My friend Frank of Assisi quit the boatyard at the end of last season. Pete, my man in the boat business, said Frank was fed up. I ran into Frank on the beach at Fort Tilden last winter—the first nice day in February. He was just out for a walk, the same as me. I miss him at the marina, because he helped out and was very generous, and also because he was the low man on the totem pole, a position that, in his absence, is filled by me.
When I asked Pete what Frank was doing, he said, "You know those guys who walk along the beach with metal detectors?" Sure enough, the other week on my way home from the library, via Connolly's (can I help it if my favorite bar is on the way home from the library?), I spotted Frank heading through the parking lot toward the beach with his prospecting equipment. "Frank!" I hollered, catching up to him just before he climbed the stairs to the boardwalk. "How ya doin'?"
He had his metal detector in one hand and in the other a long-handled tool with a scoop-sieve-shovel for digging things out of the sand; he had customized it with a serious small shovel on the other end. He tied on a carpenter's apron and put on his headphones. I walked along the beach with him, but because of the headphones we couldn't have much of a conversation. Prospecting is an independent sport.
The metal detector, he showed me, not only ticks to let him know there's something down there but has a special digital readout that tells him what it thinks the item is. I held out my watch: "RING," it said. Close enough. He said he'd found something like eighty-four dollars up at Fort Tilden over the winter. While I was with him, he dug up a crushed beer can and a ball of tinfoil and a little piece of junk jewelry, which he put in his apron pocket. "Of course, it's better at low tide," he said.
Frank of Assisi was the only guy at the marina with a streak of the environmentalist. The first time I saw the Boss this season, he was coming up from the slips with an empty Heineken bottle, which he tossed into the bay. "What's wrong?" he said, when I reacted. Great, I thought—now I've offended him and he won't put my boat in the water. When Pete offered me a beer and I asked what I should do with the empty, meaning should I rinse it out before I recycled it, he pointed to the garbage can. "You don't recycle?" I said. "You can take it with you," he said.
I tried not to agonize over the Boss's delays this season. First you have to get him to give you a straight answer about how much a slip costs for the season. Then you have to come back with the money. Then, if you fail to catch him, you have to not spend the money until you have a chance to come back. Then you have to get more money out of the bank because you spent the first wad, and the Boss has to have a pocket to put the money in. Then he has to move a couple of huge boats on trailers and drag your little boat out into the open, and Pete says you have to ask him to bottom-paint it. Then he disappears for a week or two (his son gets married, his sister dies). You bring flowers. You wait. And then one glorious day the boat is in the water. But the motor is still propped up in your living room.
Now I had to refamiliarize myself with the workings of the internal-combustion engine. I also hunted down my knot book, intimidated by the knot the Boss had tied in my anchor line. Pete was away, so for help in dropping the motor onto the boat (as opposed to into the bay) I called on Frank of Assisi. I pictured him not answering his cell phone because he was on the beach, prospecting, with his headphones on. I left a message, but for whatever reason (was it me? the heavy lifting? or the marina?) he didn't call back. Pete returned, and I hauled the motor to the boatyard in the back seat of my car, and together we carried it down the gangplank and carefully set it in the boat. He lowered it onto the transom and tightened the screws, then stood by as I demonstrated what I had retained (with the help of my crib sheet) about attaching the gas line and opening and closing the choke. I've been out and back twice now, with no incidents (I found a piece of flotsam that looks like a small flexible cooler, and brought it home and rinsed it out, but it smells of bait), and my new maritime ambition is to take the boat to the ferry dock, catch the ferry to Wall Street, and transfer to the water taxi to East Thirty-fourth Street, commuting to work solely by water.