“The Commodore’s Ball,” a Memoir

By Rose Marie Dunphy

From my fourth-floor lanai I watch them enter. Men clad in white and blue jackets, colorful ties and pressed pants; women in evening gowns and fancy purses, decked out in glitter and gold, their hair beautifully coiffed, as if they’ve just stepped off the pages of a beauty magazine.

It’s the yearly Commodore’s Ball, when our condominium’s yacht club members celebrate with fine food and lively entertainment. This is my second year of watching them as they stream in through the open clubhouse doors that face me while I sit on the outside, behind screened doors high above them, overlooking the boardwalk and marina where they moor their boats.

My husband and I are not members, as you can guess. For that you need to own a boat. And pay for the boat slip and membership fee, both of which are minimal.

But I do have the dress. It’s a lovely shade of blue-green — like the sea — with spaghetti straps, sequined and form-fitting, reaching to the floor. It would fit in perfectly with the gentle folk parading in. And for the second year in a row, I wish that I could go. I sit here murmuring: I have the dress. All I need is the boat.

It’s not that we haven’t talked about getting a boat. We live on Long Island, not far from the Great South Bay and Atlantic Ocean, and even have a place in Montauk. And now that we winter in Florida, so close to the same ocean and Intracoastal waters, it would seem natural we’d have one. Yet, neither of us knows a thing about boats. Not how to steer them, maintain them, or even judge their quality to buy one.

We could have learned when we were younger, especially if we had won the boat that was raffled off in Montauk each fall in times past. We faithfully purchased tickets each year. If we had won, or bought a boat on our own, we’d be pros by now. We almost were.

When our son was a teenager he yearned for a boat because he loved the water and loved to fish. He even took a boating course to show how serious and prepared he was to captain it. He convinced us to go to a Boat Expo at the Nassau Coliseum, where we boarded million-dollar yachts we could never own.

You should have seen how pleased the salesman was to see us. He greeted us as if we’d been his best friends for years. He patiently explained all the yacht’s features and amenities and pointed out how much fun we’d have sailing in it. You should have seen how disappointed he was when we told him that we had to pass on it. Our income didn’t match its cost.

Our son was disappointed, too. He suggested that we shop for a used boat, one we could realistically afford. He circled some that were listed for sale in the local paper and together we went to see one we liked. Concerned that the boat might have a hidden leak, a broken motor, or other problem, I asked the owner why he was selling.

“I’m buying a bigger boat,” he said. Fair enough, I thought. Many boat owners want to upsize once they taste the water. We went home, reviewed our finances, and felt we could swing it. We were all set to buy it — until we realized that our son would be off to college within a year.

“Just as well you didn’t,” our real best friend said a few weeks later. “A boat is like throwing money into a hole in the water. The gas, the insurance, the upkeep, it never ends.”

“But we love the sea. We always have. It’s so beautiful,” I countered.

“Yes, but, like me, you love it from the land. You get seasick when you ride the ferry,” he reminded us.

I didn’t want to think about that. Not then, and not now, as I watch these elegantly dressed people march into the ball to have a good time. I wish we could just get a boat, keep it docked, and not go anywhere. We could use it for happy hour with friends, as many boat owners here do. I see them imbibing when my husband and I walk the boardwalk in the evening, admiring the boats’ contours and the creative names scrawled across their sides.

My husband read my thoughts. “It’s not a wise decision,” he said. “We know nothing about boats and we’re not as young as we once were.”

He’s right, of course. But, perched in my fourth-floor lanai, I sit here staring at the now-closed clubhouse doors and think: I have the dress. All I need is the boat.

Rose Marie Dunphy is the author of “Orange Peels and Cobblestones,” a novel that has been published in English and Italian and excerpted in The Star. She is working on a sequel and on a cookbook with Italian and American recipes.