TANDY VERSYP Staff Writer
A couple weeks ago, I moonlighted as a tugboat crew member for an internship with the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association—a non-profit organization dedicated to championing the dredging and maintenance of the Intracoastal Waterway.
That was my professional reason for climbing aboard the tugboat named Fred E. Adams. However, I really did it so I could call my friends and sing portions of the Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat.”
And that’s exactly how I tried to connect with the crew members—with quick pop culture references. But nobody got them.
“Are you a Betty or Veronica man?” I asked
“Who are they?”
“You have a blog about being a captain, don’t you?”
“What’s a blog?”
“Did you see ‘Rock of Love Bus’ last night?”
“Is that a movie?”
I struck out time and time again with my Post-Modern, media-saturated humor. The men on the boat smiled politely through the 20-second silence after each joke.
Most of the time, I sat in the captain’s cabin at the top of the tug with Captain Timmy, a sun-freckled man whose belly shook like Santa Claus when he laughed, and Abe, a portly man with a thick Gullah accent.
Abe cooked most of the food for the men, so he began persuading me to try something new.
“Tell him what you eat, Abe,” Captain Timmy said.
“Raccoon meat,” Abe said.
“Do you like chicken?” Abe asked me. “Beef? Pork?”
“Imagine all of those meats in one. It is some good eatin’.”
“Have you ever tried it, Timmy?” I asked.
“No,” he laughed. “I never will.”
On the boat, it was nice. And quiet. And simple.
I hate using the word “simple” because it has a bad connotation: small minded, uneducated or just plain dumb. The crew members transport oil from their barge to a cargo ship. Any screw up and it could be another potential Exxon Valdez disaster. These men are smart, even if they speak in grammatically incorrect colloquialisms.
They merely live a different way of time: wake up at 4:30 a.m., labor all day in the sun, take in the Savannah Harbor, go home at 7:30 p.m., watch the news and go to bed.
Sitting in a boat, you can’t keep watch on celebrity gossip, entertainment news or the latest viral video.
These men didn’t even realize the media-born stereotypes they were representing. For instance, Abe was the black sage of the boat—a la Morgan Freeman or Jennifer Hudson from “Sex and the City.”
On the boat, the stereotype didn’t exist. He was just Abe—one of the other men who didn’t have time for the current silly zeitgeist.
But they all loved Diet Coke. Numerous times Timmy offered me one out of a small refrigerator labeled, “Keep Out! Private Property!”
When Abe had gone down to kitchenette, Timmy looked at my straightened hair and ridiculous rectangular-frame eyeglasses.
“You must be pretty smart if you’re a writer,” he said. “You’re not going to play your tape recorder for anyone else are you?”
I looked down at the digital voice recorder that I brought for the interviews, and I could sense his self-thought inferiority to my college-educated pretension.
Back home in Texas, I’ve skinny dipped in the Brazos River, gone spotlightin’ with my brothers, eaten mounds of catfish, hunted dove and duck and I still say y’all.
Trying to make a name for yourself in the sometimes-superficial writing world makes you forget that.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “You sound fine.”
We sat in the captain’s cabin staring out at the constantly moving Savannah River—up and down, wave on wave.
Abe broke the silence climbing up the forest green stairs.
“Y’all ready for some lunch?”
Down in the faux-wood-paneled kitchenette, Abe lifted foil off of a savory stack of mystery meat.
“What are we havin’ today?” Timmy asked.
“Raccoon, now,” Abe answered.
Timmy and I looked at each other.
“Just kidding. It’s pork chops,” Abe laughed.
I thanked him for the meal and enjoyed it immensely. But I kind of wished it was raccoon meat.