THE GOLDFISH BOWL
a novel by
When dreams become memories
memories become dreams
“Comedy and tragedy step through life together,
arm in arm. ...
Once we can laugh, we can live."
Life Before Life In The Goldfish Bowl
In the beginning, and maybe even before that . . .
In1928, just before another time when the financial world led the economy into the abyss, I arrived in this world – the fifth child in what was to become a family of ten children. Six months after I was born, the family moved from Flatbush Avenue to a new house on Schenectady Avenue in East Flatbush. The house looked out toward the east, and it was located at the end of the building line in Brooklyn. To the north, a short distance away, stood Holy Cross Cemetery. There was a sandlot baseball field across the street, but it was soon displaced in the early 1930's by a row house development.
The timing of my birth was remarkable. It ensured that earliest memories of life
around me would be shaped by the deepest part of the Depression. The better part of my childhood was spent never knowing the world had ever been any different. Coming of age was time spent during the second World War; another War to End All Wars. My three older brothers answered the call to duty. A long call – collectively they spent thirteen years answering it. I had been given a 1A classification status, but the war ended and I wasn’t drafted . . . then.
During the years before the war I attended grade school; there, I managed to explore many areas of mischief and mayhem. A basic trait that has remained a life time flaw; it slowly emerged into a dominant aspect of my character – authority rejection. I hated to be told what to do. Of course, I didn’t understand this flaw that dominated my relationship with those in charge, or at least, those who thought they were in charge of me. Whenever this character flaw was called into action it was always spontaneous – a basically uncontrolled reaction. Fortunately, another side of my nature accepted the world however it came my way. However, I just plain didn’t like it when someone else decided what I should be doing.
Acceptance of what is has always been the larger part of my attitude. However, outright rejection of authority always lurked nearby ready to spring out. This always took others by surprise but none more so than myself.
There were other dominant forces at play during my formative years. As a junior partner to authority rejection there was a dislike for criticism. Doesn’t sound too good for the home team, but that’s the way it was, and perhaps it still is. Then, there was living in a small town inside a big town. In which, my world expanded out to about maybe ten city blocks at its furthest. Walking and bike riding were my principle forms of locomotion. Moving too far from home base was never a good idea. Movies and radio were the major mind benders of the day – escapes from the small town.
Grade school years went by with a few memorable experiences. I managed to get thrown out of fourth grade when authority rejection did its thing. This was followed by just managing to move ahead into fifth grade. That was when my guardian angel, Miss Bennet, arrived; a wonderful lady best personified by the latter day Mary Worth comic-strip creation. Somehow, she managed to guide me, through the mysteries of elementary school learning processes, without arousing my inner demons; I settled down and moved ahead academically. We traveled together for three successive school terms, more like friendly companions than as a teacher student relationship. Then, she left again, on sick leave, and died shortly thereafter. The memory of my guardian angel has lived with me ever since.
Hence, events of the day combined to push me into the post-high school, and post-war world. I had little to look forward to. Undaunted, I looked forward anyway. Hardly ever looked back, or even behind me for that matter. No surprises there. Plenty in the other direction.
And so it went. Some major and some minor unanticipated happenings, coupled with an inner force, propelled me forward. Two teen-age experiences, with young ladies, produced long lasting effects. These combined to add to the confusion normally associated with a young, immature male-mind when dealing romantically with the opposite sex.
A wonderful Jewish girl lived across the street, and we became close friends. In those days, this did not involve sleeping together. Heavy petting was the extent of amorous arousals. She spent summers at her family’s vacation home on eastern Long Island. I managed to travel by train out there a few times to visit for the day. This relationship looked as if it might have some long lasting overtones. Then I received an unequivocal message from her father. He made it absolutely clear that he would not permit any further association between his daughter and me. The relationship ended, but not before his daughter and I spent a delightful day on a school outing in Bear Mountain, New York. While there, we were caught in a rain storm while we walked in the nearby woods. We took refuge in a large sewer pipe left over from some project. It was one of those very memorable times destined to punctuate our future relationship. Several weeks later, she announced that her father had arranged a marriage between her and a nice Jewish boy. That was that – then.
Then, there was an even more devastating experience waiting around the corner, as it were, with another young lady. There were no religious barriers, and in the bargain, she, like me, was from an Italian family. Her family welcomed me as if I were one of their own. They seemed to encourage the courtship. I was happy to be part of most of their family gatherings. There were many, and often they involved day trips to countryside locations. It was a happy time for me during the years between the end of WWII and the beginning of the Korean War. As it turned out, Lillian and I were just good friends, and the relationship never developed into an impassioned one. After I was drafted, it ended; as I went off to experience a different world.
