Messing About In Boats

“There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as messing about in boats. Simply messing about in boats… or with boats. In or out of `em, it doesn`t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that`s the charm of it.

Whether you get away, or whether you don`t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all – you`re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you`ve done it there`s always something else to do…”

– from The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Today is my last day of work for my uncle`s company… the last day, that is, before my return upon the end of the month.

My time in my uncle`s employ has been both grueling and demanding, but ultimately it has been exceedingly satisfying.

The work requires a full range of talents and faculties, combining brute physical labor with the ability to “troubleshoot” a broad scope of possibilities in surmising the best approach to a given situation.

I would leave each day of work having pushed myself strenuously in body and mind, and eager for what new challenges the next day might bring. Verily, it has been a time of no small contrast.

There were days where my duties required me to work almost entirely with people (either in “public relations” or in managerial-related tasks) and others where I was simply alone on a vessel, with only the demands of a day`s numerous labors to occupy my attention. Some days I would return home glazed in grimy sweat and flushed red from the Summer Sun, and others I would spend in the plush air-conditioned environs of the wealthy and the powerful.

More than the work itself, I think it has been the varied assortment of people with whom I have labored beside that have made much of this experience so fascinating to me; the men of the Docks and Boatyards, some from the far side of the world “down under” and others having scarcely stepped outside of the city limits of Annapolis; some neither speaking nor understanding a single word of English and others that found my supposed “thick Southern twang” difficult to discern when compared to that of their home in the “mother country” of England.

Christopher, the chronic hustler from the crime-ridden ghettos of urban Baltimore, trying to escape the clutches of the gang-banger culture and begin a new life with his wife and stepchildren. In the midst of our labors, he and I have spoken of many things – mostly those pertaining to redemption. Chris is feeling the conviction of his dark past and I have labored to make plain to him the message of the Gospel and the hope of Jesus Christ. Our talks have been greatly beneficial (to the both of us), and I discern the prompting of the Spirit in his thought.

Leonel, the good-natured “family man” from Honduras, who (at only the tender age of twenty-two years) has already bought a house and started a family. Coming from a torrid and politically active family, Leonel strives to live a simple and family-centered life in the United States and lives by II Thessalonians 3:6-12 like few men I have ever known. We get along very well and he has been a tremendous asset in my re-learning of Spanish, as I have been also tutoring him in some of the nuances of English.

Sean, the frenetic and fun-loving Londoner, whose stay in Annapolis is only a short-lived stopover in a Kerouac-tinged globetrotting odyssey. His speech was so florid and his accent so percussive, I oftentimes easier understood the Spanish speakers than Sean`s distinct variety of English.

Cullen, the self-described “surfer bum” originally from Santa Monica who washed out of the Naval Academy and is biding his time (while saving his money) for an eventual return Westward, in the hopes of purveying his golden California looks into an acting career.

Bruce, the wiry sailor from Maine, who lives on a boat with his wife – meandering up and down the East Coast, following the fair winds and the turn of the Seasons. A cantankerous old man of the sea, and an exceedingly hard worker.

Ren (pronounced “ronny”), the amicable but quiet young Argentinean, who is working to help take care of his extended family in rural Formosa and dreams of someday owning a ranch, and having “many” children.

Santos, the burly ol` “country boy” from El Salvador, who easily outworks his much younger counterparts (like myself) and whose giddy rapid-fire Spanish I found the most difficult to understand.

…and others. I could go on and on, describing the manifold anecdotes of a day`s span such that one would think I spent more than three years there… rather than only three weeks.

What started out as a halting and somewhat distrustful relationship, as it seemed some of the other workers resented the apparent nepotism of my being hired into a line of work in which I had neither experience nor prodigious talents therefore, eventually warmed into grudging respect… soon flowering into a near-familial affection of friendship.

However, I think I really began to win them over with my willingness to take on any degree of thankless chore in addition to my utter lack of presumption about being the favorite relative of the company`s owner.

I never sought to trade in on my relationship to my uncle – which paired well with his own integrity about granting me neither special treatment nor favors, and paying me standard scale for an entry-level employee.

Of course, my readiness to re-learn Spanish certainly engendered favor amongst the employees of South and Central American descent. By the end of the first week, I was dubbed El Guapo – which, apparently had something to do with a frequent involuntary habit of mine to rub/dust-off my hands, thus giving me the appearance of being a “dandy” amongst the more gruff and unwashed men of the Docks.

It was explained to me that it was a term of endearment, of which I expressed my thanks for so plebian an honor… and set about creating nicknames for my compadres.

Leonel became Jefe Poco (little Boss) for his passively Napoleonic way of keeping his co-workers on task; Ren became Vaquero (Cowboy) for his stoic demeanor and slightly bowed legs; best friends Jonathan (from Mexico) and Juan (from Columbia) became Mono Loco (Crazy Monkey) and Cholo Loco (Crazy Gangster) respectively, Jonathan for his physical dexterity and Juan for his humorously dubious connection to Columbian drug cartels; Santos became El Toro (The Bull) for his incredible capacity for manual labor, without seeming at all exerted nor distracted… and so on and so forth.

Today, Leonel and several of the others treated me to an extended Luncheon hour, at one of their favorite Cantinas in the “Latino district” of town. Sangria flowed and my tenuous Spanish tightened into a thin cord of fluency.

Mi hermanos toasted me repeatedly in their charecteristic deprecatory humor with such odes as: “El Guapo, his face is hairier than his back!” and “Good luck to El Guapo, he never lets his hands stay dirty!”

Which, if my translation was correct, seemed to have a certain ring of affection in them.


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