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Book Excerpts Small Hotel Rooms Ted Williams the Carpenter

In 1957 the best baseball hitter of all time said, “We have a job to do this morning.” “We?” I said, “What is this we stuff?”

I had made the sail from Boston to Florida and, despite many scary moments, I had docked in the marina at Islamorada the day before and had called Ted. He came down and picked me up and we had a lot of laughs as I related my trip experience. (He had said I would never make it.) But this morning he was back at the dock telling me to get in his car and we were going to the lumber yard to pick up a board. “Bush,” he said, “we are going to install some shelves in the back of my carport!” OK, since he was going to take me bone fishing the next day, it was hard to turn down the “we” stuff. But believe me I knew after spending four years with the man at that point “we” meant I was to blame if anything went wrong.

It did from the very beginning. Ted Williams did not own a tape measure! I said, “Hey # 9, where is the tape measure?” “Don’t need one Bush, just be ready to cut where I say.” I gave him my best Buster Keaton look of stupidity and waded into a most difficult few hours. “Goddamit, Bush, I told you to cut the *%#^$@ board here!” “And that’s where I cut the *%^$#& thing!” I’d argue to a deaf ear. He would walk up to the wall and extend his right hand to the door jamb and his left hand to the wall and then hold them (he thought) that far apart walking back to the board where I waited with saw in hand. He would then bend over putting his left hand on the end of the board and when his right hand touched down he would say, “There, cut it there! God Almighty Sullivan! Can’t you get it right just once?”

After wasting the entire board, we made our second trip to the lumber yard in silence to get another 1x12x16 clear pine board. As the lumberman was putting a red flag on the end of the board sticking out of the back seat of Ted’s Cadillac convertible I asked him if he had done this before. He said, “Great hitter, terrible carpenter.”

I reflected on that as I retreated from his house to my boat after installing the worst looking shelving I have ever seen or been part of. Ted’s final words to me that day were, “Jesus Christ, Bush, I can only hope you fish better than you cut wood. “Yeah,” I said, “and I know you can fish better than you measure.” He laughed and said he’d see me early.

It was black when he picked me up the next morning with boat in tow. Upon arriving at the launch ramp just as the sun broke over the horizon, I jumped out of the car looking to buy a case of beer. I didn’t get halfway across the yard before he had the boat in the water and the engine running. He yelled, “Get your ass over here Bush or I’m fishing alone.” Damn! I thought, how the hell can you fish without beer? But fish without beer we did and spent the whole day doing it too. Ted poled the boat all day long on the flats as we searched for the bone fish. I never saw one before he did. His concentration was unreal and he was strict as hell about me keeping the rod tip in the same direction as my eyes so there would be no wasted motion the minute we saw a fish. Thank God I caught the first fish we saw which made the day easier, but Ted worked every minute we were out there and I have never been more exhausted after a day of fishing.

But just think, I spent eight years watching the best hitter and got to fish a day with the best fisherman, but I also spent a couple of hours with the worst carpenter.

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