By degrees

Lugging it out to Spud Point Crab Company

CHEAP EATS It's summer, smack dab, so I don't mind taking you to Bodega Bay with me. And Henry. He's my seven-year-old, Top Bunk, literally and figuratively. I have two four-year-olds, two twos, and a one. Henry, he's my uncharted territory. My antennae, my tugboat, my scout.

If I say "I love you," he says, "I like you." Sometimes he doesn't say anything at all. But he runs to me fastest and hugs the hardest. Little sweetie! Once he asked me out to the movies.

"You mean like a date?" I said, because at the time I was available.

"What's that mean?" he said.

"A 'date'?" I said. "That means you have to pay."

I know, I know ... that's probably inappropriate, I know, but the fact is I was also, at the time, strapped for cash.

Now I am practically rich. For me, I mean. The whole time we spent together at Camp Chicken Farmer, I swear, I paid for everything. It's fun watching kids start to learn about money. Like at the grocery store yesterday when he saw a cheap toy gun he wanted ... mere weeks ago he would have asked me to buy it for him. Now, knowing better, he begged.

And when that didn't work, he promised to reimburse me tomorrow, after we get back home.

To raise capital for the not-so-cheap Nerf gun of his dreams, Henry manages a plum jam stand with his friend Clara and sister Emily on the sidewalk outside the house. For fun, I haggle with them over the price, then lower a belt-tied basket from an upstairs window. They put in a jar of jam. I have the exact amount, but I send down a ten to make it more interesting. They make my change and it is thrillingly perfect.

It might be inadvisable to have a financial advisor who is seven, but Henry is full of ideas for me too. I should collect my stories into books, and my songs onto CDs, and sell them on the sidewalk outside the house. He thinks I could make $1 million this way, and I don't have the heart to tell him I've been there and done that, and made about enough for a Nerf gun.

I'm proud of this, that when his parents picked me to be their childern's live-in-ish babysitter, they picked me over someone more qualified and less queer with graduate degrees (possibly even a PhD) in babysitting, or child development or some such.

In spite of my euphoria, I thought they'd made a huge mistake until I realized just how into stories these two are. They are insatiable, demanding, and discerning, and their babysitter's graduate degree is in fiction writing, lucky them. (They say babysitter. For rhyming reasons, and because they ain't babies, I prefer nanny.)

Anyway, I've just spent 40 straight hours alone with Henry, and he has squeezed all the story out of me. It's not just a bedtime thing anymore. Here at Camp Chicken Farmer he wants bathtime stories too, and I have to admit that they will go real good with the bowl of popcorn he's eating in the tub, on my porch.

And of course you have to have stories with your hot dogs on a stick and can-cooked beans around my hobo fire pit.

Speaking of 55-gallon oil drums, we lugged one to the beach yesterday and started making Henry's steel pan out of it. We took turns hammering, and for lunch we went to Spud Point Crab Company, my crab shack of choice.

Their clam chowder has been voted Bodega Bay's best four years in a row, and they only just opened in 2004, so maybe this year the votes aren't in yet. Anyway, that's the kind of hyperbole I can sink my teeth into. Not New York's Best. Not the world's. Bodega Bay's. And by consensus, including mine!

My apprentice was less exuberant. "Pretty good," he said, after I asked three times. "Not the best?" No.

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