicing through wood. On occasion, there will be a mallet thump.

But I’ll have to close the door against the chill when October comes. And I’ll miss that marine weather forecast. I am thinking of buying a better radio with short-wave bands to pick up some marine radio traffic. 

That might do the job.

Boat Show Vacations

Daily writing prompt
Describe your most memorable vacation.

When I was much more active as a nautical carver, vacations were of the working sort. My wife and I would pack the car with four kids and camp goods and go to whatever boat show I would do that week. During the day, I’d work my booth, and the kids would run around the waterfront, enveigle free goodies from fellow booth owners, and tour the nearby attractions. 

The consensus among my now adult children was that they had a good time at the boat shows and the nearby seaside towns. I can reliably state that no added scintilla or false glow was added afterward. More than a few times, the campground was drenched in downpours, or we spent Sunday mornings doing soaked laundry and sleeping bags at a laundromat. While the uninitiated tend to think of coastal breezes on the shore, being in a gigantic tent during a steamy afternoon at a boat show is not an ideal place to be.

My wife worked harder than I did, attempting to corral four children. The solution was that they all learned how to work the booth early on. Who could resist the sales pitch of a cute nine-year-old? Typically there was a vendor courtesy tent set up with goodies for the vendors. The kids learned to locate this rapidly, shamelessly eat everything in sight, and then go off for lunch with Mom. Their sales yielded commissions from Dad, so when they hit the tourist traps of town, they had money to throw around like the little sailors they were.
So that was a vacation in the old days.

Worms

This is a flashback Friday presentation from a bit over three years ago. It tells a story about my gray cat, Clancy – AKA The Grey Menace.

Clancy was a bloodsport type of cat. If no other cat or dog were available to pick on, he’d pick on me. He eventually ran out of cats to fight because other rough cats he met would either start staying clear of him or would team up with him to go for bigger game; The Sawyers’s dog. I got tired of hearing the Sawyer complain about how my twenty-pound cat abused their ninety-five-pound bruiser, so I determined to distract Clancy.

Clancy’s favorite way to explore was to ride on you until you came upon something that he found interesting. Then he’d hop down to investigate. His style of mounting you was by climbing up your leg, over your back, and onto the shoulder. Ouch. But it beat hearing the dog whimper.


One day we opted for a long hike through the woods and across the island. The island,
not being too broad at that point, we soon came to the shore of the river. A few boats had been run onto the tidal flat in the flats. Men were busy working the mudflats with hand rakes. Surprisingly, the cat seemed curious. So, we walked onto the flats to watch. Seeing someone on the mudflats with a large cat on their shoulder was not something the diggers usually saw.
Clancy liked his instant celebrity status and jumped down to enjoy the attention. Soon he was watching each worm disinterred from the heavy clay. His gray fur about matched the look of the marine clay on the flats. He didn’t seem to mind a bit.
Now, a word about bloodworms; they bite. They bite each other, they bite themselves, and they will bite you. Considering that I don’t recall seeing gloves on diggers, they either develop a facility for not getting bit or ignore the nips.
Clancy was soon helping with the digging, as he discovered that the worms bite he became more, not less interested. “wanna piece of me, huh? Come on…” the diggers got a charge out of this cat who took his combat personally with the worms.
Digging worms starts and ends on the turning tides. As the tide recedes, you run your boat onto the flat. Buckets of bloodworms and the mud they are in are heavy. You don’t want to lug them farther than needed. Having the boat handy is a great convenience. The equipment appears rudimentary: a bucket, hip waders, and a hand rake with large flat teeth.
You are bent over at the waist the entire time you are digging and in clay, or mud for long hours watching for worms as they wriggle away from your rake. After a digger finishes an area, it looks as though a rototiller went through. It did not bother the cat. I thought I had at last found something to occupy his attention when I wasn’t working.

