Why Quit Now?

by Howard Faxon

Copyright© 2014 by Howard Faxon

Fiction Story: A naval electronics rating got zapped by a lightning bolt while in a compromising position. This is his story of coping with success and failure come hell or high water.

Caution: This Fiction Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Consensual   Fiction   Violent   .

I could feed you a line of crap about never being able to get the sea out of my blood, but that's not how I ended up in Chile--Puerto Montt, to be exact.

I'm Terry Karol. I started out life on a hard scrabble dairy farm in Northern Wisconsin. We were German expatriates that came over to the states during and just after WWII. My youngest uncle fought in Korea. My oldest uncle fought in WWII as a Panzer tank driver. He said that for years every time he smelled diesel he got a headache--Bam! Like that. He found a Mauser rifle made near the end of the war that he cleaned up, checked out and gave me for my tenth birthday. I did all I could to keep that thing in shells. 8x58 was the shell size. I still remember. When kids these days see a deer they think 'Bambi!' I thought, 'venison!' I got pretty good at hunting them, too.

On that farm I learned to weld, replace bearings, cut and thread pipe, rebuild diesel and gas engines, you name it. I remember getting a big box of old sticks (welding rods) at an auction for fifty cents. I took them home and started working on our old plow, adding metal to the blades then hand-filing them smooth until they looked like the pictures in the implement catalog. I came home from school one spring day and dad burst through the door looking for me. I wondered if I was going to get my ass beat for something again. He said, "What the hell did you do to the plow?"

"I fixed it?"

"By hell you fixed it! It cuts like it's brand new!" He grabbed mom by the hands and danced her around the living room. I'd never seen him so enthusiastic. Some things you don't forget, and the times I really made my dad happy I could count on my fingers. That was one of them.

There wasn't much future for me there on the farm. It had been losing money for years. Mom and dad weren't getting any younger and farm work will suck the blood and youth right out of a person when the weight of a big loan rides on their shoulders. When I graduated high school they sold the place and bought a little house in-town, in Stevens Point (Wisconsin). I had been thinking pretty hard about what to do with myself. I had a good head on my shoulders. If I read something once it stuck. I talked to the military recruiters in town and decided to go with the Navy. I got a hand full of things to read and memorize like rank insignia, guard duty stuff and Miranda rights. I read 'em all twice to make sure that I could recite all of it cold. I showed up on time for the bus wearing boots, jeans, a sweat shirt and a barn coat. I had fifty bucks in my pocket and a one-inch rock in a sock in case anybody got stupid. We took a bus from Stevens point to Antigo to Green Bay to Fond du Lac to Milwaukee to Great Lakes Naval Base.

In eight weeks I went from Smurf to Seaman. (Your first issued clothing is a dark blue set of sweats, hence the term Smurf.) I didn't want to sit in front of a radio all day so I politicked to pick up a MOS for IT--the guy that keeps all the communications and other electronics running on board ship. It gets you heavily involved in damage control. I did all right and kept my nose clean. Well, mostly. I hung out with a bunch of unsavory bastards that I got along with just fine. We went out on the weekends throwing knives at defenseless targets. I learned how to pick a pocket back then but I did it best when drunk. I got posted to the Arleigh Burke as an E2, then as an E3, then as an E4. I'd been in a little over seven years when I made E5. The chief said passing review boards just didn't happen that fast when we weren't at war. At my rating mostly I filled out paperwork and did system tests. If I got lucky I was able to go climb around to find out where some other poor bastard had screwed something up, pitched a fit and made 'em fix it, followed by a two-hour classroom lecture on failsafe procedures and the management of critical systems aboard ship.

We were out in the Med when a we got caught out in one heller of a storm. When a destroyer pitches and rolls you know that the weather is rough. We got hit on the antenna mast by several good lightning shots, then a super bolt hit us, fair and square. It took out the ship's radars including the Aegis close-defense system and the eye-in-the-sky links. We were running blind with our pants down. It was an all hands evolution to get the radar units dropped and new modules lifted in place with a crane, then bolted in and wired up. I was working in the super story with my ass hanging out in the breeze when another big bolt hit. I had about a second to realize how a squirrel felt while bridging a 10 KV line.

