Andrew Fitzgibbons (The Story is True, the Words are Mine)

It was in the first year of The Great Famine—a hot July day—the sun was splitting stones, it was. On that day, Andrew Fitzgibbons’ world ended and his hell began.

Like most, his potato crop had failed, but unlike most, his family was eating, thanks to his son’s vegetable garden, and his rent was paid up to date. He did not know how long that would last, but for now he was holding on.

His wife was kneeling over the peat fire, boiling a cabbage for their noon meal. Andrew’s oldest son, Daniel, fourteen years of age, was tending his garden with love and care. The boy had the gift of a bhfuil ordóg glas—a green thumb, as the English would say. The younger children were playing near the house, under Andrew’s watchful eye.

Yes, things were bad in Ireland and getting worse as far as Andrew could tell, but for the moment, all was well. Then the clock ticked one tick and the fateful moment arrived.

A gang of the landlord’s drivers came up the stone path that Andrew’s father had laid when Andrew was but leanbh beag—a small child. There were seven in number, led by Thomas Cohan. Andrew knew him well. Tommy was the town bully and a thoroughly unpleasant man. He was tall, almost six feet, and his arms were thick with muscles. The smirk he wore upon his face announced to the world that he was enjoying himself.

Cohan got right to the point. “You have ten minutes to gather your possessions and your rabble, Andrew Fitzgibbons. His Lordship is increasing his pasture lands and you and your hovel are in the way.”

That was the moment Andrew’s world ended. But he did not yet know it.

“What do you mean, Tommy Cohan? My rent is paid.”

“’Tis no concern of mine. I’ve been told to move you off the land and that is what I will be doing. The ten minutes starts now.”

Andrew was dumbfounded. He could not think straight. He could not move. This was too much to take in all at once. His mind was reeling off the possibilities. Could he fight the seven men before him and drive them from his house? No. Could he plead for time so that he might beseech the landlord to reconsider? The look in Cohan’s eyes said no. Would God send down a lightning bolt to strike Cohan where he stood? Probably not.

“You now have nine minutes.”

Andrew called to his son. “Daniel, gather the little ones and bring them inside. Hurry!” He went into the house and told his wife to stop what she was doing and gather up all that she could carry of their belongings and take them outside. “Then come back for more.”

She stood immobile at the fire with her stirring stick in hand and a questioning look upon her face.

“I will explain later, but right now you have to do as I say.” Just then the children came in. Andrew told them the same thing he had told his wife. Daniel had overheard the conversation, so there was no hesitation on his part. The younger children thought it a grand game and readily joined in. His wife, seeing the fear in her husband’s eyes, placed the spoon into the pot of cabbage, picked up a rag, and took the pot off the fire. She took it outside and placed it on the ground. She was put off at seeing Cohan and the other men, but said nothing and hurried back inside.

When everything that they owned—which was not much—was standing in heaps outside the house, Cohan gave the order to remove the thatch. The family had no alternative but to stand there and watch the destruction of their home.

Andrew’s wife stood with her three small children, ages nine, seven, and five. Daniel stood next to his father. With the roof reduced to a pile of hay, the men started in on toppling the walls. Missus Fitzgibbons started to cry.

When the destruction was complete, Cohan informed Andrew that the family was to be off the land by sundown. “Thems me orders,” barked Cohan. “And I’ll be wanting no trouble from you, Andrew Fitzgibbons.”

“Where are we to go? What are we to do?” demanded Andrew.

Sneered Cohan, “Again, ’tis no concern of mine.”

Daniel, knowing the family would be needing food, ran to his beloved garden and started picking anything that was anywhere near to being ripe.

Cohan yelled, “You there, stop! That be His Lordship’s property.”

Daniel ignored him and continued with what he was doing. An enraged Cohan ordered two of his men to restrain the boy and hold him. To another he said, “You go along into town and bring back a constable.”

Andrew pleaded with Cohan to release the boy and they would be on their way. But Cohan was deaf to Andrew’s entreaties.

The constable arrived shortly thereafter, and based on Cohan’s testimony—and the law that stated a landlord owned everything on his land—he promptly arrested Daniel for thievery and destruction of property. He would not listen to a word from Daniel’s parents or the crying of his siblings.

The next day, Daniel went before a judge and was sentenced to two months in jail.

Just one story from An Gorta Mhór—The Great Famine.

Banyan Bay

Banyan Bay is a marina located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It has been my home for the last eight years. However, it’s time to move on to another port of call. But before doing so, I thought I’d tell you all a little about the place and the people who inhabit said marina … and my interactions with them.

My name is Andrew Joyce and I write books for a living. I’ve lived on a boat of one kind or another going on forty-three years now. I’ve owned and lived on sailboats, houseboats, house barges, and motor yachts of all sizes. I’m currently living on a motor boat with no motor. But that’s alright. I’m not really into boating per se. It bores the hell outta me to cruise around just for the sake of being out on the water. I like to sail, but let’s not overdo it.

Anyway, I like living on a boat because it affords me a certain amount of freedom. I don’t have to put up with uptight neighbors like I would if I lived in a house or an apartment building. I’m a little crazy, and my neighbors in a suburban setting—I think—would be calling the cops on me at least once a week. But boat people, I mean people who live on boats, tend to be as crazy as I am … if not a little more so. Hence, there is very little calling of the police.

Before moving into Banyan Bay, I lived in a nearby marina rent free, for sixteen years. It was a good deal. They allowed no other live-a-boards but me. The place went through three owners and they all kept me around. I don’t know why. Perhaps they just wanted a warm body there at night in the hopes that thieves would be held at bay. And mostly they were, but we were hit a few times.

I eventually got thrown out because I’d had a little too much to drink one day and told the latest owner to go fuck himself. Of course, he told me get out. I asked him if I could stay for a month until I found some place else to dock my boat. He said, “Sure.” At the end of the month, I asked for another thirty day extension and he said, “Okay. But this is your last month. You really gotta go.”

At the end of the second month, I asked him if he would give me a tow to my new marina, seeing as how my boat had no engine. He must have really wanted to get rid of me because he had two of his employees tow my boat to its present location, Banyan Bay.

Okay. Now that you know all about me, I’ll tell you about some of the people I’ve met since I’ve been here.

When I first arrived, there were ten people living on their boats. That number has now soared to over sixty. I won’t introduce you to everyone because I don’t know everyone. And some of the people you’ll be meeting are no longer here, but while they were, they made an impression on me.

Angelique was the first person I met after I moved over to Banyan Bay. She lived with her boyfriend, Randall. They had this custom that, at the end of the day as the sun was setting and turning the western sky a kind of scarlet-orange-pink color, they would set up chairs under a large banyan tree and break out the beers. Anyone who wanted to stop by could help themselves. It was a mini party every night. Well, this one evening, Angelique went behind a bush to relieve herself—if you know what I mean. But there was only one problem. Although from our vantage point we couldn’t see her, the people on the street had a bird’s eye view.

So there she is, squatting down; her smooth white butt reflecting the pale light of the setting sun. And guess who comes barreling down the street? The owner of the marina. That’s who! He saw her and the next day she was evicted. Too bad … she and Randall were very generous with their beer.

I had been introduced to Don and Ed by Angelique before she was so unceremoniously ejected from our little enclave. Don is a saint. Don does not live on a boat at the marina. His boat is on a trailer; he just stores it here. But he comes every Saturday with a cooler of beer and passes them out like there was no tomorrow. Everyone wishes he would come around more often. Not because of the beer, but because he’s such a nice guy.

I’ll give you just two examples of what I’m talking about. One time, the faucet on my galley sink died. It leaked continuously and there was no way to fix it. I called the boat manufacturer and searched online for a replacement—all to no avail. Then one Saturday, Don showed up with a faucet he had bought and he installed it for me. The second example: My neighbor, Bart, needed an oven and couldn’t really afford to buy one. Guess what? Don bought him one. Don’s always doing stuff like that.

Then there’s Ed. We call him Old Man Ed because at the time there was another Ed living here in the marina. Him we called Crazy Ed. That way, we could tell the two of them apart when speaking about them. The first Ed was old. He was seventy-eight at the time. He’s now eighty-five. The other Ed was crazy. But he had a good excuse. He did some heavy shit in Vietnam and he was never right after that. Crazy Ed left us a few years ago and we haven’t seen him since.

Old Man Ed is still around. He doesn’t live in the marina, but he has two boats that he docks here. He comes by about four or five times a week. And like Don, he’s a good guy. He’ll buy roasted chickens and pass them out to the less affluent of us. He also buys clothes for some of the women. You gotta understand. We are not a high-end bunch (except for me). Just working folks trying to make ends meet.

The aforementioned Bart is now dead. He drank himself to death.

