If it was up to the harbormaster, D dock would have been untethered and left to drift downstream long ago. Class distinctions were firmly delineated in the marina, as in the larger world, and the denizens of D dock were the unwashed masses that the privileged set took up power yachting to avoid. The marina manager had more in common with the working stiffs than the blue blazers but his loyalties followed his ambition.

The layout of the marina had been determined decades before by a committee of dedicated snobs who had gone so far as to compartmentalize the slips according to wealth. The decision was made to assign letter grades to the five main docks, A, B, C, D, and S. The silly rich committee members would be on A dock, of course, upwardly mobile weekend warriors on B. C dock was for poseurs and wannabe's and D was left to the wretched refuse.

S dock was for sailboats exclusively but in the regal opinion of the yacht club, S stood for satisfactory because they paid their bills on time. The fat cats in command were power boaters and the only thing they held in lower esteem than poverty was a wind driven vessel. Sailboats were a nuisance, like a log drifting in the channel, zigzagging back and forth across their righteous petroleum driven path, barely in control of their own progress.

They'd have called it F dock were it not for the fact that one of the snobs owned a sailboat for show.

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S dock looked brand new because the sailors hardly ever showed up. On the rare occasion they visited the marina they didn't dwell around the slip as the power boaters did so there was little in the way of wear and tear on the dock. Most of the sailboats were merely status symbols, objects 'd art, and their skippers barely qualified to captain a dinghy. It seemed a shameful waste that those gorgeous vessels should lay idle for months at a time but the owners could afford other diversions as well.

A walk down D dock was a treacherous affair because the money allotted for marina maintenance dwindled as it passed through the letter grades. A dock was sturdy and kept in meticulous repair, as was B dock with its covered slips and hand railings. Things started to slide a little by the time they got around to C dock, some of the light fixtures were perpetually broken and the painted slip numbers were left faded and peeling. The money always ran out by the time they got to D dock and it was left in abject squalor, the Cabrini Green of the boat basin.

The docks were supported by empty fifty-gallon oil drums, welded shut to insure their buoyancy. When a weld on one of the barrels yielded to corrosion it sank to the bottom, or was sucked down river with the current. The lost barrel would leave a soft spot on the dock that gave way to the pedestrian's weight, something like traversing a floating trampoline. If a barrel went missing on one of the wealthier piers it was replaced within the hour, but the humble D dock was left to nature's inevitable decay. Perhaps one in three of the original floatation barrels remained and half of those were taking on water.

In addition to keeping the dock afloat, the proper allotment of empty drums enforced the linear nature of the pier. In their absence, D dock took on a serpentine quality which, in conjunction with the soft spots, created a bobbing weaving path that would make a circus acrobat edgy. Some poor soul fell in the drink nearly every day off of D dock but the frequent appeals to the marina for maintenance were greeted with crocodile tears and the profitable sale of floating key chains.

I'm slow to criticize the rich folk for allowing the deterioration of our dock because it only brought us closer together. The rest of the marina was inhabited by isolationist pufferfish who rarely commingled and for whom boating was little more than another means to flaunt their wealth. The residents of D dock had to rely on one another for their very survival. We'd fish our unfortunate neighbor out of the river when the sloshing pier gave way, or rush out in a heavy storm to help guide our fellow into a dangerously shifting slip. We became a family, bound by arduous necessity and our genuine respect for the river and each other.

It should come as no surprise that D dock was the soul of the scene. Real people inhabited that pier, with dogs and children and towels drying on a clothesline strung across the poop deck. They drank and partied together with a familial ease that the upper crust found unseemly and distasteful. The rabble seemed to have a genuine affection for one another that the islands of aristocracy over on A dock could never comprehend.

It seemed to us that the fat cats with a more solid footing were missing the boat.

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I actually owe a debt of gratitude to the slumlords who let D dock slip into decay because I parlayed the hardship into a lucrative summer job. Every time somebody took an unintentional plunge off of the wobbly dock, I was paid a couple of bucks to dive in and retrieve whatever they'd been carrying. My services were in constant demand to fetch Weber grill components or car keys or jugs of wine from the riverbed. My greatest success was the challenging recovery of a hapless boater's errant toupee. The tiny globule of fake hair drifted with the current before coming to rest on the bottom and it took me dozens of groping excursions into the murky depths to earn my two-dollar commission.

