Different marinas have different sounds at night. Down below and forward in the vee berth, a fast running tide divided at the bow sends water gurgling by on both sides of you, and sometimes a bit of debris bumps along as it passes. If the air is warm and stale andyou’ve opened every hatch and porthole to encourage even the slightest breeze, all the sounds of a new place are let in too. They come alive when the sun is down. They come out like nosy cats –lurking, sniffing, looking in– curious about your boat and you. You hear them walking all around –on the docks and then on deck.
There’s a constant metallic “tinkling” (like wind chimes) from the forest of masts. There’s the occasional thunk, clank and bumpity-bump bump. What sounds like a garden hose pouring water into the sea is either a bilge pump –or an actual garden hose– pouring water into the sea. It runs for a while then stops, runs for a while then stops. The dock lines strain and creak.
The path to restful sleep becomes lost in the symphony of boat slips at night.
Eventually, you give up wanting sleep and go topsides to walk the docks under the stars. You observe the culprit fenders (“bump-bump …bumpity-bump-bump-bump”) and the loose halyards (“slappity-slap-slap” against metal masts) and then, a few boats further down, a handsome wooden dinghy tapping against a not-so-handsome (near dilapidated) wooden ketch.
Welcome to the neighborhood, a foreign place of familiar habits.
Walking further along, accustomed to the sounds by now, you’re become more interested in sizing up the personalities of your new dock neighbors. Initially you weigh in one man’s choice of a cutter versus another guy’s ketch. Or a pilothouse canoe stern versus center cockpit or a catamaran. You look to see whether lines are neatly coiled or still lying where dropped in a madman’s heap. Rust weeping from portholes in combination with lines neatly stowed indicates the likelihood of a veteran sailor having just come in from someplace far.
As you go along (“thunk, clank, bumpity-bump-bump, slappity-slap-slap” and the tinkling wind chimes sounds of masts), you draw what conclusions you can from boat names –from what they say and also how they look –painted, stenciled or decaled– across different transom shapes.
Perhaps you have to be a boater yourself to appreciate the slightly teetering and bobbing festival along the docks, an odd, open-air cultural experience combining music, visual art and at least a bit of poetry sometimes.
Cow #3-1-6 played a significant role in the book Blue Rubber Pool
about my transition to the South Carolina boonies (i.e., Jonesville,
South Carolina). One role had to do with this cow. The other role
related to something that happened in Central America.
I love the sea and everything about it—its animals, islands,
pirates, old wooden ships, sunken treasures, early explorers, surfers,
hurricanes, danger and soothing spirituality—and so Hendrickson’s Ocean Almanac
is the anchor to my cruising library for long lazy days of dicking around under
This wonderful collection of facts—both impressive and
trivial—has logged plenty of hours on my boat and in my duffel bag. Its pages
are torn, dog-eared, smudged with tanning oil thumb prints, and spattered with
coffee and rum.
Sure, you can access this stuff online but don’t blame me if
one night, way out beyond the cell towers, you all of a sudden find yourself
jonesing to read about sea lice, the location of the planet’s major sea
currents, or Buster Crabbe’s Rules for Safe Swimming.
If there’s not a copy kept ready at your boat or beach
house, you’re an amateur.
[I found this short story in the liquor store box where I keep my discarded writings. This snippet was inspired by a real life Miata ride down state to have a barrel threaded for suppression—that’s “silencer” most of the world. I’d have added it to Blue Rubber Pool had I known it was there.]
Going with a different platform for 9mm suppression required having another barrel threaded at a time when my regular source for that work was in jail. The Colonel suggested a low-key guy that happened to actually be located in South Carolina, not far from Ft. Jackson. “You’ll like this kid,” the Colonel said. “He’s an innovator. I had him build a couple of specialized machine guns for me and what he came up with was totally evil.” That word, coming from the Colonel, could have any number of meanings, some good, some not. You could never tell at first glance. So I figured, what the hell, check it out, why not? I rang up the kid and, two weeks later, took a high ride in the convertible to check him out and retrieve the barrel he made for my CZ-75 Semi Compact, an usual pistol that would quickly become my new favorite.
