Excerpt from a Memoir in Progress —
“Don’t mind if I do,” I muttered in my best W.C. Fields’ voice, as I poured a very healthy amount of wine into my just emptied glass. Drinking is an integral part of life in the Delta. One of my favorite signs, located in a bar, reads: Bethel Island is a Drinking Community with a Little Fishing Problem.
So it was, on still another cold and misty night aboard my boat. The creaking sounds of the moored boats in their slips was always a reassuring audioscape during my time spent on the water. Scuppers, a loyal sidekick and my devoted Border Collie, didn’t like the sway and bump of the dock or the boat, but was always so appreciative of being in my presence, that he put up with the uncertain footing beneath his paws.
Heating up some homemade Minestrone soup in the galley kitchen, I sat at the table of my 31-foot vintage cabin cruiser and admired the mahogany paneling inside, the teak decking outside, soaking in the warm vibe of a wooden yacht for the umpteenth time. It just never got old.
By now, the bottle of an Amador County red wine was dangerously near empty. But like any functioning alcoholic, my Plan B bottle was within easy reach. Richard Pryor once sardonically said: “The only thing a wino worries about…is running out of wine.”
When enough of the adult beverage had been consumed, my belly warmed with the hearty soup…it was time to venture out of the warm confines of the boat, take Scup for a late walk and a pee before diving into my down sleeping bag for the night.
The fog swirled around the dim lights of the marina. It felt like a Bogart movie set. Scuppers trotted ahead of me, I trailed behind him with my Plan B glass of wine. We had nearly walked the length of the boat dock when I discovered an aluminum patrol boat belonging to the local sheriff’s department in its slip. I’d seen it before, going in and out of the marina on patrol. Clearly, they kept it at this marina for the easy Delta access to the waterways nearby.
Emboldened and stupid-fied at this late hour, the dock deserted, I decided to board this vessel… uninvited. Why not? If you’re buzzed enough, vestiges of past, youth-centric moronic behavior emerges, caution and common sense melt away. What if a deputy had been asleep down below in the cabin? Could have been disastrous trying to explain away my presence. I took the chance anyhow.
While I couldn’t access the locked cabin, I sat on the aft deck sipping my wine.
My dog wandered up to the gunwale and looked plaintively at me. What are we doing here? This isn’t our boat, why are you on it? As smart as the breed is, had he been any smarter, I could imagine him asking me: ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND??
Gurgling sounds emerged from the brackish water. An owl hooted nearby, a pack of Delta coyotes yelped frantically from another island, and a train horn sounded from even further away. I felt invincible. The wine was delicious. My skin was on the edge of goosebumps with the chill and slightly dangerous, certainly immoral presence on a law enforcement craft I had no business being on. I’d been eyeing a coil of rope (or “line” as the Snobby Nauticals refer to it), so before I was busted by anyone, I impulsively purloined it. A memento of my midnight adventure.
It looked like this:
Mind you, it wasn’t a mooring line, securing the vessel to the dock. Oh no, I wouldn’t have done THAT. No, it was just neatly coiled on the aft deck of the Sheriff Department’s boat. I have some scruples, you know.
Scuppers peed in the field nearby and we returned to my floating apartment, my new souvenir in one hand, my now empty Plan B wine glass in the other. Just in time for a night cap.
I used this ill-gotten line for years before I eventually sold my boat. Of course I kept this line and years later, when I needed a flexible piece of trim for a woodworking project… Well… You know…
Today, I’m four years sober, but I haven’t offered to return this boat line. My conscience has since reconciled this impulsive act.
Shush… Don’t tell anybody.
Adam Gottstein is a native of San Francisco who relocated to the Sierra Foothills in the mid 90s. Traveling back and forth between the City and a village of 100 inhabitants, the Delta was always a midway attraction. He used to keep a boat on Vieira’s Resort Island north of Rio Vista. He might again someday. Now in his 60s, writing might occupy more of his time. Contact, criticism, praise or general confabulatory discourse can start here: firstname.lastname@example.org
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