Literary Criticism & Political Commentary

The Cusp of Dreams/Chapter 7: Knockdown

Copyright © 2000 by Diana E. Sheets

    We’re standing in one of those glass elevators, the three of us—Candy, stranger, and I.  He’s lusting after Candy; I’m the third wheel.  What a mistake to have jumped in just as the two of them were embarking toward ecstasy.   I keep seeing the elevator doors closing and closing and closing.   Queasiness washes over me again with each instant replay.   I can’t get out; my mouth goes dry; my legs threaten to collapse, and my vertigo has me all a whirl.  I’m a voyeur, nothing more.

     Anyway, stranger’s eyeing her, drinking her in with that x-ray vision of his.  The dude has already managed to slide her navy dress down, so it floats just above her spiked heels.  Heels that thrust her hips forward, giving her an appearance of legs and more legs.  Like an unstable young filly, but fully endowed.  With her large breasts, her tiny waist, and her slim hips, she’s every man’s fantasy.  You’d never guess that bitch is approaching forty.

     As I said, stranger has her dress down around her ankles, so she’s not going anywhere.  But then, why would she?  The dude is down on his knees; his hands reach upward, cupping her breasts.  And his face?  Well, it’s immersed in wet pussy.

     She’s moaning away.

     “MMMMMMMMmmm . . .”

     He’s having the taste of his life.

     “Ahhhhhhhha . . .”

     And I’m still here.  How could they?  Really, how the hell could they?  It seems I’m nothing more than a Peeping Tammy in the midst of their scintillating airlift. Now the bloke stands up and drops his pants.  Then he lifts her haunches up, pressing them hard against the glass wall.  Candy’s legs are wrapped tightly around his hips; a gymnast couldn’t have done better.  He’s entering her, pumping and grunting away.   Quite the fuck-a-thon.

     “Ummph . . . ummph . . . ummph . . . ummph . . .”

     You get the picture.   She’s moaning, of course.  A high pitched, wailing cry like a cat in heat.

     “Aooah . . . aooah . . . aooah . . . aooah . . .”

     Their moans assume a modern atonal rhythm.  Could this have been the creative nexus for Schoenberg’s revolutionary twelve-tone scale?  Don’t ask me.  I don’t care.  Just get me the hell out of here.  I’m so desperate to leave I’m prepared to crash through the glass doors.

     But it gets worse.  There’s a crowd gathering in the lobby.  They’re chanting and cheering.

     “Way to go.”

     “Fuck her brains out.”

     “That’s it; give her the old one-two.”

     “Now, that’s what I call one sexy bitch.”

     “What about the other one?  Why the hell aren’t her clothes off?”

     “That ugly broad?”

     “Take it off; take it off; take it all off.”

     It’s a chant that could rouse the dead.

     “Sue, Sue, wake up!  Your alarm’s gone off.  We’ve got that 8:00 a.m. meeting downstairs.”

     Hands are shaking me.  It was a fucking nightmare!  And who’s at my side?  Candy—our single, sexy, corporate bitchin’, gun-slinging broad.  It’s August, 1992 and we’re attending a manager’s meeting at a Jewish resort in the Catskills.  Candy and I are roommates.  Our digs are oversized, the style, romantic kitsch.

     Come to think of it, everything’s oversized.  Lobby, bars, restaurants, entertainment halls, pools, bathrooms, beds, the works.  Then there’s the food.  Obscene amounts, wilted beyond resuscitation.  Plate after plate piled high with fat oozing off the edges.  The courses just keep coming as if there’s a conveyor belt passing food from kitchen to mouth.  There’s a nonstop procession of chow to be digested from morning till night.

     I feel as if I’m consigned to play some bit part in a Woody Allen film.  The camera pans its lens across the resort’s humongous dining hall.  Yes, there I am gesturing toward the dinners.  They’re devouring morsels by the trowel-full.  But eventually, even these devotees of excess have their fill at the trough.  They slump back by the lard-full, their bellies swollen beyond recognition.

     “Sue, I’m headed down; see you there.”

     It’s Candy again.  There’s that 8:00 a.m. meeting.  Shit, I’m going to be late.

     “I’ll join you in a minute,” I say.

     She’s gone, closing the door behind her.  I’m scrambling madly to get ready.  I toss some water on my face; I throw on some clothes.  Now I’m racing down the corridor, hurling myself into the elevator.  This one, thank God, is constructed entirely out of steel.  I dash to the meeting room and slide into my chair like a ballplayer diving for home plate.  I sit down just as the session begins.  Tal’s at the podium.  Yeah, Parsons, our VP, the guy conducting this gong show.

TAL: Gang, I’m not going to bore you with the details. I’ll cut to the chase.  Amtech    wants to institute psychological testing as a means of evaluating our applicant pool.  What we’re looking at is a multiple-choice personality profile based on the Seychard-Weil matrix. Today, all of you will take the test.  You’ll be our guinea pigs, so the folks in Dayton can evaluate the relative merits of this questionnaire.

Raucous laughter.

CHIP: Let’s see if I understand the gist of what you’re saying. We’re supposed to interview our job candidates. Then immediately afterward you want us to subject them to a battery of psychological tests? We haven’t even determined if we want to hire these individuals, and we’re going to have them filling out questionnaires?  Who is going to administer these? Us? Your first line managers? How many hats are you going to have us wear, Tal? There’s the human resources’ skullcap, the trainer’s fedora, not to mention the sales manager’s crash helmet. And now, you’re going to have us don Freud’s electric-shock headgear?  We’re going to become Amtech’s resident psychologists?  Bullshit.  Total fucking bullshit. That’s TFB, Tal!

TAL: The test will be self-administered. It will be conducted immediately after your second interview with your candidates. Prior to that meeting, you should instruct them to set aside an additional hour after the interview to fill out a questionnaire.  At the close of your meeting, hand them the material.   Tell them to fill it out in the hotel lobby and give their completed responses to the clerk at the reception desk. You will be responsible for sending these profiles to Dayton.

HUGH: Seated to Sue’s right. And what will be the criteria for deciding if a sales candidate is “good”? Are we using some Midwest standard?  Maybe we should adopt the psychotic profiles that characterize our candidates in New York and Southern California. That should put us into lunar orbit.

Groans and laughter from the group.

SUE: EXCUSSEE Meeeee, Hugh. My reps aren’t psychos even if Candy’s fit that description.

Catcalls from the bleachers.

TEAM: Candy, you’re not going to take that are you?

CANDY: Ignoring Sue’s comment. Well, frankly I’m not sure where Hugh’s headed.

HUGH: Forgive me for stating the obvious, Sue and Candy, but your people are bonkers. Your reps screw up all our benchmarks.  Perhaps we should consider keying the psychological profiles to behavioral traits exhibited by sales people in more potentially stable markets, say Texas and Georgia.

TAL: The criteria that are being applied to evaluate candidates have been culled from a nationally representative sampling of industrial and consulting firms such as ours.

HUGH: That’s a lot of bull. What you mean is that the executives in Dayton have decided to use some Midwest profile to serve as a model for the rest of the country. The problem is, of course, that the Midwest is not representative of the rest of the country. There’s an entirely different state of mind operating out there. Besides, we already own that market. We’re not trying to establish a beachhead there.  Do you actually think anyone in Middle America even knows what a beachhead is? It takes a different kind of rep to make inroads into an intensely competitive new market. Has management considered that?

SUE: Tal, all the psychological testing in the world is not going to remedy the single most important reason our reps aren’t performing.   In a word--M O N E Y.  If sales reps earn bupkis their first three years, how are we going to attract decent people? How’s testing going to redress that?

            We’re not tackling the real problem responsible for revenue shortfall.  And let me tell you in New York that’s one hell of a BIG issue!  So if you’re expecting to see growth in revenue due to the implementation of psychological profiles, I’m telling you, it just won’t happen.

