It’s 2021. Everything is fine now. I went to check on the boat.
I was curious to see how the patch in the cover was holding up, and also wanted to take the tiller off of the boat so that I could take it home and perform my quasi-annual re-varnishing. I loaded my tools and a folding step stool into the car and headed out, and then immediately realized that I don’t really know how to get there.
I mean, I probably know fifteen ways to get there, but I no longer live in New Jersey, and that realization hits me at odd times. My style of land navigation is relatively haphazard to begin with. Unless I’m trying to be somewhere at a certain time, I tend to not follow an overly intentional path to things. This occasionally results in the sort of sensation that you get when you look in the refrigerator for a snack and find yourself holding a lime and a stick of butter and think, “Wait, what am I doing here?” but it’s difficult for me to get truly lost in this region. I set out for the shore for the first time with my stupid Pennsylvania license plate [singular]: a badge that for my entire life has meant “this person probably can’t drive.” I may need to obtain Taylor Ham and “Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas” bumper stickers so that I don’t look like a damned tourist.
It may have been a meandering route, but I got there. I wasn’t in a rush, and appreciated being out of the house, listening to good music at excessive volume, taking back roads through the pine barrens at high speed, etc. Fortunately there was no one at the marina to question my license plate. The patch on the cover was holding up well.
I then went aboard. When Fortuitous is on land, the boarding ladder is about 4ft off the ground, so I deployed my step stool to get to the bottom rung. I can never remember what size nuts are on the hardware that connect the tiller to the rudder post, so I clambered up onto the boat holding a small socket set with a tool roll of wrenches stuffed awkwardly into my pocket. I actively dislike being in the liminal space between the top of the ladder and actually being on the boat, and carrying things made it cumbersome to untie the cover enough to board, but I made it.
I briefly checked out the cabin, just to make sure that it wasn’t full of water or anything, and it was fine. I then started to disconnect the tiller. The bolts were too long to use a short socket, and I couldn’t get the long socket in there with the tiller hard over to port as it was. I attempted to straighten the tiller, but it was oddly difficult to move. Then I heard a metallic “thunk.” I got up to confirm my suspicion, and as I maneuvered to peer over the stern rail, the roll of wrenches that were still in my pocket activated my telephone, which started poignantly playing “Careless Whisper” by George Michael.
The tiller, in its usual configuration, is directly connected to the rudder, and when you turn the tiller, you move the rudder…which knocks over the step stool. A Careless Whisper indeed.
I have developed a minor fear of heights in middle age. I don’t know what changed—I used to climb around the rafters of barns and stuff like it was nothing—but the last time I went up on my (one story) roof to clean the gutters, I had such a hard time getting back down the ladder that I seriously considered just kicking it away and calling the fire department to come get me. The only reason I didn’t was because I thought their solution might be to simply put my ladder back, in which case I’d be in the exact same situation but with an audience.
I looked over the transom for a long time, and thought “I guess I live here now.” It wasn’t until the saxophone solo started that I returned to the cockpit to disconnect the tiller. The step ladder was already in its lowest potential energy state, and finishing the job wasn’t going to make it any worse. It came off easily with the tiller centered, and then I worked on figuring out how to get down. In reality, the anticipation was worse than the execution. I had been imagining some serious Spider Man stuff, or worse, just clumsily falling off and tumbling into the water, but it’s not that far from the bottom of the boarding ladder to the ground. Once I was down there I put the step stool back so that I could go retrieve the tools and tiller and tie the aft end of the cover back on.
I took an even more circuitous route home, running mostly on dirt roads through the pines. I came across a couple Fuzzy Bunnies standing next to their monstrous jacked-up trucks near Hawkins Bridge and had my typical thoughts about how nothing in New Jersey really requires 48in tires and how in high school, I easily got my decrepit 1985 Ford Escort to the exact spot where they were parked. Then I noticed their flags and regalia, extolling a certain someone who (at least according to objective reality) lost the most recent presidential election, and for some reason I became acutely aware that I was playing A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory quite loudly. I gave a terse wave and downshifted. Aside from that moment, I greatly enjoyed wandering across South Jersey. I find it rejuvenating and it feels like home, even if I don’t exactly nail the demographic.
It’s hard to believe that in the same drive home I would eventually be on the Schuylkill Expressway, which I believe was the inspiration for Mad Max: Fury Road. I have no idea what the demographic on that road is, other than “insane.” Sometimes they don’t even clear the wreckage of recent crashes. They’ll kind of push them out of the way, but they don’t remove them entirely. They stay there for days, like the bones of an ox next to a poisoned spring in a Cormac McCarthy novel, serving as a morbid warning to not drink the water. But the drivers are so thirsty.
Anyway, the cover is fine, and I retrieved the tiller. Time to break out the varnish. I look forward to whatever soundtrack comes out of my back pocket for that.