BUT WITH THE BEST OF INTENTIONS.
Many moons ago, right before the start of a boat delivery from Maryland to Florida, I got a terrifically unwelcome cellphone call while seated across the table from my wife in the dining room of a B&B alongside Maryland’s Sassafras River. Beyond the windows, big, wet, cold, late-March snowflakes flew past at a pretty good clip. Great day to crank up a cruise, eh?
“Bill,” said my buddy Chuck on the phone, “I’m still in Florida. I missed the plane to Philadelphia this morning—sorry, man. But I’m sick. I mean sick, Bill. I know you gotta leave this afternoon. Can’t you get somebody else?”
The question hung there for a miniinfinity. My wife needed to head back home to Florida later that morning—she couldn’t stand in for Chuck. Moreover, I didn’t know a soul in the vicinity, except for a couple of guys at the marina who’d just finished getting my bateau du jour ready to boogie. Chances of rounding up a knowledgeable seafarer— or even a warm body—on such short, wintry notice were slim to none.
Which I told Chuck, of course. Maybe 10 times, or 15 times, as my wife rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. Hey, sometimes a guy’s gotta use flat-out, guilt-laced manipulation to get what he needs done, especially when the chips are down. So Chuck ultimately agreed to catch the very next plane, sick or not. My wife shook her head.
I picked Chuck up at Philadelphia International Airport that afternoon. He didn’t look good. In addition to a white-asa-sheet complexion, he wore an old black sweatshirt emblazoned with the profoundly ironic moniker: LUCKY. His gait was pure Frankenstein and he was towing his seabag along the floor by means of a rope.
Fast-forward to our first overnight stop on Chesapeake Bay, or rather the morning after the first stop. Chuck had already spent hours in his bunk, missing out on our Sassafras departure, our late-afternoon run down the bay in snow, sleet, and rain, a perilous one-man tie-up at a frowzy marina, and, due to gastro-intestinal developments beyond his control, a crab-cake dinner at a little waterfront establishment. He was still in the sack when I arose to greet the day.
Compunction and compassion overtook me immediately. As Chuck snored away, I made a big pot of coffee and then traipsed off through the slush to the nearest drugstore to buy a whopping stock of medications I hoped would, either individually or in concert, pull him back from the dark portal upon which he seemed to be knocking. After I’d scraped the snow and mud off my deck shoes and jumped back aboard with my purchases, I entered the saloon in the spirit of Clara Barton ministering to the sick and dying at Antietam. What a great guy I was! Chuck sat on a settee, hunkered over, with a steaming cup of coffee in his hands, as I proffered the medications. “This coffee tastes like crap,” he said. Resentment flared. I tossed everything onto the galley counter and strode over to the coffeemaker and poured myself a cup. “Tastes all right to me,” I proclaimed, after a defiant gulp. I mean, here I’d arisen early, made coffee, walked a good five miles (well, maybe not quite five miles), spent my very own hard-earned money on all these cool medicinals, and this was the thanks I got? The coffee tasted like crap?
My defiance energized Chuck. He sprang from the settee, cranked the galley faucet, filled a glass with water, and then raised it on high. The stuff was neon pink! “Look, Bill,” he yelled, pointing. “There’s somethin’ wrong here, man. That’s anti-freeze!”
Huh! Apparently the yard on the Sassafras had completed all but one of the predeparture chores I’d specified—removal of all winterizing propylene glycol from our fresh-water system. My coffee had been the primary indicator of the issue, sorta like a canary in a coal mine.
I took one more slug nevertheless. Reflex, I guess. “Well, hell, Chuck,” I observed. “At least the stuff didn’t kill ya.”
“Yet,” he snorted.