I woke up below decks covered in gauze and goop. I'd been flash-fried over a good portion of my skin but it only went deep where I'd been either touching metal or where the current ran to discharge. I was thankful as hell that I hadn't been resting my weight on the hatch with my hips or I'd have left my dick stuck to the metal frame as a discharge point. As is was I lost a good third of my intestines and got some pretty deep scarring on my left arm, from armpit to wrist. I kept my eyes, thank God. I got med-evac'ed to a hospital ship, then moved to USAISR in San Antonio. I have to say that they did one hell of a job on me. I don't have to wear a colostomy bag and I've got about 70% motion back in my left arm. Once they got me that far though, I guess it wasn't cost effective to do much more. I got shown the door as an E5 with a 50 percent medical discharge. Oh, I got a pretty little piece of stamped metal with a colorful ribbon to wear, but that won't even buy you a cheese sandwich in Wisconsin.

I was 29 when I went back to see mom and dad. I couldn't stick around. They saw all that scarring the first time I took my shirt off and freaked. Mom screamed, curled up on the couch and cried. She wouldn't stop crying. She wouldn't touch me. Dad just looked pained and tried to calm her down. I packed my bag and quietly headed elsewhere. Anywhere else but there...

With my skills I found a job working on surveillance camera systems--installing them, tuning them and upgrading them. I worked for a company out of St. Louis that catered to banks, jewelry stores, high-end warehouses and law enforcement. The Navy taught me that I could live in a refrigerator box if I had to, and even like it. That's pretty much what I had on board ship for seven years. I had bought a king cab long-bed Ford F-250 and had an old slide-in camper in the back. I was able to keep it in the fenced-off company lot up near the building. I kept it plugged into the building power for light, cooking, heating and cooling. I ran buckets of water out to the fresh water tank occasionally and when the black water tank was full I drove down to the sewage facility where, for ten bucks, I could empty it and flush with clean water. I had a van filled with tools that the company loaned me. I drove from Dubuque Iowa to Memphis Tennessee with stops in all directions out to over 200 miles from the Mississippi. With my experience I got a lot of the bigger planning jobs and pulled down a decent paycheck--a lot better than I ever dreamed of getting in the military. I was there for some eight years, socking it all in the bank. I kept watching that balance grow. Once a year I'd buy CDs because they had a better rate of return than my savings account. I kept a about ten thousand bucks tucked away in a lock box in the camper because that's what dad always taught me--not to keep all my eggs in one basket.

I kept up with my stretching exercises and PT. It wasn't to lose weight. I had a hard time keeping weight on, my guts being the way they were. I just wanted to stay limber and a little muscular. I'd done a little hand-to-hand while in the military and once out I joined a dojo to keep my situational awareness and reflexes.

All that security got yanked out from under me. I knew that the economy was bad, but Jesus Christ! The company folded, locked the doors and turned out the lights. Bam! I came back from a service call to find the lights out, a foreclosure sign on the office window and the gates locked up tighter than a bull's ass in fly season. I was not amused. However, I was not stymied, either. A short trip to a hardware store netted me a cut-off saw, a pack of metal cutting discs, a pair of heavy gloves and a full-cover face shield. I also picked up a new padlock. My service truck stocked a little Honda generator in it and a contractor grade (read, high amperage) extension cord. Within ten minutes the old lock was history and my new lock was installed. I drove my work truck into the lot and secured the gate behind me. I maneuvered my pickup and camper into a place where they couldn't easily be seen from the road and taped a piece of floor carpet over the window closest to the road to keep anyone from seeing light coming through my window. The basic building services were still on such as power, telephones and Internet. Being mid-March the snow was pretty much gone for the season but there were grimy mounds of it still piled up at the edge of the yard. There it would sit until it melted on its own, at least a month later.

