CHAPTER 7 — Caribbean Club

Must be getting crowded inside. Up until just a minute ago, the only activity around the dock and picnic tables had been two mangy dogs and an elderly gentleman dragging a big grey plastic garbage can. He had one of those, broom handle with a nail on the end, paper picker-uppers. The old man was nailing trash and the big black & tan was trying to do the same to the little spotted one. Now, as I watched, the backyard of the Bean Club, or whatever it’s called, was gaining in popularity. Two couples eased in at one of the green wooden tables and three guys in bathing suits and tee shirts lazily walked towards the end of the dock.

Better put the binoculars away, I’ve got some work to do.

On this tack, I would track six or eight hundred yards off shore so my plan was to bring her over to port, then furl the yankee. If I had been approaching a marina to tie up or in some tight anchorage with other boats, I’d bring down all the canvas and crank up the “iron wind”. No marina and no other traffic, so why end a perfect day of sailing with the smell of diesel exhaust?

Le Esperance is rigged with all lines running aft to the cockpit. The jib is roller furled with its spool line running in guides along the starboard rail. The halyard and downhaul for the footed staysail are pulley rigged just forward of the mast. The main has the same set up but its halyard is inside the aluminum mast with the pulley near the base. Both sets of halyards and downhauls run aft along the topside to wenches and cleats on the starboard next to the cabin hatch. Rope tailings are looped and stored on a pin rail. When lowering the sails, there is no need to hazard leaving the cockpit to stow canvas because both the main and staysail have their own lazy-jack or, in landlubber speak, a rope basket rigged to catch and keep them. By now, all you non-sailors are bored to tears but there’s a reason for explaining the ease with which this vessel can be handled without crew. Considering the sobriety, charm, tolerance, and overall congeniality of the Captain – he is almost always sailing by himself.

With the jib furled, I was on a starboard reach with stay and main. The course I was on would run me right in at the short dock but it doesn’t work that way. Even if I could drop the sails and pull off a miracle maneuver, there wasn’t enough depth that close in. As I rapidly approached the beach, more and more people streamed out of the building and into the yard. I had attracted quite an audience. To them, I’m sure it looked like I intended to join the party by beaching the cutter and, as she lay grounded and helpless on her side, just grab my drink, jump off, and wade ashore.

At the last second, I kicked the tiller to port bringing her over to starboard and up into the wind. With no back winded headsail, the boat slowed as both the main and staysail swung inboard on their booms and feathered. Instantaneously, I un-cleat and release the staysail halyard, un-cleat the looped continuous main halyard/downhaul and slack off its wench, then grab both downhauls and pull them in. The slackened sails drop in unison into their lazy-jacks as I release the lines and rush forward on the port side. Now, with the vessel virtually halted, I spin the chain anchor lead off the Samson post and slowly lower the danforth off its roller at the base of the bowsprit. As Le Esperance drifts back toward the dock in a light headwind, I give the anchor rode a tug to make sure there’s no drag before lashing it down. I’ll check it later to make sure but this’ll do for now.

On my way back to the cockpit, the entire shoreline erupts in cheering and applause! Probably 150 people are going “bananas” over my single-handed nautical accomplishment. Stepping up to the cabin top, hand furling and tucking the collapsed mainsail and securing the boom to the backstay – my adoring onlookers only get louder. Thirty or so yards is all that separates me from what, by all estimates, has to be a very knowledgeable party of seafaring men and women. They had watched my every move and were now showing their admiration.

Turning to face the crowd, clad only in my old straw Panama Jack and the same black nylon running shorts I had been wearing for the last three days, I waved and took a bow. Let me correct that, I took numerous bows – I bowed forward, I bowed aft, then, with hat in hand, I bowed again straight towards shore spreading my arms in triumph … I was Poseidon, God of the sea! My Court awaited my return and the more I bowed the more they roared with laughter and finger pointing.

Working the foot pump to inflate my Avon, I was kicking around the merits of taking a gallon bath vs. just rolling overboard for a swim. Still had a little daylight. Time enough to heat up water but, without rubbing alcohol, I couldn’t light the kerosene stove. There was a way, but it hurt to even think about it, use an ounce or two of scotch – ?… bad idea. After getting the dingy in the water, I’ll just swim around the boat a few times – might even scrub off the boot stripe. Then, when I climb back aboard, I’ll just hit the crotch and pits with a little bar soap, rinse off with some fresh water, and row ashore. After an hour or two I’d probably smell like a goat but I doubt that anyone would notice.

…like Bogie and Bacall, Starring in our own late – late show, Sailing away to Key Largo

After my swim and rinse, I had run the brush through my hair and changed into Levis, tee shirt, and Topsiders. No ladder, so I had gone in on the beach and walked the dingy back out midway on the little wooden dock, two-and-a-half hitched her bowline to a piling, and walked across the, now dark and empty, backyard.

Soft lighting, Engelbert Humperdinck singing After the Lovin’, no one in the room except a bow-tied bartender polishing sniffers, and absolutely the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life … long dark hair, dreamy blue eyes, full sensuous lips like fire and ice, and an absolutely perfect figure. She was sitting cross-legged at the bar in a pair of 4 inch heels toying with a glass of white wine and smiled in my direction. Her dress was tiny and black. A simple strand of pearls highlighted a modest but enticing neckline. As I approached, she lowered her gaze and subtly nodded towards the seat next to her. In my mind, the erotic aroma of perfume mixed with the heat from her well-tanned body promised a doorway to heaven.

No, wait a minute! It was in my mind, all in my mind. That’s the way every man alive momentarily imagines his entrance into any strange bar. Resigned to reality, I left the balmy night air and walked inside.

The Caribbean Club was one huge rectangular room with a few tables and a stool surrounded island bar in the middle. A three-piece local band and middle-aged male singer took up a far corner surrounded by a small area that passed for a dance floor. A large picture window on the back wall framed the darkness hiding the beach and Blackwater Sound but all of the other walls had frames of their own – a lot of frames, picture frames. Turns out; the Club, and especially the little dock out back, was where the waterfront scenes from the 1948 movie Key Largo were actually filmed. Small black and white photos of Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall were hanging everywhere. One picture showed them standing with cameras, sound booms, and a production crew next to the very piling where my dingy was tied. Smiling to myself and shaking my head – here I had been listening to Bertie Higgins for the last week or so and didn’t realize that he was not only telling me to “sail away to Key Largo”, but also exactly where to set the hook. Here’s lookin’ at you kid. I didn’t know if I could find it once again, or even what I was looking for, but only something good could come out of this.

“You see anybody you know in those pictures Jose?”

I didn’t have to turn around. There is only one person in the world that calls me Jose.

