The Boys in the Boathouse
A Novel -- really, none of this ever happened -- by Dr. Frank Emfbo
Some guys are so huge they deserve their own chapter. And I don’t mean cock size, which may or may not be addressed later in this story. Some guys just have those outsized, unforgettable personalities that make them a legend. That make their names the stuff of fluffy embellished memories decades later.
Kevin was such a man. A mountain of a guy, all muscle with a giant innocent smile. And an absolute saint of a kind and loving person. Really, he wouldn’t intentionally hurt any other living thing, which is what makes parts of this story so ironic.
His parents worked their butts off serving guests at a little lakeside resort outside Port Angeles. Kevin went to PA High, played football and threw the shot. The boy was strong, cut, and willing to do whatever it took for the team.
He was also one of those guys who was, well… That Guy. Like, if something was going to happen, it happened to… That Guy.
Gruntie year, Kevin’s roommate was a sophomore. Sophomores who end up in this situation refer to their roommates as “my gruntie.” Which means exactly what it sounds like. Grunties who are owned in this way are expected to keep the room clean, run errands, do laundry and show respect. And when not called upon to serve, stay the fuck out of the way and be seen, not heard. Or better yet, don’t even be seen.
Kevin was a giver. And a pleaser. He bought one hundred percent into the service concept. He did whatever was asked of him. He wanted so badly to make his roommate happy, that he made some special plans one Friday when he found himself alone in the room for the weekend. Kevin would be on his own until Monday morning when his roomie would return.
Kevin scraped together a few dollars and headed for the hardware store.
Late that evening, we smelled fresh paint. A handful of us wandered into Kevin’s room to find him finishing up with the bright yellow color coating the walls. Roller and brush were ready for cleaning and he proudly stood back to let us admire it.
“Kev, did Crawdad approve this?”
“Shhhh, it’s a surprise!”
Oh boy, we thought. No point in scaring him now, but this might be a bad idea.
Saturday afternoon, I knocked on Kevin’s door. The paint would have dried by now and I wanted to see if he had any regrets.
“Aw Kevin. Oh baby. What the fuck is this?”
I stood in the doorway watching him. He had stolen a huge sponge from the kitchen. It was maybe 4” x 8”. He tapped it gently into the tray of royal blue latex, smiled happily and placed another half dozen bricks on the wall. Under the bookshelves and over the desk. Next to Crawdad’s bunk. Next to his own bunk. Up and down the wall by the window. Everywhere he’d painted yellow the night before, it all got blue bricks.
“Kevin, you dumbass, you’re gonna get killed. It doesn’t even matter what I think, and no I don’t like it, but when Monday morning comes…”
Silver heard the noise and came in.
“Ooooaaah, Croahdad’s gonna fookin choke you. Wut toyme’s he getting beck Monday?”
“He said he’d be here for breakfast.”
“Ok, we betta spend tomooora painting ova all this.”
“No way, you guys! He’s gonna love this!”
“Wooteva. Dig ya own grave then.”
Monday morning promised great entertainment. Kevin was at breakfast. The rest of us had already eaten, hitting the dining room at 6AM so we could be back to watch the show. Twenty grunties stood around in the hall, acting nonchalant like we were heading up to class, when Crawdad sauntered in from the parking lot.
“Hey guys,” he chirped. “What’s happening?” He paused and gave us a strange look, hand on his doorknob.
“Just hangin’ out, waiting for Kevin,” someone said.
“Well I’ll tell him…” he opened the door. “WHAT THE FUCK! KEVIN! I AM GOING TO FUCK YOU UP!”
We couldn’t contain ourselves. We were howling like a pack of wolves, circling around their door to get a better look at his reaction. Hearing it was hilarious but we wanted to see the purple face and the eyes bugging out. After months of being fucked over by the varsity, somebody had finally ratfucked one of them. The fact that it was just Kevin trying to be nice didn’t matter. It was a victory.
“YOU! GRUNTIE ASSHOLE! WHERE IS KEVIN?” Aw shit. He was looking right at me.
“Well, Crawdaddy, I saw him a couple minutes ago, down in shell storage, looking for his sweatshirt.” I could not believe how quick I came up with that. As Crawdad went down the stairs and through the locker room, still screaming Kevin’s name, I ran to the dining room, grabbed Kevin by the shirt and told him he had about ninety seconds to get his books and beat shit out of the building.
We were gone, a protective shield of twenty grunties around our buddy, and off to campus. We’d deal with the fallout at lunch.
Kevin weathered that storm – he only had to get another bucket of paint and cover the bricks, in a Crawdad-approved color – to provide us with another signature Kevin moment just a few months later. He’d been reassigned a fellow gruntie as a roommate, and upgraded to a room across the hall from the dining room. This was high livin’ and Doctor Frank stopped by one afternoon before practice for a little idle chit chat.
Kevin sat in his study chair, taking a break from hitting the afternoon books. He had his back to us, and he was facing the window. He was bouncing a softball on the floor.
His roommate said, “Hey Kev, toss me that softball for a second.”