I made a couple toasted cheese sandwiches for supper which went down well with some Campbell's chicken noodle soup. Cheap, pedestrian and filling. Ever since my guts got flash-burned I had to watch what I ate. I had found out the hard way that I could step over the line into irritable bowel syndrome in a hurry. I ate a lot of cottage cheese and canned fruit. Most of my meats were braised (cooked in liquid) or simmered until they fell apart in a crock pot. I rarely if ever had anything fried besides an occasional egg or some steak fries. I had a problem with most dishes from diners and fast food too. Surprisingly, I could eat patty melts without a problem or an old diner favorite, hot open-faced sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy. Nuts? God forbid. I would be shuffling between the toilet and the bed for days. Jello was my friend. So was the old hospital favorite, poached chicken breasts with mashed potatoes and gravy. Turkey and dressing with gravy went down well also. I liked matzo balls in chicken soup. The whole diet thing was why I didn't drink hard core. I didn't want to wake up puking blood.

Oh, I also had a deep seated aversion to the smell of burned or grilled meat.

The next day I sat there drinking a hot tea wondering what I could leverage to bring in more money. I had a key to the heavy security entrance next to the warehouse's overhead door. If the hadn't changed the alarm combination then I would have a lot of goods that I could parlay into funds. First things first, though.

In case the alarm lit off I transferred everything that would fit and I could see a use for into the back of my truck cab and disconnected the services in preparation for a fast getaway. Then I unlocked the security door and tried my alarm code. It worked. I closed my eyes and sighed in relief as I sagged against the wall.

I fired up the dispatcher's computer and used the boss' login to access the schedule. (I'd have to have been some kind of idiot not to make sure I could get into the system with a supervisor's ID.) I tagged the jobs that didn't require climbing around on a ladder stringing cables. Pfui. That was an athletic gig for some young buck that hadn't paid their dues yet. I limited myself to the upgrades where recording equipment or high-quality steerable cameras could be installed to get camera shots good enough to be used as legal evidence--facial recognition shots and all that. I had enough equipment to do roughly four big jobs before I ran out. I had to talk fast to get the payment addresses changed at each job. The company had stiffed me out of my last paycheck and a boat load of vacation time. I sure as hell wasn't going to put any money into their account after they'd dropped the bucket.

My pickup came with a square-socket Reese style hitch receiver. I found a post and ball for it in the warehouse and absconded with a hard-top twin-axle trailer from the lot. I filled it with high-value inventory, such as POE managed ethernet switches, high-resolution steerable color cameras, laptops, hi-res color monitors, PC-104 computers (designed to receive the output of one or more cameras and transmit the results off-site) and every high-resolution high-capacity color data recorder that I could lay my hands on. If I had to leave the site unexpectedly I wanted to take the best with me.

Each day before I went out on the job I parked my now very well stocked pickup and camper at the rear of a used car dealership down the street. I'd cut a deal with the owner to upgrade his security in exchange for his relatively secure parking spot and selective memory.

I didn't want any 'interested parties' coming along and getting all incensed about what I was pulling off. I sure as hell didn't want my truck towed off or staked out as bait to arrest me either.

The guy from the jewel and diamond exchange figured that he had me over a barrel and was going to try a little blackmail. I proved to him why you never fuck with the guy that installed your security system. I didn't trust that bastard not to stop payment on his check before I got to the bank so I took 86,000 dollars in payment in Krugerrands. With the economy the way it was, they traded at $2,000.00 per coin. Forty three wonderful gold Krugerrands. The man looked positively gray-faced when I got the best of him.

I had one big job that had a payout too good to miss. The equipment had already been drop-shipped to upgrade a bonded warehouse. I spent three weeks climbing around three floors on a cherry picker, installing a very good passive security system that relayed the images off-site to a data vault. I made a hundred and forty thousand bucks off of that one. Those two jobs brought my retirement fund to well over three quarters of a million dollars. I did four more smaller jobs averaging forty thousand each before I ran out of clients. I couldn't advertise. I couldn't purchase inventory. I wasn't insured. However, I did a good, workman-like job and trained the customers on the software if they asked for it. I got a couple more smaller jobs by straight word-of-mouth.