TEAM:  Hey . . .

            We’re not just talking New York here.

            We’ve all got money problems!

CANDY: Seated to the right of Hugh. Waiting patiently for her moment.  Southern California has some rather unique circumstances that challenge our ability to recruit the best candidates. Why . . .

TAL: He extends his arms in such a manner that both palms face out, serving as double stop-signals.  His actions are that of a man prepared to block the path of an oncoming freight train.  Guys, guys, gals and guys.  We’re not going there. Money is not on the table as a point of discussion. Testing, that’s the issue at hand. Let’s stay on point.

JEFF: Well, what I think you’re hearing, Tal, is that a lot of us have concerns about testing.

ROY: Seated to the right of Candy.  That’s the point, Tal! We ain’t gonna take no stinkin’ test!

TEAM: No stinkin’ test, no stinkin’ test.  No, nada! No stinkin’ test.” Chanting migrates into rap. Test, test.  Ain’t gonna take no stinkin’ test. No stinkin’ test, no stinkin’ test. Ain’t gonna take no stinkin’ test!

TAL: His voice begins as a roar then moderates as things settle down.   Let me make something perfectly clear! This ain’t no stinkin’ democracy. He begins passing out the questionnaires. His diction mocks their rap. “Youse bums is gonna take this test. You’d best be truthful. Fuck up your answers and youse gets another test. Corporate ain’t eliminating profiles. Get it?

     We take the stinkin’ test.  Naturally, we’re suspicious.  Let’s face it, sales people are lone rangers at heart.  No one’s going to quantify our methods, our psyches, goddammit!  Maybe Candy’s the exception.  She’s a former psych major and prides herself on her powers of persuasion.  That bitch never reveals her cards.


     Twenty-four hours later we’re back in the conference room, occupying the same seats as yesterday.  The tests had been faxed to corporate, entered into their computer banks, and e-mailed back in record time.  We feel as if we’re targets standing dead center in an active firing range.  Who the hell wants to come under the scrutiny of some psychobabble study, anyway?  It’s just a load of bullshit.  Tal passes out our assessments.   Reluctantly, I begin reading mine.

Sue’s  Profile

     We all have behavioral patterns.  They tend to remain constant because they reflect our core personality.  The demands of work, however, often require different responses that moderate our personal style.    Sue’s work style tends to be direct and forceful, innovative and imaginative, analytical and calculating.  Her behavior is balanced by two opposing forces.  Her desire for tangible results is held in check by her search for perfection.  Her tendency to be aggressive is mitigated by her sensitivity.  This sensitivity, however, may be jettisoned if it interferes with the bottom line.    Quick thought and action are constrained by Sue’s desire to explore options.  While reticent to engage in conflict, she acts aggressively if necessary for her success.  Sue accepts such aggressive behavior from others as natural.

     O.K., so I’m far from perfect.  But damn, they got me!  I glance over at Hugh.

     “How’s yours?”

     “Credible,” he replies.

     “Whanna swap?”


Hugh’s  Profile

     We all have behavioral patterns. . . . Hugh’s work style is both forceful and direct.  He’s demanding and results oriented.  However, these dominant characteristics are mitigated by social circumstances.  Hugh enjoys interacting with people, allowing for give and take.  Generally, he is perceived by both his peers and subordinates as a good motivator.  Hugh has little patience for administrative paperwork that fails to advance his objectives.  Nor does he tolerate lagging performers.  Under these circumstances, expect him to cut to the chase, focusing on achievers while systematically eliminating “nonperformers.”

     Hugh’s profile is spot on.  There’s no question that he’s a good manager, even if his territory—the Texas/Colorado hub—is so fertile his prospects shit gold bricks.  Now we’re both curious.  We turn to Candy.

HUGH & SUE: Simultaneously. Well, Candy, how does yours read?

CANDY: Not even close.

HUGH: Really? I thought they nailed Sue and me.

CANDY: Well, what can I say.  They got me wrong.

HUGH: Come on, Candy! Don’t tell me you take this seriously.  Mine says I’m impatient with little tolerance for details. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

CANDY: Smiling, her tone light, even as her manicured nails scratch. Hugh, dearest, I don’t know what it is about you, but even your flaws look like strengths. The rest of us only wish we could walk in your shoes. Candy drops her profile with a flourish into the trash bin beneath her desk.

ROY: Whose profile undoubtedly indicates that he lacks discretion, reaches under the desk to grab Candy’s report. He waves it in the air with gusto shouting, I’ve got it!  I’ve got it!

CANDY: A feminine squeal, followed by Roy, please! She nuzzles her chair next to his and squeezes his waist by way of diversion before lunging for the study. But Roy’s reflexes are quicker, his arms longer.  In triumph, he begins reading aloud.                                                                                                                                                                         

Candy’s Profile

     We all have behavioral patterns. . . . Candy’s work style is characterized by what may be best described as influencing behavior.  She interacts well with people.    She captivates those around her and uses her charms to gain the confidences of her peers and the cooperation of her subordinates.  Candy can be very creative in finding solutions to achieving her team’s objectives.  Where possible, she will nurture and sustain those around her in order to achieve corporate benchmarks.  Should these methods fail, Candy is likely to resort to manipulation and subterfuge.

ROY: Whoa Candy, remind me never to mess with you! Let’s see subterfuge.  What the hell does that mean? Ahhhh, I know, tricky like a fox. Candy’s a goddamn she-wolf!

A chorus of laughter follows.

CANDY: Roy, darling, had I wished my profile read aloud, you’re certainly the man I’d have selected. Her words are delivered lightly; she holds her anger in check. Nevertheless, Candy’s face is flushed.  She’s not used to having her strategies revealed.

     Anyway, you get the picture.  Despite this little drama and the general foolishness  of having our business fortunes told, all of us are staunchly opposed to utilizing psychological screening as a means of winnowing our applicant pool.  Not that our views matter.  As always, Dayton’s perspective wins out.  And so the meeting the meeting continues, razor sharp, veering both on and off course.

     That evening, Hugh and I meet at the bar.  Like many salesmen, he’s a drinker—scotch.  He’s handsome, though too many nights on the road, too many scotches, and a failing marriage or two are leaving their mark.  Hugh’s manner is a charismatic jumble of Southern Methodist preacher and prowling tomcat.  Spend any time with him and you realize this man needs space.  Despite his excesses, his sins, if you will, he’s a guy you like and respect.  Believe me, you want Hugh on your side.  He’s a dynamic whirlwind of energy; professional integrity mixed with chivalrous charm.  A kind of evangelical Michael Douglas on the prowl.  As a woman, you’re attracted to him.  It’s a low-grade burn, not some major radioactive fallout.  It’s always there; you hope it won’t do damage. 

     Hugh and I are on our second drink.  We’re sliding past business into the personal.  It’s Hugh’s nickel and he’s fishing.

     “Spoke to Ramirez the other day.”

     “Gee,” I reply, “I haven’t heard from him since he left Amtech.  How’s he doing with his startup?”

     “Hard to know with Charlie since he always tells it big.”

     We laugh.  Ramirez was never one to understate his achievements.

     Hugh continues, “Charlie and I were talking about this and that.  Strangest thing, he said Candy is having an affair with a married man.  Think that’s possible?”

     I’m not an idiot.  Hugh wants the skinny on Candy.  The guy’s hot for her.  And why not?  That babe’s in perpetual heat.  Just then I see her coming into the bar.  She’s with Parsons.  I bet Hugh tried to hook up with Candy before asking me to join him for drinks, but Tal got to her first.  It hurts that I’m his second choice.

     And just look at that bitch!  First, she takes off her jacket.   That’s so everyone can get a good look at her.  She has made sure her translucent blouse has a few buttons undone.  Then there’s her hair, tousled and flowing.  Listen to her sexually inviting laugh.  All of which serves as an invitation for males to pounce.