“You son-of–a-bitch” – it was all I could say as I turned to face Frank Matheson. “What in God’s green earth are you doing here?”

He hadn’t changed. An inch or two shorter than me but still well over six feet and trim and handsome as ever – his full head of blond hair was a shade darker and his face had a few new lines but there wasn’t a woman in the room that wouldn’t look twice! Frank and I had been football and basketball teammates all through high school and best of friends on into our twenties but I hadn’t seen him in years.

Frank had been sitting at the crowded bar and had already registered and made his intentions known with a young barmaid while simultaneously, with his smile alone, laying the ground work for negotiations with two very attractive unattended ladies on the far side of the bar. After getting a couple to move over one, I eased in on the next stool.

“Okay Jose, what are you doing here? You alone, and what’s been going on for the past – what, ten years?”

I brought Frank up-to-date over conch fritters and a Lite beer. I noticed he was drinking diet Coke and decided to ease off a little myself. After an hour or so, I had covered the highs and lows of married life, raising adolescents, building a business and, obviously of most interest to him, my recent sailing sabbatical from all of the above! Frank really perked up when I told him about Linda and the Regatta.

Almost like he was standing at the free throw line with a big game in the balance, he brought the first three fingers of his right hand to his mouth, first licking and then rubbing his thumb over them, he faced me, got that sheepish grin on his face and turned back the clock. “So, did you get any pussy?”

I cracked up – he hadn’t changed.

Soon, I had Frank telling me what he had been up to. I knew he had married for the third time and moved out of his apartment in Palm Beach but then the trail got cold.

With a slight shrug, he began to fill me in–“You know Jose, I really wanted to be a good husband and father. In my last marriage, I even went out and bought a bar-b-q grill. We joined a church and played cards with the neighbors – I did everything I was supposed to do but it never works. I’ve come to the conclusion that women just can’t count on me and it’s always been that way. Do you remember a girl named Patsy Saunders? She was in my third grade class and lived near my house. We would walk home together after school and one day she came up with an idea – we would climb up in the big banyan tree on the corner and play a game. The rules were simple: she’d show me hers if I’d show her mine.”

Frank got this little grin and continued – “The problem was, I didn’t know if I could trust her? I only said okay after she agreed to take her pants off first.”

At this juncture, the cute young barmaid overheard our conversation and, with a quizzical smile, leaned over to catch the ending. Frank had already introduced himself and, even if he hadn’t, his good looks alone were enough to demand her attention. Add to this the fact that the “your pants first” pick-up line would be a novel and seldom used approach, even at the Caribbean Club and she had to ask:

“Okay Frank, so what happened next?”

Surprised that his young friend had jumped into the conversation, he went on –

“She lifted her dress up and tucked it under her arms. I forget what color her panties were but they had flowers or teddy bears or something on them and, before long, they were dangling off one of her bare feet! She had her legs together but I could still see the crack. I asked her if I could touch it – she said ‘No! It’s your turn’ and started pulling them back up.”

A customer on the other side of the bar was waving and calling for the barmaid, so she chimed in – “come on, hurry up, what happened next?”

Turning from me and looking at her with his blue-green eyes and patented stoic smile – “What happened? – What do you think happened? – I giggled, jumped down from the tree, and ran home!”

Broadening his smile while taking the barmaid’s left hand in both of his, he lightly caressed her and continued: “But I’m more refined and mature now and things have changed. I’ve come to realize that I have to treat the women in my life with greater respect. I’m determined to walk the second mile and give them twice the attention and consideration I have in the past. Tonight, after you get off work, we’ll go back to my place and if you show me yours – I promise, I’ll show you mine twice!”

Frank and I both broke out laughing as the girl slowly shook her head, flipped the bar towel over her shoulder, and left us with that famous, one word, female quote of frustration and disgust: “men…!”

“You know Jose, they’re smarter than we are – women I mean. Ever notice how they like to get you to do all the talking? Things they say like, ‘we need to talk’ or ‘tell me about yourself’ – you never hear a man come out with shit like that. I’ve even come up with a theory: a man talks to a woman to get sex and a women uses sex to get a man to talk. You and I are only after one thing – pussy, and they know it. I think their mothers teach them how to string us along until they can find out if we’re worth keeping around. Once you figure them out and start playing the game their way, it makes getting laid real easy – problem is; by then you’ve lied to a couple hundred women, gotten the reputation for being a worthless playboy, and all of the, what’d we use to call them?, – ‘good girls’ have found Mr. Right and disappeared. The next thing you know – you’re 42 years old, been divorced 3 times, got a 20 year old son you see twice a year, and your sitting in a dive on Key Largo talking snatch with an old high school teammate while trying to decide if it’s ‘worth it to hit on a barmaid that’s young enough to be your kid’s girlfriend’?”

“Well Frank, that’s an upbeat outlook on life. There’s do doubt you’re single again but from what I just saw, a lot of fathers can unlock the chastity belts. Midnight Matheson has definitely slowed down! Where do you call home these days and what are you doing for a living, still in real estate and insurance?”

The look on Frank’s face saddened, his voice lowered, and his words were halting–“I’m renting a little one bedroom condo down off LeJeune Road near the Airport. It’s close to my work and it’s all I can afford. No need for me to try to shit you Jose, I’m not doing real good. Betty, she was number three, or I should say her father made me sign a pre-nup. The old man’s got a lot of loot and sorta’ saw me coming. Anyway, all I ended up with was the old Chevy and enough cash to buy the truck I use for my business. That’s right Jose – you heard me: your ‘Playboy of the Palm Beaches’ is now a Miami truck driver.”

I didn’t want to act surprised and, since I had spent a few years behind the wheel myself, I came back with – “What kind of business you got Frank?”

“I haul luggage to and from cruise ships on Dodge Island, usually from the Miami Airport. People fly in from all over the world to leave out of the Port of Miami to cruise, gamble, and visit straw markets. Most of them come right back at the same dock in a week or so and return to the Airport. Transporting their suitcases and golf clubs is the same game my ex-wife’s family is in and I made a few connections before she dumped me. There’s this bunch of Marielito Cubans that picked up the contracts on some of the independent Panamanian Registries’. The big haulers like Betty’s father get all the vessels from the major cruise lines but a few smaller ships slipped through cracks or got bought off, or whatever happens? I try not to get too involved. Anyway, all I do is show up at the same Calle Ocho cafe every Tuesday and Friday night, meet this guy named Carlos, and get my “programar”. I think that’s Cuban for “where I’m supposed to go” and it’s all written in English. Then I just make sure I’m parked at the designated Airport or dockside U.S. Customs location at the exact time and follow the exact route and etcetera. They pay me in cash and I don’t lift a finger or even touch a single suitcase. I never come in contact with any of the tourist. I stay in the driver’s seat and seldom even see the guys that load and unload my truck. All I do is wait until I hear a slap on the door and drive away. Except for Carlos and one of the baggage handlers at the Airport, I don’t know any of them and that’s fine with me. Sometimes I hear them talking but, as you know, I cheated my way through two years in Mr. Gomez’s class and still couldn’t tell you what Camino Real on my textbook cover translated into.”