After I wrung out all the business I could from the area I decided to leave town. I'd followed the job to get to St. Louis in the first place. To cash my checks I'd had to open a business account which required a federal tax ID number. To get that money back out of the bank I did some work on the Internet looking for a local bank branch with international backing. Credit Suisse was willing to deal with me. Once alerted to what I wanted to purchase I was told that it would take a few days to fly in the gold. When the day rolled around I put on a suit and bought a pair of new leather-bottomed canvas tool bags. I signed a check for $610,000.00 and gave it to the assistant manager. He called it in, then had a cart rolled into the office with 305 Krugerrands on it. At fifteen troy ounces per pound I had just over twenty pounds of gold. after adding my original 43 coins it came out to twenty three plus pounds. That wasn't bad at all! I closed out my accounts at the other bank, pocketing sixty thousand four hundred and some. My CD certificates went into the briefcase in which I kept all my ID and official paperwork, like my DD-214 military release.

Now, where did I want to go. What did I want to do? I sure as hell wasn't going to stop what I was doing and do something foolish like retire. I was waking up with a smile on my face every morning because I had something to do. I decided to go to school for a while. I could certainly afford it. The question became what school and what field of study? I'd heard that my graduating from a naval A-school would give me college equivalent credits. That, hopefully, would get me through a lot of the drudge courses that I didn't want to put up with.

I'd never been to Seattle and I'd heard that it was a beautiful city. Of course, every village, town and city has its dark side. but we won't go there right now.

The fucking university stuck its nose in the air and didn't want to accept my A-school credits because of their age so I took CLEP tests, just to rub their damned noses into the fact that I still remembered every word of every text book I'd ever read. I was 38 the spring I went to college. I wanted to learn a few languages but their linguistics department was pretty Euro-centric. I learned a little Spanish and that was it. I used that place like a trade school, picking and choosing between schools and departments.

My first year I took chemistry, physics, statistics and calculus for engineers. They were all full year courses. The second year I applied to another school to learn CAD while I took a "cooking for the professional market" course at the university. Five hours a day! I took a morning course-- "introduction to C"-- just to screw around. The third year I did a course in circuit board design and another in electromagnetism for engineers. The course in electronics lab skills was a lot of fun. I took a course in introductory guitar to fill my ticket and teach me something that I might enjoy later in life. My fourth-plus year in college I found a place that would teach me a three semester course in CAD/CAM integration and I learned to deal with differential equations. There I learned how to set up a robotic controlled frame that would make one-offs, and I learned how to set up and use a 3D CNC milling machine. We got into plasma cutting heads and ultrasonic water cutters. I got some professional certs out of it. I took a follow-on course in advanced guitar as well. My Spanish courses that I took as summer school fodder served as the basis for a couple advanced courses.

I never really graduated but by the time I was 41 I felt that it was time to move on. Life only lasts for so long.

I'd done enough online research to give me some ideas. Up in Ontario there were some rebuilt tugboats for sale. They were nothing special, just big, sturdy beasts that wouldn't sink unless you got run over by a container ship or God really had it in for you that day. Of all the industrial boats listed on line for sale, my eye was drawn to a 1945/2008 65' x 16' x 6.5' draft steel-hulled tugboat that had been mostly rebuilt in 2008. She was tied up near Port Dover, Ontario, on Lake Erie. She was a working boat with a 435 horse Cat engine and had her Inland Waters II cert. She needed a lot of work to make her comfortable.

I had it stuck in my mind to have her dry-docked, the mechanical space stripped, larger fuel tanks installed to take her from 1,000 gallons to 1,500 gallons of diesel bunkerage, a new slightly smaller engine installed along with a new generator and a HVAC system. I decided that all those little air conditioners ducted outside installed throughout the ship should really be replaced by rectangular port-holes for light. She needed a battery farm and controls, a water heater, an oil exchange system and--if there was room--a fuel conditioning system. I turned her into a mix between a live-aboard and a working ship.

Her living quarters were tiny but that's what I wanted--a single room containing the galley, salon and bunk; sort of like a sea-going efficiency apartment with a honkin' big engine and tanks bolted to it. The galley needed rebuilding and a four-foot by four-foot shower installed. I had a lot of work ahead of me.

