“A penny for your thoughts,” Linda Gibson said to her husband, Don. She had looked up from the evening paper to see him, sitting in his lounge chair with his feet up, gazing off into space. He swiveled the chair to look at her.
“A penny?” he asked. “Are you kidding? Allowing for inflation from the first time that expression was used, my thoughts are worth, at the very least, ten dollars.”
Linda snorted. “Ten dollars? How do I know they’d be worth ten dollars?”
“You don’t,” he said. “It would be like commissioning an artist to paint your portrait. You trust you’ll like it when he’s done, but even if you don’t you still have to pay him.”
Linda went back to the paper, saying, “No deal. One, you’re not an artist, and two, I know you–you’ll tell me anyway.”
Don sighed. “Have I become that predictable? Okay, since you’re pressuring me I’ll tell you what I’ve been thinking. I’m thinking it’s time to buy a new boat.”
Linda raised her eyebrows and put the paper down, giving him her full attention. “A new boat? Why? What’s wrong with the boat we have?”
“The boys are growing up. They’re not content to just fish and putz around the river any more. They want to learn how to water ski and our motor’s not powerful enough.”
“Why not just get a bigger motor?”
“Because a bigger motor would shake our old boat to pieces. No, we need a whole new outfit.”
“I’m suspicious. Does the fact that there’s a boat show at the mall this weekend have anything to do with your thinking?”
Don shook his head in denial. “Pure coincidence. I’ve been toying with the notion since last summer. What do you think?”
Linda shrugged. “It’s certainly a good way to spend time with the boys. I leave it entirely up to you. You’re the one who’ll have to work to pay for it.”
“Maybe I’ll go to the mall this weekend and see what they have to offer. Do you want to go with me?”
“No, I wouldn’t be any help, I wouldn’t know one boat from another. Don’t take the boys, though, they’ll want the biggest and most expensive one they see.”
Don laughed. “How do you know I won’t?”
“Because, as I already said, you’re the one who’ll have to work to pay for it, and I happen to be familiar with your finances.”
On Saturday, Don waited for Mark and Matt to leave the house with Linda to visit her parents, and then got in his car and drove to the mall, finding himself excited at the prospect of looking over the shiny new wood and fiberglass boats and the sleek and powerful motors that would be on display. He could almost smell and taste the spray in his face, and hear the boys’ excited shouts as he heeled the new boat over in sharp turns. He began to whistle, “Cruising Down the River.”
The mall parking lot was so crowded that Don had to drive around a while before he found a space, just beating someone else to it but not closely enough to provoke a one-finger salute. He parked his car and went in. The boats were scattered in clusters throughout the east end of the mall, grouped by dealers. There were many people milling about, most of them, not surprisingly, Don noted, men.
Since he wanted to see all of the offerings before zeroing in, he spent over two hours looking, touching, and reading the price and information placards. Finally, he found himself returning for the third time to an outboard that he felt would fill his wants. It was open enough for fishing, but streamlined enough for speed. The boys, he was certain, would love it. More importantly, the price was less than he had expected it to be.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?”
Don turned to his right where a man sat at a table loaded with brochures, printed forms, a credit card reader, and a phone.
Careful now, don’t appear too eager, Don cautioned himself. “Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s nice. I’m not sure it’s what I’m looking for, though.”
“Why don’t you sit down over here and let’s discuss it,” the salesman said with a broad smile, indicating an empty chair.
Don lowered himself into the chair slowly, to appear reluctant. He pointed to the boat. “What’s the show discount price?” he asked.
“I knew it!” the salesman said, slapping his hand on the table. “You have the look of a man who knows how to drive a bargain.” He leaned forward, lowering his voice to a friendly, confidential tone. “That is the discount price. We’re only making a hundred bucks a boat, but we‘re counting on volume to keep us in business.”
Don got up and walked around the boat again, keeping a frown on his face, then relaxed it, making his decision. “Okay,” he said, returning to the table, “I’ll take it.”
“You won’t be sorry,” the salesman said. He held out his hand. “Bill Jameson,” he said. “And you’re…?”
