Just Keep Dancing, Stupid

by Howard Faxon

Copyright© 2013 by Howard Faxon

: A Hawaiian vacation on a budget got interrupted by mother nature's version of Apocalypse Now. What's a guy to do? (Hint--what's the story title?)

Tags: Post Apocalypse  

First and foremost, let me admit that at that stage of my life I was a writer, not a doer. I'd been active enough in my younger days to make me happy with my choices not to let life pass me by. Now I read, research and write.

I'd tried my hand at cowboy action shooting and during two nasty experiences involving exchange of fire I was damned glad to have had that experience behind me. Hint: always shoot for the body centerline if you can't shoot for center-of-mass.

I've driven through the northern and Going-To-The-Sun Highway in Glacier National Park. I've flown a kite from Logan Pass! I've also found out how dismal the job market is in Bozeman Montana.

I decided that I could afford to reach into my bucket list and pull out one of the big ones--a trip to Hawaii. Air fare costs an arm and a leg, and nobody runs tramp steamers anymore upon which you can book passage as supercargo. As an alternative I hired on as crew on a cruise ship--I was a Baker's helper. I measured out ingredients, mixed dough and set it to rising. I buttered ramekins, worked with ganache, mixed fondant and prepared piping bags. I did a lot of clean-up too. I snuck off the ship with my sea bag in Honolulu, not caring if I had my pay or not. My back and feet hurt from standing bent over a pastry table or the cleaning sink all night, night after night in the ship's galley. Pastry cooks should be five feet tall, not over six!

I drifted around for a while, and grew attached to Kaua'I. I rented a 'cheap' cold-water shack and bought a putt-putt motorbike to get around with. I lucked into a job as a line cook in Lihue. (Hawaiian apartment prices are anything but cheap.) I'd just gotten off-shift. I'd climbed off my scooter back at the shack with my lunch in hand. I'd fixed myself a nice fat Reuben and a small bag of fresh steak fries.

I was nearly done eating when I experienced a 'flash-bulb effect'--everything looked over-exposed for a long moment, then I saw purple spots. Then the ground shook. I fumbled for my little transistor radio for some sort of news. The 'talking heads' had a best guess that a meteor had just hit the big island. Nobody knew what would happen but the best guesses were that it couldn't be good.

I felt another earthquake, this one longer. I said to myself, "Uh, oh. Maybe God's on a re-zoning kick. It could be time to mosey on down the road." I pulled my sea-bag from under the bed and started stuffing it with everything I owned. My kit had grown a bit during the seven months I'd had this gig. It was a tight fit. I stashed the contents of my fridge in a pickle bucket I'd lifted from work, along with my ice and wrapped it all in a small wool blanket, left the key in the lock and drove down to the docks. Maybe I'd be lucky enough to sign on as a ship's cook or helper.

Once there, I saw one guy, bigger than me, frantically tossing buckets and boxes onto the cockpit of a sailboat. He was panting like a bellows. "Need a hand?" He stood up straight with one hand on the service pole mounted to the dock. "Hell, yes. You handy?" "I short order cook now. I worked as a baker's mate to get to the islands." He heavily stepped aboard. "throw me the rest, would ya?" I started heaving boxes towards him. He stacked them all around the cockpit except at the stern boarding plank and in front of the hatch. When we were done his hands were shaking and his face looked gray. "You on any heart meds? You look like crap." He nodded and fished out a little bottle from a chain around his neck. From the way he took it and how fast it worked he must have taken a sub-lingual nitroglycerine tablet. He started to stand up again but I motioned him to stay seated. He objected. "We gotta move. I caught it on the radio. Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Hulalai are all erupting. If a quake breaches one of their lava chambers then the steam explosion 'll take the big island down to the waterline or deeper. We gotta move!"

Well, that made me find a new gear. I disconnected the service lines and untied the bow line. After hopping aboard I asked him for the keys. He just sat there, staring at the docks through sightless eyes. His ticker had ticked its last. I found the keys in his right front pants pocket. After unlocking the main hatch I swung it wide to look around. I found a panel mid-way to the bow with a glowing readout. I looked carefully to find a gauge that moved with the wind. I hadn't noticed but there must have been a mast-mounted generator. A large rotary switch was marked battery--off--shore. It was under the generator gauge so I took a reasonable guess that it was to switch the ship's power from land line to battery. I was right. the panel lit up along with a couple LED strips mounted along the upper corners of the cabin.