Instead of just turning to the side and throw it underhand, Kevin tried to get tricky. When you’re That Guy and you get tricky, bad things can happen. He decided he was going to whip the ball backwards over his shoulder without looking.
See where this story is going? Think about for a second. Close quarters, softball, chucking it as hard as you can over your shoulder where you can’t see where it’s going. What could possibly go wrong? Kevin’s arm lurched backwards toward us. We flinched and got ready to catch it.
The ball crashed full speed into Kevin’s forehead.
“Oh, man!” he shouted in shock. He doubled over with his hands over his face as the ball bounded away. His roomie and I doubled over laughing. After a few seconds we realized Kev was now groaning on the floor. We stepped across the fallen chair to check on him.
He was groaning in the fetal position, hands still covering his forehead. We pried them away and took a look. A lump was already starting. By the time we hit the water for practice an hour later, the damn thing was a purple mountain three inches wide and an inch deep. It took a week to go away, a week when Kev had to deal with anyone who saw him either asking what the fuck he did to himself or cracking up because he knew the answer.
The embarrassment would have been enough to send a lesser man into hibernation. But Kev was used to being That Guy and took it all in stride with courage and with grace.
Blueberry pancakes were a rare treat at crewhouse breakfasts. Usually a Saturday special, guys got damn excited knowing the deliciousness was coming. We could smell those beauties as we got off the water. Grueling practice or not, we’d rush through showers and dressing and bust ass to the dining room to get filled up.
Kev was a little late for breakfast that day and the blueberries were running low. Maybe it was the new white shoes, maybe it was Kevin’s well-known butterfingers, maybe it was the constant shoulder twitch – Kevin had an old football injury in his shoulder and he was constantly adjusting it – or maybe there was a puddle on the floor that only Kevin’s feet could find. Whatever, he rushed to the kitchen counter, tray in hand, watching gratefully as Pat flopped three pancakes on his plate and dug in the bowl for the last big juicy runny scoop of the day. She even picked it up and dumped the remains on his plate. Joyfully he thanked her and turned to look for a place to sit. He was starved after practice, he was running late, and he was lucky enough to get the last berries. And dropped the whole damn thing.
Tray, plate, silverware, a huge cup of milk, pancakes, his scoop of blueberries, bacon, and a paper napkin spread in a six-foot circle around his feet. A huge cheer went up from the crowd as he just stood there. Balefully he looked back to a sympathetic Pat who was already setting her serving stuff down so she could go looking for a mop.
He didn’t care about being embarrassed. He was That Guy. The lump had just disappeared from his forehead. But he wanted his damn blueberries.
“Look, Kev, you can still save some!” someone hollered. He looked down. Chow was spread all around, but Pat’s huge scoop of blueberries were a direct hit on his new white shoes.
After cleanup, even after tasting a few of the berries that really did deserve saving, the stains remained. And they remained long after that Saturday. Kevin may still have those blue striped shoes today. But he got unrelenting shit about them. I mean, wouldn’t most guys hang onto their tray if it was the last scoop of blueberries? Pare that crowd down to the tiny percentage of guys who might lose their grip, and how many would drop the only thing in the meal that leaves a stain, directly on their shoes? And of that tiny crowd, what miniscule, statistically impossible number would just happen to be wearing brand new white shoes that day?
No statistic was impossible when it came to Kevin. He was That Guy. He walked his world with that target of fate on his back. You’d love to have That Guy be an asshole and watch karma be a bitch to him. But this shit had to happen to the good one. In any case, he couldn’t afford a new pair of sneakers so he clomped around campus all year with blueberry stains on his shoes. And nobody was shy about pointing it out.
Eventually guys started drawing blue marks on their own shoes. One of those “I am Spartacus” moments in support of our friend. But still he knew. He was That Guy.
When we weren’t teasing the kindest man on the team, a favorite crewhouse pastime – and truly Doctor Frank does not recall whose gun it was, even though the statute of limitations has passed – was to sit on the deck over the docks, make sure there was nobody in range, and take shots with a pellet gun at anything that moved. Now and then somebody would toss a paper cup over the side to see if the hot shooter could draw and fire and hit it. Nobody ever did.
Guys would bring their breakfast leftovers out to the deck and toss little crumbs in the air. Happily and harmlessly, they’d shoot the pellet gun at the swooping swallows and fat little sparrows that caught the crumbs. We were finely tuned racing machines in the boat, but nobody had the reflexes and intuition to hit a moving target with a pellet gun. We all knew it, so we passed the gun around and took a few shots knowing we’d never take one down. It was illegal, it was harassing wildlife, but nobody complained and nobody died or even got hurt, human or bird.
Until that day.
The usual antics were going on the day Kevin took his plate outside to finish his breakfast. Kevin had a pellet gun of his own back at home and thought he was a pretty good shot. So he asked for the gun. Nobody told him the objective was to NOT hit the bird. Nobody told him that nobody had ever hit the bird.
“Hey guys, I got one!” Kevin jumped up and looked over the rail after his first shot – his first shot, for Christ sake – to see a little sparrow twitching out its dying breath on the Big gold W below.