Something didn’t sound quite right, especially Frank’s professed ignorance and his brief emphasis on the exact route and the “etcetera” part of his abbreviated run-down. Nobody ever uses that word in conversation unless it’s something not worth talking about or they are hiding or running away from the truth. Maybe he’d tell me later, or maybe not, but he obviously didn’t want to stay on the subject so I decided to give him an “out”.

“You must have taken the weekend off, how long are you going to stay in the Keys?”

“No Jose, I’m not taking any time off – I wish I could! My trip down here is business but it’s something I’ll tell you about some other time. Right now, I’ve got until tomorrow morning to spend with my old compadre and I’m not going to screw it up by talking about work. You told me you needed to go to the grocery store and I haven’t checked in at the motel yet – too late for Winn-Dixie, let’s hop in the Chevy and hit that 7-ELEVEN at the Card Sound Road cut-off. When we get back, you gotta show me this yacht.”

may I have a word?…

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” How many times have we all heard this said?

Years ago I emailed Ruthie a segment of a journal I had compiled for my grandsons. I only did so because Johnny Riggs was mentioned and I hoped it would find its way to him. Almost as an afterthought, I attached a labeled photo of my Southboro Elem. class of 1952. The picture had first been posted by another classmate (I believe Patsy Stephens) over a year before. I treasure my copy and I’m sure all of the others in the picture that are still alive do also, but let me ask a question…

Southboro Class of 1952Will anybody treasure this photo 30 years from now?

Because someone has gone to the trouble to put names with the faces, one of my great-grandchildren may say, “look there’s Pop’s dad, he kind of looks like Herb”. If there were no names attached, the picture would be worthless and end up back in the box and eventually relegated to the trash heap or, at best, pinned on the wall at Cracker Barrel. To illustrate just what I’m trying to get across; I have a second photo, 3 years older, that was sent to me by still another classmate. Annette Vines is married to an ex-business associate of mine and lives in Ormond Beach. She didn’t graduate with us but she’s the angelic little thing seated on the ground – far right – in the picture of Mrs. William’s 3rd grade 1948-49 class at Southboro Elem. I recognize some of my classmates but not all, maybe you’d like to give it a try and fill in the blanks?

Southboro Elem 1948-1949

4th row, standing on chairs   __ ? __, Lake Lytal*, __?__, Eddie Shoemaker, Jimmy Powell, Doug Stainthorpe, Billy Wilkinson                                 3rd row standing  __ ? __, __?__, __?__, __ ? __, __?__, __?__                                                        2nd row seated  Johnny Wilcher, Johnny Riggs, Bill Stevens, Bobby Sutton, __ ? __, __?__, __?__          1st row on the ground __?__, Susan Schmitt, Patsy Stephens, Jane Smith, Annette Vines

  • * name confirmed, thank you!

My sister stopped by yesterday with two boxes of stuff she had separated out for me from family items retrieved after my father passed away. My mother had preceded him. My father was an avid picture taker and had photos from as far back as the early 1930’s. Most of the shots include family members and friends that I recognize but I’m sure my children will not. The same can be said for other photos depicting locations, homes, events and etc. Along with these were portraits, wedding pictures, landscape shots, team photos, graduation pictures, and even tintypes – many dating back well into the 19th century. Along with all of these hundreds of photographs was one letter. It was from my mother to my aunt Mary in South Carolina. I won’t bore you with details but the letter was dated April 18, 1943 and, in my mother’s handwriting (an art form our great-grandchildren will have no concept of), told of her opportunity to travel by automobile from Oklahoma to visit her parents in Louisville, KY despite the wartime gas rationing.

There weren’t more than a few hundred words in my mother’s letter but, as I sit here today, every syllable she wrote is worth more to me than all of those pictures of strangers. No! A picture is not worth a thousand words if a thousand pictures without, at least, a single word can be worthless!

Put it in writing my friends. Put it in writing not just to label photographs but put it in writing to tell future generations who you were, what you thought, and why you wanted them to know … they will appreciate it.

Jimmy Powell

an illustrative postscript on the lighter side:

Aunt Maud                  Maud Ident

On the back of this tintype from the 1800’s are the words you see above … “Maud Tharp, sister of Amanda Tharp”. Amanda Tharp was my maternal grandmother so that means we are looking at a baby picture of Jim Powell’s grand-aunt. (Is that exciting or what?)

….. my “in between” moment in time …..

Many times in life we have experiences that, when we look back on them, were very profound and treasured happenings. On a few rare occasions I have realized, at the very instant, that what was transpiring around me was something I would never forget and found myself wishing I could stop the clock to savor the moment. The most vivid and lingering of these special times occurred as I was approaching my 40th year and evolved around my father Eugene, my son Bobby, and myself.

Bobby and I had been on canoe outings before but on this trip we decided to make it a three generation affair. What we were headed for was a two day/one night paddle down the Peace River north of Arcadia in south-central Florida. We were dropped off by a commercial outfitter near Zolfo Springs with our canoe and pushed off mid-morning.

Nothing unusual was in store for us the first day or night. We spent the day paddling; Bobby in front, me in the rear, and Daddy laughing about being in “the lazy man’s chair” in the middle. We camped out and had all the excitement that one would expect from a grandfather, son, and grandson campfire get-together but my lifelong remembrance was not to come until our trip was almost over the next day.

After two days and a night on the river, we arrived at the prearranged pick-up place. The outfitters called the location “Gardner” but it was really little more than the end of a dead end road at the river’s edge. Actually it had, at one time, been a through road and the ruins of the old bridge were still evident. Arriving about two hours ahead of schedule, we decided to beach our canoe across the river and do some exploring on the old road side. Little remained of what, I’m sure, was once an important artery of commerce in this rural corner of the earth. The three of us settled down, ate some lunch and, realizing our little odyssey was about to end, wandered our separate ways. It was here and now, and at that exact hour, that began what I will always hauntingly remember as the mid-point of my life. The one instant in time when I sat truly in the middle from whence I could only be “too early” or, more probably, “too late” ever again.

The river bank at this juncture was a steep sloping ridge. Bobby had gravitated down to the edge of the water. Daddy, with that little smile on his face and without saying a word, drifted away from the river toward higher ground and into the edge of a, long abandoned, nearby old orange grove. I, for no particular reason, sat down on the sandy ridge above the slow flowing river almost exactly midway between the two of them.

