Thursday, January 1, 1970

The Target Ship

The Target Ship

Huge Crabs And Water Over Your Head

It was our family, and the Curtis family.
We were on Cape Cod for a two week vacation in August.

It was 1969 and the "summer of love."

I didnt' know anything about any "summer of love," as I was 6 years old, my sister was 7, and our parents were keeping a shield between us and certain knowledge of things going on in the world at large, like hippies and the Vietnam war, for starters.

The Curtis's had three sons, Billy, Bobby and Stevie.

Stevie was my age. He was more worldly than I, and a little tougher, because he had older brothers.

I imagine that made it harder for Tina and Bill to shelter him in the same way from "the real world." Those were his parents.

Tina and Bill were friends of my parents. They went out together or played cards around ours or their kitchen tables. They also took their two week vacations at the same time in the summers, with Cape Cod being the destination for about 5 consequetive years, during the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

Bill had played football with my father in high school. Bill hurt his back playing football with my father, and still carried the symptoms of "a bad back" with him.
Bill had been "Billy" when growing up.
Tina was tiny, and had had the nickname "Teenie," before becoming Tina. 10 years later she would be found one morning in the Nashua River in our home town, after an apparent failed suicide attempt. It would be attributed to her going through menopause by the doctors, and the card games with my parents would stop around the same time (too much akwardness when Tina layed the "suicide" jack on the table.)
Billy was almost 17 and too old to enjoy a vacation on Cape Cod. He had become Bill by then, and had more interesting things to do. Cars and girls were amongst the list. He was going to Woodstock with some other teenagers in a Camaro, instead of coming to Cape Cod with his family.
Bobby was 14, hadn't become Bob Curtis, and was there with  us. He would grow up to be a pharmisist.
Stevie was my age and a long way from graduating to "Steve." He would break into houses in our neighborhood as a teenager starting a couple years after the Nashua River incident, but not necessarily related to it.

We were all sitting on the grass outside an ice cream place in the town of Brewster, eating cones.
"Look at the hippies," said Bobby.
I turned and saw two men with long hair and beards, wearing colorful shirts; the first two hippies I had ever seen and at the age of six, no less.
My father whistled. It was a whistle that I would become very familiar with by the time I was a teenager. It was somewhere between the kind one would make while surveying the destruction left by a tornado and one made after having just carried a heavy object like a bag of cement a long way and placed it down.
He would often make this sound when confronted with anything preposterous.
"They're probably stoned!," said Bobby.
"What is stoned?," my sister and I said in unison.
Stevie was smiling as if he knew what stoned was and as if he was amused at my sister's and I's nievity.
"Never mind," said my mom.
"Quiet, Bobby. That's not a nice thing to say about someone. You don't know them, they might be nice people!" Vintage Tina.
The Curtis's had rented a cottage in Brewster, and we had stopped there for ice cream before driving to look at their cottage, and before my family continued on to Eastham, about 10 more miles up the cape.
We looked at the cottage, and then went to the end of the road to see the bay.
It was then that I caught my first glimpse of the target ship.
The target ship was an old barge, which had gotten stuck on a sandbar in the bay and then was sold to the military so that fighter jets could practice dive-bombing on it, using innoculous tracer rounds; usually at night.
The rounds emitted a loud report, though, and/or the sonic booms, which rattled the china in our cottage on those nights when the pilots were training to go rattle things near China.
From the angle of Brewster, the ship looked short. From the shores of Eastham, it looked long, as it was being viewed broadside from there.
It sat about 2 miles out, past where the tide ever receeded, and in my six year old imagination, it was in water way over my head and it's rusted, pock-marked hull was teeming with crabs as big as the water was deep.
In the five years that we vacationed at the Cape, I looked forward to seeing the target ship more than anything. It was the first thing I looked for. From Provencetown, on the tip of the Cape, you could only see the back of it.
Learning To Fight
One night, the parents all went out and left Bobby to babysit myself and my sister.
Bobby took this opportunity to teach me how to box.
If Tina was around, she would have told him something like: "Don't be teaching him how to punch people, that's not nice," but Tina wasn't around, nor were any parents. It was just us "men" (and my sister, but she was watching the snowy picture of a TV show; the Boston stations were a little weak out on the Cape).
Grabbing the little pillows off of a couch and handing me two of them, Bobby said "Come on, I'll teach you how to box"
We had to strip down to just our shorts. "You can be Mohammad Ali, I'll be Joe Frasier, he wears the red shorts."
He helped me with my stance and my crouch and how to hold the pillows in a defensive posture, and threw punches gentled-down to my six year old self.
I was hitting back and not wimping out, and I could tell that it made Bobby kind of proud of me. It was training that I just didn't get at home, with only a sister one year older around.
Then he said "You're just using your right, you need to switch them up to fake the guy out, here, try this!"
He showed me how to throw three lefts in a row and then (out of nowhere) a right, in order to fool the opponent.
"Now, you try"
I knew that Bobby already knew that I was going to throw three lefts and then a right (out of "nowhere") and I didn't like my prospects for success, but, for the purposes of instruction, Bobby played along.
My right pillow caught him "totally by surprise," whereupon he hit the cedarwood floor of our cottage hard, yelling "AAAAHHH" and rolled around in mock pain, saying "Frasier is down! Frasier is down"
And that was how I learned how to fight; in a cottage on Rolling Lane in Eastham, Mass which smelled like cedarwood, and where you had to put rice in the salt shaker, so the salt wouldn't cake up.
That night, I lay in my cot and listened to the sonic booms of the jets bombing the target ship, as boys much older than I learned to fight.