The next morning, Sharon and Diana carried the oars down to the boat, where Tim, with his one-legged carpentry, had already made wooden oarlocks. Confident of success, he was all for pushing out into the channel and having a go. Sharon, less confident, called a halt.
A main sport at the marina consisted in laughing at people who got into messes with boats. The people doing the snickering sometimes tried to help, with varying degrees of sincerity. After all, the person standing helpfully by with a rope to throw got a better close-up of the mess, and the words and behavior of the messers, than someone sitting outside the deli.
Most of these messes occurred in the narrow channels between the rows of slips when the wind, or bad judgment, caused someone to land, not in his or her slip, but in another slip with a boat already in it. The impacts were usually at low speed without a great deal of damage (except when an outboard motor was knocked off the stern of a boat), but there would be some emotion and loss of face.
On one occasion, when a man had a great deal of difficulty landing a large catamaran, he took to shouting at his wife, not obscenely, but in a way that caused tut-tutting among the bystanders. They, too, might shout at their spouses, but not after having first attracted a crowd with their ineptitude. Finally the man got his wife landed on the dock, and the stern of the boat within some eight feet of it. He tossed a rope, rather gently, to her, so that she could wind it around a cleat. It would then be a simple matter for him to pull the boat in. His wife, however, stood stiffly, letting the rope drop into the water.
Tim didn’t scream at people when things went wrong, and Sharon didn’t drop ropes into the water. However, she thought that she probably had more aversion to humiliation than he, and she was aware that even the slight breeze that was blowing could cause them to lose control of some seven thousand pounds of boat. She therefore insisted in working out the details in advance.
The first problem was to get Tim properly situated on the new vertically swiveling rowing seat in such a way that the cast on his leg didn’t block the action of the tiller. He sheepishly admitted that, with the tiller blocked, he would either have rowed into the shore or into another boat. It also turned out that the oars, extending fourteen feet to each side, couldn’t be used at all until the boat was partly backed out of the slip. Sharon wasn’t sure whether she and Diana would be able to push it hard enough back against the breeze to accomplish that. However, they untied the boat and practiced pushing it around. It was hard to move at first, but did eventually respond.
When Sharon declared everything ready, she and Diana pushed on opposite sides of the bow. They got the boat moving steadily backward, with the idea of hopping on board at the last moment. However, Diana pushed a little too long, with her feet on the dock and her hands on the boat’s rail. The distance was inexorably increasing, and she wasn’t strong enough to pull herself up aboard the boat. There was a cry and a splash.
Sharon made it aboard, and saw Diana swimming. Two older men rushed to pull her out, perhaps moving faster than they had in years. However, two younger men passed them by, and accomplished the rescue. The only likely casualty was Diana’s cell phone, still clipped to her belt as she was lifted out of the water.
Tim was going forward with one oar and back with the other in order to twist the boat and align it with the channel. Unfortunately, they seemed to be having no effect. Sharon suspected that, having begun with Diana’s splash, they were about to do other things to become famous.
The oar strokes eventually began to have effect. They then moved, rather majestically, into the large basin leading to the channel. That, in turn, led to the ocean, a mile distant.
Tim was managing, apparently without doing bad things to his leg, but the mode of rowing, pushing on the oars instead of pulling on them, looked awkward and inefficient to Sharon. She took over one oar, periodically standing to see where they were going. They had gotten only a little distance into the channel before Tim admitted being tired. Which was unusual for him, and might mean that he was utterly exhausted. A motorboat offered to tow them, but Sharon knew that both she and Tim would rather drown than subject themselves to such a humiliation. They did manage to struggle back, Tim putting forth several ideas for improving the system.
When they coasted gently back into the slip, Diana, with dry clothes and a towel around her head, was seated outside the deli. Melissa, again with children, was with her. Sharon asked Tim, “Does she take the children with her everywhere she goes?”
“Once even into the locker room. She apparently has massive problems with unreliable baby sitters.”
“I suppose a lot of baby sitters do have low morale. I think I would.”
“The combination of low pay and a lot of responsibility might not be good.”
“Alternatively, some mothers might allow themselves to imagine all the things that could go wrong. Like the baby sitter zipping across the border with the children and trading them to a child pornography ring for drugs.”
“You’re dangerous, Sharon! If you mention that to Melissa, she’ll never even think about using a baby sitter.”
Sharon suspected that Melissa was, at the least, over-protective. But she knew better than to be critical of a man’s girl friend.
As it happened, Melissa had news in the form of that day’s paper. One of the cigar-chewing sports reporters had a highly negative quasi-hysterical reaction to the interview, but Melissa said, “There hasn’t been time for most of the heavyweights to spout off, not to mention any reaction from the coach, owner, and league officials.”
Tim asked, “Does the suspension still hold?”
“Yeah. Since it was an over-reaction by the coach to something pretty harmless, the general manager might have tried to slide out of it. But, now, they’re probably wondering what on earth they can or should do.”
“I wonder how the league will react.”
“I’ve privately asked a few people who might know. The consensus is that, since there’s no question of Enoch’s performance on the field, the commissioner won’t say anything. That will leave it to the team, which would also be well-advised to keep silent. But it may become such a burning issue in the city that they’ll have to do, or say, something.”