Bill Jameson opened a drawer in the desk and took out a contract. After Don had answered all his questions, produced the proper identification and bank information it appeared to be completed, but before Bill pushed it over for Don to sign he looked up and said, “I forgot to ask you…do you have a motor?”
Don was startled. “Doesn’t the one on it go with it?”
“Wish I could say it did, but no, the motor is separate–$3,200.”
“$3,200?” Don repeated, almost choking.
“That’s cheap,” Bill said. “We’re way lower than our competitors. Evidently you haven’t been keeping up with prices lately. Tell you what, I can put it right in with the boat and your payments will be only be about $60 a month more.”
Don did some swift calculating. He was disappointed, but could still handle it. “Okay,” he said, “add in the motor.”
“Fine,” the salesman replied, changing the figures. “By the way, do you live on the river?”
“No,” Don replied. “Why?”
“I just thought you might want a trailer.” He pointed to the boat. “The one it’s sitting on is $1,100.”
“Can’t do it,” Don said. “I assumed that one came with it. I have a trailer, but it’s too small for this boat.”
“Tell you what,” the salesman said, “I’ll allow you $100 for your trailer, sight unseen. And since we used this one to bring the boat here, I’ll put it down as ‘used,’ and let you have it for $875, bringing the total cost down to $775. Don’t tell my district manager I did that, though.”
“Oh,” Don said fervently, “I wouldn’t dream of ratting on a pal.”
Still smiling, Bill looked up from his calculations. “Are you planning on using the boat in the Niagara River?”
Don cleared his throat with an effort. “Why, yes,” he said. “It’s kind of handy.”
He found himself starting to wish he’d stayed home and cleaned out the garage or mowed the lawn.
“Well,” the salesman said heartily, “In that case you’ll want a fire extinguisher, anchor, life preservers, oars, a distress flag, and running lights so you can go out at night. Coast Guard regulations, you know.”
“I already have all that,” Don said. “Everything except the running lights, but I thought they were built into the boat.”
“Actually, no, they’re removable,” Bill said. He looked around, as if to make sure his district manager wasn’t watching. “Tell you what…I’ll throw them in.”
“Gee, thanks,” Don said.
“No problem,” Bill said heartily. “You’ve been a good customer. If everyone was as easy to work with as you, I’d enjoy my job even more than I already do. By the way, do you live in Buffalo?”
“No,” said Don. “Why, does that cancel the deal?” he asked, almost hopefully.
“No, no,” the salesman assured him. “I will have to charge you $50 for delivery, though.” He made a notation and pushed the contract at Don, offering his pen.
“How much will it cost me for the use of your pen?” Don inquired.
Bill laughed. “My, you have quite a sense of humor. Tell you what, you can keep the pen.”
“Oh, goody,” Don said. He took the pen and caressed it lovingly. “A Silver Streak. Beautiful. Wait till I show it to the guys at the hospital. They’re already going to be jealous because I got out to come here.” He leaned close to Bill, his voice confidential. “I followed a group of visitors onto the elevator, down to the lobby and out the front door.”
“Hospital?” Bill repeated, eyes wide and worried.
“Yes,” Don replied. He looked around, as if to make sure a supervising nurse wasn’t watching. “You know, they won’t let us have pens. They’re afraid we might stab ourselves.” He tested the point of the Silver Streak against his thumb.
Bill Jameson pushed his chair back and stood up, stuffing the contract into his pocket as he rose. “I just remembered, I have to make an important phone call.” He began edging away. “I’ll be right back.”
As Bill disappeared into the crowd Don called out, “There’s a phone here on your desk!” but Bill kept going. “Guess this one isn’t working,” Don mused. He looked at his watch. It was near to the mall’s closing time, and he’d lost interest in looking any further. He went home.
Linda was in the den. “How did you make out?” she asked.
“I found one I liked, but the salesman didn’t seem too interested in selling it to me,” Don said.
“That’s too bad.”
Don shrugged. “Oh, well, maybe next year.” He started to leave the room, but then turned back. “It wasn’t a complete waste of time, though.” He reached into his shirt pocket, took out the Silver Streak, and held it up to show her. “I got a nice pen out of it.”