I scurried back out to the cockpit. It was covered with a dark green bimini and had a zip-in windscreen looking forwards, but it was rolled and stowed to one side.I looked over the control panel. There was a keyhole which one of the keys fit. I remembered my reading about clearing the fumes from the engine compartment before lighting off the engine. A switch was labelled 'engine blower 1'. I flipped it on. A tell-tale lit on the board. I waited a minute, then twisted the key to 'ignition' So far, so good. I heard the diesel catch. I leaned over the stern and pulled in the line to gather some slack, then untied it from the cleat and flipped it back to the dock. I pushed the transmission to forward and gave the engine a bit of fuel. I was standing at the helm, watching the other boat traffic, merging in-line to exit the harbor. I turned on the GPS which gave me a bearing. I headed north for a couple of hours, then cut the engine. It was time to learn how to sail.

I had just 'inherited' a Beneteau Oceanis 281, a 28 foot sloop. I had no goddamned idea of what I was doing. I'd been on a powerboat on the Mississippi while fishing, and the same on a 42 foot ocean going boat on a day-charter trying to catch salmon. I'd never been on a sailboat before in my life. It was time to see how well my reading had prepared me.

First, I examined the rigging. The mast and boom looked too clean. The sail was wrapped around the mainmast somehow. Then I noticed the array of lines leading to a row of chrome winches as big as my head. They said "Lewmar 40" on the banner surrounding the cap. Thank God each line was labelled. I saw "Mainsail out", "Mainsail In", "Genoa Out" and "Genoa In" Two more were labelled "Boom to Port" and "Boom to Starboard". At least I knew enough to tell port from starboard.

Hmm. The vectors should center about the mast. The wind was from the south-south west so I n ran out the main sail half-way then angled the boom forty five degrees to starboard. I felt the boat shift in the water. Watching the heading I moved the wheel until the bearing was due north once again. I ran out the rest of the mainsail, then watched the heading. I had to address the wheel a little, but there it was. I was sailing. Sonofabitch! There was a lock for the wheel which I set.

I had to worry about the stores and my dead passenger. I checked his wallet then put it back. Fred was dead. I emptied the rest of his pockets and put the poor guy over the side. I figured that I had to say something. "Fred, thank you for the second chance you've given me. I promise that I won't throw it away. I hope that in you're next life you're blessed as a happy dog. Rest well."

I pulled a notebook out of my sea-bag and started taking inventory. I found several five-gallon jugs, six of which contained water, three filled with denatured alcohol and eight filled with diesel fuel. The fresh food went into the cold box along with the dry ice Fred had brought aboard and the water ice that I'd packed with my food. Most everything else was dry or canned food which I left packed into the white plastic crates and placed them into the forward bunk where they'd be out of the way. I packed up Fred's clothes and re-packed the drawers with my stuff. I didn't pitch anything over the side--I packed his clothes in two garbage bags which I threw well up into the nose of the bow's vee-berth. There was a GPS repeater in the cabin which I kept an eye on as I worked.

I found the ship's owners manuals. I pulled a glass of water and settled in for some reading. After a few hours I stretched, marked my place and went topside. The lazarette was accessed through a hatch just behind the pilot's chair. I coiled the water hose and land power line, secured them with a few Velcro strips that were stuck to the bottom of the hatch and dropped them into the lazarette. I finished coiling the docking lines and hung them from the railing. I noticed that the navigation lights were permanently mounted. I flipped them on and checked my bearing once again. Down below I found the charts beneath the electronics station. I located my position using the GPS and marked it off. I fried off a little can of corned beef hash and ate it with a fried egg and some bread that I fried in the hash's fat. The two-burner alcohol stove did its job, but slowly. The fry pan got cleaned by tying a small line to it and hauling it behind the ship for a bit.