All of a sudden, there was a wet slap slap followed by a watery, sucking sound. The tide was coming. The cat continued until a wet splash landed within a foot of him. All of a sudden, all his attention was to his rear. For the first time, he saw waves washing towards him. It took a moment for him to process: waves, wet, water…oh shit! With a scream, he was off. Across the flats, to the dry, he ran. He leaped across the access road to the woods, into the woods and was gone. I was left to follow at a much slower pace. I found tufts of gray fur in the low bush blueberries that marked his passage. As I approached the cabin, I heard my wife screaming. He had hit the screen door running, smashed through, and in a panic jumped into her arms – with claws fully extended. Now, they were not mutual favorites. She was not thrilled with this sudden surge of “Mommy protect me!” He was not happy that she was eagerly trying to disengage him. As I entered, he seemed to realize how this looked, and he reasserted his macho self-control. He strolled by me and took a swipe.

We never went back to the flats. That ended Clancy’s explorations for a while. The dog was not pleased.

The Bar none

Daily writing prompt
Describe your dream chocolate bar.

I haven’t been a fan of the big famous brand of chocolate bar from Pennsylvania for a long time. A friend who lived in the town where they are made described the mounds of raw product piled around like some other vaguely brown product. His descriptive violence to a childhood favorite put me off the brand as surely as having a warm cholate bar smeared all over my face.
Yes, you’ll say, the purist loves dark chocolate with a mandatory percentage of Cacao in it, produced in the Andes by small farmers/growers. No Lindt balls in the foil package for you! You can’t reconcile the mass-produced with your elevated tastes.

For me, a little shop in a nearby coastal town produces the best orange-hazelnut chocolate bar. When I visit, I find my steps going in that direction. Made locally, I have no clue about percentages of Cacao, fat, or whatever—just the crunch of nuts, that taste of chocolate, and the hint of oranges.
Guilty pleasures, you are the one.

The Right Way, the Wrong Way and…


I had two bosses in an operating room I worked in. Sophia had a poster on her office wall of a turtle reminding you that the turtle only made progress when it stuck its neck out. On the other hand, Betty had a little cubby hole office with a poster of two vultures sitting on a tree in the desert. One bird looks at the other and states, ” Wait for something to die? Hell, I’m going to go kill something!”

The posters neatly summed up the two supervisors’ attitudes and offered hints about managing complaints, issues, and problems within the department. Even the chief of anesthesia walked carefully around Betty, preferring to deal, if possible, with Sophia. I, of course, mostly worked with Betty.

Betty was a coastal brat from Maine and knew I could tell the difference between literal and littoral, being another coastal brat from a Merchant Marine family. She was also a former Navy nurse, and being I was former Navy, we worked OK as a pair. I put on my best petty officer routine for her, did things the “Navy Way,” and life was easy.

Now, please understand no recruiter would ever seek me out to re-up. I was not the regular Navy type. But I could play-act it during work hours to get through the day. Just as long as I wasn’t going home in uniform, eating on the mess decks, or deploying for six months. I was OK.

A few other folks in the OR got querulous of me and accused me of sucking up. I just offered to show them how to run a buffer, properly swab with a mop, wear dress blues with panache, and act serious while receiving a series of ludicrous commands from a snotty ensign. Now, mind you, it was the last that got me in trouble while enlisted. I had difficulty keeping a straight face.

My colleagues in the OR were not amused.

I guess everything could have gone on as they were, but the day came when things started changing. It was a long case, and my back ached. Now stretching to arch your back while holding retractors in a patient’s abdomen must be done carefully, but Betty gave me a soft massage to help with the tension. After the case, she came over and helped me remove my gown, and I could have sworn that her hands lingered a bit on my neck.

Walking into the lounge, I noticed snickers, grins, and laughter hidden behind hands. My friend Marilyn asked with a grin if Betty’s backrub had been up to Navy standards. A few people cracked up at this. Later over a few beers, my friends told me that there had been a betting pool to see when Betty made her move. She’d mentioned to Sophia that I was “cute and respectful.” Being cute and respectful might make it for Betty, but I was not interested in snap inspections or early lights out with a former Navy Luitenant Commander as a girlfriend. 

