A Sunday Sermon


Tales from Geezer Boatworks

by Paul Browne
Geezer Boatworks

A Sunday Sermon

The Palm River meanders through cow fields, then subdivisions, and finally it flows past the rusty steel and grimy concrete buildings of an industrial area in the eastern part of Tampa. Our marina is tucked into a little dent in the bank of the Palm River, right after it slides under the four lanes of Fiftieth Street, and just before it dumps into the northernmost part of Tampa Bay. Because it isn’t really a residential area, there’s a substantial population of homeless people along Fiftieth Street. You see them most every day, thin men with long stringy hair and beards, pushing shopping carts along the sidewalks, shopping carts stuffed with colorless clothes and dirty bedding, and plastic bags full of aluminum cans. The marina is fenced along the street, and there’s an electric gate. You have to enter a code to open it. It keeps the bums out.

The river protects the marina to the south, and there’s a little creek around the northern and western sides of the property. Unless it’s been raining hard, the creek just oozes out of a storm drain. It fills the ditch alongside the street for a while before turning to curl around the marina. You can’t really see the creek from the road, because it’s behind some bushes. The reason I mention the creek is because there’s usually an old splintery plywood skiff up in there. It’s pulled up on the mud, tied to the bushes where it’s out of sight from the road. Sometimes when I come down to the marina, there’s a beat up pickup truck parked on the side of the road next to those bushes, and then that old blue skiff is gone.

When I first moved to Tampa, the rough parts of town disturbed me. But once you’ve been around a while, the ugliness starts to look normal. Like the song says, “It ain’t too hard to get along with somebody else’s troubles.” So when the marina gate grinds closed behind you, you forget the ragged people and the way they live, because the marina itself is well kept. You drive down a little hill onto the grass next to the docks, and you look over the boats, downstream where the mangroves line the riverbanks. You don’t usually look upstream towards the bridge, because it’s not nearly as pretty up that way. And then if you love boats, those mild fantasies bubble up into your subconscious again, and you start to enjoy yourself.

Well last Sunday morning that’s exactly what I did. Saturday mornings are for handyman chores the Resident Love Goddess dreams up. But Sunday mornings, those I’ve been taking for myself lately, and off I went to do a little work on the Icebreaker Danielle. I was out the door pretty early, but I wasn’t the first guy there. That old pick-em-up truck was parked beside the bushes. And what a morning it was too, with the sun just coming up. It was still cool and moist enough so that you wanted a heavy sweater, and there was a soft mist that blanketed the river ever so lightly. Nobody was around. I pulled the boat close to the dock, stepped aboard and fumbled with the lock. Then I rigged a deck chair on the aft deck and settled into it. I propped my feet up on the bulwarks, leaned the chair back, and sipped at my coffee.

The river was so quiet. That old sun was just starting to throw slanted sheets of light through the river fog. Something caught my eye up river. It was that beat up blue skiff, ghosting out of the mist, and gliding under the bridge. In the bows a big old black dog stood nose forward, and in the stern sheets a big old black man sat facing forward too. He had one hand on the tiller of an electric trolling motor and the other around a fishing pole. He wore a red plaid jacket, and a chewed up cloth cap. The trolling motor was absolutely silent, and the boat slipped down the center of the glassy river with a tiny wake. I kept right still, watching the fellow as he slid closer. And then, just as he came abreast of my boat, he did something very unusual in these parts. He started to sing. He sang to all of creation, all by himself and right out loud. And could the man sing, Shipmates! He had a voice clear and strong, and it spread across the water like yellow sunshine:

“That’s ’cuz it ain’t too hard,
To get along with somebudy else’s troubles.
They don’t make you lose any sleep at night.
Jez as long as fate is out thar a-bustin’ up,
Somebudy else’s bubbles,
Everthang’s gonna be all right.
Oh everthang’s gonna be all right.”

He sang as he disappeared down river, and the song mixed with the wisps of fog till his voice lost it’s clarity and became smooth, then muffled. When I couldn’t hear him anymore I shifted in my chair. Something made me glance up river, and there under the bridge stood a bum, wrapped in a sleeping bag. He was gazing sadly down river into the mist. Then he looked at me.

Paul Browne

Geezer Boatworks