Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 2 Summer 1981

I knew from experience nothing on a boat is composed of straight lines. This was not a problem. Neither is my cabinetmaking, ashore or afloat. So while nothing really fit as it should and visitors either burst out laughing or averted their eyes, it existed, while the previous owner, a meticulous craftsman, had struggled, baffled, for over a year, then retired in defeat. We moved in the next morning: mattress, bedrolls, clothing, pots and pans, dishes, a little food, over a hundred books, my manuscripts, two coleus, three cacti, one Angel-wing Reicher begonia, a jade tree, a black cat named Blizzard and a white one named Babe Puss (Sorry, it’s true), and a bright green parakeet in a spacious blue cage. I spent the first evening aboard teaching the parakeet to screech, “Pieces of Eight.” In the morning it was dead. I’d batched on a boat before and the little inconveniences didn’t bother me. I suppose in this ecology-minded era I should blush to admit it, but I think it’s one of the pleasures of life to stand at the rail and piss in the lake. Women, I’d noticed, require more sophisticated plumbing, so I requisitioned a five-gallon mayonnaise pail from behind a nearby restaurant, thereby simultaneously providing with private sanitary facilities and complying with the law that forbade through-the-hull waste disposal. By her expression alone I knew Gail was astonished at my ingenuity. We adjusted to life on board. Eventually we learned, after the perilous trek. down the swaying gangplank under the stern of the island ferry Concordia, along the rolling, slippery log, stepping over the lines of Skeet’s tugboat, Lois, another liveaboard, an abandoned, ridiculous aluminum houseboat and several lesser derelicts, and finally onto the bow of a plywood gaff-rigged daysailor, how to drop onto our rolling back deck without dislodging the kitty litter, even in the dark. With a smoldering, smoky fire of driftwood in a rusty coal stove, Gail made our coffee, cooked our meals and heated water to clean up afterwards. A monstrous mess accrues in such tight quarters if you do anything but sit, so I sat, but Gail had her standards to maintain. She cleaned from bow to stern daily, but the odds on Noah’s Ark, as we unofficially christened our craft, were against her. Though I horse-traded us into a prop with sufficient pitch to move us smartly through the water and was anxious to do some cruising, Gail announced she’d eschewed travel by water. “You want to go, have at it,” she said with the calm reasonableness used with retarded children. “I’ll stay here in the unlikely event you return. But count me out. I don’t want to drown.” We stayed moored to the end of the breakwater as the last golden days of autumn slipped away and the winter rains commenced. By early December, the crew was ready to mutiny. We existed on nothing plus food stamps. The pitching and rolling of a round-bottomed boat can be vicious even when tied to the dock, and our exposed position insured we notice every passing wake. The cats were neon-eyed berserk and most of the plants had followed the parakeet to Davey Jones. The deck leaked in the forecastle and the mattress was always wet. We were poor, damp and cold. I had developed a hacking cough. Donald once described a boat as a hole in the water you tried to fill up with money, to which Gail retorted that even if it was full of money, you couldn’t live in a hole in the water. | SPOTTED him before he reached the dock: a curly-headed student type, pockets jammed with pipes and paperbacks. As he passed longingly from boat to boat, I could sense he suffered from Jack London Syndrome. Our last bath was nostalgia and there were dog hairs in my coffee. There was no one in the world I’d rather have seen than a glassy-eyed romantic with the sea in his veins and jack in his pocket. I looked at Gail. “Put on the coffee.” “Don’t let him get away,” she agreed. I stuck my head from the companionway. “Ahoy there, mate,” I bellowed like Wolf Larsen. “Come aboard.” It took two days of delicate flattery and artful blarney to transfer the boat from my hands to his and the jack from his pocket to mine, but finally the dog, Past us streamed dozens of fancy pukemobiles. Settled into deck chairs near their varnished teak rails, they observed with cold, disapproving hauteur the approach of our noisy, foul and contemptible craft. the cats, the surviving plants and all our worldly belongings waited in our old Plymouth in the parking lot and we stepped off the stern for the last time. “What will you do now?” the new captain inquired as we turned to go. Gail replied. “I’m going to put an oar over my shoulder,” she said, “and start inland. When someone asks me what I’m doing with the funny-looking shovel, I’ll stop.” As we reached the shore 1heard the screech of a wrecking bar as the new owner began dismantling my unsightly cabinetry. By noon we were rolling down the east side of Snoqualmie Pass. The cedars gave way to pine, the air grew dry, and by nightfall even the pines were gone and the gibbous moon rose over rolling fields of frosted white stubble and naked black voids of summer fallow. 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