The Disease Called Cruising
16. Long Calm, Short Temper
I HAD BROUGHT on board a large bottle of Eno’s Fruit Salts, a white powder that fizzes when you put it in water. It’s supposed to cure indigestion and constipation, but I liked it to drink simply for the fizz.
It was hot and humid in the south-east trades and the yacht’s drinking water was warm, flat, and tasteless. Ours was a small sloop and we had no storage space for soft drinks. So every day I would drop a large spoonful of Eno’s into a mug of water and enjoy the sensation of a thousand little bubbles popping in my mouth.
We had been at sea for three weeks when I noticed that my good old friend Nick was helping himself to my Eno’s. Not only helping himself but flaunting the mug in front of my very face while he slurped away.
All four of us were feeling snappish at this stage, after six days of calms. Tensions build up easily on a small boat at sea, and calms make things decidedly worse. I knew this full well and I was determined to be very mature about this blatant and continuing theft. I would not indulge in the depths of pettiness to which the others had sunk in the past week. I decided to say nothing at all to Nick.
Quite obviously, he imagined the Eno’s Fruit Salts belonged to the ship’s stores. He didn’t realize that they were my personal elixir, a special treat that I had had the sense to provide for myself without depending on others all the time, as some thoughtless people do.
Nevertheless, even if he didn’t know they were mine, he should have asked. That, surely, is what a reasonable person would do, isn’t it? That’s what I would have done. In any case, no reasonable man could use as much Eno’s as Nick. He didn’t suffer from indigestion or constipation. He just saw it and wanted it. You know the type. It’s a weakness, a character flaw that affects some people.
Every time Nick went past with his fizzing mug, grinning with asinine pleasure, I felt something tear my insides apart. Finally, I resolved to speak to him, lest by too much restraint I should cause myself some deep and lasting psychiatric harm.
I worked out a simple and graceful sentence, a jocular reminder that the Eno’s actually belonged to me, not the whole darned ship. But when it came time to say it, it came out differently. To my astonishment, what I said was: “Fer Chrissake keep your thieving hands off my Eno’s!” Worse still, I shouted it.
Nick took one look at my slitted eyes and contorted face and jumped backwards, apologizing profusely.
Suddenly I was overcome with remorse. “I’m sorry,” I said. “That came out wrong. I didn’t mean that. Here, take the bottle. It’s yours.”
But no, he wouldn’t accept it. Wouldn’t dream of doing me out of my very own precious Eno’s, he said.
“Fer Chrissake take it and shut up!” I hissed.
Nick blinked his eyes like a spaniel whose master has just delivered him a swift kick in the crotch. He looked hurt and confused. He took the bottle and put it with the galley stores on the little shelf behind the stove.
And there it stayed for the rest of the trip, untouched by either of us.
I really can’t hate more than 5 or 10 years. Wouldn’t it be terrible to be always burdened with those primary emotions you had at one time?
— Han Suyin, NY Times, 25 Jan 85
“You say the tow-truck guy charged you $50 a mile for towing?”
“Yeah, but I got my money’s worth — I kept the brakes on all the way.”(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)