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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Point Cadet - A Christmas Tale


 Keane walked into the Point Cadet Marina’s office, immediately greeted at the counter.
“Hey, Keane, g’mornin’, how may we help?”
“Good go see you again, Rob. My boat’ll be in Wednesday afternoon, sometime, and I want to get things goin’.”
“Such as…?”
“Like getting her name painted on.”

“Best guy around,” Rob offered, “is working in the yard, now. His name’s Ricky and he’s down toward “J dock. The gate should be open. Just around the corner towards J,  about 500 feet down. Can’t miss him, well, the at least not the Bertram he’s working on.”

“Thanks,” Keane replied as he shook the clerk’s hand and heard the doorbell alert his exit.

A behemoth cabin cruiser was cradled, suspended  by straps on a steel rack-like structure, akin to scaffolding, with a ladder leading up to the swim step off the transom. A workman focused on centering the stencil just so, one that would eventually sport the cabin cruiser’s name on its sea-worn finish. He didn’t hear Keane’s muted footfalls as Keene approached to silently look-on before speaking.

“S’cuse me, Ricky?” Keane called, “Can I bother you a second?”
“Sure, how ya doin?”
“Fine, thanks. My boat’s getting delivered here, Wednesday.”

The workman rested his materials on the transom and turned to sit and dangle his legs, looking down at Keane.

“Congratulations! What’ja get?”
“The boat of my dreams! A Donzi 35 I picked up, right. And it’s got twin Mercury 300 Verados to push it!!”
“Sweet Jesus, now I know why you picked the Mississippi Coast for a berth, cuz of our low gas prices, but I still wouldn’t want your gas bill, sir!”
“Did you ever hear the sailors’ lore, that it might be bad luck to rename a boat? I mean, it’s what keeps me working, but some folks just don’t do it. I figure it’s my yeoman’s duty to tell people.”

“I’ve got to make her mine. She’s getting rechristened,” Keane said with resolve that made Ricky wonder.
 “A boat that size…. Usually…I reckon it’s gonna be somewheres in the range of eleven.”
“Huh?,” Keane asked.
“Eleven hundred.”
“Whoa!,” Keane blurted, shifting his weight in his unscuffed Sebagos.

The painter reacted with a puzzled expression.

“I guess I just thought it would be less. I mean, a lot less.”

Ricky rested his palms on the swim step, and looked at the new owner.

,“Mind if  I ask you something, sir?”
“Sorry, my name’s Keane. I got yours from the marina office. Fire away.”
“What do you drive, Keane?”
“An ’07 Nissan pickup.”
“Really?
“Gospel truth… You look surprised.”
“Most guys who can lay into a 300 hundred thousand dollar, ocean-capable speed boat usually got Jags and ‘Vettes,” the craftsman observed.
“I scrimped, saved and invested well, Ricky. A dream come true.”

“Well Keane, lemme ask you this:  how much would a Nissan dealer charge to take a crane and lift that pickup out of the ocean, swing it into a steel rack until a sling could be strung, store it there for ten days, and then get the crane to drop it back into the ocean, cuz that’s what we’re talking about, here.”

“Okay, okay. I get it. It’s perspective,” Keane chuckled, a little embarrassed.

Ricky responded, “I lump-summed it for you. Only $250 of that’s mine.”
“Seems fair. I’m sorry about the reaction.”

“I’m wondering how and when we set this up?”
“You give me your card, I check with marina office for crane availability, and then give you a call.”
“Sounds easy-peasy.”
“It is.”
Keane fished a card from his chinos pocket, extending it to the outreached hand.
“I’m an independent architect. You can get me on the office or cell, anytime.”

“By the way, I’m sure you gotta name for her or you wouldn’t already be looking me up… ‘Course the cost is based on the number of letters because of the stencil and my materials and all, you understand.”

The painter watched Keane’s chin bob slightly as he mentally counted characters.
“I count thirteen. Oooh, maybe unlucky, huh!?”
Ricky broadened his lips to a grin with an accompanying wink. “We already know you’re not superstitious because you’re renaming her. Besides, ya gotta count spaces, too, for the sizing and letter style and all.”

Keane was about to answer when a curious expression reshaped his face and demeanor.
Again, his weight shifted in his shoes. Unexpectedly, Keane put his hands on his hips, turned away from the painter, and stared downward. When he turned back toward the painter, Ricky knew Keane was emotionally off-put.

Neither man stirred.

Keane looked up, “I’m gonna square with you. I didn’t tell you the whole truth, and I really dunno why…. Well, I guess I do know,” stammered the boat owner. “I lost my wife to breast cancer. We talked about buying a speed boat someday. We’d only been married three years, and” Keane snapped his fingers, “she’s gone. She loved the ocean and adrenaline rushes. I bought the Donzi from insurance money that’s been sitting in the bank going on four years, now.”

It was Ricky’s turn to shift himself, forced by uneasiness of what he’d just heard, noticing Keane’s misted eyes.
“Oh mah-golly, I’m sorry for your loss, man.”
“Thanks,” came from Keane, with an audible strain.

