Linda came out of the cabin on Bert’s boat and climbed up amid ship on the junk. She could have gone directly to where the guys were partying by walking forward but, instead, she headed aft in a direction that would require a crossing near the stern and her passage up my side of the rafting.
I could hear Bert and Abner laughing as they sat starboard near the bow drinking Hialeah rum from their coffee stained mugs and dangled their legs off the side. Two tanned dark haired girls were paddling by in kayaks. They were yelling back at friends in Spanish and weren’t abiding by the dress code – they still had their bikini tops on. Bert hollered out … “Hey honey! Why don’t y’all come on over here? We’ll show you two a new way to use those paddles.”
That line, I’m sure, was a proven winner somewhere but I doubt that the two Latinas had spent enough time in South Georgia truck stops to fully appreciate its romantic overtones.
………….always long, The big bamboo grows so bold and strong, The big bamboo stands so straight and tall, The big bamboo pleases one and all…………
Lazily laid back in the cockpit of Le Esperance, I smiled as Linda walked by me. I offered her a silent salute with my raised, right hand encircled, cocktail glass. It surprised me as she hesitated on her way to join the revelers, slowly turned, and headed back in my direction. She was barefoot, wearing frayed denim short shorts and a little white tee shirt that didn’t drop down far enough. The garment reminded me of the ones we used to wear under football shoulder pads. Those abbreviated “rib-ticklers” were standard issue and, along with dip-dyed purple and white athletic socks, were designed to keep jocks from stealing them to wear to class. It didn’t work! I’ve still got a pair or two.
With a coquettish smile and slowly running her fingers along the port side handrail of the junk, she leaned toward me and almost whispered: “Permission to come aboard?”
I couldn’t turn her down, and the fact that her boyfriend was less than forty feet away and in plain sight made no difference. It even stoked my imagination.
“Permission granted, and what would the lady like to drink?”
…………Gave my lady a banana plant, She said to me this is elegant, It’s much too nice to go to waste, Cause it’s much too soft to suit my taste,….She want the big bamboo, always…..
Talking with Linda was easy. She was upbeat, sexy cute, and willing to explore every conversational doorway I might leave open. Before long the two of us had blocked out the noise of the Regatta and the other distractions. Bert and his brother had swum over to a big Hatteras in the next rafting. They had dog-paddled so they could carry over full mugs without spilling them. I wondered how long before their new “angler type” friends figured them out? Probably only the length of time it took before Abner offered one of his new acquaintances a ‘sip’! Meanwhile, Linda and I were having a good time. Two scotch & scotch on the rocks, an hour of relaxed conversation, and a setting sun let us forget the water born liquor lubricated zoo going on all around us.
“The name of your sloop, Hu-Wans-Ta-No, is unusual. It sounds Chinese, did Abner name his brother’s boat?”
Turning her gaze upwards and with a disgusted sigh–“No, Bert named it. It was his idea of some kind of practical joke but it’s just like everything else he does … dumb, dumb as rainwater!”
Chuckling and shaking my head – “why do you say that?”
“Since I’ve been on that damn thing we’ve had to pass under, I don’t know how many, a lot of draw-bridges. Most of the time, after he radios ahead to get them to raise it, the bridge tender comes back with ‘what is the name of your vessel?’ After Bert keys the mike and tells them, we usually end up waiting a long time before the bridge ever opens. Sometimes they don’t open it until Bert turns her around to show the name painted on the back end. Other times, especially after dark, they don’t open it at all and won’t respond to any more of our calls on channel 9. We end up having to wait until another boat, wanting to pass through, comes along and gets them to raise it. I’ve told him to just tell them the boat’s name is Bert’s Barge or Red Neck Raft – anything except ‘Who Wants To Know?’, but do you think he listens–NO!”
Out-of-the-blue, she laid her hand lightly over on mine. Actually it wasn’t her hand at all, only her left little finger lay over the top of my right one but there was no effort toward separation by either of us.
Something was happening? I believe the Old Testament relates to the phenomenon as a stirring in my loin … okay that’s what I’ll call it. I though to myself: “How much warmth and desire can a woman you’ve just met trigger with the contact of a single tiny finger?” I guess that’s a question best answered by the millions of men that are wrapped around one.
“Please help me Jim, I gotta get off that boat but I just don’t know how!”
Bert and Abner were still over on the sportfish next door and I could hear them laughing and having, what sounded like, a good ole time. I’m sure their mugs were close to empty and it was only a matter of time before the two Georgia boys decided to jump back overboard and join us.
“How long have you two been together Linda?”
She got this hurt look on her face and turned her head.
Immediately I knew I had taken a step down a path I did not want to travel. It was a question a man never asks a woman who has just expressed the desire to leave another man unless he intends to be part of what ever lays ahead. I didn’t know what lay ahead of me but I knew what lay behind and this was shaping up like a re-run.