I was visited with inspiration the day that a woman fell into the drink and was separated from her charm bracelet. It wasn't an expensive bauble but it carried a trinket from each of her children and grandchildren and was, in her estimation, invaluable. Heavy shiny things were child's play next to a drifting hairpiece so her cherished heirloom was recovered in a single dive. She was so delighted when I returned it to her that she forgot to pay me and I was so humbled by the joy she displayed that I never thought to ask.

Diving for jewelry, albeit costume jewelry, put me in the mind of sunken treasure and it occurred to me that the rich people over on A dock must fall in the river from time to time as well. Their docks were sturdier but they were tottering old bluebloods for the most part, entirely capable of falling in the water unaided. It seemed unlikely to me that they'd adorn themselves with ornaments that merely possessed sentimental value. When they took the plunge they'd be giving up high-class booty, pearl earrings, diamond broaches or the keys to the Lotus. They would never think of hiring a river rat to do some scavenging, they'd simply ring up the insurance company or the locksmith.

I bought a diving mask and waterproof flashlight the very next day.

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The guy at the liquor store gave me a twenty bucks apiece for the two crated magnums of French champagne. The sterling silver flatware in the rotted walnut case yielded only forty dollars for scrap because some of the spoons went missing. The jewelry angle was a big disappointment, one necklace, one empty money clip and the braided gold band of a ruined wristwatch.

My failed quest for sunken treasure gave way to the accumulation of fascinating archeological data about how the other half lives. What I saw was the waterlogged evidence of a slash and burn boating class that didn't believe in making the long walk to the dumpster. Beneath the boats on humble D dock I found little more than sand and sunken barrels. The riverbed below the million dollar vessels on A dock was blanketed with trash from stem to stern.

Beneath the top layer of jetsam lay an older stratum and beneath that one another more ancient. Before I reached pure sand I found tin cans, actually made out of tin, that dated from the turn of the century. Not only were these people filthy pigs, they seemed to have been descended from a long line of other filthy pigs.

As luck would have it, their trashy lifestyle was the source of my greatest windfall as a scavenger. The current breed of floating slobs was of little use to me but their great-grandparent's refuse carried substantial antique value. They were fond of Coca-Cola, it seems and the frivolous abandon that accompanied their wealth compelled them to toss the empties over the side. I even found a few bottles that had never been opened and still contained the original contents.

You'd be amazed what some cats will pay for a couple of cases of empty Coke bottles that predate World War I. If I told you what they gave me for the full ones you'd go out tomorrow and buy a diving mask.



I hadn't seen the boy for several years. We'd grown up together in that Alabama town on the river, and the river had been a large part of that growing up. It was the Tennessee River flowing right through the Heart of Dixie, and that muddy current washed away a lot of hopes and dreams, along with some blues and bruises.

One summer we took an old skimpy fishing boat with a little motor on it and shoved it underneath a raft we built. That raft was so crudely homemade that Huck Finn would have turned his nose up at it, but it suited our purposes just fine. We'd dock it at an abandoned tannery on the river, underneath some brush, and when we arrived in the middle of the River on a Sunday afternoon, it was like the Sex Pistols playing a full-blown Baptist wedding for the mayor's daughter.

Usually, it was me and J.B. and Burle. We built the raft and we built it for those who weren't in need of creature comforts. There was wood to sit on, a little motor to incrementally charge the waters, and you could bring your own beer. If you showed up with a lawn chair, you were branded a pussy and usually thrown overboard as soon as we were in deep enough water to make drowning a dramatic possibility.

But now it was several years later and Burle was a CPA in Atlanta. I was in Management School for a big outfit housed there and we'd made plans to spend my last weekend on his sailboat up on Lake Sidney Lanier about an hour north of town.

As soon as I was out of my month-long training marathon that warm Friday afternoon, he was there at the front gates to pick me up in his brand new sports car. The boy who grew up in a house with half a dozen siblings and not a pot to piss in was driving a shiny new, red Datsun Z-car. And he was driving me to Lake Lanier where he had a damn fine sailboat in a slip just waiting on us.

I doubt if God has ever created a more beautiful lake that this clear blue patch in Georgia. You could tread water out in the middle of the lake and count every little piggy on your feet. I was in heaven out there, rehashing old times with an old friend and tossing back beers at exactly the midday pace good ol' boys were born to recognize. And that's when I heard about the girlfriend.

