Monday, October 18, 2010


Condolence calls came from as far away as the West Coast about my recent spate of parking tickets. I paid the two for the hydrant offense right away, just to get some of those orange envelopes off my desk. The Department of Finance does make it easy for you: the water-resistant ticket comes with two peel-off labels, one of which says “I want to pay.” I didn’t really want to pay, but I am saving the other peel-off label—“I want a hearing”—for my defense in the matter of the obsolete curb cut fronting the Christian Science Reading Room.

Meanwhile, it seemed like a good time to get the muffler fixed out at the mechanic’s in Rockaway. On the way, I reported to the marina. High winds were predicted for Saturday, but I didn’t believe it until I saw Jamaica Bay: whitecaps fluttered on the surface like a huge flock of birds. Down at the marina, the boats were rocking in their slips. My boat had about four inches of water sloshing around in it, so I got my rubber boots and a bucket out of the trunk. But the slip itself, the narrow dock off the main dock, was rocking almost as much as the boat, and I was afraid I’d lose my balance trying to get in.

I stood and stared for a while, and when a man came up the dock I asked, “Can you give me hand? I want to bail it out, but I’m afraid to get in.” He kindly came out onto the slip with me. “Kind of flimsy, isn’t it?” he said. I took his hand, but I was still scared to get in: I wanted to take his other hand, too. “Get rid of the bucket,” he said. “That way, in case anything happens, at least you’ll have both hands.” That made sense. I put the bucket in the boat. Then he said, “You’d be better off stepping in backwards.” That made sense, too. So I turned around, took both the man’s hands, as if we were dancing, and stepped backward into the boat. “Thanks,” I said.

I started bailing, but soon I had to sit down. The water was as choppy as I’ve ever seen it, and the boat was tossing around. The Boss came running down the gangplank, saying, “We’re gonna have to get you an electric pump.”

“Good idea,” I said, bailing.

“How ya doin'?”

"O.K. How are you?"

“Goin’ to save a boat,” he said, and hustled down the dock in his blue hooded sweatshirt. Soon another man ran down the gangplank after him, and I saw them busy with the lines on one of the boats at the far end of the marina. It struck me for the first time that the Boss looks a little like Popeye. He and the other guy and a lot of the men at the marina have that build: the upper-body strength and the nimble legs.

When it was time to get out of the boat, I played it safe: I sat on the dock and swung my legs up out of the boat. Then I scootched down the flimsy slip to the main dock, where I hauled myself up by the gangplank rail. I wanted to rinse off the outboard, because my weight in the boat had lowered it into the salt water. So I filled the bucket with fresh water and walked back out on the slip, but when it was time to risk losing my balance by lifting the bucket to slosh it onto the motor, I lost my nerve and danced back to the dock, terrified that I was going to fall into the bay. I'm not used to negotiating surfaces that are pitching about underneath me. Every muscle in my legs quivered for the rest of the day. Now I know why sailors are famous for doing jigs.

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