Big John and the Beanpole


Tales from Geezer Boatworks

by Paul Browne
Geezer Boatworks

Big John and the Beanpole

You know that childrens’ story, the one about Hansel and Gretel, the one where the witch keeps them in a cage and fattens them up? Well it’s not like that around our marina. In fact it’s the opposite.

I may have mentioned Big John You-Don’t-Give-Him-No-Lip before. Big John lives on the boat moored next to mine. His boat is a Mainship, sort of a floating condo, and the reason he bought that boat was because it was the only boat he could find that he could stand up in. Big John is 6’ 7” tall. And he’d be even taller if so much of him weren’t bent under to make his feet. He weighs 270 pounds and there ain’t much fat on him either. It’s a lucky thing he’s mostly friendly. He and I get along pretty well, but a few months ago Big John started to look at me funny. I couldn’t figure it out. He was sort of gauging me, trying to size me up. I caught him once with a tape measure, trying to measure me from behind. And he’d ask the strangest questions. See, a while back I had a little adventure with a cancer, and I’ve been taking chemotherapy and radiation after the operation. Well, Big John would ask me every week how I was doing, and he’d ask about my weight. “What are you down to now?” he’d say, “Are you any thinner?” “Well yeah,” I’d answer, “The fat’s long gone, and every treatment now I lose a little more muscle mass.” “Have a Coke?” Big John would offer. “All I got is diet. Diet Coke’s better anyway. All that sugar and calories ain’t good for you.”

Well, last weekend it all became clear. I was down in my engine room, fussing over some filters, when I felt the boat lurch the customary 15 degrees to port, announcing that John had stepped aboard. “Morning Paul,” he called out cheerily, “Great day. How you feeling?” “Pretty good,” I answered. “Had your last treatment yet?” Big John asked. “Finished up a couple of weeks ago,” I said, “Boy I was anxious for it too. I’ve had enough stabbing and poisoning. Hey John, I figured out why they bury folks six feet deep.” “Why’s that?” John asked. “So’s the oncologists will stop treating them. That’s why,” I answered. Big John laughed. Then he came up with one of his strange questions. “So you should be done losing weight?” “Should be,” I said, “My appetite’s back. I’m eating like a horse. None too soon either. Look, I’m like a beanpole. My legs are all bony, and my arms look like a woman’s. I’m ready to get back to my fighting weight. Getting ready to kick butt and take names.” So then we talked about engines and filters for a while and John figured he’d better get to work himself. Had a few things on his boat to take care of. “I could use your help on a little job,” he said innocently, “Any chance you could spare a few minutes?” I should have clued in right then and there, but I didn’t. “Sure. I’ll just finish up here and come over,” I said.

So a few minutes later there I was, standing in Big John’s saloon. “Whatcha working on John?” I asked. “It’s back here in the aft stateroom, John answered. I had a look. John had the hatch over his generator pulled up. Down below was a confusing mess of engines, shafts, electrical controls, wires, tanks, valves and pumps, all hidden in shadows and bathed in odors from the bilge and holding tank. “It’s back under there,” John said, “Got a little leak in the tank. And I can’t use it. So I can’t go cruising.” “Fuel tank?” I asked. “Uh, water tank,” said John, “ I think the leak is around the end there somewhere, over where that pump connects, beside that ginootinfritzle.” “Way back in there?” I asked, “Past that shaft and the through hull and the depth sounder transducer?” “Umm, yeah,” said John. “But how we gonna get at that John? You hafta tear up the bed and carpet and cut a hole in the sole so’s we can reach it?” “Well…” John said, “I figured maybe you could slither…” “Me! Slither?” I sputtered, “Listen John, a guy would have to be either a snake or a midget to get up in there. That’s who they use to build these boats, midgets. They lay up the hull, put in all the equipment. Then they build the sole over all that with tiny hatches and seal it in there good. And then they build the cabin over top of that to make double sure stuff never comes out. Then they’ve got a couple of midgets on staff that they use to correct any problems.” “I figure you could do it,” Big John stated flatly, “No way I could, but I think you might just get up in there, skinny as you are now. I was counting on you. I don’t want to cut up the sole. How bout giving it a try?”

Well what could I say? So a couple of minutes later there I was, shirtless, wrench in my teeth, flashlight in one hand, suspended up side down over the hole. John had me by the ankles and he was dunking me down between the generator engine and the side of the hatch. “OK John,” I called, “Gently now. Down a bit. Ooo, ouch, flippin carburetor! There, down a bit more. Oooo…stop, stop, it’s getting pretty tight in here. Stop. I’m stuck. It’s my belly up against the distributor.” “Your belly?” John asked incredulously, “Well suck it in.” “Can’t,” I answered, “It’s where they nuked me. Still swollen from the chemo.” “Just a minute then,” John commanded, “Here, hook your legs over the edge of the bed there while I go get something.” “Ouch, ooo, don’t leave me here like this! John, you %&*@-head!” Cripes, my head was all red and bunged up against a stringer and the bottom of the hull, and my arm was twisted three times backwards around a pipe, but he was gone Shipmates.