     The painful truth is that men lap it up.  Of course, few of them ever really “have” Candy.  Mostly, she’s sexual tease.  Even the guys who bed her find her elusive.  She’s never quite there, you see.   That has got to be part of her appeal.  There’s no settling down with Candy.  You’ll never see that babe in a dingy robe with curlers in her hair.  When she’s with you, she hangs on your every word.  She laughs at all your jokes.  She makes you feel special.  And when she’s not, well, don’t expect to reach her.  She never returns phone messages, unless they’re business and past urgent.

     “Well, Hugh, aside from a guy or two I might have seen her with in the elevator from time to time, Candy keeps pretty quiet about her sex life.   Still, I suppose it’s possible.  She’s single, pushing forty; she’s bound to run across a lot of married men.  Her history is anyone’s guess.”

     I’m noncommittal.  But the truth is I’m pissed.  What am I, knockwurst?  We’re having drinks, and Candy’s our subject matter.  I should have told him she’s frigid.  Or the truth: that she’s fucking Tal.  Would either have cooled his engine?  Probably not.  And don’t jump to conclusions.  I’m not pining for Hugh.  Things between us are just fine.  But damn!  If I’m having drinks with a guy, let’s not discuss another woman’s sexual prowess!   So I switch to sports.

     “How are your Texas Rangers faring these days?”   Baseball.  I can’t believe I’m discussing baseball.  Like I give a rat’s ass.

     “Not bad, they’re third in the league right now . . .”

     Give the guy credit.  At least he’s quick on the uptake.  We migrate toward safer subjects.  Eventually, I finish my drink and excuse myself.  I’m out of the bar and headed toward the lobby when I glance back.  Sure enough, he’s made his way toward Candy and Tal’s table.  Strychnine’s too good for that bitch.

     Here’s the thing.  Maybe you won’t believe this, but twice I saved Candy’s ass, yanked her out of the dumpster.  Think that matters to her?  Not a chance.  She views our friendship only as a means to an end—Rug Row.  And these days, Candy thinks her path to success will be blazed by schmoozing with the boys, something that broad does like breathing.

     Anyway, I’m digressing here.  Let me tell the story.  Candy and I first met when we were sent to Dayton to be trained by Ramirez.   Maybe it helps to explain things if you have a detail or two about our upbringing.  We were adored by our fathers when we were children.  They were both influential engineering executives.  Some might call them the movers and shakers of America’s cold-war military machine.  So it should come as no surprise that we are used to mingling with players. 

     But that pretty much covers our similarities.  For while Candy’s persona in the presence of men is likely to be sticky-sweet laced with aphrodisiac charm, I eschew feminine wiles, playing the corporate game by the prevailing men’s rules.  But despite her vampish charm, Candy’s a chick with pedigree: Mayflower gal, DAR, and all the rest. Candy camouflages her heritage with her studied Southern-Californian babe presence.  Just look at her!  With her flowing blonde rinse (catch those black roots), her contact blue eyes (brown, au natural), and her shapely figure (siliconed and liposuctioned in all the right places) that bitch shouts ingénue.  Her after hour duds serve as running lights to attract the notice of every red-blooded male within range.  Shit, even her business attire incubates lust.  Still, what would you expect from a trollop whose shopping purchases are strictly gold-plated? The other day, she showed me one of her platinum-card bills from one of her excursions to Rodeo Drive.  Would you believe it surpassed my monthly mortgage payment?

     What Candy studiously avoids, of course, is Val Gal lingo.  And underneath her patina of femininity, she’s as sharp as a switchblade.  The broad’s both capable and driven.  She makes it her business to be in the know.  Her image is as carefully crafted as was that of Marilyn Monroe.  The bitch has only two passions in life: exciting men’s sexual obsessions and scaling the corporate tower.  How lucky for her that they fuse into one.

     Given her looks and MO, maybe now I’ll interest you in our story.  After our initial training, Candy seized the opportunity to relocate to LA.   Her new boss, Moron, we called him, kept leaving her cryptic voice mails.   So Candy struggled along without his support.  Don’t get me wrong; she wrote business, it just wasn’t major.  Time passed, and she still wasn’t bringing in the big contracts.

     When corporate placed her on probation, the chick started calling me.   I felt sorry for her and was flattered by all that attention.  So I talked her though every step of her sales.  I prepped her on how to approach her prospects, how to tailor her sales pitches, and how to reel in those deals.  We began charting her global strategy.

     Believe me, I was happy to do it.  Back then, I was a Girl Scout.  I felt that helping colleagues served the greater company cause.  What was good for Amtech was surely good for me.  How could it be otherwise?  Candy was my friend.  Anyway, wasn’t Amtech kind of an extended family?  And what could be more important than family?

     But Candy, as it turns out, is interested only in herself.  She nurtures allegiances, not friendships.  She’s a taker, not a giver.  And a backstabber to boot.   Of course, I got her selling big systems.  They never matched mine, and you just have to trust me when I tell you I was the brains behind her best deals.

     Later, when I was promoted to management, I kept my eye out for her.  So when her boss, Mr. Moron, was fired, I made a case for promoting Candy.  At the time corporate was leaning heavily toward replacing Moron with an outside candidate.  Thanks to yours truly, Candy got the job.  Why did I do it?  Would you believe I thought she was the best candidate?

     When Candy was promoted, everything changed between us.  She stopped calling.  She no longer gossiped with me about corporate politics.  Of course, I knew she was trying to move on up.  What I didn’t realize was just how far she was prepared to go in order to reach Rug Row.  What I discovered was that the bitch sucks you dry.  Then, when you ask for water, she gives you poison.

     Like the time she met with our Executive VP, Fred Pick.  She went over Tal’s head to arrange that meeting.  And then she tried to gun Parsons down.  According to Roy, Tal said to her, “‘Why’d you do it?  If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even have your job.  What, possibly, could I have done to make you so vindictive?’”

     “‘Tal,’” she said, batting her lashes, “‘you’ve got it all wrong.  You know I adore you.  We’re not talking personalities here.  I was just pursuing the company’s open door policy.  There were issues I wished to discuss that pertained to California.  I felt these matters had ramifications for our entire U.S. market.  Since I understood these better than anyone, I felt I should be the one to carry the ball.’”

     But Roy said she did a great deal more than that.  Candy discussed matters that called into question Tal’s managerial performance.  She criticized his handling of operations, his hiring practices, even his personal expense vouchers.  While her attempted mutiny failed, nevertheless, she succeeded in damaging Parsons’ reputation.  Rumor has it that Tal’s bonus may be in jeopardy this year and that an official reprimand has been placed in his file.  Of course, Candy’s treachery never launched her into Rug Row.  And ever since her meeting with Pick, Tal’s been giving her the cold shoulder.  The scuttlebutt has it that she’s been trying to win back his favor by spreading her legs.

     Today, of course, Candy and I are the fiercest of competitors.  For the moment, her region appears to be performing better than mine.  Sure, Candy’s team writes more business.  But a lot of these orders are bogus.  Thirty percent of California’s contracts fell through last year.  A lot of the canceled orders were due to credit problems.  But there were also a surprising number of fraudulent contracts.  Of course, the sales people responsible were fired, but why wasn’t Candy given the boot?  This year, Candy’s numbers seem even more dubious, but so far no one’s double-checking her billings.  Measured in terms of true net profit, I estimate the performances of our regions to be about equal.  But for now, management appears to be extolling the virtues of Candy’s paper miracle.  They’re desperate for figures that’ll meet the utterly absurd benchmarks that are set by Dayton’s top brass.