Then there’s Lloyd. He’s always meeting women online and falling in love. The relationships last about a year. When twelve months have gone by and I ask him where his latest love is, he says the same thing every time. “We split up. She’s bat-shit crazy, man.”

Nowadays when I see him hooking up with a new love, I know the love affair has an expiration date. I like Lloyd. He laughs at all my attempts at humor. He also got me the drunkest that I have ever been.

One day (before I became a rich and famous author), I went over to his boat to beg a little liquor off him. All he had was some old Neapolitan brandy. Not my usual drink … but hey … any port in a storm.

By chance, a friend of his, Jeff, was there (he also lives in the marina). He’s a boat captain. He captains mega yachts, one hundred and fifty feet and larger. He’s also a far right idiot. Don’t get me wrong. I love Jeff, but he’s nuts. I’m a far left loon. I’m so far left I make Obama look like Ronald Reagan.

Anyway, I got into a discussion with Jeff about politics. And I’m swilling down the brandy while trying to bring Jeff into the light. By the time I had finished the bottle, I gave up. The hell with it. Let his soul rot in hell for all I care.

I had never been so drunk in all my life. I left the boat (somehow) and got on my bicycle. I made it about ten feet and fell over. My head hit the asphalt. I didn’t know it and I couldn’t feel it, but blood was pouring from my wound as though I had been shot numerous times.

I turned over onto my back and looked up at a beautiful blue sky. There were puffy white clouds moving from left to right. It was so peaceful. I wanted to spend the rest of my life lying on that black, warm asphalt looking up at God’s wonderful creation. Then it was all taken away from me. Lloyd’s face appeared over me, blocking my view. “Are you all right?” he wanted to know.

“I’m fine,” I countered.

“You know your head is lying in a pool of blood.”

“That’s nice. You’re blocking my view of the sky.”

“Are you just going to lay there and bleed to death?”

“I can think of no finer place to do so.”

“You better get up. You’re lying in the middle of the road.”

With a heavy sigh, I allowed Lloyd to help me get to my feet. I got back on my bike and made it halfway back to my boat before my head again met asphalt. This time, I opened up a whole new wound. Blood sprayed all over the marina’s white work van. (The pool of blood was impressive. Of course, at the time that did not enter into my thinking. But the next day, I went over to see what everyone was talking about. And, wow! The blood was all dried up, but damn it. There sure was a hell of a lot of it.)

I made it almost back to my boat when I took another spill. This time my friend Juan’s girlfriend found me. She was horrified. She called 911 and soon the EMT guys were bandaging my head. They said they were going to take me to the hospital. I said, “No you’re not.”

I refused to go. They told me if I didn’t go into my boat and stay there, they would call the cops and have me arrested for my own good. I swore I’d be a good boy and go home. Which I did. But as soon as they left, I re-emerged and promptly fell down. Even as drunk as I was, I figured it was time to call it a day. And it was only three o’clock in the afternoon!

So anyway … it was all Lloyd’s fault. And that was the day I became a local legend in Banyan Bay Marina.

Now on to Lloyd’s sister, Beth. Lloyd had been in Fort Lauderdale for a while when I met him. But he was originally from Texas (hence, having Jeff—a right wing wacko—as a friend).

Beth was living in Texas and at loose ends. Lloyd called her and told her she should move to Fort Lauderdale. He said he had found her an old boat that didn’t run and needed a “little” work. So, Beth packed up her pickup truck and headed east. (Of course, she had a pickup truck; she’s from Texas.)

When I ran into her, she had just arrived. Her boat was still a work in progress, but Lloyd was busting his ass getting it livable as fast as he could. At the time, he had a full-time job, so he could only work on his off hours. (Now he’s a lazy son-of-a-bitch, living off the fat of the land.)

Beth is deaf so it was hard for her to make friends—that and the fact that there weren’t many people living here at the time. She and I became friends because of Lloyd. I would go over to her boat so she could show me the daily improvements that her brother was making.

At the time, she didn’t have a computer and she asked if she could have access to mine on occasion; she wanted to check in with her Facebook friends and stuff like that. And being the wonderful person that I am, I said, “Sure.”

Actually, I’m not that wonderful. She had to use the computer on my boat. I wasn’t about to let it out of my sight. I needed it for my writing (still do as a matter of fact).

One time, Lloyd saw me escorting Beth onto my boat and I went up to him and said, “I’m not trying to make your sister. I’m just going to let her use my computer.”

He laughed and said, “I don’t care. She’s a big girl and can take care of herself.”

So much for brotherly concern.

The whole thing became moot the day she was sitting at the table, banging on the keys of my laptop, and a roach crawled out from somewhere. Beth jumped an inch off the bench and made a face. It turned out she doesn’t like roaches. Who knew? That was the last time she came onto my boat.

I’m happy to say that she is still here among us. And now she has her own computer.

Alicia was my next-door neighbor. She was a recovering alcoholic and went to meetings seven days a week. She was intense, but I liked her. At the time, Alicia was into Scientology and was doing some sort of study with the “church” that involved massage therapy. She was taking the course online, and one day, she asked me if I’d be kind enough to allow her to practice on me. And once again, being the wonderful person that I am, how could I refuse? I went over to her boat and she had everything set up. The bed was ready for me, candles were burning, and Alicia was charged up.

Hmm, maybe I’ll get lucky, thought I.

Well, I did get lucky, but not in the way I had imagined. The cockamamie massage worked. I felt great when I walked off her boat. A few weeks later, she had learned some new stuff and wanted to, again, use me as a guinea pig. No problem. A few days after that, she wanted to try some stuff on Danny, my dog. He seemed to like it as much as I did. Alicia later said that Danny was nice to let her give him a massage without biting her.

Alicia was somehow saved from the “church” and now lives in Tucson, Arizona, where she is going to school.

Before I go any further, I’d like to tell you about the Tiki Hut at Banyan Bay. A Tiki Hut, for those of you who don’t know, is a structure consisting of four open sides and a pitched roof covered with palm fronds. Our Tiki Hut sports a refrigerator, a microwave oven, and four grills—two gas and two charcoal … and one deep fryer.

I had to get that out of the way because a lot of what goes down in the marina takes place at the Tiki Hut.

When I first moved in, there were only three entities that made use of the Tiki Hut. One was a part-time employee of the marina. His name was Tommy. He would sit at the Tiki Hut all day long if he was not working (he also lived here). He was a little guy who wore a beard. He was also an ex-navy man. And he always had a beer within arm’s reach. In my discussions with him, I found him to be well-informed and very smart. Everyone else thought he was a loser, but I saw the light under his bushel. Tommy was a great guy. He was a drunk like the rest of us, but I think his soul was a little bit purer … less unsullied than the rest of ours … at least mine. Tommy is now out in Colorado, working on a legal marijuana farm or ranch or whatever they call it.

The other entities who hung out at the Tiki Hut were two stray cats: Momma Cat and Tommy (I think that cat was named after Tommy).

Now I’ve got to talk to you about Juan. He was something else. For some reason, the minute he moved his boat in here, we hit it off. I don’t know why. But it was like we had known each other all our lives.

There are so many stories I can tell you about Juan, but I’ll keep it short. He worked on boats. Mostly he painted boats. When he first moved here, he was working for a company, but he got fired or quit or something. Then he started his own business. Anyway, when he learned I had, in a previous incarnation, owned a business that did fiberglass, painting, and gel coat work on boats (this was before I became an internationally known, best-selling author and bon-vivant), he co-opted me to help him out in his new endeavor as an entrepreneur, working on boats.

At the time, I had one novel under my belt and was trying to secure the services of a literary agent. It was time consuming. I’d spend all day at the computer sending out what are called query letters to agents around the country, but mostly in New York City.

So, just to get out of the boat for a while as I waited for all them New York city slickers to wake up and see what a literary genius I am, I went out with Juan to work on some of his jobs. He never paid me. But he always kept me in beer while I worked and he’d buy me lunch. He thought he was getting away with something. However, I was doing what I wanted to do. To paraphrase Bob Seeger, He used me and I used him and neither of us cared.

Then my book sold and I became a big shot. I had fans from all over the world. One lady in Germany emailed me and asked where I lived. She also wanted a picture of my boat. (My author bio said that I lived on a boat.)

Now at the time, I was living on a real piece of shit boat (and still am). I didn’t want to send her a picture of my boat, so I took a picture of Juan’s and emailed it to her. That was a mistake.

A month or so later, she emailed me and said she and a friend, who also loved my book, were coming to Florida and wanted to look me up while they were here.

I’m kind of a private person, so I lied and told her I had to be in New York on business during the time she was going to be here. I thought I had dodged a bullet. Then one evening around sunset, Juan comes over to my boat and says, “There’s two ladies at my boat looking for you.”

