Single Piston

Written By: Drew Conner

Louse Point seems named unfairly. No doubt there was a good – meaning, plain – reason for it: the shape of the terrain, or perhaps a lineage to the long-ago Knickerbocker Louses (or is that Lice?). No matter. The connotation of the name is at odds with the serenity of the place.


In the parking lot, I see cars and trucks that are old: not vintage, just old. I am an August leisure-class intruder. I can live with it. I am also aware of the softness of my purpose, which is to paddleboard. It’s a frivolous-sounding pastime, and it seems even more so as I watch the locals in their no-nonsense boats. They hoist gear, untether lines and rip-start engines with a fluid continuous movement. They fish with a 3-D map deep in their heads, constantly revised since boyhood. They tie leaders with calloused and bandaged hands. They fish for dinner, and maybe for profit, the way their fathers did. They fish to one-up their friends, for the glory of cold beer and smacktalk. They fish because they don’t give a shit about golf.


I am unleashing the spring-hinged buckles on the straps tied to the roof of my SUV. I know I am being watched and for that one moment I am grateful to be driving my city-ding’d black Toyota and not a shiny new Douchetänk.


My board is blue mostly, with red stripes and rightly scuffed from proper use. Not heavy, but unwieldy. Clumsy everywhere but in its intended medium. Once there, however, it joins the bay with a slap and whoosh – I push away from the launch and pop up to my feet as quickly as The Laws of Girth and Gravity will allow.


“What’s under the hood?” one of the fishermen points at me with his chin while wrapping cord lengthwise around his forearm. I am drifting 15 feet off his stern. His first mate is digging through the cooler and surfaces with a Miller High Life. It’s Saturday, 6:30 am. It’s too early to converse and I am fairly certain neither of them went home last night. I play along, “Merc350, and I’ll give you a head start.” He smiles and turns to his console. Toll paid.


The simple thing about paddleboarding is that you are the only moving part. The deceptive thing is the tendency to believe you can defy Newtonian Physics on a thin piece of tightly wrapped foam. If you become competent enough to relax, a new kind of bargain is struck: the inaccessible inlets are now yours, routine sounds are replaced by the nearly noiseless repetition of your own work and, with polarized lenses, you can see into the depth, breaking the fourth wall. I look down and spot a striped bass a few feet to my left. I am positive it will remain uncaught and never served with a lemon-caper foam emulsion.


It’s smooth and slack, making it easier to find a rhythm. I cut an arc around Wood Tick Island and piece together, involuntarily, still-broken thoughts and unfinished conversations from yesterday, last week, and further. I know I won’t resolve any of them, but I get to hit a mental mulligan, all while disobedient to gravity, skimming just above the water, where my responses will always be swift and right.



“Let’s take it from the top, Maury,” I had tired of sullen subordinates and my newly discovered inability to fire them. I’d been middled. Or maybe I was a crappy manager (I like to seem objective, even during an inner monologue). He pushes across the revised term sheet and begins talking immediately, thinking he can divert from its steady deterioration. I flip through it, and see the sleight of hand. I continue, “If we buy-up the face rate by increasing the concessions, it’s a really good idea for the return to be greater than our cost of capital. Otherwise, it’s negative leverage. And that’s the most unhappy kind of leverage there is.” My increasing sarcasm is not without reason. I’m not talking to a rookie. It is also the 3rd time this week that I needed to clarify: 1) Up from Down, and 2) that nothing goes to Legal until #1 is understood. Not complicated. If this were a gas station, it would be the equivalent of discussing an oil change. I imagine a “Eureka!” moment for Maury the Quarrelsome. Mathematics emerges victorious – egos fade, flowers bloom and we all get back to work. Or maybe he throws another tantrum, and I can finally deliver that great George Sanders-Addison DeWitt line: You’re not tall enough for that gesture. Instead, Mull’s Theorem bounces through the halls: Life = High School + Money. MIT really ought to give him an honorary doctorate for that. No matter where I point this board, Monday will be here soon.


And there is more, always more – tied end-to-end, connected by some magic strand of filament…“Andrew, you never know when to shut up.” We sat together in the living room with the 16-foot redwood ceiling, and the perfect Spanish tile. Whatever he had said to my mother just prior to me entering the room was sufficient to snap every muscle in her face, breaking any edifice she may have been able to muster for my sake. My stepfather had a knack for simple declaratory sentences. West Point taught him that. His additional penchant for radiating disdain came from somewhere unknown, and less honorable. I’d seen it before and too often. As he upended their marriage that evening, he also loosened the underpinnings of her sanity, and almost every other element of what divorce lawyers and television shrinks refer to as “quality of life.” He was right, I saw the figurative bloodpool on the floor, and tried to make light of it. If I mock it, maybe it will disappear. Nonsense. I should have thrown that punch. Knocked his vodka-coated teeth straight back into his throat. He had been a battle-heavy Army Ranger and the odds were good that the 17-year-old version of me would have been quickly over his head. Still, I should have taken that deal; there would be nothing behind Door #2. It’s one of the special stupidities of youth: to think that opportunities arrive like a continuous, rolling tide. Slap. Whoosh.


Good Lord, man, LIGHTEN UP…Hey, look at the heron – or is that an egret? Non, Je N’Egret Rien…I should bring the family here…You know, Bloomberg has been a great mayor…The Cleveland Browns are where quarterbacks go to die…“Miller’s Crossing” really is the best Coen Brothers movie …Am I out of scotch?…



Soon the self-inflicted internal chatter dissipates, and I have exorcised myself into a replenishing silence. I spend the next hour this way, a single reciprocating piston converting pressure into motion. There’s a light chop on my board as the breeze picks up. Reach and Pull. It’s supposed to be 96 degrees today – hot enough to keep transplanted city dwellers and other avid indoorsmen huddled in their homes. I aim myself across the harbor, gliding back to the point of the beginning, where only a few boats remain moored. It’s 8:15. The submerged concrete at the launch scratches the underside; I hop off and then carry the board against my hip. The bright and random shimmer, extending from this point into Acabonac Harbor, has forgotten everything and is ready for more.


My back left tire is low. I cinch the board to the roof and remove the ticket from the windshield. Forgot to put on the Town parking sticker (or is it Village? I really should learn the difference). This should be fixable. Then I catch myself, remembering I’m not local. I reach under the floor mat and grab my phone and some folded cash. I have twelve new messages. Eleven are worthless, and one requests I return with bagels, orange juice, newspapers and a very specific egg sandwich. Not sure I can pull all this off, I only have $26.


I insert the key; the starter motor stutters and then turns over the internal combustion engine. I put it in reverse, and I’m off.