On a Summer's BreezebyAdrian Leverkuhn©
Some days you know things are going to be just a little different.
Most of the time you end wishing you'd been smart enough to see it all coming and managed to stay in bed.
And isn't it funny, almost odd, how some days seem to get better as the wind pipes up.
So, let me begin at the end. Well, anyway, at an ending.
So. Once upon a time there was an old goat...
Well, that would be me, really.
Anyway. I'd retired the year before and moved aboard my boat; no one who knew me well was in the least bit surprised. Selling or simply getting rid of all the stuff I'd accumulated over twenty some-odd years was the hardest part of the exercise; as my son was graduating from college and had promised to move out as soon as the ink on his diploma was dry that part of the equation had been balanced out, too. Putting the house on the market kinda lit a fire under his ass, if you know what I mean. My Dad would have called it putting 'the fear of God' in him, but let's be clear about something right here and now -- God and I hadn't been getting along real well for quite some time. A couple of years, anyway.
Sorry. Didn't mean to get ahead of myself.
Well, really, there was one other major stumbling block. Her name was Scooter, 'though for most of her life I called her Fudge-butt, and she was the second love of my life. A Golden retriever, Scooter was one of those beings that confronted life simply and directly, with unconditional love. You could see it in her eyes, even when she was a pup. Her smile could light up the darkest heart, and often did. When we moved aboard she was ten, and when I took her with me I was motivated by the oldest emotion in the world: complete and total selfishness.
Arthritis hadn't yet settled in her hips, and her eyes were still warm and clear. She'd lived the good life, too: lots of humans to break-in and train, a wide range of slippers and shoes to chew on, and a pretty decent yard to chase cats in. What more could a dog want?
"The boat?" I could hear her say when I told her of my plans. "You mean that thing, uh, on the water? Who are you kidding?" But we'd been through quite a lot over the years; the outcome was never really in question. Not like life those last few years had been.
We left the Bay Area through the Golden Gate on a rainy day in May and turned south toward the sun, toward Mexico and the first leg of the so-called coconut run, the well-traveled passage from California to New Zealand via the Marquesas and Tahiti. The boat wasn't particularly big; at 38 feet she was roomy enough for two and positively huge for one, but she was beamy -- wide -- where it counted and heavier than hell -- which kept her motion in a seaway relatively comfortable. Comfortable, I should say, for me; I doubt Fudge-butt would have ever considered anything about the boat comfortable -- except perhaps getting off the thing and finding a nice patch of grass.
Our first stop was Santa Barbara, not a planned stop either but one of sheer physical necessity. Scooter had, after three days at sea, managed to poop just once and her spuds looked like a couple of raisins. There was no doubt in my mind: what she needed was grass, about ten acres of cool, green grass to roll around in. The fact of the matter was plain. As the municipal marina hove into view it was like Jesus had laid hands on the old girl; while I tied off the boat she flopped around like Regan in the Exorcist. I took along a 12 gallon trash bag and needed every cubic inch of the damn thing. I took pity on her and took a slip in the marina and we walked all over hell and gone -- up hills and through parks and down to rocky beaches -- and Fudge-butt crapped on each and every one of them. I had no idea any living thing could be so full of poop. After each and every dump she looked up at me like we'd just been through ten hours of labor pains together: there was relief in her eyes but I knew damn well she blamed me for her misery.
We left after a couple of days of serious walking and I have to tell you when I was casting off the lines I could see it in her eyes: she was measuring the distance between the deck and the dock and wondering if I'd give chase. She looked at me, then at a hillside of greenest grass not yet far away, then back at me again.
Like I said -- unconditional love. Comes up a winner every time.
The next day and a half was typical southern California weather: 68 degrees, clear skies, not a breath of wind to ruffle the sea. The surface looked a little like a pewter-colored mirror striated with loopy green strands of kelp. Every now and then a fin drifted by and Scoot stood and barked at each one; then a nice big one turned our way she promptly sat down and minded her business for a while. About four hours into our morning she ambled up on the foredeck and circled the astro-turf matt I had up there for just the occasion and she scrunched up and did her business. Maybe the shark scared her that bad. Anyway, I don't know who was happiest; I clapped and yoo-hooed and generally carried-on like a lunatic and Fudge-butt ran back to the cockpit and stood up on her hind-legs and licked my face for about an hour. Well, she got in a couple of really good lip-smackers, anyway.