“My wife’s middle name was Caroline. On our third date, I had a little too much wine, and I can’t sing for shit. But, in the middle of a crowded Italian restaurant, there I was with a snout full of chianti bellowing, ‘Sweet Caroline,’ the Neil Diamond oldie.”

A long silence passed before Keane continued.

“Cathy…well, Catherine—that was Caroline’s first name…. Well, Cathy later told me that singing to her in that restaurant was the moment she fell in love with me, and even though it was only our third date, she knew she was going to never let me go.
That never arrived way too early, ripping out my heart and insides,” his voice faltering as he went.

Keane began to lose it a little.
“So, we’re gonna call her ‘Sweet Caroline,’ Ricky. Cathy called me her ‘big boy,’ and always said we would name our dream boat “Big Boy Toy,” but I just can’t. An’ you know why?”

With a slight shake of the head, the painter just listened.

“Because, if anyone else should ever walk into my life, she’s gonna have to accept and understand something. She’s gonna have to share. Because I’m always gonna be in love with Cathy, my Sweet Caroline.”

Ricky surprised Keane with a grin.
“Way I see it, Keane, you ever tell that to another woman? She’ll latch onto you like 900 barbed hooks on a squid jig. That’s a nuclear powered chick magnet if I ever heard one, like walking a puppy or strolling in a park with a baby carriage,” and Keane’s countenance changed, momentarily, with a sheepish grin as he saw Ricky’s reasoning.

Another long pause came leaving only sea sounds on the air.

This time, Ricky spoke first.
“I gotta say I didn’t reckon you’d be a speed demon kinda fella, Keane. I figured you more for a sailor, maybe a 25-foot Catalina or something.”
“How’s that?”
“The look:  faded jeans an’ sweater, but boat shoes that the new ain’t been knocked off of yet!,” and both laughed, shearing off the sharp edge of discomfiture.

“Tell ya what, Ricky. I did a pretty good sea trial when I bought her down in the Keys. But once she’s here, maybe I’d like someone else to be with me when I take her out and open her up. Someone who knows the local water. You wouldn’t be interested, would you… because I’d like to have you there if you’re at all interested?”

Ricky, with his legs now alternately swinging easily back and forth, said, “Know what? I’ve had a few invitations like that but turned ‘em all down. I think I’m gonna accept yours… Yeah! I think I’d like that, because my little 23-footer’s Merc one-fifty won’t get up and scream like your Donzi! I think I’d love a chance to get out there and get my hair and cheeks blowed back!”
“Well, Ricky, I’m hopin’ the blow-back and spray’ll be enough to kill the fire that’s been gutting me since Cathy got taken away,” Keane shared, more steadiness in his voice and on his feet.

“Keane…if it don’t? We’ll just go a li’l faster till it does. And if it still don’t? We’ll add a 6-pack for each day we gotta go out and try ‘er again, friend.”

With that, just as drunken singing had won Cathy’s love, Ricky’s simple solution won Keane’s friendship.

II

There’s a little marina and boatyard right behind the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino on Beach Boulevard in Biloxi. That and its parking structure are so massive you hardly know it’s there. I mean, you can see boats back in there, but there’s no real signage of how to get back in there.

Owners and guys from the marina office and yard like to knock-off work and hit happy hour inside the casino. None of that really has anything to do with me, except that I used that information.

Two blocks North of Beach is a side street of small businesses. That’s where I work, at Diana’s Financial Services. She’s a public accountant but not a CPA. What that means is that she’s a bookkeeper and tax preparer.

After my divorce, I was a suddenly single parent, desperate to find work and a friend of Diana’s referred me. We seemed to hit it off and, with hard work, I became Diana’s right hand.  

Diana’s been doing Ricky’s books and taxes since before I got here, about six years I guess. There are a couple other girls in the office, clerks really, whom I supervise. So I don’t exactly sit in a public area and haven’t taken outside calls since my first year working for Diana.

I guess Ricky’s okay, but if first impressions are lasting ones, mine of Ricky was an argument I overheard between my boss and him. “Jerk,” was my first impression, and although he hasn’t ever really done anything I’m aware of to keep that reputation, I just go about my work, deluged in paperwork and tax forms and bookkeeping stuff for our growing list of customers.

It was at our own happy hour hideout after work, having a couple glasses of wine and some tapas with Diana one particular evening. I know it was April, because we were eating, breathing and buried in tax stuff. She talked about this friend of Ricky’s, a guy named Keane. From the sound of it, Keane and Ricky were polar opposites: architect and redneck blue collar worker. But they each owned boats and loved the water. When Keane wasn’t out fishing with Ricky, Ricky was goading Keane to go out on the bay in the high performance boat Keane owned.

Diana said her pre-formed notions of Keane before meeting him were incorrect. Youngish professional, hot rod boat. Probably a skirt chaser and quasi-alcoholic pretty boy…all wrong. But Diana met Keane hanging out at the boat yard one day when she had to run over and get some signatures from Ricky. Keane was quiet, polite, not particularly attractive, an average dresser. Sure nothing special. Keane excused himself and got into some rusting little pickup truck and left so Diana and Ricky could get down to business in Ricky’s office, not much more that a tool shed, really. Ricky told Diana Keane’s story.