I dropped the galley table to make a bunk and slept there. I set my alarm clock to wake me in four hours.

When I woke I fumbled about a bit trying to figure out where the hell I was. Then I pulled it together, slipped on my shoes and went aft to check the bearing and speed. We were still running at about seven knots. The heading had changed a bit to a few points east of north, but that was ok. I planned on heading for SanDiego. I stayed up a few hours reading the ship's manuals. I was anxious to see what the boat would do once I ran out the Genoa but I wasn't going to do anything until I saw daylight. I checked the electrical panel before going back to sleep. I noted that the charge was still ticking over to top up the batteries.

I woke up a bit after dawn, right around six. I calculated my least-distance course to San Diego, something I hadn't done before, and corrected my course to a east-south-east heading. I thought to forbear messing about with the Genoa with the speed I was seeing. I'd have to correct perhaps ten points further south to correct for the side-slip but I figured that it should have gotten me to San Diego in about two weeks. Best laid plans, and all that.

Late in the fourth day all hell broke loose. A blast of wind blew past me that damned near heeled me over. Once the ship righted and I though everything was fine I got hit with the counter-punch. A great, big goddamnedfucking wave tried to pile-drive me to the bottom. Luckily I felt a change in the breeze and glanced to aft. It gave me just enough time to dive through the hatch and dog it down behind me. It scared me spitless to witness the mast support pole screech and flex. If it had given way and bent then the mast would have driven right through the bottom like spitting a frog on a gigging spear. It didn't last long--maybe seven minutes by the clock, or less. The damage that wave did was amazing. The mainsail was gone--in tatters. Lines were thrown about or missing. The spare fuel and water that was stored on deck was gone. I walked the boat with a wrench thrumming the mast stays and working the turnbuckles until they all sounded the same.

Whoever engineered that mast-head electrical turbine deserved to die by blow jobs. It survived. I trimmed up the sail remnants, made sure that the various bilge pumps did their business and coiled all the lines. I said to myself, 'screw it.". I sucked down a pint of bourbon along with my remaining ice cubes, turned on the navigation lights and went to bed.

In the morning I took a dump over the side, took a seawater shower and rinsed off with clean water. I turned on the radio-telephone to try to pick up any information. I heard a lot of 'MAYDAY's. After checking my coordinates I found another vessel in trouble within sixteen miles of mine. I replied to their call, but warned them that I was a passenger with a missing captain, presumed dead, and my mainsail was gone. I'd try to make it to them with the Genoa. At that time I was damned glad that I'd not experimented with it, or it would have been deployed as well. With the foresail gone as well I'd have been reduced to trying to sail with a wet tee shirt. The sail locker was bare.

It was about three and a half hours later that I made it to their reported coordinates. I found four people clinging to the mast while the rest of their boat wallowed in the sea. Only their ship's buoyant insulation kept them afloat. Their mast HAD driven through the hull. I got everyone aboard. I'd rescued the Evans family. Randy and Cindy were experienced mariners. I'm afraid that even their children, Eve and Charlene knew more about operating a sailboat than I did. I grinned to myself. Still, who rescued whom?

I tied up to their mast and brought aboard the family as Randy dove down into their ship's cabin to salvage what he could. It wasn't much, but at least he got the ship's papers. She went down in over 800 feet of water so there'd be no salvage attempts. He managed to grab their sea bags and a few arms full of clothing. The wave action soon tore the mast loose and we had to abandon any salvage. She soon slipped beneath the surface. We marked the position then set sail for the west coast.

I had to warn everyone that the boat had a tiny little blackwater tank, so peeing overboard was the expected behavior. The girls squawked until I demonstrated the technique by wrapping a line around my arm, dropping trews, (I kept my tidy whities up for the demonstration.) wiping after business was done, hauling up the trews and pulling oneself back aboard. "See, now you know another use for a diving platform!"

Cindy took over the cooking. I helped clean and took my watch, but mostly I read the ship's manuals, then started on the coast guard's captaincy course text-books. I did my best to memorize the sail configurations to use under different wind directions and loads. This was important material so I gave it my best.