When at sea I usually wear a hideous contraption called The Tilley Hat, a round, wide-brimmed affair made of white canvas and adorned with salty brass grommets; if you're a sailor you wear one -- no one else anywhere in the world (in their right mind) would dare put one on their head. Once so adorned one instantly looks like a seafaring version of your basic nerd, no pocket protector or slide rule needed. I mention my hat now with a smile: after Scooters first movement she settled down in the shade of the cockpit awning and took a nap. I settled in and adjusted the autopilot, took out a book and stretched my legs out in the sunlight. A few minutes later Fudge-butt sits up, she looks at my hat with her head cocked over to the side -- a look I well know is an expression of total confusion on her part. I feel a little pressure up there, too, and cast my eyes to my shadow.
And there it is.
A seagull, perhaps tired of the day's hunt, had spotted a nice round, white dry spot and taken right to it; it had either not seen the human attached to the hat, and the inattentive doormat curled up by its side, or the damn thing was suicidal. Whichever, now that Fudge-butt was giving the gull her fullest attention the thing was making like Carmen Miranda up there; I could see the bird's shadow bob and gyrate and I could feel her movement through the hat on this very bald spot I have on the top of my head -- and it was then that my dearest Fudge-butt decided to let one rip. It was one of those classic retriever barks, one loud enough to hear over twelve gauge fusillades on an autumn lake or a rather subdued fraternity party (!) at UCLA. The seagull, perhaps in jest, perhaps not, decided to let one rip as well. The sound it made before departing was, as I recall, something rather like a small, wet fart -- there followed an equally damp little plopping sound -- on the aforesaid mentioned bald spot. I seem to recall a feather floating down in front of my face before I reached up and lifted my fouled hat from my head.
Scooter looked away. There are some indignities in life that, when you think about it, brook no further comment.
We closed on the Malibu hills late the next morning and, still under power, slid between the breakwaters that funnel into Marina del Rey in time to secure a transient slip under the Helmsman statue at the tip of Chase Park. This was a good thing. The grass was, you see, quite green and inviting and, of more immediate consequence, close enough for one of us to smell.
I remembered that part of LA fondly; well, fondly enough to stay tied-up there a couple of days and walk down memory lane a few times. My wife and I met and dated not ten miles away and spent the first few years of our married life together in a little house off Venice Beach. The cool air and the warm light felt immediately familiar and intimate, like the way her hand used to feel in mine, they way I felt when I held her in my arms.
Scoot and I made off on our appointed rounds, we scooped the poop fantastic, then off we walked for a few hours of marketing and canine socializing. It became all too apparent right off that things had changed in LA-LA land over the intervening years: we moved away before "drive-bys" meant something other than being gunned down on your front porch and tabloid journalism turned rat-haired teen 'celebrities' into drug-crazed freaks crashing their latest autobahn cruiser into another parked car. The marina still felt like the marina, however; halyards clanging on masts and squawking seagulls providing the symphonic backdrop to an impressionist's canvas of rolling fog followed within minutes by shimmering, sun-dappled water. Scooter's grin was a mile wide even as she hopped back up onto her floating prison. I poached a couple of small salmon filets and even made a quiet hollandaise for the asparagus I steamed for dinner that night; we sat up in the cockpit after dinner and watched the setting sun.
That's when the real fun started.
When our lives were changed forever.
That's when a floating penis about a hundred meters long began edging its way alongside the pier just behind us. Maybe 'penis' is too insensitive a term to apply to something as profoundly ugly as the "Hell-Kat" -- but it'll have to do. Conceived, I'm sure, as a 'Super-Yacht' -- the 'Hell-Kat' was long and sleek and black and I'm sure it cost someone a bucket-load of Krugerrands -- but Goddamn! The thing was all sharp angles and glass and chrome; it looked more like a Lamborghini than a boat and, unfortunately, it smelled more like a tour bus as it belched great blue clouds of diesel exhaust while maneuvering alongside. Soon, the 'Kat's' happy crew was hopping down to secure her lines and in the end provided the assembling dock-watchers with all kinds of gossip. Within ten minutes flocking paparazzi had displaced seagulls along the rail above us and, telephoto lenses aligned like snipers' rifles, flashes started popping as limos arrived and all kinds of illuminati began sashaying down to the dock and up a gorgeous mahogany and brass stairway and onto the 'Kat's' spacious teak decks.
