I AM GOING TO BUY A BOAT, and I expect it will change my life.
I’ve bought other things before that were supposed to change my life. There was the Zen alarm clock; that was almost fifteen years ago. At the time, Leah and I struggled to wake up in the morning. She hated the way traditional alarm clocks yanked you from a peaceful sleep to the sound of an air raid siren, and I hoped waking to the singular chime of a bell would result in enlightened, blissful mornings filled with peace and smiles. Well, I was wrong. At 7am, a sweet, persistent ding from the bedside table becomes as annoying as a repetitive fire truck horn.
Since then, I’ve made other inspiring purchases that had infinite potential to be life-altering: an air purifier, which was supposed to miraculously clear my living space of airborne allergens. A gym membership, which was supposed to make me want to work out. A house, which now eats up my spare time with raking, mowing and shoveling, among other drab tasks. A superior vacuum cleaner, which would turn housework into a joy (not a bad purchase, actually, because Leah loves it). The only investment that in reality did dramatically alter my life was opening a bar, and with the stress that accompanies owning a business, I’m not always convinced that it was for the better.
But still I believe that this time it’s going to be different, that a boat is going to change my life. We have kayaks already, and these were lovely companions when we lived in the river- and pond-filled Berkshires, but every stream in the Finger Lakes ends with a plunge over a steep, rocky waterfall that is at least 60 feet high. Kayaking on Cayuga Lake offers limited scenery, and though I could theoretically swim off of a kayak, I doubt I could successfully climb back in the boat from the water without capsizing or rolling the whole thing. I’d like to get a real boat this year, with a healthy engine, space for a cooler, a fold-up ladder, and just enough room for Leah and I. I imagine hours of floating and swimming in the middle of Cayuga Lake, a welcome escape from the insane, hectic pace of my summer work schedule. The cell phones can stay on the shore: I will disconnect and learn to relax. In those moments, everything will be perfect. And when I tell this to Leah, she laughs so hard she snorts.
Friends with boats warn me, “It’s another thing you will own that will break.” Leah’s father joked, “The best day of your life is the day you buy a boat. The second best day is the day you sell the boat.”
I emailed my own dad for advice on buying a used boat, and received the following warnings over three emails:
-If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
-A boat or motor listed on Craigslist could be stolen.
-Demand the bills for all of the boat’s service history.
-Copy the seller’s driver’s license.
-Don’t buy it if you can’t put it in the water first. (It’s 19 degrees out as I write this.)
-If the seller balks, ding-ding! Suspicion.
-You should be putting that money into your 401K instead of buying a boat.
This is what dads are for: To remind us to be careful in life, to protect us, to warn us that it’s a wild world, there’s a lot of bad out there and beware. A boat can sink. An engine can die.
So far, I haven’t had any luck finding the life-changing boat. I’ve discovered buying a used boat is like buying a used car: frustrating, annoying and risky. Leah has spent hours on Craigslist, and I’ve made a bajillion phone calls. We’ve traveled half-days in two different directions to look at some boats, but they were fixer-uppers with ready-to-float prices. People will tell you anything to get you to take a boat off of their hands. Some of it is true (the poor kid who needs to sell his boat fast to pay for a DWI lawyer) and some isn’t (the guy who told me a boat didn’t need any work, but the cracked windshield was threatening to cave in, the floor was rotted, the last time it was registered was 1987, and with the holes we saw in the hull, it is obviously going to sink as soon as it meets the water.)
I’m not ready to give up yet, to have my boat lust squelched by fear or slippery Craigslist sales pitches. To get me through these dreary days of winter, I need dreams of warm sunshine on my face and waves lapping against the side of my perfect little boat. I’m going to set the Zen alarm clock to wake me early tomorrow, get my ass to the gym, turn on the air purifier when I get back, and keep making those phone calls.