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    I once got busted by the Coast Guard. It was a proud moment.
    We lived near the Toms River, and my friend Danny had a 16' wooden sloop. He also had a tiny little coracle made from a blue plastic sandbox, in the shape of a boat. No sand; It had a plywood floor that his father made for it, so the little boat could be sat in and paddled using ping-pong paddles, one in each hand. The little toy boat was Danny's ship's boat; he would use it to paddle out from the bulkhead behind his house, to get to his sailboat which was moored to a buoy out in the cove.
    The lawn sloped down behind Danny's house to the wooden bulkhead, smelling deliciously of creosote, and over that into two or five feet of water, depending on the tide. The river is more than half a mile wide there, opening out into the bay. You would step off the bulkhead and down into the little plastic boat, balancing to get seated without tipping into the drink. You had to learn the trick, like riding a bicycle, but once learned it was easy, like riding a bicycle. I used to love paddling around the cove in that little toy boat. One's wrists would get tired quickly, using the ping-pong paddles, so I tried paddling with a short canoe paddle, but that was not optimal either, because the little flat boat liked to spin around like a teetotum. So I built a wooden rudder that hooked over the transom, and the rudder made a big difference getting her to cut a straight wake.
    People can fly only in their dreams. But out in the chops of the wide wide river, heaving up into the swell of the incoming tide with the sun setting across the water behind you, you get closer to that feeling than you ordinarily do.
    I was bobbing in the tiny boat, far out in the middle of the dark expanse of water on a summer's night (my wrists were tired, yes), and I was having that feeling; I felt that if I just kept up my steady rhythm of paddling, with the stars wheeling overhead and the hypnotic pitching of the deck beneath me, I might just get as far as the moon.
    But now I was conscious of the deep throb of a motor; it was coming closer, with lights. Then I was blinded in the face by a searchlight, and a megaphoned voice squawking: "Ahoy, the boat!"
    It was a Coast Guard cutter patrolling the river; of course they were concerned to discover me out there in an active boating lane with no running lights; no lights at all. I hailed back, with a brief account of myself.
    "You shouldn't be out here on the river in a little dinghy like that, without a light." There was genuine kindness in the squawking voice, not to mention unassailable authority. "I'll have to ask you to put back in to shore immediately." squawked the voice.
     They were right of course. I couldn't show a light, so I acknowledged and put about, though perhaps a bit grudgingly; the spell was broken and I was back in the world. I applied myself to the paddles, my wrists aching as I shaped my course back to Danny's dock.
    There was a long reach of water ahead of me, maybe three quarters of a mile; all of it wet, and all of it weary. But I smiled with exultation: they had called my boat a "dinghy"; it was real.


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