The 'Kat's' stern -- her rear end, to those of you who don't 'parlez-vous' -- was about ten feet from where Fudge-butt and I sat, and pardon me here if I go into some detail describing the scene because it's kind of relevant to what happened over the next few hours. Her beamy back end was about twenty five feet across -- big, really big, in other words -- and sculpted to include dual stairways port and starboard that led from an aft deck down to a large swim-platform. About thirty feet above our heads the boom and tail-rotor of a matching black helicopter jutted-out, coming perilously close to my boat's rigging and looking a bit like a food-processor hanging up there. A couple of red Donzi speedboats flanked the helicopter port and starboard on huge davits, and somewhere up there on the hanger-deck a rock band was tuning up. Champagne corks were soon popping, glasses clinking, a full-scale Hollywood Party of legendary proportions was forming up like a hurricane -- again, about ten feet from where Fudge-butt and I sat.
I guess I'm about as curious as the next guy when it comes to Hollywood types. The women on-screen are gorgeous and alluring, their leading men equally so, I guess, and they were out in force that night, flooding onto the 'Kat's' decks in impossible numbers. The rock-band cranked-up and were soon playing so loudly that before long hundreds of people were gathered in the park above us -- dancing and grooving and smoking all kinds of stuff; the night was fast turning into a kind of mini-Woodstock... and again, all this hoopla was happening about ten feet from where my poor dog and I sat. She looked up at me from time to time, her head cocked to the side, her big brown eyes full of wonder, her nose twitching as heaven-only-knows how many perfumes mingled with tidal brines to produce a scent, I'm sure, like no other in all recorded puppy history. Yeah, we had front-row-center seats to the comedy event of a lifetime, all of it brought live, and without commercial interruption.
I think when the band got to Ina-Gada-da-Vida I decided I'd had enough and went down the companionway to escape the inevitable drum solo; I took a warm shower and lit an oil lamp and lay down on my berth with a book and an iPod and did my level best to ignore the gale raging just outside.
Until something hard slammed down on the deck just above my head and the boat started rocking.
Up I jumped, through the boat I stomped, up the companionway grumbling like an old man (hey, if the shoe fits...) - I burst out into cockpit only to find a half dozen paparazzi firing away, looking for that once in a lifetime shot I guess but pissing me off really big time.
"Excuse me!" I said with as much indignation in my voice as I could muster, "This is private property! Now get off my..."
"Fuck-off, Dickweed!" one of the photographers said, never taking his eye from the viewfinder of the Nikon glued to his face.
Sometimes things just happen. Shit happens. Enough is enough.
Within perhaps a nanosecond I launched at the 'dude'; hit him with enough force to send him cart-wheeling over the stern rail and into the water; he hit the drink with a loud smack and came up sputtering and thrashing, wailing about his ruined million-dollar camera and dripping enough two-dollar words like lawyer and lawsuit to wake the dead.
And that's when the applause started.
I was getting ready to launch another one when I heard them clapping up there; I paused to see what the commotion was and the remaining vultures managed to jump ship. Faces at once familiar and exotic lined the 'Kat's' stern rail, a couple of the leading man types hoisted their champagne flutes my may as if toasting me, gorgeous women clapped and smiled at me -- and then it dawned on me: I was now the performing artist, the leading actor in a drama that had been put on for their amusement. Hundreds of cameras were trained on me, flashes popping and motor-drives whirring, and that's when I realized I was dressed in my finest boxer shorts and an ancient UCLA football jersey. When the papers hit the racks later that week my pecker could be seen poking out in more than one of the photos.
Very dignified stuff. Really. Don't take my word for it, either.
A while later, after the nice police officer came to get information for his report, things calmed down a little. Seemed one of the good people leaning on the rail in the park above had videoed the entire incident, and even the audio was quite good, considering. The gendarme looked it over and put the photographer in 'cuffs and hauled him away, to even louder applause from the actor's gallery perched on 'Kat's' stern. The whole thing damped down the suddenly unenthusiastic paparazzi and most of them lumbered away after that; the band played 'Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw' -- in my honor, I assume -- while the handcuffed fellow looked the scene over from the back of the patrol car that hauled him away. Hey, c'est la vie, you know?
