Life Aboard LULU

January 11, 2002 (Celebrations and Secrets)
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 So I recently turned 60. Like many of my friends and fellow retirees, I find myself involuntarily—and all too frequently—flailing about, lost in some cul de sac of forgetfulness. I see a movie and don’t remember even a snippet of plot the next day. I wouldn’t hazard telling a joke these days, even if I could tease one back to consciousness. I recently ordered the same seven CDs twice from Then I forgot where I’d put them, so I couldn’t return them within the allotted refund period and had to beg some faceless person at the credit department for mercy via email.  I’ll read a New Yorker article and find some factoid or statistic so dazzling and important I’m certain I will retain it. But when I try trotting it out to illustrate a point I’m making, I find my brain has been otherwise occupied retaining my 1963 Lord & Taylor credit card (893 171 14 — don’t bother using it, it’s been obsolete for decades.)

 None of this is so unusual for a person of my advancing age. Except that somehow I write in such detail. How is it possible I can remember all the new places our peripatetic lifestyle takes us, how do I manage to enumerate all the new and different events that are occurring constantly?

 The answer is, I carry my little black journal wherever I go—if I happen to remember it. 

Otherwise, I owe my recall to Gary. 

Calendar Boy

Gary maintains he didn’t arrive on the planet equipped with a memory. So purely as a survival mechanism, he became an inveterate list keeper. Gary revises and re-revises his lists on an almost hourly basis. He revels in crossing out a completed chore, often placing entirely gratuitous jobs like “breathe” or “eat breakfast” on a list just so he can happily scratch them off the list. Losing or otherwise being separated from his pen causes him to vibrate with anxiety.

 Gary spends most mornings taping neon-yellow Post-Its all over LULU’s interior woodwork. If he happens to be nowhere near a piece of paper, he simply begins speaking his list. Many times a day. Mostly I’m the audience but Mel and Jackie frequently enough find themselves front-row-center as well. He seems never to need encouragement of any kind to break into an encore. 

 Being this minutely organized. Gary has, from day one of our sailing adventure, kept a calendar of our progress, on a computer printout of his own invention. This 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper -- organized into 16-week, 4 month-plus periods (mas or menos, as the Venezolanos say) -- pretty much encapsulates all of our life.

 Into each box — actually a Lotus cell measuring 1” x ½” -- he enters our daily doings and then, every morning -- after the toilet but before even brushing his teeth--he diagonally slashes off the previous completed day with a grand flourish of green highlighter. These postage-sized entries detail the minutiae of our life in crabbed handwriting worthy of pre-Gutenberg monks. More often than not they are phonetically—that is, usually incorrectly—spelled. Typical entries include (but are by no means limited to) all of the following categories and actual examples:

 1. Our passages to a port, their duration – only if a long trip -- and the wind speed, if unusual: May 15: (Despite the lack of space, Gary does not change his habitual style – printing in capital letters.)

 Or, June 10: TOMAYRU, SALT WHISTLE [that is, Mayreau, the island, and Saltwhistle, the anchorage]. Such documentation can, and, in this case, does, share the cell with CARNINAGE [sic, Carenage, a familiar Caribbean name for a restaurant, or in this case, a hotel. In actuality, a carenage was once a specially equipped harbor area where square riggers Spanish galleons were pulled out of the water for painting or repair.]

 2. A particular feature of an anchorage: “rolly,” ranks highest in number of mentions: As in the entry for May 12: 9 HRS TO ST BART’S, ROLLY, VIETNAM

 3. He doesn’t mean Vietnam, the country, but Vietnam, the St Barth’s restaurant we ate at: because almost every cell keeps track of that most vital of all categories: What We Ate For Dinner. This category mentions:



B. Sometimes particular entrees in the restaurant mentioned: RIBS, for example, during one weeklong orgy when we cased the St Martin’s beach barbecue joints.


C.  What I cooked, if I actually cooked: STIR FRI or BEST RED SAUCE EVER; or BUCO [yes, I recently and very successfully tackled osso buco.] Or PIZZA [I have much to learn in the crust department); Or even TUNA [yes, Mel caught a 15-pounder on one Venezuelan passage this summer. While Jackie and I whipped up (well maybe fumbled up) some sushi appetizers, Mel and Gary grilled thick tuna steaks on the barbecue.]

 4. Every rendezvous with another boat: LEGEND.  TARA.  NATURAL SELECTION. Even FEISTY if we’ve separated for any mechanical or logistical reason.


 6. – 11. Miscellany & Important Minutiae:  Like SUPERMARKET runs. HAIRCUT. SNORKELING. SIGHTSEEING. STAY HOME [Probably only I would catch the plaintive note in his entry: no restaurant that night and there was one available.] NODIFF.  WENDY.  BOBBI [perpetual misspelling of our own son Bobby’s name. Likewise has for almost 30 years, Suey has remained Suie.] These entries detail visiting children and friends.

 12. Routine maintenance: GENERATOR [oil changes]; W [for WATER, indicating nights, usually every 4 to 5, when we’ve made water]; WATERLINE [every few weeks we need to scrub off the oily sludge, assorted sea grasses, crusty barnacles and armadas of tube worms that arrive entirely unbidden.

