The dull boom of shotgun blasts rose above the sound of the diesel engine, and echoed away across the bright blue Pacific Ocean. Moon was executing jellyfish for the crime of having no body.
" Bastards! Look at that; he's just a big ole' head...no body at all!" Boom! Boom! He blew away two more. Bits of jellyfish flesh floated past the boat.
Moon was standing on the bow as we steamed steadily into a light swell. The morning sun had just come up over the California Coastal Range, and we were headed in from a twenty-two day fishing trip. Moon was getting crazier with each passing day. Anyone gets crazy after twenty-two days at sea aboard a forty-five foot boat, but Moon was pushing the limits of control. A little R&R was clearly needed.
We were running low on fuel and ice, so I decided we should go in to Eureka to dump our fish, re-supply, and rest for a night before heading back out. The bite was on, and I didn't want to miss a chance to make some money.
Our trip had started in Fort Bragg, a small town about a hundred miles south of Eureka, whose Noyo River Basin serves as home and pit-stop to a good sized fleet of fishing boats. From early spring to late fall, the fleet comes and goes; chasing the schools of Salmon and Tuna that travel through these waters.
For almost three weeks, strong winds and high seas had kept us tied to the dock. We fixed everything that needed it in the first week. After that there was nothing to do but drink beer and shoot pool; waiting for the weather report and imbibing chemicals to stay sane. Which was crazy. Things were getting to the point where fishing in bad weather was starting to look much better than not fishing at all.
One Saturday night, we came back from the bar about three o'clock in the morning and just decided to go. Drunk and keyed up, we were ready for the sea we thought, but the boat began to pitch and roll alarmingly as we approached the jetty. The Noyo River flows out to sea through a channel that passes between twin concrete breakwaters; an area where, in bad weather, the waves can build up and get dangerously steep. That's what it was like the night we left.
The weather was still very bad indeed. It was all I could do to hold a straight course as we felt our way between the two long concrete piers in the dark, and out to sea. With each roll of the boat I was thrown wildly from side to side.
I began to doubt the wisdom of our departure under such incredibly bad weather conditions, but it was way too late for second thoughts. The swells were too huge to try and turn around and thread our way back into the harbor's mouth. The only thing we could do was turn her south and run downhill with the waves on our aft quarter.
So, we sailed on into the night. Through the dark clouds we would get occasional glimpses of an ocean whipped to a froth, but mostly all we could see was the foam of the waves that rushed past us one after the other. As long as we were going the same direction as they were, the ride was not too bad.
Getting out of port was the worst part of the trip. The weather never really got good, but it was never as bad as the first night. And the fishing made up for what the weather lacked; we were too busy to care. We had a couple of those days that stories are made of; when the fish just bit all day long until we thought we would fall over, or our arms would drop off. I have heard it said that bad weather makes for good fishing, and after this trip I became a believer.
We found the fish, then lost them, then found them again. Three weeks later, we had filled our hold and we were two days out of Eureka. I hoped that if we came back out immediately we could re-locate this same school of tuna. It felt like we were old friends with these fish, and I wanted to catch more of them.
Ricky and Dr. X, our partners in crime, were enthusiastic about a night or two on the beach. We had been fishing side by side with them, since meeting up with their boat "The Hooker", a couple of days after leaving Fort Bragg. I worried about taking Moon ashore; I knew he was almost certain to indulge his penchant for wild behavior. I figured that if we only stayed in port one night, I might be able to keep him in line. I hoped to work so hard, and get Moon so tired, that he wouldn't have the energy for a prolonged celebration.
As we approached Humboldt Bay, and the water-front of Eureka, I was already dubious about his state of mind.
Judging by his execution of the jellyfish, he was working himself into a frenzy. I was afraid that after we finished what we needed to do and cleaned up, he would become completely unmanageable as soon as it came time to head for the bar.
