Back to the Matter at Hand

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It has been some months since anyone did anything serious about the boat.

My nephew sanded some boards. Someone had a baby. I’ve been fiddling about over the lost title. 

David has been mostly unofficially banned from “my” boat that I am embarrassed by and still helpless to do anything constructive about, and while he has gallantly not made fun of the vessel in front of me, I can tell that he is not exactly fuming but not overly enthusiastic about any eventuality on this boat project. Mostly he is hiking the most breathtaking trails in western Washington while I am working, and, while home, clearly resented the lack of a hammer in his hand to such an extent that he started remodeling our rented rooms in a kind of wind-up to finishing the boat — or in place of it. 

When a couple build a new home, half the time they get a divorce. An architect I know attributes this to the large number of decisions in the building of a house, each one ripe for a disagreement then a quarrel then finally a separation.

It isn’t so much which faucet or whether to have a sun room. Building a house together is such a wrenching ordeal that both parties have to face themselves vis-a-vis the hubris of constructing a new building when any number of reasonable homes can be had on the market for probably less money, and they have to face their relationship and how it functions in many things, including housing.

David Schingeck and I are not a couple building a house. 

But we are not not a couple building a house.

And in our case, these matters had to be faced very early in an accidental relationship, both parties being excellently suited to the vessel in different ways — and there is some kind of archetypal thing in architecture that there is never enough money for the project. You could be building a sand castle and still not have it come in on time and under budget.

All these matters are what we have spent the winter sorting out — and whether to get a cat. 

Winter is not a good time on a boat yard. What boats that are there often have electrical cords running to them to maintain some sort of ambient infrastructure, but there is a lot of water on the pavement. That has always puzzled me. Why aren’t more people dead at the marina?

The companionway door is too long to get into the vessel gracefully, and it shouldn’t be gotten into by a nurse’s aide for inter-shift sleep anyway. It is legal, but it feels like a waste of cabin space, which should only be used for boat refit stuff when it is on the hard. 

This cabin isn't slatternly enough for such a defeated old vessel, but it isn’t scraped clear yet, either. It is hosting moldy cushions that are too down-at-heels to be treated to new Sunbrella covers, but I can’t think of any other thing to do with them. They are in the middle of my office, getting in the way of the undesigned, unbuilt boat desk, yet they will live again. Just not when I am almost on shift.

Someone keeps moving my ladder, and I am starting to consider it an omen-ish statement when it is probably just rude.

Then there is the wind that whips up strangely on the Duwamish. It shouldn’t be so much like an ocean wind, but it is trying to be. The tarp over the fine scaffolding David put up snaps and the wood frame groans and I am afraid the rain is going to come in, which it occasionally does and is cold. There is also the cognitive maladjustment of being in a boat at all. I am always feeling that the whole thing is going to be moving too much if I don’t get the docking lines right — then I wake fully up and remember that I am docked securely by gravity and see the v-berth all around me and am ecstatic to have the boat again.

So there’s all that, and David is not party to much of it, since we now have a storage locker and don’t have to store tools on the boat if we are “not on the same page" about it like any idiots ever.

I didn’t always live in this quaint, quiet old Victorian house in Tacoma. I used to live in a rented room in Renton, near my job, across the hall from a young woman who worked all day and talked on the phone to Nigeria all night. She never got any sleep, and when she caught a cold right at the start of Covid, I lay in my room listening to her hacking cough, that flu of hers worsening and mending and worsening again over weeks’ time, wondering if this was the famous flu I kept hearing about on the NPR that was cranked up night and day, and in the end I just . . . moved.

My original roomie in Tacoma was a journalist based in the Middle East who was stranded abroad for just long enough to decide not to live in this house anymore if he planned to work, so his room came open and I took it and someone else took my room, someone named David who was going through a divorce.

Some people hit a certain point where they announce they are done with civilization and they are going to go live on a boat.

They usually don’t know a damn thing about boats. They don’t know anyone who has a boat or has ever lived on one. They just know they need a boat.

Most of the time the boat thing wears off within six months, but sometimes the person obsesses about boats, digging around and finding out about them, connecting with other people who have boats like theirs, and start the rigamarole of being a boat person. They get the first one. Have it a bit. Then the second. It is almost invariably a move up -- who knows where the money comes from. A boat that is tinkered with is loved, and that causes it to become popular, to have a reputation, a kind of fame, and that is what gets a boat circulating. The buzz. A lot of people have more money than it looks. They just have to decide to give it to you, and you turn around and give it to someone else for the next one. So the boats get more and more spendy, up to the point when there is a need to downsize, and then the boats get smaller and smaller. Perhaps then they finally go away or metamorphose into RVs. 

That is not far from the truth with me. I am a middle-aged writer with every expectation of spending a very long time in somebody else’s house of rented rooms. I always have to work around other people’s business: their stuff, their schedules, their chopping, cutting, and washing, the evacuation of their bowels. I never get to just spread out and be in my own place, however small, and this makes me ornery. I also like to move around a lot, and be in fun places, sometimes out on the water, which I have lived by for twenty years, and sometimes in the trendy downtown night spots so easily frequented by marinas. I could live on a boat and be wholly content. This is what makes me susceptible to boats. 

And the boat I have is a lot like these old houses that know how to be lived in. It is not so high strung you can’t think.

At the same time, this boat is so badly in need of repairs that I have neither the cash, the strength, or the genuine know-how to provide that this old hull is fated to continue the trend of a downward slide until it finally goes under the wrecking ball for the lack of a coat of paint and a battery.

Then along comes my housemate David, a builder. 

We started out very proper and dating other people or no one at all, while exchanging pleasantries at home. 

I went on one date in the middle of the Covid lockdown, stared at the fellow, and knew I was going to postpone this whole twenty coffee date business until at least I had some decent clothes. 

Until then, it became a routine to sit in the living room with my housemate for hour after hour of van build TV. Once the attraction blossomed into a romance then developed into the ersatz household we now call normal, everyone tip-toed around it in the kindest way because they were all health care workers and knew that while we were behaving oddly for middle-aged adults in a shared house -- this is the West Coast, after all, and nonconfrontation is the rule. 

A storm of household objects materialized around us in coupledom, the prize of which was the building project, which in a supreme compliment to me, happened to be my old boat, restored to me with all the joy and sorrow that she ever brought. First I bit, then I balked, then David hiked the winter in a serious progression of steel-toothed boot attachments, both of us ignoring the boat situation.

Then the dead calm broke and we were underway again. 

It’s been a year now, we have a cat, and it looks like what began as a Hallmark “Meet Cute Now What Do We Do” situation is forming up into that’s how we met.

So we need to get back to the boat, and serenely this time. I am ready to let go of the idea of how this boat would eventually evolve into what I needed, and entertain David’s template of a real boat that gets scraped on and not just slept on, and is finally sailed by a couple. 

© Writer Gal 2021