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'The Trader'

April 25, 2012
By James Drobnic , Graffiti

** Readers Write is a new feature in Graffiti where we spotlight reader submitted written work. To submit your short story, column, poem or other written work for

consideration for publication, email news@graffiti.com. **

I was quite surprised when my cousin told me he and his wife were moving to L.A. In fact, they were going to be there before I got back. We had all arrived in Cleveland two days earlier for my sister's wedding, they from Nashville, myself from Burbank; it was the early eighties.

I was staying in town for more than a week before returning; they were driving back to Tennessee the next day, and then after wrapping up their affairs there, heading west.

My cousin's wife had landed a nice transfer - a writing and editing position with a sister publication of the newspaper where she currently worked. He had nothing lined up, but was confident of his prospects. Resume writers were needed everywhere, he intimated. They were happy.

Shortly after my return to California, he telephoned, suggesting dinner and drinks. Plans were set and two days later, we were together again at a seaside bar celebrating their new life on the West coast.

Debbie was ecstatic about her new coworkers and her new responsibilities. Jim was also upbeat, having already found an apartment for them to rent. And he had also managed to have gone sailing.

His phone call early the following week was hardly to be believed. Jim wanted my girlfriend and me to join him and Debbie on an excursion in their new sailboat! Aye aye Cap'n.

Apart from his little outing the previous week, my cousin had never sailed a boat. Now he owned one. I couldn't help but ask: "Ya think this is the smartest move to make right now, right off the bat? Don't you know what the definition of a boat is? It's a hole in the ocean into which you sink endless amounts of money." "Yeah, but I got a good deal on it and the owner spent a lot of time with me, making sure I could handle everything." I asked what a "good deal" was.

"About 50 thou" he said.

"And the Marina Del Ray marina fees? And all those miscellaneous boat accessories that you're gonna need? You sure you thought all this through?"

"I can sleep in it if I have to, and comfortably," he replied.

What does that have to do with anything I thought? The words were prophetic. The excursion was pleasant and the weather was beautiful. My cousin seemed confident and competent at the helm. A few miles out, we dropped anchor and had lunch. They had prepared chicken breast sandwiches which were barely edible. Despite having an appetite, I could not finish mine; my girlfriend only managed a few nibbles.

After the boat trip, I didn't hear from them for some time, and then there one night there was the late night knock at my door. It was Jim. He had hitchhiked all the way to my place - no small feat for late-night L.A. Debbie had kicked him out; "It's over," he lamented. He was distraught.

After a couple of drinks and some herbal refreshment he began to tell all. He had been sleeping on the boat for over a week and using the Marina restrooms for hygiene needs. Without explaining why, he said that arrangement was no longer possible. He had not found work, nor was there anything pending.

Despite his stubbornness and often shaky view of reality, it was clear - the boat was history, he had to sell it, and sooner rather than later. He spent the next couple of nights at my apartment. His days were focused on trying to get the boat sold. But he could not find a buyer, no interest whatsoever. He certainly did not have a nautical network into which he could plug into. Complicating matters, he was without transportation, as Debbie needed the car for work, as did I for mine.

He missed at least one appointment with someone interested in looking at the vessel due to lack of wheels. Desperation set in, and necessity's jaws were tightening. By the week's end, marina fees were due. He was at the crossroads and decided to pull the trigger. It was a trade and it managed to kill two birds; that was how the deal was presented to me.

The car that he'd be getting was only two years old, with low mileage, and looked pretty good, too. But the dark cloud above his head darkened and intensified. Almost instantly it seemed it was in the shop, needing major repair, and not just one problem, but several.

The funds to get it fixed, however, did not exist. Jim was not even close to being able to meet the mechanics estimate, and, once again, he was without transportation. It was barter time once more.

Now the car belonged to the mechanic and in turn, my cousin now owned a motorcycle - it looked ancient to me. Jim's mother had moved to south Florida the previous year, and was now encouraging him to join her there. The decision was quickly made. He could have his real-life "Easy Rider" escapade, choppering his way back east, and then start life anew with a free place to live for awhile. But just before his departure, the cycle would not start; no one could figure out why. Decisions, decisions.

A car transport company had a car that needed to be in Miami ASAP. They were willing to give a full tank of gas upon pick-up and $150 upon delivery. Jim grabbed the deal.

He left with a 10-speed bicycle in the trunk of the transport car. That's what he managed to get for the motorcycle. As far as I know, all it ever did was collect dust in his mom's garage.

 
 

 

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