Hap & The Seaman’s Hanky

Hap and I drove down from Atlanta to St. Pete once. Must have been @ 1971. We had a full cooler of beer in the car (my VW) when we started out. It was a Friday, and we got into town late, probably close to midnight, cooler empty.

I don’t remember exactly who we were going to visit, but we first thing pulled into the Old Campus, out of nostalgia, just to quick take a look around. My dog Wendy was in the back seat with us. (A German Shepherd mix named, for some crazy reason I no longer remember, after my roommate Lawrence Winn’s FPC girlfriend.) Anyway, there was no one around, and we stopped the car alongside the seawall. The wind was howling and the surf was crashing up against the cement. Wendy, having been cooped up for eight hours or so, jumped out as soon as we opened the door and raced inquisitively toward the seawall.

She couldn’t stop, and went headfirst over the edge, splash. It was dark and murky down there. I tried to reach down and get a grip on Wendy but it must have been a six or eight foot drop, no way. I guess we were about at the seawall’s halfway point. It jutted out from land maybe the equivalent of a block or two, and we were right about where the cafeteria used to be.  To Hap’s astonishment I “heroically” plunged into the water to “save” my four-legged friend.

Obviously I wasn’t thinking too clearly, as there were no steps or ladders anywhere in sight. Wendy, in a panic, started climbing all over me, pawing at my arms and shoulders and face to keep afloat. I was trying to hold her and tread water at the same time, to not much avail. It was not a fun situation. There was, however, a large piling, maybe a yard thick, which I finally got my arms and legs part-way around. I had the dog straddling my outstretched arms, and my arms in turn wrapped around a slippery piling thickly encrusted with razor-sharp barnacles.

But it was still not a good situation. The goddamn dog wouldn’t cooperate, and the waves kept knocking us off balance. It was dark and wet and scary, vicious winds, raging surf, and suddenly youthful me didn’t feel quite so immortal any more. I kept a pretty cool head, I like to think, even when Hap went into his own set of theatrics.

“Get my Army blanket out of the trunk of the car,” I told him calmly. “Toss one end down and I’ll grab it and then you can haul me up.”

Seemed like a good idea to me – and he tried, poor guy. But each time I got a firm hold on my end of the blanket and managed to walk Wendy and myself half way up the seawall, Hap would shriek and let go. Then he left. Jumped in my car and ground the gears and roared away.

“I’ll go get the Coast Guard!” he shouted.

And damn if he didn’t! What seemed like an eternity later, Wendy still thrashing about on my arms – (which in turn are getting shredded & ever-more bloodied by barnacles, and now I’m starting to worry about sharks) – here comes a Coast Guard craft of some sort, lights flashing, horns wailing like it was an all-out emergency. It was about the size of what I would call a PT boat. They got us on board. Made me strap on a life preserver. (Put one on Wendy too!) Then, my teeth really chattering by now, they gave me a blanket and whisked us high speed around the point back to their headquarters adjacent to the airport.

The Coast Guard crew is professional and no-nonsense to a fault.  First, they want me to go to the hospital. (“No.”) Then they casually say that, per protocol, they have called the local police. That’s when all the beers in me perk up and start to panic. No way do I want to talk to any cops right about now. I just want to slink away and lick my wounds.

Hap walks in. I get embarrassed (as I so often did around him back then) because he is acting all fruity and traumatic. He seems to want to recount over and over again his heroic role in this near-tragic drama. He holds up a finger wrapped in a white silk hanky with just a tiny drop of blood on it, and describes to all the guys (who are rolling their eyes) how he got “wounded” trying to “rescue” me. I, of course, just desperately want to hit the road before the cops arrive.

It finally occurs to me that the Coast Guard has no real jurisdiction, can’t actually force me to stay. I grab Hap and off we go in my VW. I’m racing toward the front entrance, headed out, and in the distance I see flashing police lights, headed in. I’m thinking, we only have to slow down and be waved through the gate, and we’ll be home free. But as we approach the guard shack Hap slings open the door, jumps out of the car and races to the lighted window with the ominous bars on it, dramatically clutching his wounded hanky-wrapped finger to his breast.

Turns out it was this very same kid/warrior at the front gate who gave Hap the silk hanky, out of his own pocket. And Hap fell in love. Later I realize that I could have stopped treading water probably twenty minutes earlier if only Hap hadn’t lingered to flirt with this pretty blond kid at the front gate.

😦 I nearly drown, Hap falls in love: what price friendship! 🙂


One Reply to “Hap & The Seaman’s Hanky”

  1. Incredible how you can write this story as if Hap is the main character when, in fact, you and “Wendy” were in life-threatening peril. I capsized a tech dinghy in that exact same spot while a student. It was 37 degrees, so I’d worn my woolen coat and saddle oxfords with corduroy pants to go sailing. I think some of us made the Coast Guard work for their pay in those days. Wonderful, wonderful story!! Captures both of you exactly as I remember your being. I’d forgotten how cute he was because he was so acerbic so much of the time. P. Martha Wade-Graham ’66


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