Also, after high school, my inner forces, and a desire to move ahead, pushed me into night school. In the summer, following graduation from high school, I worked at what was then referred to as being a “grease monkey”. This involved doing lubrication jobs on automobiles, and giving the ‘full-service’ that gasoline stations, back then, were known for. Night school, at Brooklyn College, didn’t seem to be compatible with grease stained hands. Nor did working with a bunch of rough guys; none of whom could barely speak an intelligible sentence. Hence, I answered an ad, for a laboratory technician, in a chemical manufacturing facility.
A very well educated black man, who was the chemist in charge of the plant’s control laboratory, conducted my interview. We seemed to hit it off fairly well. Then one of those amazing coincidences that life/universe produces occurred. A few days after the interview the elementary-school nurse came to visit my mother regarding some issues with my two younger sisters. Mom, as usual, related well to people, and soon, she and the nurse were talking about many other things. Among these, the nurse mentioned her husband was a chemist. Mom mentioned that I had just been interviewed for a job as technician in a chemical laboratory. One thing led to another, and it turned out that this school nurse, also a well educated black lady, was the wife of the man who had interviewed me. It wasn’t long after that, I received notice to report to work at the laboratory. Hence, in the fall, following graduation from High School, summer work as a grease-monkey, luck, and unsuspected happenings, had placed me in a job working with very smart people.
Thus began my long and varied career that subsequently involved many leading-edge technical disciplines. These included: chemistry, metallurgy, induction heat treating, microwave engineering, radar, sonar, and weapon systems design/development/evaluation, and finally automated warehouse system design and installations. Along the way I became responsible for managing many major engineering program sub-contract programs. My stock in trade was successfully negotiating fixed priced engineering development contracts.
However, back early in 1950, or it might have been late in 1949, I had answered a call by the Air force to apply for pilot training. It was not from following a patriotic urge, but rather a passion to learn how to fly. A stint in the Air force seemed a small price to pay for the opportunity. What the heck we weren’t at war. The war-machine, now-a-days known as the Military Industrial Complex, obviously knew what the rest of us didn’t. Once again, as mom always said, “In this world you pay for what you don’t know.”
I arrived at Mitchel Field on Long Island at the appointed time and joined what had to be several hundred other young men looking to become pilots. Testing for this assignment was arduous, to say the least. It went on for three days with many applicants falling by the wayside. Early on the third day, I was one of seven guys who had survived the rigors of what had to be the mother-of-all physical, mental, and vision examinations.. It was the vision requirements that eliminated most of the applicants. At that time of my life, I was able to see things others couldn’t. I had better than twenty-twenty eyesight.
The final hurdle, was to go before a board of officers. Their job was to interview each surviving candidate and decide whether or not they were suitable officer material. Only three of the seven were judged acceptable. I was not one of them. This upset me terribly, but unwittingly I had encountered my first bit of luck wherein serving in the armed forces was concerned.
“What kind of name is Martines?” One of the good old boy officers said.
This came as a shock to me, and I really didn’t quite get what the significance of the question was. So I stumbled a bit with my answer. “My grandfathers on both sides had emigrated from Italy back in the late nineteenth century,”
This didn’t seem to satisfy them. There were no further questions, and I was dismissed.
These three interviewers were, after all, southerners and congressionally confirmed officers and gentleman. They obviously thought I was a recent arrival from south of the border. My name has that confusion factor attached to it.
Where luck came into it, stemmed from the fact that had I been accepted, and had I become a pilot, I would have wound up in Korea in the early days of the war. The Air Force had a critical shortage of fighter pilots, and I’m sure I would have been a good one. However, most of the pilots remained there long enough to get blown out of the sky over North Korea.
Another young man, a kid I grew up with, qualified at a later date. He subsequently died in his F86 fighter jet that reportedly malfunctioned over North Korea. It had been a brand new plane issued to him for his thirty-first mission. Karma, or what ever, I considered myself just plain lucky. One thing stands out as I often think about Vinny dying in Korea. In our younger days, he had often been heard to say, “When I was in Korea . . .” Talk about karma, remote viewing, whatever . . .
A short time later, I began work as a technician in a metallurgical lab. The family and I moved from Brooklyn to a new home near Lake Ronkonkoma on Long Island. This led to other fortuitous events, until calamity struck. My old 1A draft status still lurked, in the official records, back in the small town inside the big town I had left; when the family moved to an even smaller town in eastern Long Island.
