I saw the saddest little fiberglass boat for sale the other day. It was in the weeds in the ditch at the side of the road. Somebody had spray painted the number “4” and the word “sale” on a weathered piece of plywood and propped it up against the boat’s trailer.
The boat was maybe 16 feet, and mustard yellow and judging from the hull style and the tired old outboard clinging to its transom, I’d guess it was 40 years old. It came from that era when the Baby Boom was young and single.
Flying by at 65 miles per hour, I could imagine two or three couples aboard, wearing swimsuits and dancing a frantic frug to a surfing song ala Frankie and Annette. It had been a light-hearted little boat in its day.
But then the Boomers had fallen in love and married and settled down and had kids and sold the boat to someone who used it for a few years. Then he’d sold it to someone who used it for fishing up at the cabin. Then he’d sold it… And so on and so forth… With every sale and every new owner the sad little boat got a little more tired and little more worn out.
Here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we’ve all been aboard boats like this. The kind with screwdrivers and vice grips and spray cans full of strange hydrocarbons under foot. The kind that smells of gas and oil and mould. The kind that doesn’t start the first time you turn the key. The kind where you instinctively check to make sure there’s a paddle on board before you leave the dock.
Parked in that ditch, wearing that cruel “4 Sale” sign, the sad little boat had gone the way of all stuff. Its fiberglass had faded. It’s trailer had rusted. God knows how many problems or leaks it might spring.
It was autumn, too. Hardly the peak of the used boat season. I’ll bet that in all of Minnesota, no one – absolutely no one – got up that morning and thought, “What a beautiful day. Think I’ll go buy a forty year old boat out of the ditch.”
I looked at the boat in the rear view mirror.
“There’s an allegory in there somewhere,” I thought. “…Either that or a metaphor. Or a simile… Or a parable… One of those literary things… Who knows what they call them any more?”
A curve in the highway took the boat out of sight.
“An allegory?” I thought. “A metaphor? What the heck is it?”
I shrugged and turned the radio up. It was by me. My memory’s not what it used to be.
If I were twenty years younger, though, the term would be on the tip of my tongue.