Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Boat Slip

        I don’t have any good memories of boating.  It’s not that I have bad memories necessarily - well, actually, I can conjure up a couple of bad memories pretty easily.  Years ago when my son, Jay, was about eight, we were on a friend’s large cabin boat, and after just a few minutes, I felt myself going down fast.  Jay, perhaps by the power of suggestion, followed suit immediately. The nausea was spreading from the back of my head and between my ears to my face rather than from my stomach.  I felt as if someone was using my brain to sop up a mess on deck, then wringing it out and shoving it sloppily back inside my skull.  My eyelids closed in protest after witnessing the whole deal, and it was all I could do to crawl down to the lower deck to die.  As Jay and I lay motionless for a full hour and a half, I promised myself never to set foot on a boat again.  Never, never. 
        I had apparently forgotten that vow a half dozen years later, as a woman forgets the agony of childbirth, when I agreed to join some friends for a 40th birthday celebration which included a 3-hour gambling excursion out at sea.  A three hour tour.  I should have been very afraid. 
Each of the birthday girl’s eight friends were handed twenty dollars in quarters to start.  When we got far enough out to sea, I put four quarters into a slot machine, and was preparing to pull the lever when the boat swayed slightly.  I left the machine, money and all, and crawled to the front deck, lying down in the proximity of a few other green people.  All I remember of that part of the trip is the inside of my eyelids, concentrating on my breathing, and my ex-partner (this might explain why) coming over to me every twenty minutes or so to whisper in my ear, “Can I have another $5 in quarters?  It doesn’t look like you’ll be spending them.” As she fished the quarters out of my pocket, I tried to form two words: ginger…ale.  But I couldn’t speak, and was left alone again, praying that it might eventually occur to my partner, or to anyone, to bring me a carbonated drink.
         Nine months ago, Noam asked me at the office, “What do you know about zippers?”  He often asks trick questions like this, and I’m usually disinclined to answer without first getting more information. Undeterred by my silence, he said, “I have a large boat cover, and I can’t get the zippers to work.  I’m sure they need to be replaced.”
        “Let me take a look at it. I might get the zippers to work,” I said.  Noam sighed and said, “No, it’s hopeless.  I’m pretty sure they’ll have to be replaced.  Do you know anybody who can do this?”  When he says this, he means me.  I took the cover home, wondering if I consistently led him to believe I was capable of anything, and at the same time wanting to prove to him, the person who had recently been voted "The world's number one intellectual" by Great Britain, that I was capable of anything.  So now I’ve answered my own question. It’s true: I want him to think he can ask me to do anything.  I want him to brag about me. So I took home an oversized green plastic bin with a large blue boat cover tucked inside it.  I didn’t even know how the cover fit the boat, so I wasn’t sure which zipper connected to another.  I won’t admit what I did at first, but let's just say that one would assume, watching me, that I knew nothing about zippers.  What I did second was to spray the zippers, which were white with salt water corrosion, with wd-40 lubricant.  That seemed to do the trick.  I checked the stitching on each zipper and then made sure all the zippers slid up and down without a lot of effort, and returned the cover to Noam, who, as usual, proclaimed that I was brilliant, and I forgot about it over the winter. 
        So it was a surprise to me when we picked Noam up to take him to his boat, and he emerged from his cottage carrying in both arms the bulky boat cover.  Now a new wave of anxiety spread through me. What if it didn’t work?  Then again, what if it did and he took us out on the boat and I felt motion sick or my dog panted herself anxiously into an early grave or I stuck my hand in the bubbling water of the boat’s wake and lost a finger to a rogue shark and tried to keep it to myself so as not to spoil the ride? These are the things I think.
        “When we get there, we can put the cover back on the boat every wrong way until we get it on the right way,” Noam announced.  Sounded good to me, since I still couldn’t fathom what the heck we were covering with this brilliant blue expanse of canvas with its odd configuration of zippers and flaps.
        Meanwhile, I was revving myself up worrying about whether Roxy would tolerate the noise of the motor, and what I imagined would be a bumpy ride. She was out of her element, and was already stressed with the near-100-degree weather. I admit now that I was probably projecting my own fears onto my dog.  I pulled myself together and started driving toward the boat, until Noam interrupted me.

        "Uh, Bev, can we make a stop at the post office first?" he asked.
         I don’t know what it is, but it seems to me that nobody over 70 can begin their day without a trip to the post office.  Noam got out of the car and walked toward the post office door, his upper torso leaning slightly forward as he made his way around the other people going about their business at the nearby grocery and hardware stores.  As I watched him, I thought to an outsider he could look like anyone’s frugal grandfather, or perhaps a simple man of few resources, as the elbow of his shirt was torn.  I wondered why he didn’t wear some of the new summer shirts I had ordered him from an LL Bean catalog, but then again, it's possible I just wasn’t up to date on Cape Cod summer chic.  When I reminded him of his new shirts later in the day, Noam explained his logic. "My granddaughter Ema paid extra for the tears in her jeans, so I'm sure my shirt is in style."  If you know anything about Noam Chomsky, you know that it's senseless to argue with him.
        “Ok, now we have to make a stop at the pharmacy,” he said, getting back into the car in the post office parking lot. We drove a couple of blocks, and he disappeared into the pharmacy, returning a minute later holding up a jar of Vaseline petroleum jelly. In the split second of time between Noam holding up the jar of Vaseline and his explanation, random scenes of my early childhood shot disturbingly through my head; all were of my mother taking our temperatures when we were sick. Not orally, nor under our armpits.  I'll leave it at that.  Noam started to speak, and I was jolted into the present moment in the front seat of my car, fifty-five years later, trying to separate my memories of Vaseline from the picture of my boss holding up the jar between index finger and thumb, as if promoting it in a TV commercial.
        "I buy this every year, and then I lose it.  I have to put it…” and then everything became surreal, and went into slow motion as he continued...on…I was aware of the dissipating boundaries…my...please god...and in the brief moment between words I looked down at his toes, which were a little dry and cracked.  His toes? His feet?  I can deal with that! And then he finished the longest sentence in history…boat.  Fantastic!  He has to put the petroleum jelly on his boat!  I can deal with that!  I would gladly help put Vaseline on his boat.
        Whatever that meant.

To be continued...


  1. I had to stop reading several times for Dad to laugh. Says he, smiling:

    "Grade A+! Nice work, darlin'. Love Dad29"

  2. Whenever I thought of Vaseline it was for the dog's paws in winter time. Boat slip my Vaselined thermometer. You like to swim, so it's not fear of water, but waves?

  3. Yes - fear of seasickness. Maybe that's not clear? Dogs paws - never thought of it. Should I be putting vaseline on Roxy's paws in winter?

  4. You vaseline the zippers on tents, why not boat covers?

    Gimme a pontoon on a small lake, I'm in heaven. Never been on the ocean, so I have no idea if I tolerate it or not.

    That would suck I imagine.