Thus a clear line of demarcation was indelibly etched into my world. Other
lines would follow, but this was clearly the first. Two years of army life followed, and it would leave me wary of government controlled enterprises and burdened with a marriage destined to fail.
In spite of my basic rejection of authority, and maybe even because of it, I survived army life. No small feat, considering I was drafted at the beginning of the Korean War. The army was desperate for leaders, and it used IQ tests as the basis for finding them. Content to remain a private, I resisted all enticements to stay in the army any longer than required. I had a tough time explaining why I didn’t want to be an officer. The chief reason being, it meant staying in the army at least one year longer. Not for me. A lucky decision.
All things considered, I regarded my forced time in the army as perhaps one of the luckiest experiences in my life. That I survived the experience without winding up dead in Korea, or spending a lot of time in an army prison, can only be attributed to luck. I earned my cherished designation, Private Lucky.
Well, army life is another story. But in passing I should note, a defining experience occurred one day, when I was deep in the middle of two years in the army. On that day, I tried to remember what life had been like when I wasn’t in the army. Looking back, I couldn’t seem to identify with not being in the army. Then I tried to look ahead to see what life might be after being in the army. It just didn’t seem possible to imagine it. Back then I tried to imagine what I might be doing in five years. As I write this that was sixty years ago.
Anyway, I did actually get out of the army, and married life began. An apartment was found, and I resumed my old position at the Sylvania Metallurgical Laboratory in Bayside Queens. Work days followed by night school classes resumed. With no understanding of the economic forces in play, I was pleased to see my post war salary had nearly doubled. Unbeknown, and unsuspected, inflation was hard at work. That two-by-four between the eyeballs didn’t make contact until many years later. Too late; missed out on some great investment opportunities; could have retired early as a rich man. Others smarter than me did.
That’s what happens when you’re not paying attention. Well, Mom always said, “In this world you pay for what you don’t know”. Anyway, life rolled on. A new job was followed by a major new one. A long engineering career commenced. A new house was purchased, graduated from college, and I began work on a masters degree. Fathered a son, and all the while the marriage deteriorated. I made the best of that for a while and managed to find other ways to enjoy life: power boating, sailing, boating instructing, amateur acting, social clubs, and several affairs. This inevitably led to separation and divorce. Here begins my life as a live aboard, and much of what followed, in the world we know – and maybe even in one that may be, a blink of the eye away.
Life in the Goldfish Bowl
Glen Cove Marina, nearing its final half-life of decay, is nestled half-forgotten among neighboring lavish old Gold-Coast estates on the North Shore of Long Island. The marina stands there as a deteriorated monument to an idyllic, probably never to be repeated, extraordinary moment in time. Impressions of a gone-by past, like an old sailor’s ethereal dreams, linger over its decayed docks. Greyed, rotting wood, on vintage buildings, stand among overgrown grounds and other signs of disrepair. The marina harbors an earlier era’s eerie essences from when it had been new, properly ship-shape and graciously catering to a select clientele of well-to-do yachting people.
In nostalgic moments, one might sense hovering, ghost-like images of rich, care-free Gold-Coast families; who had enjoyed summertime outings aboard fine yachts manned by uniformed crews. It had to have been a handsome boat harbor in an earlier time. This later day decadent marina incarnation is my home. I live aboard a stately relic of that former golden age of wooden hulled yachting. This is my new home, after having recently separated from my wife of nineteen years.
Forty-three years old, in the second year of the seventh decade of the twentieth century, I was now part of a growing population of separated lives. Rampant, wild, liberating forces pushed away restraints imposed by many staid institutions. Raging forces of rapid sociological change ushered in a new time. A person didn’t have to make excuses for opting out of the everyday absurdities of a failed marriage.
Breaking away, to end a misbegotten relationship, had been deceptively easy. Starting over again, burdened with married life’s accumulated responsibilities, turned out to be unexpectedly difficult.
A live-aboard’s Spartan lifestyle reflected my strained financial situation. However, it was preferable to any available shore side economic situation. Having a professional image to uphold it wouldn’t do to be living in some tawdry rooming house, or a run down apartment, in some seedy neighborhood. Living aboard a vintage yacht is passably eccentric.
