This is a story about the most perfect moment I’ve ever experienced. It happened over lunch one day at the shipyard. Lunch was our sacred time like sitting down after a marathon and we usually stretched it as long as we possibly could, which made me feel guilty. I’d go through phases where I’d return to work strictly after eating my sandwich, but those phases didn’t seem to last until later when Randy came along with his astonishing work ethic. Sometimes mom would pack us up with a loaf of Wonder Bread and huge peanut butter and jelly containers—Dad’s favorite—and let us make our own food for a few days and sometimes she’d make us sandwiches and bring them down stacked up and covered with napkins that Liz had drawn on—clues as to who’s was who’s because Mom made everyone’s special. Tom’s were always triple deckers, Dad’s were so think with peanut butter I was amazed he could eat them. Ian almost never ate the family’s cheap peanut butter because of partially hydrogenised oils that never leave your system. Mine was extra jelly.
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Then sometimes she’d make burritos or ham sandwiches with chips and sodas, but that’s so off the point.
We had spots under the hull picked out for sitting in the shade; spots on pallets for sun; sometimes inside the longshed for no rain. That day we were under the hull to dull the barbaric heat. I was exhausted, and letting my weight drain from my legs felt so good I didn’t care what I leaned my back against. It happened to be a rough spot on the side of the keel; globs of hardened tar like marble sized rocks in my back.
Dad and Mom were off in some corner of the yard talking or just sitting alone in quiet. At any rate it was easy to tell they didn’t want to be disturbed by anything because they didn’t budge when a father and son stopped and got out and started walking around the yard. It became uncomfortable because none of us wanted to say hi and they kept circling and staring and talking about the boat to each other. I thought ignoring them might hurt our image.
“Tom, wanna help me move some pallets?” I said.
“After, I mean.”
“Absolutely not, Aaron,” he said. I could tell he was being sarcastic. “And I’m getting pretty sick of your gaul. You’re lucky I don’t stave you up.” ‘Stave up,’ was a nautical term from long ago I think, though I also think he meant stove up. Ships that wound up on rocky shores were considered to be stove up.
When the father and son made their way to the other side of the yard I said, “Don’t you think someone should talk to these guys?”
Ian said, “Yeah, like your dad?”
“Or, I mean anyone.”
“Yeah!” Ian said. “I’ve seen how smooth you guys are!”
“Well,” I said, “we should at least get doing something. I mean they’re watching us and everything. They’re watching us just sit here eating our sandwiches.”
This was all the setup Ian needed to transform this into the perfect memory that has stuck with me for years, fresh as red paint still in the can. His face lowered, became very serious and intense, like our sandwich eating was the most serious issue he’d ever confronted. He appeared to weigh his thoughts for about a second, which drew our attention subliminally, like the trough before a large wave.
Ian said, “Yeah, They’re like, ‘Look at those fat fucks eating sandwiches!’”
Tom Bob and I erupted into high cackly laughter. We couldn’t stop for a long minute. We just kept laughing—letting out all kinds of tension that had built up over the day, and the week, and the week before that, and the months since Ian arrived. He never seemed satisfied in his ability to show us how awkward we were at times. That, and the simple addition of another full time helper—one that wasn’t family—had created new conflicts and boundaries that nobody was expecting. Stuff like that that we had been absorbing silently, storing it up until we knew what to do with it.
So, when Ian said what he said, he let us kind of laugh it all out, which equalized the air outside with the air inside our heads.
I said, “They can probably hear you!” But I had to keep on laughing. Every time I thought I was over it, I took a breath and the laughs came right back like hiccups.
Ian tried to top it off. He said, “Good point. We don’t want to start looking like white trash, do we. I’d hate for them to think this is anything less than a world class shipyard facility.” I wished he hadn’t said that because the yard was kind of white trashy with huge piles of scrap wood built up, and us wearing our filthy work clothes. Our shitties. That was the sort of thing I would normally hang on to, and remember for later when I would have a point to make. But I had to let it go. I was forced to because I couldn’t stop laughing.
I got up and headed for the father and son, but they were already leaving for their car. It seemed like it should have been a terrible loss because I was finally doing something right, but I really didn’t care.