Turning to face me again and, with her free hand, wiping a tear from her cheek:
“About four months, I knew him from high school in Vidalia but he was never my boyfriend or anything. He was a senior my sophomore year. One night last summer he came into the restaurant where I worked and we started to talk. Somewhere in the conversation he told me he was buying a sailboat and was going to ‘sail around the world’. I didn’t see him again for a week or two and then he shows up one night and tells me he’s ‘all set’. He had gone somewhere up the Ashley River near Charleston, bought the boat and brought it back down to Thunderbolt. That’s the part of Savannah on the Inter-coastal waterway. Anyway, one thing led to another and here I am. Why, I don’t know but here I am and I don’t know how to get out of it.
Jim, you’re so lucky to be a man. You’re not a bad looking guy but even if you were homely as sin you’d be able to have control of your own life.”
“I don’t understand Linda. I don’t have any more control over what happens in my life than you do in yours and what makes it any different to be a man?”
“What’s the difference? What’s the difference? – I’ll tell you what the difference is! Have you ever heard of any man being called an ‘old mister’ or a ‘wall thorn’? No you haven’t but if I, or any other woman, spend too much time watching from the sidelines as life’s dance goes by, I end up an old maid or, at least, that’s what people in Vidalia would call me. I can’t do anything to change anything about my life. I’m not beautiful and I’ve only got a high school diploma. What am I supposed to do – go out to the farms and dig onions with the Mexicans? The only job I can ever get where I’ll have any chance of meeting a man is waiting tables. I thought Bert and his plan to sail to, wherever, was my only chance to get away from Hadley’s Diner, Vidalia, and my mother’s probing, never ending, questions about whether I was ‘seeing anybody lately?’.
Let me ask you Jim: have you ever gone out with a girl that you didn’t want to be with?”
Not having to think too long, I replied: “I don’t think so, why would I do something like that? A guy doesn’t have to be madly in love to want to be with a woman. A lot of times he’s just horny and lets his little head do the thinking but, even if that’s the case, he’s still where and with whom he wants to be. The only times I can ever remember being in that position were when I was a kid and I got cajoled into something by my parents. It usually revolved around the daughter of a family friend.”
With a little smirk, she came back: “Right – that’s me and that’s almost every woman I have ever known. I know I’m not an ‘ugly duckling’ and neither were any of the girls I hung out with but, to a certain extent, we were all ‘daughters of someone’s family friend’ at one time or another. Unless you were a cheerleader or the homecoming queen, we all agonized when a big dance or, even worse, a prom was coming on. If you didn’t have a steady boyfriend you could only wait for the phone to ring and hope, if it did, it wasn’t the biggest ‘gorp’ in the school. Then, as the days inevitably slipped by, it didn’t make any difference who called, just as long as someone did! I can only wonder how many of my female classmates danced the night away with some guy while watching the one she really wanted to be with holding someone else. And it doesn’t stop there, I can’t tell you how many women I know that are married to that man that called on the phone but are still looking over his shoulder and wondering, ‘what if’?”
“Linda that’s just part of life. We’ve all had disappointments growing up and we can’t look back at ‘roads not taken’. My father had a favorite saying when it came to early decisions we make that affect our lives: ‘If you make your bed hard, lie in it’!”
What I was thinking, but didn’t mention to Linda, was that the English language, like life in general, sometimes plays tricks on us. In recent years I had pondered the essence of my father’s instructions. Was he, in fact, telling me that when it came to women, I should make the best of whatever ill conceived relationship I might find myself trapped in or was he suggesting that I just lay around for awhile and eventually lie my way out of it?”
“Who’s got a hard bed?”
Bert’s dripping arms and head popped up over the port side rub rail. I noticed he had already placed his filthy coffee mug on the boomkin aft. I wondered if he still had any clothes on and how much of our conversation he had overheard – hopefully ‘yes’ and ‘not enough’.
“Come on sweetie, time for you to get with it and join the party! There’s a crazy chick over on the Potentate that’s drunk as a cooter and raising hell. The way things are going down, it looks like she’ll end up put’n out for the whole damn fleet before it’s over with. She’s pissed off at her boyfriend because she caught him ‘red handed’ – well not ‘handed’, if you know what I mean, Ha- Ha! Hector’s his name and he must be double jointed because she caught him doing this other chica in the friggen chain locker. Talk about a hard bed! You don’t need to change into your bikini, go over to our boat, get the big bottle of Bacardi and just jump in. I’ll swim around and meet you. Don’t forget the rum.”
Bert retrieved his mug and disappeared in the dark water toward the stern of the Bamboo Buda.
With sad eyes and a resigned shrug, Linda stood up and walked forward along the rail. Gripping a wire shroud and gazing south toward the Keys and the blackness of the open Bay, she paused. It was almost like she couldn’t make herself look in my direction but her words were clear.