They had gone on Google Earth and found out where I lived. And then, with the photo of Juan’s boat in hand, they came to the marina on a pilgrimage to see where the great Andrew Joyce lived.

I was cornered … or caught … or whatever. There was no way out short of suicide.

The short version is that, in spite of myself, I had a great time with the German ladies. And it was all because of Juan. I had stopped driving (voluntarily) a few months before, so Juan drove us around to restaurants and bars at night. He was a life saver. No matter how much free labor I gave him, I still have a warm spot in my heart for the son-of-a-bitch.

Juan had a co-worker from his days of painting boats. His name was Mike. One night, Juan showed up at the Tiki Hut, trailing Mike. A few of us were there, including Beth. Well, it was love at first sight between Mike and Beth. The next thing any of us knew, they were living together.

I think Mike has had more influence on my life than any other person I have ever known. And it’s funny. At first I didn’t like him all that much. But over time, I warmed to him. Once I got to like him, I started going over to their boat for evening cocktails and we would talk about this and that. On occasion, he would tell me he had cancer. I never believed him. He was healthy-looking and he worked every day. I thought he was just trying to elicit a little sympathy from me.

As all couples do, Mike and Beth had their ups and downs. But things finally came to a head and Mike moved out of the boat and into the shop where he worked. He was cool with it. He still had friends here in the marina and would come to visit almost every night. One of his best friends was Big Joe.

One day, shortly after he had moved out, Mike was hanging around and he casually informed us that he had just been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and that he was on his way out.

Big Joe immediately, very forcefully, and in no uncertain terms, told Mike that he was moving out of the warehouse and onto his boat, which was kind of ironic because Joe’s boat was docked right next to Beth’s. Mike could have moved back onto Beth’s boat, but he was still pissed off at her.

Now, this is what I wanted to tell you about Mike. One day he wanted to go to the hospital and see what could be done for him. He had very little money and no health insurance. So, another Mike (we called him “Crabby Mike” because his business is selling stone crabs) and I loaded Mike into Crabby’s truck and whisked him off to the hospital.

We waited around while he was admitted and then went in to see him. It was a sad sight, seeing him in that hospital bed. Mike had always been a little guy. But he now looked shrunken in that massive bed. Or maybe it was that the bed just appeared to be massive against Mike’s slight and frail frame. We said our good-byes and told Mike we would come to visit him in a few days.

The next day, I saw Mike standing on the dock outside Big Joe’s boat. “What the hell are you doing here?” I wanted to know.

“The doctors told me they could extend my life by about two months, but I’d have to stay in the hospital. That sucked. The hospital sucked. I ain’t stayin’ there to gain a lousy two months.”

That was it. Mike had decided to die on his own terms. And boy, did he! A few days later, he told me he had cried throughout the previous night. That was his moment of doubt. But after that, he had an amazing attitude. He even joked about dying.

When I said Mike had a profound effect on my life, what I meant was that he showed me how to die with dignity … and without fear.

His family lived up in Jacksonville, about a five-hour drive to the north. They sent him a train ticket so that he could go up there and be near them. They had a hospice all picked out for him.

Now on to Big Joe. He was probably Mike’s best friend. One day, shortly after Mike left for Jacksonville, Joe told me he was going north to see him one last time. He wanted to know if I’d like to go along.

We set out before sunrise on a Sunday morning.

I’m loathe to use the word mystical, but that is what the trip was. It was a white day. The entire four-hundred-mile journey was shrouded in fog. A thick fog … and it only got thicker the closer we got to Jacksonville. That was weird. In Florida, fog never sticks around after sunrise. As we drove north, the sun was to our right. It was a white sphere hanging low in the sky. I could look directly at it without hurting my eyes.

Jacksonville was eerily quiet that day. The fog dampened all sound. It was as though the city knew why we were there and was showing its respect for the beautiful soul that was Michael.

I smuggled Mike’s favorite booze into the place and we all had a few drinks. Joe and I toasted Mike and said our good-byes. Then we left our friend to die a peaceful death. (We also stashed the bottle of booze in the bottom drawer of the cabinet next to his bed … for easy access.)

A few days later, I got a call from Mike. He had forgotten where I hid the bottle, he wanted a drink. I told him where to find it and spoke with him for a few minutes, filling him in on the latest marina gossip. That was the last time we spoke. He died a few weeks later … two days after his birthday.

I’ve got to give a short shout out to Johnny and John. Johnny owns the marina and John runs it. If I had any bitch with either of them, now would be the time to bring it up, seeing as how I’m outta here. But I don’t have a bitch. They have both treated me fairly and have been gentlemen in all our dealings. (Okay, Johnny … now that I said good things about you, how about that reduction in my last month’s rent?)

A few years ago at the marina Christmas party, I cornered them. They were trapped. They smiled and looked at me expectantly, waiting for what I had to say—what golden words would pour forth from my mouth. I didn’t keep them waiting long. “I got a bitch,” I said.

Their faces fell and their smiles faded. I could almost read their minds. Oh no. Not another asshole.

I waited a tick or two and then said, “Just kidding. I want to thank you for throwing this great party for us.”

The look of relief on their faces was priceless.

Ashley runs the office for Johnny and John. She runs things so well, those two guys come in just so people will think they work for a living. Actually they’re either at lunch or out fishing most of the time. But they have no worries, Ashley’s on the case.

Next, there’s Jeff.  He’s the right wing wacko I spoke of previously. He’s okay. A couple of times when I was broke, I borrowed money from him. And both times when I went to repay him, he said he had forgotten all about it. How can you not love a guy like that?

John and Will were a married gay couple. They lived next to me for a while. John had read a few of my books and told me that he loved them. So of course, I loved him. Will was a great cook and many a night he would knock on my boat to share with me his latest culinary masterpiece. They’re in South Carolina now where gays are so openly welcomed. (Just kidding about the “openly welcomed” part.) I sure miss ’em.

Next we have Dave and Big. Dave was a guy and Big was a dog, a Rottweiler. One day we were hanging out, and my dog, Danny, got interested in Big. He was sniffing around and trying to play with Big. Big put up with it for a short while, but then turned on Danny and chomped down on his leg. Danny freaked out and screamed. I was trying to pull Big off when Crabby Mike came to the rescue by kicking Big in the stomach. Big let go of Danny and turned his attention to me. He again chomped down, but this time it was on my inner thigh. Two inches higher and I would be singing soprano in the church choir.

The only thing that pissed me off was that Dave sat there with a stupid grin on his face while all this was going on. He didn’t even try to intervene. I mean, if my dog was mauling a much smaller dog, you can bet your boots I’d be in there trying to break it up. So I yelled at Dave, saying something like, “You are a son-of-a-bitch, motherfucking asshole!”

The outcome was $800.00 in medical bills. I had gotten infected from the bite and I let it go too long. But we eventually beat it. By the way, it was $300.00 for me and $500.00 for Danny.

Dave and I eventually kissed and made up. A few months later, when he had to be out of town for two weeks, he asked me to look after Big. And I readily agreed. But I didn’t bring Danny with me when I took Big for his walks. Dave and Big now live on a boat in Alabama.

I have a good friend a few boats over by the name of Otacilio. He’s from Brazil. He works his ass off. I never see him during the week, but on the weekends he invites me over for breakfast. He’s introduced me to a lot of cool foods that they eat down there.

We have two Jays here. One lives in the marina and the other stops by every day on his way home from work. To keep them straight, we call the Jay who does not live here, Jay. The other one we call Rizzo, seeing as how that’s his last name.

Jay (the one who does not live here) is a great guy. He, along with Mike Rodriguez (who we’ll get to in a moment), takes care of all the cooking at the Tiki Hut. He also feeds the eighteen stray cats we got around here. It’s funny. When his car drives up, the cats come outta nowhere. I say they got “jaydar.” When he’s within a mile of the place, they start to get antsy.

Another thing I like about Jay is that he always makes sure I’m well fed. His sister, Kelly, is a phenomenal cook. There has been many a night that Jay has brought me a heaping plate of food prepared by Kelly. And she throws in a dessert every time!

Rizzo is a different kind of animal. He showed up here driving a bicycle that he had thrown an engine on, and not a pot to piss in. Now he owns six cars and three boats. And he’s done it all from monumental hustling. He is always doing something. Making this deal or that deal. Or collecting scrap to turn in for money. Or whatever he can do to hustle a buck.

And he too is a great guy. If you need anything, you just mention it to Rizzo and before you know it, you got it. He never charges anyone. I once asked him to keep an eye out for a basket for my bike. It took a few months, but he found one and then, unbeknownst to me, he mounted it onto my bike. It took him an hour because there were complications. The son-of-a-bitch is storing up good karma all over the place.

The only bad thing that I can say about him is that watching him work hurts my head. He never slows down. We were talking once and I said to him, as a joke, “I liked you when we first met, but then I got to know you.” He thought that was the funniest thing he had ever heard and repeats it all the time.