I was glad that I'd disposed of Fred's wallet along with his body. It would have been a far stretch to explain it. As it was, his dying by way of heart attack seemed a stretch. I decided to change the facts to fit the situation. From then on, Fred had been blown overboard by the big wave.

And a big wave it was! Two weeks later we were coming up on the mainland. Randy had a little portable TV/radio that he'd salvaged. People were comparing the Hawaiian event to Krakatoa and, God forbid, Santorini. Most of the western seaboard was decimated. San Diego was in shambles. The dead littered the streets in Los Angeles, well inland. All the way up to San Francisco the wreckage moved with the tide. Cindy shuddered and hugged herself. "Imagine all that desolation--all that destruction. It's like what happened to Haiti. Remember, Randy?" They were both solemn. They'd volunteered to help after the big one flattened most of the country.

The Pacific coast looked like a war had been fought and lost. Randy suggested that we go further north, to coastal Oregon.

"Daddy? Where are we going?"

"Do you remember your uncle Clement?"

"EEEWW! He's Nasty!" Randy grinned and said to me, "My uncle Clement is an old pervert that likes fondling little girls but he'd never go any further. He knows that I'm a deputy federal marshal and I'd have his ass back down in gator country in a heartbeat. Besides, he really loves my kids. He runs a boat yard out of Coos Bay Oregon."

I asked, "What about his operation? Does he have a place we can dock?"

He laughed. Oh, yeah! Clement has a big maintenance yard for commercial as well as retail traffic. He'll be able to just squeeze us into a corner, no problem."

I'd been getting worried about the maintenance costs on the ship. She needed to be dry-docked every two years or so to replace the zincs and a new coat of gel-coat wouldn't hurt either. Live-aboard berths were few and far between outside of bigger cities like Seattle. Randy pointed me towards Coos Bay, a city with a very well protected set of harbors. Front street paralleled the river. The docks covered several blocks, from Alder Avenue in the south to Date Avenue in the north.

Randy introduced me to Clement, then took off because his job called. He left his family in my care. We all took a couple of hotel rooms near the docks as the 281 was out of commission for a while. Being as how I planned on staying around for a while, I went out to buy a little five door Subaru hatch back to fetch groceries and such. I figured that it would do fine in the coastal Pacific winters.

Clement was an old New Orleans boy. We sat drinking coffee and eating beignets one morning. "I understand that you pulled my nephew and his family out of a very bad situation."

"It was a bad time for all of us. When the volcanoes detonated it was all a man could do but try to survive. I watched my main-mast support flex and groan. It terrified me. They were not so lucky and theirs separated to drive through their keel."

"And all this without a license? Without training?"

I was pained. "Please tell no-one. I don't want to get in trouble."

"No, no! I find it remarkable. Under the circumstances, the Coast Guard would applaud and not condemn you. Perhaps even award you a medal for your heroism. We shall get you licensed and your ship repaired."

I shook my head. "I hate that damned mast furling system. It's an accident waiting to happen! I much prefer the boom-basket that I've seen for tending a mainsail. It seems to be much more dependable--less things to go wrong."

"Ahh! A man that appreciates proven technology. I know a fellah that wants to get into a mainmast furling system and has a slightly larger boat to trade. Would you be willing to move up to, say, a 45-foot boat? I think you'd appreciate the six-foot plus headroom."

"I honestly have to ask you, why me? Why are you offering me all this?"

He looked me dead in the eyes and said, "It's simple. I don't have anyone left but my nephew. God knows, I'm not perfect, but he refuses to stop believing in me. That and his kids. I'd be devastated if anything happened to them. And Cindy? She's a pure treasure. She even puts up with me without a bad word, bless her heart. If that family had disappeared from the face of the Earth I'd have put a pistol to my head and pulled the trigger, just as sure as I'm sittin' here today."

He agreed to take me on to help computerize his inventory in exchange for a live-aboard slip, but I had to pay for the electric.

We were watching the crane pick up 'Cat's Revenge' to take her in for service. "What's the story on this sailboat we're exchanging the Beneteau for?"