The kid’s shop is in an uninteresting metal building that can be seen from the highway but, turns out, can’t be accessed from the highway without untangling a mess of winding, scatter-brained back roads that from the air probably looked like strands of paint slung at the canvas by a retarded artist. “Evil” certainly described the kid’s directions at least. Wicked and brutal worked too. And that was a bad thing, not a good thing at all. I’d been tuned for a no-brainer high ride with speakers blasting reggae and a fistful of marijuana pinners readied for time release perfection. What I got instead was a nightmarish stop/start zig/zag maze of paved and unpaved roads dodging between trees and billboards hiding small town sheriffs. Several times, I had to slow down to barely a crawl because my low-slung convertible kept bottoming out. I was a flippn bundle of nerves by the time I found the kid’s shop.
Still, to his credit, it was right where he said it would be, hiding in plain side along a highway just a hundred yards off as the crow flies yet on a completely different galaxy in terms of getting there by car. The Colonel must come in by chopper, at night, with the lights off, assuming he’s even made the trip (I suspected he never had). The place was totally stealthy …on the radar screen …yet NOT on the screen …if you know what I mean. It was pretty freaky even by my own standards. I don’t mind trekking through boonies in other countries but for some reason USA boonies (and South Carolina boonies particularly) creep me out. There’s a tendency to let one’s guard down due to the suggestion that one is “at home”. Deliverance made as big an impression on my generation as Jaws did.
The kid’s shop had green metal sides with a green metal roof and no windows. Just a single, standard-sized door painted the color of dried blood. It was locked. There was an unobtrusive doorbell buzzer button next to it. I pressed it just once, heard the familiar small motor sound of a 1980s vintage surveillance camera stir. Noticed the camera tucked high up in the eave of the building and then heard the “click” of the door lock releasing as, at the same time, I heard a tinny voice say: “enter” through a barely working speaker. At another time or another place I might have leaned into the speaker and ordered a cheeseburger with fries but I wasn’t in the mod for kidding around. My brain was hurting from the ride in and I wasn’t looking forward to the drive our. I just opened the door and stepped in and closed the door behind me. I heard the lock shut tight. “Hope this isn’t a mouse trap,” one half of my brain said to the other. I has certainly stepped in to some sort of cage.
The entry room to the kid’s shop stopped abruptly at a counter. There was just a long thin strip of floor bordered by 10-foot steel walls topped with chain link all the way to the rafters. There was even a chain link ceiling. There was nobody there, just a lot of signed insisting that “Magazines Must Be Removed From All Weapons And Breeched Must Be Open. No exceptions. This means you!” But given the mood I was in, and the fact that I’d just walked into a place much resembling either a jail cell or the towel dispensary at my old high school gym, I chose to ignore them. The tinny voice said “Be with you in a moment” and then the place was client but for some the faint, muffled sound of at least two different voices drifting up from the other side of the steel walls and drifting down to me through the chain link ceiling. I leaned into the speaker and said “I’ve got to take a piss” then, a few seconds later, heard another surveillance camera swivel on an outdated little motor. It was located up in a corner or my cage, on the other side of the counter. “I said I’ve gotta take whiz,” I repeated right away. “Been in the car all flippn afternoon.”
But Tinny Voice was ready for me. “Shitter’s broken,” it said.
“No problem,” I told it. I leaned into the counter to reach through the small opening in the chain link counter. As I did, the camera swiveled for a better view. I grabbed a Maxwell House coffee can full of pens and dumped the pens on counter. “I’ll just piss in this.”