     As for my difficulties, they don’t even register on the corporate radar screen.  The executives in the Midwest don’t give a rusty fuck about my problems.  Think they care that my market is more established?  That double-digit growth in my region exceeds a forty-percent gain in Candy’s?  They don’t even acknowledge the devastating hits my area has taken from our fiercest competitor nationwide, a company whose headquarters are smack dab in the center of my territory.  Management never considered lowering my objectives even though the 1990 recession caused a twenty-percent decline in manufacturing in metro New York.   And that’s not even the half of it.   Yeah, I’m not being dealt a fair hand.  That’s the ugly truth.  All of which is to say that if I’m to come out on top of things, it won’t be by dint of ingenuity and hard work.

     All of which brings us back to the “S” factor.  These days, Candy has Hugh figured as the best means of getting to Rug Row.  She’s ready to tumble.  Sure, she’s still fucking Parsons.  That guy’s insurance in case Hugh fails to deliver.  But she has her waypoint set for Hugh.  That might explain why I’m a little short with him about matters pertaining to Candy.  Why should I help write that bitch’s ticket?

     Maybe you get the picture.  Or maybe you don’t.  Maybe I’m mistaken.  Could be that Candy’s no better or worse than the rest of us, and we’re all piranhas swimming around in one hell of a fish tank.

     Anyway, let’s just say that I survived the management meeting.

     Now I’m back in the field, beefing up my team’s numbers for August before the Labor Day holiday when Tom and I set sail for Cuttyhunk and the Vineyard.  Believe me, even a week of vacation is a big deal.  Today, you’re never really supposed to leave your office. There’s always the fear that your job won’t be waiting for you when you return.  A lot of managers never take time off because they like to think they’re indispensable.  Others, skip their vacations because they’re strapped for cash or have pressing family responsibilities.

     Whatever their reasons, my colleagues just don’t take holidays.  Occasionally, they’ll take a long weekend with their pagers strapped to them.  It’s as if they don’t exist unless they’re in constant communication with the office.  Anyway, you get the picture.  But I’m not buying.  Nope, right now Tom has got a crew with him sailing our thirty-two foot sloop, Egia, up to Mystic, Connecticut.  We’re headed toward points east.  Can I help it if the battery for my pager dies while we’re at sea?

     Brrrrriiiiing.  Fucking telephone.


     “Hi, Sue.”

     “Candy?”  Why the hell is she calling?

     “I hear from Tal that you and Tom are taking some time off to go cruising.”

     “That’s right.  Next week we set sail from Mystic to Cuttyhunk and the Vineyard.”

     “Sounds wonderful.  I’ve always wanted to take a trip like that.”

     “Well, sailing’s not for everyone.  Our boat’s pretty small, the accommodations are rather basic, and frankly, conditions get rough out at sea.”

     “I’d love to go with you.  It would be a dream come true.  Any possibility I could join you for the first leg of your tip?  I’ve got a family matter to attend to in Boston on Wednesday.”

     Give her credit.  The bitch has moxie.  What makes her think I’ll say yes?

     “Sure, Candy.  We’d love to have you.   We can drop you off at Woods Hole on Tuesday.”

     I can’t believe I fucking said that.  Why didn’t I say no?  Because I’m afraid of making enemies at work; that’s why.  I’ve got enough problems as it is.

     “Are you positive?”

     “Absolutely!  Just meet us at the marina Friday night.”  I give her directions, all the while thinking I’m going to regret this.


     Candy, Tom, and I set sail at daybreak.  The weather’s good enough.  Good enough, so Tom doesn’t cancel the trip, though I know he wants to.  My poor engineer, when it comes to sailing, he’s one hell of a worrier.  If there’s a low-pressure system within five hundred miles of us, Tom’s sure to delay our departure.  The guy’s gotten so good at weather predictions he can customize our forecast by just looking at satellite printouts.  Tom’s always scouring the Internet, getting the skinny on long-term forecasts.

      Go figure.   The guy gets despondent about the things he can’t control.  And on a boat, that’s one hell of a lot of worrying.  Me, I worry about the stuff I think I should have a grip on.  You know—my job, my reps, my fate.  But let’s face it, I’m not mechanical.  So when it comes to sailing, Tom stews for two.  Just as well.  I can tell by his brow he’s cranking out enough dismal scenarios to sink a fleet.  Nevertheless, at my insistence, we’re still headed for Cuttyhunk.  Candy’s here, so Tom feels duty bound to press on, though there’s misery wedged into every pore of his face.  For the moment, fifteen knots of wind has us clipping along at over six knots even on this broad reach.

     I’m at the helm, and Candy’s proving quite the crew.  She’s working the sails while Tom’s running up and down the companionway hatch.  He keeps going below: looking at the charts, checking the loran, and, as the weather worsens, powering up the radar.  We’re down to three miles of visibility.  That’s not ideal, but it’s stable enough for now.  But Tom is waiting for the fog to roll in.  So up and down, up and down, up and down he paces.  For him, it’s not a question of if trouble will strike, but when.   I’m trying to keep things lively with Candy, so she won’t notice Tom’s edginess, his silence.

     “So, Candy, have you spoken to Tiebold recently?”  Yeah, I’m needling a little.  She still hasn’t forgiven Roy for having swiped her profile report.  Let her squirm; that’s my new motto.

     “Haven’t you heard?” she asks, laughing.

     Damn!  Even that bitch’s cackles are sonorous.  How the hell does she do it?

     “No.  What’s the scoop?”

     “His rep, Weiring, lost it in a customer’s parking lot.  Somewhere near Nashville.  The guy started firing a pistol into the air.  One of the bullets ricocheted off a tree and hit Tiebold’s right foot.”

     Our laughter resounds, bouncing off water.

     “Can’t you just see it, Sue?” Candy continues, “Tiebold was hopping on his left foot.  Hop, hop, hop.  And swearing up a storm.  ‘Fuck!  Fuck!  Fuck!’  He was fuming, madder than Rambo.  Then he shouted, ‘Weiring, whatsthematter with you?  Have you gone INSANE?’

     “According to Tal, the company employees rushed to the windows.  Others had just driven back from a quick bite of lunch.  They had parked their cars, gotten out, and had begun walking toward the front entrance when ‘Bang!’ a shot was fired.  Then another.  People were hurling themselves onto the pavement or cowering behind cars.  Just picture it.  Men and women were squished to the blacktop while others were crouched behind vehicles.  They all prayed they would escape Weiring’s notice.  Then Haskell, the CEO, ran to the lobby window.  You’re not going to believe this, but he was packing a shotgun!  Well, what would you expect, this is Tennessee we’re talking about.  Haskell slid open a window, set his sights on Weiring, then shouted, ‘Give yourself up, boy, or I’ll have to take you down!’

     “Not that anyone heard him out there.  There was way too much happening. Tiebold’s face turned purple.  He shook a fist and yelled, ‘Your fired, Weiring!  Fired.  Get it?   You shove that fucking pistol back inside your jacket holster and get your sorry ass the hell out of here!  Don’t call; don’t write; don’t ever fucking speak to me again!  You’re road pizza, Weiring!  Slugs won’t even want to eat your squashed carcass.  Collect your fucking walking papers and scat.  Y’hear?’”

     Candy and I are howling, our sides are splitting, our breathing is labored.  I’m gasping for air, but I’ve got to ask.

     “Tiebold canned the guy right on the spot?  With the gun still in Weiring’s hands?  Either he’s the stupidest SOB I’ve ever met, or his cojones are pure brass!”

     Our vocal cords resonate with squeaky squeals.  It’s a while before Candy continues, “Actually, Weiring aimed the pistol at Tiebold and cocked the hammer.”

     “No shit!”

     “Tiebold stood his ground, shouting, ‘You don’t scare me you motherfucker.  Shoot, shoot, come on, shoot—you chicken shit!’  Then Weiring turned, stomped off, and drove his run-down pickup away, showering Tiebold in a cloud of angry dust.  As he spun his vehicle across the parking lot, the company employees fled.  It was bedlam.  Can’t you just see Tiebold caked in dirt and grime, one giant dust ball?”