I heard him bound into the kitchen, and open the fridge door. “John, this ain’t no time for lunch!” I hollered. “Hold your horses. I’ll be right there. It’s in here somewhere,” John mumbled into the fridge, “Hey! There’s that chicken leg! Might as well grab it while I’m in here. Mmm, smack…tasty …Ah, there it is!” And I heard Big John sauntering back to the stateroom. “That was good,” he said. “Never mind your friggin chicken!” I hollered, “Get me out of here!” Just then I heard John’s phone ring. “Be just a minute,” he said, “Stay where you’re at.” “Look John,” I raged, “My left ear is folded under and it’s getting this permanent kink in it, and if I ever get out of here I’m gonna make you pay but good!” John wasn’t listening. “Hullo?” he said, “Hey Sofie baby! Good to hear from you. Not much. That noise? Nothing, just the guy on the next boat hit his thumb with a hammer or something. Yeah, he does it all the time. Bit of a klutz. Hold on a minute will you?” And I heard Big John kick the door to the stateroom closed. “But, but…” I sputtered.

Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said, “Sweet are the uses of adversity”? But my attitude at that time was somewhat less than sweet. In fact the more adverse things became, the more I plotted and schemed my blackest revenge. I’d let the air out of his truck tires, or plug up his holding tank vent. Or, or I’d steal his cat; yeah that’s it; I’d steal his beloved old cat. Scooter, he’s called, but now he’s too fat to scoot. Put on thick rubber gloves and grab him, stuff him in a big fat sack. And I had lots of time to scheme too, until Big John finally sachéed back into the stateroom. “That was Sofia,” he said dreamily, “Sofia wants me to come over and fix her toaster. Gotta find my aftershave.” John’s voice drifted off, getting lower in volume and frequency, until it settled into a bass rendition of “Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apar-r-r-r-rt?”

Now you might think I would have lost patience at that point, but revenge is a dish best eaten cold, Shipmates. “John. Hey John,” I called, prying him out of his reverie. “What?” he said, a touch annoyed. “I’m stuck,” I said, “Remember?” “Well, you better get loose then,” John said, “Haven’t got all day to fiddle around, you know.” And he grabbed me by one ankle and started to pull me up. “Bout time you got me out of here,” I muttered darkly. “Careful!” I yelled as something sharp poked me. “Easy now, easy.” “If you rip open my scar on that blessed spark plug, I hope bloody aliens come out and attack you!” But then he stopped. “Let’s just try this first,” he said, “You’re almost through.” Then splat, I felt this cold, slimy slap on my belly. I twitched involuntarily, clunk, ouch, bonking my head on a muffler. “John! What the hell’s that?” “Margarine,” he explained, slathering it around a bit, “Don’t worry, we can wipe it off the engine later.” And he started to lower me down again. “Ah $%#@, here we go again,” I complained, “Ungh, ooo, ooo….Hey! I’m through! Leggo my leg.” “Not yet,” John said, and I felt something tighten around my ankle. “What the blazes you doing now?” I asked. “Just tying a rope on here,” John answered, “Case you faint or die way up in there I can pull you out. Can’t have you stuck down there. Stink up the boat after a week or so.” The man’s compassion was boundless, Shipmates.

Well, there was nothing for it but to keep going. Getting past that generator was tough, but I was in there now. No way John was going to let me out until the job was done. I slithered and wiggled, crawled and scriggled. I scraped various assorted precious body parts over sharp wire and bolt, past pipe and pump, until finally I had my head and arms around the offending tank, looking for the leak. And there it was, a cracked plastic fitting tapped into the side of the tank. But the fitting was kind of big for a water tank, and the leak didn’t look like water. And the smell was pretty noticeable up close. “John,” I hollered, “I thought you said it was the water tank that was leaking?” “Well yeah,” he answered, “Umm, black water tank. Don’t worry, the tank’s empty and I’ve been hosing it down under there.” “Oh great,” I muttered, “Just makes my day.” I paused for effect, hoping he’d feel bad for deceiving me. Didn’t seem to have any impact. I think he was crawling into the fridge again, looking for more chicken. In case you haven’t already guessed, Big John’s kind of hard on the chicken population around town.

“Well, we’re in for it now,” I said, “Fitting’s cracked. Maybe somebody stepped on it putting the tank in. Here’s what we need. John, you there? You got an inch and a half pipe-to-hose fitting, a chain wrench, some teflon tape, a flat screwdriver, and a roll of paper towels? And better get some bleach and my respirator too. And some plastic gloves. And a couple of buckets, one with a bit of water and soap in it. You really, I mean really-really sure this tank’s empty?” So I cooled my heels down there for 45 minutes or so while John scrounged all that stuff up. He had to drive his old pick-em-up truck over to the hardware store for the fitting, but the rest of it we had between us. Then John fished it all down the hole and along under the sole with a boat hook and a plastic bag, till I could reach it. The rest of the job went easier than I expected. John stood on the port side of his boat and tightened a line down to the dock to pull the boat over even more, so anything left in the tank would be away from the fitting. The paper towels confined the mess pretty well, and the bleach and buckets made clean up easy enough. Getting out past the generator again wasn’t much fun, but this time John had the distributor cap off, and that helped.

So all in all it worked out OK. The scrapes and scratches are mostly healed, and I’ve forgotten those dark promises I made to myself down in John’s bilge. “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet leaves on the heal that crushes it.” Maybe that sounds a little fruity, but Mark Twain, of all people, said that. I figure if it’s good enough for crusty old Mark Twain to live by, it’s good enough for me. And anybody who don’t like it can go roll his hoop. Somehow I managed to avoid getting typhoid or some other deathly disease. And these days I’m packing away the grub, putting on the beef so he can’t send me down there anymore. Best of all, Big John You-Don’t-Give-Him-No-Lip owes me big time. It gives me hours and hours of pleasure thinking of ways I might call in the debt. Life is good again, Shipmates. You just can’t weaken, that’s all. It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.

Paul Browne

Geezer Boatworks