THE GOLDFISH BOWL
a semi autobiographical novel byLarry MartinesWhen dreams become memories
memories become dreams
"Comedy and tragedy step through life together,
arm in arm. ...
Once we can laugh, we can live."
INTRODUCTIONLife Before Life In The Goldfish BowlIn the beginning, and maybe even before that . . .
Early in 1928
“Yes, Kate, now that another child is on the way, it’s time to move from this apartment to something bigger. There’s a new development being built in East Flatbush where I think we can buy a new house.”
“That sounds wonderful, Tom. Do you think we can afford it?’
“Yes, the butcher shop is doing well, and the economy is moving ahead wonderfully. The stock market is rising nearly everyday. These are really the roaring twenties. We couldn’t be doing this at a better time.”
Several months later on August 31, 1928
In the growing euphoria of the roaring twenties with its rising stock market, early on a day at five in the morning I arrived in this world - the fifth child in what was to become a family of ten children.
Six months later in the beginning of 1929, with the roaring twenties still going strong, and the market still rising, the family moved from the apartment on Flatbush Avenue to a new house in East Flatbush.
But then, the stock market hit its highest level to date in September 1929. A high that preceded the worst stock market crash in stock market history. A high that would not be reached again until twenty-five years later. A high reached as bankers lead the economy into the abyss.
The house the family moved into faced east, and it was at the end of the building line in Brooklyn. It looked out at a sandlot baseball field across a wide dirt road called Schenectady Avenue, also known as East 47th Street. It remained a dirt road until well after World War Two. The ball field was soon displaced in the early 1930's by a low cost depression style row-house development.
What should have been a happy ‘forever-after’ world for my parents became a struggle to keep house and home on a supportable basis as the banks instituted their interest only payment scam. Dad managed to survive the failure of his butcher shop as a result of people not paying their bills. He managed to gain employment with an A&P super market in their butcher department. Mom, managed the house and the children. An extremely resourceful and exceptionally wise lady she handled the difficulties with a rare skill.
Actually, in retrospect it appears that in spite of what could be viewed as a calamity buying a house just before the depression years, it allowed our growing family to live in a quiet and reasonably safe neighborhood.
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. Teen-age years were framed by the second World War; still another ‘War to End All Wars’. My three older brothers answered that call to duty. A long call. Collectively they spent thirteen years answering it. I had reached a 1A classification status, but the war ended and I wasn't drafted . . . then.
The family was typically patriotic American oriented. Dad had survived being in the navy aboard a destroyer that was torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean. However, he did manage to become a chief cook as a lucky result of having been a butcher before his time in the navy. He began his navy career as a coal-heaver working below decks in the ship’s boiler room. Four on four off was the routine. During one of off duty periods he wandered by the galley where the cook was struggling with a side of beef, and he was making stew meat out of it. Dad volunteered to ‘dress’ it down for him. The cook knowing a good thing when he saw it served the Captain a nice prime cut steak for dinner. The captain immediately asked how this unusual bill of fare materialized as opposed to the regular stew meat and chop meat. When the cook related the episode with dad the captain immediately ordered him re-assigned to galley duty.
Anyway, dad served his time and returned to civilian life and his family. He joined the American Legion and served as the commander of his post for several years, and mom became president of the ladies auxiliary. Hence, their children were brought up with a fair amount of military awareness.
My years before the second World War were spent in grade school where I managed to explore many areas of mischief and mayhem. A basic trait that has remained a life time flaw 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 who thought they were in charge of me. Whenever it 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 outlook. 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. My world expanded out to about maybe ten city blocks at its
farthest. Walking and bike riding were the 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. Getting thrown out of fourth grade, when authority rejection did its thing, was a defining experience. The teacher was a total loser and could never hold my attention by anything she had to say. Hence, I occupied myself at my desk drawing pictures. She noticed. I didn’t. Suddenly she was standing over me speaking very sternly. Something about being unattentive. This was followed by a command. “Lawrence, stand up alongside your desk!” So I did as I was told. Shortly after that, after she returned to the front of the class room she made the fo;;owing announcement. “Class, I don’t’ want anyone to pay any attention to Lawrence and I don’t intend to do so either.”
Well, this didn’t make much sense to the mind of a fourth grader, so I just shrugged it off. About ten minutes later she looked over in my direction and said, “Lawrence, sit down!” I ignored her and contimued to stand.