     We’re laughing so hard it’s a few minutes before Candy finishes her story.  “So Tiebold hobbles back to the customer’s building and calls his wife.  She rushes over and speeds him to the emergency room.   Poor guy.  Roy’s now in a cast, his foot has several broken bones.  Such a shame.  It’ll be at least a month before he’s driving again.”

     I’m choking back the tears before finally spitting out, “Guess that means profile testing is a shoe in!”

     We laugh till it hurts.

     But Tom’s taking no part in our merriment.  The guy hasn’t cracked a smile though any of this.  He’s just up and down the companionway hatch.

     Occasionally, he growls, “Stay on course, Sue; you’re heading up.”

     Really, when’s that guy gonna loosen up?  You might not believe this, but usually he’s sweet and affectionate.  However, sometimes it’s hard to tell while we’re sailing.  That’s when Tom’s optimism is overcome by an avalanche of doom.  It’s as if the boat has sprung a million leaks as soon as she’s left the harbor, and he alone is entrusted with the herculean task of bringing her home.

     Oddly enough, my response is quite the opposite.  Problems that seem overwhelming to me while I’m on land become minuscule when I’m sailing offshore.  As far as I’m concerned, there are no sleepless nights on a boat, unless Tom and I are weathering a storm.  Out here, my alter ego takes hold.  I’m cheerful, optimistic, adventurous.   Perhaps Tom’s right, I have no perception of danger until it strikes.  Anyway, I love standing at the helm, hands on the wheel, steering an accurate course.  And no matter what he may say, I assure you, my course is true.  I enjoy scanning the horizon, searching for landmarks.  But it’s the challenging September weather I love most, when rolling seas and strong winds conspire to heel Egia over more than thirty degrees; it’s then that I’m at my best.  My adrenaline pumps; I’ve got one foot on the rail; what could be better?  And make no mistake about it; part of the thrill is the danger, the risk.

     Labor Day holidays are always fickle.  Summer’s not quite over, autumn winds try to kick in.  What we have today is what’s called a “smoky southwest.”  With the high humidity in the air, there seems a distinct possibility of a late afternoon thunderstorm.  And that has got to be what’s worrying Tom most.  Our engine is gasoline, not diesel; he’s always concerned about lighting strikes.  And with our tall aluminum mast, he has reason to be fearful.  A lone sailboat out here might just as well have “Kaboom!” plastered all over her sails.  All it takes is one direct hit to ignite our gasoline tank, and we’re toast!  Let’s just hope the forecast is correct and that the front is positioned well to our northwest.

     Anyway, we’re traveling almost due east, which as I said, has us sailing on a broad reach.  We’re headed about one hundred and ten degrees off the wind, so we’re able to utilize our full main and our large head sail, a racing genoa.  Because the winds are coming over our starboard aft quarter, Egia’s hardly heeled over at all, and she’s making good time.  All this means a comfortable ride for Candy.  But, of course, it also means that should we have to suddenly head up into the wind, we’ll be overpowered, something Tom has repeatedly pointed out.  But for now my strategy of maximum sail, genoa over jib, prevails because of the present wind direction and our need for speed.  Even Tom acknowledges we’ll never reach Cuttyhunk in time to pick up a mooring without a large headsail.

     When we round Point Judith, I join Tom down below and begin preparing lunch.  Candy is at the wheel.


     “What’s the problem, Tom?”

     “It’s the loran; the system’s down.  I’m getting no reading.”  

     I’m upset.  I know Tom.  He’s going to insist we pull in at Newport.  No way, no fucking way!

     “Honey,” I try, “it just failed.  Give it a few minutes to right itself.”

     But I can see how worried Tom is.  I’m coming up the companionway hatch with sandwiches while he’s below inspecting the equipment.  Naturally, it’s not our electronics that has failed.  Some transmitter must have gone out.

     It’s one miserable lunch.  Tom keeps checking the loran and glancing toward Newport.   He sees my steely look of determination.  I’ve nick-named this trip “Cuttyhunk or Bust” because of the numerous times we have departed for this destination only to have weather or wind conditions force us back.  Normally, we’d be screaming at each other by now.  But Candy is here, so we try to act civilized.

     “That’s it, Sue.  The loran’s still not working; we’re heading to Newport!”  Tom’s voice has the predictable pitch of a man barking orders.

     “No fucking way . . . honey.”  Right now, all my thoughts are of carving him up for the big fishies.  Who died and made him captain?

     “Your heard me; we’re heading back.  There’s a storm-system brewing.   Look around.  Our visibility is less than three miles.  There’s no way we’re going any further unless everything’s working.  We’re tacking back, now!”

     No way we’re changing course.  Candy had better just stay out of this.

     “Tom, I’m going below to take a look.”

     “What’s the point?  I checked the instrument a dozen times.”

     “Well, I’d like to see for myself.”

     So I go below.  Just as I’m leaning over the chart table, the loran starts working.  There’s our waypoint.  I’ve got Tom dead to rights!

     “Honey,” I say, “it’s back on; we’re fine!”

     “What the hell are you talking about?”   Living proof of Tom’s nautical pessimism, it takes him a few minutes to acknowledge we really are getting an accurate reading.

     “Well, maybe you’re right,” he finally concedes.

     And with that, we continue sailing downwind.  Now that I’m back on deck, I take the helm from Candy.  Fortunately, we’re still making great time.  Tom’s still climbing up and down the companionway hatch.  Then, about a mile in front of us, I see a sloop suddenly come about.  It has changed course by 180 degrees.   Tom’s also on deck watching.

     “What the hell are they doing?” I ask.

     “Don’t know.”

     But we both saw the crew radically alter direction.  We look at each other and simultaneously think, Assholes!  That’s one benefit of years of cohabitation.  A Spockean mind meld.  We don’t even need to utter the words we’re so in sync.  But Tom and I are nervous now.  We’re scanning the horizon, checking for obstacles.  Tom goes below to consult the charts.  Candy’s by my side, binoculars in hand, looking.  She’s not sure how scared she should be.

     At first, all I see are a couple of black dots.

     “Tom, look!”

     He bounds up the stairs and grabs the binoculars from Candy.  The three of us stare at the black, bobbing dots.

     They get bigger.  Now they’re splotches.  Those motherfuckers are everywhere!  We’re headed right for them.

     “You know,” Candy says, “they look like steel drums to me.”

     “Shit!”  The three of us say in unison.

     “They’re connected with a steel cable,” Tom shouts. “They’ll cut right through our keel!  Tack, Sue, tack now!”

     So I head into the wind.  Tom grabs the genoa sheet from Candy while I come about.  Like the other sloop, we’re now headed west.  Shit, too much sail is up.  Egia is heeled over forty degrees.

     “Hang on,” Tom shouts, as he tries to loosen the genoa.

     But the sheet is fouled.  It’s knotted around the winch.  Candy falls down to the leeward side of our boat.  Damn, she’s half out of the boat!  Tom has his back turned as he tries to release the sail; he sees nothing.  We’re going to lose Candy.  I grab for her left hand with my right while my other hand grips the wheel.  But she’s slipping away.  I can’t hold her.  Shit, I’m going to heave to, lose Candy, or both.

     That’s when I think it.  An instant later, the thought passes.  But while it’s there, everything shifts to slow motion.  You know, I could just let Candy go.  See, her fingers are breaking free.  The tide’s still going out.  No one will ever find her.  My competition, swept out by the afternoon tide.  Who could blame me?  It was an accident.  Served the bitch right.  I had rescued her twice before.  That was quite enough. Only a fool would come to her aide a third time! Only a fool, a fool, a fool . . . 

