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But while I ripsawed through the three sheets of exterior grade plywood that comprised, finally, the dinghy proper, I was seeing ketches, schooners and yawls slipping down the ways into green seas whose silence was not a byproduct of air conditioning. I knew in my heart that at the very moment my wife was asking me not to get glue on the furniture, some cheerful circumnavigator was busting a magnum of Mumm's on the oaken stem of an oceangoing brute.
My fantasy had finally focused itself. It took little originality for me to worship Herreshoff's sense of line. And living in an island city surrounded by so much thin water—the city's earliest economy was based on salvage—called out for a shoal-draft boat in a voice reminiscent of the noise of oak against coral, a gargling squeal not even approached by the late Janis Joplin. Everything pointed to a Meadow Lark. I instinctively trusted Herreshoff's desire that its owner spend his time aboard "in pleasure" and not be "annoyed."
But what was the use? I didn't see how I could afford to have one built, though a handsome glass model was being turned out on Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts. The state of Florida doesn't have a great nose for traditional boat building, so unless I could convert to a taste for pop-top cabins and LSD color schemes, I would just have to keep a lonesome eye on used-boat columns.
I did so for a long time and once in a while a Crocker or an Alden or another Herreshoff would surface among the two-seater runabouts, the metal flake zombiecraft guaranteed to blow every rich orthodontist off the lake or your money back, if your lawyer is good.
Sometimes I would see pictures of Meadow Larks in remote places and my whole heart would go gimme. I was a sick acquisitor in a capitalist madhouse. I'd pick up a boat magazine looking for a Meadow Lark at rest in a summery Nova Scotian cove, its owner visibly spending his vacation in pleasure. Instead, I'd find a fold-out advertisement of a pea-green multihull powerboat tailwalking across the wakes of other pea-green multihulls, the drivers all looking strangely annoyed. In another, a boatman rose from what looked like either a half-swamped torpedo or a scale model of the Merrimack, and aimed a fiber-glass crossbow at a sleeping carp. These boats weren't called Meadow Lark or Friendship or Bluenose or Sharpie or Skipjack, in the old manner. They were called things like Avanti, Sport Fury, Cobalt, Marauder, Luger and Mark IV. In their ads, sweet little things surrounded the control panels with their piquant breasts. They are removed from the boat after the sale or I wouldn't be talking this way.
I did know that when I bought a boat I didn't want to discuss the "standard accessory grouping" and I didn't want a day in it to be a sort of space probe. I didn't want a floating vinyl madhouse backed up by 56 distributor centers where I could stand in line with my dissatisfaction printed out in 25 words or less. Reading Joshua Slocum caused me to undervalue boats that were presented as, for example, fully carpeted. One boat company claimed its product as a modern classic because its interior was color coded. Another company said their product was the only choice for "blowing the others out of the water." Its performance was described with simple American eloquence as "hellacious." I couldn't quite appreciate boats whose various enigmatic details were "foamed in place." I didn't want to be "the superstar of revolutionary performance features." It had long since occurred to me that none of Herreshoff's boats were equipped with Flo-Torq. And the discovery that the builder of your boat was a division of a company like General Foods was, I thought, potentially disconcerting. Who do you call if she goes to the bottom? Betty Crocker? Aunt Jemima?
"You won't believe this!" I disemboweled the Miami Herald with an abrupt, clawing gesture. Then my wife and I had one of those epiphanies familiar to television watchers: you put down your fork, elevate your eyes no farther than the napkin; and you know it is over (your marriage, your nation, your belief in an afterlife, et cetera, all related to the putting down of a fork, the cracking of a toothpick or something along those lines).
My voice, crying out, "You won't believe this!" still seemed to hang in the air. My wife's eyes grazed off among the familiar appliances of an American breakfast. Her lips parted for a moment before she spoke:
"There is a used Meadow Lark in the paper."
"How could you have known that!"