Thursday, August 28, 2014

Paul


I just had to go into the generator room that contains a roaring diesel. On the way I grabbed my ear protection instinctively. I want to protect my hearing.

I attribute this to having met Paul.

I met Paul in Port Townsend, Washington when I was readying my sailboat, Karen Lee, for the trip back to Kodiak.

He was a little older than I am now, a liveaboard, retired and a real character. He liked sailboats, an occasional grog or three and women between the ages of forty and their late fifties.

This meant we had an awful lot in common as I very seldom bothered with women younger than I was and preferred them a bit older than I was. They tended to have less drama in their lives.

He was energetic, always busy and had a very active lifestyle and social life.

He was also as deaf as a post and as a result had a voice like a fog horn. He had no idea how loud he was talking and when he would try and say something quietly it would often come out audible for 200 yards.

I was slapping on a thick coat of now illegal tin based bottom paint on Karen Lee's hull and Paul came by to check out my progress. I had just replaced a thru-hull fitting and he inspected at and complimented me on the job.

Then he started telling me about one of his recent adventures at sea with some woman he had met somewhere along the line. All was good until he started describing her physical attributes just as a pair of women walked past. They likely would have heard nothing at tha range they were passing by but Paul had a voice like a fog horn.

I think they knew that he was deaf because they smirked as they passed by and heard it all.

I didn't know Paul for more than a few days.He was a character and 
I generally found a couple of them in every boat yard I ever passed through. Still, I have to say he effected my life by teaching me to take damned good of my hearing so I didn't end up like him.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Blaine.


Blaine was a pillar of practical wisdom. As a young man he started a small business to help out after his father died.
Blaine once said that if you gave a man a $50 bill for three days in a row if you didn't give him one on the fourth he would hate you. He was right.
Once I made a comment to him about what a nice outfit a nearby woman had on. Blaine replied that you never think of what the woman was wearing after you get her clothes off.
I couldn't argue with that.
Blaine was the most practical, unflappable logical person I have ever met. He could see through any smoke screen or mirror display and would go straight to the bottom line in his dealings with others.
The one thing Blaine taught me that sticks out the most is that he taught me that to get to the bottom of something all you generally have to do is follow the money, sex or power trail.
He was without a doubt either the most unlucky or the luckiest person I have ever met. He was briefly a room mate of mine when he got caught between places to live. During a three week period he survived a crab boat sinking, a fire at sea, and a three day period of being adrift at sea in an open skiff with no food or water.
After every one of these fearful events he would return to my place late at night griping about the event like it was routine and tell the story in such a way that the pair of us would laugh ourselves to tears. The following morning without a thought Blaine would return to the harbor and look for a fishing job.
After the adrift incident he got on a salmon boat worked all summer without incident and decided his luck was running thin. He returned to New Jersey and sold cars for a while.
He had given me a Zippo lighter he had engraved with an Ernie Gann quote. "Run as fast as you can and escape if you will, for you are the quarry and fate is the hunter."
I kept it for years.
In 1995 I heard that five years earlier he was killed off the Jersey shore in a pleasure boat wreck. It is believed he went down with the boat.
The following year I was running up the coast with a load of #6 oil and when we crossed the area he was killed I returned the lighter to him by casting it into the deep.

Wrongway Bob



Wrongway Bob is one of those characters that I met that had a world class knack of living up to his nickname. I'm not even sure his real name was Bob.

Strangely enough, he'd always seem to land in a pile of warm shit and come out smelling like a rose. A scruffy character, he was supposed to meet me at the Anchor Bar but showed up at the B&B instead.

When I never showed he sat there and waited. Some minor TV celebrity wandered into the bar and offered Bob dinner if he would show her around town and Bob ended up shacking up with her for the entire week she was in town.

She bought Bob a couple of nice outfits and after she left town Bob simply wore the outfits fishing. For a brief period he was the best dressed fisherman in the fleet.

He's here because he constantly made me laugh.

The Doctor once commented that Wrongway Bob could screw up a free lunch by asking for change.

He was killed in a fishing accident the following season and I attended his memorial service that was held at the Anchor Bar.

Stefan



I met Stef when he came to Ketchikan in about '88 to promote his sail loft in the Seattle area. During local yacht club races he hopped on my boat and noticed I hadn't stripped all the extras out to reduce weight like some of the others.

I had just hopped on board with a load of fast foods, beer and ice and sailed over to the starting line. In jest he commented that I was one of the more civil skippers because not only did I have beer but it was on ice.

Needless to say, we hit it off instantly.

