Tricky Dicky Manure, my first boss, said the raccoons on Lake Huron were dexterous enough to pick bicycle locks with their fingernails. He paid three fifteen an hour. His desk sat in the corner of a steel Quonset ex-military hangar which could hold every boat in the harbour in winter and only the coolest air in summer. Atop the desk: a hammer and a dictionary. Tricky Dicky liked shade, hated sweat.
My interview was to fill the diesel mower without spilling a drop. One drop and you’re gone. Raccoon nails can cut a flap in a screen easier than a razor then open a fridge and shotgun a six-pack before you hear a floorboard creak. They shit and make love on the roof, occasionally simultaneously.
Dicky weighed a ton and wore a skipper’s hat. I got to keep and return all the empties I could find on the docks and riverbank. After a sunny long weekend, the deposit on the bottles and cans would surpass twenty dollars. New Dicky words: groin, dredge, ketch, bowline, teak, epoxy, latex. After drydocking the vessels, the season’s finale, I’d stain, varnish and winterise everything the tractor couldn’t load into the hangar. Dicky would drive off to Tampa Bay and I’d go back to school.
Kelly’s Boogie Parlour’s staff docked a barely-buoyant houseboat in Tricky Dicky Manure’s Marina. Boy, did they leave a load of empties. Often bikini bottoms drip-dried over the dead soldiers. People passed out everywhere. On Labour Day, Dicky sent me to collect the arrear dock fee which gave them a real kick. You want our rears? They showed me full moons. Hosed me up and down. Cannonballed into slime.
The boat finally sank that night and the staff skedaddled. I had to submerge into the algae and tie the winch cable under the back pontoon axle brace. Dicky towed her halfway up the bank, told me to douse her in diesel, which I did with pleasure before he tossed his lit Romeo y Julieta into the scuttled pontoon.
Through the anticipatory silence before the flames took, I asked Dicky why vessels were always referred to in the feminine. The blaze grew, as did the red of his neckless face: I could tell you some inane jokes, paint and powder, metaphorical replication of a mother’s womb, she keeps you dry and warm, a place to sleep, maintenance costs, deep respect, blame Latin. All trite truisms. Next summer, you should find a better job. You’re worth more than I say.