January 19, 1998
Essayist Roger Rosenblatt sails away with his fantasies at a boat show.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: A man's reach should exceed his wrath, which is probably why so many ordinary people come to the annual Boat Show. On display in what must be the world's most expensive dry dock in New York's Jacob Javitt's Center in early January were motor yachts--MY's to those in the trade--so sleek, so luxurious that they are out of reach of at least 99 percent of the folks who browse among them. There is an "Afford A Boat" kiosk at the show in which one may figure the monthly payments on say a $219,900 Silverton-372, but, as the old saying goes, if you have to ask the kiosk--in any case, multimillionaires would never do their shopping at the boat show. And they are the only ones who could afford these crafts.
The truly rich have their MY's designed individually. So it stands to reason that those who come to the show are simply porthole shopping, climbing aboard the Silverton's, Vikings, harbors, main ships, and the rest, settling into the captain's chairs, and wishing it were so. The wind picks up, the sea of boats in the hangar becomes the Caribbean, you are 20 years younger, and hello, Columbus! The Boat Show then is a sort of Disney World, a virtual reality paradise for quasi adults, which is why I come here. I do not own an MY. I own a decent, modest BW, a Boston Whaler, which I pilot very poorly and which provides many decent, modest pleasures when I take it out in the bay, such as swimming and listening to music and dreaming. I do not dream of owning a $950,000 Viking 52-foot Flybridge when I am out in my Whaler. But when I am at the Boat Show, horizons expand.
Aboard the Viking 52-foot Flybridge I am suddenly a few miles off St. Bart's, sitting in my kitchen with a bowl of apples, or at my dining table for two, watching my TV with VCR and watering my plants. The beauty of the Boat Show is that it allows one to feel at once morally superior to one's surroundings and to practice a gratifying tastelessness all in the same vast place. On the one hand I recognize that owning a Boston Whaler marks me as a decent, modest man, one who would cringe at the vulgarity of owning a Carver 530 Pilothouse MY, with cherry wood interior, a stateroom, wet bar, a laundry room, and what the manufacturers call ultra-leather. On the other hand, the one on deck at the Boat Show, I can be as vulgar as I undoubtedly really am. I do not know what ultra-leather is, but I would gladly upholster my life in it. What the exhibitors at the Boat Show understand about human nature, at least about male human nature, is that a man, any man, loves to be a captain. The bigger the boat, the bigger the command. Even in my decent, modest Whaler I am every captain who ever lived and did not. I am Captain Ahab, Captain Horatio Hornblower, Captains Courageous and Queeg. I am Captain Wolf Larson and Blackbeard, the pirate captain. I even sound like Robert Newton. I belay that shanty taffy. I shiver me timbers, I ahoy, and I avast.
ACTOR IN MOVIE SEGMENT: Bring her to port.
SECOND ACTOR: Surely you mean starboard, sir!
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Of course, the truth is that I am most like Walter Mitty as the Alec Guiness as the disastrously inept captain in "Kind Hearts and Coronets." But at the Boat Show I am Nelson, and I have a cap to prove it. This cap, you'll note, is a decent, modest cap indicating possession of a decent, modest boat. Having concluded my excursion to the sea of fantasy I may now abjure luxury, reclaim moral superiority, and return to the decent, modest world that I inhabit. I am about to speak with Joe and Tony Villareale, exhibitors at the show who originally sold me my Whaler. So decent and modest are these two brothers that they declined to offer me a single reward for putting them on television.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Gentlemen, what sort of person buys a Boston Whaler, would you say?
VILLAREALE BROTHER: Decent.
OTHER VILLAREALE BROTHER: And modest.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I'm Roger Rosenblatt.