Thursday, May 14, 2009

Uncle Howdy had a big old boat

Uncle Howdy had a big old boat.
It was made of wood and was white with blue trim. It had an inboard motor, a small compartment with a head below decks in the bow and a covered cabin where you could get in out of the wind when we were under way. A classic fishing boat.
Dad had a 16-foot Chris Craft tri-hull bow rider with a small outboard motor. We trailered it to the shore except for the month of August, when we stayed at 2954 Asbury Ave. in Ocean City, N.J.
Our boat was fiberglass. I know that because I ran it into a piling one day trying to do the old slam-it-into-reverse-as-you-pull-up-to-the-dock trick.
Uncle Howdy had his own slip. Going out on the boat with dad was fun. Going out on the boat with Uncle Howdy was more like going to a church social. I had to wear shorts with a belt, a polo shirt and new sneakers.
Uncle Howdy owned his own business and was very businesslike about everything except when he named his boat Sea Gal after Aunt Betty. He had three different boats during his life but they were all named Sea Gal.
On this particular day, Uncle Howdy said the flounder were biting just north of the Ninth Street Bridge.
We would go out at low tide and then drift on the incoming tide from the Longport Bridge to the Ninth Street Bridge.
Toward the end of one drift Uncle Howdy went to start up the Sea Gal and she didn't respond. All of a sudden the rectangular concrete and steel piers of the Ninth Street Bridge looked more like big, rusty teeth.
"Dan, get the boat hook," Uncle Howdy said calmly to dad as he climbed up onto the gunwale and walked toward the bow holding the handrails on top of the cabin like he showed me.
Dad grabbed the boat hook and handed me an oar. Aunt Betty led my mom and two sisters forward into the cabin.
As we positioned ourselves on the back bench and leaned over the transom toward that nasty old bridge I turned in time to see a Coast Guardsmen throwing a line into Uncle Howdy's outstretched arms.
He tied the line to the forward cleat, and we were snatched from the jaws of the bridge with less than 10 feet to spare.
Uncle Howdy climbed back into the cabin and took the wheel.
"Thanks, shipmate," he said to me.
After that, going out on Uncle Howdy's boat was not only fun, it was an adventure.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's prom night somewhere in America

Every now and then you stumble across something that makes you feel old.
It’s happening to me more and more often to me.
Take the other day.
I was talking to Gerard Russo, owner of Fifty-Fifty Tuxedo Rentals, Sinking Spring.
I asked him what kind of tuxes kids are wearing to proms these days.
“Usually it’s black,” he said. “There are some white, but mostly black with a wildly colored vest or cumberbun to match their date’s dress.”
I thought back to my senior prom and how I looked like a 70s version of Napolean Dynamite.
I was tall and skinny. I had the long hair and wore big tortoise-shell glasses that had the first generation of lenses that tinted dark grey in daylight and stayed dark grey at night. I wore a powder-blue tux with a contrasting cumberbun and a frilly white shirt and blue bow tie.
Cool, man, cool.
“Wild-colored vests to match the date’s dress?,” I asked Russo. “Is that some kind of new trend?
Russo cleared his throat before responding.
“Yeah, it’s pretty new,” Russo said. “They’ve only been doing that for about 20 years now.”

See a bully, punch him in the face

I admire the folks that marched for nonviolence here last weekend.
Yet I can't help but believe that sometimes a little violence begets peace.
Take the case of childhood neighbor Bobby.
Bobby lived in the middle of my block, halfway between my house and my best buddy Cubby.
Cubby had a nice mom and a big old built-in pool.
But Bobby had decided he was going to make my life miserable.
It got to the point that I couldn't go down to Cubby's house without getting punched in the nose or put in a headlock by Bobby.
One spring day I came running home in tears, complaining of another beating at the hands of the neighborhood bully.
Dad was a patient man, but it was getting old, even for him.
He pulled the metal cap mechanism out of my black, plastic Tommy gun and handed it to me and told me to whack Bobby in the leg with it if he bothered me again.
"If that doesn't work, hit him right between the horns," dad said.
"Dan!" Mom yelled at Dad.
"It's plastic. It'll shatter in a million pieces before it hurts anybody," dad explained.
The point was to scare the big galoot, not hurt him.
At the time, I shook my head "Yes," but "Yeah, right," was running through my mind.
Had he seen this gorilla?
I went back outside, but I didn't go anywhere near Cubby's house or Bobby's.
Later that summer, Cubby's mom was reclining on a chaise lounge in their backyard as her husband installed a new rug. The rug came wrapped around a long, bamboo pole and Cubby and I were using it to pole vault, throw spears and just about anything else two 5-year-olds could do with something exotic like a bamboo pole.
Suddenly Bobby appeared out of nowhere, grabbed one end of the pole and began swinging it at us. This probably was more dangerous than even he could imagine.
Anyway, I was so angry, I ran up to him as the pole swung away from us and punched him in the mouth.
His big teeth raised a welt on my right ring finger.
I then turned and ran into Cubby's backyard and slid under his mother's lawn chair, scaring her half to death.
What I didn't know was that Bobby had run home crying.
His family's mangy dog bit me on the ankle a week later, but I never had a problem with Bobby again.