I drove my four-year-old '68 Lincoln slowly; as I made my way through a narrow path between high snow piles in the boat-yard. I parked in front of the rusting corrugated metal-clad dock-house next to JJ's shiny black Buick. JJ’s car had extra tail lights mounted inside its rear window, and a remotely-operated searchlight was mounted just forward of the driver’ side window – a few of the more obvious automotive accessories used by a private detective. JJ had once demonstrated his loud siren, which, being illegal, had been mounted under the hood, out of sight.
I wasn’t too thrilled to have kept my old Lincoln on the road. The car’s repair, after it had been declared a total loss, had definitely been a sub-par piece of work. However, at the time, it had provided a cost-effective solution to an otherwise unaffordable problem. What the hell, I thought, even if it has a few blemishes, it does what it has to in a reasonably dependable way.
Inside the ancient dock house, a single light bulb hung on an electric wire from an obtrusive looking junction box attached to a once fashionable brocaded-metal ceiling. It provided enough dim light to see into the building's antiquated interior. The building’s exterior was a ramshackle patchwork of rusty corrugated metal. Inside, it proved to be an uneven demarcation between walls, windows and doors. The windows provided what little view could be had, through a nearly opaque layer of grime, of boat docks and the parking lot. Not much of the putty remained that had once secured the frigid window-panes. On their insides, dried-out, crumbling glazings were covered over with masking tape. This provided a crude but effective way to seal out cold drafts.
Still seated behind the wheel, in the Lincoln’s luxurious leather bucket seat, I contemplated the comfortable warmth inside my car. Reluctant to deal with the sub freezing world just outside, I did manage to peer through an almost clear spot in one of the dock house windows. Lester, the Dockmaster, sat in there slouched over in his usual alcohol induced slumber.
Amazed, I observed that night after night old Les without a care just sat there in his own little world sleeping it off. Moisture from his breath froze on the inside window surfaces. It produced fascinating crystalline winter frost patterns – budding frost-scapes that formed over many layers of accumulated grime deposits. Mentally, I compared them to growth rings in a tree. Perhaps, I absurdly thought, they might someday provide a geological record of the decaying dock house. Funny how the mind makes the craziest, sometimes dumbest connections. This, no doubt, provided a good source for the many daydreams that punctuated my existence.
The conflicts of the day began to recede; as I dis-engaged from that bit of whimsical fantasy. I stared intently, just able to recognize the shadowy, exaggerated shape of Lester's oversized head. A prodigious amount of hair, packed under his heavy winter Cossack style hat, gave him an odd look. The total image produced an unnatural balance; as his large head hovered over what appeared to be a diminutive sized body below it.
Seated as usual in his old swivel chair, Lester’s head was tilted over as far as his stretched out neck muscles allowed. He would have another bout with a stiff neck in the morning. He appeared to be sound asleep. More likely, he had slipped into an alcohol induced coma. I mused, well at least good old Les has quietly detached himself from the frozen world around him. I’m sure, he’s mercifully oblivious to the pain that must be developing in his neck.
I watched as Lester slept peacefully, in drunken abandon, unaware of any larger reality than his next bottle of gin. My mind wandered over the possible saving graces of Lester’s life in the boatyard. There’s much to be envied in the simplicity of his existence, with no office intrigue and circling barracudas lusting for new blood-sport victims. Maybe, there really is something to that old song, “Give Me the Simple Life”.
However, my thoughts continued. The boat yard has its share of characters that no doubt precipitate their own kind of boat-yard politics. It has to be fundamentally different from the bizarre world of office politics and the corrupt management structure I live in. These boatyard people go way back with each other. They’re really like family. Lester might even be related to the owners for all I know. Then again, my work-a-day world is by comparison a highly-transient one. No real bonds of any sort are evident. It’s really every man for himself – a dog-eat-dog type of environment. These thoughts trailed off; as I turned my attention to more immediate concerns.
I pushed away any further interfering workplace-related thoughts. They only stood in contradiction to a peaceful transition from my workday life. I now turned my thinking toward the very unique world of living in a boatyard.
A late winter snow and an ice storm had left its standard threats to life and limb, in all the usual places, on the piers, and on ramps leading down to the boat docks. I surveyed the hazards and asked aloud, “How the hell am I supposed to get down to my boat?”
Very carefully stupid, My thoughts mocked in answer. Had I had a real moment of introspection at that point, the question would more likely have been; why am I even standing here contemplating this? I could be home in my warm house, with a wife and a son there to love and enjoy, but that could only become a consideration much, much, later in life – if ever . . .