She looked up again and saw me still standing there, and she shouted. “Lawrence, I told you to sit down!” At this point I answered her. “If you’re not going to pay any attention to me, then I’m not going to pay any attention to you.”
Well, this precipitated a forced march down to the principal’s office. Fortunately for me, Miss Morgan, the assistant principal intercepted us. After venting her anger the teacher emphatically said, “I don’t want Lawrence in my classroom again!” Miss Morgan was very familiar with my family since my older sister and three older brothers had been students there and two of my younger brothers also were students there. Hence she calmed the teacher down and told her that since the term was almost over, she should just let me sit in the back of the classroom and not participate in any of the formal class work. This was reluctantly accepted, and for the rest of the school term I spent my time keeping busy in the back of the room.
This involved doing a painting project on several window shades left over from a change-over to Venetian blinds at home. I had found several pictures depicting the history of printing which I proceeded to paint on the window shades. Having been born with some artistic talent (it ran in the family) this came naturally. Anyway, this soon became a major topic of discussion around the school. So much so that soon Miss Morgan came down to the classroom to see for herself. She, much to the astonishment of the teacher, then said “as soon as these murals are completed I want them hung outside of my office.” And so they were, and as far as I know they may still be hanging there.
Following this, and maybe because of it, I just managed to move ahead into fifth grade albeit into one of the academically slower classes. That was when my guardian angel arrived – a wonderful lady best personified by the latter day Mary Worth comic-strip creation. Somehow, she managed to educate me to a point where I settled down and moved ahead academically. Hence, events of the day combined to push me into the post-high school and the 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 memorable experiences with young ladies combined to add to the confusion normally associated with a young, immature male mind when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex romantically. 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 the summers at her family's vacation home on eastern Long Island. I managed to travel by train out there several times to visit for the day.
When this relationship looked as if it might have some long lasting overtones, 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. The memorable take-away from that was as we walked through the woods it started to rain. We saw a very large abandoned sewer pipe laying on its side that we were able to climb inside of. Protected from the rain we spent several delightful hours there. A few days later we met once again, and she told me that her father had arranged a marriage between her and a nice Jewish boy. That was that – then.
An even more devastating experience was waiting around the corner with another young lady. There were no religious barriers, and in the bargain, she, like me was from an Italian background. Her family welcomed me like one of their own, and they seemed to encourage the courtship. I was happy to be part of most of their family gatherings, which 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 good friends, and the relationship never developed into an impassioned one. After I was drafted and had sent her many un-answered letters, 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 a "grease monkey". This involved doing lubrication jobs on automobiles and giving the 'full-service' that gasoline stations back then were known for. Well, going to night school at Brooklyn College didn't seem to be compatible with grease stained hands and working with a bunch of rough guys who could barely speak an intelligible sentence. I answered an add for a laboratory technician in a chemical manufacturing facility. A very well educated black man, named Elmore, who was the chemical engineer in charge of the plant's control laboratory, conducted my interview.
We seemed to hit it off fairly well. Then one of those amazing lucky coincidences that life 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, Elmore, was a chemical engineer. Mom mentioned that I had just been interviewed for a job as a technician in a chemical laboratory. One thing led to another and it turned out that this school nurse, a well educated black lady, was the wife of the man who had interviewed me. A few days later I received notice to report to work at the laboratory. In effect, I was not only interviewed by Elmore, but by his wife, also.
Thus began my long and varied career that involved many technical disciplines including: chemistry, metallurgy, induction heat treating, microwave engineering, radar and sonar system development, and finally, automated warehouse system design and installations.
Hence, in the fall following graduation from High School, luck and unsuspected happenings had placed me in a job working with and among many very smart people. This led to other fortuitous events until calamity struck. My old 1A draft status still lurked in the 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 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 truly earned
my self proclaimed, cherished designation, Private Lucky.
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. This was prior to any inclination that I was going to be drafted in the fall of 1950. My attempt to become a pilot 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.
I arrived at Mitchell Field on Long Island promptly at eight AM, and I joined 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 young men who had survived the rigors of what had to be the mother-of-all physical, mental, and vision testing. It was the vision testing that eliminated most. 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 survivor 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.
The interview centered on the origin of my name. This came as a shock to me, since I never considered myself anything but American. My explanation that three generations before, my grandfathers on both sides had emigrated from Italy didn't seem to satisfy them. These three interviewers were after all good-old-boy southerners – 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 the 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 and a very close friend, 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. Pilots in accompanying planes watched as the plane crashed without any evidence that my very good friend, its pilot, had bailed out.