Down below me, Bobby was squatting down making mounds of mud on the bank. They weren’t anything too elaborate, just mounds, and every now and then he would look up at me as if to say … “I know I’m too old to be playing in the mud but, just this one last time.” I couldn’t hold back the happiness in my eyes but my lips were silent. I wanted to tell him that you never lose the little boy that lives inside and that I wish I could come down and “give him a hand.” I didn’t say anything and neither did he.

A short distance away, Daddy had taken up a position underneath an old orange tree. He just stood there alternating glances between the knarred and barren branches and the general direction of the ridge where I sat. He seemed as one with the old grove–the harvests of years past were much closer to both of them than the world on the other side of the river. He would reach up, break off a leafy twig to smell or taste, then fleetingly look my way again before smiling and moving on to the next tree. I got the feeling he was speaking to me without a word being said …”Boy, I won’t get to do this with you again because I’m growing old and so many things that used to be easy are awfully hard.”

I wanted to yell out to him that we would do something just like this next week or, at the latest, next month. I didn’t want this to be the last time and I wanted him to know it but, somehow, the moment passed. We smiled at each other again and both looked away.

My “in between time” was happening. Bobby was on the river bank looking up but couldn’t see my father. Daddy was in the old grove with a clear view of me but could not see his grandson below. I was between the two and could see both of them. Now it happened: I realized that, as I was between them in distance, I was also between them in age. I could understand my son and his youthful play and envy his innocence. I could recognize the melancholy in my father’s eyes as he wandered through the fallen leaves in the shadows of the old grove. This was my moment of being between … I would never be able to recapture it. Bobby would never again play in the mud where I could see him because he would be a boy no more and Daddy would tell me he didn’t think he could take another canoe trip because he just hurt a little too much when he got up in the mornings.

Sure, I didn’t have to let the moment get away. I could have decided to take them deep sea fishing or travel to a major league game or any number of other excuses to try once again but the big business deals, the meetings out of town, and all the other mileposts and yardsticks of success got in the way. The worst part is that I knew this, even as I sat there on that sandy ridge.

The time came, we crossed the river, and the outfitters picked us up. The three of us rode back to the base camp in silence. I’m sure the other two weren’t aware of the significance of the moment. Daddy’s happening, whether he had recognized it or not, was long past and Bobby would have to wait for another place and time. Mine had come, stayed for a sad and wonderful instant, and would never be again.

this-ended-up-being-one

Jim Powell

 

CHAPTER 6 — gimme an “E”

Do arsenic and uranium have anything in common? They are both elements and show up as symbols on the Peridiot – whatever that chart on the chemistry class wall was called? Uranium either blows up things or lets you turn on the lights. Arsenic is, according to Webster, a brittle grayish-white nonmetallic substance, but to the rest of us it’s ……….. well it’s just poison!

The towers and containment domes of the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant dominate the western shoreline of lower Biscayne Bay. Ever since the Three Mile Island disaster, some people have stayed away from this entire area like it was poison. Years ago, and long before FP&L built the power plant, pioneers on the Bay must have felt the same way. This stretch of water only has four islands and they all have, essentially, the same name – Arsenicker. You have West Arsenicker, East Arsnecker, Long Arsenicker and, the smallest of them all, just Arsenicker Key. All four of them were, presumably, either named after someone that liked to poison people or some, long-forgotten, medieval Dutch proctologist.

The sun had been up for an hour or so and red marker #8 at the cut entrance into Card Sound was within sight. A light on-shore breeze was letting Le Esperance ghost along at maybe a knot and a half under full sail. Breakfast, a generous description, had been a stale guava Cuban pastry square and two cups of instant coffee with real half & half.

Last night, after I had slipped away from the madness, was an exceptionally peaceful time. Knowing that, in the direction of my drift, there was no danger of running aground, I had a lot of time to reflect. I could just lay back, rest my head on the rail, gaze up at the stars and think about happy things. We all have happy things but nobody ever talks about them because they’re …….well they’re just ours.

My happy things are usually reserved for when I’m trying to go to sleep. They don’t necessarily need to be “happy” happy things, but, if they’re not, they certainly have to be happily out of my control. For instance, I can go to sleep quickly if I concentrate on some obscure segment of Civil War history. I have a particular favorite: Grant moving his army down the western bank of the Mississippi River to cross over south of Grand Gulf and, thus, set the stage for his siege of Vicksburg. Even as a Southerner, you have to appreciate the brilliance of the march but all of what I have just said is really irrelevant. By pretending I’m a bystander, sometimes even a mule in a road-side field as the Union troops march by, I block out everything else and just concentrate on what are, in effect, thousands of blue clad, rifle toting, sheep jumping over some Louisiana split-rail fence. I can’t save Vicksburg, so there’s nothing for me to worry about……….ZZZZzZzZzzzz

Sometime in the pre-dawn hours I had awakened, still adrift and curled up on the cockpit seat. The northern horizon back toward Elliott Key continued to glow with the lumen of carnival and the faint sounds of revelry never stopped. I dropped anchor, took a pee off the transom, crawled into my v-berth forward, and blissfully crashed.

Card Sound is really just the lower end of Biscayne Bay but your mind-set changes as soon as you clear the cut. Names on the chart like Caesar, Hurricane, and Rubicon are replaced with Swan, Pumpkin, and Angelfish. The water clears up and the sea grass that flows by under the keel changes from dull brown to shimmering green. Even the neighborhood changes. The sinister nuclear power plant to the west on Turkey Point is replaced by glancing east towards the opulence of the Ocean Reef Club. The homes are magnificent and the Club, with its golf course and marina on Angelfish Creek, marks the northern end of Key Largo. It marks the northern end of Key Largo but, as every true Floridian knows, it doesn’t mark the beginning of “the Keys”. I’m still not quite there.

A familiar sound from inside the cabin – 1300 AM, WFFG Marathon–turn up the volume, he’s still with me! … in love so desperately, Honey – I was your hero, And you were my leading lady, We had it all

On a port tack and for the first time since I was off Lauderdale, it looked like I might get in some real sailing. The wind had picked up as it swung around to the SSE. Unlike Biscayne Bay, Card Sound is 8 to 10-feet shore to shore. No sand bars or shallow banks so, for the next hour or so, all I had to do was head her up, sheet um in, cleat um down, and see what heading the Good Lord had in mind.

