Early that March, I left a note on the office door of the Duncan Donuts at the top of the hill in Ellsworth to say I was done.
I’d had my fill of standing over the fry-o-later flipping rings of dough. Had all I could stand of late night drunks nodding off over the endless cup of coffee. I could feel spring rising and I wanted out, so I walked.
So, what are you going to do now, asked Bal. Do you, like, have to give notice or something?
We were in my $50 a month room above the old carriage house toking up the last of my stash. I didn’t think the landlord actually knew there was anyone living in the place. She was in Pittsburg or Philadelphia. I rented the room from Ray who rented the space as a sort of live in studio. He painted oceanscapes and was a bit fuzzy about the details. It didn’t bother me. Efficiency apartments were going for 4 and 5 times what I was paying. I was only making $450 a month at Dunkin Donuts. I didn’t have a plan yet but I knew by then that any plan was going to require finance.
I woke at six in the evening and left for work. Got home at 6 or so in the morning. Ray and I lived in different dimensions, sharing space but not time. I left the envelope of cash in Ray’s room every month, but he hadn’t been around to pick it up since about the time the water had been shut off. He never said the place wasn’t insulated and the pipes burst in the first hard freeze back in November. All winter I fetched water from Bal’s girlfriend’s house in town and left my gallon milk jug of drinking water in my sleeping bag when I went to work each night.
Naw, I said. I can go anytime I guess.
You got any more weed, asked Patrick.
A bit, I told him.
Why don’t you stay with me, he said. My Gran’s in Florida. I got the trailer. We’ll go clamming.
I was fierce to get out to the island but the ground was still frozen so there was no point in heading out just yet. I packed my duffel and we left.
A month or so clamming. No rent. Make a little extra money for seeds and to stock up for the first run out to the island. Sounded like a good deal.
Patrick’s Gran’s trailer was on a bare hill just above the store in Bass Harbour. The downhill start meant we saved on gas and could always count on Patrick’s old wagon to start.
Our days followed the tide. A couple of hours before low water we loaded the old wooden clam hods in the back of Patrick’s rusted out station wagon and headed for a cove with a patch of mud or sand that was out of the wind. We walked along chained and gated drives to get to secluded coves by empty summer cottages. We sat on their porches and smoked a joint and imagined ourselves millionaires. We carried the full hods back the same long way.
We dug where no one else would go. Partly because the easy digging spots were dug out and partly because we didn’t have a permit or licence and Patrick’s wagon was neither inspected nor registered. We flew low, low, low, under the radar.
We dug in the rocks and through small patches of sand. Sometimes I’d get a couple of clams to a flip of the rake, sometimes not. Sometimes the flats were frozen so hard the rake would bounce right off when I cracked it down, some days, just a few, the wind relented, the sun shone and I shed my vest and sweatshirt and my hands stopped aching with the cold long enough to straighten out and look around and enjoy the day. But mostly I was bent over double, nose in the clam flats, digging and raking through the wet sand and gravel and mud. Looking for the translucent shine of a clam belly. Pay dirt.
That year clams were $10 a bushel. A bushel is 60 pounds of clams, two full hods. A full hod hangs heavy at the end of a mile and half walk out to the wagon.
On a good day we made enough for a loaf of white bread, a pound of hot dogs, a six-pack, and gas enough to do it all again the next day. On a bad day there was enough for beer and gas.
Patrick slept with the lights on and the radio as loud as it would go. He reached for his cigarettes before he opened his eyes.
Not many fellas clamming right now, Old Morris suggested as he weighed our clams. That day the price went down to $8 a bushel.
Ten days after my clamming career started, me and my duffel and a box of groceries caught a ride out to the island. I figured I’d put my rowboat in the water and get ashore soon enough to get seeds and supplies. When the flour ran out I could always eat clams.