When Hawley got out the psych unit in 75, it seemed that everyone knew he had been nuts. If he saw two people talking on a street corner, waiting for a trolley, they were talking about how nuts he was. If he saw an old woman avert her eyes in a laundromat, she was looking away because he was nuts. If the saleslady stared too long after handing him change for a pack of cigarettes, it was because he was nuts. Even cats scurried away because they could tell, dogs barked especially sensing that precarious balance of his brain, teetering on the edge. All he could do was keep his head down, and keep working. He hauled trash, he dug ditches, he worked where he could, saved money, and bought his truck.
It was an old Chevy pick up. 1968, the truck he admired brand new when he was drafted. Now eight years old, a lot of rattles, loose muffle, leaking oil, terrible shape, like Hawley. He replaced the engine gasket, all the houses, new sparkles and tightened the muffle with a new bracket, and tightened it down. It ran like new once you got all the parts fixed, but Hawley didn’t stop there. He put a cb, and short band radio on top of it, with small spike antennas on the roof, and one large flexible antenna tied to the back of the cabin, so he could swing it low over the bed, and up, when he drove up above the knoll of the marina, and from there he could relay all around the world. He learned to talk to people that way at a distance. And up there he got the plan about the boat. He saw them in the marina below. Why pay all this rent to a landlady who goes through his stuff whenever he went out the door. Hawley was sure she did, looking for drugs, weapons, something to throw him out. So one day he went down the marina and offered himself for work.
An old guy hired him to do some carpentry in a cabin, and then work on the hull after it got lifted out in dry dock. He worked cheap, practically for nothing, just to learn. He liked old wooden boats, not the fiberglass ones, though he could work on both. No matter how beat up the old ones were, you could sand them down and find a clean surface that was clean and fresh. It wasn’t like you just patched over something broken, you cut out the rot, finding the freshness underneath. The wood appreciated the work as if they sighed to have the old rot removed and said, thank you, yes that’s me fresh and beautiful underneath. He sanded off years, and the old boats were light and limber, better than new.
A year and a half after that, Hawley was working and living on his own boat, with no land lady around to wonder what he was hiding and talk about how nuts he was.