The Geography of Changing Course
Driving to work one day in 2009, I heard Kalas’ voice on the radio.
I heard people talking about his voice.
It was a radio tribute.
Kalas had collapsed due to heart failure, before the Phillies vs. Nationals game, in the broadcasters’ box. He was rushed to the hospital, and he died.
It took just two words, two of Kalas’ words, to throw me back to June of 1980 at the Jersey shore—to the summer my sister and I would stay with our grandmother for the entire three months without our parents.
The summer of great wins and great losses.
The summer of men–
the sort a girl can look up to,
the sort a girl should never be alone with,
and the kind that really lets a girl down.
You just have to know how it feels to have spent every summer of your girlhood under the spell of Harry Kalas’ “Outta here!” How with everything else going on, that man’s voice always did, and always will, fill you with more goodness than watermelon in July.
Every morning, Lacey and I walked through Grandmom’s woods, eating tomatoes for breakfast like they were apples, to Uncle Max’s marina, where he gave us small jobs. Mine were polishing boat rails in the showroom and straightening displays in the shop.
The marina was through the woods, across Route 9, just next to the bridge that spanned the bay and led to the barrier island my sister and I knew like we knew each other. That morning, we stopped where the trees ended and the sandy dirt turned to pure sand. Lacey pinched her nose at the egginess of the marshes. I squinted at the horizon. White sails were being hoisted and trimmed. Beneteaus, Trintellas, and Hinkleys merged with a wind that curved tight to the globe. The previous summer, Uncle Max had asked one of his employees, a boy named Roger Curtin, to help me find my sea legs. But I’d vomited crossing bay to sea, every single time, just like every other year, and all I learned were the names of types of boats.
Lacey and I turned our backs to the shoreline and my windbreaker fluttered and rippled against me.
“See those trees?” I said.
“I see lots of trees,” Lacey said. Our grandmother lived on ninety acres.
“The three that make a triangle,” I said.
Three ancient oaks stood on the edge of a cluster of pines. We ran to them for respite from the unusually brisk wind, to gather ourselves for the unsheltered mile-long walk to the marina.
“Put your arms around this one,” I said.
My sister hugged half the tree and I joined my right hand to her left, but could not reach her around the other side. “You know what these trees mean?” I asked.
“They mean birds have nests and deer have shade,” Lacey said. Her cheek was pressed into the bark, I could tell, because her voice sounded muffled like it did at night from her pillow.
“You don’t know what these trees mean,” I said. “But I do.”
Lacey let go and ran back to the outer edge of the woods, to where the wind hit her body. She shouted, “They mean ticks can see your frizzy red head coming from miles away and woodpeckers can peck all day until their peckers fall off. Get it?” She put her hand on her crotch and stuck her index finger out, wiggling it.
She wasn’t wearing a windbreaker, only a tank top. Her breasts were jiggling as she laughed and I could tell she was cold. “You better ask Grandmom to buy you a fortress bra, Floppy!” I said, running past her.
She chased after me, saying, “I’m going to peck you! I’m going to peck you!” until we had to stop, at the base of the bridge. A line of out-of-state cars with beach chairs, beach umbrellas, beach balls, and surfboards strapped to their rooftops, crawled along the road. “Watch this,” Lacey said, sticking out her false pecker. “I’m peeing on their parade.”
Uncle Max was leading two couples around the slips, so Lacey and I found Roger. Lacey found Roger; I just tagged along. He was doing inventory. The marina shop was divided into two enormous rooms: the showroom, which was clean and bright and shiny, thanks in part to me; and the retail room, which was a beautiful wreck. Skinny Roger stood facing a wall covered with nautical art. Muscular men on small boats plunged harpoons into whales, and sea captains in black hats stood tall under blinding rains, holding telescopes toward distant shores.
“Paintings like these should be up front,” I said.
“You want to move them to the showroom?” Roger said. “It’s all windows, there’s no place for hooks.”
“Teeny couldn’t even lift one of these paintings,” Lacey said.
Teeny was short for Justine. It had nothing to do with my stature. I was tall and thin, or as Lacey put it, “built like a stick of spaghetti.”
It was hard to tell how heavy those paintings would be. I’d stared at most of them so many times, they’d become weightless visions of the life I was destined to live once I conquered seasickness.
“They’re in this room for a reason,” Roger said.
“Because they’re creepy and dark,” Lacey said. “The opposite of summer.”
“You’re right,” Roger said. “These paintings hardly ever sell.”
Most of high seas history was not “summer,” I wanted to tell my sister, and stop always telling Lacey she’s right, Roger. But I just followed them to the nautical barroom aisle.