The One O'Clock Chop

The One O'Clock Chop

by Ralph Fletcher

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It's the summer of 1973 and fourteen year old Matt spends his days working on a boat as a clam digger to earn extra money. His nights are another story—he spends time with his free-spirited cousin Jazzy who is visiting from Hawaii (and just happens to be beautiful). Matt can't deny that his affection for Jazzy moves beyond a crush, and everyone knows you can't fall in love with your cousin. Just when Matt decides to act on his feelings, Jazzy does something that changes everything between them.

Like the one o'clock chop—the strong breeze that blows across the Long Island Sound—Matt's summer proves to be as inevitable as a force of nature. Told with pitch-perfect angst and realism, Ralph Fletcher tells a gripping story of a teenager's life-altering summer.

"Writing with his customary sensitivity and flair for language, Fletcher turns a coming-of-age story into a rich, affecting read." - Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429997690
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 08/07/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 178 KB
Age Range: 12 - 16 Years

About the Author

RALPH FLETCHER is the author of many books, from picture books through young adult novels. He also teaches workshops on poetry and writing. Ralph lives with his family in Lee, New Hampshire.

Ralph Fletcher is the author of a wide range of books for young readers from picture books through novels. He also teaches workshops on poetry and writing. Mr. Fletcher lives with his family in Lee, New Hampshire.

Read an Excerpt

The One O'Clock Chop

By Ralph Fletcher

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2007 Ralph Fletcher
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9769-0



SUMMER OF 1973. The newspaper headlines were all about the Watergate scandal. The Vietnam War had officially ended in January, but American planes were still dropping bombs nearby in Laos and Cambodia. There was lots of baseball news, too. Nolan Ryan pitched his second no-hitter; Hank Aaron hit home run number 700.

But it was Jasmine McKenzie who made the biggest headline in my life, a girl who happened to be my first cousin. I never dreamed that I'd fall in love with her when she visited us from Hawaii, but that's what happened.

Jazzy loved all kinds of music: folk, pop, rock, traditional Hawaiian, big band, and jazz, too. She explained to me how jazz is different from other music. Many jazz musicians don't play music that's been written down ahead of time. In jazz there's something called improvisation, where the musicians decide what to play right then, spontaneous, unplanned. They bounce off notes the other musicians play. They follow the spirit of the music, letting it carry them to a new place every time. They make it up as they go along.

I guess that's what Jazzy and I were doing that summer. We were in brand-new territory, at least I was. I couldn't fall back on what I knew about girls. With Jazzy I had to make it up as we went along.

June 30, 1973



Mom glanced over at me; I didn't have any idea.

"'Sage.'" She wrote it down.

We were sitting side by side at the kitchen table. There was a fat wedge of morning sun warming my shoulders. I yawned, feeling too lazy to focus on the crossword puzzle. Doing the crossword felt a little too much like school, which I wanted to forget, since my summer vacation had just started. I had to make myself pay attention. Mom and I did the crossword every weekend morning, and most other days. It was our tradition.

"'Sea eagle,' three letters," she said. "'Ern,' that fits."

Mom was a crossword whiz. When she got on a roll she was unstoppable. IOU: chit. Lunar New Year: tet. Semimonthly tide: neap. Slow down: notsofast. The crossword puzzle was like another language, and Mom could speak it better than anyone I knew.

"How do you know all this stuff?"

"You pick it up along the way." Mom smiled. "'A.L. pitcher Ryan.'"

"'Nolan,'"I said. That was my main contribution, helping out with sports clues, though I suspected she probably knew most of them, too.

"'Don Ho song,' eleven letters," Mom said. "'Tiny Bubbles.'"

"Who is Don Ho?"

"A Hawaiian singer," she replied. "Which reminds me. Your cousin Jazzy is coming in less than a week. She's spending the summer with us."

"I know, you told me." The whole summer. It seemed like a long time. I wasn't sure how I felt about it.

"Do you remember her?"

"Sort of." She was almost a year older than me. I had dim memories of playing with her in a pool when we were little. And I knew the basic story. Years ago, Mom's oldest brother, Neal, was stationed in Oahu, Hawaii, with the U.S. Air Force. He fell in love with Yvonne, a native Hawaiian, and they had a baby. When Jazzy was four, Neal was killed in a motorcycle accident. Now my cousin lived near Honolulu. Her mom had to go to the Philippines to take care of Jazzy's grandmother, who'd gotten sick, so Mom invited Jazzy to spend the summer with us. She had always wanted to see New York.