Instead, I stared out at the frozen scene of surreal stillness. My eyes focused on the inherent beauty of fantastic luminescent imagery sparkling there before me – a magical sight to behold. Glassy ice everywhere, mystically mirrored light from a solitary, overhead, ordinary outdoor flood-lamp. The reflecting panorama produced an unnatural brightly lit stage. Ice formations, an inch thick in some places, stood in nature’s frozen attachment bent around each ice bound structure. Ice coating, like icing on a cake, faithfully followed old, underlying, decayed wooden contours. Nature’s skillful ice-scalpels had fashioned beautiful glazed structures. And glossed over voids in underlying deteriorated surfaces. Earlier superb shapes that had once flowed smoothly, as created by their original old world craftsman, were now revealed.
Translucent ice formations served as excellent optical conduits. These natural pathways channeled the captured light and distributed it well beyond the limited area that the single flood lamp could otherwise illuminate. Nature's complementary light amplification and conducting system produced a glorious, glittering glass-house effect in the surrounding stillness of a frozen-in-time crystallized world. Mesmerized by its transcendental beauty, laid out before me, I forgot the inherent danger it posed to getting down to my boat.
On top of everything the weather god had to offer, he had conspired with his other pals, the keeper of the deep and the lunar lord, to drain the marina. The seven-foot moon-tide drop had made the iced-over, snow-covered ramp look like an impenetrable frozen mountain wasteland. My imagination, as always, heavily influenced by depression-time induced memorable movie scenes brought to mind images of Ronald Coleman in the film epic, Lost Horizon; as he had once traversed treacherous, snow-covered mountain-slopes that guarded the entrance to Shangri-la – a reasonable approximation, I thought. I gave some mental consideration to using that name for the Reinita; if ever, I should decide to rename the boat that had become my floating home.
I left my attache case in the car, reasoning that the two of us might not make it down together. Its survival probably stands a better chance than me. Maybe I should leave a message, like . . . to whom it may concern . . .
I prepared to begin my descent down the ice-covered ramp. Enticing mental images re-emerged of the beautiful summertime paradise that had waited just inside the frozen entrance to Shangri-la. A passing glance inside the dock house triggered new thoughts of good old Lester sleeping it off. There he sat, high and dry, in his own private dreamworld; without a clue as to how his predecessors ran his boat yard in the very best of maritime traditions.
About halfway down, a real sensible thought popped into my mind. I said aloud, “A couple of hours from now, this ramp will be nearly horizontal.” I continued to mumble, “Larry, if you had another brain it would be lonely. You could be sitting in Pete’s Diner, or Old Gerlichs Bavarian restaurant, having a nice quiet dinner waiting for the tide to come in. Some yachtsman! Whoa, almost lost it there. What a mess. Next time, Petes for sure.”
"Hey, Larry, pretty tricky out there. You sure picked a good time to make that trip. Where’re your skis? Better yet, ice skates?"
Unexpected, the sound of JJ's voice came up from the ice-bound stillness below. Under the circumstances, it was reassuring for me to know there was another brave soul who had made the treacherous descent down to the docks.
I stopped, made sure of my footing, looked over at JJ's boat, and I could see his smiling face poking out of his port side window. “If you were a good guy, JJ, you would have cleaned up this mess, or at least, you could have pulled the water back into this bottomless pit.”
“Gee, if only I knew you were coming just now!”
“I know, you’d have baked a cake. Well, I forgive you. Thousands wouldn't.”
“Gotta close up here. I'm freezing my ass off. If you make it down the rest of the way . . . come on aboard.”
“Thanks, I think . . .”
The winter entrance through the aft-end of JJ's boat, The Private Eye, begins with a trip through his sleeping quarters. An arrangement that suits his many adventures with the strung-out, distressed members of the distaff side, with whom in his business, he regularly comes in contact with. JJ is amazing. Well at least, he is to me having long since lost track of the number of babes who eagerly trip into JJ’s floating bordello. He, like myself, is qualified to be classified as a little guy. He, unlike me however, seems to have no difficulty in bedding down a steady succession of young ladies. I shook my head in amusement and tromped through JJ’s workshop.
I found JJ in the main salon, reveling in the warmth of the big kerosene stove he used to heat the entire boat. He was obviously oblivious to the carcinogenic horrors, of the burning kerosene fumes, soaking up any breathable molecules in the atmosphere. Adding to the heady atmosphere, JJ busied himself as he incinerated a steak in a well-used frying pan. He was nearly invisible, inside a cloud of even more carcinogenic smoke; a normal situation whenever JJ cooked aboard.