     It’s then that I look into Candy’s eyes.  She pleading, pleading for life.  I shout to Tom for assistance.  He finally frees the sheet, which helps to stabilize the boat.  And with the sail flapping, we manage to pull Candy back into the cockpit.  Then Tom secures the genoa—loosely this time—to the starboard winch.   The crisis is over.  Candy is shaken, but composed.  Later, we tack again, heading on a southerly course until we’re beyond the barrels before resuming our easterly heading for Cuttyhunk.

     By now, Tom has discovered from our cruising guide that the drums are Sakonnet fish traps with steel cables connecting them.  Damn fishermen!  Their nets are more than three miles offshore.  The cable could have snagged our keel or disabled our rudder.  Despite these discomforting thoughts, we continue to sail east toward Buzzard’s Bay.

     We pull into Cuttyhunk’s outer harbor at three p.m., right on schedule.   Thank God, two moorings left!   But as I nose Egia toward the closest buoy, I see a forty-foot sloop bearing down on the marker.   I quickly change directions, heading toward the last available mooring, the one closest to the harbor entrance.  We’re within fifty yards of the buoy when another larger sailboat overtakes us and grabs the float.  Shit!  Nothing’s left.

     Reluctantly, we drop anchor.  Tom calls the harbormaster.  All inner harbor moorings and slips are taken.  Of course, it’s Labor Day.  We wait, hoping that other boats will head for shore.  Tom goes below to catch a weather forecast.  He’s got the volume on high, so Candy and I can hear the broadcast up on deck.


The national weather service in Boston reports severe thunderstorm warnings along the Massachusetts and Rhode Island shores, with the greatest threat posed between Newport and Cape Cod.  This storm will contain dangerous lighting and winds in excess of sixty miles per hour.  Large hail is expected.  This extremely powerful system will bring the first sustained Canadian front of the season.   Please stay turned for further broadcasts.

     The radio drones on and on.  Certainly, Candy, Tom, and I listen.  Not that we hear much in our twilight of consciousness.  How can this be happening?  Throughout the day, Tom had been listening to weather reports.  They all indicated a possible threat of showers, nothing more.  And now this.

     Terror grips me.  We’ll never survive the night.  We’ll sink for sure.  Tom knows it, too.  He’s pacing Egia as if the entire boat were a gangplank.  You don’t ever want to witness this kind of walk.  It’s a death sentence walk.

     Perhaps, you don’t get it, see what Tom and I see.  Well, I’ll tell you.  This is the first autumn front headed through New England.  Egia will never hold her anchor through the storm.  During the night when the winds come up and especially when they start blowing out of the northeast, they’ll rush right down Buzzard’s Bay.  It’s one long fetch that stretches for more than twenty miles.  Cuttyhunk’s outer harbor lies at the southwest tip of Buzzard’s Bay.  We’ll be on the receiving end of this funnel, getting the brunt of the winds and seas.  This anchorage is intended for summer settled weather patterns, not a major storm.

     Assuming we don’t get struck and killed by lighting first, our anchor will start dragging and our engine won’t have the power to keep us off the rocks.  Even if by some miracle the anchor holds with the help of the engine, we’ll run out of fuel.  This system will probably blow for at least twenty-four hours, more likely several days.  What most people do under these circumstances is try to run before the storm or, failing that, head out to sea.  As for us, we’ll never make it to shore in time.  Even if we did, who’s to say we could secure a slip or mooring?  This is a major holiday.  And we’re not so stupid as to take a sloop with an aluminum mast and a gasoline engine out to sea, one lone vessel beckoning the thunderbolts.

     Nope, we’re going to sit this one out on anchor, trying to forestall our sinking with the engine.  But we’re goners for sure.  The boat will be smashed into bits.  The only issue remaining is whether we will be able to swim to shore in the darkness of night.

      But that’s not even the worst of it.  Tom was right.  This was no day to be cruising.  I can’t escape the realization that I’m at fault here.  It seems my “Cuttyhunk or Bust” strategy is about to reach its fateful conclusion.  Tom saw it all coming; he knew.  I will be responsible for our ruin.  So why isn’t Tom shouting at me?   He should at least have the pleasure of grinding in a thousand “I-told-you-sos” before we’re under hatches!  The guy should revel in his righteousness, but he’s not.  Tom just keeps pacing, trying to think of a solution.  The worry on his face breaks my heart.  Candy just sits there wide-eyed.  She’s not stupid.  She heard the forecast.  She’s just watching us and waiting.  Thank God, she’s not jabbering away.  At least, she’s no wimp.

     Now I begin going down the checklist of futility with Tom.   “You think we should run a second anchor off the stern?”

     “What’s the point?  We may have to run the engine in reverse to secure the bowline.  We need maneuvering room; we can’t afford to drop a second anchor.”

     “Should we run for shore?” I can’t help asking.  Believe me, I know it’s futile.

     “You heard the forecast.  Besides, thunderstorms on shore are likely to be worse than here.  In any case, we’ll never make it to land in time.  And even if we did, it’s doubtful we would find a slip or mooring.  We don’t even know these waters.”  His words are uttered in a monotone.  Tom’s not blaming; he just sees no remedy.

     “What about anchoring in the inner harbor?”   I say.

     “Weren’t you listening earlier?  The harbormaster said everything was taken.  They’ve been sending all the boats away!”

     So you see, we’re out of options.  We’re dead, dead as nits.   The hours, minutes, and seconds preceding our demise tick away, a laborious slide down the hourglass.  Damn it’s hot!  We’re sweltering.  Perspiration drips down Tom’s face.  Time slithers by.  How can approaching death be so stultifying?   There’s just no relief.  So we decide to put on our swim suits.  Tom’s the first to dive in.


     It’s the first pleasant word he has uttered all day.  He’s on his back, kicking every few seconds to keep the currents from sweeping him away.  How can any of this be divine?  But it’s not long before the heat drives Candy and me into the sea.   The water is cool; it’s invigorating.  Tom’s right.  Divine describes things quite nicely.  Our swim is luxuriating.  No hurry, why rush.  What could be better?  It’s not like we have other things to do in the hours, minutes, seconds before we’re azoic.

     Eventually, we climb up the swim ladder and dry ourselves off.  We lay on the deck while the late afternoon sun warms us.  Damn, I’m hungry!  Crazy, isn’t it?  I’m always eating on a boat; especially, when there’s worrying to be done.

     “Anyone want a snack?”

     “Starving.” Candy replies.

     From Tom, I hear nothing.  The guy always sheds pounds for worry while at sea.  Why eat, he must be reasoning, with death knocking at our hull?  I go below and start passing up some salad, Camembert cheese, Carr’s crackers, and a bunch of grapes.  I even bring up some wineglasses and a bottle of chilled Liebfraumilch.  Why not?  Our demise seems to be quite some time coming.  Let’s at least enjoy our last super.  Tom glowers at us.  It’s a look of disgust.  But why shouldn’t we have some nourishment, some fat?  At least we’ll float.  So Candy and I wine and dine with the best of them.  Tom continues to pace, of course.

     The heat lingers, keeping step with the labored passage of time.  After a while, I look at my watch—4:32.  I look again—5:05.  And again—5:24.  Throughout it all, it’s so bloody hot.  Glancing up at the sky, I see some nimbus clouds appearing.  They’re big and puffy, edged in purple.  Headed for us?   Another look at my watch—5:45.  The minutes are clocking out.  Dammit!    I’m not going down without a fight.  One last call, I’ll have Tom make it.

     “Honey, why don’t you call the harbormaster to see if any slips are free?”  Tom looks at me as if I’m a cretin.

     “Your heard the harbormaster.  They’re full, FULL!”

     “But maybe the storm scared off a powerboat.  Perhaps, someone’s already left for shore.  Look, we draw less than four feet.  Who knows, there might be a place for us.”

     “Sue, it’s almost six; the harbormaster’s gone.  It’s pointless.”

     “Tom, please check it out.  What’s the harm in asking?”

     “You call.  You’re the one engaged in an exercise in futility.”