Close hauled on the wind, Le Esperance was sailing herself with the end of the windward jib sheet cleated and looped around the tiller to hold her slightly off the wind and on course. For a single-handed cruising sailor this was what it was all about – the steady breeze wasn’t heavy enough to put the lee rail in the water, but almost – you have no crew or auto-pilot but it makes no difference. You can go and come from the cabin at will – you want a beer, go get one – need to hit the head, now’s the time – you want to see what it feels like to sit up on the forward hatch, or even climb out on the bowsprit, all while full canvas is bent and the boat is under way – DO IT! My favorite duty station at times like these is to climb out along the lee side to where the outboard wire shrouds rise up to the mast and spreader then, standing with my toes over the rail and each arm and shoulder around its own wire shroud, lean with the steady tilt of the boat out over the edge. Doing this heels the vessel even farther and lets me watch the grassy bottom with its colorful sponges and occasional sandstone outcropping seemingly fly by beneath me. Sometimes, a sudden gust will bring her over far enough that the sea comes up over the rail, my feet get wet, and I can almost reach out and touch the water! Then, as we come back off the wind, she rights herself, swings back on course, and sails on.

All too quickly, I was closing on the Card Sound Bridge. This was my first bridge in three days but, with 65’ of vertical clearance, it wouldn’t slow me down. Beyond the bridge lay the open water of Barnes Sound. The wind direction was steady but a slight course change towards the east meant that I’d need a tack or two to work my way south. That being the case, I would now have to actually man the tiller, swing over and cleat alternate jib sheets with each tack and, periodically, move from one side of the cockpit to the other. All this, while making certain not to spill any of my first creation of the day! To myself, I sarcastically mused: “life is filled with hardships”.

There is a primitive satisfaction for the male of the specie that comes with sailing. You are in total control! The wind is your slave … damsels swoon with your every move … pirates flee on your approach. There is no shoreline on the face of the Earth that, given enough time, you can’t set foot upon and claim for Sovereign, Church, and State–or, after your third Johnny Walker, you can just say “screw’em all” and claim it for yourself!

This was exactly what I had in mind. Leaving, in my wake, the drawbridge and the weekend lawn-chaired refugees from Little Havana that filled the wharf side motel at Jewfish Creek, I had officially entered the Keys and Blackwater Sound was my welcome mat.

We had it all …..(we had it all), Just like Bogie and Bacall, Starring in our old late – late show, Sailing away to Key Largo…………

Still another couple hours of daylight, plenty of time to get across the Sound and anchor off the lee somewhere in Tarpon Basin. Le Esperance was, once again, close-hauled and sailing herself but there was no reason to lean out from the shrouds–-the sun was too low and Blackwater meant … pouring myself another scotch. I climbed up amid ship and sat along the windward handrail. I had to put on provisions tomorrow. Needed batteries for my flashlight and rubbing alcohol for the spirit bowls on the kerosene stove. Diesel, fresh water and canned goods were okay and, truth be known, I could probably make it on down to Marathon except for one thing–the glass in my right hand held the last of my ice!

What I wouldn’t give for a cheeseburger, a frosty mug of dark ale, and drinking companions that spoke the Queen’s English and weren’t all from Georgia. I didn’t need to tie up. I could just set the hook, drag out the Avon, pump her up and dingy in, but to where? There was a marina at Tavernier and some restaurants on Buttonwood Sound but I was running out of daylight and, if I tried to find them in the dark, the only bar I’d be sitting at tonight would be a sand bar.

Sizing-up the situation, I put the binoculars on the shoreline off my port bow. There were cars – there were a lot of cars, both on the road passing by and parked in front of a large rectangular wooden building on my side of the highway. Partially blocked by the trees, I only got a fleeting glance of a roadside sign but what I could make out brought a smile to my face. A combination of live music, the Florida Keys, and Saturday night meant …. no matter what it was called, the “bean Club” had real possibilities!

But could I get there?

I jumped up, wheeled down into the cabin and grabbed my chart book. Quickly running my finger along a line to the location I was just observing – there was a wet “4” almost on top of a dry “E” which was, in turn, directly over of the =============. The “4” promised a minimum four-foot depth at low water; the “E” was the second letter of “K_Y LARGO” and the “=====E=====” was US Highway # 1!

……Here’s lookin’ at you kid – (Here’s lookin’ at you kid), Missing all the things we did, We can find it once again – I know, Just like they did in Key Largo……

With a lee anchorage that close to shore, a busy highway almost on the beach and such an inspirational piece of advertizing out front:….let’s all chime in with the old high school cheer! Gimme a 4 – …fourrr, gimme an E – …eeee, gimme a US # 1 – …you ess number one – put’em all together and wha’da you get???? –……… “Jim’s going ashore tonight!”

CC sign                       Chart Pic

I’m told I need a “Profile” …..?

JRP and Slum Dog

My Blog Master tells me I need to post a Profile …. I’m not sure I know how!

 

profile: definition ….

meaning: 1. a short description of someone’s life, work, character, and information about the person’s interests and beliefs.

meaning: 2. an outline of that same person’s face as it is seen when someone is looking at them from the side. If you see someone in profile, you only see them from one side.

From these two definitions I can only conclude one thing: profiles as such and offered by job seekers, politicians, and aspiring writers, risk falling into very obvious categorical traps ….. they will be hopelessly self-edifying and boldly “two faced”!

Right P                              Left P

To avoid these pitfalls I intend to state an illusion and immediately counter it with the fact. If the latter is too candid or disturbing, just disregard it. This will allow me to come off (in your estimation) as the fine upstanding, clean cut, like-minded, and adventurous elderly gentleman you were hoping for.

Illusion: I’m an accomplished “sailor” and have spent over 50 years routinely putting out to sea, first under canvas and in my latter years with only the diesel iron wind at my back.

Fact: In all of my voyages I’ve never spent more than eight or nine full nights underway and that was only because, over open water, Walker’s Cay was too far from Palm City or Havana from Key West. In reality, as the sun begins to set I’m usually tucked into some snug little cove, the hook set, and an icy drink in my hand. I’m not an accomplished sailor, I’m a fantastic “anchorer”!

Illusion: I’m a semi-talented “writer” that creates interesting characters in situations and settings that, sometimes, move a story along.

Fact: In most cases, I am the “character” and I’ve already lived the story. Then all I need to do is figure out how to just pretend I’m sitting in some sleazy dive in the Keys after a few beers and start to tell my story to …….. (only problem is: ………. is it i before e except at sea?)

Illusion: Because I am openly conservative and speak with a Southern drawl, I’m looked upon as a right-wing good-ole-boy that picnics under Confederate monuments, lives and breathes Fox News, drives a gun-racked Ford 150, and wears his “Make America Great Again” hat to bed every night.