Scooter was by my side at that point. Most of the actors had dissolved back into the party but one chap hung back. Like everyone else in the world I knew his name, knew half of his movies by heart, I assume; he was looking at my boat with that wistful look some folks get when they take in a sailboat and see palm trees swaying in trade-winds. At first I thought he looked pensive but that impression soon washed away to reveal pure, brooding misery.
"You okay?" I asked him. Like I said, honestly, ten feet away.
He nodded his head slowly, a look at once familiar and comforting, like seeing an old friend again after a long absence. How many movies had I seen this guy in use just this same world-weary expression? Where was the line between reality and fiction? Who knows? Not me, that's for sure.
"Yeah, fine," he said; the same world-weary crack in his voice, right out of the movies, too, but the pain in his eyes wasn't. No one, no actor could fake what was lurking in those shadows. "You live on that thing?" he said as he pointed at me and Scoot.
"Yeah, for a couple of weeks now. Just retired, sold the house. You know."
"Just gonna chuck it all and sail away, huh?"
"That's the plan."
That faraway look again. Like the man was adrift, lost.
"Where you headed next?"
"The Marquesas, huh. How long will that take?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "As long as it takes, I guess; don't really care, you know?"
He nodded, heard someone call his name and he looked down into the water and shook his head. It wasn't like just his shoulders slumped, either; no, it was like his whole being fell into the depths of some vast, private misery. He looked at me and smiled gamely, hoisted his glass and tossed off a glass of courage and turned to face the music on more time.
Her face was still so over-the-top drop-dead gorgeous it was almost painful to behold; I'm sure when God saw what he'd done with her it took even His breath away. She had the reputation, too, of being about as easy to handle on the set as a python. She sidled up to the man leaning there oozing the kind of easy sexuality most men can only dream about; she draped an arm loosely over his shoulder, tickled his ear with a fingernail easily an inch long.
"You think you can get that little dick up for me tonight, baby?" she slurred sarcastically. "Seeing all these real men is making me so fuckin' horny." She flicked his ear with her tongue and he looked at me, then away into the darkness. "Hm-m, baby-baby. Mama wants some cock tonight..."
"Why don't you go get some, then," the leading man said. He looked completely disgusted and worn down.
"I want someone to fuck me, now!" I heard her say, then she turned around, turned to a group of people standing on the aft deck and began yelling: "Anyone here man enough to fuck me!" over and over.
A couple of bouncer-types materialized and walked up to her, took her firmly but gently by the arms. "Get your fucking hands off me!" she yelled as they lifted her easily and carried her down below to, I hoped, a physician waiting with a strait-jacket and with a nice padded room at his disposal.
"Sorry about that, man," I heard him say.
"No sweat," I think I said. I think I was trying to play Joe Cool.
"You married?" he asked.
"Oh. Sorry, man."
I shrugged. "Uh-huh."
"What did you do? I mean, you said you were retired, right?"
"Yeah. Pilot. Flew commercial, you know, jets." I've never once been accused of being a great conversationalist, by the way.
"Fuck! What a blast that must have been!"
"A blast?" Wow. I never once thought of it quite that way.
"Oh, well, I mean all that travel..."
"Imagine you get around a bit yourself," I said.
"Yeah, every now and then... every now and then..." He looked at me for a moment, kind of grinned. "You know, you ought to put some pants on."
I looked down, mortified; the head of my pecker was dangling from my baggy boxers.
"Why don't you put on some shoes at least and come on over. Bring the dog, too."
"Right! I'm sure the owner would appreciate that!"
"Well, I am the owner."
"When they ask for your name down there," he said as he pointed at the gangway, "tell them your name is Roger Ramjet."
"Right, yourself," the leading man said. "I mean it. Come on over."
Roger Ranjet made his deft appearance on the 'Hell Kat' dressed in plaid shorts and a paint-splattered polo shirt, nattily accented with moldy fifteen year old Top-siders and a recently soiled Tilley Hat; Scooter and I walked back to the aft deck and found the leading man just where we'd last seen him -- looking down into the inky blackness off the stern of his boat. He turned and smiled.