He showed me how to hold course and speed at a starting buoy with a simple trick. Another boat was trying to use its size and weight to get me out of their way.

Stef stood up, looked at the other skipper that was 20 feet away and simply pointed to me and said, "This man has a minimum wage job and doesn't have a dime's worth of insurance."

The skipper panicked, quickly changed from his collision course, hit the buoy and had to restart.

Stef had a Baltic 42 sailboat and lived a dream of his own by entering the TransPac back in '89. He took a bunch of wealthier people with him for the race but offered me the chance to accompany him on the return trip from Honolulu to Tacoma.

My sense of humor can be pretty dry. A lot gets missed and during the trip not one single double entendre, hidden comment or smart- assed remark got past him. He didn't miss a thing.

We also shared a watch one night with a period of about 5 hours of confused, shifting winds. When things started getting weird he put a tape of Gregorian chants on the tape deck to add to the surrealism as we steered the boat through several 360 degree turns just to keep the sails filled.

He was an excellent tactician and instead of a straight route from Hawaii to Tacoma he headed well off course to follow a Pacific high pressure area and we wrapped ourselves around the high. This meant we covered an awful lot more miles but at a greater speed and we beat a number of boats back to Puget Sound.

The trip was a celebration of life and one of the most gentlemanly voyages I have ever been on. Every day cocktails (a warm beer) were at five and dinner was at six.  

I remember him not batting an eyelash when we entered the prestigious Honolulu Yacht Club. The doorkeeper asked our names and club affiliations. I told the doorkeeper I was Joseph Hazelwood of the Valdez Yacht Club and told him Stef was Captain Edward Smith of the Cunard Yacht Club.

It went over the head of the doorkeeper and he announced our entry as I had given it to him.

Joe Hazelwood had been the skipper of the Exxon Valdez and Smith had skippered Titanic.

Several members picked up on it and had a pretty good sense of humor. Instead of getting thrown out we were welcomed. The three or four days we were there we never had to pay for a drink and they gave us the run of the place.

My wife and I are planning a trip to the northwest next summer and I went to look up Stef to have dinner with him and found out he died last year. He is one of the damned few of my formative years friends that died a natural death.

Smooth sailing, Stef.

Helen

Around ten or twelve years ago one of my sisters was going through a bunch of my mother's paperwork and found a letter addressed to me. The letter was postmarked in '88 and was unopened.

My mother was pretty good about forwarding my mail to me and it was very much out of character that this letter had been missed. It was from a woman named Helen.

We had met in '86 and the letter said that she thought of me every so often when she saw a sailboat ghost out of port. I admit I misted up a bit.

The circumstances of our meeting were freakish. I was doing what was sometimes referred to as the Dogshit Dance.

I was going up the plank from the docks to the shore having tied up at the city dock. At the top I wasn't paying attention and stepped in a fresh pile of doggie poo. I was standing in a nearby patch of grass shuffling my right shoe scraping off as much of it as I could. I was clearly annoyed.

When I looked up I saw her looking amused. She'd seen the whole thing. She was a several years older than I was but quite an eyeful and dressed very professionally which is damned rare in a southeast Alaska town.

I didn't know what to say so I let my wry sense of humor take control.

"Buy you a drink?" I asked.

She laughed, a deep laugh from down within and said she would buy me one because I obviously could use it.

I took her up on her offer.

Over the drink I said, "Look, I know I'm obviously out of your league but I'll take you for an evening sail after you get off of work."

She replied with some indignation in her voice, "I'll decide who is 'in my league' or not. I'll be by at six and I'm bringing dinner."

I went back to the boat and turned it stern facing the dock and took a greased pencil and drew an X through the name, Karen Lee. Beneath it I wrote 'Helen' and left the boat that way. A dab of kerosene on a rag and I could change it back in an instant. I wanted to see if she had a sense of humor.

When she arrived she saw it, laughed and called me a scoundrel.
For the next three or four days we hung out together and did things. 

We went to a hot spring and soaked one afternoon she wasn't busy. 

We both knew I was leaving and one night when we parted company I told her I was leaving at first light.

The following morning Karen Lee ghosted from her slip. The sails filled with the light morning breeze and my eye caught motion ashore. It was Helen waving.

She had gotten up in the darkness to see me off. I waved back and then the sails filed and I had to pay attention to my sailing.

After meeting Helen I never felt that anyone was 'out of my league' again. Her comment in the bar over the drink when we met stayed with me and left me with a lot more self confidence.

Without it I very well may have lacked the confidence to ask the woman later married out on a date.