Fact: I’m very discouraged with what is going on in Washington in general and at the White House in particular. I supported its current occupant and, seeing what options are shaping up on the horizon, I may be forced to continue doing so but he(and we) could do so much better. Do I have to surrender my judgment and intellect to remain a Republican?

I won’t dwell on the President’s Smoot-Hawley like policies on trade and tariffs … time and the markets will be the final arbiters and greed on my part forces me to hope for the best. Needless to say, I endorse his impact on the Judicial Branch of Government and I could care less what next week’s “horndog rumor” and accompanying hush-money payoff have in store–I’ll leave that to his poor wife and “Morning Joe”. But I do have one pet peeve: we don’t need a $5,000,000,000.00 wall to keep out Guatemalans and their Central American neighbors. They only constitute the latest installment in four centuries of migration to our shores and may be the hardest working bunch yet assembled. The hardships they are fleeing are not unlike the pogroms against Jews in the Middle East or the 19th century Irish potato famine. The seemingly demeaning statement of: “how would the roof ever get patched or the grass cut without them?” or a variation thereof has been directed at virtually every American’s fore-bearers. Unless you stepped ashore on Plymouth Rock or the swampy landing at Jamestown, there was always somebody “better than you” waiting to curse your arrival ……….or put you in chains.

On the flip side of all of this, and without inserting its own Illusion, we don’t need porn starlets and their attorneys being featured on Sunday morning talk shows answering pointed questions from wax haired “contributors” about our Presidents libido. What we do desperately need is a media culture that will demand the resurrection and employment of an old concept … news REPORTING! On my home cable TV hookup; Fox News is on channel 44 and MSNBC resides on 42. The Guide tells me that the channel between them …43 … is dedicated to financial news but that can’t be true. The call letters may be CNBC but, judging from the disparity in the adjacent editorializing, it must be Star Wars! ….. the distance between the adjoining galaxies is so “far, far, away”.

Over the past few months I’ve become a reluctant, almost incarcerated, soccer fan. The game is played, not with a pitch …. but on one, lasts an hour and a half, and often ends with a score of nil-nil. I endure all of this because my sole source of, even remotely, unbiased television news and happenings in the good old USA can be found only on the British Broadcasting Corp ….. go Cardiff City!

… politics and religion … why not?

Recently I responded to a left-leaning email challenge by a very dear but, in my humble opinion, mis-guided High School classmate (we’ll call her Sweetheart #2). Some of her many valid points included:

1) I’m glad for you that you are (still) able to rely on your personal initiative, but what about socially challenged folks – those who were born autistic or people just not capable of functioning in today’s or any day’s world? Are we under no obligation to try to assist them? Is the government under no obligation to provide a safety net for the less fortunate among us?

2) So, what about these people who, in your words, ” just don’t care enough to show up at the polls”. What about if they are shut-ins? Or disabled Veterans? Or don’t drive?  Or just really old? Lots of people choose mail in ballots. Theirs shouldn’t be counted? If they get “lost” or hidden in a back room, they don’t count?

3) Of course you won’t be joining any “#MeToo” rallies. You probably were never abused/harassed/attacked, right? You don’t leave your house every day aware that you have to be aware of the possibility that you might be a victim of sexual assault. Few men do. But every woman I know has a story to tell, including me.

In responding, I made the mistake of falling back on narratives relating to and quotes from three very opinionated conservative voices from the past:

“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).” Ayn Rand

Nowhere is the chasm between the modern conservative and the modern liberal more apparent than in a discussion of “rights.” The modern liberal is the successor to the Jacobins of the French Revolution and their notion of abstract rights. New ones are dredged up every day in their relentless pursuit of equality, perfectibility, and Utopia. The modern conservative stands with the late 18th century British parliamentarian Edmund Burke, holding that the real rights of man are rooted in custom, tradition, faith, and that, in Burke’s own words, “whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself, and he has right to a fair portion of all which society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do in his favour (sic). In this partnership all men have equal rights but not to equal things.”

“Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious”. George Orwell

 

Sweetheart #2 wasted no time in coming back at me with ……

“James, you can’t hide behind quotes by esteemed (now deceased) sources. We want to hear your voice, not theirs.” 

 

(After the passing of a day or two) ……… okay ………..

Then my voice is the one you shall hear!

Yes you are correct. I am hiding behind quotes by esteemed and deceased sources. The quotes are called laws and scriptures.

Most of the former did, indeed, originate with deceased sources. Today we call these quotes the Constitution and legal precedents and, for the most part, they originated either directly or indirectly (through amendments or Court rulings) with the “founding fathers”.

Depending on your religion, or lack thereof, the sources for the latter flow from God Almighty or a prophet or prophets doing his biding. Christians, like myself, believe in canons that have all of the above very much alive but all religions have charity towards the downtrodden as a fundamental building block of their faith. Only when individuals and society as a whole turn their backs on their faith and values and assume that this is the norm of civilization do we cast our teachings aside and advocate for government intervention. In our case, this is the same government that condones and even encourages challenges by the populace to treasured references such as “under God” or “in God we trust”.

I am anything but a religious extremist. I seldom go to church. My only place of worship is a lovely spot near my home that I refer to only as the “Church of the Stump”.

Church of the StumpChurch of the Stump

I go there, all to infrequently, to read my King James, sing passages from the few hymns I remember from my youth (I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses …), and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all of the harmful things that have not befallen my family or myself. Christmas and Easter Sunday find me putting on long pants and a shirt with a collar and asking my wife if she’s “going to Mass or would you like to join me?” Since I choose to misconstrue Matthew 18:19-20, I treasure the opportunity to take her or one of my offspring along so as to validate the presence of Christ with the second or third person in the congregation.

I am not a demonstrably charitable man but I go out of my way to help those that, in my estimation alone, are in need and are unable to help themselves. I put great faith in the parable of the widow’s two mites and am much more apt to slip a handful of large bills into the Salvation Army kettle than I am to pledge any regular contribution to a traditional charity or place of worship.

It is admirable that you speak of wanting to provide a safety net for the less fortunate but recent history has emphatically demonstrated, once again, that “the level of need will always expand to meet the level of resources available.” I don’t want to spend my life working as hard as I do to provide for my family only to have my savings become part of an ever-expanding taxable Government resource needed to provide for a life style that has failed everywhere it has been formulated and tested … is it permissible to mention a few of their names? … East Germany, Cuba, Venezuela, the Soviet Union, and New Jersey …

Jimmy Powell

“It is through the lens of humility that we should share the wisdom we have gained.”

Unknown

CHAPTER 5 –- Linda

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.

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“they might have been lonely”

I try to remember everything. At least everything that is worth remembering.