Eureka is a small port. Mostly fish-houses and a couple of warehouses and docks. Across the river from "Sun King Salmon" where we sold our fish, was a small Japanese freighter tied up to Eureka's one commercial pier. We swung close beneath it, as I made the turn to maneuver into the fish-dock. Ricky and Dr. X tied the "Hooker" up right next to us. We then began the tiresome chore of unloading the fish, cleaning up the boats and re-supplying. By the time we had finished, it was late afternoon, and even I, with all my misgivings, felt like it was time to head off in search of liquid refreshment.
In Eureka, the closest bar to the fish-house where we unloaded, was the Vista Del Mar. Also known as the V.D. Just as I feared, when we got there, Moon began swilling beers with reckless abandon. I knew there was nothing to do but stand by and try to keep the damage under control. He had just finished sucking up his eighth beer in less than fifteen minutes, when Johnny, the husband of one of his part- time girlfriends, walked in.
Moon had been lusting after Johnny's wife for several years and had been to bed with her a couple of times. She did things on her own terms, and refused to let Moon control the affair; which became a source of endless gossip. Johnny tried hard to ignore the whole thing. He was not too happy about it, but chose to pretend it wasn't happening. He usually avoided Moon if he could, but today, I guess he was happy to see somebody from home.
Johnny came over to our table quite casually, sat down and ordered a beer.
" How's your wife, Johnny?", Moon asked. I couldn't believe it! The first thing out of his mouth. I wondered if I should just go back to the boat and sleep. I knew that I couldn't; if I left him alone, Moon might not return to the boat for days, if ever.
Again and again Moon's conversation turned towards Johnny's wife. But Johnny stayed calm, in spite of Moon's best efforts to needle him. He treated Moon as he would a stranger from another planet; trying to politely ignore any and all excursions beyond the bounds of normally acceptable social behavior.
I don't know why Johnny wanted to stick around with us. Moon tormented him without let up; but the insults and veiled remarks about his wife just rolled off of Johnny's back. He seemed determined to get along with Moon today; which I thought very charitable, if a little stupid.
The drunker Moon got, the more obnoxious he became. Johnny made his worst mistake of the evening when he brought out some cocaine, and turned us on. After a few trips to the bathroom, to snort some lines, Moon's belligerent behavior began to attract attention.
I noticed people staring at us with displeasure, as Moon began singing along with the jukebox at the top of his lungs. He started substituting Johnny's wife's name, wherever it vaguely fit, in the tunes he was bellowing. He hated it when his victims seemed not to respond to his proddings; consequently, I knew, his efforts would only escalate. When he started spitting on the floor in Johnny's direction, however, Johnny decided to split.
" I'm gonna hit it, guys. Thanks for the drinks and stuff. It was a good to see everybody." Johnny's sentences were short, tight. I could tell it was a struggle for him, but I admired his control, and I was glad he had decided to ignore Moon's vicious attempts to humiliate him. I thought he showed good sense. He slipped out the door.
Apparently the owner of the bar didn't like visitors from other planets. Several beers later, after a continuing barrage of obnoxious comments and snide remarks, Moon's behavior became intolerable even by the loose standards of the V.D. We were asked to leave; politely but firmly. I expected Moon to object wildly to this, but to my surprise he accepted our ejection with equanimity.
As soon as we got back to the boat, Moon put on the loudest and most obnoxious music he could find. Then, just to make sure that anyone within a half mile would hear it and be offended, he switched on the deck speakers and the power booster; producing a level of sound adequate to rattle the windows of the building across the street. A small crowd slowly gathered as the speakers poured out a song all about: " ...Fucking assholes, cunts and pricks/ spray the castle, aerosol the bricks...". He liked music not so much for the effect it had on him, as the effect it had on other people; he chose tunes primarily for their offensive value.
Inside the deck-house, Moon had broken out our supply of "white lightning". We always keep some on the boat for medical emergencies. Figuring that being limited to one night in port qualified as a true medical emergency, he quickly threw down a couple of glasses full of the stuff.
Moon's mood changed as quickly as turning a switch on and off. He suddenly became very melancholy. Ricky and Dr. X took off to go get their clothes off the "Hooker", and get cleaned up. Moon turned to me.
