I loved the overcast days on Long Island Sound as much as I did the sunny ones. On overcast days, the lack of glare was easier on the eyes and allowed greater visual acuity long distances. You could still get a heck of a sunburn if you hadn’t slathered yourself with at least an SPF 60 sunscreen -unless, of course, you were acclimated as I was. Every summer my dark brown hair would bleach out to blonde with white highlights and my skin would tan to a deep mahogany from head to foot, excluding where my trunks or cut off Levis blocked the rays. But then I spent as many moments out on the waters between Long Island and Connecticut in my Boston Whaler as I possibly could, at times even straying into the Atlantic for coastal runs up to Cape Cod and once even down to Charleston. Those were exceptions, of course, for the most part I stayed in the bracketed confines of the Sound. Toby and I were sitting on the end of the pier at Jenkin’s boat yard waiting them to finish maintenance on the Kiekhaefer Mercury outboard engine that pushed my boat. It’s 90 hp moved my 16 foot Whaler along at a respectable 40 knots, making me a major headache for the local Power Squadron patrols and a source of amusement for the Coast Guard. Finding me at the submarine works at Groton, plowing through the channels off of the end of La Guardia’s runways and breaking the restriction limits of Riker’s Island, I was all over the Sound from one end to the other and remarkably familiar for being just one of the thousands of boaters plying the water. Operators of lobster boats, mussel dredges and fishing charter captains all recognized my little boat on sight, and depending on how we were introduced would give a friendly wave or reach for a baseball bat at my approach. I wasn’t a juvenile delinquent, let’s just say I was filled with the exuberance of youth and a tenacious search for adventure accommodated by a boat fast enough to get me out of a lot of scrapes. As we waited for the mechanics to finish up, there we were on the pier eating hamburgers from a nearby greasy spoon and feeding french fries to the seagulls wheeling and diving at us. We were tucking small chunks broken from Fizzies into the scraps of fries we launched to be grabbed and swallowed mid-flight by the pushy gulls. Fizzies were Alka Seltzer like tablets that came in a variety of soft drink flavors. Cola, root beer, lime and more. It was universally agreed that they didn’t taste anything like the sodas they claimed to emulate, but we loved watching them fizz in a glass of water. Even more, we liked the effect they had on sphincterless seagulls. They would swallow the tainted french fries whole only to have their stomach juices release the fizziness of the tablet fragment, pushing the contents of their stomachs out their hind ends with a jet like assist. We thought this was a riot of course.
Old man Jenkins caught sight of our semi-cruelty to the winged rats and turned the dockside hose on us with enough force to shove us from the pier into the water. Like most people who contend with gulls and their output on a daily basis, he was not fond of the squawking scavengers, but neither was he fond of anything that might be construed as abuse. We came up sputtering and protesting the loss of our lunches, they’d been washed into the water with us. Mr. Jenkins explained that what we were doing could be very painful to the birds, reminding us of what gas cramps felt like. He also explained that too much pressure could burst the innards of the birds, leading to a slow and painful death. These things had never dawned on us and we felt properly chastised for our sins and gave up the practice. That’s not to say we didn’t get a laugh recalling our previous crimes and the odious sprays upon the boats of the wealthy that resulted from them. In this day and age a parent would become enraged at the thought of someone using a high pressure hose on their offspring. But back in my days of youth, the community members provided a lot of the correction kids needed to be acceptable parts of that society. As long as we aren’t talking severe abuse or the application of penance to innocent parties, parents not only didn’t object, but approved of instantaneous punishment for transgressions. Today, such correction would vilify the applicator and brand them as a child abuser and have them perp walked across the screens of television’s nightly news. Perhaps many of our younger members would be more polite and considerate of others had they been given the benefits of instruction we were “way back in the day.” With half a lunch and social and biology lessons under our belts, my motor was winched back into place and Toby and I took off to find other lessons we might learn out on the waters.