I love to write and, as you are all aware, I do so all too frequently. Sometimes I cobble words together that make for informative or enjoyable reading. Other times I post lines that will disgrace even the trash heap they are destined for. Along the way I am helped by those of my classmates that choose to give me something to read and build on. I don’t mean just the well-meaning sentiments and “thanks for sharing” that robotically appear. I mean the words from the heart that have substance. Over the years these “footnotes on life” have taken different forms but all of them have been meaningful. Shirley Anderson being so embarrassed in public speaking class as she stood on the podium at the lectern struggling with the recitation of “Casey at the bat”. Jerry Browning’s accounting of his and his brother Jimmy’s ordeal at birth in Lake Worth being incubated in an aquarium and the strength and courage exhibited by his mother was vividly related. Danne Pillsbury telling me that Dave Parham, as a boy, learned how to drive on one of Matter & Co.’s produce truck’s night-time runs to the Miami Produce Market. The list goes on and on …

Many of the heart warming or heart breaking stories I’ve heard haven’t come to me on the internet. Connie Berry’s candid, almost tearful, confession of insecurity when she and her recently divorced mother first moved to West Palm Beach. Sammy Bigbie relating to me about his brother Abner’s last day on earth and the circumstances that surrounded it. Driving, with Frank Madsen, past an old man walking along the side of a country road ….. only to be told after we had passed him by …. “that’s my father”. Nick Coppola’s and my unspoken agreement to never mention the day he found his 33-year-old son dead or what may have led up to it.

There has even been one of these experiences that I witnessed first hand. It was the summer soon after we graduated from PBHS. I was with Carl Reetz the morning after his father had died, just a few hours before, in an automobile accident. At the salvage yard, I watched as Carl pried one of his father’s bloodstained shoes out of the collapsed floorboard of a virtually unrecognizable Thunderbird convertible.

Recently, Tom Henriksen complimented me, paraphrasing either Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, or some sports writer named Paul Gallico, by telling me that we both knew that good writing was easy … “you just open a vein and bleed”. From a man whose e-mail address ends in @stanford.edu that was heavy. But let me challenge Tom and all the rest of you with a little test of your memories. Let’s see if a posting by one of our classmates years ago made as much of an impression on you as it did on me?

In the course of our everyday lives, when we tell people about ourselves, our families, our life experiences, and especially our up-bringing we seldom tell the whole truth. Psychiatrist earn their living giving us a place to “share” things we wouldn’t tell our spouse and certainly not our PBHS classmates. I would not want even hints of my life’s deepest secrets scattered in hundreds of places about the country even though the only injury they could ever cause would be to my pride. Few of us ever consider the fact that just by opening up and putting it on the line we might help others realize that they have not been alone in facing some dark moments in their past. What is so remarkable is that, in this case, the story was not even relayed to us as a hardship but as a story of love and understanding.

   In 1945 we lived at Southridge, or as it was called “the Project” along with some people you all know, i.e., the Williams and Corbett’s, plus many others that we ended up going to school with thru the years. I never knew in the morning, when I walked into our living room, exactly who would be sleeping on the couch. My mother brought home lonely military guys she ran into, sometimes there would be 2 or 3. For all of you who knew my mother well, there are many reasons she might have brought them home, but I will leave it at that … “they might have been lonely.” 

I have saved and reread these lines many times and the admiration I have for the person that wrote them is boundless. Do you remember who it was?

Jim Powell

 

“the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places”

this one is definitely ….. Ernest Hemingway

CHAPTER 4 — the rollout

By the time we had come about and approached the junk, a burly shaved headed guy in cut-off jeans had stationed himself at the aft rail and was waving his arms. Abner had recognized his brother and was motioning for me to come up on his starboard rail. He rushed to put out two fenders, one was dirty yellow and the other used to be white. After releasing the line and harness to Bert’s boat and handing it to Abner, I’d made full circle around the junk and brought my bow around so as to be able to raft up along my starboard, facing in the same direction and on the opposite side of the anchored junk. By the time I had my fenders in place Abner had tossed me a couple of cleated lines and Linda and I were soon “snug-up to Chinatown”.

Abner liked Calypso music and may have fancied himself the ladies man. Put these two traits together in a surrounding of scantily clad beautiful women–stir in a tape deck, two huge antique living room combo speakers and a floating red-neck pagoda– and you get…

“Gave my lady a sugar cane, Sweets to the sweet I did explain, Gave it back to my surprise, Said she liked the flavor but not the size … She want the big bamboo, always long, The big bamboo grows so bold and strong, The big bamboo…

He had one speaker mounted on top of the cabin facing forward and the other near the stern. Only after we had dispensed with, what passed for, formal introductions and Linda had retired back to Bert’s sailboat, did I feel comfortable suggesting that he turn down the sound. Even then, the only place you could carry on a conversation was inside the cabin of the junk.

I was surprised. Abner’s housekeeping was better than expected. The space below deck was cluttered but not dirty and even the galley passed a cursory inspection. It was only after I accepted the invitation to sample some rum “run off by some buddies of mine in Hialeah” that things got challenging. My drink was served in a rim chipped, coffee stained, ceramic mug complete with a circular blue and white Pure Oil Company decal. What ever happened to Pure Oil gas stations?  “Sorry about the mug. I don’t have many utensil on board cause my last girlfriend stole them all when she checked out a few weeks ago. I found these java jars in a box of old fuel filters down at the City Cab Company garage. They washed up pretty good and the price was right.”

I looked over at Bert to see if his mug was as sorry as mine, and if he was going to venture a sip. It was and he didn’t bat an eye. The rum was about what I figured it would be–terrible.

Breaking the silence, I turned to Abner;

“I understand you’re in transportation?”

I had a hard time saying that with a straight face but my good-natured sarcasm went unnoticed.

Bert jumped into the fray:

“Yeah, he’s a cab driver right now but he’s got something big working and as soon as it takes off he’ll be in tall cotton.”

Shrugging, biting his upper lip, and shaking his head, Abner looked at his brother and began a family update.

“No Bert, things haven’t worked out too well with Billy. Everything was set to kick off on Sunday a week ago but it didn’t happen the way we planned. Billy said we screwed up the rollout. I’m still not sure what he means by “rollout” but, whatever it is, we screwed it up and I guess I’ve lost all my investment.”

“What do you mean you lost it, I thought you went all the way to Arkansas to be with Billy when church got out in Scarcity or where the hell ever it was? Last time I talked to you everything was good-to-go and you had your bus ticket and a 7-Eleven money-order!”

“Yeah, the name of the town was Searcy, I had forty-six hundred yeats and everything was on schedule but, like I say, we screwed up the rollout.

I was starting to feel right at home with these two. This was getting interesting and, feeling certain that I was in little danger of violating any Wall Street insider trading rules, I asked for some insight:

“Slow down Abner and fill me in from the start. What kind of investment did you make, who’s Billy, and why did you go to Arkansas?”