Maggie.



This is a plain and simple case of someone being at the right place at the right time.

Shortly after I married Mrs. Pic in '91 we went to midnight mass together. My wife has a Lutheran background, I'm a dogtag Catholic. We went to midnight mass because she wanted to go to the beautiful church in the neighborhood we were living in.

Father Gallagher gave a wonderful uplifting sermon that we both talk about to this day.

After mass we were discussing the sermon over hot buttered rums and I grinned and told my wife that a woman named Maggie had left me feeling like Father Gallagher made her feel. I told her the story.

She said that if I had the chance I ought to look her up and tell her that what she had done for me.

Maggie and I went to school grades 1-4 and were reunited in grades 7 and graduated high school together. By the time we had graduated we probably hadn't spoken a dozen words to each other. 
We were in different worlds.

Although she was a very pretty girl, she was basically part of the woodwork. I'm certain she felt the same about me.

We graduated in June, 1969 and went our separate ways.

Seven and a half years later I was recently divorced and freshly discharged from the army and living in a tipi in the Rockies. I was attending school a couple of days a week on my GI bill, studying by a gasoline lantern nights.

My transition from military service to the student had been fairly painless. My divorce had torn me up. I was in the hurt locker.

Living in the tipi was a return to trying to live a childhood dream. 

When we separated I simply returned to chasing dreams that had been set aside. The marriage was more important, of course. It had meant setting my dreams aside and I was glad to. When the marriage split the return to chasing my dreams had simply been pretty much Pavlovian.

I was home for the holidays having gotten a ride straight through from Colorado. 

I had met a few of my peers and they had seemed to think I was mad for doing what I was doing. Graduation had been 7 years earlier and some had embarked on jobs and careers, others had finished college and were beginning careers.

They seemed to think that I was mad for planning on weathering it out in the Rockies in a tipi. Coupled with the fact that my failed marriage had torn me up I really didn't feel very good about myself. 

It was a bad time.

I never dared tell anyone about then future plans of hitch-hiking to Alaska.

I was due to return to Colorado inside two or three days and ran into Maggie at a family pizza place in the next town over.

I recognized her first. She was sitting at the next table.

We had a brief chat, a few minutes and I explained my plans of wintering in the Rockies and a few other things I was doing. She commented that I had changed since high school. She asked a question or two about the tipi and when I explained the mechanics of tipi living she replied, "Sounds interesting. Good luck."  The four words were given with a warm smile.

The conversation was probably more than we had ever said to each other in the 12 years we had known each other in school. Those four kind words and the smile stuck with me.

While I was opening camp a few days later I remembered them and they stayed with me through the rest of my 'formative years' of adventuring in Alaska and in my career.

Four words and a smile.

I suppose that four words and a smile are not very much but in this particular case it was a case of timing. I don't know why but they left me with a sense of worth at a time of self-loathing. It changed my life for the better. Four brief words and a smile.

I would remember that time and again when life gave me a kick in the gut and left me depressed. I would remember that brief conversation and it would lift me from the gloom and give me a new sense of self worth.

I'd think about them and quietly whisper a prayer that she was doing well and happy.

During the winter of '85 she showed up again but got a name change. She became 'that pretty Irish girl' after I survived a brutal storm at sea.

We got the living shit kicked out of us. The storm turned the skies blacker than Satan's riding boots and the wind blew the entire seven bells of shit for two long days.

A couple of days later when the seas had abated to the 16 to 20 foot range we were eating breakfast together. The copper taste of fear was slowly working its way out of our mouths.

I had just finished a mountain of potatoes, onions, codfish and bacon and poured a cup of thick boat coffee. I grabbed a bottle of cognac and added about an inch to my coffee because I was going back to bed.

The fine aroma of the heated cognac added to the galley odors of coffee, bacon and fresh cigarette smoke. The final vestiges of fear were leaving our bodies. We were experiencing the cruel wild joy of being alive.

The Italian deckhand looked at me and grinned.

"I'll bet you last night you wished you had listened to your mother, gone to college, married a pretty Irish girl and gotten a job selling insurance!"

I chuckled and told him to go piss up a rope and we laughed. I told him I knew a pretty little Irish girl but I was sure I wasn't her type. I thought of Maggie for a minute, remembered her four words and smile and quietly wished her well and put the memory aside again for a long time.

In '86 I met my wife and five years and one day later in '91 I married her. She likes to tell people we met on the 6th and married on the 7th...five years later.