"I don't have to entertain her all the time, do I?" I asked.

"Of course not." Mom stood up to pour herself more coffee. "Her mother said she's quite independent."

"I've got plans this summer," I told her. "I'm trying to buy my boat."

I had my eyes on a Boston Whaler. A used Whaler, with a good thirty-five- or forty-horsepower engine, would run about nine hundred dollars, which was nine hundred dollars more than I had.

"Technically, you can't say 'my boat' until you buy it," she teased. "How do you plan on getting the money? Have you thought of asking your father?"

"No!" I said, louder than I meant. My parents divorced about four years ago. My father lived in Whitefish, Montana. He had a new wife, and he had money — I knew if I mentioned the Boston Whaler he'd probably buy it for me. But I wanted to pay for it with my own money.

"Why not?" Mom asked.

"Because. Just promise you won't mention it to him."

"Okay, I promise." She looked at me. "How's the job search going?"

"Not great." I had tried all the usual suspects — McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts, and the local hardware store, plus a greasy spoon called the Golden Egg that was famous for outrageous omelets — but I struck out. I tried the concession stands at Fire Island beaches, but they weren't hiring, either. Nobody had any openings.

"I know someone," Mom said casually "A professional clam digger. It's possible he might let you work with him."

"Digging clams?" I gave her my most skeptical look.

"His name is Dan Piersall, and he owes me a favor."

"A favor?"

"I took care of his mother when I was doing home care a few years ago," she said. "I'll give him a call."


"C'mon, help me finish this puzzle. We're almost done. 'Basketball target.'"

"'Hoop'?" I suggested.

"No, three letters." She pursed her lips. "'Net' doesn't fit."

"'Rim,'" I said.

She grinned. "You're a genius."

That afternoon I biked over to Dan Piersall's house and rang the doorbell. The man who answered the door had a red, weathered face. I figured he was around Mom's age, maybe older, though he was built like a weight lifter. Huge pecs. Gorilla arms. His hand practically swallowed mine when we shook. He motioned me to follow him inside. The kitchen was a no-frills, bare-bones kind of place. Nothing on the walls. A mixed bacon-and-coffee smell hung in the air.

"Your mother says you're looking for a job." He held up the coffeepot.

"No," I said (to the coffee). "Yes" (to the job).

"You want to dig clams?"

"I guess so."

"Clamming can be brutal work, but the money's decent." When Dan lifted the coffee cup, his biceps stretched the sleeve of his T-shirt. This guy was really jacked. "You could clear a hundred, maybe even a hundred fifty, bucks a week after you get the hang of it. If you're willing to work. And you get paid, cash, every day."

I pictured a wad of tens and twenties in my wallet. At a hundred fifty dollars a week, I could easily buy the Boston Whaler by the end of the summer.

"There are some start-up costs," Dan said. "Most of the professional clammers are tongers, like me. Clam tongs run around a hundred fifty bucks, but I've got an extra set you can use for now. You're going to have to buy a clamming license. You can get one at the town hall on Monday morning."

"How much is that?" I asked.

"A one-week clamming license goes for twenty bucks."

I nodded, trying to wrap my brain around the idea. Me: Clam Digger. It was far different from any other summer job I'd applied for.

"I don't know anything about digging clams," I admitted.

"You'll learn." Dan crossed his thick arms. "OJT."


"On-the-job training. It's not hard to learn. I can show you the basics. But I want to make one thing clear. I'm not guaranteeing you a job. A couple years ago I let another guy work with me and it was a disaster. I don't want to go through that again. I'll give you a tryout, one week, to see if clamming suits you. Okay?"


"Meet me at the dock Tuesday morning at seven o'clock sharp." Dan finished the last of his coffee. "My boat's a Garvey, the Morrison Hotel. Wear some old clothes. Bring lunch. And lots of water."

It sounded simple. Clams, money, Boston Whaler. Those words had a nice sound, smooth and mellow. The last thing I pictured that night before I fell asleep were Dan's bulging biceps, and I was thinking muscles like that would look mighty fine on me.