I'd had my passport for a long time because a security system field installer never knows where the hell they'd be dispatching me to. The Canadian border guard goggled at my collection of shit that I was hauling around. I must have looked like a gypsy mechanic! After I described that I was headed up to Port Dover to take possession and rebuild a tug boat I got a half-assed salute and a grin--'good luck!'.

When I toured the boat for the first time I was pretty disappointed. The mechanicals had been mis-treated. The previous owner didn't seem to have cared. The last survey was seven years old. I insisted on a new one for a fresh evaluation. No wonder the price had dropped. The goddamned thing was floating in the middle of an oil slick. The survey came back at sixty thousand with a comment that the engine needed an overhaul. The current owner went ballistic. He cried 'Bullshit!' and fired it up. The big cat diesel promptly went "WHAM" and seized up. I said, "New engine. I'll pay fifty large for it as it sits." He sighed and took my check.

I called Scruton Marine Services, there in town, to come tow it to their yards. Then I drove down to the company offices to talk over what I wanted done.

I laid out a sheaf of photos I'd taken of the ship's mechanical bay. "I want this to look like you could eat off the floor. All this crap should be taken out and replaced. All the hull's interior and the bulkheads should get a good sand blasting, then a marine epoxy paint job, two coats. The lower deck should be replaced with a chromed anti-skid diamond decking. I want the water, power, signal and fuel lines checked and labelled. The whole space needs to be re-engineered to modern specs including an oil exchange system, generator and battery farm with a separate battery set for engine and generator start. I'll want a fully ducted HVAC system added to the ship along with a water heater for the galley and shower. That's right, a decent sized shower, with a seat! Then we'll talk about the wheelhouse and the rest of the living space."

The company reps whistled to each other and talked over the job scope. Running flat ducts high up on the passageway walls and between the overhead supports to the pilot house, salon, head and shower were doable. We argued back and forth talking about engines. Despite what I'd seen on board they convinced me to go with a Caterpillar main engine and a John Deere integrated genset. Most of the engine compartment elements involved were pretty much drop-in units but, like the fuel manifold, had to be plumbed in and tuned. When I started talking about installing a pair of Voith Schneider eggbeater props with a thrust plate the lead engineer's eyes lit up. They would eliminate the whole issue of rudder hydraulics and measurably raise the ship's engine efficiency. He said I'd still need a bow thruster for docking and bow lateral control in heavy traffic. I talked about the need for adding mounting brackets for zincs on the hull because I intended to take her into salt water.

The long stern deck just cried out for deck cargo to me. I measured the space and came up with room for eight pallets along with some slippage. I wanted a reinforced deck made out of three eighths steel sheet and a well-braced two and a half ton three knuckle boom crane mounted as close to amid-ships as I could get it, yet still able to pick up a loaded pallet loaded just aboard the stern and drop it off on a pier along side. The crane should be amply powered to load or unload a ship's boat as well. Maybe even a sedan or a pickup truck. Unlike a gantry crane or a standing boom crane a knuckle folds up into its footprint and doesn't hang there looking like an accident waiting to happen. They require extensive base support though, to cope with the load the leverage puts on the mount. Mine had its own diesel engine so that it wouldn't overload the other ship's services.

The last large items in the living space were rebuilding the galley with a good Force 10 gas stove/oven combination and installing a full size side-by-side commercial refrigerator and freezer unit, then finding some place to install a stacking clothes washer/dryer set. If I could get it in stainless steel, I bought it in stainless steel. I wanted a Y-diverter valve on the dump line draining the washing machine, galley sink and shower so that the lightly used grey water could be dumped over the side rather than into the black water tank to cut down on expensive pump-outs. Of course, I was warned that such a fitting was playing cards with the devil, but in more strict harbors I could simply change the valve setting to shift to internal wastewater containment.

Then we started talking about the pilot house. I wanted a pilot house bunk, a Furuno FR-1425 radar and chart plotter, with a gyro compass and an integrated satellite weather display. Mounted above the wind screens I wanted a radio-telephone and a generous VHF/UHF radio bank. I priced out an auto pilot and agreed to its installation. The bridge console consisted of a ten inch wide painted ledge just inside the windows. I had them rebuild that to a 30 inch deep console for instrumentation and controls. That gave the electricians room to mount an electronics half rack underneath as well as a good breaker panel and a battery monitoring station. Since I figured that I'd be spending a lot of time at the helm I ordered a top grade captain's chair and had a flash hot water heater installed to make tea or instant foods like oatmeal or dried soup.