The galley exhaust fan was no match for the incendiary gourmet. Sooner or later, I thought, this will have to lead to a six o’clock news type scenario; never mind the long term effect on his lungs and immune system. Actually, as I thought about it, the entire scene fit JJ perfectly. Sort of like, oh well, what the hell, let it all hang out. Live fast, die young, and all the rest. Along with his good sense of humor, a penchant for light hearted behavior, and a less than discriminating selection of female companions, JJ is good company. I can always count on a lift whenever I come to see him.
I waved some of the smoke aside. “Holy shit, JJ! Should I call 911?”
"Hey, old buddy, I see you made it. How about a Pepsi?"
"No thanks, a cup of hot coffee would be more like it."
"Sure thing. You know where it’s at. Help yourself."
Still groping through the smoke, I found a pot and put some water on to boil. The burner was next to JJ's pan-charred cuisine, so I stood back to watch the final immolation.
"How come you're here all by yourself? You're gonna damage your reputation. I can see it now, old JJ the recluse. Why not? It would fit in around here. We could move the Private Eye over to the Westside; where you and Corey could keep each other company."
"Hey, even The Lord rested on the seventh day."
"Yeah! That's right, I forgot. Now that you reminded me, He must have had you in mind when He started that trend."
JJ took another long swig from the fluted glass mug containing his, ever present, ice cold Pepsi on the rocks. "You should talk! I thought you were a workaholic. What happened? Did Sperry burn down?"
"No such luck, JJ. I have to go to Washington tomorrow, and there are a few personal things I have to take care of tonight."
"Sorry, JJ, nothing like that. Besides, you and the big guy are resting tonight."
"Well, let's not get carried away. I've been known to rise to the occasion when a good friend calls."
"Yeah, right! Anyway, I'm picking up Doug in a little while. We're going to the hockey game later, to see the Islanders play.”
"You mean, lose. God, how can you stand them? They stink on ice."
"That's funny, JJ. They're improving a lot. Besides, Doug and I enjoy watching them play, and he looks forward to spending an evening with his dad. By the way, how’s your son doing these days?"
"Oh he's fine. So's my daughter. Their mother takes good care of them, and I get to see them often. Everything's civilized. How's your ex doing?"
"I think the trauma has subsided, but she still has a long way to go before she accepts the fact that the marriage is finished."
"They all go that way, it's just a matter of time. Pretty soon she'll meet some guy, and next thing you know, it’ll be Larry who."
“I wish . . .”
"Wait’n see, old buddy. I've seen a million of them. All my matrimonials go that way."
"You manage to help the process along, I notice."
"Whenever I can, old buddy. It's my civic duty."
The gaseous waste products from JJ’s heating and cooking operations finally proved to be too much for me. Foregoing the rest of the muddy mess made from the pulverized amalgam referred to as instant coffee, I said goodbye and headed over to my own boat.
Everything appeared to be the way I had left it. A quick look told me that the bubbler system was successfully keeping the ice away from the hull. Compressed air bubbles, out of its submerged tubing, pushed warmer water upward, and it displaced the colder surface water before it had a chance to freeze.
A glance at the geometrical, eye-level bowline knots that secured the standing lines, indicated all was well with the heavy canvas boat cover. As I looked down its full length, it pleased me to see those lines had the look of good seamanship. Practically, in the same eye sweep, I examined the mooring lines; two turns and one cinch, just like they were tied when I had moved the Renita over to her winter berth.
I thought about the way most people tie their mooring lines; like a sore thumb, turn after turn, as if they never ever had to untie them. I stepped aboard, through the side entry, into the main salon. Electric heat kept the boat's interior cozy and warm; without the hazards and foul smells associated with using a kerosene heater.
While listening to the messages on the phone near the galley, I rummaged around the, mostly empty, generous-sized refrigerator. There wasn't much, just the remains of a wedge of Jarlsburg cheese left from last Sunday’s brunch with the Sunday morning regulars, plus some brown bakery bread and eggs. A cheese omelette seemed like a good bill of fare. Nice and easy, toast and a cup of real coffee; not that instant crap over on JJ's boat.
In short order, my fast but somewhat less than gourmet delight was set. I took dinner up into the salon, relaxed on the comfortable couch with my feet up, and watched one of the talking heads on the tube. Yes, I thought, all things considered, my present situation is not too shabby.