Karma, or what ever, I considered myself just plain lucky not having been a pilot at that time. In our younger days, he, Vinny, was fond of saying, “When I was in Korea . . .” which at the time had no real relevance to anything. However, I often think of that as something prophetic that somehow might have crept into his consciousness. Korea is where his life ended and where he remains.
Well, army life for me was another story. A significant event occurred one day after I had been in the army for one year. Back then one year seemed like a life-time. In fact, as I looked back then over that year in time it was difficult remembering any time I was not in the Army. Then, as I tried to look ahead to a year later, when I was scheduled to be separated out, I couldn’t visualize that coming to pass. So, I contented myself with trying to visualize what I might be doing five years from then. As I write this that all took place over sixty years ago.
Anyway, I finally did get out of the army as scheduled, two years to the day after having been inducted. 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 by me, 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. Yes, Mom, in this world you really do pay for what you don’t know. Anyway, life rolled on, another new job was followed by a major new one. Bought a new house, graduated from college, worked on a masters degree, a new son arrived, and all the while the marriage deteriorated. Made the best of that for a while. 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 nearly-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 every where 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 where 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 had joined a growing population of separated lives. Rampant, wild, liberating forces pushed away restraints imposed by many staid institutions. Raging forces of rapid sociological change had 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 condition. However, it was preferable to any affordable shore side economic situation. Having a professional image to uphold, it wouldn't do to be living in some tawdry rooming house, or run down apartment in some seedy neighborhood. Living aboard a vintage yacht is passably eccentric.
Driving my four-year-old '68 Lincoln slowly, I made my way through a narrow path between high snow piles in the boat-yard and 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 repair, after the car 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
Turning my attention to the dock house I could see a single low wattage light bulb hanging on an electric wire. It stuck out from an obtrusive looking junction box attached to a once fashionable brocaded-metal ceiling. There was enough dim light to see into the building's antiquated interior. The building's exterior was a ramshackle patchwork of rusty, corrugated metal. On prior visits I had noted the interior had seemed as if it was some how reshaped into a lopsided version of what it had started out it’s life as. Windows tilted precariously provided what little view could be had of the boat docks and parking lot through a nearly opaque layer of grime. Not much of the putty that had once secured the frigid window-panes remained. On their insides, dried-out, crumbling glazing was covered over with masking tape. This provided a crude but effective way to seal out cold drafts and maybe even, at least temporarily, held the windows in place.
Still seated behind the wheel in the Lincoln's luxurious leather bucket seat, I contemplated the comfortable warmth of 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, appeared there slouched over in his usual alcohol induced slumber.
Amazed, I observed that night after night, old Les without a care just sat there sound asleep in a drunken stupor in his own little world. The 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 contributed to 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 unnaturally over what appeared to be a diminutive sized body below it.
Seated as usual in his old swivel chair, his head was tilted over as far as his stretched out neck muscles allowed. Lester would have another bout with a stiff neck in the morning. He appeared to be sound asleep. More likely, he had slipped into another 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 Lester sleeping 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 with its corrupt management structure that I live in. The people who own and run the boatyard go way back with each other; they're really like family. Lester might even be related to the owners for all I know. Of course, relatively speaking, running a small boatyard is a pretty straightforward operation. Everyone knows each other and the boss generally runs things so the business stays solvent.
Running a large business such as the Sperry Corporation is in essence a very abstract matter to most of the people involved. So much so that corruption breeds itself throughout its structure. The bosses at the various levels of the hierarchy are more concerned with their own benefits than the success of the business in general. This leads to a work-a-day world that is 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; including a typically incompetent and corrupt upper management structure.
These thoughts trailed off and pushed away any further interfering workplace-related thoughts. I now turned my thinking toward the very unique world of living in a boatyard.
A late winter snow and ice storm had left its standard threats to life and limb in all the usual places on the piers and 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 the fantastic luminescent imagery sparkling there before me – a sight to behold. Glassy ice everywhere, mystically mirrored light from a single ordinary outdoor overhead flood lamp. It produced an unnatural brightness. Ice formations an inch thick in some places stood in frozen attachment bent around each ice bound structure. The ice coating, like icing on a cake, faithfully followed the old, underlying, rotting wooden contours. It was as if nature's skillful ice-scalpels had fashioned beautiful glazed structures that glossed over voids in their 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 the transcendental beauty 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 was, as always, heavily influenced by memorable movie scenes. It 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 mine. 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 the ice coated, treacherous ramp 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 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 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 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 could always count on a lift whenever I came 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 matrimonial’s 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 water upward, displacing the 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 weeks earlier when I had moved the Reinita 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, with my fast but somewhat less than gourmet delight set, I took dinner up into the salon, sat on the comfortable couch 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 which 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.
