THIS IS MOSTLY A CHAPTER ABOUT RALPH’S BOAT, A FINE BOAT, THOUGH AT THE END OF THE DAY, AWAY FROM THE WHARF, IT’S ONLY A BOAT, BOBBING UP AND DOWN AND ALONE IN AN OCEAN, ITSELF, SO BLEAK AND BLUE
You never see Ralph walking around his backyard on all fours thinking about the Dodgers and crying. You see him instead smiling and talking about celebrities and sex and drinking Scotch from the type of glass you’re supposed to drink Scotch out of.
“Just got a new 25-year, Timbo! Want in?”
“Go fuck yourself, Ralph.”
You think it but never say it.
Maybe under your breath, but even then, too faint to feel.
Ralph shows up at the BBQ wearing a life vest.
He just bought a boat and wants you to ask him about it.
Don’t ask him about it. Let him suffer, because it’s the anticipation that makes the game fun. Even if the fabric straps dig into the flesh between the ribs and the hip and rub them raw. Even if he can’t reach across his body to get the spoon out of the potato salad to use it in the macaroni salad because someone took that spoon and did God knows what with the damn thing.Even if everyone laughs and no one asks.
When they finally ask, it’s worth it, because, “oh, I just bought a boat, nothing too big, a Cosmor 375Q, 39-feet long with a double-choke and a pharaoh cabin with tear-shaped windows overlooking the scoop.”
Later, he’ll pass out in the hot tub drunk on 10-year Glenmorangie after everyone’s gone and the fucking thing, the life jacket, will save his stupid life.
“Why couldn’t he buy a private jet,” Timothy says, imagining the pink sky (almost purple now) over the lawn littered with chicken bones and flimsy red cups when he walks out groggy in the a.m. and has to fish Ralph’s lifeless body out of the tub, sodden parachute married to his tight back, rocks glass locked in his hand by rigor mortis and from the street a passing car blasts what he thinks is Glenn Miller, but it’s definitely Artie Shaw.
“Oh, I don’t think congratulations are in order,” he fake-laughs.
Timothy picks at an ear of corn precisely.
“Say, where is that piece that’s always following you around?”
He means Mona. He finds her in the den holding a digital picture frame like a shield opposite a dumpy woman with a yellow willow catkin stuck in her ponytail, showing her photos of Alcazar Castle and talking about the lightning.
They make small talk about Disney movies and what a blessing aristocracy has been to the world, “you know, if you ignore everything and just focus on some of that beautiful architecture.”
Ralph tried to find a way to work “flying buttresses” into the conversation, even though Alcazar Castle doesn’t have any flying buttresses.
Flying buttress. Flying Burrito Brothers. Free burrito Tuesday?
Not going anywhere. He’ll have to think of something else.
“You have something in your hair, Dawn.”
“Can I get either of you lovely ladies a drink?”
Dawn wants a Sprite. Mona goes with Ralph to top off her Burgundy.
“It’s been a long week.”
“For me too. Boat shopping can be a drag.”
“You got a boat?!?!”
“Yes my dear,” he puts his arm around her, “you can call me Captain Ralph.”
“I’ve always liked a man in a uniform.”
Timothy looks up from the refrigerator.
“It’s not a uniform. It’s a life vest.”
“It’s all Outil par métier, right?”
Timothy leaves. He doesn’t like to argue semantics, especially in French.
Mona says something veiled that, to Ralph, implies she recently had an abortion.
He tries to continue his French, saying “Faire une carte de France.”
He thinks it means, “everything happens for a reason.” It’s actually a euphemism for having a wet dream... Not an appropriate thing to say to someone who may have just hinted at a recent abortion. But Mona doesn’t know French. She assumes it charming and wise, as does Ralph.
They raise their glasses of wine and Laphroaig respectively.
Mona: “Qui vivra, verra.” (“time will tell” in French.)
Ralph: “Borða skit” (“Eat shit” in Icelandic.)
Timothy eats a handful of Nacho Cheese Doritos at a normal pace and talks to an acquaintance who is kind of a well-known art director in the magazine world.
The birds chirping chirps. The grill smoking smoke. The great grey birds overhead buying and selling the too-blue sky by the meter. The mailman stopping in for a quick bite (a frank and a modest pile of baked beans), a bout of handshakes (“longtime no see,” and, “no hard feelings. It was actually pretty funny. Cool little toy,”), and some gossip (“saw her peeking through the blinds…”) after delivering some bills, fliers and a paperback copy of “The Captive Mind” with a worn cover to Timothy.
“I’d rather build a set that rent one of his.”
“Yeah, he’s a real knob.”
“Yeah, like a tool.”
“Oh, gotcha.” The art director laughs, “A knob.”
“Yeah… it’s the only way I could describe him. I have no use for anyone that’s perfectly comfortable with who they are.”
“I think I agree.”
“If you ever hear me say otherwise, kick me in the ass, please.”
“I will do that.”
They clink glasses and run out of ways to move the conversation forward.
Timothy excuses himself, makes strides towards the bathroom line, where Mona finds him.
“Is everything okay?”
He says it is.
“Did you hear that Ralph bought a boat?”
He says he did.
“Maybe we should buy a boat.”
“I feel like having a boat makes you less interesting.”
Mona says she doesn’t follow.
“You think it’s more interesting to not own a boat than it is to own a boat?”
“No, it’s not the owning or not owning that means anything, it’s what it does to you.”
“Is this a class thing?”
“No, there are plenty or rich people that don’t own boats.”
“But not many poor people that do.”
He shrugs in agreement.
After a minute she continues.
“What’s so bad about a boat?”
“Nothing, I just don’t need a boat to be happy.”
“So what will it take?”
The bathroom door opens.
“I have to take a shit, excuse me.”
But he doesn’t shit.
He sits on the toilet, but doesn’t shit.
Instead he stares at a willow catkin on the floor and hums a Glenn Miller tune his father used to play when he was a skinny, pale, low-energy boy of six.
“Tuxedo Junction,” he says to himself.
He wipes though he hadn’t shit.
Call it a habit.