Might as well tell you about Alfie now. I’ve known him for about twenty-two years. We first met at the marina I was thrown out of. He used to work there. Now he’s kinda like the head ramrod at Banyan Bay. He keeps things moving. There are over three hundred boats here, counting the ones on trailers and on the storage racks. Alfie is the only employee who knows where every boat is and who owns it. The office would be lost without him.

Alfie is an ex-fisherman from Cape Cod. He has captained boats up there and here in South Florida. He’s of Portuguese extraction and he doesn’t seem to age. (The son-of-a-bitch!) He smoked and drank all his life. He even drank more than I currently do. And that’s saying something. Anyway, he stopped both vices cold turkey with no problems at all. He just walked away from that stuff and that was it. Probably the Portuguese blood flowing in his veins.

Nowadays his only vice is playing scratch offs. He keeps a running total of his wins and losses for the year and he comes out a grand or two ahead every year. A few weeks ago, he hit a $1,000.00 scratch off and then did the same the next day. Then the day after that, he hit two $400.00 tickets.

He’s also a sport. One time, I was behind him in line at the convenience store, buying a twelve pack of Heineken. When I got up to the cashier, I was informed that the gentleman who had just left had paid for my beer. Just this morning, he hit a $500.00 winner and tipped the guy that sold it to him $50.00. “I always give ten percent of my winnings to the person who sold me the ticket.” Talk about good karma.

James is a genius. He lives on a sailboat. He does something with plasma machines (whatever they are). And he’s always inventing stuff and making computer boards on his boat, which is amazing, seeing as how his boat is rather cramped.

James ended up here, living on a boat, because he got divorced. He used to make good money because he is such a genius. Companies flew him all over the place to invent things and fix their multi-million dollar machines when no one else could. But because he has to pay his ex-wife $3,000.00 a week in alimony, he’s lost the incentive to work. “It all goes to her anyway,” he says.

Nowadays, he sits on his boat and designs things I don’t even understand. He has a 3-D printer and prints out stuff and tries to explain them to me, but I don’t get it. James is way too smart for me.

The only other person here that lives on a sailboat is Steve, which is kind of funny because he is also a genius. But his genius lies with computers. He writes code and all that good stuff. He’s kind of weird. Before coming here, he lived “on the hook.” That means he lived anchored offshore. No running water, no electricity, and to do anything, he had to row into shore. Did I mention that he did fourteen years of that shit? However, he had set up solar panels to run his computer.

He and James are always out on the dock talking about genius shit. They’re the only ones who can understand what they’re saying. The rest of us (mostly me) just have a dumb look on our faces as they yak away.

Louie used to play bass for Ted Nugent and other bands. When I first moved in here, people up at the Tiki Hut would mention Louie in passing. Finally I had to ask, “Who the hell is Louie?”

“He lives here on a boat, but he doesn’t mingle that much.”

I’ll say he didn’t. At that time, I had been at the marina for about a year and I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of anyone called Louie. That was then, this is now. Louie and I have become good friends and sometimes, in the evenings, we’ll kick back and have a beer or two and shoot the shit. Louie’s a good sport. He’ll let me go on for hour after hour telling him what a genius writer I am. And he’s a good actor too. He actually makes me believe that he gives a damn. I like Louie.

Brian is a newcomer. He’s been here about three months and seems like a decent bloke. I say bloke because Brian has lived all over the world, the last place being England. Funny story, that.

A friend had asked him to house sit. “You can live rent free,” said, said friend.

“Sounds good,” said Brian.

There was only one problem. The house contained three hundred pounds of cocaine.

When the cops came, they didn’t want to hear that he was only house sitting for a friend. “If that’s true, give us the name of your friend,” the cops reasonably asked.

Long story short: Brian would not give up his friend and was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. He did three years in solitary before he was remanded to the United States to complete his sentence. I reckon you could say that Brian is a standup guy.

David and Peggy are friends of mine; they live on the other side of the marina. I don’t see them as often as I’d like to because they’re always busy doing silly things like working for a living. They’re from New York and I met them shortly after they arrived. They weren’t here a week before the whole family had jobs. By “whole family,” I mean them and their two children.

They invite me over for dinner once in a while. Peggy is a great cook and so is Dave. I was there last night, and Peggy outdid herself with a shepherd’s pie. She made it because of my Irish heritage and because it was a going-away dinner they threw for me. They are really nice people. I’d love to run off with Peggy, but David would beat the shit outta me if I did. He’s a big guy and I only fuck with him when I’ve been drinking.

Pete and Nilza live next to David and Peggy. They are also a married couple. Nilza is Puerto Rican and Pete is Alabamian. How those two hooked up, I’ll never know.

At Thanksgiving they invited me over. Not just me, but some other people from the marina. I’ve got to say right here and now, that was the best damn Thanksgiving dinner I have ever had. They had turkey, they had ham. They had eighteen or nineteen side dishes. They had three kinds of pie for dessert. When it was time for me to leave, Nilza made me a to-go plate. It was so heavy that I needed help getting it home. And to show you what a good heart she has (Pete not so much), when I asked her if I could take a plate for one of our fellow boat dwellers that was down on his luck (broke), she made me a plate for him that rivaled mine. I was a little jealous.

Just to show you how things work around here, Pete had a boat that he lived on. When he got another boat, he sold the old one to Bart. When Bart died, his next-of-kin didn’t want it and signed it over to the marina. They, in turn, gave it to Louie who at the time was living in a warehouse and taking cold showers from a hose. Louie, now that he is rich and affluent, bought a new, bigger boat and sold his old one to Captain Trash.

Captain Trash is called Captain Trash because he has a business that hauls trash. He leaves trailers on people’s property, they fill them at their leisure, and then he comes back and hauls them to the dump. He makes a pretty good living doing that. I like him because he is always buying me six packs of Heineken.

I’ve mentioned the Tiki Hut throughout this narrative. But the Tiki Hut would not be the Tiki Hut if not for the Rodrigues, Mike and Ximena (pronounced HE-MAN-NA for you neophytes).

Before Mike and Ximena moved in, we liked the Tiki Hut the way it was. We had a few crappy Christmas lights hanging around and we thought that was so cool. We had a refrigerator that did not work—only the freezer worked. And the grill situation was really sad.

Ximena took one look at our pitiful situation and said, “Whoa!”

The next thing we knew there were strings and strings of new lights hanging from the rafters. A new refrigerator magically appeared. There were new grills and deep fryers and the place was clean. Ximena had taken a pressure washer to it.

As all this was going on, I was a little put out. I had grown used to our crappy Tiki Hut. How dare this woman tinker with our Tiki Hut! I thought.

But now I’ve got to admit, I like our new Tiki Hut better. As I write these words, Ximena is out there staining wood at the Tiki Hut. No shit. God bless her.

Ximena does her thing and Mike does his thing. He is our master chef (along with the aforementioned Jay).

Mike is a professional. Every goddamn thing he cooks comes out done to perfection. Well … there is one area where I have a beef (pun intended) with him. He does not know how to cook hamburgers. He doesn’t burn the hell out of ’em like he should. They must be well-done. Everyone knows that.

Every time there are hamburgers on the grill, I have to go toe-to-toe with Mike. Like two fighters in the ring, we circle each other. I’m looking to land a figurative punch and Mike is trying to defend himself from my heathen (in his mind) onslaught. Sometimes, I’ll be awarded a TKO and get a hamburger with no pink in it. At other times, I must retire to my corner in defeat—eating around the pink and giving what is left to the cats.

I’ve mentioned Crabby Mike before. He’s a real character. There are a lot of stories I could relate about Mike, but I’ve got a special one I think you’ll like. He tells this story all the time and, in some perverse way, he seems rather proud of it.

Mike had this “friend.” She would come over on occasion and they’d have sex and that was it. No love involved. She had something Mike wanted and he had something she wanted—weed.

Well, as the legend goes, one sleepy, dark night, the “friend” came to visit. She brought a bottle of rum and herself as presents for Mike. He poured a healthy portion of rum into his glass. She was only drinking water that night. Mike rolled a few joints and sat back, sipping his rum with a big smile on his face. He was going to get laid.

But things didn’t quite work out for Mike on that sleepy, dark night. He started getting sleepy and his vision was turning dark. The next thing he knew, it was morning and the goddamn birds were chirping right outside his boat. He had a massive hangover. His head was pounding. He wished those damn birds would just shut the fuck up. He looked over to see if his lady love was still there, but she had gone.

He got out of bed, thinking a swig of rum might make the headache less headachy. But funny thing, the bottle was gone. Then he started looking around. His cell phone was missing, along with his wallet containing $300.00 in cash and his credit cards. By then Mike was fully awake and his headache was forgotten. He rushed to his stash place. It was empty. The $1,000.00 he had made the previous day from selling crabs was gone. Damn!

