I'm in my slip, on the back deck, bored, strippin' the boat for crab season. Summer's over, it's Crescent City in the fall, and I'm still a bit giddy after having played 50 Ways To Swill Your Margarita the night before. Up comes this girl to the boat rail, outdoors type, Yurok perhaps, not bad looking, saying, "Excuse me, do you think you could help me? I'll scrub your boat. Clean the cabin. Whatever you need if you do ...."
"Maybe," I say shading my eyes from the noon glare.
"Pretend you're my boyfriend," she pleads, "just for a minute."
She's got an oval face, with peaches & cream complexion, dark eyes and hair. A beauty mark like a crab on her neck. She tells me that her ex-boyfriend is a deckhand on a boat over on F dock. She wants me to walk over with her and say hello to him. She can't stand thinking that he might be thinking she's single, lonely, without prospects, moping. Wants to know if I'll play along for just a few minutes in exchange for a tsunami-like sudsing of the Proudfoot.
"Paint could use a little touch up too," I tell her.
She looks across the basin to where her Ex is on the deck of a 30-footer and says, "I paint like Picasso." I see her raven brows draw in, eyes glaze, lips turn down and tremble slightly. But she's got on a pink sweat shirt that makes her look otherwise quite festive.
"Alrighty. No problemo!" I tell her.
She asks my name, and I tell her Kenny Butler. A running partner, Mike McCutcheon, from three slips further down slides by. He hears me give the wrong name, pulls at his salt & pepper beard and gives me a skeptical, sideways look.
"I'm Wendy," she tells me.
Wendy and I walk up my dock, wander around to the other side of the boat basin, then down the ramp to F dock.
At the Ex's boat, he's got a kid's pole over the side.The Zebco reel and the tiny pole remind me of a set-up I bought from a catalogue when I was eight. One of those that for $9.99 you get the reel, pole, and 127 pieces of fishing hardware. I don't have a clue what he's fishing for. He's average height and build, sandy haired. I'm older, but have less of a beergut. He's got a steelhead hook, gobbed with cheese-bait, granny-knoted to the bitter end of 2-lb. test mono.
Wendy says hello to cheese-bait. He looks down at us, then mean mugs me real hard. "David," she drawls sweetly, "this is Kenny." Wendy and I stand ready; arm-in-arm on the float.
David and I say something like "Hiowrya." David asks Wendy how she's been. I stand there acting like I'm miffedover this fluke encounter. A minature anchovy picks up the cheese-bait on David's line; it's clearly visible justinches below the surface. He grabs the pole with one hand, but when he jerks he misses and jerks the bait gob out of the fish's wee mouth.
"What boat you got Kenny?" David asks me.
"Oh, I don't have a boat," I lie. For years I've pretended--all in good fun--that I'm the gregarious Kenny Butler, the fish buyer for Eureka Fisheries. Kenny gets a bigger kick out
of it than me.
"I buy product for Eureka fisheries ... sometimes dinner for fishermen like you," I add. A seagull lands up in David's rigging, then craps right on the rail that separates
us. He looks at the crap then back at me.
I say, "Hey! Wendy tells me that you're quite the Romeo.Says after the lights go out, that on a scale of one to ten, you're a sixteen ... you got thump .... "
Wendy makes a sucking noise, and when I look over, her eyes are popping out.
David says, "Whatever! She should know; she's the whiz."
I say: "I wouldn't go that far."
"No, I wouldn't either," David quickly agrees.
I see Rob Wakefield going down to his boat. He looks over and smiles. His jolly cheeks shine: He can see I'm up to some sort of mischief.
Wendy says, "What are you guys talking about?" And I reach out and shake David's hand.
"David," I say, flapping his arm. "She told me that I'm a washout. After you everyone is a dud."
Wendy get's the hiccups for a second, then recovers. Another seagull lands next to the first and the two start to squabble.
I give my awed look: "Whatever you did David, you're my new hero."
"I don't even know this guy," Wendy breaks in. She's let go of my arm.
"You know," my whole body sags, "I gave up serious relationships a few years back. Went through a breakdown. One day life was a bowl of cherries, then the next day I was up to my pits in cherry wine. You know what I'm saying, David?"
"....and then after the collapse, I went to Michigan-Detriot--for awhile. But I always end up back in Crescent City with girls like Wendy. She's a nice girl, all right. But, well, you know...."
"What do you mean you don't even know this guy?" David
says to Wendy--his eyes are bugging.
Another small anchovy grabs the cheese-bait: David reacts,but misses agaln.
Wendy starts to respond, but I lean toward her as if to kiss her and she shuts up and pushes me away.
David says, "What the ...."
I graciously back away from Wendy, palms out. "Okay, then, I'll see you back up at the house."
Her forehead knits into long wrinkles, her mouth drops open, she shakes her head looking at me like I'm loopy.
David starts winding in his Zebco,the cheese-bait and the steelhead hook--obviously he's packing it in for the day. He looks perplexed.
"Alrighty then, bye bye now," I say, turning to go.
At the top of the ramp, up in the parking lot, I look back and see they're talking real animated about something. She'sup on the boat now. I'm certain Wendy's not going to spitshine the Proudfoot, so I ramble back over and continue strippin'.
I'll scrub it myself when I'm done.