July 3


I WOKE UP AT SIX, but I spaced out in the shower, and by the time I dried off it was already six fourteen. I threw on some clothes, flew downstairs, made a sloppy peanut butter and jelly sandwich, grabbed a thermos of water, and raced out of the house still licking jelly from my fingers. I didn't want to be late on the first day.

It only took ten minutes to ride my bike to the dock. I locked it to the chain-link fence and found the Morrison Hotel moored at the far end. It was a Garvey with a flat deck. It had a small cabin in back with windows on three sides. Nothing fancy. A VIETNAM VETERAN sticker hung on one window. Dan stood at the bow wearing a T-shirt, old jeans, and tall rubber boots. I suddenly felt underdressed in a pair of ripped shorts and old sneakers. He looked me up and down.

"You got your license?" he asked.

"Yeah." Yesterday Mom drove me to the town hall and wrote out a check for twenty dollars. I promised to pay her back.

"Good, I don't want those Conservation officers making a courtesy visit to my boat. Let's go, untie those lines. We're two minutes late."

The Morrison Hotel was powered by a 125-horsepower outboard Evinrude mounted on the stern. With one short pull, Dan started the engine. He put it into reverse and eased the boat away from the dock. I stood next to the cabin as we slipped down the still waters of the canal, dead slow, with the sun low on the horizon. On both sides of the canal I could see lush lawns being fed by expensive sprinkler systems, the big houses filled with rich kids sound asleep at this early hour.

Suddenly I heard music. Loud.

"The Doors." Dan motioned for me to sit next to him. "I always play the Doors to start the day. Gets my blood moving. This record is Morrison Hotel — I named my boat after it."

I sat next to Dan, but the engine fumes started making me sick to my stomach, so I went to the bow and sat cross-legged on the deck. Another clam boat motored up from behind and moved alongside us. The driver had a tanned face and a huge gut.

"Got a new mascot, huh?" he yelled to Dan, motioning at me.

"We'll see," Dan replied with a short wave.

When we reached the mouth of the bay, Dan pushed the throttle forward, and the boat picked up speed. He pushed the volume on the music up too. The cool air felt great against my face. Straight ahead I could see the bridge for the Robert Moses Causeway that led to Captree Island. Already the bridge traffic was heavy with tourists heading over to the beaches. We drove another fifteen minutes before Dan cut the engine and killed the music. Total quiet.

"Get your bearings," Dan said, moving to the front of the boat. "This is the Great South Bay. Land is back there, to the north. Fire Island is over there, dead south. If you go west you'll hit New York City. The Hamptons and Montauk are northeast."

I nodded. I've always had a good sense of direction.

"It's your job to drop anchor."

I started to pick it up but Dan grabbed my arm. "Wait 'til we're done drifting.... Okay, throw it in. Feed out the line, and let the wind ease us back 'til it's set. Feel it?"

I held on to the line until I felt the anchor dig into the bottom. "How deep is it here?"

"Only eight feet," he said. "C'mon, grab your tongs."

Clam tongs are a weird-looking contraption — oversized scissors with twelve-foot wooden handles connected to a set of metal teeth at the end.

"Watch," Dan said. "You hold the tong handles and let them slide down 'til you feel the teeth hit bottom. Okay? You work the handles together to close the basket."

Muscles jumping, Dan pulled the handles until they came together. "What do I do now?"

I shrugged. "See what you got?"

"Thing is, what I've got now is a bunch of bay muck, and it weighs a ton. First I've gotta shake out the mud." He raised the tongs about one foot and shook them up and down. I heard something rattling under the water. Dan lifted the tongs in one smooth motion and spilled six clams onto the deck. There was a bunch of seaweed and other stuff, too. Dan picked up a clam and showed it to me.

"Littleneck clams. These bigger ones are cherrystones. This is the reason we bust our butts out here. These tasty little critters are served in the finest restaurants all over the world. Go on, kid, give it a try."

I lowered the tongs until I could feel them hit bottom, and started working the handles together, letting the teeth slide through the muck at the bottom of the bay. It felt kind of creepy, and I tried not to imagine what was down there. I worked the tongs shut, lifted them to shake out the mud, and pulled them up hand over hand. It was easy until the heavy head came out of the water and I had to lift the tongs onto the deck. When I opened the teeth, four clams clattered out. I couldn't help smiling.

"There you go." Dan nodded. "A bushel of littlenecks is going for forty bucks right now."

