Joe grew up amid coal in Appalachia—where every man had the choice of going into the mines or starving. Life expectancies were low. Thus, families were big. Joe had nearly a dozen brothers—sisters didn’t count. And there wasn’t a choice, really—you either dug coal until black lung got you—or you weren’t a man.
Coal is non-renewable. What’s that mean? It means that if you dig out a clump of coal, it doesn’t grow back. Worse, the coal mines were just the first step on the journey to a slow and painful death—only the clever mining engineers lived a long time in Joe’s neighborhood.
…but back to Joe.
Joe wanted to be a manly man, despite having some unmanly habits. For instance, he liked to read. Books were precious in coal country and even magazines were rare in Appalachia but Joe happened to come across a copy of TIME magazine that had an article about Florida. In Florida, according to the article, there were no coal mines. It was warm. Folks were friendly And, even better, the place was littered with bodacious babes in bikinis. I know, I know, dear readers—you think I’m making this up, but I ain’t. Right there in TIME magazine were photos of (mostly) naked chicks—OMG, thought Joe!
Joe looked around guiltily to see if anyone was watching. Could there really be a place in the US of A where they didn’t make you go down into the mines to die… and actually encouraged you to frolic on the beach all day long with bodacious babes?
It didn’t seem likely—but Joe asked around and TIME magazine had a solid reputation for truthful reporting. Hmm.
Now coal country isn’t just miserable underground—it ain’t no picnic on the surface either. It rained a lot and the terrain was often muddy. And one day Joe and his best friend were out hiking and forged a small stream—and discovered the ruins of an old resort or school. There was an ancient lean-to that had rotted and leaned-to too much—and amid the fallen rubble were two canoes—one crushed and one holed; both semi-rotten.
As Joe lifted the canoe up, trapped rainwater gushed out and Joe’s eyes followed that bulge of water. It gurgled downhill in a trickle, united with the meandering stream, and disappeared around the corner.
“…bodacious big-breasted babes in Bikinis!” yelled Joe.
“Huh?” said his friend.
Joe explained that those drops of water ran downhill from the mountain into the intracoastal waterway—and if you made a right turn and paddled hard for many days, that you’d end up in Florida surrounded by hot-hot-hot girls.
“Are you crazy?” asked his friend.
Joe was always being asked this. Being a sensitive young man, he carefully considered the question and gave it a firm ‘maybe.’
Fixing the canoes wasn’t easy—nor whittling up the oars—and Joe knew that he had to act fast or he and his friend would lose their resolve. Within the month, they were both in leaky, crudely-patched canoes, drifting eastward with the current.
To stay motivated, all Joe had to do was think about that TIME magazine article.
“There’s whole beaches of ‘em!” Joe would explain to his friend. “All smiling! And, well, jiggling too!”
They rowed and rowed. Joe’s friend started to get sores on his butt from the salt water chafe.
Now Joe didn’t know what the intracoastal waterway was exactly—but he figured it was pretty fabulous. And, hot damn, he was right! As they entered it in the late afternoon and made a right hand turn, a massive motor yacht—as big as a city—motored stately by. Joe had read about such craft but he’d never even seen a picture of one. To witness the passage of such a magnificent yacht from his low freeboard canoe—well, it took Joe’s breath away.
A grinning guy at the helm waved. And then it happened—a girl by the name of Barb came around the side of the cabin house and she waved too. And she was dressed in… well, undressed in… yes, a Bikini!
Tears watered Joe’s eyes. It was true! He just froze—too stunned to wave back, his jaw on his lap, his oars freeze-framed in mid-stroke.
“OMG!” gushed Joe. “Oh-My-Freak’n-Goddddddddddddd!”
“…I’ll be darned,” said his friend. “Well, if that don’t beat all!”
They kept rowing and that evening at dusk pulled into a quiet cove where, as destiny would have it, lay the motor yacht at anchor.
It’s grinning skipper, a guy named Tom Gerker, waved them over. Joe thought the guy was fabulously wealthy but it turned out he wasn’t. Cap’n Tom was just delivering the boat to a marina in the Florida Keys, hired by its general manager, a sailor named Lonnie.
What did Joe and his buddy need, asked Tom? Shower? A meal? Beer? Booze? Snacks?
Joe hadn’t imagined anything like this happening to him. It was as if he’d died and had gone to heaven. Thus, when Barb disappeared into the galley for more snacks, Joe popped the question to Tom—was there really a place called Florida that gushed with bodacious big-breasted babes in Bikinis?
Tom grinned at Joe’s earnestness, and said, “Yes, indeed there is! Key Largo, where I live, is awash with ‘em!”
