Deliverance in Alexandria
My buddy Brandon and I decided to buy a boat together last winter at the end of duck hunting season. Our plan was to get a used pontoon boat with a decent motor so that we could have a party deck in the summer for our family and a floating duck blind in the winter for our friends.
Like any millennial looking for a bargain on used stuff, Brandon and I took to scouring Craigslist for our new boat.
Have you ever bought anything on Craigslist? It’s a strange concept at first because more than likely, it will require you visiting the home of a stranger or a stranger visiting your home. But honestly, once you use it a couple of times, you realize most people are pretty normal, and you stop thinking about how sketchy the whole process is.
That is, until you realize there’s a huge difference between the person selling a Pottery Barn credenza and the person selling a 20-year-old pontoon boat.
I live in Northern Virginia, one of the most densely populated and affluent areas in the country. George Washington used to live down the street from me. The average cost of a house in my neighborhood is close to a half mil. I teach the daughter of Hillary Clinton’s lawyer. Et cetera, et cetera.
Keep all of this in mind when I tell you about Terry, who lives two miles down the road.
After months of searching for the right deal, Brandon and I came across a guy right in our neighborhood selling a pontoon boat that met our specifications. Brandon set up an appointment, and one summer afternoon, we headed over.
Terry’s house was an impressive 3-story stone relic, easily 150 years old. Only the top of it was visible over the old-growth cedar trees, and the winding driveway was guarded by an automated wrought iron gate and two security cameras pointed at us.
“I’m surprised,” I said to Brandon as we approached the compound. “I figured this would be a good ol’ boy.”
Brandon laughed. “Oh, I talked to him on the phone. Don’t worry, he is.”
As soon as we passed through the stand of tall cedars, the illusion of grandeur provided from the street view shattered into a thousand pieces.
The house was indeed old and stately, but it slumped before us like a drunk, homeless man wearing a tuxedo. Paint peeled from the frames of grime-caked windows. The front porch crumbled into itself, the stone turning to powder. Flower beds overflowed with skeletons of dead bushes and soda cups and shopping bags. Parked at the end of the driveway was a garbage truck that had clearly not run since the Carter administration.
There are times in life you just can’t prepare for. An unexpected death, a well-executed surprise, seeing a celebrity at the airport. For me, meeting Terry was one of those times.
He ambled out of the side yard to meet us, sidestepping a pair of rusted go-karts and a riding lawnmower missing a hood. He was probably only in his mid-50s, but could have been 80. He wore a Goodyear Tires hat, a rooster tail of gray hair jutting out the back, sweatpants, and a purple Crown Royal t-shirt that read “Crown Your Bartender” in gold type.
Oh, and he had on two different shoes. One was a dirty New Balance sneaker and the other a soft brown shoe, a moccasin or a slipper maybe.
“This is a great house,” Brandon said once we shook hands. “How big is the property?”
“Yep, been in the family a long time,” Terry said. Whole lot is four acres.”
“I can’t believe you have so much land in Alexandria.”
Terry made a wheezing sound like when a shampoo bottle is almost empty that I think was a laugh. “I’m land rich, that’s for sure, but I’m cash poor. Got a bit of a credit problem, you see. Cash is king.”
Brandon shot me a look that said I hope you told someone where we are, because we may not get out of here alive. “Great, let’s take a look at this boat,” he said.
Turns out Terry was not selling one, but TWO pontoon boats, both of which were parked on his four-acre property, surrounded by the carcasses of abandoned appliances, discarded toys, and all manner of small-engined machines.
He brought us to them, extending his arm and gesturing as though he was pointing us toward the Promised Land. Behold.
The reason for his pontoon boat surplus, he explained, was that his cousin came into some money, and so they decided to buy a boat. But unfortunately, Terry and his cousin got their wires crossed, and they both ended up buying a boat!
I turned to Brandon. “Well shit,” I said. “Don’t you hate when that happens?”
“Then, just a couple weeks ago,” Terry continued, “my cousin decides fuck it, he’s just gonna get hisself a brand new pontoon boat instead. Goes down to the Cabela’s in Gainesville and drives home with one.” He did the shampoo bottle wheeze again. “Now we got two boats just sittin’ here.”
“Quite the conundrum,” I agreed.
He pointed to the boat on the left, the one closer to the garbage truck. “That one up on blocks is mine. Other one on the trailer is my cousin’s. He don’t know I’m selling it, but it’s on my property, so fuck him. Y’all can have both for 5 grand if you want.”
“We’re really only looking for one,” Brandon said. “Would it be possible for us to buy the one on blocks and the trailer from the other?”
Terry pulled his lips back into a grimace and I realized for the first time he was missing his front right tooth. “Trailer ain’t for sale.”
“Let me make sure I’m following you here,” I said. “The boats are both for sale, but the trailer that one is sitting on is not.”
“I mean, since y’all live local, I’d be willing to share it with you until y’all bought one of your own.”
It was pretty clear at that point we would not be buying either boat from Terry, but while we were there, we might as well hear what the motor sounded like.
Spoiler alert: it sounded like shit. Brandon and Terry wrestled with the sputtering motor while I kicked at a pile of leaves and uncovered one of those assistance claw things old people use to reach the top shelf.
“Did you ever take this out?” Brandon asked as the motor refused to catch.
“Hell yes!” Terry said, incredulous at such an accusation. “Took it down to Florida and ran it all over the place. Me and my ol’ lady went snorkeling off it and” — shampoo bottle wheeze — “she told me ‘I feel just like a mermaid.’”
Now there was a sales pitch: A pontoon boat that can make you feel like a mermaid. Where do I sign?
“Does it draw much water?” I asked, trying not to picture whatever Terry’s wife looked like in a seashell bra.
“Hardly any,” he said. “I run it down in Florida in two foot of water, no problem. Get this. We was out one day, me an’ the ol’ lady, and we come across this group of girls in ankle deep water on this reef. They was out there with a grill, eatin’ and partyin’ and shit, and so I drive up to get a closer look and I’ll be god damned, they were TOPLESS.”
“No shit,” I said. “Topless?”
“Hand to god.”
“What’d you do?” Brandon asked.
“Well, I figured they were probably uncomfortable on account I had a shirt on and they didn’t, so I took my shirt to make them feel more at home.”
Brandon and I both laughed in a nervous way that said let’s get the fuck out of here.
“The mermaid didn’t like that much,” Terry added.
Needless to say, we didn’t end up buying a pontoon boat from Terry that day, even though before we left he made us a way better offer than his initial asking price of $2,850.
“I’d be glad to get that girl to you for 3 grand,” he said as we walked up the driveway past the garbage truck.
“Three?” Brandon said. “You told me $2,850 on the phone.”
“That was before I remembered how nice that boat is.”
We told him we’d be in touch and hustled down the driveway past the security cameras and iron gate. Once in the safety of Brandon’s truck, we laughed our asses off about Terry and his mismatched shoes. We opened two beers we had saved for the two-mile drive home.
“I think we just found Deliverance in Alexandria,” Brandon said.