THE JYNX is a novel of clamming, art, Swiftboat politics, and revenge in the age of Karl Rove. The protagonist of THE JYNX is a Long Island clammer, barely surviving in a dying industry, whose dream is to become a successful wood sculptor. A political operative is the protagonist's inspiration for The Jynx, a sculpture which advances his career and turns her into a vengeful enemy.
Sweeney waited on the beach just after daybreak, tail wagging, occasionally barking, watching Billy row his dinghy through the mist of this extraordinarily warm January morning to the mooring. After tying onto his 18-foot wooden sharpie, Billy swung the heavy gas tank onto the deck and stepped aboard. Next, he turned to the task of linking the gas tank to the motor, which was in the down position in the water. He stepped into the pilot cabin on the starboard side of the boat. As he pushed in the key switch to choke the engine, he squeezed the gas-line bulb, repeating the process three times before turning the key. The motor started right up.
Leaving the dingy clinging to the mooring, Billy steered the sharpie back to the beach for his dog and gear; other clammers were arriving on Shore Road in their pickups or already were in their boats setting out for Huntington Bay. They shouted 'hey' or waved to Billy. He nudged the prow of the sharpie onto the sand just far enough so he could jump onto dry land.
"Let's go Sweeney boy," Billy said to the Yellow Lab.
The dog stepped to the edge of the water and leapt easily over the low railing into the boat. He went right to the bow stationing himself, as usual, to watch the way ahead. Billy put the water-proof bag holding his sandwiches, a thermos of coffee, and some bones for Sweeney, into the boat along with a half gallon of water and a new clam rake. Climbing back onto the sharpie, he went to the cabin, and threw the engine into reverse to back off the beach.
They set out down the length of Huntington Harbor, past a winter shoreline of barren trees and empty beaches. On the rises overlooking the harbor were houses with wide porches and stairways leading down to private docks. From late spring until early fall, the harbor and the bay were filled with pleasure craft, sailboats and cruisers, captained by weekend sailors. From the end of October to the first soft days of May, the lobstermen and clammers were left to ply their trades undisturbed by these annoying outsiders.
Billy turned north near the town beach to move past the breakwater for the short jump across the bay to Culligan's Harbor, sheltered on the north, south and east by
wooded hills. The wind this morning was from the west. Five knots at the most. Ideal for digging clams in the narrow harbor that reached eastward like a crooked finger from Huntington Bay. Wind and tide were major factors in deciding where Billy worked.
This was his first day back on the water after a week in bed with the flu or something very much like it. Another two days had been lost to solving a problem with the engine. "We need 1,100 necks today, Sweeney," Billy yelled to the dog. Today he felt an immense pressure to make enough money to pay the rent--or else he would have to ask his landlord, Bernie Koch, to let him ride late for another day or more.
Bernie had carried him for as long as a week many times over the years. His largesse came with avuncular suggestions that Billy should find himself a new career. Last month, Bernie had said, "Time's flying Billy. When are you going to wake up? What are you going to do when you get old like me?" Billy's face burned with embarrassment and suppressed anger as he listened in silence to these lectures while the ethereal voice, he called Harvey, invariably whispered in his ear, "F**k him."
Yesterday, Billy had gone to Eileen, his sister, to ask for another loan, the $1,000 for his rent. She had given him $850, all she had, with the warning that Jason, her husband who was a UPS driver, would be furious if he found out. Jason was openly puzzled by Billy's attachment to the water where he labored so hard in the worst of winter wind and summer sun without a guaranteed paycheck or a pension or health insurance, the perks that went with being a package delivery driver working under a Teamsters' contract. He told Billy at every family gathering or whenever he ate dinner at Eileen's house that a college graduate like him should be doing something better with his life or at least have a steady job. "He'd love to live your life," Harvey would whisper.
With the $850 in the kitty, 1,100 clams would give him enough for his rent plus a few bucks for gas. He planned to keep a dozen clams for himself, the makings of a passable dinner with the olive oil and pasta he had in the cupboard and the roll he had in the freezer. If he got lucky and made a little extra, he could buy some parmesan cheese and beer too. But clamming was an uncertain calling subject to the whims of nature. The clams might be there, or not. Billy had been on the water for 30 years. He had started clamming when he was 14 discovering that he enjoyed the hard physical work surrounded by the beauty of the Long Island shoreline, the ever-changing sky, the bird-filled air, seals in winter, fish leaping from the water. And, he was doing something real: harvesting food.