     “Please, Tom.  You know I hate phones and radios, pretty please?”  Don’t ask me how a woman that has a career in sales can be so averse to using communication devices, but I rarely use phones after business hours.  Well, that’s another story.  I give Tom another nudge or two until he picks up the radio receiver.

     “Harbormaster this is the yacht, Egia.  Can you read me?  Over.”

     “This is the harbormaster.  Egia switch to channel seventy, over.”

     “Egia switching to channel seventy, over.”  Tom moves the dial on the radio and continues, “Harbormaster, this is Egia.  We’re anchored in the outside harbor.  I’m not sure we will hold in the coming blow.  Have you any slips left for the night, over?”

     “Egia, what’s your length and beam?  How much do your draw?  Over.”

     “She’s thirty-two feet long with a beam of ten feet.  Egia has a shallow draft of three feet eight inches, over.”

      “Egia, there’s been one slip cancellation.  It’ll be tight getting in, but it’s nearly high tide, so I think you’ll make it.  You’ll be resting on your side a bit at low tide, but it’s all we got, over.”

     “This is Egia; we’ll take the slip.  As soon as we draw up anchor, we’ll enter the harbor, over.”

     “We’ll be looking for you, Egia, on the first set of docks entering the harbor.  Over and out.”

     “Egia, over and out.”

     Candy and I are screaming with delight. Damn, salvation’s good!  Egia will live to sail another day!   There must be a God in this universe for those of us that are abysmally shortsighted.  For I’ve been handed a miracle, and I know it.  Then I go over to Tom and give him a hug.  It’s a bear hug blessed with a kiss.  Tom’s lips taste salty-sweet.  But our embrace is short-lived. Tom gives me that look.  The one that says, I don’t know how you pull it out of your asshole!  I shrug.  Whatever.  He pushes me away, anxious to get going.

     Anyway, we make it into the slip with a series of engine thrusts and assists from fellow yachtsmen on the dock.  Then we walk the island. Phones and cars are a scarcity.  Instead, islanders generally communicate by ship-to-shore radio.  In the center of the village, there’s a hotel crammed with boaters and vacationers celebrating the season’s last hurrah.  Private dirt roads serve as public trails.  We hike up a hill for a view.  The whole island is tiny, picture perfect.  From our perch, we see the Vineyard through a foggy, sunny haze.  Closer still are the islands of Penikese and Nashawena. 

     That evening, we party with other boaters at the dock.  They’ve brought in a band for the occasion, so we dance and frolic into the night.  Later, when we’re asleep below deck, we’re awakened as the front passes through.   Sure, there are fireworks of light and sound, but mercifully no direct hits.  Then the howling northeast winds begin roaring through.

     At mid-morning the next day, we walk out to the long sand spit that marks the entrance to the harbor.  Armed with binoculars, we watch and wait to see if any intrepid souls are crazy enough to set out for shore.  Certainly not us, we heard NOAA’s weather reports.  They predicted gale warnings.  Eventually, one sailboat leaves the harbor, her mainsail hoisted to steady and assist her in powering out to Buzzard’s.  But she barely motors five minutes out of the inner harbor before she’s knocked down.  Her mast hits the sea, her mainsail dives under the waves, and her cockpit fills with water.  Then it’s all over.  Sure, the crew tries to right her, but there’s so much water in the cockpit the vessel just sinks.  All the two men can do is row their dinghy ashore.   Through it all we watch, passing the binoculars back and forth, hardly a word spoken.  The sloop was scarcely a quarter mile from shore when she went under.

     Less than ninety minutes later, a second sailboat departs, her mainsail up.  Within minutes of leaving the inner harbor, she, too, is knocked down.  But she survives, limping back to safety with her sail waterlogged and badly torn.  After that, no more boats venture out.  So we head back to Egia and listen to the VHF with horror and rapt fascination as a salvage crew and the owner of the downed sloop battle over rights to the shipwrecked vessel.  That poor captain, his boat’s not insured!  Of course, our survival, our fate, our blessed good fortune never escapes us for a moment.  Tom, a man of decorum, never says the words.  But we know our knockdown, our turn on the rocks, was prevented only by grace of God.

     On Monday morning, we set out with Candy for Woods Hole, which is fourteen miles up the mouth of Buzzard’s Bay.  There’s still a good northeast blow.  We’re headed almost directly into the wind, and we’re barely making headway after an hour of stressful tacking.  We’ve got a reefed main and a working jib.  Even so, we’re overpowered in order that we can point as high up as possible.  Tack, tact, tack.   With each back and forth, it’s an effort to keep Egia under control.  A couple of mistakes today and we could be knocked down.  Two hours pass.  We have scarcely made any progress.   Things are so tense we’re barely talking.  Tom’s manning the sails; I’m at the helm.  Candy’s a deck hand, handing off winches, coiling lines, attending to details.  Finally, Tom orders us back to Cuttyhunk.  We’re actually losing ground now that the tide has turned.  For once, I don’t argue.

     Later that day, Candy hitches a ride back to Woods Hole with the captain of a fifty-foot Bertram who is undaunted by rough conditions.  On Tuesday, Tom and I set out for the Vineyard.  Again, we’re forced to return to Cuttyhunk.  And while Cuttyhunk is beautiful, I don’t want to spend our entire vacation confined to one shrubby pile of rocks and sand.  By Wednesday midday, the wind has shifted to the southeast, so we decide to head for Newport.  Large following seas combine with an initially favorable current to have Egia sailing on a broad reach.  She’s nearly planing at eight knots for the first hour until the tide changes.

     So it’s only a few hours before we approach the East Passage of Narragansett Bay.  Newport’s just four-and-a-half miles up the bay.   But with a fiercely ebbing tide and the winds blowing hard from the southeast, the conditions are intimidating.  It’s wind against tide.  We actually have six-foot standing waves that pitch you up and down like a yo-yo while you press to gain ground.   There’s a cluster of boats heading to Newport.  We’re all on top of one another.  Under these broaching conditions, it would be easy for yachts to slam into each other, hardly a pleasant thought.

     Buzz . . . Buzz . . . Buzz . . . Buzz.  What can it be?  A soundtrack from an old Hitchcock film?  Or maybe it’s Stephen King’s latest release?  I’m envisioning killer bees about to make their descent.  But who has ever heard of bees swarming boaters?   Absurd, even for this perilous trip.  So I press my hands on the wheel and try to focus on bringing Egia safely into port.

     Buzz . . . Buzz . . . Buzz . . . Buzz.  The annoyance continues.  If only, I had a mega flyswatter.  Or some killer Raid, the canister the size of an inflatable dinghy.  That would do the trick!

     “That’s your pager, Sue.  I thought you took the batteries out?”  There’s irritation in Tom’s voice.

     “I thought I did, too.  But it’s five p.m.  Even Parsons can’t be stupid enough to call right now.  He knows I’ve gone sailing.  Not even that shithead thinks I conduct business offshore.”

     “Don’t answer it, Sue.  Can’t you see these conditions?   I need you on deck, goddammit!”

     But I’m headed below.  I check the pager.  Fucking Parsons.  Who the hell does he think he is?  I’m dialing him on our cell phone.   Tom’s on deck yelling, “Sue, now would be a good time to come up here!”  With each passing minute, Tom’s shouts grow more menacing.

     “Get up here, dammit!  For God’s sake, take a look at these boats.  Someone’s going to hit us if you don’t get up here soon.”

     As I take a step up the companionway stairs to peek out, I see yachts, sliding up and down the surf, one on top of another.   It’s a fucking roller coaster.  I don’t want to see this.  I slip back inside the cabin.  Finally, I succeed in getting a connection.

     “Hi, Tal, what’s up?”

     “So how’s your cruise going?”

     “I can’t talk long.  It’s crazy out here.  Boats are everywhere.  I’ve never seen anything like this.  What do you want?”