Head lowered, he continued:

“Billy’s my partner. He lives in Memphis. A year or so ago, he and I decided that we were tired of living by “the sweat of our brow” and came up with this idea to make a killin. Billy travels all over Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas as a traveling salesman and he’s the one that first thought of it. The way it worked was real simple, at least it was supposed to be. It went like this:

First we find a little town in the Bible-Belt South that has an abandoned worthless old building right across the street from, or next door to, the biggest Baptist Church in town. After that, we find out who owns the derelict property and negotiate a five-year option to buy and, most important of all, a rental contract along with a ninety-day rent free guarantee. We’d sign the contract and get the option for $1 because everybody would know that we were fools and that they couldn’t sell or rent the damn thing to anyone else in a hundred years! Having accomplished this in one town, we would move on to the next and so on! We had targeted seventeen locations in three States but so far we only had four around Little Rock ready to go.”

This was bazaar–I interrupted. “What in the hell were you going to do with these contracts and options?”

“No, hear me out. While all this is happening, we go to AT&T and sign up for a 900- Premium Call phone number. I even made a $350.00 deposit and had a number reserved: 1-900-244-3425. The way this phone number worked was that everybody that dialed the number was charged $2.99 for the first minute and $ .99 for each additional one. We had a long dragged-out rambling recording set up to answer all calls and we would get paid 85% of the gross billings less fees, taxes, and some other crap.”

I couldn’t stand it–“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, now you’ve got a partner, a bus ticket, a money-order, a nine hundred phone number and four shacks in Arkansas – either you’re crazy or there’s more to the story.”

“There’s more, let me finish. The day I got off the Greyhound in Little Rock, it was Saturday week before last, every thing was supposed to be ready. Billy met me at the bus station and we drove out to the motel in Searcy where he had set up our headquarters.

The first thing we did was call our 900 number to make sure it worked. By then it was getting dark so we drove over to the local high school football field because we needed a lot of space. I hadn’t gotten the money to Billy ahead of time so he couldn’t get the banners done by a professional … we had to do them ourselves. I wasn’t sure what we were going to put on the banners but I didn’t have to worry, Billy had hired a consultant on business start-ups back in Memphis. He met the guy in some bar and, best as I could tell, for just $250.00 we had both a banner design penciled out on a cocktail napkin and a detailed rollout plan to boot. Billy and I spent half the night, with only his car’s headlights, painting four four foot by forty foot signs on some white plastic roofing under liner that he had gotten a good deal on. He had two hundred foot rolls, so we had a bunch left over.

Once we had the banners painted, rolled up, and put back in Billy’s car we returned to the motel to go over our rollout plan and get a little sleep.”

At this point I was looking around to see if I could locate the “Candid Camera.”

Dead serious, Abner continued–“According the rollout plan, we had to strike hard and fast. The next morning, Sunday, we started our run at 6:00 and by 10:30 we had all of our banners strung out. We had them in Searcy, Conway, Malvern, and Pine Bluff and all but one were hung high up on the third or forth floor. Each banner was located so that, after services, the church goers would be looking straight up at them as they were standing on the church steps, shaking the preacher’s hand, and telling him how much they enjoyed his sermon. We even gave our business a name … INDIGNATION INDUSTRIES.”

Now he had me totally confused. Holding my hands out, palms up, in questioning resignation–“The banners, Abner – what was on them?”

Reaching over his brother’s head, he brought a manila envelope down from a shelf and pulled out a Polaroid snapshot. It was a picture of an old red brick four storied hotel complete with arched windows and black iron fire escapes. I wasn’t sure what town it was in but it could have been Atlanta before Sherman struck the match. What was also in the photo was something that you would never find pictured in any old Civil War tintype … a dirty grass stained white banner with crude red lettering spread between the broken paned corner windows of the top floor.

banner

I didn’t hang around for much of the final installment. As I climbed up and out of the cabin, Abner was telling Bert about what went wrong with their rollout. I didn’t catch the details but he said something about a Monday morning article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and an FBI probe into possible RICO act violations.

Gave my lady two coconuts, She said to me … this is okay–but, I know you want to be nice to me, But what good are the nuts without the tree

Church Pic

This one is only for my family …..

Note: This email was originally sent out in December of 2013. Since that time many of my generation have passed on but I need to include these lines on this site. I have built a very extensive Family Tree going back to 1747 and have accumulated a large data base of individual family member responses. For obvious reasons these will not be included but can be shared with anyone who might be interested. All this being said; if you’re not one of us “just scroll on down the page”.

Dear cousins,

In the summer of 1988 I visited the basement of the Public Library in North Wilkesboro, NC and began a journey of genealogy. I won’t bore you with details but we have a very interesting past and it’s a shame that the memories die out with each generation. Years ago, one of our distant cousins came up with the idea of putting together a book entitled All of us by George. George Powell built the first brick house in Lenoir, NC and is buried with his father (Elias) and one of his sons (Elias R.) in the cemetery at the Lower Creek Baptist Church. Before he died in 1875, George had many children by two wives and the valiant attempt to trace the Powell family from that point on proved a daunting task and, to my knowledge, was never achieved.

Now we, as a legacy for future generations, have a chance to put together a book of our own. We might call it Pitching Horseshoes! We can all write our part of the book by just picking up where Mama and Papa Powell got us started with a 1925 photo of the whole family. We have this photo courtesy of George and Lee and it’s too precious not to share and follow up on!

I am attaching the photograph, and another of just the brothers and Papa Powell, to this email. I want you to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. Our time is running out and if we don’t tell them about the old home place in Horse Shoe and the family that lived there – these pictures will, like so many others, just be added to the trash heap of time.

Now the important part!!

Get back to me with a list of all the of the descendants and spouses in your branch of the Family (example: all of the people descended from Eugene and all of their spouses). If possible, be very specific! Date and location of birth, date of death, and Full name are a must. Marriage date, occupation, education, military service, addresses, phone number, email, and any other items of interest can be added. We can do it, but we better hurry!

 

Jimmy Powell (James Reid Powell) born : Fletcher, NC – May 26, 1940

(772) 223-9482

3352 NW Perimeter Rd., Palm City, FL 34990

PSLhome@comcast.net

 

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(cir. 1935): standing left to right: Ernest, Clarence, Papa Powell, Eugene, Charles

                        on the ground: Dewey, Jim Reid

pic2

                        (cir. 1925): Jim Reid, Ernest, Dewey, Clarence, Dohnov (Clarence’s wife)

            Charles,       Mary,     Papa Powell, Mama Powell,     Bessie,             Eugene