Of Books, Boats, and Men

 

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Cervantes’ Don Quixote
I have a copy of Don Quixote that is dog eared and yellowed throughout its 1023 pages. There are no fewer than 4 bookmarks in it—one is of the proper glossy cardstock variety that says “BOOKS for every age and INTEREST, The Book Exchange, N. Palm Beach,” and another three that are either receipts or scraps of paper conscripted, perhaps, for marking an important passage worthy of later debate or contemplation.

“Do you read? You look like a reader.” This came to me from a calm yet teary-eyed woman named Tiffany who was standing on the West Palm Beach city docks next to Ave del Mar. I had just introduced myself, not really sure why there were so many people coming and going from the somewhat disheveled looking sailing vessel Capricious that was docked right in front of me in the Florida sunshine. I came to learn that Capricious had belonged to Tiffany’s father, Richard, who had died just a few days prior from a particularly nasty skin cancer that he may-or-may-not have attended to as diligently as was required.

“He has so many books,” she went on. “I would love it if you would look through them and see if you’d be interested in any.” I stepped onto the decks of Capricious and into the cockpit where I saw the line of books running along the seat. Most were crime novels of the sort that I don’t often read, but there at the end was Cervantes’ Don Quixote, thick and worn. I clutched it, long enamored with the stories of the great hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha but not ever having owned a copy of my own.

Over the next few days Tiffany told me stories of her father. She told me of working with him in his restaurant and of his dreams and disasters. Richard and his boat had run aground several times there in West Palm as his health deteriorated—stories confirmed by a gloriously-dreadlocked man named Benjamin who added tales of the vessel bashing into coral reefs in the Bahamas and the gallant Richard soldiering on, consequences be damned. Chaos covered the boat like a fog. A bicycle leaning on the port lifeline was more rust than metal, and one could only wonder if it was the lifeline supporting the bike or the decaying bike propping up the lifeline. A thick coat of soot from engine exhaust covered the transom and items of questionable condition littered every inch of the decks. It seems the boat, like its now-former owner, was a bit of a lovable wreck.

“He was always ‘almost ready,'” Tiffany said, looking down at her feet, “always ‘about to go’ or ‘this close’ to going, but the islands are as far as he ever went. He was a dreamer.” I stood there, knee-deep in my own dream, consoling a woman I hardly knew while clamping one of her just-dead father’s books under my arm. I think lots of sailors are dreamers, books of fantasy and chivalry tinting our minds and our perspectives.

“Didn’t I tell you to be careful? Didn’t I tell you they were only windmills?” Sancho Panza scolds Don Quixote in the book.

“Affairs of war, even more than others, are subject to continual change,” replies Don Quixote. “Frestón, who stole my library and my books, has turned these giants into windmills to deprive me of the glory of victory.”

No matter the circumstance, no matter how clearly things looked to be one such way from the outside, our hero sees his reality through very different and unwavering eyes. I often wonder if the Don Quixotes of the world are crazy at all. Being eternally true to oneself is hardly a crime, whether your trusty steed is a horse or a boat.

I wish I had met Richard. I wish I could tell him that his book is in good hands and that knight errantry lives on in the hopes and dreams of sailors everywhere.

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