"I pulled a bit of a fast one on you. I knew the owner well. He kept his pretty little Hunter 45 center cockpit sailboat here and took it out maybe once, twice a year. Mostly he kept it plugged in and fooled around at the dock, kind of a place to go to get away from the wife and kids ... The poor fella was in Honolulu when she went boom. I'm buyin' both the boats for salvage which is maybe a penny on the dollar, and eating the costs, taxes and repairs. You'll get both boats. They'll be surveyed as part of the salvage process and the surveys will be a good tool for you. With all the death and destruction down south they're hurtin' for places to live. I don't doubt that you could sell either one of 'em for twice what they survey for. That should give you some working capital. If ya don't mind me askin', ya got any dosh put aside?"

"Yep. After a life of crime I've got maybe a hundred and fourteen thou in the bank, put away for my retirement. I can tell you that I'm tickled shitless to get this deal from you. Free or nearly free housing puts me under budget to live for over twenty years, probably longer than I'll live, even if I never work another day."

"As long as you keep either one of these ladies in zincs she'll keep you safe. I got a secret for ya--there's no need to haul out a boat to replace the zincs. They're bolted on. With a good light, an air wrench and a snorkel or SCUBA rig anyone can do the job right at the slip. Ya just gotta keep the ship snubbed up against a heavy bumper to keep her from smashin' you into goop against the dock pylons."

I was getting anxious to see this Hunter 45. She was in dry-dock having the bottom checked, zincs replaced and the drive shaft packing inspected. She had a center cockpit and plenty of headroom at 6'6", unlike the Beneteau with 5'11". She already had a fully-battened mainsail and a roller-furled Genoa. She had a Raymarine electronics stack including radar, but no chart plotter or water-maker. I found it curious that she had a Sirius radio and antenna, but no chart plotter! Once the other ship sold this would have to be addressed. Also, I wanted a pressure washer on board to wash the sails with fresh water before drying and storing them. I would have to ask about adding a mast-mounted generator. It had helped a lot on the Beneteau. The only time I had to fire up the diesel was to enter or leave a port. (Well, I didn't have to, but I sure as hell felt a lot more comfortable without having to worry about the wind shifting while maneuvering at close quarters!

Clement finally handed me the keys and gave me a walking tour of the ship. The 'Fancy Dance' was mine.

All the interior was done in a synthetic white cloth. The manual said it was some sort of hydrophobic micro fiber that would repel water and stains. The upholstery felt heavy, like light canvas or new blue jean material. There was teak everywhere, including the floor. I'd have to buy MinWax and lemon oil by the case lot because I'd certainly use enough of it.

The previous owner certainly had built his ship into a party boat. The speaker systems had been upgraded to a nice Bose system and a large flat screen was attached to the salon wall for showing movies and TV. He wasn't much of a reader though, as the place was short on book shelves. There was a nice three-burner LP-gas stove and oven. There was enough space next to the stove to accommodate a char-grill insert. That way installing one fume hood with an outside exhaust would cover both. The washer and dryer were in a little alcove just off the passageway which didn't leave much space for folding the clothes once dry, but I'd used my bed for that before too.

The white walls and ceiling, along with the white upholstery really set off the wood details. It felt very bright and roomy in the salon. The bow's vee-berth, by comparison, felt somewhere between 'cramped' and 'cozy'. Still, when lying down in it there was no claustrophobic sensation at all. The master, or stern berth looked and felt like an expensive hotel room. Quite nice, actually. The head and shower were tiny, as was expected. One certainly wouldn't shower with a friend in that thing.

There wasn't much in the way of spares or tools aboard. I found a set of drawings for the ship which I spread out on the dining table to study. Clement and I located the engine access hatch below the stairs up to the cockpit. I found an under-the-seat storage locker that could be easily reached while on the ladder going down to the engine, which is where I planned to keep a tool box, spare filters, hoses, clamps, screws, caulk and a caulking gun as well as all the other miscellany a good maintenance man carries around in his truck. There were two batteries, which was a good sign, and space for a couple of spares in the engine compartment. Likewise I saw what looked like the fittings for a water maker, which Clement confirmed. We immediately talked about getting a smallish water maker and a mast-top generator installed. I brought up the powered exhaust hood and broiler element that I wanted installed. We had to examine the ship's drawings to find a route for the exhaust channel.

