When I was a boy-eight or nine, I think-I left a brand-new baseball glove out in the back yard and forgot about it. No, I mean I really forgot about it; it stayed out there all winter and most of the spring, until my father found it when he was mowing the ankle-high grass. He came inside and handed it to me, glowering, and said something like, "Is this how you take care of a fifteen dollar baseball glove?"
There wasn't the slightest glimmer of mirth in this question. It was 1960. Fifteen dollars was a hell of a lot of money for a family of nine with one breadwinner. I looked at my shoes and said, "Mmf." He said, "You're not getting another one," and he handed me the big brown Spaulding pancake. My heart sank when I felt its weight. It wasn't a baseball glove anymore; it was a five-pound slab of soaking-wet leather, with a black smear where the Duke Snider autograph had been.
But it was the only glove I had-you heard what Dad said. So, following his advice (he was not entirely unsympathetic), I dried it out, slathered mink oil all over it, jammed a ball in the pocket, wrapped it with twine and waited for baseball season to begin. But, alas, the glove just wasn't the same. Now it was the best glove on the planet! It had been okay the year before, but now it was a veritable ball magnet! Nothing could get past me at third base. I was the Brooks Robinson of the North Springfield Little League minors. I was Mr. Hot Corner. I was the Vacuum Cleaner. . . . Well, okay, I wasn't that good. But the glove was. My God, it was good-and all because I had unintentionally abused it, exposed it to the elements for an entire winter.
This March, as winter slowly loosened its grip, I had allowed myself to think, just for a few weeks, that Ink Pot might be like that baseball glove. Granted, a boat is a much more complex thing, and vastly more expensive, even after adjusting for inflation. But still, until today-this very day, when I charged the batteries for a second time and then cranked the ignition until the batteries died-I had deluded myself that the exceedingly harsh winter might have actually been good for Ink Pot. I had let myself imagine that, even though several vicious freezes had ambushed her in late December before I installed a space heater in the engine compartment, she might purr like a kitten when I turned the key. She might be better than ever. Like the baseball glove.
It was an absurd idea, of course. It's clear now that Ink Pot is worse for the wear, not better. The engine sounds hideously sluggish when I try to crank it up-and I don't think drying it out and slathering it with mink oil is going to help. No, there's nothing to do but have her towed to Lippincott Marine and face the expensive music. And face Arty, the service manager. I can hear him now.
"Is this how you take care of your boat?" he'll say. I'll look at my shoes and say, "Mmf." And he'll say, "You're not getting another one."