 13. Special maintenance: INTERIOR VARNISH.  BOTTOM [for Bottom Cleaning: every few months we hire divers to scrape off the hated barnacle carpet that covers LULU’s nether regions.]


 15. Everywhere there are circled initials, which the casual reader might ignore; but, at the bottom of the page, Gary provides for the really interested party (or maybe in case he forgets himself), a translation code. These usually refer to the people he calls frequently: M, K, D, WR -- Mom, Karen, David, Wendy Riedy. Wendy gets the extra letter because she shares an initial with Water. These phone-log letters are always off in odd corners, wherever he can find a speck of space.

 Undercover Project

Like the  “MAYRU/SALT WHISTLE  “CARINAGE TOUR” entries, most squares record more than one activity, and often enough squeeze in three or four. You would think there’d be no room for another category.

 Well, you’d be thinkin’ wrong, as I found out recently during the S&S Affair.

 The background: One of the few things I dislike about cruising is the relative (and increasing frequency) with which Gary fails to shave. With neither of us living a routine any more, his daily morning shave sort of evaporated. He now shaves in the evening if we go out for dinner – yet another reason I favor going out to dinner. He tends to skip shaving altogether if we make an early morning passage or if we’re going to an informal sundowners party, or if we’re just hanging out by ourselves at anchor.

 Driven, he says, by my complaints about his scratchy beard, and entirely unbeknownst to me, Gary -- ever the scientist, or more accurately, ever the clown — initiated a sort of research project. He began entering a circled “X” every time we had sex when he hadn’t shaved. This letter was given no corresponding code key on the page bottom. Given the general clutter, I failed to notice the debut of this new code letter.

 One sunset hour, in a weak moment (I must have been griping about the stubble), he brandished the results, taking particular pleasure in pointing out the one cell with dual “X’s,” indicating, he informed me, he’d scored  “a double-whammy” on that No Shave day.

 I protested his interpretation of the results but congratulated him on his stealth (difficult to achieve when you’re sharing, full time, a living space that is barely 240 square feet). I did so mostly without using words like “devious,” “underhanded” or “creep.”

 He insists the experiment is proof positive of how devastatingly sexy I really find him as a bearded brute. I say all it proved is I’d never get any sex if I waited for him to shave.

 Code REDS

Because of interactions like the Shave & Sex Affair, I find life with Gary full of laughter and novelty. I rarely know what he’s going to say or do next. Unless it has to do with Stuff. Then I know exactly what to expect: If there’s a way to leave something slightly unfinished – the window shade not quite fully raised, the last tool not put away, the wine bottle open but the cork still twirled in the corkscrew -- Gary as if in answer to some overpowering genetic code, will leave it. A bit of trash sitting just outside the garbage pail is a particular favorite. I’ve nicknamed him Master of the Cut Corner.

 I am forever coming across Post-It scraps he leaves, like seagull droppings, on horizontal surfaces. I picked one up not long ago and found -- along with the expected crossed-out lines of completed chores -- 24 tiny 4-letter anagrams, 6 neat columns of 4, all permutations of the letters S, D, R, E. For example: SRED, ERDS, RSDE, DRSE. 

Mystified, I plunked my little finding in front of him. He grinned sheepishly (as if he hadn’t wanted me to find it.) Or maybe it was gleefully (because he probably couldn’t wait till I found it.)

 Turns out he’d come up with a brand new category in his calendar-entry system, for an eventuality he’d actually never been faced with. As a boy, Gary’s mother used to call him “Wheels.” He couldn’t then, and he mostly can’t now, stay still. He’s never more blessed than when he’s got some purposeful project or repair. As my grandmother would have said, he’s got no sitzfleisch. That’s Yiddish--meaning, literally, “sitting meat.” A person with no sitzfleisch could easily be called “Wheels.”

But finally, the unthinkable happened. In an idyllic, drop-dead Venezuelan cove this summer, uninhabited but for some pelicans (and Feisty),  “Wheels” found himself with not one thing broken. Such an eventuality might well have jettisoned our entire cruising life: Gary without a project is not a happy man. Unless he’s napping--and apparently even Gary could over-nap his capacity. Luckily, I’d been stockpiling tantalizing books for him against such a crisis: You know, page-turners, the kind of juicy stuff you can’t put down — for Gary, tomes on Evolutionary Theory, Genetic Probabilities, Quantum Physics.

 For the next three days he lay absolutely content in the cockpit doing not one thing but inhaling his books. He broke this fixed concentration only for necessities: a bathroom or cookie break, a glass of wine and, naturally, for dinner.