And without waiting for a response, I whipped out Andre The Giant and peed into the can. As I did, a steel door on the other side of the counter opened and in walked the kid wearing a plain gray cotton tee shirt and desert camo pants. He was in his late twenties with that “beyond my years” look of having seen some action. The grin on his lips and in his eyes told me it hadn’t been so much action to have to charred his sense of humor. As I pushed the can over to him through the opening at the counter (piss sloshing around inside), he said: “The Colonel said to expect this sort of thing from you. C’mon back if you don’t mind waiting while I finish up with another client.” Without waiting for an answer, he pressed a button on the wall behind him and I heard the lock click free on the door to my left.
We both stepped into the massive space at the same time but through separate doors. The shop was a combination of workspace and storage lit by just a few strategically located florescent lights hanging from the rafters and small, brighter lights at selected work counters and tool and die machines. In addition to the familiar equipment of a metalworking shop, there were bins of different bits of metal including bins of different steel tubes from which rifle barrels and suppressor would be made. And different counters held different projects in various stages of completion –SBRs, suppressors, and a several odd looking weapons such as the “evil” ones the Colonel had mentioned. It occurred to me that he may have even been making some of them for the Colonel and that some of them may eventually find their way into my possession by way of the Colonel. There was other eye candy too. The kid had a nice collection of posters that, in addition to weapons and accessories for the black ops set, included some vintage Playboy pinups and bright scenes of bikini clad island girls posing on white sugar sand beaches beside nearly transparent turquoise water.
I followed the kid to the back of the shop –zig-zagging through machinery and rows of shelves to get there much like I’d had to zig-zag through his fucked up directions to the shop. Maybe there was something to that. Maybe the kid’s calm under fire exterior presence concealed a clusterfuck of emotions inside. I tucked the thought away for future study as snaked our way through dark aisles and then rounded a corner into an open space with better light.
There was a guy waiting there, wearing full camo with hair high and tight and boots laced and polished as if on his way to or from a “back-in-the-states-temporarily” assignment at Ft. Jackson. I had the feeling he wasn’t on a rotation; had the feeling he only came back for just a few days at a time between long stretches of being in far away, fucked up, radio-silent places. The soldier leaned over a table with his back to us, giving us just a quick look as we approached then returning to focus on the table top –a rifle and various parts arranged on it with great care as if a tricky transplant were underway. The kid went around to the other side and picked up where’d they’d left off before my interruption. There were no introductions, nor would there be. My presence alone was introduction enough, a symbolic “he’s okay” vote of confidence that spoke volumes in this line of work. Names and further details were customarily left out. Everybody around the table just them operated on a “need to know” basis. It was a very efficient and effective way of getting by.
The rifle was a “reach out and touch someone” M14 that snipers often carry and Jerry was having some “personal preference” tweaks made beyond the norm in terms of what Uncle Sam would normally provide. I stood by quietly, trying to offer the professional courtesy of reduce my presence to that of barely a shadow. We all knew the etiquette of our situation. In his late 40s, Jerry was getting up there. Most of the guys he served with were half that – probably too young to notice his spot-on resemblance, in my opinion at least, to The Who’s Roger Daltrey. It was uncanny. He had Daltrey’s high energy eyes the color of blue mountain stream found only near active glaciers. He had Daltrey’s confident but down-turned mouth and square chin and, too, those long thin dimples that gave his face and square jaw line and chin it’s deeply chiseled. Also like Daltry, Jerry carried his compact, medium-sized frame ramrod straight and seemed to be like an engine idling for now …but ready to break off into full throttle on a second’s notice or into an easy jog that could be sustained even in hard terrain with the ease of a mountain goat.
His “high and tight” haircut, hard jaw and firm chin made Jerry’s head as rectangular as a shoe box –a Saturday morning cartoon super hero comes to mind—but what really made an impact on me was his voice: a hoarse, sleep deprived-sounding baritone that he had a way of spitting through his teeth. It sounded to be on the very edge of cracking, straining toward a preference for whispering—as if life depending on not being heard. I easily imagined that for Jerry that was usually the case. His words came out as if having been pushed through clenched teeth with great difficulty under uber levels of chaotic stress.