It was just then that Sharon began to realize that she, Enoch, and Tim might end up being hated by many thousands of people. Would there be people who would actually want to kill them? That seemed a stretch, but, putting some of her thoughts into words, she concluded, “It’ll be too bad if we have to leave the city.”
Melissa replied, “It’s a principle of journalism that everything blows over as long as it isn’t continually stoked. It’s just a question of time.”
Tim replied, “But, first, we’re going to stoke it a little more when I say my piece.”
“Probably tomorrow or the next day.”
Just as it looked as if Melissa might load up her children and leave, a smiling gentleman came up and introduced himself as Brian Howison. The name meant nothing to Sharon, but, from Melissa’s reaction, she could see that he was important. Moreover, Sharon did know that the city was run by wealthy businessmen who virtually chose the mayors and other important officials. He was immediately asked to sit down, and said, “My spies told me where to find you, Melissa.”
He then went around the group, identifying everyone until he came to Diana. Looking to her, he said, “And you, maam, must be Enoch’s friend.”
It was all quite jolly, and Sharon asked him, “What did your spies tell you about us, Mr. Howison?”
“That you’re part of a Harvard group with similar ideas about life and sport, and that you’re here to enlighten us. Also, that you’ve attracted Enoch Maddox, who’s always been a bit of a rebel in the NFL.”
Tim replied, “I don’t go around enlightening people. I think it’s just that we’re open to people who want to play games and learn a little at the same time.”
“Yes. I exaggerated. A problem is that the average citizen doesn’t have the time or energy, much less the physique, to play with you. Even when you’re slowed down with your broken leg. He also thinks he already knows everything he needs to know.”
This was said with a laugh, and Sharon replied, “One of the neighboring kayak instructors told us something similar. We don’t have grandiose ideas, but we do come across enterprising people here and there. Enoch is certainly one of them.”
“No problem about that. The problem is the radio interview. I don’t think you realize that a pro sports team is one of very few things that unify an American city. People like me are always accused of just being interested in the money. That’s not it. An NFL team with only a handful of home games doesn’t really generate much. It’s a little like the Iraqi soccer team. It’s made up of players from all the opposed groups, but it’s supported by everyone.”
“It isn’t as if the different ethnic groups in San Diego want to kill one another.”
“No, but there’s more latent hostility than you may think. With any population anywhere, it can be all smiles on the surface with a lot of ugliness underneath. Take the case of Michael Vick. Whites are appalled at images of dog fighting, and say that their disapproval has nothing to do with race. But it turns out that there are a lot of blacks who think that it’s no worse than deer hunting, and that he’s being persecuted because of his race.”
Sharon responded, “I do remember reading about an office full of middle-class women when the O. J. Simpson verdict was announced. The white ones were horrified, but the black women cheered.”
“The same thing. When the Chargers were here, Tomlinson was admired, not only as a player, but as a person. By everyone.”
Tim replied, “Are you suggesting that Enoch could be like that if he didn’t give out interviews like the one last night?”
“I don’t know him, but saying that it doesn’t matter who wins the games offends people. What unifies them is the common hope that the team will, in fact, win.”
“I agree with Enoch that we’re in the entertainment business. The league is full of great athletes, and they show what they can do.”
“So do ballet dancers, but they appeal only to a thin sliver of the elite in any city.”
“I think you’re asking us to pretend that it’s important for us to win. There’s no reason for me to hope that the Sailors win. I don’t come from here, I hardly know anyone on the team but Enoch, and most of the coaches want me to be something I’m not.”
“We all have to pretend. I often have to pretend that a doubtful enterprise will succeed. If I admit my doubts publicly, employee morale will be shattered and it’ll collapse almost immediately.”
“We’re not business people. We don’t promise anything to anyone who wants to join our group.”
“But you joined the NFL. That is, most definitely, a business.”
“If so, the moral would be that we should get out of it as soon as possible. Which is probably happening.”
“Perhaps, if you can give up the easy money you can make punting.”
Sharon hotly objected, “He got a broken leg doing that!”
“I’m sorry. Anyhow, you get the point. I’m asking that you and Enoch not use your prestige to harm one of the few things that unifies this city, or any city.”
After that, it was back to joviality. Sharon was impressed. The man had a point, and, having made it, he could relax. He even conversed with Billy and had a veggie wrap with hot pepper cheese.
After Howison had left, Tim said, “It reminds me a little of the Romans. Bread and circuses to placate the mobs.”
Melissa, who had said very little to Howison, now said, “It is like that. I believe in giving the mob anything within reason that will placate it.”
“The Romans also gave them lions v. Christians in the Coliseum.”
“That was over the top, as were Hitler’s persecutions, not to mention pogroms, the so-called ‘Tsar’s gifts to the peasants’. Circuses are okay. I wonder about the NFL.”
Sharon was also wondering, and said, “It is elitism to encourage
people to believe things that aren’t true to keep them quiet. A lot
like state-sponsored religion.”
Melissa replied, “Some people who pricked holes in those bubbles got burned at stakes.”
“I do wonder about the wisdom of throwing stones at a juggernaut that we won’t even be able to slow down, much less stop.”
Tim then said, “Once I’ve done my interview, we may want to call it quits.”