"How many clams to a bushel?" I asked.

"Five hundred and fifty depending on the size of the clams, or seventy pounds," he said. "You're almost one percent of the way there. Start at the bow and work back to the stern. Happy clamming."

I grabbed my set of tongs and moved to the front of the boat. This is going to be a cinch, I told myself. I could already picture my Boston Whaler skimming across the Great South Bay.



WHAT A JOB! I would get to work outside all day in the fresh air and sunshine. Standing on the deck, working my tongs shut, I felt the muscles burn in my chest and arms. If nothing else, this summer job was definitely going to get me tanned and ripped.

Tongs down, push the handles together, rinse off the mud, haul it up, and see what I got. Dan kept playing music by the Doors, but the sound of the clams rattling onto the deck was music enough for me. It sounded like money.

But I soon realized it was going to be harder than it looked. A lot harder. Imagine lifting weights, the same two exercises, squeeze and lift, squeeze and lift, hour after hour, with the sun beating down.

By eight fifteen I had broken a sweat.

By nine I was gulping water.

By ten the cabin thermometer read 81 degrees.

By ten thirty my stomach was growling. I scarfed down my PB and J sandwich.

I could hear the continuous clatter on Dan's side of the boat as he pulled up eight, ten clams at a time. It seemed like my tiny pile of clams hardly grew at all. I pulled up two, then one, none, none. I let out a grunt of frustration.

"Hit a dry spot?" Dan asked. "Move back up to where you were getting them before."

I tried that and it worked. Four. Five. Four.

By eleven thirty my arms felt like rubber and there was a funny taste in my mouth. I gulped some water but I was about to pass out, I was so hungry.

"Stop for lunch?" Dan asked.

I mumbled an okay. Truth was, I'd already eaten everything I brought on board. Dan ducked into the cabin.

"Here." He handed me a sandwich, a bag of chips, and three oversized cookies.

"But what about —?"

"Don't worry, I'm not giving you my lunch," he said. "I brought extra today. Tomorrow you'll pack more food."

"Thanks." Embarrassed, I went forward and found a shady spot by the cabin. The tuna sandwich was thick, with slices of onion and Swiss cheese. Nothing had ever tasted so good.

Suddenly, there was a flutter of wings. A big seagull landed on the bow not five feet from me!

"Whoa!" I jumped and almost knocked my food overboard.

"Meet the famous Bert," Dan said. Smiling, he tossed the seagull a broken clam; the bird caught it neatly in his beak. "He stops by every day around this time. I'm his meal ticket. Bert and I go way back. He knows all my secrets, but he never tells a soul."

Dan sat on the deck and leaned back against the cabin. I wondered what secrets a guy like Dan might have. While we ate, Bert picked the meat from broken clams on the deck. I spotted a cluster of clam boats in the distance.

"How come those clammers are all bunched together like that?"

"Because most people are sheep — they just follow everyone else, without thinking. Most of those guys are just posers. They don't really work. They just fart around, chewing the fat, drinking beer." Dan spat into the water. "I mean, why come out here if you don't want to work?"

He passed me a plum, cold and juicy

"You're getting red, kid. I'd put on more sunscreen, if I was you." Dan stood and stretched. "Okay, back to work. We quit at four. That's three more hours, and I'm going to make them count."

I picked up my set of tongs. The bay had been like one large sheet of polished glass, but now I detected a sudden breeze from the south. You could actually see it coming toward us from Fire Island, roughening up the smooth surface.

"That's the One O'Clock Chop," Dan explained. "The old salts say you can set your watch by it."

When the breeze reached us, our boat swung around on its anchor until it faced south. The other boats followed suit. The breeze was gentle at first, but it got stronger as the afternoon went on, rocking the boat, making it harder to set the tongs and keep them in one place.


Excerpted from The One O'Clock Chop by Ralph Fletcher. Copyright © 2007 Ralph Fletcher. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
June 30, 1973 - DAN PIERSALL,
July 13 - SETTLING IN,
July 14 - COUNTY FAIR,
July 18 - SLOW JAZZ,
July 24 - CITY OF NIGHT,
August 2 - FIREWORKS,
August 3 - UNSALTED,
August 14 - MOTHER LODE,
August 14 - IN THE COVE,
August 20 - TALKING STORY,
August 28 - A PACKET OF SALT,
Copyright Page,

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