Now here’s the weird stuff. She also took the glasses they had been drinking out of, a fancy cigarette lighter, all his weed, and … the garbage. Mike swears she took the garbage because of trace amounts of DNA lying in that plastic bag that might have identified her. And she took the glasses because of fingerprints, and the same for the bottle.

He doesn’t seem to understand that all she had to do was wipe down the glasses. She took those items because she wanted them. The rum was probably drugged, so that’s why she took the bottle. And as for DNA, no one is going to run a DNA test for a simple robbery. Rape and murder, yes. But not for robbery. Why she took the garbage is anyone’s guess. I can’t come up with a credible hypothesis.

Here’s the kicker. A year later, the thief shows up where Mike is selling his crabs. She buys a bag and Mike doesn’t recognize her until she’s about to walk away. “You piece of shit! How dare you show up here? Blah, blah, blah.”

“I’m different now, Mike. I’m clean … blah, blah, blah.”

“Get out of here and don’t ever come back!”

Everyone at the marina thinks Mike has learned his lesson. But I know better.

I’ve saved the best for last: Captain Ellis. Ellis hails from New England … Gloucester in particular. He was famous for his fishing acumen. If you’ve ever seen that show, Wicked Tuna, you’ll get a feel for what Ellis did, but he did it so much better than those guys.

When he was fourteen, he went out and landed a 750-pound bluefin tuna, using only a hand line. A few years later, his charter boat, the Cape Ann, was the most sought after boat for going out and capturing the bluefin. He set a record that hasn’t been beaten to this day. He has been written up in Sports Illustrated and, at the height of his career, he closed down shop and moved to Fort Lauderdale where he set new records, but this time in a different profession. Let me just say this: The guy’s life has been so over the top and interesting that I’m writing a book about him. I’ve got seven chapters done so far.

That’s it. Those are the people of Banyan Bay. I’ve left out all the embarrassing stuff. That will be in a second volume that I’ll sell to certain individuals (and you know who you are) so it won’t be published for broad consumption.

Two things come to mind as I wrap up this piece. One, I sure got fed a lot! And second, how the hell do I know so much about everybody? I try to keep to myself, but I must be doing something wrong.

As I start out on my new adventure, I am damn glad that I have gotten to know all the people mentioned above. They sure have enriched my life.


More Ellis

Remember, this is all true.

Chapter Six

“Hello. Is this Ellis Hodgkins?”

“Who wants to know?”

“My name is Dan Levin. I’m a writer for Sports Illustrated.”

“Sure you are.”

“Seriously. We would like to feature you in an upcoming issue.”

“Why in hell would you want to do that?”

“Word has come to us about your prowess when hunting the bluefin tuna. We’re planning an article about the demise of the fishing grounds and seeing as how you were the one who kind of got the whole thing started, my editor and I thought you’d be the person to talk to. It’s as simple as that.”

“How did you hear about me?”

“We have a mutual friend by the name of Myron Birch. He’s been telling me about the legend of Captain Ellis for a while now. I finally did a little research into you, and lo and behold, he wasn’t shitting me. So what do you say? You wanna be written up in a big-time magazine?”

“I’ll have to think on it. Give me your phone number and I’ll call you back.”

Ellis was pretty sure the phone call was a put-up job instigated by one of his friends. However, the number did have a New York City area code. He called back later that day and was a bit surprised when a professional-sounding woman answered. “Time, Inc. How may I direct your call?”

“I’d like to speak with Dan Levin.”

“Yes, sir.”

A moment later, Ellis was speaking to Levin, “I guess you’re legit. How do you want to do this?”

Three weeks later, Levin and a photographer from Sports Illustrated met with Ellis at the Cape Ann Marina.

Levin spoke first. “Mr. Hodgkins, this is Peter Balasko. He’s my photographer. The plan is that we will follow you around for a week. I’ll be asking you questions and Pete will be taking pictures. How does that sound to you?”

Ellis had one question he needed answered before things went any further. “Who’s picking up the bar tab tonight?”

“We’re on an expense account, Mr. Hodgkins. Wherever you go for the next week is on us.”

Ellis smiled and said, “So what do you want to know?”

“We’re here to learn about you and bluefin tuna fishing. While researching you, I came across an article written in the Gloucester Times. It was about the time when you were fourteen and you caught a 750-pound tuna with a hand line. Why don’t you tell me about that and then we’ll progress from there.”

“I had forgotten all about that.”

“You forgot that you landed a 750 pound tuna?”

“No … I forgot about it being written up in the newspaper.”

So, the men from New York stayed a week in Gloucester. Besides interviewing Ellis and people who knew him, at night they would follow Ellis to his favorite haunts and sit at a nearby table listening in on the talk of the Cape Ann fisherman and his friends. They never overtly intruded into his life, and for that Ellis was grateful. For his part, he never took advantage of the Sports Illustrated purse. Even though they picked up the tab everywhere he went that week, Ellis was restrained in his ordering. He bought a round for the house only once.

Levin gathered what information he could and Balasko took pictures he deemed appropriate for the article. Two months later, it appeared in the November 18th, 1974 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine.

The lead sentence read as follows: Ellis Hodgkins stands in his doorway, huddled against the wind, squinting out to sea with his one good eye.

When the article came out, everyone in town loved it and hailed Ellis as a hero—everyone, that is, except his mother. She did not like the fact that it mentioned he had only one good eye.

“Why did you let them write that about your bad eye?” inquired his mother.

“I had no say in it. And besides, who cares?” answered Ellis.

That was Ellis. He had one rule that he lived by. It was a simple rule. He never broke it and he never strayed from its fundamental precept. To quote Ellis, “Who gives a fuck?” Or as stated in his high school year book: The Boy Least Likely to Give a Good Gosh Darn. It was 1953 after all. That was as explicit as they could get.

One thing all the Sports Illustrated hoopla brought home to bear, at least for Ellis, was the fact that the days of catching bluefin tuna—at least in the way he had done it—were over. The article made note that Ellis’ charters had gone from one hundred eighty-two catches of bluefin in one season to thirteen within a three-year span. It was time to move on.

He put his boat up for sale and informed the owner of the Volkswagen dealership that he was leaving town. It was nothing personal, but he was looking for new horizons. And besides, he had grown tired of the car business. He gave a two-month notice. His last day would be July 4th.

Ellis was an employee any boss would want to keep around. He had once suggested that the dealership should stay open on Christmas Eve.

“Maybe we can sell a car or two.”

“I can’t get any of the salesmen to stay here on Christmas Eve,” replied the owner.

“No need to. I’ll do it. You never know. Maybe someone will want to buy a car for a last-minute Christmas gift.”

Shaking his head at the dedication of his employee, the owner said, “Forget it, Ellis.”

A little while later, when Ellis started to get restless and make noises like he might be ready to move on to another profession, the owner handed him a blank check and told him to go get himself a boat. Ellis had sold the Cape Ann the previous fall.

“Go and do a little fishing and then come back.”

“How much do I spend?”

“Just get a boat that you like, catch yourself some damn fish, and then come back here and sell some cars for me.”

Now, two years later, here was Ellis announcing he was definitely leaving, the owner didn’t think anyone being paid as much as Ellis was would ever give up that kind of money. For the next sixty days, every time he saw Ellis, he would say, “You’re not leaving.” And every time Ellis would respond, “Yes, I am.”

On July 3rd, his boss observed him packing up his things and said to Ellis in a resigned voice, “I guess you are leaving.”

“I guess I am,” responded Ellis.

In the hopes that he would return, the dealership sent him a paycheck every week for one year and they kept him on their insurance program for the same amount of time. Ellis would call his ex-boss periodically and implore him to stop sending the checks. However, they kept coming every week for fifty-two weeks straight. Even long after Ellis had moved far from Gloucester.

His many friends and acquaintances threw him a going-away party, the likes of which were seldom seen in that neck of the woods. It was a massive affair—standing room only. Half the town showed up. Two days later, he packed up his conversion van and his current lady friend, Karla, and headed south.

Act II of Ellis Hodgkins’ life is about to commence.

Chapter Seven

His village sits at the mouth of the Touloukaera River. Touloukaera means life giving in the Tequesta language. Aichi is awake early this morn. It is still dark as he paddles his canoe across the short expanse of water that leads to the barrier island to the east.

Today he will build three fires on the beach for the purpose of giving thanks to Tamosi, The Ancient One—the God of his people. The fires must be lit before the dawn arrives. It has been a bountiful season. The men have caught many fish and killed many deer. The women of his village gathered enough palmetto berries, palm nuts, and coco plums to last until next season. There is an abundance of coontie root for the making of flour. Tomosi has been good to his people.

