An Ataxic Minnow Amongst Whales
by Andreas Economakis
I don’t know exactly how or why I decided to buy Laurent’s tiny inflatable boat. Not much of a seaman, I guess I nonetheless always fancied myself owning a boat. Was I trying to recapture my childhood, a sometimes wondrous, oftentimes hazardous and constantly anarchic time replete with memories of our family’s small fiberglass Kris Kraft, my brothers and I whizzing around with wild abandon, water-skiing dangerously, cutting a violent white path through the calm blue waters while the local kids ran along the beach pointing at us like we were nuts?
Laurent’s boat is nowhere near the size of the old “Spitfire ERA,” but hell, it’s a boat. With great joy, I ride my bike down to the docks to meet Laurent and take her out for her first spin. I’m a boat owner at last. Time to start hanging out with yachting types. Should I buy some Nautica threads? One of those big French fisherman’s sweaters? Salt crusted on my face, talking about the big one that got away? Hemingway? I’m a fucking yachtsman at last. A man of the seas. A captain! I’m the first of my generation (or at least of my brothers) to own a boat. That’s got to count for something, right?
I park my bike on the docks like I belong, next to a boat the size of the Queen Mary. I casually stroll onto the Tweety, the powerboat that belongs to Laurent’s employer. Laurent offers me a beer and gets to inflating my boat. I must admit, she looks kind of small on the deck of the Tweety. I lean against the boat rail (portside or seaboard, aft or bow I couldn’t begin to tell you) and squint at my new possession like a well marinated skipper.
Okay, my new boat is definitely small alright, all 2.3 meters of her, with her 5 horsepower Mercury outboard motor. Still, to me, she’s a huge fucking deal. Reflected in my mind’s eyes, my inflatable is the size of one of those enormous cigarette boats on Miami Vice. Pastel poofy suits and blonde hair and 5-o’clock shadows and chicks that smell of Coppertone. Lines of coke on the Formica table down below, Cold War vodka and some crappy 80’s Bananarama synthi tune thumping from small Bose speakers.
Laurent looks at me with a smile. He knows what I’m feeling. He gives me this huge cork and points at the boat. I hold this strange object in my hand and stare at the boat with a blank expression on my face.
“What do you want me to do with this thing?” I meekly ask after twirling it in my hands for a while. It must come from an enormous bottle of champagne Laurent must obviously stock in the Tweety’s kitchen. I smack my lips with glee, ready to ask for champagne glasses.
Laurent grabs the cork from my hands and corks this hole at the base of this board where the engine slides on. “Oh, yeah!” I think to myself, remembering the days of old. You’ve got to cork and drain these fuckers too…. Like a good bottle of French vin. I smile and picture myself motoring into a small, private bay, palm trees hunched over the water. My Coppertone chick, topless of course, dives into the aquamarine waters and comes up like that Channel #5 ad. I pop the top off of a bottle of a vintage Merlot. We sip wine and eat cheese on the sandy beach, my yacht bobbing up and down in front of us. Then we drink some coconut juice from a coconut that has fallen nearby and make salty sandy love on the beach before we go nude spearfishing for octopus.
“Grab the gas can and let’s go,” Laurent blurts out, the coconut disappearing like a puff of smoke from my hands. Back on the docks in Greece, no coconut trees anywhere in sight.
We lug the boat over to the edge and slowly lower her into the water. Shouldn’t there be a brass band and a well-dressed lady with a bottle of champagne hanging from a string somewhere nearby? Who is going to inaugurate this momentous launching?
Laurent asks me what I’m going to call my dinghy.
“Um, ‘The Idefix,’” I stutter.
“That’s good. She is small and she is white.” Uhm, small and white, two things a guy hates to hear. Maybe I should rename her “The Christina 4.” My dad thinks I should name her “The Indefatiguable,” but that’s kind of hard to pronounce in Greek. “The Idefix” it is. He was good dog.
The boat in the water, Laurent jumps in and bids me to follow. I damn near fall face first into The Idefix, my motorcycle boot becoming horribly tangled on the Tweety’s ropes. This yachting business needs attention.
Laurent at the helm, we motor off into the marina, skirting the big yachts. We must look like a minnow amongst whales. After a few rounds, Laurent lets me captain The Idefix. I slide closer to the lever that controls the speed and direction of the craft. With an ease paralleled perhaps only by Bogart in The African Queen, I show my true mettle as a captain. Before long, Laurent asks me to drop him off at the dock, telling me to continue tooling around in order to get the hang of things.
I bring my ship into port like a seasoned skipper and Laurent jumps off. Then I make what turns out to be an almost fatal nautical error. I scoot over to the other side so that I can control the vessel with my left hand like Laurent. Up until now I’ve been piloting my ship with my right hand. To my surprise, when I throttle it, it heads directly into the side of a rather large parked (moored?) skip right next to me. The skip’s captain, who’s there polishing brass, leans over the side and starts yelling at me to back off. Vessel out of control (I’m doing everything backwards), I jet off toward the center of the port, other captains yelling at me to back off, to cease and desist, to abandon ship. Out of control, and rather panicked, I floor it by accident and start doing donuts, woefully glancing at Laurent, who’s bent in two, laughing his head off on the dock.
Eyes streaming with tears, Laurent yells at me to decrease my speed and bring her home. Through his guffaws I can hear him saying that throttle right makes the boat turn left and throttle left vice versa. The instructions are lost one me. Instead, I shoot off towards the open seas, doing an abrupt 180 the moment I see a huge Coast Guard boat with a cannon coming my way. Are they going to open fire on me? I can almost hear them barking commands in their walkie talkies to open fire on the leather clad motorcycle boy who’s obviously stolen somebody’s tender.
I hunch down into the belly of my craft, wind whistling through my thinning hair, arm outstretched and clinging a piece of rope in order to not fall out of the boat. Salt spray coats my motorcycle leathers. I’m hanging on for dear life. How, oh how, am I going to dock this beast? She’s out of control! At top speed I head straight for Laurent. He’s waving his arms frantically, yelling at me to decrease my speed. When I get close, I pull the power safety switch and the boat coasts up to the dock with the engine turned off at last. Laurent grabs the rope and pulls me to safety.
A few neighboring captains approach us to find out what the hell all this fuss is about. I scramble out of my vessel and dust the salt off of my leathers. The captains all look at me like I’m Bowie’s man on the moon. Laurent explains that I’m the new owner of the offending boat that nearly damaged several multi-million dollar yachts. I calmly walk over to my trusty motorcycle and start rolling a smoke to calm my nerves. I overhear one crusty captain ask Laurent what a city boy like me is doing with a boat.
“He’ll get the hang of it,” Laurent replies.
“Not in our marina! He’s ataxic,” another captain scoffs.
“Huh?” Laurent replies. “What’s ataxic?”
“Uncoordinated. His right is my left and so on. He’s a walking, talking, floating hazard. Motorcycle boy’s got boat dylsexia, if there is such a thing.”
Damn yachtsmen. Snobby, upper class boating dishrags. I climb on my bike, wave goodbye to Laurent and squeal off in a cloud of oil petrol smoke. A clumsy yachtsman maybe, but a coordinated motorcycle boy always.
This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.
Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.