Asleep At the Keel


Another glorious morning in paradise! I was sitting by the dock in the shade of a brilliant flamboyant tree watching ferry boats with names like The General, Caribe Tide and Bomba Runner swallow and disgorge their colorful cast of characters. The ticket window not yet open, I waited for my $3 fare that would ferry me across Pillsbury Sound to St. Thomas where my guitar and I had some business to conduct with my old pal, Steel-Pan Morgan. Silhouetted behind the window was Miss Ophelia, a stolid West Indian woman who left the impression she’d been selling tickets since Noah's Flood. She absolutely refused to sell tickets to anyone who arrived early hoping to get “a jump on de line”. Old-timers, taking a pause from clacking games of dominos, would languorously lean back on their bench and watch in obvious delight as sunburned, sweating ‘continentals’ tried in vain to buy tickets “befo’ dere time” from the taciturn Ophelia.

“Booth close’. Pay ‘tention dere,” she would state with authority, though barely audible through the thick glass. Sitting at the worn ticket counter, she rarely raised her gaze from her soap opera magazine (or alternately, her Bible) using her overworked fan to turn the pages. What sort of fool dared argue as she tapped the glass, bejeweled finger pointing to the dogeared, handwritten sign taped to the window upon which ferry schedules were cryptically scrawled in magic marker. This morning there were more than a few fools struggling with yet another lesson in ‘island time’.

As I contemplated ducking into Mooie’s Bar for something cold before my boat arrived, there by my side appeared the peripatetic Dr. Easy. 'De good daktah' has a way of showing up when least expected and rearranging one’s plans. No one is exactly sure from where he got the “Dr.” title, though it is rumored Easy possesses a graduate degree in “mindin’ ever’body’s bidness”.

My mind flashed to a long-ago Stateside summer day as I was walking to the market to purchase groceries for dinner and then…there he was. “And feh why you gwan do dat when can get we dinnah feh nuttin’?” Dr. Easy asked, emerging from the ether and walking in time to my stride. He claimed to have found “de bes’ fishin’ hole where de fishes dey eats whatever yah gib dem”. He was in the mood for “a good ol’ fashion island-style fish fry”.

Four hours, a hefty fine and a confiscated stringer of panfish later, I was starving, sitting in the metropolitan district jail trying to convince my incredulous girlfriend why she should bail me out of my idiocy.

“Good mahnin’, Mr. Day-vit!” Dr. Easy sunbeams his broad smile at me. “Wat you gwan do dis fine mahnin’?”

I hastily described my mission for the day, speculating how he’d conjure a way to make my plan devolve into his plan.

“Buy me a beer, mi-son, and les go feh liddle walk.” Glancing at my watch and then back to the ferry dock, my concern plainly evident. “Come, come, mon! Miss Ophelia, she hol’ de boat feh you.” And just when was it I became so influential? “On'y one beer, mon, an’ den ya help me fin’ Ras Pluto. Mus' be los’. I nah can fin' he.”

“I’ll give you one beer and ten minutes, Doctor”, I said warily, grabbing my guitar case as we turned away from the dock and walked the few steps to Mooie’s.

“We tek two greenies wid legs,” hooted Dr. Easy, winking to Missus Mooie and gesturing towards me with his stubbled chin as he grabbed two icy Heinekens, “an’ put dem on he tab”.

Shaking my head, I put five bucks on the bar and followed him into the Caribbean sunshine. Fragrant frangiapani and hibiscus wafted in on warm sea breezes as we slowly strolled to an adjacent sugar-sand beach, beers in hand.

“I a’ready go sek Pluto in town…nah dere. We try down here,” said Easy, squinting beneath very dark sunglasses and pointing to a strand of beach where sunfaded boats were hauled up beneath coconut palms, brown pelicans dive-bombed the placid water for breakfast while a few goat and island kids gamboled like baby satyrs about the shoreline.

“Better not miss my ferry, Doctor,” I fretted as I tried to calculate the distance we could walk to, and return from, in ten minutes.

“Nah problem! Yah know, Mr. Day-vit, yah too easy vex,” he snorted, taking a long swig of beer.

“Why do you need to see Pluto so bad this morning?” I asked, my suspicions leaking.

“Mi-son, yah ax too, too much question! Yah begin ta vex me!” Dr. Easy said, abruptly dodging my inquiry, his raspy voice melodically rising as he gently turned over a retreating soldier crab with his toe. Yeah, just follow doctor’s orders. Now closer to the boats, I felt curiosity upstage worry.

Since I was a wee sprat I have loved boats and before me now, baking in the tropical heat, stretched a most motley medley of watercraft! Sleek pleasure cruisers cheek-by-jowl with stout workboats; sail-powered, engine-driven, poled and rowed; wood, fiberglass, aluminum, combinations of materials; painted, unpainted, ship-shape and derelict; floating, half-sunk, careened.

As I was quietly marveling this curious fleet I heard Dr. Easy exclaim under his breath, “Alright, we be good now!” Gesturing to a distant cluster of overturned dingys tied under a canopy of seagrapes, Easy smiled and removed his straw hat, wiping his brow. I was conjecturing just how this bunch of barnicled barges now made us “good” when what I’d thought was a large piece of discarded timber laying across the hull of a tiny overturned dingy slowly began to move. As we approached, it became evident that this particular timber was quite alive…and it had dreadlocks.

“Cheesengrimble! Ras Pluto?” I shouted as my ferry, diesels roaring, pulled away from the slip, St. Thomas bound. “What’s he doing lying across that old boat?”

“Ah, Day-vit, mi-son, feh why you keep axin’ silly question?” clucked Dr. Easy, pausing as he looked at me over the rim of his shades. “Enny fool can see he jus’ asleep at de keel!”

Another day in paradise, indeed.

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