I mentioned Maggie to her one Christmas after midnight mass long after we were married and she told me I ought to look her up and thank her. I put it in the back of my mind.

The thought reappeared in '09 when I got word of high school reunion 40. I was on some kind of open forum or something and found out she was probably coming. However, work intervened and I never made it.

In August '14 I attended my 45th reunion and got to meet Maggie but only had a few words with her before I got grabbed by someone else. A few minutes later the band started and she left liike a lot of other people did.

I never did get a chance to tell her what she did when she smiled at me 37 years ago.

After the reunion someone gave me her address and I wrote her a letter telling her I wanted to meet her for a minute or two over coffee. I hope she answers.

What is interesting is that she very well may not even remember meeting me at the pizza place and if she did it's likely that she didn't even remember the conversation. It was such a small thing when you think about it.

What's funny is she may not have even meant it and was just being polite. Who knows? 

Four words and a smile so many years ago from a pretty Irish girl have stayed with me all of these years and seen me through the tough times of my 'formative years'.

When I came back home that time I met almost a dozen of my former classmates and she was the only one that didn't treat me like there was something wrong with me for following my dreams.

Over the years I have learned it's always the small things you remember. I still wish that woman well.

I hope she answers my letter and I can thank her face to face someday.

The Doctor.



He was my running partner for a decade. I was The Professor, he was The Doctor.

When you saw one of us you knew the other was  likely nearby. When you saw both of us you wondered what was going to happen next. We bounced off of each other.

He's living in Eastern Washington now doing odd jobs in semi retirement. I have not seen him in almost thirty years. However, when I finally do get to meet up with him I know that instantly we will take up where we left off.

I will not get into our outrageousness here. It would fill a six tome series.

The comment that he made once that stuck with me the most was when we were headed from Seattle to Bellingham and the wheel fell off the infamous '62 Dodge half-ton I owned at the time.

I managed to crash-land in the breakdown lane fairly intact.

When the dust settled there was  a pause for a few seconds and he broke the silence.

"Well, Stanley," he said, cheerfully. "Here's another fine mess you've gotten us into!"

Gabe.


Gabe is one person I am grateful to have fished with for a couple of trips. I learned an awful lot from him. He was the most dishonest, most selfish, mean, petty and greedy person I have ever met.

He was a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward, a total alcoholic and junkie. You could not trust him with anything of value except fish unless you had an illegal market for the fish. Then all bets were off. 
I truly believe this man was brought into the world without a soul.

He was the kind of guy that would go to the ship's stew pot and fish all of the meat out of it for himself. He was caught doing this more than once.

He would steal your eye teeth and one time I saw him beaten senseless on the back deck of the boat for stealing a bottle of cognac. He brought it on himself with his dishonesty.

After the beating he tried to sidle up to me only to be met with a punch. I had not condoned the beating. I simply wanted him off the boat and I knew that being his friend was a ticket to losing my wallet. The punch was simply to let him know I was onto him and keep him away from me.

Over the years Gabe has come to mind often, especially when I considered doing something less than honorable.

I learned a lot from him. This man taught me more than almost anybody else through his complete lack of character. 

Through meeting and dealing with this individual I learned exactly what kind of person I did NOT want to become under any circumstances.

Sandy.



For a very short while I did maintenance in a strip club and occasionally checked IDs. The maintenance part was pretty good. IDs checking sucked. Being in the club during business hours was depressing.

Sandy was one of the strippers and deserves mention here because she has stayed in my mind as being the most squirrely person I have ever met.

She was a mess. She had a fairly pretty face, beautiful hair, a flat chest and was clumsy to boot. If you looked into one of her ears you could see daylight.

Much to her credit she did not seem to have her nose in a coke slip or a champagne bottle.

The only reason she comes to mind for this blog is that from time to time when I run into someone ditzy I think of Sandy. She is the standard of squirreliness all others are rated by.

I have to admit that she made me laugh, though.

Of all of the squirrely people I have met in the past fifty years nobody has been able to hold a candle to her.

Doc.



Doc was just another post-war Vietnam vet wandering around when I met him in Kodiak. Kodiak was full of them. He had been a Navy Corpsman attached to a Marine artillery battery somewhere and considered it a blessing because he said the artillerymen didn't get chewed up as bad as the grunts did.

Marines do not hand out the nickname 'Doc' to every corpsman that they get sent. It's earned. He must have been a damned good corpsman.

When I arrived at The Rock I had come from the dry air of Colorado. The dampness of the Rock with its heavy rainfall caught me unawares and shortly after arrival I caught a nasty upper respiratory infection that knocked me on my ass.