" What an asshole", he mumbled; referring to Johnny.
" Gimme a break...I know you're hung up on his old lady, but that was stupid. You were just fucking with his head." I was tired of this. Having to put up with Moon's constant need for highly charged emotional drama, was wearing me down.
Moon looked at me. He seemed suddenly exhausted, deflated. When a party was in full swing, and he was fired up by the presence of an audience, he could go on for hours without showing any apparent loss of energy. But once everyone was gone, as now, a drained look sometimes crept into his features and all his manic energy seemed to desert him.
" That prick doesn't deserve her." he said without emphasis.
" Yeah, and she doesn't deserve you either." I told him. " Nobody does. Me neither!"
" Fuck it!" He had run out of interest in the conversation.
" I'm gonna go take a shower, then let's get some dinner." I was ready for an attempt at a normal evening.
" Sounds good," He said. " That fuckin' coke has got me all jittery though. I'm gonna do a little taste of dope." Dope could be anything, but in this case, I knew he meant heroin. I sat and watched as he made his preparations.
He went down to the foc'sle and came back up with his little kit. As he broke out his balloons and spoons, getting ready to get down; I wondered how much his desire for the drug had to do with an attempt to balance his chemical intake, and how much was due to his bitterness over the affair with Johnny's wife. Mostly the latter, I suspected.
Moon turned me onto a little line, which I snorted as I watched him cook his up, and fix it. He was one of those no-nonsense junkies, who are not at all interested in the pre-fixing rituals that preoccupy so many true needle freaks. He was interested in the results; not the process. He got the needle in his arm, and the dope in his vein, with as little fuss as possible.
I took off for the shower. I needed the warm water bouncing off my head; after the day's festivities, it felt like it was full of mush. I was also motivated by a desire to look my best, just in case we ran into some of the nice looking women that are all over Eureka.
When I had finished my shower, I felt pretty good in spite of the damage we had done to our bodies and minds during the afternoon. I was ready for whatever pleasures the evening might bring. Ricky and Dr. X were back on our boat and Moon was ready too, so we headed into town, looking for a suitable place to dine.
The problem was deciding which of the town's fine eateries we were going to grace with our presence. We constituted a mixed bag, so to speak, and I knew that many places would not even let us through the front door. Other establishments, though they allowed us to enter, would likely ask us to leave as soon as Moon opened his mouth. The trick was to find a place with low standards. The "Wampum Rack" fit into this category. Since it was a favorite watering hole of Indians, loggers, and commercial fisherman; I thought we would probably not raise too many eyebrows. I wasn't taking into consideration Moon's ability to find new and inventive ways to create disturbances.
Everyone was in fine form as we filed into the restaurant. Dr. X had a smile on his face, unaffected, apparently, by the afternoon; Moon was in a mellow mood, and Ricky and I were both relatively sober. We found a table by the window so we would be able to see as many women as possible, both inside and out. After three weeks at sea, women occupied a major part of our thoughts.
The waitress came around to take our order. I noticed that the people at the table behind Moon had turned around and were staring at us, and that they all flinched when he used an F-word; in Moon's conversation, that is about every third or fourth word. They looked like an insurance adjuster and his family of eager-beaver, bright-eyed, bushy- tailed children from Iowa. Or Indiana, or someplace in Middle America. What they were doing in a joint like the "Wampum Rack" in the first place, is a mystery.
After we had finished our first round of beers, and placed our dinner orders, Moon's tongue began to loosen and he started to expound on one of his favorite subjects: Richard Nixon.
" I don't see why they didn't put that fucker in jail like anybody else that breaks the law. Shit, if he was a nigger or spic or some poor fuckin' coal miner without the bread for a fancy lawyer, he'd go straight to the slammer. No mercy. But Tricky Dick? Nooo! Not him! The more people you fuck over, the lighter the slap on the wrist. The prez commits crimes that affect the entire country and...? What? Nothing, that's what, nothing at all. ' I'm not a crook ', give me a fuckin' break..." Moon paused at the urging of his lungs. They were sending messages to his brain - one of which must have finally gotten through - requesting air.
