Monday, April 18, 2011
“Watch the turn!” I could hear, distorted and shimmery, as if the sound had to travel like a flat stone hurled over a mirror smooth surface of water, the hollow call of the coxswain as the scull reached a cylindrical pylon of the bridge. The water, lapping against the brown green stones that jutted, semi-circular around the concrete abutment, sounded out like a muffled bass drum struggling to rise above the clatter and din of the surrounding accompaniment.
And I looked further down at the scull, now significantly foreshortened by the shadows cast by the rising sun, as the oarsmen butted and bumped against the flat shelf of stones. One of the rowers unlocked his oat and used it to rudely push against the bridge, trying to dislodge the grounded boat.
“Hey, lookit that!” to my left, closer to the Boston side of the bridge, several urchins were clumped against the rail, peering over the edge, some so precariously bent that half their bodies hung over the water side, as if they were hinged just above the waist, an anatomical feat reserved for the young and subtle.
“That boat is snagged down there!” another one screamed.
I walked up the bridge toward the boys and the Boston side bank. As I approached the dull blur of urchin brown, tan and blackened boots and low slung filthy caps, one of them grasped my sleeve and gently tugged.
“Mister, those Harvard boys is stuck!” I peeped over the rail, and sure enough the scull was grounded on the overhanging shelf of stone. From this novel angle I could see the water over the stones was only inches deep. No wonder those poor wayward athletic boys, even with the aid of an ace coxswain, had become grounded. That troublesome little shelf was all but invisible until one was literally high and dry atop of it.
“Sure enough they are,” I said with puffed up enthusiasm.
“Hey mister, are you one of those Harvard boys?” one of the sooty faced urchins inquired, turning his dull ugly eyes on me, examining me like a shiny new marble.
“Yes, I suppose I am,” I said, surprised at my own answer.
“Hey Mister,” another one called, his pasty face punctured by two beady gray eyes, his nose two perfectly round simian nostrils, “you talk like a Negro, mister.”
Another boy, this one thinner and smaller than his cohorts with a sallow, yellow face, thrust his wedge shaped head out from the crowd and, standing firmly on his patch of ground, boldly pronounced, “you shouldn’t say that to a white man, you’re liable to get your block knocked off.”
“Awww,” the simian boy moaned, “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it
There was a touching tone of contrition in his voice, and the faux pas was enough to dissolve their little knot of concentrative effort on the stranded scull, and they disappeared, as if a chemical bond suddenly stripped of a key ion, toward the Cambridge side of the bridge.
I pointed myself Bostonward, toward the bouncing golden beams of sun that reflected off the Charles, and noted that the rowers had abandoned their craft, and were swimming, in an efficient single file, toward the Cambridgeside bank.