THAT SINKING FEELING
The novel I’m currently working on takes place at a lake. The characters spend time in a boat fishing. (I mention that because the IRS might be auditing my blog, as I’m sure the NSA is, and I want them to know if I buy a new boat it would be research for the book and therefore a legitimate, tax-deductable business expense. Also any fishing equipment would be a valid expense for research also.) Most of my adult life I have owned a boat. Right now I own two, a seventeen foot fishing boat with a one hundred fifteen horse motor, and a beat-up jon boat I use to fish our little river.
I’m not a stranger to run-down boats. When I was a kid I wanted a boat in the worse way, and that’s the way I ended up getting one. I had a friend, Franny, who also wanted a boat. He lived by a river, and we dreamed of floating down it in a boat catching trout, steelhead and salmon. We lived in Iowa and there weren’t any trout, steelhead or salmon in the river, but nobody dreams of catching carp and bullheads.
One day Franny said he thought he had found a boat. One of his neighbors had a boat lying in some tall grass behind his house. It looked like it had been there for years, so we figured the guy probably didn’t want it. With some apprehension we pounded on his door and asked if he would be willing to sell it. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a moment and said the words that would change my life forever, “There’s a boat back there?” After we took him back and showed him the boat, he said we could have it, free of charge. Or as he said, “If you can get that piece of crap out of there, you can have it.”
The boat was beautiful. It was a wood row boat about twenty feet long. It reminded me of the type of boats lifeguards use in the ocean to row out and rescue people. I was thrilled with it. I loved its gunnels and the seats and the basketball-sized hole in the hull. Now to sane people, a hole you can stick your head through in the bottom of a boat would be a problem, but we were teenage boys. We thought bubblegum music was good, Billy Jack was a great movie and someday we might actually have a date with Annette Funicello. We nodded politely at sanity when we passed it in the hall, but we certainly weren’t on a first name basis. A gaping hole in a boat was not a major problem.
We dragged the boat over to Franny’s house and started our reconstruction project. The hole was in the back half of the boat, so we cut the boat in two, getting rid of the problem of the hole–although it did give us a slight problem of not having a back end on the boat. We fixed that problem by putting a board on the end as a new transom for the boat. Since the new transom wasn’t marine wood we sealed it with tar. Then we sealed it with more tar. We sealed the bottom of the boat with tar, inside and out and then we sealed the sides. We sealed everything until our hands looked like we were wearing black gloves from the overflow of tar on them. We used so much tar the price of crude oil went up a buck a barrel the next day, but the boat was ready to put in the river as soon as the tar dried. We decided to give it overnight to cure.
The next morning we were up bright and early to launch the boat. The river was about fifty yards outside Franny’s back door. We figured we’d just drag it down to the river. He got on the front of the boat and I got on the rear. At the count of three he pulled and I pushed. The boat moved about an inch. It’s funny how tar in a gallon bucket doesn’t seem to weigh much, but put enough buckets on a boat and pretty soon you have a hefty vessel. This one weighed as much as the combined weight of every fat person we’d ever known; I’d say right around seven hundred pounds. We tried again and moved it another inch. A few more tries and we had to stop and rest.
“We’re not hurting the hull by dragging it? Are we?” Franny asked.
I did a quick check and everything was fine. There was enough tar on the boat to make it bullet-proof. In fact, I think if an armor-piercing anti-tank missile had been fired at it, there would have been minimal damage. Although I was worried that the trench being dug as we pushed the boat along might swallow Franny’s rat terrier.
About noon we were halfway to the river and stopped for lunch. After eating we were refreshed and had the boat at its destination by three o’clock.
“That… wasn’t… so… bad,” Franny said between gasps as he lay on the river bank.
“It went smoother than I thought it would,” I gasped back with my hand on my stomach to keep the hernia from popping out again.
We found some logs and levered the boat off the bank. The boat hit the river and did something that shocked both of us. It floated! I wouldn’t have been more surprised if the Lady of the Lake had appeared with Excalibur and started playing Beach Boy songs on a kazoo. Something deep inside me was sure as soon as it hit the water it would go straight to the bottom and never be seen again.
We got in the boat and spent the next few hours going up and down the river. We didn’t want to go up and down the river, but paddling a seven-hundred pound boat takes a lot of energy. We would move it about twenty yards upstream, stop to rest and the boat would drift back to where we started. At which point we would paddle twenty yards upstream and stop to rest…
I don’t remember what happened to that boat. I don’t remember ever using it again. I don’t even remember taking it out of the river that day. For all I know we just left it there. I’m not sure if my memory lapse is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease or some form of post-traumatic stress disorder where your brain prevents you from remembering horrific events. But it was my first boat and I still remember it and probably will forever. Or at least until I get all the tar off my hands.