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Boating with Billy

by Laura W. Haywood


When we lived in New York City, every winter -- usually on a weekend that featured blizzard conditions -- some group of sadists ran a boat show. And, for a number of years, my husband Billy and I went to it. In the early days, we were accompanied by relatives of mine. Bill and my cousin's husband were thinking of buying a boat together and naming it the Ha-Ha (my cousin's last name also starts with "HA;" thus the name. Mercifully, that plan fell through.

But we continued going to the boat show, where Bill and I obviously had different ideas of life at sea. I always made a beeline for "The Queen of the Show," a little number that fell into the "if-you-have-to-ask-how-much-you-can't-afford-it" category. Bill headed straight for the rowboats that would permit rigging a sail. My choice would sleep six strangers or twelve very good friends; his would fit in the bathtub. Well, it would if you had a large bathtub.

One year, I made the hideous mistake of refusing to brave the gale-force winds and rapidly mounting snow, and Bill went to the boat show on his own. Do I need to say what happened? He bought a boat.

He came home inhumanly elated and began describing the boat, a Boston Whaler dinghy about six feel long (and, back in the 60's, $100 a foot). "It's built with separate little chambers, so it's unsinkable," he said.

"You mean on the principle of the Titanic," I asked, in disbelief.

"Right!" he answered, obviously pleased with my nautical knowledge.

I, of course, didn't find that reassuring -- on two counts. If it really was unsinkable, we might be stuck with it for life. If it wasn't, we might drown.

A week later, we had a lunch date with one of my former history professors, a very learned and proper Bostonian, and I was eager for Bill to meet her. She had been a strong influence on my life academically and personally -- personally, when she noticed a classmate chewing gum and observed in a tone that might have made Queen Elizabeth sound like a fishwife: "There are two classes of people in New York City. Those who chew gum and those who do not."

I haven't enjoyed a stick of gum since. But I digress. The lunch date fell on the day that Billy was scheduled to pick up his boat.

"Don't worry," he said. "I'll be back by ten at the latest." And off he went.

Ten arrived, then eleven, then eleven-thirty. The phone rang. "Listen," he said, "you go down to the restaurant and I'll meet you there. Things took a little longer than I thought." I learned later that what took longer was tying the boat to the top of the car.

With strong misgivings, I set out for the restaurant and met my old professor at noon. We ordered a drink while we waited for Bill. Then we ordered another drink. I excused myself and called our apartment, but there was no answer. "He must be on his way," I said, when I got back to the table. So we ordered another drink.

Half-an-hour passed, and no Billy.

"Perhaps we should order," she suggested, and we did. The food came, but Billy didn't. We were on dessert when the manager summoned me to the phone.

It was my sister calling, and her first words were chilling. "Now don't be mad at him," she said. "He's really had a lot of trouble."

He certainly had. He had set out for my parents' house, to store the boat in their unused garage. He took the Belt Parkway, and, about a mile short of his exit, he was stopped by the police. It turned out it was illegal to carry a "projecting object" on top of a car on the parkway. He got a ticket. But that was just the start. When he'd pulled over at the cop's direction, the boat had fallen off the car, thus demonstrating why it was illegal to put it there in the first place. It had taken four men three hours to get it up there at the boat dealer's, and now he was faced with the humiliation of having to ask the cop to help him get it back on top of the car. They struggled for several hours before they finally anchored it in place, and the policeman escorted him off the Belt Parkway.

So he hadn't made it for lunch, he hadn't met my history prof, but he had his boat. It sat in my parents' garage for a couple of years, and then they sold the house, so we rented a garage to keep it in. He couldn't use it because he'd never gotten around to buying a trailer. I'd had a trailer hitch installed on the car, but we traded it in without having acquired the trailer.

We put a hitch on that car, too, but the same thing happened. We rented a garage to store the boat and paid rent on it for about ten years (let's see...$15 a month for ten years equals $1.800 -- we could have bought three more boats for that).

Then, we moved to Florida, taking the boat with us (and paying a hefty sum to do so), but we still didn't have a trailer. Next we moved to New Jersey, again taking the boat (I had relocation expenses from my new job, so somebody else paid the freight on that).

For Christmas, I bought him a trailer and a hitch. Several years passed, and then the miracle occurred. A friend who worked for Princeton University and liked sailing persuaded him to take the boat out on Lake Carnegie, a large pond owned by Princeton. The boat finally got in the water and nobody drowned.

We moved again, from Hopewell to Rockaway, New Jersey, and again paid to haul the boat and trailer along. We lived in a lake community and I thought he'd finally get to sail it a bit, but it turned out the community rules forbad boats on the lake.

And then we moved back to Florida. My company transferred me and paid relocation expenses, but it didn't cover the boat and Bill finally sold it -- at a garage sale. If memory serves, he got $25 for it.

Maybe the most expensive boat isn't the "Queen of the Show" after all.


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