Tricky Dick was riding high in the aftermath of having pulled off his landslide re-election. Amazing! After losing to Kennedy, I thought Nixon was a goner. He probably should have been, there were too many contradictions. Taking the country off the gold standard was ill advised and now Watergate was beginning to gather momentum. Crazy bastards. When I had first heard about it, I thought it seemed so illogical that Nixon's people found it necessary to do anything so stupid. After the fiasco over Eagleton, and McGovern's ultra liberal stance on the issues, McGovern and Shriver didn't have a prayer of winning.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Roe and Doe, reaffirming that the constitution protects a woman's right to have an abortion. About time. I had known at least two women that ran the gauntlet of the illegal abortion mill.
Other than that, the news was grim as always. Terrorist bombing, a recent addition to the usual assortment of murder and mayhem, was dutifully reported. I turned it off and switched on the radio. There were at least three local stations that could be counted on for good music. The radio was already tuned to one of them, a classical music station, WQXR, as was the clock radio in the aft stateroom.
I had to smile, as I thought about a recent Saturday morning experience when El had stayed over. I’d forgotten about the radio set to come on at six fifteen; at that time the station usually played a Sousa march. It really jolted her to wake up to a loud rendition of The Stars And Stripes Forever. Well anyway, the thought of the monkey wrapping his tail around the flagpole had seemed like an inspirational way to say good morning.
I picked up Doug at the family house without going in. I had no desire to see my ex-wife who, understandably, harbored a lot of resentment for what to me had been an unavoidable separation.
As usual, Doug and I, happy to see each other, looked forward to a fun filled evening together. The hockey games were truly an enjoyable bonding experience. This in addition to attending his music group activities, provided me with opportunities to be involved in my son’s life. I spent many nights at his group rehearsals and performances. High volume experiences that undoubtedly did some permanent damage to my hearing. At the time, his main interest was percussion, and he played the drums as well as I have ever heard them played. He, also, was a good piano and clarinet player. Later he learned the guitar and other instruments as well. These talents resulted from his evolving recording studio developments. He learned to record individual tracks and mix them as required to produce decent sounding recordings of his original compositions. I had no doubt that I had a developing musical prodigy for a son.
After the game, I returned to the boat-yard to find the ramp nearly horizontal since the incoming tide had pushed back into the marina under the solid ice cover. A deathly, still-cold and inky black night, with no moon or stars, gave the ice-bound docks and pilings still visible in the light, from the solitary flood lamp, a stark sinister appearance. Beyond the incongruous glittering mosaic of boats and docks, there was only an impenetrable black wall. So the small collection of illuminated floating objects appeared to be suspended in a perpetual void of darkness that belied the existence of anything lying beyond it.
I paused a moment, to marvel at how those boats managed to show themselves in the darkness; as they floated high enough, so their decks were even with the road after having once again risen with the tide. This, in spite of the fact that the entire marina, its docks, boats and everything else that floats, just move up and down – locked in the ice – slipping and sliding against restraining pilings generously smeared with water insoluble grease.
I made my way down into my imagined Shangri-la with a lot less difficulty than on my previous descent . Befitting the late hour of a dark winter night in a boat yard, everything was quiet, significant of nothing; as I passed by JJ’s boat, I stepped my way carefully, but icy snow crunched under my feet, and the floating dock creaked ominously under my weight. This made it impossible to pass by unheard, or un-noticed if JJ was aboard. I was reasonably sure he was, having noted that his car was still parked where it had been earlier.
I felt sure I was being checked in; which at least had the positive effect on me of not feeling absolutely alone while prowling around the waterfront late at night. Anyone bent on looting the contents of a boat, or worse, could have an easy time of it with minimum preparation. However, nothing of the sort had materialized in recent memory, and life seemed as safe in the live-aboard community as it might be anywhere else.
Once back on board. and having checked all that needed checking, I poured a generous amount of twelve year old Scotch on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass. It was my customary way of drinking it; going back to those stolen moments when Irene and I had developed that preference during our brief time together.
Sitting back on the upholstered convertible couch in the salon, located amidships over the engine room, I felt thankful for the opportunity to enjoy some private space and time. The ambiance of the warm cabin, enhanced by the single soft light of the shaded ship's lamp, created an inviting atmosphere. It heightened my anticipation of the relaxing moments at hand.
The first sip of the vintage scotch warmed to its task of delighting my taste buds. The chill of the ice gave way; as it let the well-aged whiskey reach its full potential. Quieted, sensitive nerve endings allowed deeply buried, indelibly forged synaptic bindings to prevail; once again, to rebuild cherished old settings as I succumbed to my reveries.