La Bella Eleanora
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. 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 little island of illuminated objects appeared to float 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 that managed to show themselves in the darkness, as they floated high enough so their decks were even with the road, after once again having risen with the tide. This in spite of the fact that the entire marina, 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.
Thus 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 as I passed by JJ's boat – significant of nothing. 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 and let the well-aged whiskey reach its full potential. It quieted sensitive nerve endings and 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.
It had taken many years of these haunting memories standing just out of reach, waiting for proper triggering of their solitary reincarnations, for me to 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 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 taken with the melody. The words had no immediate meaning, but were somehow tantalizing back then. I agonized over recollection of the relationship and its subliminal effect on my life. Back then that was not preeminent. 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. He subsequently joined Sperry 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, 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, Chivas 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 – a time when a valued relationship with a very intelligent lady ended. Recollections of Lillian my second adolescent sweetheart and later day disappointment. 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 and Lillian 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 ancient 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 after coming 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.
An extended sailing odyssey
I poured more scotch over the half melted ice cubes and began reading the first entry - a clipping from the society page of the July 2, 1928 edition of the New York Times. It was folded over and yellowed with age but still readable. Momentarily I paused noting this was two months before I was born. Then I continued to read . . .
Lorenzo DiMartino, on board his seventy-two foot ketch, arrived in Long Island Sound after an exceptionally fast ocean crossing. La Bella Eleanora, one of the finest blue-water, ketch-rigged racers, to be found anywhere, has won many ocean going contests. Captain DiMartino is expected to campaign his fine yacht actively in several upcoming international regattas. A reception planned for this evening at the Knickerbocker Yacht Club will serve to introduce Captain DiMartino to local yacht racing notables. Additionally, Countess Alita Alesandra, currently residing in Glen Cove, is expected to attend
My mind drifted loose now as the scotch weakened its shackles to the mundane aspects of reality. Behind working-day distractions, buried in hidden domains of memory, sounds and images coalesced to provide a revealing glimpse at their well guarded, deepest stores.
La Bella Eleanora! Captain Lorenzo DiMartino! Alita Alesandra! The names were coming and going all at the same time it seemed. My mind had now reached that point where it was beyond conscious comprehension of whether I was responding to what I was reading or rather to some other internalized mystical source. It hardly mattered as I slipped over the edge into a twilight world where my mind, now completely untethered, traversed space and time and floated back to another place. . . .
"Countess Alesandra," the Commodore of the yacht club said, "it is my pleasure to introduce you to Captain Lorenzo DiMartino, and Captain, the Countess has spent much time in your native country. I believe she speaks your language very well."
Our eyes met, and for a moment, perplexed, I stared at her, finding it difficult to comprehend her radiant beauty. She extended her hand for me to kiss in the usual continental manner. I continued to stare, and she was about to withdraw her hand when I regained control. I took it gently, bringing it to my lips, while I continued looking deeply into her eyes. Our gaze held fast, as if some ethereal bond was being formed and had to complete its Divine synthesis. Just then the Commodore was called away. We were left to continue the meeting on our own, which was fortunate because, at that moment, I don't believe we were aware of anyone else in the room.
We spoke briefly, about various places she had been in Italy, but she managed to steer the conversation to blue-water sailing. "Tell, me, Captain DiMartino, what is it like to be a professional sailor? I have read much about your sailing in many races and making a brilliant record of winning most of them."
"Countess, it would please me much, if you would simply call me Lorenzo."
"Si, mi Capitano, Lorenzo it is, and I would wish for you to call me Alita."
"Bella nome - Alita Alesandra - molto bene, very nice indeed, Signorina Alita. But, to answer your question, to be a blue-water sailor, it is something that has to be in your blood, especially if you sail for the pleasure and sport of it. It is different than having to do it for a living."
A passing waiter with a tray full of tall glasses of sparkling white wine stopped nearby, and I retrieved two glasses and handed one to Alita.
She took the glass without comment. She sipped it while a far-away look formed over her beautiful face. "While I have never been aboard a sailing ship, I've often wondered what it would be like."