 Lo and behold, a fresh, new way to spend a day: Sit, Read, Eat and Drink. It deserved a fresh new calendar designation. Hence, all his paper parsing of SRED.  When I asked where he’d find room in a cell for even one, much less four, new letters, he said there was plenty of room: S, R, E, D could never be occurring on a day filled with any other activity. (Well, maybe, just possibly an “X…”) The next problem was which of the 24 permutations would look most pleasing on the page. (I guess SRED lacked pizazz, or the precise aura of bliss he was seeking. He just couldn’t commit. We may need to call in a Feng Shui consultant…

 Plastic Place Becomes Party Space

On a more serious note, Gary’s calendar also records significant -- though relatively infrequent —real-estate activity back home: in one example last Spring, important turning points in the negotiations over renting the New Rochelle factory building. And the day of the actual deal in late May: Just about the same day Plastic Works finally made its long-scheduled relocation to a renovated building nearby, we rented to Brian MacMenamin, a successful restaurateur and chef (Summerhouse in Nantucket, the more nearby Larchmont Oyster House, Sea Grill and Heathcote Tavern.)

 Brian swung into action immediately on ambitious renovations and has barely stopped to breathe since. Seven months later, the landmark pink and purple building is now a more subdued beige and aqua.

 About to open some time this month (and much needed on the Long-Island-Sound side of Westchester), “MacMenamin’s Grill,” on the second floor -- the site of our old Lucite furniture factory -- will be an upscale bistro with seriously good food served from one of those almost-de-rigueur-these-days open kitchen. Casual chic -- a sort of Spago by the Sound.

 The rest of Brian’s ambitious scheme continues to unfold and, given his prodigious energy, will be successful, we think. (And hope, so we can finally come out heroes, instead of merely hopeless optimists, for renting to our third restaurant startup.) On the first floor, he’s opening not one, but two cooking schools, one professional, the other for — I don’t know -- whoever shows up with a Visa card. There’ll also be olive oil pressing, breadmaking and other such demonstrations. (I myself am hoping to be home long enough to learn the tricks of pizza.) A TV studio for a cable food show.

 Even Buyer Nodiff is on the payroll -- and back in her own stamping grounds. She’ll likely get to fill the space with trendy pottery, napkins, placemats and the other appetizing house frills she’s so good at unearthing. The other boon is that, luckily, we get to keep our apartment on the third floor. In the hope department, we’re also hoping that Brian’s odor control and sanitation systems turn out to be as efficient as promised. Eau de Bluefish would not be my favorite room deodorizer.

 Brian personally — and proudly -- walked us through the virtually completed space when we returned for my birthday and Christmas in early December. The renovation is dramatic and the entire project beautifully realized — far beyond anything we expected. There’s an inviting, architecturally inventive new front entrance outside. Inside, all the flaking painted walls, wood beams, ceilings and 100-year-old floors have been sandblasted, scraped, sanded, varnished, re-stained. (The sole downside to all this work is that a hefty percentage of the construction dust wafted its way up to my closets.)

 At night, set off by soft pools of light, the ruddy brick and stained timber now radiate warm, earthy tones. The leaky, creaky old windows have been replaced with modern adaptations of the multi-paned originals, which completely shut out all intrusive highway noise. The ancient, cranky freight elevator has been updated and transformed to a slick push-button affair. Our old office is transformed into a welcoming, woody private party room. We hardly recognized the joint.

 And then I got to experience just how good Brian can cook!  Gary and Suey made sure I got a very special birthday meal there.

 Gary, naturally, had his official Trip Calendar. This calendar is more casual than his computer-generated spreadsheets. Covering but a mere three weeks, such overkill is unnecessary – it’s just a carefree hand drawn group of lines forming more workably sized boxes. This trip the squares were pretty much filled with various intimate birthday dinners with friends. Most of them had already taken place by December 15. I suspected nothing, even though Bobby was in from L.A. for the week. Why shouldn’t he fly in to see his aging Mommy early if he was on call over Christmas? And why shouldn’t Karen be visiting her mommy over Hanukah?

 So the amazing surprise party at McMenamin’s knocked my knickers off! Though not yet open for business, Brian was doing private parties the whole week before Christmas  — his investors, his lawyers, his accountants AND, it turned out, his landlady!

 The appetizers were plentiful, huge, fresh, expensive and most delish: the biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen, crab claws, oysters, pate, seared tuna, Irish salmon, unbelievable crab cakes — there was even caviar. Followed by a main course of succulent grilled meats -- lamb, steak, veal -- plus, paella, zucchini & I don’t remember what else. Yes, there was plenty of wine. And even a birthday cake--without chocolate, they remembered everything -- that I actually ate!  After which, the kids and friends wrote, spoke — even sang--stuff about me I couldn't believe. I sounded like a combination of Mother Theresa and Joan Rivers—with a large helping of Henrietta the Eighth thrown in.

 [DISCLAIMER: There were some of you out there who weren’t, but would have been there -- had I been micromanaging the list. You know who you are. Trust me, you were missed.]

 The next weekend I had the birthday party I'd really been expecting -- at my son John's, in suburban Philadelphia-- with almost all our kids and all our grandchildren frolicking about the house and driveway together. Followed by yet another delicious – and elegant – dinner, planned and organized by our daughter-in-law, Lisa who, with four kids under four, had plenty else on her plate.

 I returned to Venezuela bursting with joy at how full my life is and how astonishingly lucky I have been.




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