“Ooooooooh, Kevin!” the gathered multitudes replied. “That was our pet. We were just kidding around. We liked him. We were feeding him. He loved us. Kevin, you killed Sammy Sparrow!”
The joy disappeared from Kevin’s face. Every guy knew that if it was someone else that hit a bird it would have been mass approval and hero status. But this guy was That Guy, and this was another chance to let him have it.
The next day, a phone message appeared on the big green chalkboard.
“KEVIN. Sammy Sparrow’s mom called. Have you seen her son?”
Nobody would sit next to Kevin at meals. There was always an empty spot next to him, in honor of Sammy. Guys would mention it at practice. “Look, Kevin, it’s Sammy’s mom. She wants to know which one is you.” Walking across campus with him, someone would ask if that bird in the oak tree was Sammy’s brother. Feathers would magically appear on Kevin’s tray in the dining room.
Then one evening after dinner, Kevin walked into his room to find a child’s stuffed toy bird hanging from the ceiling by a noose. That might have been the last straw but he kept smiling through the shit, blood on his hands and blueberries on his shoes.
Unfortunately, it was not Kevin’s last escapade with a pellet gun. Doctor Frank was not there for that story so he’ll reach out to a reliable, unnamed source…
“A bunch of us were staying at a friend’s cabin on Orcas. There were steep stairs leading to the beach and at high tide Kevin and I were out plunking at things when an unsuspecting seagull swam up and one of us (I really can't remember who. This is no shit. We were soooo hammered.) shot the thing right through the eye. Our first reaction was how the hell did we do that with as much alcohol as we'd had but there it was just floating in the water. Next we had to make sure nobody saw the murder.
“The cabin is hidden but there is a neighbor across the bay who if he was looking at just the right angle at just the right time would have seen what happened and of course would have had to be silenced. Drunk and paranoid is a dangerous combination and we couldn't risk the dead seagull floating out with the tide and landing on someone else's beach. So we got a rope, fashioned a makeshift noose and somehow, without falling into the frigid waters of Massacre Bay lassoed the bird by the neck.
“Now we had to hide it somewhere. Couldn't risk leaving it on the property so we walked across the street and were going to heave it into the woods. Kevin decided he could get more distance by swinging the thing by the rope, thus slinging it further into the brush not unlike David vs. Goliath. Well Kevin being Kevin swung the bird about three times, let go and threw it straight up into the power lines where it got wrapped around and just dangled there looking like some kind of avian lynching.
“So now we're fucked, it was too high to reach, didn't have a ladder and no amount of rock throwing could get it down so we just went back to the cabin, hid the pellet gun and drank away the remainder of the weekend.”
Hiding shit and drinking more alcohol was a constant thread in those days. But one thing Kevin couldn’t hide – and maybe the thing that ran him off and caused him not to come back after two years in the program – was his hair. His lack of hair.
Most of us came to the crewhouse in the fall of our gruntie year with massive heads of hair. Some never cut it until spring, when the traditional head-shaving went down. Kevin went along with all this, rich blond locks growing and getting unruly until that day when the varsity fuckers got to take the clippers to us.
Kev gratefully submitted to the shears. He’d been bitching about having to wash and dry his hair so often. Showering was supposed to be quick. He spent more time on his hair than on the rest of himself combined, so baldness was going to be awesome.
A couple days later, we all realized those little wool beanies they gave us to keep our heads warm were sticking to our heads. We had stubble on our scalps. It was an encouraging sign. This shit grows back, right? Right.
Ummm, no. Not Kevin. That full head came back at about twenty-five percent. And it was enough to get everyone going, all over again. The Only Gruntie Whose Hair Never Came Back. The Man Who Stayed Bald. And when he showed up the next fall for sophomore year, he still had just a few wisps.
Those wisps were faltering, too. Silver was the most brutal. He loved stroking the boat when Kevin was sitting at three or in the bow. We’d get a little water in the bottom, swishing as we rowed, and invariably Silver would claim loudly that there were clumps of blond curls floating past his seat. Where could they be coming from?
Kevin would come to dinner and everyone in the room would rub their head, checking to make sure baldness wasn’t contagious. The more hair he lost, the worse the crap got. Someone regularly pulled the ring of hair from around the shower drain and put it on the bench in front of Kevin’s locker.
There was a line from an old comedy album, “I joined the service after I graduated because the dropouts already had all the jobs.” In ironic completion, Kevin must have used up all his statistically impossible karma while he spent two years at UW. Doctor Frank heard that a couple classmates were in LA a few years later and looked Kevin up. His parents had dumped the resort and all its ungrateful guests and moved to the lights of the city. He was working his ass off just like they used to do. Except he was making damn good money in a Xerox repair job (would you let this man fix your copier, I mean really?) and living, get this, right on the boardwalk on Manhattan Beach.
Kevin went on to finish his degree and get an MBA from the University of Southern California. He married a beautiful and kind woman, someone he deserved after all the bad juju in Huskyville. Sometimes these stories just turn out right.