Altogether the refit cost more than twice what the ship's carcass did. I'd certainly had enough time on board ships at sea, but not recently and nothing near the helm. I still had my seaman's papers from the Navy and that got me a berth on a great lakes freighter for the summer. I let the captain know what I had going on in the yards. He was good enough to give me some time at the helm as a helper to the first mate. I learned the radio protocols, navigation in busy lanes and the care and feeding of a ship's auto pilot. I volunteered to help out the cook too which got me some lessons on the difference between cooking ashore and cooking at sea. That guy got more mileage out of his steam kettle than I thought possible.

Once back on shore I got a line on a little 10-quart high-temperature electric kettle and got one ordered along with a small stainless steel table that I could bolt it to, and then bolted that to a ship's bulkhead. The electrician let me know that I couldn't use it unless the generator was running to provide the three phase 440 volts the thing needed. I could use it as a deep fryer or as a wok as the electric elements would take it up well above the temperature of live steam. The stainless steel bowl was quite heavy. For the 3800 dollar price tag it damned well should have been. One thing it wasn't was a pressure cooker despite having a clamp-on lid. I had to buy a separate unit for that. Pressure cookers are great at sea when the water gets rough. Even if you don't crank the heat for the pressure effect to kick in nothing got spilled.

It was late fall when all the work had been completed to spec. There was still work to be done but I wanted to have a hand in finishing off the interior of the boat myself. I paid off the bill for the work, got the thing insured and had a heavy equipment transport company move the thing from Port Dover to the Hamilton docks, some thirty five miles away on Lake Ontario.

My first task was to find a slip to keep her in. Hamilton Port Authority had slips to rent but they weren't cheap. Still, winter was fast approaching and I needed a place to work from. I paid for a slip with electricity and sweet water, then got her moored on spring lines and bumpers before the first storm hit. I bought a sturdy little four-wheeled plastic cart that I could navigate up and down the gangway and throughout the ship to move stuff around. I did my best to be neat about it but there just wasn't much space.

I bought a load of 1x4 oak tongue and groove sheathing and a short load of 1x2 hardwood battens. I sprayed all the wood with a good quality flame retardant before any of it went aboard. Then I stowed it under tarps on the rear deck, held up off the deck by pallets laid end-to-end. I tore out all the interior walls and stripped out the crappy old cellulose insulation. It took over a week to clean up the interstitial spaces to my satisfaction. All that time I was sleeping on the pilot house bunk with an electric heater to keep me healthy. I cooked with an electric kettle and lived on oat meal or PB &J sandwiches. Once the spaces were clean I bought two inch thick Thermax HD insulating foam board. It cuts easily with a razor knife if you hold it down with a yardstick or something. I tack glued it between all the hull ribs, filling the voids as completely as I could. Then I secured wood stand-off ribs made out of springy 1x2s and started cutting the oak boards to fit, screwing them in place. It was well after New Years by the time I finished but it looked the way I wanted it to--clean but kind of 1940s or 50s retro.

I installed a stainless steel counter top in the galley, mounted the overhead cabinets then dropped in and plumbed the commercial sink. Only then I could turn the water pump on. I cleaned up the salon floor and painted it with two coats of marine grey epoxy paint. I thought about all that unsealed wood. I grumbled to myself and went out for a couple gallons of spar varnish and a big box of fine grit sandpaper. I laid down three coats before I decided that I was happy with the outcome. I cleaned up varnish dust for weeks after that.

Then I bought a queen bed, a bedside stand, a chest of drawers and a heavy table for the salon. I made a hardwood frame that I screwed and glued to the chest of drawers, then put a hardwood skin on it, added a latching wood door and built in a hanging bar. That gave me a hanging locker for my clothes, as well as a place for my clothes, linens, underwear, socks and towels. The salon was almost finished. All I needed was a big comfortable chair or couch and an "entertainment center". Ah, and some rugs. I turned the power on, checked the battery charging circuit and the 110 volt inverter, made sure the water heater worked and checked out all the appliances. The place was beginning to look and feel like a home.