Jerry was complaining that earlier tweaks to his weapon had given it an unusual fire signature that, last time around, had nearly gotten him killed. “I need to get back to something that sounds less like an AK,” he told the kid. “My own guys were calling in air strikes on me.” The veins in his neck strained a little as he told the story and of course the kid and I didn’t make a peep listening. Jerry’s voice need total quiet and no interruptions. Jerry’s voice needed all the help it could get. He spit it out through clenched teeth with a ramrod straight spine and rectangular head –yet the eyes were like marbles, like walls built up to create an appearance of calm at all times, under all circumstances. The eyes were the real story. The eyes kept the vibe from throttling too fast and getting away. The eyes kept the air around Jerry steady while his story of a shit storm played out around him.
Jerry’s accounting of what trouble had been caused by the odd sound of his rifle barrel bouncing off the rocky terrain of Afghanistan’s mountainous area near Pakistan was told with one foot on the accelerator and the other on the brake.
And at the end of it, there was a pregnant pause to which Jerry finished by asking us both “How fucked up is that?”
On one level it was a question with too large an answer. Yet on another level, it wasn’t a question at all.
# # #
— Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill
The news from Honduras had not been good. In an early morning raid, soldiers stormed the palace. Mel was tossed out by the seat of his pants–the first military coup in South America since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It was dusk. I was up in the lifeguard stand again, aiming a Crimson Trace red dot at the early moon. Marianne’s cat was with me on the bench.
She nudged my ribs then whipped around and swaggered to the other end, John Wayne-style, then decided to sit and lick herself.
Something moving in the woods made her stop. She’d been rather skittish lately. Two nights before, there had been a wild crazy ruckus underneath my sailboat, the cat hissing and making kung-fu-fighter sounds, spine arched, ears back, in a Mexican standoff with what–Marianne told me later–was probably a coyote. I went out on deck, firing into the air, and the coyote ran off. I squeezed off a few extra pot shots and got a yelp in response. When I checked the next day, I found nothing: no blood trail, no tracks.
Poor Marianne, sweet lamb. Prim and proper, nails painted for summer, delicately shucking oysters between bites of a fried bologna sandwich, sips of Corona, pinches of lime, not even breaking a sweat despite the boiling heat. Polite nibbles, little pinky extended. The total Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind.
What sealed the deal was her proficiency with that shucking knife. I could not resist watching. My eyes went to her, bewitched, the way they lose themselves in the dancing skirts of late night flames along the darkest runs of the Money Trail.
Only this time they found Goodness where before they were lost in Evil.
What a pair we were that day at the ferry landing, opposites balanced on the fulcrum of time and place. Marianne, a daisy freshly plucked from the field, sweet and clean as an ad for Ivory soap, innocent as the Dawn Wells character Mary-Anne on the television series Gilligan’s Island. What a contrast to myself: hands dirty from the sailboat’s engine room, cargo shorts dirty from too little time ashore, faded surfing tee with one armpit torn out, cheap yellow sunglasses with blue lenses propped up on hair standing up from a dive—checking the zincs before departing to St Kitts then, from there, Swan Island off Honduras then, beyond Swan Island to places undetermined.
I was leaving. She had just arrived, having come over on the Calibogue Ferry, and was waiting for a ride to her rental, the friend running late, dead battery in the golf cart. If not for that, we’d never have met. I’d be island hopping, bopping around in jungles. Marianne might’ve wed a small town lawyer, a preacher perhaps. But, no, Daufuskie—known for neglected batteries leaving people stranded at all hours in the oddest places—facilitates a version of musical chairs wherein the most unlikely of matches are made. Although natives take it in stride, it made me uneasy. Where I had been, a thing like that could’ve ruined my health.
Anyway, there she was, poor Marianne, sweet lamb, waiting like bait. And there I was, tuned to her subtle nun-like vibe and clearly aware of hungry wolves circling, closing in.
I’ve never been much of a cat person, but didn’t mind Marianne’s hanging around. What a trip she was–one minute sprawled half dazed in a sun beam, the next fending off bad guys. All in a day’s work. Just like me.
