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Shucking with Chuckie sucked. First, he was left-handed. If you were to his left, he’d elbow your shucking hand. If you were to his right, he’d reach where you were already grabbing a scallop. And, he worked too hard. Everybody worked hard on the Granny Malone. Scallop boats are hard work. It’s that simple. Doing 12/4 alternating work/sleep shifts off Georges Bank for a week was strenuous enough already and Chuckie’s extra effort had no practical effect except to make the other guys look bad. Everyone on the crew had worked with him at least once. They all shared that opinion.

He possessed an outsized strength and tirelessness. Like he was some kind of wild animal. Even Brody—the youngest, fastest per-scallop shucker of the crew—couldn’t outlast him at the bench. Some of the older seadogs with the Popeye forearms and fading blue tattoos would attempt it. They’d succeed a while but could never sustain their position. Two hours into the shift, they’d find themselves grabbing at already grabbed scallops and outpaced by the flying elbow of Chuckie’s lefty shucking arm. 

A 12/4 is 12 hours on, four hours off. Steady for the week. 12/4, 12/4, 12/4, right straight through. The last one was usually 12/4/12. Eleven shifts in a one-week trip. Of the 168 hours between launch and return, 130 were spent working. Also, the “off” part of “12 on, four off” didn’t mean sleeping. It meant not working. It was still chaotic—dredgers dragging the ocean floor, engines screaming, hundreds of pounds of scallops, rocks and sand getting hauled up and dumped on the deck. The dumps were a sudden cacophony that sounded like boxes of dishes being thrown down a stairwell. No way to sleep through that. There was a place to lie down during break time and most guys usually got about an hour or two of real sleep. When Chuckie went down for a nap, he zonked out in an instant. Slept straight through and sprung from the rack with unblinking blue eyes ready to face the shucking bench.

His strength combined with his smaller stature was perfect for shucking and came in handy in other areas of scallop-harvesting as well. Operating dredgers, enduring the elements, navigating—Chuckie was a complete seaman. What he wasn’t good at was cooking dinner.

Every shift had a watch commander to keep the ship on course and remain aware of changing conditions. The crew rotated through that position. The watch commander post was critical to maintain, but whoever was covering it was at sufficient leisure to prepare an excellent meal for his fellow crewmen at the end of the shift. Outdoing one another’s cooking became an aspect of watch-command culture aboard the Granny Malone—unless it was Chuckie’s turn. Alongside the freakish strength, left-handedness and wild-man attitude in Chuckie’s total birth package were taste buds that must have been nearly non-functioning.

Chuckie didn’t care how good any of the meals were. He’d gobble them up, burp and leave for his nap. In what Ed Trefethen took as a personal insult, he chugged Ed’s beef bourguignon from a steel coffee mug while issuing a sustained fart. For Chuckie, food was fuel and nothing more. Every time he was watch commander—and it happened twice over the course of a work week—weary men coming off a 12-hour shift of hauling and shucking scallops were met with a piece of boiled chicken and mushy broccoli.

Chuckie was on the first of his watch-commander shifts for the week and couldn’t hear what the rest of the crew were talking about over the clatter of discarded scallop shells. It was late in the shift and the educated guess that twelve hours of mind-numbing, finger-freezing, back-breaking labor was likely to be met with a rubbery piece of boiled chicken was taking over more and more of each crewman’s mind. 

“Somebody might teach that asshole how to act someday,” Butch said. 

“At least how to cook a goddamn chicken,” Myron Milford said.

Ed Trefethen stepped away from the shucking station to the gunnels. He plugged a nostril and shot a stream of snot into the sea. 

These murmurings began to bubble up during a period when there were eight men working together at the bench. Two five-man crews staggered their schedules against each other. Usually some of the crew were shucking, some hauling and others either sorting or cleaning. On this day, a loaded dredger had just been pulled up and dumped. The sorting went quickly, and the decks were clean. With eight on the shucking bench and no lefty among them, it was humming. 