Tonight, the entire village will honor Tomosi. But this morning, Aichi will honor Him in a solitary way. Because tonight, at the celebration, he will wed Aloi, the most beautiful woman in the village. It took many seasons to win her heart, and now he must acknowledge Tomosi’s role in having Aloi fall in love with him.

He builds three fires to represent man’s three souls—the eyes, the shadow, and the reflection. When the fires are burning bright and the flames are leaping into the cool morning air in an effort to reach Tomosi, Aichi will face the ocean. With the fires behind him, he’ll kneel on the fine white sand and lower his head until his forehead meets the earth. He will then start to pray and will continue with his prayers until the sun rises out of the eastern sea. At that time, he will ask that he be shown an omen that his prayers have been heard.

The first rays of the awakened sun reflects off the white sand. Aichi raises his head and there before him is the sign Tomosi has sent him. Not a mile away, floating on the calm, blue ocean are three canoes of great size. He can see men walking on what looks like huts. He knows they are sent from Tomosi because they each have squares of white fluttering in the light breeze. White denotes The Ancient One. And if that were not enough, no men paddle the massive canoes. They are moving under their own power, traveling north to the land where Tomosi lives. The men upon those canoes must not be men at all. They are the souls of the dead being taken to the heaven of the righteous.

Aichi leaps to his feet and runs along the shoreline trying to keep abreast of the canoes. But in time, he falls behind and soon they drop below the horizon. What a wondrous day this is. He has communed with his god and tonight he will wed Aloi. With joy in his heart, Aichi runs back to his canoe. He must tell the people of his village what he has seen.

What Aichi has seen are not spirit canoes. They are three ships from the fleet commanded by Juan Ponce de León. He is sailing along the coast of a peninsular he has named Florido which means “full of flowers.” He is in search of gold to bring back to his king. He has also heard from the Indians to the south that somewhere to the north lies a spring of clear water that if one drinks from it, one would have eternal youth. To bring a cask of that water back to Spain would make him a rich man indeed. The year is 1513 A.D.

Aichi and Aloi produce many children and grandchildren. But to no avail. The coming of the Spaniards has decimated the Tequesta. Most have died of the diseases brought by the white man. Others were captured and sold into slavery. By the year 1750, the village by the river that celebrated Tomosi’s largess in the year 1513 is abandoned and overgrown with plant life.

In the spring of 1788, the Spanish drive the Creek and Oconee Indians south to the land once populated by the Tequesta. The Spanish refer to the bands of Indians as Cimarrons, which means Wild Ones. The Americans to the north bastardize the name and call the Indians, Seminoles.

In 1789, a band of Seminoles, tired of running from the Spanish, inhabit the place on the river where the Tequesta once lived. They name the river, Himmarasee, meaning “New Water.” They live in relative peace for twenty-seven years. But at the outbreak of The First Seminole War, the Seminoles move their village farther west and into the Everglades to keep out of the white man’s reach.

In 1821, Spain cedes Florida to the United States, and the Americans begin surveying and mapping their new territory. Over time, the shifting sands of the barrier island caused the mouth of the river to empty into the Atlantic Ocean at different points along the coast. As the coastline was periodically charted, the surveyors—not understanding the effects of the shifting sand on the river’s behavior—thought that the various entry points were “new” rivers; hence, each time the land was surveyed, the map makers would make the notation “new river” on the updated chart.

The 1830 census lists seventy people living in and around the “New River Settlement.”

In the year 1838, at the beginning of The Second Seminole War, Major William Lauderdale and his Tennessee Volunteers are ordered to build a stockade to protect the settlers along what has become known as The New River. He selects a location of firm and level ground at the mouth of the river where once the Tequesta and Seminoles had built their villages.

The fort is decommissioned after only a few months. Two months later, the Seminoles burn it to the ground. The fort is now gone, but the name remains.

There are no roads into Fort Lauderdale until 1892, when a single road linking Miami to the south and Lantana to the north is cut out of the mangroves. In 1911, Fort Lauderdale is incorporated into a city.

During the 1920s, there is a land boom in South Florida. Everybody and his brother is buying land. When the most desired land runs out, developers make acres of new land by dredging the waterways and using the sand and silt thus obtained to make islands where future houses will one day stand.

Because of its natural geography and the dredging that went on in the ’20s, Fort Lauderdale has become known as the American Venice. There are countless canals, both large and small. Most houses on those canals have a boat tied up behind it. And many of those who do not live on a canal have boats sitting in marinas or sitting on a trailer in their backyards.

In 1974, twelve percent of the population of Broward County, in which Fort Lauderdale lies, make a direct living off the boating industry. Another twenty percent benefit indirectly.

Into this world Ellis Hodgkins descends … trailing Karla in his wake.




Zoe Shares Her Space…

My kind of poetry.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Dear friends, I hope you don’t mind, but my human, Emily, apparently needs some attention. She asked if she could take my spot this month to show off share something she wrote recently. I thought, Yeah, why not? I can use a break. So, I’m sharing my space so she can share her poem. And, without further ado, here it is. Now excuse me . . . I’m going to go chill out in my condo.

Unjust Desserts

Sitting cross-legged on a concrete bench

Taking in the action just beyond the fence

He watches the bustle, pinstripes abound

And children playing, they fall on the ground

Miniskirts taunt him, smiles on a face

Tease him with heels and a hint of lace

No girl in his corner, no warm memories

Of deep secret kisses or silky panties

He wants to be cool, he wants to take part

Something is hurting…

View original post 135 more words

The Saga of Ellis Continues

Note: This is all true.

Chapter Four

In the year of our Lord, 1700, it’s a gentle breeze that pushes the small sailing ship southwest, towards the northern coast of Cape Ann. The master and owner of the ship is John Lane who, together with his wife and children, is coming from Falmouth, Maine, after being run out by Indians during the First Indian War. It is a new century and a new beginning for the Lane family.

As the ship approaches land, John sees the dense forests he had been told about. His plan is to first clear a parcel in which to build their house. Then he and his sons will fell trees and sell the wood for the making of ships. There certainly is no shortage of raw material.

The ship anchors ten miles north of Gloucester Town, off Flatstone Cove. John and his eldest son, James, row a small dory to the shoreline. There is no beach, no soft white sand to set foot upon. The coast, as is the entire island, is made of granite. There is a small hill overlooking the cove, and it is there that Lane decides to build his house. The family will live onboard the boat until the house is inhabitable.

By 1704, John Lane had been given a grant of ten acres in and around the cove. It has been four years since the Lane family set foot upon the rocky shoreline. There were six children in the Lane clan when they landed, now there are nine. Before they are finished, John and his wife, Dorcas, will have brought a total of twelve new souls into the world. Not all of them will make it to adulthood, but enough of them do so. The land is eventually named Lanesville. And, in time, Flatstone Cove becomes known as Lane’s Cove. So it went, generation after generation of Lanes populating the northern region of the island known as Cape Ann.

• • • •

The year is 1974. The place: Cape Ann Marina.

Ellis and Wayne have just come in from a day of tuna fishing. The men who had charted the Cape Ann for the day are a happy lot. They got themselves a tuna—almost 800 pounds. By now, the Japanese had discovered the tuna-rich fishing grounds off Gloucester. And any fish they could not catch themselves, they bought from the local fishermen. The price had risen from the three cents of Ellis’ youth to six dollars per pound. There’s a lot of sushi sold in Japan.

After having taken numerous pictures with their prize, Ellis’ customers gave him the tuna, as a tip, to dispose of as he saw fit. He sold it to a Japanese buyer for $4,800.00—without having to leave the dock. He split the cash with Wayne and he headed over to the bar.

Everybody in Gloucester knew Ellis, and that included all the people in the bar that evening. It took him a few minutes to respond to all the salutations he received as he walked through the door. It was a big room and he had to make the rounds, shaking hands with the men and winking at the women. Luckily, the barmaid knew his poison, and it was waiting for him when he finally sat down on the barstool.

He sipped his drink slowly. It was early and he was wound up from the day’s adventures. He thought he’d have one more drink and then order dinner. After that, he’d see how things panned out. It had been a good day. And with money in his pocket and a gleam in his eye, he was looking to make it a good night as well.

As Ellis sat on his stool contemplating his drink and looking in the mirror behind the bar, a vision of loveliness caught his eye. She had legs that just would not quit. Her hair was auburn, her eyes green, and her smile brought joy to the hearts of men. She was a direct descendant of John Lane.

“Who’s that girl?” he asked the barmaid.

“She’s the new waitress.”

“Why haven’t I seen her before?”

“Probably because she’s the new waitress,” came the sarcastic reply.

“You know what I mean. I know every female on this island between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five and I’ve never seen her before. What’s her name?”

“It’s Laura … something. Wait. Now I remember—it’s Laura Lane.”

