Posted on September 17th, 2012
He had been here before. This he had seen and he liked how the colors connected his theories.
Stuffed up and under the bowseat of the puttering sixteen-foot Alumaweld was a limp black Hefty bag with an extension cord, two pairs of flannel boxer shorts, a yet unopened can of Cheez Whiz and four teriyaki beef sticks. His dad’s friend called the beef sticks dilators and he didn’t know why exactly but he supposed they were about going to the bathroom because that subject made up at least half of the jokes that he had heard his dad’s friend tell that trip. Atop the platform of the seat were two half-empty cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, twenty two feet of braided nylon rope, and a five-and-three-quarter-inch crab gauge marked “Barely Legal”.
One of the beer cans was centered where the point of the boat’s bow came together. It served as his sighting.
The back end of the metal boat held four feet of reddish chain connected on one end to an iron loop screwed into a panel that was screwed to a warped piece of plywood that also had some bent nails and staples in it for reasons unknown. The other end was once probably connected to a heavy anchor, he reckoned, but the anchor, if it ever was connected, was not there anymore. The whole chain snake rested in five inches of four-stroke-oil-and-fuel-soaked water, which also suspended an empty yellow plastic Pennzoil receptacle with its top cut off for bailing, a No. 2 pencil, a styrofoam to-go cup from the diner, and the remaining threads of a gray terrycloth towel that had a gold grommet in one corner.
At the horizon line was the mouth where the blue of the open sea met the early orange of the sun. But the mouth was a long way off and they weren’t headed that far anyway.
On the starboard side of the beer can way out there was the jetty. He had seen boats pushed up against the long finger of rocks in rough weather as they made their way past the sand bar which extended from the smaller rocky bank on the port side. He wondered whether John Bird, who made the first sextant, would have trouble passing this sand bar if the weather was rough. In fact, he wondered if John Bird was even a mariner at all, or if he just understood the stars — which were gone now that it was morning — and he wondered whether Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon was right in casting John Bird that way in the story.
It was 7 a.m. right now and today he was a mariner.
Halfway between stem and stern sat two pinkish Northwest weekenders firmly lodged in middle age and wearing cotton, wool and rubber. At their feet were five traps made of wire and mesh and a whitish bucket of yellowish guts, pimply chicken parts, and fish heads kept company by a smushed brown container of Coppertone, an aluminum cooler of more Pabst Blue Ribbon, a half-eaten bacon and tomato sandwich in wax paper, a tackle box spray-painted dark green and peeling, and three pairs of brand-new cotton gloves with non-stick pebbled palms. They were white. One of the guys in the middle was his dad and he was white too when he wasn’t pinkish like he was now. That was funny to be pinkish, he thought. What had once filled the empty beer cans — which he hadn’t described earlier — were one part of the reason his dad was pinkish and the cool air right now was the other.
He steered the tiller of the leaky Evinrude outboard with one hand with the throttle turned hard to the fastest position. Even at full bore and with the motor’s audible plainchant the craft struggled against the current.
At fourteen years old this past May he was a city kid. His dad considered it an opportunity (for swilling beer but called it a “teaching moment” ha ha!) for the boy to pilot the small boat out of the small harbor and toward the fishing grounds while his dad and his buddy cracked 12-ounce pop top after 12-ounce pop top of pale cheap greenish lager. This was just fine with him.
Between the angry patch of eczema camped at the left corner of his upper lip and with his matted ruddy hair and freckles and how his right arm was tucked between the splayed zipper of his damp-rust-stained hoodie and fleece shirt underneath, he could have easily passed as local.
His left foot rested on an orange float that had come apart from its tether. It was the orange of the early sun that rose above the beer can on the bowseat.
He remembered Wassily Kandinsky had said that “orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow”. At his young age, some would question why he knew the words of a 19th century Russian painter or of a writer like Pynchon. He too remembered that local Indians considered orange a symbol of closeness. Of kin. He recalled that orange is the color of the Sacral chakra, which cracked him up when he remembered his dad’s sex jokes that continued during the weekend-long volley with his friend. He thought of the tin of seafood spice in the upper cupboard at home. The tall red letters “SEASONING” was brought nearer to humanity by the yellow of the Old Bay tin, he thought. That cooked crab turned a coral orange that felt like what the sky must look like during a whole summer in Los Angeles with the smog and all and not just during the early sun like here right now. That Kandisky would have liked Los Angeles after those cold winters in Moscow. That here it was going to be a cold blue winter. That the mouth of the bay looked blue and that in even colder months when he and his dad and his dad’s friend came crabbing here, his own mouth and lips got sort of blue also. That the white of the flesh inside the pinkish exoskeleton of the crab was so white it was almost blue but that was before it was cooked. That his dad’s skin was a similar color to that of the crab exoskeleton but that his dad was a Libra which was more about balance and not a Cancer which is the crab. That astrology was about the stars and he liked stars but they were gone because it was morning.
Of course this was only September and because September had an “er” it meant the Dungeness would be probably be fatter now. At least that’s what his dad had said. In July he remembered they had gotten some big rosy crabs from the Asian market in the city. Those were fat. Of course because they were from Chin’s they probably weren’t from this bay right here but they were good and fat and coral orange when they were done cooking and everyone was happy and drunk around the table on the back deck at the house in the city like they always were at that time of year. That they listened and played and talked about music but that they drank rosy wine in the city and not pale cheap canned beer like they do here.
He remembered that the music label that his dad liked best was called Blue Note but that his mom who was at home in the city right now liked singer-songwriters and to his own ear that music sounded warmer like the bright yellow of turmeric which is Indian but not local Indians who are now called Native Americans but the Indians who are people from India who know about chakra and sexual positions and how to best use the turmeric which sits next to the Old Bay in the cabinet at home and sometimes the beardy singer-songwriters like Ray LaMontagne or Alexi Murdoch or Damien Rice sound almost orange because even if they’re from somewhere far away they must spend a lot of time in Los Angeles recording and of course the color of the sky there and all and that the crab rolls which are made with rice (not Damien Rice ha ha!) are really the best in the suburban strip malls in places like Los Angeles or Seattle or at home in Portland or at least that’s what his dad says.
Take a breath, he thought. But he hadn’t said a word out loud. He was just excited. And besides it was time to put the rusty hooks through the fish heads and the chicken parts and then wind the wires up and around the ceiling of the traps and lower the traps and all into the water. And wait. Because when they would pull the traps it meant there would be crab which were hopefully male because only male crabs of at least five-and-three-quarter inches were legal and then crab would go into another pot — a hot pot — which is another word that Asians use for another dish altogether but that’s really what it was — a hot pot — with boiling water and all and that after those fat crabs in “er” months were lifted from the cold blue water they would go in the hot water and would turn coral orange.
He remembered that it was Vincent Van Gogh who said, “there is no blue without yellow and without orange” and remembered that it was during an excited state of mind that Vincent Van Gogh had cut off his pinkish ear and left it at the door of a whorehouse but that it was absinthe and not Pabst Blue Ribbon that Vincent Van Gogh had been drinking with Eugène Henri Paul Gaugin on that night he went sort of nuts.
Breathe deeply and relax, he thought. I’m not an artist or a writer or an inventor or an Indian.
It was 7:38 right now and today he was a crab fisherman.
As he had tried without success one hundred times before, his dad looked back from his seat, leaned over, and extended his shoulder and his arm and his hand and offered an aluminum can of beer that he had extracted from the aluminum cooler from the inside of the aluminum boat. And like a hundred times before, he refused. He was fourteen. He didn’t like beer except for the cans which he used for sighting right now.
But he liked this. He looked into the water. He liked what he saw in the colors.