“I’ve got to get away from this man! I’ll do anything Jim, please help me!”
Linda climbed up and over the side of the junk, then disappeared. Soon I heard her splash of capitulation as she and the rum bottle joined Bert in the water. Somewhere a girl screamed in glee as the Coast Guard bullhorns continued their cautions and reprimands. The sound volume of the music from the huge speakers on the nearest Club boat was approaching the threshold of pain ……..…. Chi-ka-ka-he, Chi-ka-ka-me, she got plenty Chi-ka-ka – even enough for de mon who pee behind de tree!…….
Alone, sitting with my back to the transom, right leg on the rail and my left heel resting on the tiller, I remembered that night in Chicago. That’s why I’ll just stay here, have another drink, heat up that dented can of Sweet-Sue chicken & dumplings and take my gallon bath. Noise or no noise, that v-berth has my name all over it – gotta get some sleep.
That’s the way I planned it but, as I was toweling off after scrubbing down, my boat rocked with the stepping on board of another guest. Without my noticing, Abner had been rowed back to his junk by some of the Potentate crew. Now, standing amid ship in his stars and stripes speedo, he was giving me a loud slurring synopsis. Seems he had lost his mug overboard on the Hatteras and was too drunk to safely swim back. That meant he was also too drunk to return to the fishermen’s party so I was stuck with him – at least until he passed out.
As I wrapped the towel around me, he sat down on the rail resting his head in his hands with his elbows on his knees.
“Got no rum Abner, how about a scotch or maybe a beer?”
“Beer on whiskey, mighty risky, whiskey on beer, never fear!” Abner was chanting an old fraternity house sobriety axiom to me. Couldn’t picture him in a campus setting. Who knows – maybe an Auburn grad?
……China man named Lip Long Lo, He went and married down in Mexico, His wife divorce him very quick, Because she want bamboo and not a lousy chop stick – She want the big bam..………
Abner had, obviously, turned his tape deck back on.
“I’ll make it a Johnny Walker Abner, make yourself comfortable and we’ll talk for awhile, but only for awhile. It’s been a long day and I’m beat.”
I didn’t have to stimulate the conversation. Once he started he never stopped! Virtually everything he had to say was boring beyond belief or so filled with cuss words that he had me embarrassed and looking over my shoulder hoping no one else was listening – and this was the f…ing Columbus Day Regatta! I was almost ready to tell him to either “go to bed or walk the plank” when he began to talk about his brother and Linda.
“I seen you spending a lot time with Linda, you ain’t making no move on her are you?”
He didn’t expect the truth and I went along with the game. Cocking my head slightly, pausing in contemplation just long enough, and looking him straight in the eye–“no, and I don’t plan to, but she doesn’t sound very happy. We had a long talk while you and Bert were gone. She pretty much cleared the deck. I don’t feel real good about being put in this position but she seems like a nice person and it looked to me like she just needed a shoulder to cry on. I know they’re not married, what’s the story with Bert and her?”
Abner slowly wiped the palm of his hand down over his face and held his chin between his thumb and curled index finger –
“Not much of a story, at least from what I hear. She took a Greyhound over from Vidalia and hooked up with him at the marina in Thunderbolt. Bert said they stayed in a motel near the beach on Tybee Island for a week or so but he bout run out of money and she didn’t bring any with her. Far as I know, they’ve spent the last couple of months just moseying down the coast in that sailboat. Bert says they been doing a lot of something he called ‘gunk holing’. I don’t know nothin bout no gunk holing but, whatever it is, they spent a lot of time doing it and now she’s got a bun in the oven.”
………Asked my woman what could I do, To make her happy and to keep her true, She said only one thing I want from you, Is a little bitty……….
There was no sleep. The music, laughter, and noise of debauchery overwhelmed the cool night air and the sounds were even louder below the waterline. My berth had become like the inside of a snare drum and, for some reason, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. It wasn’t her plea for help–I could deal with that. What troubled me was the haunting picture of a short dark haired teenage girl despondently gazing at a silent telephone. She was right … it wasn’t fair.
After clearing the rafting lines to the junk from the starboard cleats and retrieving my fenders, I was, ever-so slowly, drifting free on a light northerly and the in-coming tide. No need to crank up the diesel or raise any canvas, I only wanted to get away from the Regatta and back to some quiet and solitude. It was probably a little before midnight and the star-lit sky and black empty Bay down toward Card Sound promised both.
In Margaret Mitchel’s novel, another Georgia girl had said it best: “tomorrow is another day” and I was hoping that tomorrow the wind, any wind, would freshen and enable me and Le Esperance to be “gone with” it. I’d had enough of the Columbus Day Regatta and this pair of Peach State misfits. I knew I’d always wonder what had happened to Bert’s seductive crew but I had to get away from here and, unlike Linda, I had my charts and I knew how.