Holy smokes, thought Joe, his grin beamier than the motor yacht.
“How far is it,” asked his friend glumly. “My ass hurts.”
To Joe’s friend, Key Largo seemed a million miles away; to Joe, it sounded like it was right around the corner.
The next morning, the motor yacht putt-putted off southward and Joe was eager to paddle off in its wake—far more eager than his pal. A few days later, his pal paddled to the shore, threw away his paddle, and returned home.
Joe paddled on. And on. And on. Weeks and months went by, and Joe finally turned a bend and sighted a breakwater upon which were two Bikini-clad women—Barb and her best friend Janie.
Now Janie was a stew—but Joe didn’t know what a stew was; only that she was a big-breasted bodacious babe in a Bikini without a ring on her finger.
When he learned she was an actual airline stewardess—practically a movie star in Joe’s book—he utterly swooned. She was sophisticated! Well-traveled. And oh-so personable! “…marry me!” Joe blurted out.
Now here’s the thing, dear reader—Joe is such a good joe that being a ‘Good Joe’ might have been named for him. And while Janie was being pursued by hundreds of wealthy, sophisticated men from all over the world—none glowed with the pure unadulterated goodness of the coal-allergic Joe Camuso.
Yes, character counted—even back in the Coffee, Tea, or Me? era. (A popular risqué book at the time.)
On the downside, however, Joe had been so focused on running away from the coal mines that he hadn’t paid much attention at school. When Janie asked him what he did for a living, Joe muttered something about the only successful men he knew of—that he wanted to be an engineer.
“What kind?” Janie asked.
Damn it, thought Joe—there was more than one freak’n kind?
Later, Joe got a list of the different types. And since he knew that if a person was nice to another person that they were being civil—that’s what he told Janie, that he wanted to be civil engineer; a nice one.
Cap’n Tom immediately introduced Joe to Lonnie—the general manager of the marina. Lon hadn’t had a vacation in years—so he roped Tom into ‘watching’ the marina for a couple of days while Lon kicked back.
A week later, Lon called Tom—and Joe answered. Lon asked Joe how it was going—and Joe said fine; that hardworking Tom was doing fine. And two weeks later, Joe said the same thing—and months later when Lon actually did return, Tom Gerker had doubled the marina’s gross and greatly expanded the service department. Lonnie immediately realized that the best thing he could do for the bottom line was to leave the whole mess in Tom’s capable hands. So he blew off to the Virgin Islands and purchased a boat called Flying Circus. He sailed her down to Trinidad for a refit.
All this was forty-some years ago. All three men are, despite a million twists and turns, still best friends to this day.
While Tom Gerker and Joe Camuso labored away in the Keys, Lonnie wrote back sea yarns of the Lesser Antilles. “Come on down, the water is fine!”
Tom quickly realized that you can never really make money working for someone else. So he quit and started the laidback Coral Bay Marine on St. John, USVI. This was close to where Lonnie was now fixing up an old steel hulk called Askari for charter. Soon Joe and Janie showed up and Joe began dividing his time between the US and British Virgins, assisting both men accomplish their marine dreams.
For a wedding present, Janie gave Joe a degree in Civil Engineering—well, at least the opportunity to procure one through hard scholarly work. (Stews made good money back-in-the-day.) Lonnie got the steel hulk called Askari into the charter trade and occasionally hired Joe part-time as a deckhand/engineer. Tom and Barb Gerker, meanwhile, held the fort down in the Virgins—with Coral Bay Marine eventually merging into Parts and Power of Tortola.
Just to make everything even more incestuous—Joe, Janie, and their growing family lived aboard Lon’s boat Flying Circus while in the Virgins working for Tom. For more than a decade, within the marine community of the Lesser Antilles, they were like the three musketeers; one for all and all or one. Every sailor from Puerto Rico to Chaguaramas knew one of them—and to know one, was to know all.
During a winter charter season on Askari in the South Pacific (Janie could fly-in for free, remember), Joe visited New Zealand and fell in love with the can-do Kiwis.
He and Janie (and their two children; one with a Flying Circus tattoo) now live in Whangarei, NZ, where Joe works as a civil engineer. Always bursting with energy—and with a life-long loathing of non-renewables like coal and oil—Joe is, in part, responsible for NZ’s dramatic rise in the number of electric vehicles nationwide.
Of course, in the ensuing forty years, many a cruising sailor has worked with Coral Bay Marine of St. John, Parts and Power of Tortola, and Askari Charters—all improbably brought together by TIME magazine and a vague dream of bodacious big-breasted babes in Bikinis.
Fatty and Carolyn are currently sitting out Covid-19 in Southeast Asia—dreaming of their beloved friends in the Caribbean.