I'd been doing some reading, and looked through his shop's advertising and specs for the different command-and-control stacks for ships. I'd become fascinated with the Furono products with their product integration and their relative ease of installation. The electronic charts that I could get with their chart recorder sealed the deal for me when I saw the recorded demonstration. I figured that if she was going in for upgrades I'd have him replace most of the electronics at the same time. Even at his cost it would run about twenty grand, but Lord! The capabilities were phenomenal. Hooking up a repeater at the chart/computer desk was trivial. I planned on installing a 45-mile radar, GPS, depth sounder, fish tracker and satellite weather as well as the chart modules. I wasn't going to mess with the existing Raymarine auto pilot, as it was perfectly good and tuned to the ship.

I first went to the Sears store for a chest of Craftsman tools and some cannisters of air-dri, a couple of work lights and a couple of fans. I got the specific filters, hoses and clamps I'd need from Clement as he knew just what I should be carrying.

After looking through a local newspaper's advertising I headed off for Fred Meyer to fill the larder and pick up cleaning supplies. I picked up plenty of scentless liquid detergent that promised 'low nitrates' and 'septic system friendly'. Once back aboard I started a load of curtains and bedding. I planned on washing everything that fit in the machine. It was unusual to have a nice, sunny day. Instead of using the dryer I ran a couple nylon lines from the mast to the bow and hung everything out to dry in the sun. Clement gigged me with a grin. "I see you found the flag locker, but I can't quite make out the message."

If he could gig me, I could gig him. "It says, 'laundry day down at Clement's hand washed bras our specialty'."

We agreed on a software package for the inventory control system I was to implement, along with the computers to run it. I pitched in some bucks to add a laptop, laser printer and a nice desktop to the order. That way I was able to buy at Clement's reduced price point. A few guys came through to install wireless access points for a secured WiFi setup. That got me broadband Internet on the boat, which made me happy. The inventory system used bar code tags fixed to the warehouse shelving. Every time the warehouse workers added or removed an inventory item they scanned the product key and scanned a number count. It gave Clement a real-time picture of his inventory which also made his accountant happy.

I showed him how to design packages for the salesmen that would include all the miscellaneous pieces and parts necessary to install a product. That way the salesmen could do one-button ordering. The salesmen could set their own price points, but the costs and products were fixed. Labor hours had to be accounted for, as well.

Everything ticked right along for a while. The staff learned what inventory items needed reordering at what stock points because of the demand, and what not to order unless the boss approved it because that item had a tendency to stick around until it grew hair.

A walking inventory turned up some blatant discrepancies. Either someone had been cooking the books or property was leaving the warehouse without going through the inventory control system. Clement and I spent a Sunday afternoon installing digital cameras near the doors and bays, as well as a computer to capture all that data. The next Sunday we reviewed the recordings. Two of his salesmen were caught packing the trunks of their cars with product after hours. With the recordings as evidence the sheriff's office was called. A judge authorized warrants and their homes were searched. A lot of the stuff they'd taken had serial numbers which matched our invoices but was never sold through the store, as the receipts all had the product serial numbers on them. Busted! Both of them went to prison and Clement recovered at least a portion of his inventory--over a quarter million dollars worth. Clement rewarded me by refunding the cost of my ship's upgrades, which ran over forty thousand bucks with installation. I thought it incredibly generous of him. He said, "It looks like they've been bleeding me dry for years, and I never would have caught them. That's a considerable amount of my profit we're talking about here. We're talking tens of millions of dollars over five years with a two-man operation like that. I just wish I could find out who they were selling my inventory to!"

After all that, he had to threaten the salesmen with immediate termination if they were seen anywhere near the warehouse. They'd take things without decrementing the inventory or assigning a ticket to the pull, which was more blatant theft. At first all the salesmen hated my guts. After a while, though, everything calmed down when they stopped acting like prima donnas.