" Welcome to the real world, Buddy", I told him. Moon knew as well as I that the rich and powerful rarely spent time behind bars. His own personal experiences in the Alameda County Jail, and other institutions of learning, had made him resentful. He felt that it was very important that the laws of the country apply equally to all it's citizens. I had to agree with him, but somehow, I managed to avoid taking it so personally. With Moon, it was a sore point, however.
" Shit!" Moon had recovered his breath sufficiently to continue speaking. " I wanted to see that slime-bag get thrown in jail and get gang raped by a bunch of Jungle- Bunnies and Spear-Chuckers! Let him try that Snake-Oil- Salesman smile on some of those animals they keep in the cage down there. He gave it to the Public plenty of times, and he never used no Vaseline! See what kind of noises he makes while they're giving it to him..." Moon's voice was rising steadily as his monologue continued.
The people at the table behind him had stopped eating. The father was all puffed up and glaring at us, while his wife had turned a bright red and the kids were looking anxiously back and forth at their parents.
Just then the waitress brought us our steaks. We lost all thought of politics and began to dig into our meal. Almost all thought of politics. Moon's steak was a great slab of red meat from which oozed blood and serous fluid. He had gone to great pains to ensure it would arrive this way; badgering the waitress repeatedly, asking her over and over if she understood what he meant by the word "raw". Now he cut off a ragged hunk and waved it around on the end of his fork. Blood and grease drops flew around and splattered everything in the vicinity.
" This is what the fucker's asshole would look like! Hemorrhoids down to his knees!" Moon was shouting. People at several nearby tables had turned around to stare. The family at the table behind Moon was silent, but only because the father seemed to be suffering a heart attack; he was clutching his chest and his eyes were rolled up into his head.
Moon suddenly stopped yelling and bent over to examine his steak knife closely.
" Damn thing is bent." He mumbled. The people at the tables around us started to relax. The father of the family behind Moon began to breathe more normally.
Moon inserted the tip of his knife into the crack in the center of the table and pried. When it broke right off, he picked it up and threw it angrily over his shoulder, where it landed on the plate of the father, who had temporarily recovered, and was gasping for air. But now, the poor man now clawed his way to his feet and began shepherding his family towards the door.
" God-damned Japanese steel...Not worth a damn! I wonder if they have an American steak knife around this dump?" Moon stabbed at his meat with the stump of his broken knife. " Waitress!" his voice rose again as he twisted in his seat looking for our waitress.
I saw her over in the corner of the dining room speaking to the outraged family that had just left the table behind Moon. The father gestured in our direction several times, then the waitress hurried over to speak to us.
Before she could get a word out of her mouth, Moon spied her and began waving the remains of his steak knife in her direction. The manager, who had been attracted by all the fuss, came running over, looking concerned.
" What's the problem here?" The manager wanted to know. " What's all the fuss about?"
This was just the opening Moon needed. " Hah! Just look at that." He waved the broken-off blade. " You call that a steak knife? Just bring me one made of American steel, please, and I'll be happy. That's all I want. Just an American knife. Oh, and do you have any steak sauce?" Moon looked at them innocently. A simple man, with simple desires.
The manager relaxed a little. This appeared to be a minor problem after all. Merely a matter of a broken steak knife. " Certainly, Sir." To the waitress: " Louise, get him a new steak knife please." He excused himself gracefully and left the dining room.
The waitress didn't care; she hurried off to get Moon a new, American, steak knife. Moon was clearly pleased; now we were making progress.
Causing a great fuss in front of an audience of straight, middle-class people was one of Moon's favorite pastimes. He considered himself a revolutionary. He thought that his wild rantings might blast through in an explosion of Zen enlightenment and open the minds of some poor souls otherwise doomed to ignorance; that the seeds of thought he instilled might lead them to a new and higher consciousness. The only thing that I ever thought he led them to was an increased hatred for hippies and longhairs.
As we finished our dinner with American knives and forks, the band began to tune up in the lounge next door. We left a large tip for the poor waitress and moved over to the bar to watch the show and have some fun.
