One of the things I thought I would miss most as a result of keeping our boat in the driveway was interacting with fellow boaters—the small talk about future boating plans, projects we’re working on and grousing about fuel prices. I needn’t worry for long; I quickly found out that my neighbors would swarm like ants to a fallen ice pop in summer whenever I was working aboard.
I live on a quiet road and thought I knew most of my neighbors by name. Start bottom painting or waxing, however, and at least a few neighbors would stroll up, inspect my work and share their experiences on the water—sometimes on their own boats or friend’s boats. I was especially excited when one neighbor I didn’t know walked by and shouted, “Hey, I read about this boat in a magazine!”
“So, you’re the one,” I replied with a laugh.
One warm Saturday when wet-sanding my Bertram’s transom, I had no fewer than five visitors stop by to chat. It was hell for productivity but did wonders for my ego—I felt like the mayor. One especially chatty neighbor was chewing my ears off while I attempted to keep working.
“So, when are you going to have another kid?” she asked after a while.
I firewalled my buffer: “Sorry, I can’t hear you; I have to get back to work!”
She smiled and rolled her eyes at my attempt to avoid the question. Still, it was a welcome visit.
Another afternoon when working on the boat I was thinking that there must be a neighborhood kid looking to make a couple bucks that could help me. And I knew just the kid. Nine-year-old Blake is a high-energy, fast (and constant) talking kid who I coach in wrestling. He was on spring break and his parents were eager for him to find something (read: anything) to do outside the house.
I told his parents to send him my way the next afternoon. You can imagine my surprise when he showed up to my house at 9 in the morning.
“Hey Blake, afternoon means after 12 p.m.,” I told him as a smile faded from his face. “Come back at 1 and we’ll get started.”
I wasn’t too surprised when I heard him ring my doorbell and report for duty at 12:40.
I channeled my inner Mr. Miyagi and explained how to wax off. Things started off rather promising. He missed a few spots and couldn’t reach all that high, but I put on his favorite band, Dropkick Murphys, and he chatted and sang along happily while working. Then came the shoulder roll. It was a harbinger of complaints to come that I knew all too well.
“Good shoulder workout, huh?” I asked.
“Yeah, it is,” he replied as he looked off longingly at his friend’s house.
Karen came out to join the waxing party for a bit. Blake instantly turned into a fellow foreman, asking Karen to finish the side he was working on so he could join me on the other side.
My first job as a kid was waxing the boats of family friends, a job that would continue through my spring breaks in college. Back then I would imagine that the boat I was waxing was my own and that I wanted it to be the shiniest on the dock. Those early jobs helped teach me the satisfaction that comes from trading muscle and sweat for money.
Blake worked hard for a few hours and at the very least made the time pass more quickly with his stories, questions and observations. I liked to think of this as parenting practice for when Connor is old enough to help me.
“Thanks for helping today, buddy. Hard work always pays off,” I said as I passed Blake a crisp $20 bill. He looked down at the bill in his hands for a couple seconds before meeting my eyes and saying, “Wow … thank you, Dan.”
I wonder if these spring waxing sessions will plant a seed within his wild imagination; perhaps one day he’ll have a boat of his own and will pay a neighborhood kid to clean and wax it. I’ve seen it happen before.