The cat finished bathing and made a sound I interpreted as “bored.” She paced the bench on the lookout for danger, stopped, and sat, taking notice of something. She then made a sound I equated to “You might wanna come take a look at this.”
Squinting in the fading light, I saw it: a big, black blob chewing on my precious banana trees again, the little patch I put in to feel at home while still homeless and scouting builders. This beast was not just an intruder, it was a connoisseur, having chosen musa bashoos from the mountains of Japan, a house warming gift from Alaska. I thought it interesting that a cow eating a banana tree sounds like I do eating celery. I enjoyed watching the big dumb beasts while they stayed in the neighbor’s field, just loafing. It relaxed me. Especially after a hard day at work, shouting into the S-Phone at some guy speeding across the desert, or at some guy shouting back under heavy fire in the jungle. Cows took the edge off the fact that good help had become hard to find, nobody willing to go out delivering duffel bags anymore.
But a cow on the loose in my yard–Scooby snacking on my plants–screamed out for countermeasures. But which ones?
The good news is that my debut novel Blue Rubber Pool was published by a small traditional press versus self-publishing…
The bad news is that the Advanced Reader Copy was rough as hell and late going out for distribution to book reviewers on whom authors depend upon for the breath of life. That means not getting picked up by publishing industry trade magazines that independent book store owners read and base purchase decisions on. And not getting picked up in trade media where recommendations are made to persons that buy books for public library collections. Bummer. Big time bummer.
So…as soon as I could I identified a few special target reader groups, researched their media and then wrote news releases tailored to them. And then I followed up. As a result, I’m starting to see some traction geared to baby boomers, boating “cruisers” and music lovers.
I’m still working on a book promotion plan (And should have had this going many months before my book was published. My thought is that books reviews are the most important thing. Second is publicity that might generate those reviews.
# # #
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill
I’m FINALLY starting to get book reviews for Blue Rubber Pool and thank GAWD none are bad. So far.
It’s not easy reading the signs. Will my debut novel fly or flop? Some say it’s the work of a genius (well, okay, they said they liked it. A lot). Others quit taking my calls. So I’m stuck in literary purgatory.
Writers sink or swim on on the up and down tides of reader response.
I’m drifting right now.
Somebody, PLEEZ, throw me a line. Like these people have. (Thanks.)
ON THE MONEY TRAIL, THE BOUNDARIES AND RULES HAD WAY TOO MUCH WIGGLE ROOM …WE WERE ONLY HUMAN.
What is guilt if not a hidden window to your soul? An over-tired or under-medicated reaction to whatever was stuck to the flypaper we call “memory.” Little things became large. Happy things became sad. Good things—evil. Monsters rode on your back, yes, like all the monkeys of the world. You felt them there but they ducked and dodged when you turned, suddenly, to catch them with your eyes. Weirdness begat more weirdness. Fiends procreated like rabbits. Very soon, they were everywhere. Hiding in the shadows. And then in the shadows of shadows.
The colonel, Alaska and the others—myself among them—knew those monsters well. There one minute. Gone the next. Rustling ’round where the tall grass begins. A shiny glint of something glimpsed off beyond your shoulder. A twig that snaps in the woods at night. The definition of the self-doubt that comes when God gets into your head, and you briefly let your guard down enough to wonder if there’s really a heaven and if hell could really be worse than what’s already all around you.
Don’t get me wrong. We weren’t a bunch of butchers, but, yes, we crossed some lines. Oh yes, we crossed them, and, worse, we helped others cross them too—empowered them, encouraged them, planting the seeds of double-cross. Still, we were only human. We wondered about ourselves, wondered about the boundaries and rules that always seemed to have way too much wiggle room. Of course we did. The colonel described it as a long and twisting ride in the most devilish of amusement parks.
“You can get off the ride when it stops sometimes. You can take a break, rest up, most any time you want. Problem is, you’re not allowed to leave the park.”