I mounted six steerable high-quality color cameras on the ship, two facing astern and two facing the bow and the access hatches. One was mounted below the radar antenna and a sixth was set up in the engine room. They all reported via ethernet to a computer mounted under the bridge console that drove a 1080p flat screen monitor mounted on pilot's console. It was like having eyes in the back of my head. the camera mounted to the antenna mast was positioned to aid in docking or approaching a tow. I mounted them in strong inverted lexan bubbles with small holes drilled in the 'peaks' to reduce condensation. I had a little electric heater pack the size of a pack of Dentine gum in the outside shells to drive out condensation in cold weather and keep the grease 'fluid'.Then I peeled back the walls and ceilings of the hallway and the pilot house to do it all over again. By spring I sure as hell was ready for a break.

After a long winter the people of Hamilton go just a little bit crazy. To tell you the truth, I went a little crazy right along with 'em. The town is still buttoned up under a thick coat of ice and snow for Valentines, but come the first of May? Wow. The ice wasn't out on the lake yet but little tiny grass sprouts next to the buildings gave people hope that maybe, just maybe spring was coming. The May Day celebrations got a bit out of hand but nobody seemed to mind. I took a hotel room downtown where the parties were. I got my tubes cleaned a few times--enough to keep a smile on my face for a while.

My tools were still everywhere with no place to put them. My answer was to dedicate a space in the engine room for a tool crib. I bought a big, heavy steel stand and work table, both with heavy shelves. Then I bolted them in place. I stowed my little Honda generator and the handful of power tools I owned. I had to use the roller cart to get the tool box from the truck to the tool crib. I bought a MIG welding rig with several assorted spools of wire, a mask, gloves and a cart to keep it all together as well as portable. A heavy vise, a pipe threader, a few portable fans and some work lights rounded out my shop. I scratched my head more than once figuring out where to keep my raw pipe, plate and bar stock.

I felt kind of stupid owning a ship and not being able to legally take her out. I didn't have my captain's papers. I set about fixing that. I found a school in Buffalo that would do the job. I locked up the ship (which, by the way, I decided to call 'Rocky Start') and drove down to get my captain's chops. I'd read the specs and wanted the USCG Master Near Coastal papers. First I needed the medical courses, then I took the USCG suggested course list. I didn't have any marks against my FBI profile that I knew of, so I figured that I was clear. Actually, My biggest problem was passing the health exam after the Navy had practiced their needlepoint on me. I actually had a piece of Gortex reinforced with Kevlar buried in my belly for the skin to bond to when it was originally healing.

With a hundred thousand dollar bond in place I incorporated as a light tow and delivery service thruought the eastern Great Lakes. I had a web page put up and advertised from Rochester to St. Catharines to Hamilton to Toronto. I tried to stay away from international shipping because the paperwork wasn't worth it. I had to incorporate out of Rochester because I had a U.S. passport. International laws on incorporation and businesses get incredibly complicated--fast. Luckily, as a bonded carrier I was able to be classed as a trusted entity, but I still had to undergo occasional random inspections to keep that certificate. I also had to file dual income tax and fuel use statements. One of the stranger requirements was to carry proof of a quarterly fumigation.

I had a fixed cost per mile that varied depending on whether or not I was at tow or working against heavy seas. I had figured in ship's maintenance, fuel cost and insurance to develop a running cost. I had to beat that to make a profit. I got to know the Canadian and the American customs agents by sight and they got to know me. Working as a bonded carrier I stayed in regular demand. I had to schedule my down time which is an enviable way to run a delivery business. I was up against certain limits. As a one-man shop I was managing my own scheduling, taking calls and schmoozing with the customers while operating the ship for as long as I could stay on duty. It was a brutal way to live and I consistently lost weight. I had to start eating protein milkshakes to maintain my body weight. If I hired into a secretarial service then my overhead would go up. If I hired a hand to spell me at the helm my overhead would really go up. Instead I scheduled my calendar four weeks out. I reserved Mondays and Tuesdays as down-time to get that lucrative weekend market while staying at dock long enough to catch up on some sleep, do the paperwork, do the shopping and do a little ship's maintenance. I used my time at night in transit with the radar collision alarm engaged playing my guitar while keeping half an eye on the horizon.