“Where is she from?”

“Jeeze, Ellis. You want her phone number and bra size too? I was just introduced to her when I came on shift. You can do your own dirty work. I got drinks to serve.”

The young barmaid walked away in a huff. Probably because she was an ex-lover of the man who was asking all the questions about another woman.

Ellis moved to the end of the bar, to the serving area where the waitresses picked up their drink orders. It was a safe bet he’d be able to get in a few words while the beauty was waiting for her orders to be filled.

He let her come and go twice before he said anything. He was letting the line run out. On her third trip back, after she had just placed an order for two vodka martinis on the rocks and a draft beer, Ellis tried to set the hook.

“Hi. My name’s Ellis. I’ve been watching you and I gotta say that you are sensational. I’m not trying to hit on you or anything. I just want you to know that I think you are beautiful.”

The girl smiled, and her eyes grew wide. “I know who you are. Everybody knows who you are.”

Ellis thought, This is going to be easy. But before he could go on with his spiel, the girl continued. “And everyone knows that you are the horniest hound dog around. You’ve bedded three of my girlfriends that I know of, but … I must admit … they all speak quite highly of you. And that’s amazing, seeing as how you dumped each of them after a few romps in the sack.”

Just then her order was placed before her. She put the drinks on a small tray and departed without saying another word.

The hook had not been fully set.

Well, it might not be that easy, thought Ellis. But it may be a lot of fun trying.

When she came back, Ellis asked, “Wanna have dinner with me some night?”

In spite of herself, Laura was attracted to the smiling man who looked straight into her eyes. After she gave her drink order to the barmaid, she said, “If dinner is all you have in mind, then I see no reason to decline your kind offer.”

“That’s great. When is your next night off?”

“I’m off Mondays and Tuesdays. Take your pick.”

“I think Mondays are the best day of the week to sit down to dinner with a beautiful woman.”

Laura blushed at the compliment. She wrote her phone number on a bar napkin and handed it to Ellis. “Call me Monday afternoon to confirm. For all I know, you’ll be entangled with some other woman by then.”

With a light laugh, Ellis replied, “Don’t worry. I’ll fit you in somehow.”

Laura rolled her eyes and said, “I would appreciate that considerably,” before leaving with her drink order.

Monday finally rolled around, and Ellis, after having called to ascertain the address and confirm that he was still looking forward to seeing her, was at Laura’s apartment at eight on the dot.

Ellis held the car door open for her. As she slid in, he once again appreciated her long legs. He took her to a small and intimate place on Rogers Street, owned by a friend of his. Out back there was an enclosed garden with one table—“Ellis’ Table.” When Ellis walked through the door with Laura, the proprietor welcomed him as a long-lost friend and escorted them to Ellis’ private dining room.

It was a warm summer night and the scent of flowers filled the air. Colorful Japanese lanterns adorned the walls of the garden and soft music emanated from unseen speakers. No menus were presented, only a bottle of crisp, dry white wine.

While the waiter uncorked the bottle, Ellis said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I called ahead and ordered our dinner. And I hope you like white wine. I’m not big on the red stuff. But you can have whatever you’d like.”

“No, white is fine. What’s for dinner?”

“Why not be surprised?”

Laura consented to be surprised and shyly sipped her wine.

“Okay. Now that we have that out of the way, tell me about yourself.”

Ellis had downed his wine in two gulps. He was a little nervous. He raised the wine bottle out of the ice bucket and refilled his glass.

Looking at Ellis from over the rim of her wine glass, Laura countered, “Most men like to talk about themselves. Why don’t you go first?”

“You’ve already told me that you knew all about me. I’m the horny hound dog, remember? So, I’d like to know a little something about you. For instance, how long have you lived in Gloucester? Where do you come from? And how did you get to be so goddamn beautiful?”

Laura put her glass down and thought for a moment before answering.

This guy’s on the make alright. This place would soften up any woman. Stay on your toes, Laura girl. He’s just asking about you to put you off your guard. I have to admit, he’s done everything right so far. But just remember that he only wants to get into your pants. Enjoy the meal, enjoy your night out, and then have him drive you straight home. No going over to his place for a nightcap.

“Well, Ellis, I’ve only lived in this part of Gloucester for a few weeks now. But I was born on the island. In fact, my family has been on Gloucester since the year 1700. You ever been up to Lanesville?”

“Many times.”

“That’s where I’m from.”

“Why haven’t I ever seen you before?”

“Probably because you don’t hang out at high schools all that much. You’re about ten years older than I am. When I was in school you were down here doing your fishing … for both tuna—and the way I hear it—women. When I graduated high school, I went off to college. I’m home for the summer now, but there’s no work up in Lanesville or the vicinity. I thought it would be cool to go to Gloucester and get a job. I didn’t want to commute, so I got myself an apartment down here. It’s small but cozy. There you have it. My whole life story.”

Ellis refilled her glass and said, “Not quite.”

“What do you mean?”

“You haven’t told me how you got to be so goddamn beautiful.”

Laura laughed and said, “You’re too much, Ellis.” Ellis tilted his wine glass toward her in a silent toast and said, “I try to be.” Then they talked about this and they talked about that. Small talk mostly, until dinner was served. During dinner, Ellis confessed that his family had also settled in the area during the 1700s. “But a little later than yours. I think it was about 1750 or thereabouts.”

They lingered over dinner, enjoying the food, the company, and the conversation.

On the way back to Laura’s apartment, Ellis was talkative, but did not mention stopping by his apartment for a nightcap or anything else of that sort. He asked questions about her family history and seemed genuinely interested in her answers. At her place, he again opened the car door for her and escorted her to her apartment.

Here it comes, she thought. He’s going to ask to come in “for just a little while.”

However, he did no such thing. Instead, he held out his hand and shook hers, saying, “I’ve had a wonderful evening, Laura, and I’ve enjoyed your company. Goodnight.”

With a perplexed look on her face, Laura watched Ellis’ retreating figure as he descended the stairs.

He didn’t even try to kiss me goodnight. Maybe I was wrong about him. Either that or he didn’t like me.

She got out her key and let herself into the apartment. After making sure the door was locked, she leaned against it and was stunned to realize she was a little disappointed that Ellis had not made a move on her.

Chapter Five

Five days went by before Laura heard from Ellis again. It was over the phone that he asked her, “Tomorrow is Monday and I was wondering if you’d like to shoot a little pool?”

Laura smiled into the phone before answering. He’s interested in me after all.

“I don’t know how to play pool.”

“Neither do I. So don’t worry about it. There’s an Irish pub right down the block from you. Perhaps you’ve seen the green and white sign. The name’s Mulroney’s.”

“I’ve seen the sign, but I’ve never been in there.”

“They also have dartboards and they make the best hamburgers in town. If you’re free, I thought we could meet there about sevenish. We could play a few racks and throw a few darts while drinking draft Guinness. Then we’ll have us some hamburgers and call it an early night. I’ve got a charter Tuesday morning.”

“Sounds like it might be fun. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

They met at the prescribed time, played the aforementioned games, and consumed said beer and burgers. In the course of the evening, they got to know one another on a slightly deeper level. Even though things were lighthearted, or maybe because no one was trying to impress anyone, they let their true selves show through. And they both liked what they saw.

Ellis was quiet as he walked Laura back to her place. He hadn’t meant to feel this way. At first he was just out to bed a beautiful woman. And that was all. But a monkey wrench had been thrown into the mix. She had turned out to be more than a set of long legs and a pretty face.

She’s smart and fun to be around and so much more. This one, Ellis old buddy, you’ve got to treat a little differently. You’ve got to show a little respect.

“What are you thinking about, Ellis?”

“I was just thinking. Seeing as how you’ve got the day off, I was wondering if you’d like to come over to my place tomorrow night and have dinner. I haven’t told you before, but I’m a gourmet cook. I’ll dazzle you with my cooking.”

If it had not been for the first two dates with Ellis where he behaved as a perfect gentleman, Laura would have declined the invitation. But now … she wasn’t so sure she would mind Ellis getting into her pants.

“Sounds like fun. What time?”

“We dine at eight. I live on T Wharf over in Rockport. There’s a long staircase on the outside of the building going up to my place. You can’t miss it. But if you do, just ask anyone to point the way to Captain Ellis. You’ll find me.”

At her door, Ellis did not ask to come in … or shake her hand. He leaned into her and gave her a kiss on the cheek and then he was gone.

Ellis had some work to do before the next night. Rockport was a dry town. That meant no bars, no liquor stores, no nothing. Hence, his apartment became the de facto place to hang out at night. There was always a crowd. The young guys came to have a few drinks and watch the Celtics or Bruins play. Or if the season was right, the Boston Patriots. The young girls came because that’s where the boys were. There was a party happening every night up in his apartment, regardless if Ellis was there or not.