A new arrival to town, housing was scarce and I was living in a tent. So were an awful lot of other people.

A newly found friend of mine known as The Doctor (for other reasons) knew Doc (They are two seperate people) and they set me up in the bed of a pickup covered with a tarp as a place to recover. Doc scored antibiotics from the boat's medical kit and between Doc and The Doctor I was up and running in about three days.

Doc isn't remembered for this. It is a simple comment he made later on that summer. I had laid myself open with a gutting knife and had patched myself up.

Doc happened by, took one look at the fresh wound and said he could do better than that and took me back to the boat he was working on. He sewed me up professionally with a suture kit out of the boat's medical box.

It should be noted that his medical training consisted of 12 weeks of Navy training and a year of practical experience in Vietnam.

While he was sewing me up I looked at him and told him they'd throw his ass in jail if they caught him practicing medicine without a license.

He stopped, grinned and looked up at me.

"I will never let something so trivial as state, federal and local laws keep me from doing the right thing," he said.

That comment has stayed with me all these years. I took it to heart.

The following year Doc returned to school and became a Physician's Assistant and word had it he wound up in a native village somewhere in Alaska.

Danni

The first time I met Danni she was wearing a yellow suit and it was covered with someone else's blood.

Many of the details are lost in time, but the meeting is still fresh. It's not often you meet a woman in a suit with all of her makeup perfect and covered with blood. 

A glance had told me none of the blood was hers.

I was cruising in my sailboat and headed south the Firday Harbor via the Inside Passage and had tied up at a dock on one of the several inhabited islands along the British Colombia coast.

I had met a local and he offered me a ride to another town to pick some stuff up and had taken him up on it. It was decided I could hitch-hike back to the ferry to return to the island.

I had the things I needed in my day pack and wandered into the rough ferry terminal and met Danni, covered with blood.

"It's a good thing you didn't get a ride back with me," said a voice from behind her. "You'd likely be dead."

I looked up and behind Danni there was the guy that had given me a ride into town. He was covered in his own blood and bandaged. 

The bandaging looked excellent but not like he had been to the hospital.

"Ran off the road," he explained. "Side window shattered and cut me pretty good. Danni saw me and patched me up."

Scalp woulds bleed pretty profusely. Today's trucks have glass that crumbles when it breaks. His truck was ancient then and this was thirty years ago.

The first thing Danni said to me was, "Do you know how to get bloodstains out of cotton?"

I turned to the guy. "Looks like you owe her a new outfit," I said.

"I can get it cleaned," she said.

The three of us got onto the ferry and went back to the island. I went to my boat and sacked out.

The next day Danni showed up on the docks and boarded a pretty little utile salmon boat and I swung by to say hello. Hello turned out to be the better part of the day.

She in her mid 30s, divorced or widowed, I have forgotten. It's odd, but life was cheap back then. I was 35 and had more dead friends than living thanks to commercial fishing, airplanes, drugs and other accidents.

Danni had inherited the boat from her husband and was making a go of it by fishing salmon for a living. We worked on the boat and chatted. I marveled at her skills and pitched in because my boat was up and running and I had the time.

She could do mechanical work, gear work, paperwork and generally run a fish boat like an old salt. It was interesting to watch her talented hands work. I marveled at the incongruity of seeing such feminine hands with manicured nails mend fishing nets and change a generator on a diesel.

When she was done with the mechanical work she simply sprayed her hands clean with starting ether and then worked lotion into them to keep the ether from drying her skin out.

She fed me a wonderful lunch and invited me over to her place for supper. When I got there she was dressed in a nice (for island living) outfit and had a wonderfully civilized table set.

She was not a hard person, nor a softie but someone that seemed to be able to handle what life hit her with with nonchalance. I learned a lot from her in the following couple of days I spent with her.

Later I figured her out when I read a Robert Heinlen quote.

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly."

I do believe she could do all of these and she taught me that competence is independence.

Her dinner also reminded me that civilization could be brought with someone anywhere. It helped me re-civilize a bit after too long in wild places.

When I left port a couple of days later before sunrise I left a bottle of wine and a forwarding address on her boat. A few months later a nice card caught upwith me thanking me for the help and the wine. She also mentioned that she got the blood out of her outfit.

Introducing

This new blog is about people I have met in my life that have had a positive impact of some sort. Some of them may not even remember me or what they did to impact my life but I remember them for some reason of another and have learned something from them.
Most of the names have been changed. Many of these people are still living and I want to shelter them from embarrassment.