It wasn't long before I had to move my base of operations from Hamilton to St. Katharine's marina, across the lake from Toronto. The dual hit I was taking from taxes just didn't make sense. I minimized my costs, purchased fuel in bulk and bought futures when the price dipped so that I could call on a local bulk fuel delivery company to deliver a thousand gallons at a time. Every other year I had to have the ship dry-docked, the bottom painted and the zincs replaced. The zebra mussels grew like maggots on roadkill. I slowly watched my savings account grow until I had a quarter million back in the bank. I still had all that gold stashed away along with ten thousand cash in a suitcase.

I was 50 years old. I'd spent nine years working that business. I finally sold it to a locally bonded courier service. There's an argument for pricing the sale of a successful service business at three years' profit plus replacement value of the assets handed over. The business went for one hundred and eighty thousand dollars. I handed over my cell phone, my contact list, a copy of my schedule and turned over my web site. Then I picked up a new cell phone with a new number. I redeemed my service bond giving me $410,000 in total liquid capital. I had eighty thousand in ten year CDs about to come due as well. It came out to over a million one hundred thousand dollars in cash and convertible assets, as well as sixty thousand bucks in diesel fuel futures purchased at summer slump prices.

I took a good look at the ship, trying to look at it as if I were seeing it for the first time. Jesus, it looked ratty.

I contracted for a hull sand blasting, a paint job and a full housecleaning. I threw out the carpets, bedding and curtains and bought new. All the decks both inboard and outboard got repainted. All the window glass was hazing and yellowing a bit. I had it all replaced, including the armored windows on the bridge. The watch bunk on the bridge looked like an elephant had been dancing on it. I had the cushion replaced with a heavier duty one. New nice, cheerful yellow curtains brightened up the place. I looked around and smiled. It looked and smelled like a nice place to live again. Now I had to work on my personal conditioning. I'd been run ragged for almost nine years and it showed. My ribs showed and my cheeks were hollow. My hair looked like it had come off of a forty-year-old stuffed bear--in clumps.

My radios, auto pilot, navigation and control electronics were ten years old. Everything in the wheel house got re-evaluated and most everything got replaced, including the radiotelephone and the radar head up on the antenna mast.

I hung out at a big bookstore in Rochester for most of a week buying movies and books. The books were predominantly biographies and cookbooks. I finally built that entertainment center that I intended to build lo these many years ago. I took my time and made it out of solid cherry. It was mostly book and movie storage with a shelf for a DVD player and a nice radio/tuner. The bottom was reserved for a project I had in mind--a movie recorder. I bought a dozen big hard drives (Terabyte size) and set them up as one big logical drive--a RAID. The machine that ran it was a PC-104 cage with input and output hi-res video cards. The whole thing was controlled over an ethernet cable that I used to remote-desktop into the box. It accepted an HDMI cable as input and had an HDMI socket as output. According to the MPAA it was so illegal it should have spontaneously burst into flames. But no, it worked perfectly, recording decoded movies into my library.

I slept in and packed on the weight for a while. I doubled and tripled up on vitamins until my hair and nails looked better, then I got back into stretching and exercising. Towards fall I took the St. Lawrence Seaway out to the Atlantic, then North to Portland, Maine. I had to bargain with part of my soul to get a slip for the winter but I managed it. The Next I found a used Subaru Outback that had been garage kept and bought the thing.

I cleaned out my refrigerator, freezer and galley locker. It sure as hell didn't leave me much. It was no wonder that I'd cut back on eating--most of my galley stores had expired not by months, but years. I purchased everything from canned goods to flour to meat to the prepared frozen stuff like Stouffer's cheese lasagna. The difference in flavor and texture from what I'd been eating was amazing.

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