Cindy wanted to join Randy in the recovery operations down in Los Angeles, but didn't want to risk the kids in that environment. People were still killing and looting pretty much at will, even though it had been eight months since the disaster. Both Eve and Charlene were about to enter high school. Since I was sticking around I volunteered to house them on the boat. We got them registered for school and I was handed a limited power of attorney before Cindy took a plane south. The kids were pretty bummed out at first, but they were glad to be back on a boat and I gave them two thousand bucks to decorate their 'stateroom'. Then we drove up to Eugene to go clothing shopping for fall and winter, which in the Pacific north west meant damned near anything at any time. They got to wander through the big mall while I sat sucking down a cappuccino, reading the paper. There were plenty of cops around and I'd given them rape whistles, so I didn't worry much. I just threatened to buy decent clothing or I'd dress them both in 'Hello Kitty' tee shirts for the rest of their lives. Of course, they came back wearing 'Hello Kitty' sweatshirts, grinning like idiots. Since Coos Bay was kind of out-of-the-way I stopped in at a big book store to order a set of encyclopedia and the biggest dictionary that I could find, to be delivered. I also bought a big, folio-sized atlas. The price tag made my eyes water! The Furuno mapping software was great for any shoreline, anywhere but it didn't say squat about anything inland.

I realized that I'd have to get the kids in to see a doctor for their shots before school started, and that reminded me that they'd need health insurance. I talked it over with Clement. His solution was to put me on the books as full time sales which would get me on the company insurance policy. Then we could make it family plan to get the kids covered too. He seemed pretty sassy for a while there at helping them out. I resolved to be a salesman for him in more than name only.

The kids were going quietly mad with nothing left to do before school started. We weren't in a residential area so there were no kids around for them to associate with. I didn't want them riding the city busses without a minder, either. They didn't exactly show off Coos Bay's better side. I buckled under and had a TracVision M5 marine satellite TV system installed aboard the Fancy Dance. Since it was a dual LNB system I had one channel directed to their stateroom and had a flat screen installed in there. That way they had a 'retreat' that they could call their own, their own head. I actually had an ulterior motive for getting it installed. It was a sales tool.

I hung a banner off the flagpole saying 'Free Tours Sunday Afternoons one to five--Clement's Marina' while we were out fishing on weekend mornings, trying to catch dinner. My laptop had a copy of the salesman's quote software on it that integrated with the inventory system. Since Clement's WiFi reached my boat essentially I had a floating sales office when I was at dock. I had a commercial printer make up a fresh set of prints of the ship and had them framed. I carefully highlighted the areas aboard ship that an owner might want to install upgrades and started working on packages for a few different common models. I printed up standard price lists for zinc replacement; hull paint and zinc replacement; hull peel, barrier coat, paint and zinc replacement; battery upgrade or replacement; engine rebuild; generator installation; generator rebuild; installing a separate battery and charger for the electronics; radar installation; chart plotter installation; satellite weather installation; chart plotter repeater installation; audio system upgrades and various galley upgrades. The big stuff, such as replacing fuel or water tanks was out of my league. I'd call in the boss to quote them. With the service manager's help I added fixed service charges for the various installations which apparently just wasn't done. I popped for a lot of tea and coffee. The girls agreed to be my hostesses for a few bucks a cruise while I demonstrated my nav gear on a twenty minute cruise up and down the river. Then I took questions and showed prices to those that were interested. Those that weren't, got a tour of the boat by the girls who were justifiably proud of how clean it was kept. They should have been--I paid each of them twenty bucks a week for maintenance while I took on the heavy stuff like keeping the floors, oven and stove clean. Later, I split ten percent of my commissions with them that I put directly into savings accounts. Nobody had withdrawal permission on the accounts but their parents.