"Alita, it's like nothing you've ever experienced before, and it'll be my pleasure to introduce you to that world."
"Whenever you say, I'm at your service."
"Tomorrow, I'll be here at ten A. M. Will that be good for you?”
"That'll be fine," I answered, realizing she already knew La Bella Eleanora was berthed at the yacht club's docks.
At precisely ten A. M., she arrived at the finger-slip, alongside which, La Bella Eleanora was berthed. I greeted her. "I'm impressed, you look like you just stepped off a page in one of the leading fashion magazines of the day, as the proper ladylike way to go down to the sea in sailing ships."
She wore freshly pressed cotton slacks, a light linen blazer like jacket over a striped cotton jersey, and an airy wide brimmed fashionable hat with an appropriate tether to keep it securely in place. Last, but not least, on her feet were a new pair of canvas deck shoes that provided eloquent testimony to how well she had done her homework.
"Capitano, I am here. May I come aboard?"
"Si, Signorina, please do. You look as if you've been sailing for years. You have chosen a fine sailing day.'
Responding to my nearly imperceptible nod, uniformed deck-hands and neatly attired dock-attendants smartly released the docking lines. I backed La Bella Eleanora out of her slip. We motored into the main channel, out into the busy harbor, with the crew making the sails ready. La Bella Eleanora powered itself around the bell at Plum Point as the crew sheeted in the main, hoisted and set the jib, and I turned off the ship's engine.
A startling new dimension of sounds descended around Alita in the absence of the ship's engine noise. She listened to the wonderful muted sounds of a ship effortlessly moving through the water: a reassuring gentle gurgling of fluid rolling over fluid, as displaced water rose up the side of the hull forming a clean bow wave, and then rose smoothly around the hull to descend, back and away to rejoin the sea from which it was so briefly parted.
The wind filled the sails. The big boat leaned into the comfortable heel of a broad reach. I watched as Alita became immersed in her first rush of excitement from the sensation of free movement over the water beneath her. I sensed she began to realize a harmony with forces of nature that prevail upon the sea; a communion with king Neptune and all he commands. She stood alongside me at the helm, seemingly eager to savor this first feel of the boat as it came under the grip of the wind with the deck beginning to move under her feet.
The boat gathered speed. We passed close by Barker Point. I turned the wheel and headed on an easterly course into Long Island Sound. La Bella Eleanora came alive as she bore hard on the wind and quickly made hull speed. Now attended by even more intense sounds of gurgling water bulging outward, as it followed the hull's sleek contour and moved swiftly by the port-side gunwale now nearly awash. The sea that had parted for our passage, came boiling back together as it cascaded into a magnificent wake stretching straight away into the rapidly receding distance behind us.
She shouted into the wind. "Oh, Lorenzo, it's more than I ever dreamed it could be. It's as if I'm detached from my mortal bindings, set free . . . adrift on the wind . . . part of nature's grand design."
She remained standing, with feet apart. Her two hands firmly held the u-shaped brass bar that guarded the binnacle that housed the ship's compass positioned in front of the helm. She looked everywhere, as if to see and experience all the sights and feelings of the big ship in motion - without missing anything.
The wind coming across the forward starboard quarter held her clothes tight against her body leaving precious little to the imagination. She had no trouble maintaining her balance, looking as if she was a natural born sailor – a kindred spirit.
She turned and saw me watching her, as I maintained course almost automatically. She smiled a smile that said it all. I nodded appreciatively with a bemused expression, which, also, said it all.
"Oh, I think I could enjoy an extended sailing odyssey. Would that it were possible?"
"Alita, don't you know, anything is possible? All you have to do is will it to happen, and most often it does. In this case, the means are at hand, and I could think of no finer adventure than to grant your wish. It only remains for you to say when, and for how long."
"Oh, Lorenzo, I can't believe my good fortune; you are so wonderful. I hear there are many nice places to the east of Long Island . . . perhaps . . ."
"Done. We will find them all and visit them. I'll become a veritable Robinson Crusoe in the bargain. We can leave tomorrow on the morning tide. What say you to that?"
"Done," she said, mimicking my response, "I will be there at whatever time you say."
"Eight A.M. will be fine . . ." I said aloud as the dream faded and my eyes slowly focused on the half empty bottle of Chivas and the completely empty glass alongside it. I wasn't too sure where I was, or where I'd been, but heavily dependent on the power of instinct, I made my way aft into the stateroom and somehow got into bed.