Changing Directions

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Fiction, Superhero,

Desc: : Imagine that you're a mechanical genius--a Steinmetz, a Henry Ford, a Thomas Edison, born in the twentieth century. What direction do your creations take? How do your inventions shape the world?

I guess you can call me an old fart. I remember watching the Beatles come off the plane for the first time from England--on TV, of course. I remember the Monkees and their laughable attempts at synchronizing their guitar strumming and lip-synching with the music that was playing ... I saw Pelee play soccer. I remember Look magazine's coverage of the first heart transplant. I cried when the first man stepped onto the moon.

I've got a great-grand-niece that's a pre-teen, for Christ's sake! She's easy to buy for on her birthday, though. I just get her a one hundred buck debit card for computer games and she's golden.

I spent a long time living in the mid-west, about fifty miles west of Chicago. It's a humid climate that grows corn and soybeans wonderfully, but I often dwelled on why I got fungus infections between my toes and in my armpits.

I took a nice, long vacation out east to visit my family. They'd moved to Tampa, Florida years ago to follow the jobs. I refused to put up with the foolishness our government has forced on us at the airports and I regarded driving long distances as an exercise in drudgery. Instead I took the bus. As long as your bowels hold up and you've got a strong stomach for what you'll smell, you're fine. I remember singing an acapella duet with a guy that knew some of Willie Nelson's songs. It can be a good time!

To tell the truth, I had become disaffected with my job. It no longer seemed as if I was providing anyone a benefit. I was looking for a way out. Taking that trip to the Florida coast was a trial run. I wanted to stretch out and see what was out there. I had enough money saved up to take my time and find a niche that I not only fit into but enjoyed as well.

It was just after the first of June when I showed up unannounced both my niece Tina and her daughter Terri latched onto me as if I were the only male left alive. I laughed and hugged the both of them until they squeaked. I was invited to sleep in their spare bedroom (junk room). I agreed, with the understanding that I'd work for my bunk. I bought groceries, cooked suppers, kept the place somewhat clean and babysat Terri for a few weeks, leaving Tina some evening time to herself.

I found the both of them pretty depressed one morning. Their neighbor, a Mr. Carl Charter had died in an auto wreck together with several of his business partners. He left no family and all the other owners of the business died in the same accident along side him. The next weekend the bank was going to auction off the assets of his marina, as well as the sales and maintenance operation to satisfy the insurance company. This quickly sparked my interest. I took a little side trip to the bank holding the auction in hopes of securing a list of the inventory that was to be disposed of, along with the terms of sale. It cost me fifty bucks slipped into a clerk's palm, but I got what I was after.

I spent half the night poring over the papers, trying to determine what I was looking at. I had to make copious use of the Internet to find out what things like a marine survey were. I was pretty bleary by morning but I had a pretty good feeling about where I was going that weekend. I talked Tina into coming along, which of course meant Terri was coming too. Oh, it was going to be a circus!

Between that morning and Saturday I feverishly converted funds and gathered my finances. If my plans failed to bear fruit then I would be nearly destitute. However, I had a secret weapon. The specifics and terms of the sale was a legal document, of which I had a fair copy. No where on that document was mentioned the words 'minimum acceptable bid' or 'reserve bid'. Also, a hurricane was coming up the coast tossing rainstorms, trees and pieces of houses about with abandon. You'd think that people living in a place like that would build for the worst, wouldn't you? Gotta love foolish optimism and short memories.

That Saturday the expressways heading north were jammed with traffic as people tried to flee the approaching storm. I'd managed to get a good night's sleep so I was ready. I was driving an old, heavy land shark of a Pontiac that I'd picked up. Even it was rocking in the fierce wind gusts. Nevertheless we made it to the harbor, then to the yard before the posted time of the auction's opening bell. There were four other groups standing in the shelter of a building, waiting for the auction to begin. We needed one more bidder to force them to open the proceedings We needed six. "Quick, Tina-- go get a bidding number at that little shack."

"Damned it, Sid, I can't afford anything here! I'm just hanging around because I like auctions and you asked me to come."