Silently, now floating in the nether world of nostalgic illusion, I fashioned a salutation to her. “To you, sweet Irene. Good-night wherever you are”. Fantasizing further, I pondered whether she too might have experienced similar emotions on a similar occasion. Surely, if she had, her preference would have been Chivas on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass. Somehow, I found it to be a reassuring thought. Perhaps, she too had made a silent salute to an old, bittersweet love; as she might have reminisced over our glorious times together.
These haunting memories stood just out of reach for many years; waiting, as it were, for proper triggering of their solitary reincarnations that would make me realize how self-destructive actions become that are used to deny natural instincts. Torn between desire and disruption of family life, I chose the lingering agony of pushing aside desire, and destroyed a relationship few are privileged to experience.
However, with nostalgic revery in command, my thoughts wandered back over words of an old song. Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end. As I recalled them, I asked myself. “How many other people remember that refrain?” Even when I had first heard those words, they had an unsettling-foreboding about them. But, like the refrain says, “My friend we thought they” – those halcyon days – “would never end.” End, though they did!
Irene and I had listened joyfully to that prophetic refrain together; both of us were taken with the melody but not so much the words. The words had no immediate meaning, but they were somehow tantalizing back then. I agonized over this recollection and its subliminal effect on my life. Back then, the words were not important – enjoying each stolen moment was.
Then, I heard Sergio sing again. Take the moment, let it happen, part of still another refrain with haunting meaning that came to me from another time in the twilight zone of my reverie.
My mind drifted back to when Peter invited me to attend a Russian Ball in Manhattan.
“There’s a Russian Ball tonight. You could come with me? There will be unattached ladies we could meet.”
“Sounds great. What time?”
“Oh, there’s no hurry. Better we go later than early. Let everyone get drunk first.”
Pragmatic, as ever, Peter, true to form, had us arrive toward the close of the evening without getting bogged down in the preliminaries.
Like many of his compatriots, Peter had emigrated to this country from Russia shortly after World War II. Subsequently, he joined the Sperry engineering staff where he and I had become close friends and confidants. Disenchanted with our respective married lives, we plotted together to embark into the world of extramarital adventures.
Peter introduced me to many of his multilingual friends. Remembrance of most of them having long since receded into memory heaven – except for Irene.
Glimpses from those never-ending days reappeared; as images of Irene materialized. I could see her again. She was dressed in a low-cut, black dress that accentuated her slim, lithe, femme fatale appearance. I recalled my inadequate feeling as a mono-linguistic specimen of the American scene, in spite of many years of advanced academic studies, but most of all – I remembered Irene.
The first meeting at her apartment, when she opened the door and looked even more beautiful than when I had first met her, like Loretta Young, as she opened the door at the start of her TV show – they could have been sisters.
Our first glass of scotch together, on the rocks in old fashioned glasses.
My new, metallic sky blue ‘62 Ford Thunderbird – a beautiful car with a sleek, futuristic design that she thoroughly enjoyed on our many trips around town together.
Her studio apartment, where we enjoyed many intimate moments.
The first dinner, at a Bavarian restaurant, with old world charm, in Forest Hills.
These thoughts floated through with a force of their own. I was quite used to them. They were like sad but pleasant companions that stopped by to visit.
But then, other memories invaded my reveries. Contentious ones! Recollections of Ruth, my adolescent sweetheart and later day lover. Those particular remembrances were not a welcome part of my mystical world of otherwise pleasant memories. Therefore, I subconsciously relegated them back into the darkest recesses of consciousness.
As recollections of Ruth displaced my preoccupation with thoughts of Irene, I took conscious notice of a very old journal lying on the low table alongside the bottle of scotch. I had recently acquired the journal, in a local book shop, during a rummaging forage through an assortment of yellowing manuscripts and other collections of writings. I really didn't just find it, the owner of the shop knew of my interest in the local area’s past history, and she put it aside for me when she came across it in an old estate library sale.
The journal appeared handsome and important looking; a large ledger type book with gilt edged pages that may have started its life on a different course. It apparently had served its owner's purpose well for chronicling events of the day. It included numerous newspaper clippings and pictures interspersed throughout its otherwise mainly handwritten chronological commentaries.
I noted there was no dedication or other indication of what the nature of the volume was. It contained only a single name and date – DiMartino – 1928 – on the very first page. It began with the author writing about his subject. It appeared it had been compiled by a ship’s captain. The main object of his attention was his visit to the United States aboard his internationally famous racing sailboat, La Bella Eleanora.