“Sure enough, lagging not far behind an anemic economy, his marriage fell apart.”
Without a doubt, my relationship with the world had changed dramatically in the short time since Bob and I would blissfully race our feather-weight beach catamarans across the clean, crystal clear shallow waters of Biscayne Bay all those years ago. Today, we face unprecedented global challenges on a warming, crowded, and ecologically stressed planet. Accelerating rates of ecological destruction combined with techno-optimistic hubris and proposals of fanciful geoengineering solutions are deeply troubling trends. But it was great to hear Bob's voice again. It brought back a flood of memories of good times, promising futures, and carefree days on beautiful turquoise bays.
“How are you, Rico?”
Even in my just-woken, REM-deprived state, I recognized that deep, gravelly voice of his instantly. It matched the big-bear physique, which tended to severely intimidate those who didn’t know the man. All those badass tattoos on his body could also explain why strangers routinely gave him wide berth. But big bad growly Bob was generally a quiet, amiable, and resourceful fellow with a big heart and a gentle demeanor.
Bob always preferred calling me by the nickname, ‘Rico.’ For some reason, he got it in his mind back in those days that I reminded him of that slick, stylish ‘Rico Tubbs’ character in the hugely popular TV show Miami Vice, and the nickname just stuck. I certainly looked nothing like that dapper crime-fighting character, who one could easily picture on the cover of GQ magazine. And I hated wearing suits. Wasn’t a big fan of guns either.
“Um ... barely awake,” I responded.
“Hey man, shake it off and listen up. You're gonna wanna hear this! I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I've been living in Tahiti for a few years ... you know, that tourist magnet in French Polynesia. After four years of work, I’ve just finished building my dream: an island-hopping Polynesian sailing double-canoe like the one you built a few years back, only much bigger. And I was just about to get the word out about my new chartering business when I was contacted by a friend of a friend. His name is Sammy, though he prefers to be called ‘SlimC.’ Says he’s some hotshot Hollywood reality-show producer who wants to hire me and my ‘exotic’ boat for some strange new show he is putting together — something about a ‘second-chance romance’ series for a bunch of divorcées and widowers or some such nonsense. There’ll be video cameras installed all around the decks and galley. And he’s counting on me to make sure that the drama is never stuck in the doldrums, if you know what I mean. He’s offering some serious cash, Rico. And I could sure use it right now.”
Bob sounded really excited.
“I could really use your help on this one, buddy. I need your skills and trust your instincts. It would be a seven-day sail from Moorea just off the coast of Tahiti to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. You, me, a chef and the six cast members of the show. Check this out: SlimC says the reality-show ‘actors’ were carefully selected after various psychological screenings to ensure they would not get along with each other very well. Man, can you believe that shit?”
Bob’s voice suggested he was quite tickled by the whole thing and was looking forward to what drama might unfurl on the high seas.
“We’d set out in early June. The critical cyclone period ends in May in that part of the world, you know. Whaddya say, Rico? You were the first person I thought to call after I got the offer. It’d be good to hang out again after so many years, no? Lots of catchin’ up to do, buddy.”
Bob had been hit hard by the double-whammy financial and subprime mortgage crises in 2008 and never fully recovered from those twin body blows to his business. This man-made, most unnatural of economic disasters and the subsequent Great Recession was not kind to my good-natured sailing buddy.
But the final mortal blow to his hobbling career as a general contractor in Florida came a little over a decade later when the novel coronavirus, the spiky blob seen around the world, abruptly body-slammed the American economy in the spring of 2020. With the prolonged economic shutdown and uncertainty from a pathetic, half-hearted national response to the public health emergency crisis of COVID-19, his work all but dried up. And after a good three-decade run, he found himself, like many millions of others, having to pursue alternate means of earning a living. (Alas, it seems there are decades when nothing significant happens, and then there are weeks when decades of change occur suddenly.)
Though Bob’s career took a final lethal blow from the drawn-out economic disruption of a major global pandemic, as a self-employed general contractor, he had had a little more control over his income and savings up to that point than the majority of middle-class workers. They hadn’t seen an increase in real wages in decades. At least Bob had been able to put away some rainy-day funds. But even that financial discipline did little to save his most cherished relationship from the stress and despair of a drawn-out economic downturn. Sure enough, lagging not far behind an anemic economy, his marriage fell apart.
Back in the day when times were good, Bob used to build wooden boats in his spare time as a hobby, as did I, and we would exchange ideas and tips on our nautical labors of love. We both had a fascination with traditional wooden Polynesian sailing canoes, which were simple in construction, yet very capable and rugged sea-going vessels. They were also beautiful works of art. Polynesians believed each of their hand-built boats had a spirit of its own — and stories to tell. Me and Bob, we really dug that kinda stuff.
Aside from our shared interest in wooden boatbuilding, Bob knew that I was a handy and resourceful fellow with a deep love and respect for the ocean, having spent quite a bit of time over the years on all manner of watercraft. I had worked as a marine electrician for a time in Annapolis and messed around with sailmaking and canvas work, sewing my own sails, seat cushions, and a rugged trampoline for a small Polynesian-style cruising catamaran. I had built Morning Star, a 26-foot Polynesian-style sailing catamaran, in my backyard under a portable pop-up fabric-and-steel garage, to the utter bewilderment of my landlubber suburban neighbors. Perhaps they suspected that I knew something that they didn’t about accelerating sea-level rise. The neighborhood Noah.
Bob surely figured I would be a great help while underway, as he knew I could always find some creative MacGyver way to temporarily patch anything up if, or rather when, Murphy came a-callin’. ‘Mister FixIt,’ he would often call me. I was sure Bob would ask me to bring my guitar along, in addition to my extensive collection of marine tools and gear, to entertain cast and crew while underway. What an opportunity! During long ocean passages, I could test out some of my quirkier original songs on a bored captive audience of digitally disconnected passengers, especially after the rum had started flowing. They’d certainly appreciate that.
“Wow. This is big news, Bob! I’m sure I can manage to clear my calendar in June.”
I had many gigs already booked that month, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime offer to cruise aboard a large, custom-built, traditional Polynesian double-canoe in the South Pacific. Come on! There would always be more gigs, I reasoned; they are not too difficult to come by once you’re plugged-in to the local music scene.
The words burst from my mouth,
“Great! I knew it wouldn’t take too much persuading, Rico. I will call you in a few days with more details. Oh, and bring your guitar along. I’m sure the passengers would love to hear a few JB tunes from time to time, as we make our way through paradise to some exotic Margaritaville in the South Pacific.”
What an amazing opportunity, I thought.
“Hell, Bob, maybe I’ll get a chance to play for a national audience. I’m sure the director would want to keep a scraggly, salt-n-pepper bearded, beach-bum guitar player in some of the scenes. I’ll just need to find ways to stir up some gratuitous drama for the cameras while I’m entertaining, so that I can land a spot on primetime TV.”
“Yeah, right man. See you soon, Rico. And thanks. This is going to be a … well … let’s just say an interesting experience. Later!”
The call ended abruptly.
Bob's last statement brought to mind an old Chinese expression: ‘May you be blessed to live in interesting times.’ Or was it, ‘May you be cursed to live in interesting times’? Geez … I couldn’t remember the correct version. But I didn’t dwell on the confusion for too long. I sprang up off the sofa and bolted for the closet where my weathered, rust-stained duffle bag of accumulated marine gear and tools were stowed away.
I felt that old familiar lifting-off feeling coming back.
I was flying a hull again!