Excerpt from Chapter One
“Kindly lend us a hand heah.” Fred’s tone now does shift to impatient.
I look down upon the sticky chaos of the deck of the 30-year-old wooden vessel, measuring my commitment, at this moment, to solidarity with the “toiling classes.” A diesel engine, starting up a few moorings out, rips the morning air. Then it idles down to a hollow thrumming. “I’m kinda not dressed for it…”
“You’ll only dirty one hand,” Fred insists, pointing with his boat hook, “and that ya can wash in the head over yonder.”
Cut the crap, Fred, I’m thinking. Even in Maine people haven’t said “yonder” in a hundred years. At least Fred asked for my help. Probably did because we are out in public. Nearer home, if he spots me between Gram’s house and my car, he usually just says, “Stop,” then shambles over and hands me some gadget or even just a very smooth piece of metal. Probably he worked all night getting it that smooth. He might instruct me, “Put your hand out. Palm up,” as if offering a bush-dweller a look at the first pocket watch ever to glitter in dark regions. The upside of having him for a neighbor is that he is a genius at fixing things – like Gram’s old furnace – or for replacing wiring in the attic that squirrels have been munching on. Whenever anything seems out of whack, Gram says, “Call Fred.” Then, as soon as he recognizes my voice on the phone, he’ll start in talking – as if he was the one who’d placed the call – about something of great technical interest only to him and perhaps a few of his cronies.
David jumps in and explains the chore at hand: “We just need some human to slide the chain from the overhead winch out to us. The horizontal action motor is fried and it takes two of us to position it to the chain girdle on the barrel. Yesterday when we came in we tried asking some of the tourists to do it. But, they just stared and backed away. They come here to look at the boats – they don’t expect the boats to talk to them.”
The local macho rules call for remaining deadpan in the face of a fisherman’s joke. I silently comply with the request. This young guy does seem to have a sensitivity to irony. He reaches up and grabs the easy-swinging, 15-pound iron hook at the end of the chain I’ve sent his way. Then he jerks it down three dozen links and clips it to the chain girdling rig Fred holds in place on the barrel sitting on the open stern deck. I pick up a small metal box at the end of a galvanized conduit-encased electrical cord. I’ve been in on this hoisting procedure before.
“Now?” I ask. Fred nods. I push a red button and the barrel lifts off and clears the stern rail. Fred scrambles up the ramp, boat hook in hand, and pulls it laterally onto the wharf.
“I’ve been tellin’ the harbormaster for a month, that motor was goin’ ta burn out if he didn’t get grease onto tha bearins. But no. Bad connection on the fog lights, too. They been goin’ on and off for a week. Frank Moulton put a gouge in Sam Clark’s transom because of it. That Bud Henderson just sits in the harbormaster’s shack all day, a can a beer in his han. Or else he’s not even around. He took awf, all dressed up, fifteen minutes ago. He shud resign or be fired. What’r we payin’ taxes and moorin’ fees for?”
I, too, had noticed Bud Henderson leaving. He hadn’t really looked “all dressed up” to me. But with Bud, just not having his fly down could qualify for that. Likeable guy though.
Fred is clearly in a bad mood – which he normally isn’t; I’ll have to say that for him. Semi-rational cheerfulness is usually his manner. It almost makes up for his compulsive technical advice about how everything on the planet could be done better. Somehow I think his pique is more than just being put in his place by the yachting crowd. Then I remember. I saw him washing his truck yesterday a.m. – probably the first time since he bought it; and perhaps first time for any truck he’s ever owned. Fred was taking the day off to go to Boston. A woman – a weekend visitor in a party of nurses that, for a spring lark, had signed on and gone deep-sea fishing on the Laura T a few weeks ago – had given him her number. Fred doesn’t often get phone numbers handed him by women.
“Hey, Fred – how was your date?” I risk asking, probing for a connection to his sour tone.
Fred scrunches his mouth. “No date,” he says. “Her old boyfriend just got back to town. She’s decided to try it again with him.” His Down East accent has departed.
“Too bad,” I reply. I’d been rooting for him. “Not too nice of her not to tell you. Could have saved you the trip.”
“Ya, well, it isn’t really her fault,” he starts generously. David has climbed the ramp and stands near me on the wharf now. He takes charge of the barrel. Fred tells me the story that I imagine David has already heard. “She says it’s been on again, off again with that guy for five years. He’s always rolling in and out of town. It’s been rough on her. She knows that he meets a lot of women through his work.”
Typical musician, I’m thinking. “What’s he do?”
“He’s a bus driver,” Fred says with distaste.