“The only reason Chuckie’s shucking looks so good is because he screws us up.”

“This is a team. Right here. This is what it’s supposed to feel like. Men working.”

Shucking knives sliced through mollusks’ mantles. Scallop tops tossed in the shell bin rattled to their rest, meat scooped and flicked to a salt-water bath. Team pride drove a furious work energy with unprecedented output for the next few hours.

“I navigate just fine.”

“We all do.”

“Everyone looking forward to dinner?”

“Son of a bitch.”

That night, as twilight sheathed the Granny Malone, it would be burger à la Chuckie. Ground beef stirred to doneness, drained of grease and served on bread, eaten in silence rather than with the usual complaints and taunts. Just angry eating, angry looks.

They couldn’t just throw him overboard. Or could they? Who said it first? Someone did. Someone said it and everyone heard it. When all eight were at the bench. And it didn’t seem outrageous. They didn’t agree to do it, but they didn’t get around to agreeing not to do it. With Chuckie and Captain Thibodeau up in the bridge, they’d had all afternoon to grumble amongst themselves and gin up the anti-Chuckie resentment. 

The captain appreciated Chuckie’s output as well as the chilling effect he had on the other guys. It was a macho crew, and it was helpful to have an outsider who was better at shucking than any of them, especially one who had an understanding of Georges Bank that came in handy. After a disappointing dredge, Chuckie’s recommendations often had good results.

“Maybe he needs a closer look at that ocean floor,” Butch said, washing his plate.

There wasn’t much to read aboard the Granny Malone most trips, but Ed Trefethen had brought the previous week’s Sunday New York Times. Both Ed and his stomach were grumbling over Chuckie’s flavorless dinner as he reclined on his bunk and leafed through the paper for something he hadn’t yet seen. Now five days into the journey, he’d read it cover-to-cover except for the Lifestyle section.

Neurodivergency in the Workplace was the page-two article. As he drifted through it, his head began to bob. Ed rose from his bed and brought the folded Lifestyle section over to Butch, who’d just gotten off his feet. He read a while as Ed stood with his arms folded.

Butch cleared his throat and read from the article. “‘The neurodivergent’s focus, extreme attention to detail, extensive knowledge of chosen topics and routine predictability can be a workplace asset.’ Jesus. Describes Chuckie perfectly, doesn't it? Autistic or the burger one there.”

“Did you read the empathy part?” 

Butch lost his mother a few days before Granny Malone left and the crew was gentle with him all week. When Chuckie heard Butch’s mother had died, he asked him how. He told him it was heart failure and Chuckie said, “Very common.”

That earned Chuckie a hard swat he didn’t know what to make of. 

“I feel like a great big jerk,” Butch said.

The article made the rounds and by the following day, everyone had read it except Myron, who was illiterate. He had it read to him. “Ya mean he’s retahded?”

“It’s an unusual way the mind is wired. We had a couple kids in our school like that. I recognize it now. He’s perfectly smart,” Brody said.

“Too smaht if you ask me.”

“Who asked you?” Butch said. His size and the resonance of his baritone could shut a man up, as it did Myron.

“I make a nice walnut sauce. Great for broccoli. Freezes well. I’ll make it on the first October trip,” Ed Trefethen said.

As each crewmember came to understand Chuckie’s eccentricities to be compulsive rather than gratuitously antagonistic, they began to imagine accommodations they might make. In areas where none could be made, they resolved to look at Chuckie’s behavior in a way that might exasperate them less.

Myron screwed up his face and rocked back and forth in his big rubber boots.

“You still got a problem with this, Myron?” Butch was now Chuckie’s champion.
“Ain’t no one never think about puttin’ Chuckie down to the left end of the bench? That’d solve ‘bout half that problem anyways I ‘magine.” 

The realization he was right spread among the crewmen, and that inspired a smile on Myron’s face. 

A smile that showed some missing pieces. 

In one way or another, everyone was like that.


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