I'd never seen girls that didn't know how to cook before. I set about correcting that. First, eggs. Then pancakes. Then hash browns. I taught them a little baking but didn't really dive into it. We made batter breads like cupcakes and banana bread, then made dough breads--french, soft-top and sourdough boules and loaves. Biscuits sound easy to make and are easy with a couple tricks--pie crusts too. The easiest supper I know to make involves pork loin and a crock pot. The next easiest is a boiled dinner--smoked sausage and boiled potatoes. The kids had lived deprived childhoods. They'd never had toasted cheese sandwiches. We remedied that. Then it was on to braising meats and simmering fish. They're hard to ruin cooked that way. Pea soup and bean soup are almost no-cook. Potato salad is a little tougher--you have to cook two things at once. With what I showed them, they could cook dinners for the family that they could be proud of. Then I just had to get them to wash the damned dishes.

Clement was astounded when he was handed the list of paychecks to hand out the next pay period. "Now, I'm payin' you to live here!" I shrugged. "You're making a better rate of return with me than with any of your other salesman. I'm pumping up the labor and selling value. With any luck at all I'll generate some decent repeat business." The next Sunday he participated in the cruise to see what I was doing. I demonstrated everything that I or the original owner had added to the ship. I got a couple bites on the satellite TV and pushed the next step up, a combined satellite TV and Internet feed which had a follow-on--a simple and inexpensive gateway additio that gave the system a satellite telephone. I reeled in a fish that was an investor who had come down from Seattle. He wanted a boat tricked out just like the Fancy Dancer. I pointed him at my boss. "That man owns the marina. He can get you one made to your spec." Clement tottered off the ship a very happy man with a contract and a check in hand. If the deal went through I'd have a sixty to one hundred thousand dollar month.

The next logical step we did with the new inventory software was to analyze the dead inventory--the 'immovable objects'. With a year and a half of live numbers in the system and two years' worth of recorded invoices pumped into the database we figured that we had some pretty solid figures on product sales probabilities. He didn't look too happy to find out what his carrying charges had been the last few years, which was all we had numbers for. We were sitting up in the observation office, drinking beer and trying to brainstorm a way to get rid of the albatrosses while not taking a loss at the same time.

Ever seen a store with a mirrored wall up high, like on the second floor? Smile! You're on Candid Camera! The managers and security staff sit up there with the lights down low, watching for problems.

Finally he agreed to ignore replacement values and simply consider his original purchase prices. We ate the price of the advertising. We did radio and print ads for an eight-to-eight inventory reduction sale where all the items tagged would be sold at cost. Some of that stuff was so old that the manufacturer's warranties no longer held because the manufacturers were out of business.

We were mobbed. We should have advertised it as an 'old stuff' sale. We cleared out over eighty-five percent of his unwanted inventory in one day. We stayed open until the last customer left, and that was about eleven. Everybody seemed to buy something. It took me a while but I figured out what happened. Ship owners bought that old stuff because it matched what they already owned! I figured it out by watching guys feverishly searching the shelves with torn-up old greasy owners manuals clutched in their hands trying to match part numbers. Clement came into his own that day. He was down there on the sales floor helping people match things together that would work. The manuals just didn't say so. Their manuals were printed before the upgraded kits came out but Clement had lived through the product's life cycles and remembered the various upgrades. The old radios and radar displays jumped off the shelves. The installation kits moved so fast that they damned near caught fire. A lot of those products had proprietary wiring harnesses that just weren't available anymore.

The remainder we sold for a dime on the dollar of cost at a local flea market that was held monthly. That one brought out the Real Cheap Bastards. The detrius fit into a pair of oil drums that we threw away. I never saw the final figures but I guessed that he put over two million bucks back into his liquid account.

Clement was trying to break me of my philistine tastes and educate me in appreciating wine. The problem was, almost all white wines smelled to me as if it had been poured directly out of a hospital bed pan. I liked Rhine Wine, Gewurztraminer or vermouth--that's it. Vermouth I cook with, as per Julia Child. Reds I can handle, but usually over ice. The first time Clement saw me drinking wine over ice I thought he was going to have a heart attack. That was the day I gave him a little history lesson.

This is how I heard it.

The Romans drank in groups. One was the cantina master or 'master of drinking'. He was responsible for cutting the water with wine. At three parts water to one of wine the afternoon was for serious discourse or a polite meal. At two to one it was for political rants, complaints about one mistress and inside jokes. At one to one it was for getting shit-faced. Only uncultured barbarians drank their wine 'neat'.

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