A few months and three glasses of wine later, Diana told me Keane’s story and I was curious. And I did something bad.

I didn’t exactly want to meet this guy. I just wanted to see him, compare him to this kind of romantic larger than life story. Diana’s description of him sure wasn’t all that and a bag o’ chips, but hey, curious isn’t a gender trait, right?

I was betting Ricky probably wouldn’t know me enough to pick me out of a crowd. Oh, he might have that, ‘I know I know her from somewhere notion,’ but I was back-office at Diana’s. Even if he did recognize me, so what.

It only took three Fridays of tries. I’d walk over to the Nugget from work and head up the escalator, just off of which is a big, open bar. To the right, is a bank of slots, some shops, and the large walkway to the buffet, hotel check-in, and farther down the walkway, the hotel/parking elevators. I’m not a big gambler, but to catch a glimpse of this guy, I’d grab the corner slot and casually glance around it scoping out the bar traffic. Serious drinkers sat on the back side of the bar that opened into the restaurant, an area I couldn’t see from my dollar slot. I was thinking these guys would roll up to the closest open spot to order a beer and was right.

Ricky came off the elevator yammering to a guy behind him, one I thought and presumed to be Keane. What I didn’t count on was how short lived their visit was that day. Ricky no sooner downed a beer than he appeared to be taking off. The other guy had barely finished half his wine, and didn’t seem pressed to leave.

End of spy mission and no big shakes, right? So I sat there and ordered a cocktail when the girl came around. I didn’t have anything to do, really, and was betting a buck at a time on a machine that wanted me to wager $5 per spin.

My Baileys and coffee arrived and as I put the cup to my lips, oops! My eyes met the guy’s, the one I presumed to be Keane. I looked away but know he might have seen me a titch rattled. Anyhow, ‘Relax, Casey, take a sip, play off the money on the reel and get home. This was stupid.’

Everything might have been alright until all hell broke loose. Before that, a couple more times—maybe it was only one more time—my eyes had met Keane’s, and truthfully, there was nothing there, just a smiles exchange.

Then hell. 

I raised the Irish coffee to my lips with my left hand and hit the “Spin” button while doing so. It sounded like an ear-splitting fire alarm coming from my slot, so startling I spilled the hot Irish coffee onto my white ruffled blouse. In shock, and I still don’t know why, I looked to Keane. Then at my slot. The center pay line was flashing on five icons that looked like gold money bags, and the pay meter was rising wildly. I found the pay line and saw that I had hit for $2,000 with only one coin in! I also sensed my soaked and stained blouse, and, had it not been for my bra, would have probably been burned by the spill. Worse, there was someone walking toward me. Keane.

That was two years ago.

It’s about twenty til two in the morning, and they’re going to be bringing the baby to me for her 2am feeding. I shouldn’t be awake but I couldn’t sleep and picked up the tablet. After all, I’ve just given birth to Keane’s and my daughter who we will name Christa Marie.  Although I’m hammering my tablet’s keypad telling you all of this, I’m in a private room and the keypad’s quiet.

My jackpot coffee spill disaster led to a date which led to another. And because of the season I’m feeling a little like it’s confession time.

I want to tell you that I fell for Keane because of his character and compassion. Not looks or boat or architect’s degree. Not a syrupy sob story. I’m a woman who fell truly in love with a man for all the right reasons. But…

There was a point I also had to confess to Keane. I’m three years younger than Keane. My name's not "Kacey," but even my parents call me that and I'm sure that few actually know my given name. I've been 'Kacey’ my whole life. I didn’t know how or when to tell Keane, but I wanted to wait until I could see if our relationship was going to go anywhere. When I was sure that it would progress, I was comfortable the whole truth wouldn’t have made me look or seem deceitful or manipulative in the worst womanly light. 

I was christened Karolyn Cathleen. My maiden name is ‘McSweet,’ and when Keane finally found out, he was speechless for five minutes if it was a second! He cleared his throat, raised his bottled water to his mouth and, just before taking a sip, I heard a parched whisper “McSweet, Karolyn. Sweet Caroline. Sweet Jesus. My God,” and a couple tears slipped from the corners of his eyes. He later admitted never been so overcome, literally speechless, “emotionally ambushed,” which seemed like an odd turn of phrase although I was good with letting it slide.

Christa Marie, we are sure, will get along famously with her step-sister, Mamie Jane (“MJ”), eight years old and enchanted with ‘her’ Keane. We still own the Sweet Caroline, and Keane has actually taught me how to run her ‘just in case,’ but I know it’s really because he gets a kick of hearing me squeal when we’re out there doing sixty, smacking along the bay. Ricky and LeighAnn will be Christa’s godparents.

In about six hours, the love of my life will come in with MJ to bring gifts for Christa Marie and me. They’ll have presents because it’s Christmas morning.

If Christmas isn’t the ultimate Mother’s Day, I don’t know what is:  the birth of hope for us all, and all about love. Love. I have it. Feel it. Love it, more now than ever, and for all because 

Oops, here’s the nurse with Christa. 

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