The Music Of The Theremin, Part II


(In which Captain Tom Cochon relates the story of how Old Coby met his fate

At the part of the Hudson known as “World’s End.”)


It surely is, like the old Patrooners said, that none other than Old Scratch

Took it upon himself to stage chariot races on this stretch of water;

Oh, the boys from the Corps of Engineers or the DEC

Or the gray-clad geniuses from West Point will tell you

That the rip currents (which have no rhyme or reason to their flow,

And shouldn’t exist this far upriver anyway) and the bellowing gales

Are attributable to the height of the cliffs and the narrowness of the channel

Or the traces of salt water that somehow found itself

Some fifty miles north of Manhattan Island,

But, if you really press them on the point, they’ll smile that sheepish grin

And admit that they really don’t have a damn clue

Why the water acts the way it does

In this little bit of old Henry Hudson’s failed route to China.


We’d always just called him Old Coby; if he had a last name,

None of us had ever heard him use it, and Lord only knows

That he wasn’t averse to offering an opinion on anything and everything

Under the sun, especially if it had to with the section of the river

Which ran by the glorified lean-to he lived in over Cold Spring way.

To say Coby had a somewhat unhealthy fascination with the river

Would be a bit of an understatement, especially given that his boat

Was a spindly old wooden eight-footer with an outboard motor

Which, on those rare occasions it saw fit to function

At something close to peak efficiency, put out all the horsepower

Of an asthmatic donkey; a craft like that was potentially in peril

On a reasonably large farm pond, and to sail that damned thing

Into the middle of the river—as Old Coby insisted on doing

On a regular basis—was just tantamount to suicide.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he prattled on endlessly

About his apparent desire to all but beg his Maker to take him now,

And, what’s more, did so with the kind of fire and fervor

You normally only see in preachers and con men.

He said—no, he swore—that he heard things when he was in that spot

On the water, though he couldn’t even begin to describe

Just what exactly it was he heard, and our suggestions that the speakers

In question were likely Jim Beam or Johny Walker simply served

To launch him into an incomprehensible stew of swearing and stuttering.


It did, of course, finally come to pass (on a calm, sunny day

When the rest of the river was clear and smooth as glass)

That he flipped his little damn dinghy

And found himself in need of rescue—and, indeed, the boys

From the Coast Guard (well prepared as the rest of us

For this eventuality) got there in record time… but Old Coby

Simply refused to be rescued.  He just thrashed about

In that cold water laughing and crying and singing

In a way that you couldn’t determine where one started

And the other left off until he just slipped under the water

Before he could be subdued and restrained for his own good.

As the river is some two hundred feet deep there

In addition to possessing all the other quirks that no diver

Is particularly of a mind to deal with, there was no question

Of recovering the body.  Speaking for myself,

I’ve never been of a mind to take a look-see at what drove

The crazy old bastard to head to that damned bit of river

Time and time again; matter of fact, any time I’m around

That particular spot, I take her in as close to shore

As is prudent and advisable.


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