Over the next couple of weeks, it became clear my friends had the right of it. Betty had me in mind for the position of Mr. Betty. There was no circumspect way to get around it. When frustrated, she had a volcanic temperament, and I had set up the entire situation by giving her what she wanted the way she wanted it. Betty was talented, brilliant, beautiful, and totally willful. The first three traits were very tempting in a mate, but the last was scary. My over-active imagination could envision the sorts of Navy-style “non-judicial punishment” she might dish out if I incurred her wrath. I wasn’t that type of guy.

Ultimately, I handled it like a true sailor; I jumped ship. I found another job, gave my notice quietly to Sophia, and slipped my moorings one afternoon.

From a distance, I kept tabs on Betty. She married another former Navy guy, a retired chief petty officer who worked in hospital administration. She had kids, moved to the Tidewater area of Virginia near a Naval base, and seemed to live a happily Regular Navy-style life ever after.

To those who might think I missed out on the love of my life, I’d like to share a bit of Naval wisdom with you. Regarding life in the Navy, we used to say there was “The right way, the wrong way, and then there was the Navy Way.”

I’ve said my piece.

Messes

Some of us are on a safari, sampling life as we move from place to place or experience to experience. Others seem tied to one locale by an invisible byssus that holds them to one environment.
At some time in my wandering, I landed briefly at a coastal community and envied their sense of home location. They, too, wandered away for a while – to work a job, college, or a voyage. But they always returned to the cove, harbor, beach, or bay.
Occasionally, I like to visit, feel connected, and feel home away from home. So last week I called an old friend, Paul. I mentioned I’d love to visit and see the old town. He said come on and visit, but it’s not the old town anymore,” the only thing that looks like it used to is the Town pier, but that’s overrun with riff-raff off the cruise ships. I’ve been thinking about moving further Down East, but I understand they have the same problems.”

Perhaps somewhere off the map, there are still destinations where cruise ships cannot navigate, climate change does not destroy, or the coast is not inundated with the jetsam and flotsam of a world’s rejected plastics. But I’m not going to go on safari looking for it. I’d only be joining the mass exodus of people looking to escape the mess we’ve made of what we have while carrying the problems we’ve created to new places.
Paul’s advice to the people on the cruise ships? “Stay home, clean your messes up, and don’t bring them where I live.”

People Watching: the boat show

My friend sat there sipping his bourbon, looked over at me, and said, “Oh, what stories we could tell!” But, of course, he was referring to some of the things that happened at or that we saw during our years of doing boat shows. Although to be honest, we don’t share the good stuff with potential customers, that would be tantamount to warning them to behave at the show. No fun for us!
Just look at couples. We see the entire range: the young couple shopping for their first little sloop, the older couple looking for something suitable for cruising with the kids, and the older ones looking to downsize and longingly looking at the little sloops that remind them of when they were young and frisky.
I don’t have enough words to describe the frisky ones. From the older couple away from the kids, staying at the hotel with that ” Oh, honey, wait till we get to the room” look in their eyes to the non-matched couples meeting up at the show – she’s into lobster yachts, he’s into traditionally rigged sloops or 22-foot catboats, but they are clearly into each other. Then, at last, there are the older gentlemen who hoped to revive their romantic fortunes with much younger trophy wives. But that deserves an entire post by itself.
Staffing a booth at a show is hard work; you answer questions all day ranging from the inane to the insane to the wise. You tell people where the bathroom is so often that you make up a sign with an arrow indicating the direction. And you pray that one of your friends will show up with lunch soon or relieve you – so you can go to the bathroom. It’s all in a day’s work.
My friend and I have retired from doing the shows, but we do like to go and browse. But mostly, we watch people. After years of observing, we know what to look for. It’s not dull.

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