He passed the word around that his apartment was off limits for one night. If anyone felt the need to hang out, they could drive down to Gloucester. It was only ten minutes away.

Laura showed up a few minutes after eight. Ellis met her at the door with his signature smile. “Please come in. Did you have any trouble finding me?”

“Nope. You’re right where you said you’d be.”

He sat her on the couch and said, “I’ll be right back.”

He came back holding two glasses of wine, one of which he held out to Laura.

“Thank you,” she said.

Ellis sat down on the couch, but not right next to Laura. He sat at the other end so that he could turn sideways and look at her as they spoke.

They sipped their wine in silence for a few minutes, and then Laura asked, “What’s for dinner?”

“I want to surprise you again.”

“Do you need any help?”

“No, thank you. I’ve got it covered.”

Laura looked around the apartment, and just for something to say, remarked, “Nice place you’ve got here.”

“Yeah. I had to pay one of the neighborhood girls to clean it while I was out fishing today. I didn’t want you to see me in my natural habitat.”

She laughed nervously. She was feeling differently toward Ellis. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. But then it dawned on her. What if he doesn’t make a pass at me tonight? How am I’m going to feel about that?

Being the straightforward type, she decided to get it out in the open before dinner. She could deal with whatever the answer was, but she wanted it out of the way before she ate or else the food would lay heavy in her stomach. No matter how good it was.

She steeled herself, took a deep swallow of wine and then blurted out, “What’s the matter with me?”

Ellis was taken aback. “As far as I can see, nothing.”

“I mean, why haven’t you tried to talk me out of my clothes?”

“Do you want me to talk you out of your clothes?”

“Yes. I mean, no! But it would help my ego if you’d at least try.”

Ellis smiled a crooked smile and put his wine glass down on the coffee table. He moved over and took the glass out of her hand and placed it next to his. He touched her cheek with the back of his hand and said, “I’ve held off because you’re special.”

Looking into her bottomless green eyes, he leaned over and softly … gently … kissed her. She responded. All their pent-up inhibitions dissipated as they caressed one another. They were free. Ellis whispered in her ear, “The hell with it.” He stood and scooped her off the couch and carried her to his bedroom. Still holding her in his arms, he kicked the bedroom door closed with his right foot.

Two hours later, when the door next opened, they emerged with contented glows on their faces. Laura sat on the couch while Ellis went to retrieve the bottle of wine. Once their glasses were replenished, Laura inquired, “I suppose your dinner is ruined by now.”

“Not by a longshot.”

Ellis reached for the phone sitting on the coffee table. With the receiver in hand, he dialed a number from memory. “Hello. Tony’s Pizza? This is Captain Ellis. I’d like the large deluxe, the one with everything on it. Of course, with anchovies.”

When he had finished with Tony’s, Ellis lifted his glass toward Laura and said, “Here’s to you, Beautiful.”

“Not so fast, Captain Ellis. Didn’t you promise me a gourmet dinner?”

“I promised you a dinner. I said I was a gourmet cook, but I lied. What are you gonna do about it?”

“This is what.”

Still holding her wine, Laura wrapped her arms around Ellis’ neck—spilling a little wine in the process—and gave him a great big kiss right on the lips.

“What are you going to do about that?” she wanted to know.

“As soon as we get the pizza out of the way, I’ll show you.”

The summer of ’74 was the time that Ellis came the closest to being hooked, reeled in, and put on display. Even though their schedules were different—he worked days, she nights—they spent as much time together as possible.

During the days that Ellis had no charter, he’d take Laura out on the Cape Ann ostensibly to teach her to fish. However, very little fishing was ever attempted. Laura always packed a picnic lunch and Ellis brought a cooler of beer. They would anchor a few miles out and enjoy the warm sun on their bodies, each other, and the vast expanse of blue ocean that lay before them. Those were idyllic days.

A few years back, a woman had spied Ellis walking out of a restaurant and approached him. “Hello. My name is Patty Sullivan and I’m kind of a talent coordinator. Have you ever thought of modeling?”

Ellis grinned and said, “You gotta be kidding me.”

“No, I’m not. I can get you what’s called catalogue work. Most male models are what I call soft-handsome. You have a rugged look about you. You’d be perfect for catalogues that are selling manly items. Like hunting gear, cars, that sort of thing.”

“How much does it pay?”

“By industry standards, not a whole lot. But it’s more than an average Joe makes in a day. Besides, it’s not hard work. All you’ve got to do is stand there and look ruggedly handsome.”

What the hell? It might be fun, thought Ellis. He agreed to give it a shot as long as it didn’t interfere with his charter business.

That’s how Ellis became a model, and modeling is what landed Ellis a spot as an extra in a film starring Liza Minelli and directed by Otto Preminger. The movie was called Tell Me You Love Me, Julie Moon.

When Ellis got the call from Patty asking him if he was interested in playing a man sitting at a table in a restaurant while the stars of the movie cavorted around him, he had two questions: How much does it pay? And can my girl be in it too?

“It pays a little more than you’d get for a day’s modeling. And I’m told the shoot shouldn’t take more than two hours. But it could go on longer. As to your second question, I had to send over your picture to the movie people for their approval. But knowing you, Ellis, I’m sure the girl is a knockout. So I’ll set it up.”

Ellis only agreed to participate because he thought Laura would get a kick out of it. It would give her something interesting to tell her friends about when she went back to college in the fall. Little did he suspect that he would dominate her conversations with her girlfriends when she returned to school.

By happenstance, the part of the movie that Ellis and Laura were to be in was being filmed at The Blacksmith Shop restaurant located right next door to Ellis’ apartment. A crew member seated them at a table on an aisle. They were told to look like they were in a deep conversation as the camera was wheeled past them. The setup was that the camera would go down the aisle and end up taking a shot of the harbor through a big plate glass window at the back of the restaurant.

As people ran around setting up for the shot, making sure the lighting was perfect, that the microphone was set properly, and all the other things that go into making a movie, Ellis noticed that where he was sitting was a little narrower than the rest of the aisle. The camera just wouldn’t fit through the gap. So, Ellis being Ellis, he stood up and moved the table back a foot or two.

Well. You would have thought that he had kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, killed Cock Robin, and any other number of sundry things. Otto Preminger came storming down the aisle, yelling and screaming. “Don’t you dare touch anything! You do nothing unless I tell you!” And on and on he went. He moved the table back to its original position and with a final omniscient glare in Ellis’ direction, stomped off to his director’s chair.

Ellis said nothing. When the tirade was over, he looked across the table at Laura and winked.

Eventually, the camera operator was ready, the sound man was ready, the movie stars were ready, and most importantly, Mr. Otto was ready.

“Action!” yelled the director.

The camera started on its way down the aisle. When it got to Ellis’ table, its movement was halted. It couldn’t fit through the gap between the tables. Ellis shrugged and Laura laughed. Preminger sent the assistant director to move the table back to where Ellis had placed it, and the filming resumed with no further mishaps.

Laura quit her job in late August so she could spend more time with Ellis before she had to go back to college. Ellis thought that was just dandy and whisked her off for a romantic week in Bermuda. While on the island, Laura broached the subject of continuing the relationship while she was away.

They were walking along the beach, holding hands. The water was topaz-blue, the white sand scrunched under their feet, the sunlight warmed the two lovers as Laura began to speak. “This summer has been the best time of my life, Ellis. What do you think? Do you want to keep it going? We can write each other and keep in touch. I’ll be back in just a few months for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe you could come to Lanesville and meet my parents.”

Ellis tightened his grip on her hand. He had a deep affection for the beautiful redhead walking next to him. She was wonderful. She was intelligent, fun to be with, a sensual lover, and best of all, she laughed at his lame jokes as though she really found them funny.

He sighed and told her the truth. “Baby, you are the best. You can have any man you want and I am so flattered that you want to be with me. But I’m not the marrying kind. I like you too much to bullshit you. We’ve had a wonderful summer and I will always remember it. In later years, when you’re surrounded by your children and grandchildren, I’ll have only my memories of this summer … and of you. I’ll never forget you and I’ll always love you. But you have to steer a different course than the one I’m on. To come onboard with me would only break your heart in the long run. Can you understand that?”

Laura looked into Ellis’s eyes and saw the love he had for her. A love that would let her go rather than lie to her. A love that treated her as an equal, a love that was profound and perhaps never ending.

Now it was Laura’s turn to sigh. “When I am surrounded by all those kids and grandkids, and even though my husband will be standing next to me, within my heart there will be a small place for you and this wonderful summer that you have given me.”

When they returned to Gloucester, Laura spent one last night with Ellis. They made slow and sweet love all night long, knowing that it was to be the last time.

The next morning, Laura said her final good-bye to Ellis.

He never saw her again.