"I don't care if you don't even bid on a socket wrench or a piece of bubble gum--we just need six registered bidding parties to keep them from closing the auction due to a lack of attendance. Go, girl, go!"

While she was busy I talked to the other bidders. We arranged to not step on each other's feet because I mentioned that we might see some record LOW bids. I shook the document I had in front of the lot of them. "No minimum bids and no reserves are mentioned anywhere in this thing. A dollar bid is a legal bid. Understand? Just keep it to fair bids." I saw several wolfish smiles. Despite what I said, we all knew that a dollar bid could be rejected by the court. There was a law on the books demanding a "good faith" bid or effort in contract law.

Tina got her number just in time. The sheriff's deputy read off his bit and the auction was on!

The big stuff went first. I was right--no realistic bid was refused. The bank's representative looked like he was alternately ready to faint and about to blow a blood vessel, but the deputy didn't let him interfere with the sale.

I bid one hundred dollars on a ninety-two foot two-masted schooner and won it. Positively amazing. Finally they got around to the 'smaller' vessels--under 70 feet long. I'd spotted three steel-hulled ships that I'd salivated over when reading over the surveys. One was still in dry-dock, as one of the owners had earmarked it for his own purchase. A lot of TLC had gone into it including a full engine room refit. Its survey was three years old. I figured that it was massively under-valued. All three had surveyor's values from six to nine hundred thousand. The ships had undergone complete refits over the past five years. I bid one hundred bucks for each of 'em. Since there were two bidders still there, he had to accept the bid. Tina didn't dare bid against me, as she might win!

Finally, the auctioneer sat on a folding chair with his elbows on his knees and looked at me. He shook his head. "What a fucking mess. What'll you give me for everything but the building and property? By law they have to be sold in a different class of auction."

"I scratched my head, then looked over at the banker. "You guys hold the lien on the property?" He nodded. "Will you give me four months occupancy with utilities? In return, after the weather clears I'll sign over the day sailers and some nice, pricey installation kits to you so you can hold a mixed silent/bidding auction at a dinner. I know that your charter forces you to spend so much a year in community relations. The rotary makes money this way. That should put you well over the top despite this fiasco." He started to smile, then dashed off to find a telephone.

When he got back, he gave me a counter-offer. "Six months, we pay you two thousand a month and you prep everything for the auction."

I said, "Sold!", then turned around and said to the frustrated auctioneer, "I bid one thousand dollars for all the assets on this property except the building."

"Goin' once! Goin' twice! Sold to the lucky son-of-a-bitch in a John Deer cap!" As I was writing out my check I asked the auctioneer, "You run any other marine auctions? I've got a ninety-two foot sailboat and two sixty-five foot steel hulled trawlers with valid surveys, and one hell of a lot of mechanicals in the warehouse. Have you LOOKED to see what's back there? It'll make you sick!"

He sighed. "Yeah, I know. This was shaping up to be a sixty million dollar auction before this storm blew up." He ripped off a piece of lined paper and scribbled on it. "It's my office number. I plan on holding an after-cyclone-season auction once the most of the hurricanes die out for the year. I figure four, five months from now. Give me a holler and we'll do business." He shook my hand again then turned to gather his team, pack up and quickly leave. The storm seemed to be gaining in intensity. The rain was lashing down in sheets while panels of corrugated roofing material were spinning down the street.

The bank had gotten their lawyer on-site and he'd gotten an ear-full of what we agreed to. We wandered through the back-lot despite the winds and downpour and wrote down the hull numbers of every thing we'd consider to be a day-sailer. If it had a cabin, a dumper and a galley it was out of that class. Since I had so many 28 and 22 foot single-masted sloops with v-bunks I threw them in. That was eight hulls, right there. We counted three hulls at 18 feet and six hulls at 12 feet.

I needed to change my residence address to the marina 'cause I was going to be spending all my time there. I had a butt-load of hulls to paint, upgrades to perform and stores to check. I got the building keys and the banking team left while the roads were still somewhat navigable.

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