     “Sue,” Tom again, “if you value your life get your ass up here.  This is a fucking emergency!”

     Damn!   Tal’s going to hear Tom screaming.  I turn my body away from the cockpit, so he won’t hear Tom’s obscenities.  But Tom’s shouts drown out Parsons’ voice.

     “What’s that?”   I ask.

     “Your monthly sales reports aren’t posted.  Did you send them in via e-mail?”

     “Of course, Tal, several days ago.  I even got an acknowledgment back from corporate.”  I can’t believe the bastard’s fumbling through his lousy paperwork.  Not my problem.

     “Sue get the fuck up here, NOW!”  Tom again.

     Thummmp.  CRASH.   CRUUNNNNCH.

     I hear those terrible sounds, sounds no boater ever wants to recognize.  The mashing scrunch of fiberglass hulls colliding.  Through our portholes, I see the bow of one boat thrust into the stern of another.  Not our Egia, thank God!

      “Sue, Sue, did you see that!”  There is panic, fear, and anger in Tom’s voice.  “Move your fucking ass.  Now!!!!”

     “Sue,” Tal says, “what’s going on?   I hear all sorts of commotion over our line.  Who’s swearing?  Are you O.K.?”

      “Tal.  Things are insane.  Boats are colliding.  I’ve gotta run.”

      “But what’s happening with the Mather’s account?  Isn’t that suppose to be fifty grand?  Is that posted yet?”

      There are fog horns blaring, lots of shouting, even screaming.  Now other boats are colliding.  Not even on your worst day in New York do things begin to approach this calamity.  It’s as if all the ambulances in the city have bashed into one another, bodies are strewn everywhere, and the commotion keeps growing.  That kind of describes things out here right now.

      “Tal, we talked about this before.  That’s September’s projection.  There’s nothing major happening in my territory until next week.”

     “Sue, If you don’t get your fucking ass up here right now, I’m going to kill you!” Tom again.

     “Who’s that lunatic cursing over the airwaves?”  Tal’s pissed now.  “I oughta call the FCC about this!”

     “Tal, my cell phone batteries are running low.  You’re fading.  I’ll leave you a voice mail when I get into shore.  Gotta run.”

     “But the Watkin’s deal . . . . The Whittler account . .  . .”

     I power down Tal’s voice.  Dashing up on deck, I take the wheel from Tom.

     “I can’t believe you’re on the goddamn phone to corporate while we’re sailing in these conditions.  Do you realize you were on the fucking phone twenty minutes?  Who the fuck did you talk to, anyway?”


     “I told you not to return the page.  Don’t you ever again leave me alone up here in conditions like this!”

    I try to console Tom.  You were right; you were right; you were really right, honey.  Of course, he was right.  In a rational world, no one would take a call under these conditions while sailing.  But mine, it seems, is not a rational world.

     So I find myself pleading with Tom for understanding in an unmistakably whiny voice.   “Look, I wasn’t even supposed to take this vacation.  We’re wrapping up third quarter business; my numbers suck; things aren’t looking great . . .”

     “Lunatics, you’re all fucking lunatics.  As if a few days away will make or break your business.  Your customers haven’t even returned to work from the holiday for God’s sake!  Business is shot this week.”

     “Tom, Parsons’ nuts; the guy’s shitting in his pants; what do you want from me?”   There goes my sniffling voice, again.   I’m begging for mercy.

     “Sue, if you ever take a pager onboard again, I’m tossing it over.   And you with it.”

     And so it goes.  Tom’s pissed; Parsons’ pissed; I’m pissed, but I’m the one on her hands and knees.

     Once we make it safely into Newport, Tom sweetens up.  And why wouldn’t he?  This place is amazing.   Here, everyone’s called captain when he or she pulls up to the dock.  Sloops like ours look minuscule next to 60, 100, and 150-foot yachts manned by their color coordinated crews and professional captains.  Damn!  There’s Shamrock ghosting through the harbor.  At seventy-six feet, she’s part of the J class, the largest America’s Cup boats ever to race competitively off Newport.  God, she’s beautiful.  It takes a crew of twenty to sail her properly.  Other America’s Cups boats—smaller, twelve meter sloops—cruise these waters like sharks.  Nautical history shimmers here.  There are even some boats from the BOC, the British single-handed race around the world, getting ready to depart.  No sailor visiting Newport ever fails to be awed.  You’re in the presence of giants here.

     Anyway, I leave my goddamn voice mail.  We spend a couple of days in town before sailing to Mystic.  From there, I take a train back to New York while Tom arranges for a crew to sail Egia back to our home port.


     Before I know it, I’m back at work.   It’s at least a day before my blood pressure rises.  Candy’s told everyone about our adventure.  “I love sailing,” says she, “all you think about is staying alive and getting back to shore.  You forget about all your problems!”

      But, of course, you can’t stay at sea forever, unless you’re consigned to a watery grave.  Real world shit keeps happening.  To begin with, my teams’ numbers suck.  Even now, a year after the political fallout from my having hired new reps at wages considerably higher than those of my veteran sales force, I’m still paying the price.  Sales are down.  And denying my predictions that my monthly revenue can’t fall much lower, my September figures plunge.  Fuck!   Face it, I’m screwed. 

     And things don’t improve.  Hell no, they worsen!  By the time I attend the manager’s meeting in January, 1993, I’m on the outs.   But not Candy.  She’s sitting side by side with Hugh.  Those bastards are preening in their glory as they plot control of the business and hatch diabolical plots to oust Parsons.  And the rest of us?  We’re nothing but a gray backdrop to make them look good.   Candy barely acknowledges my presence.  What an idiot I was.  Oh, that I could have . . . should have . . . if only I would have . . . let her fall overboard and wash out with the afternoon tide.   Only a fool, a fool, a fool . . . the thoughts, like waves, just keep rolling in.

     But give me credit.  I’m tenacious.  Let no one call me a quitter.  I’m not about to be taken out like Skip.  I claw and fight my way back from the abyss.  Holding on, that’s what I now do best.  Another new manager, Hadley, gets sacked, but I’m still holding on.  I’m one megafucker bloodsucker hanging in for the duration.

     Or so I think.  Until corporate announces it’s shutting down our division and fires everyone but the Midwest managers before the close of the year.  The politicking, the scheming, the conniving, what does it matter?  Almost all of us take the fall.   Our politics, our numbers, our alliances, none of that amounts to squat in the scheme of things.  We’re road pizza, our fates hardly better than Weiring’s.

     Sure, some of us with talent, initiative, and grit fare better.  We make this calamity look like a fucking career strategy.  We find new jobs that masquerade as opportunity.  But each time you’re knocked down, it gets harder to pick yourself up.   If it happens enough, one day you’ll find you’re over the hill.  There’s always a younger crew in the wings just waiting to seize your place.  Ever eager, ever industrious, watch them gun you down.

     This time I’m lucky.  My lateral mid-career move to another industrial company can be positioned as a strategic advance.  And Candy?  She joins a media enterprise.   For a while we touch base, and then our calls stop.

     Tom, ever the sweetheart, encourages me to stay in touch with Candy.   “You bright women need to stick together; you should help one another.”

     What can I say?  Tom’s a man born in the forties.  He believes in all the virtues: the American dream, hard work, family values, the whole shebang.  His sincerity is touching.  That’s why I’m sweet on him.  As for me, what do I think? 

     I think we’re all just navigating around one vast, primordial sea, trying to steer clear of stormy weather and fatal hazards while bringing home the spoils of war.  Our course is predicated upon the belief that we’ll succeed.  However, during my darker moments of reflection, I wonder if any of us will return triumphant.  Still, who am I to predict the outcome?  Besides, it’s the only voyage worth taking.  Consequently, I’m in this struggle for life, trying desperately to ensure that I’ll never again be knocked down.




Previous Chapter Next Chapter