Jimmy (Burle's real name . . . funny, we couldn't even remember how he got that nick) had always been a bit funny when it came to the girls. He never had a steady back then when we were doing the river rafting, even after the rest of us started dating. We never wondered much about it; we just figured he hadn't found the one he wanted. But now he was telling me that his girlfriend was driving up and he needed to tack his way to the dock to pick her up. The weekend had been fun until then.

Have you ever been introduced to an awful choice for a companion by a friend of yours as his girlfriend? It's hard, isn't it, to keep your mouth shut and not say anything except, "Nice to meet you"? The evil mojoe was sparking off this girl like a manhole cover being rolled down Peachtree Street. Her little dark eyes were darting hither and yon like a captured bait minnow, even when you'd just innocently ask her if she wanted another drink.

I tried to forget about her. Another couple of old friends pulled up to join us in a motorboat, and the rest of the afternoon went smoothly: Until I was left alone with Jimmy and his new girlfriend. She looked nervous as she cooked the shrimp down in the mess while Burle and I sat above deck, now neck-deep into the brown wine. He had a look in his eye I'd never seen before. He was still being hospitable to me, but there was a twitching, a nervous sideways glancing that was new.

She seemed nervous when she served dinner, too. "Is this alright, honey," she asked as she shoved the shrimp on his plate.

"Well, if a fucking idiot had cooked it, I guess it'd be alright. I told you not to put that fuckin' crab boil in there, didn't I?"

Life on that little piece of floating real estate got very strange at this point, and didn't get normal again until my feet hit land and I managed to get my happy ass as far from these folks as quickly as I could, given the limitations of human transportational devices. Prior to my happy escape, I had to endure a full evening and most of another day with this most unhappy couple.

That night, I slept in the forward bunk and they were in the aft quarters, just a piece of plywood away from me. As her head hit the sides of the cabin walls and he screamed, "You fucking whore! You like it like that, don't you?!?" and her very real pleas for mercy as well as love floated up into the night sky above that vessel floating with anchor in the middle of one of the most beautiful lakes on earth. I tried to think of the things in life for which I was thankful. I thought about the girls I'd known in the years since I first met Jimmy, and I couldn't think of one I hated enough to treat in this manner. In fact, I couldn't even think of one upon whom I'd wish any harm at all.

The next day, it seemed as if all three of us were trying to pretend that nothing had happened. She had combed her shoulder length hair over the black eye and Jimmy was sitting in the deck chair drinking coffee with a relaxed smile. It almost seemed as if he was proud of something unspoken. My disgust was reaching a boiling point, but I was in the middle of a lake on his boat, having been driven there by way of his automobile, and this was long before cell phones.

I tried to make small talk again. Things were starting to even out when the girl came up on deck and made her stand. As she stood there, with such a tenuous defiance that it was laughable, arms on hips, she said in a squeaky voice: "I'm not going to be treated like this any more, Jimmy! You have got to start treating me better!"

Burle looked her up and down, as if to take the measure of this affront full in, and assumed a sickeningly paternal tone. "Oh, baby, are you hot about this? Really? I didn't know I had made you so mad. Why don't you take a little swim and cool off and we'll talk about it when you've calmed down?" The girl took him seriously. I couldn't believe it as I saw her strip down to her bathing suit and flash a smile as she dove overboard.

He threw her a life preserver and cupped his hands around his mouth: "I'll be back to get your fucking ass when I'm ready to go home." And he sailed off to leave her there for a couple of hours.

I tried to talk to him about the subject that was so far out in the open now that it could not be ignored. It didn't take long to realize that he was just a misogynic madman. The more I'd try to reason with him about his behavior, the prouder he became of that same behavior. It became clear that the girl might die out there if I didn't just shut up and wait him out.

When we picked her up, finally, and sailed back to shore, she got into her car and drove off and I got back into that sports car and drove back to Atlanta with Jimmy. We didn't have much to say at this point. And I've never spoken to him again since.

I got in the nearest shower to wash up before the trip back home. The walls of the shower started moving around me and I felt as if I was in the middle of an earthquake. It took me quite a while to realize I was experiencing the phenomenon of sea legs. I'd been on that boat so long that my body wasn't used to the stability of land. I wondered if this was how Jimmy must feel about relationships with the opposite sex. Was he always off balance and awkward?

No matter how dysfunctional you are, sexually, there is no good reason to treat another human being in a degrading manner. Especially when they care for you. And even more especially if you're trying to prove a point to someone who really doesn't give a shit about the way your pitiful, seemingly successful life turned out.

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