Apparently word of Moon's possible mental condition had not spread from the dining room. The barmaids brought us everything we asked for with little hesitation. Moon was drinking double Wild Turkeys, and he and Dr. X began playing liar's dice to see who would pay for the drinks. The loser had to buy a round for the table, and since they were playing faster than we were drinking, the drinks began to pile up quickly. And we all began to get very drunk again for the second time that day.
Soon there was no more room on the table for the dice. Moon and Dr. X took a break from their game, and Moon began to look around the room for women.
Moon was like a dog which goes out and brings back live women instead of dead ducks. Whenever we found ourselves without company, Moon would find some women. Tonight was no exception, within minutes he had rounded up the only attractive, unescorted women in the place and brought them over to our table. They turned out to be two girls going to school at nearby Humbodlt State College. The party began to pick up; we were having a great time, swilling booze and telling sea-stories. The girls sat one on either side of Moon, listening wide-eyed, while he told all kinds of outrageous lies about our adventures.
It was clear that they were fascinated by us but still felt a little uncertain about their personal safety. I did everything I could to convince them that, in spite of appearances to the contrary, we were clean-cut, American lads. I wanted them to believe that they should not miss a chance to go home with us; that we represented the opportunity of a lifetime.
Although a master at the art of capturing women's attention; Moon often failed in the later stages of seduction. He would get so immersed in the means, he forgot about the end. I had seen it happen before, and I was trying hard to prevent it from happening tonight. But I was foolish to believe my efforts would have any effect on the way the evening would turn out.
" I wonder if one of you ladies might care for a dance?" A thick voice speaking with a heavy British accent cut through the general noise.
I looked up and there was a small cluster of people dressed in checkered trousers and coats with hundreds of buttons on the front. British sailors. They had spotted the two chicks at our table, and hungry for contact with American Womanhood, had decided to check out the action.
" I'd love a dance, Sweetie!" Moon was on his feet before either of the girls could speak.
" We was speakin' to the young ladies, mate." Another of the sailors spoke.
" Oh, well, they don't want to dance with a bunch of Japs!" Moon replied.
" We aren't bloody Japs!", the apparent leader responded, deeply offended. " No bloody fuckin' way!"
Moon peered closely at his face. " You look like a Jap to me; I know a Jap sailor when I see one. I seen your ship today, tied up to the dock; probably loaded down with useless steak knives. Don't you have any pride at all? You should stand up for your country, you sniveling... " I cut him off with a hand over his mouth.
The British sailors shuffled around, they were perplexed. Their ethnic origin had never been called into question before, and they were unsure how to respond.
The first speaker got a crafty look in his eye. He fished into his pocket and pulled out a wallet.
" See 'ere," he said, offering some sort of an ID card for our inspection. " That shows I ain't no Jap."
He urged Moon to take a battered "British Merchant Sailors Union" membership card, with his picture on it.
Moon was fast, even drunk and stoned, he did not miss a beat. " That don't mean shit! Look at this!" He had his own wallet out. Armenian driver's licenses, Turkish Certificates of Cattle Registry, deeds for land in Kenya, Nigeria and Hong Kong fluttered to the floor. Moon began to wave around ID. cards as though he was doing magic tricks; more and more appeared in his hands: Norwegian pilot's licenses, EMT certificates from The University of Hungary, Watusi death certificates, and more.
" Any one can fake an ID. It don't mean nothing!" Moon was unstoppable.
" Look! Look!" The sailor cried. He thrust out a handful of English bank-notes. " This proves we're British, what would Japs be doing with English money?" I could tell he was getting desperate to convince us. But logic never slowed Moon down at all.
" That" said Moon grandly, " means nothing! Nothing at all!" Moon was happy; next to Richard Nixon, the meaninglessness of money was one of his favorite subjects. " Money is shit! Just paper with colored ink on it. You could have gotten that anywhere. I could get some at any bank in the whole wide world. If you really want to prove something," he said, pulling some bills out of his own pocket, " burn it!"
" I'm an American, and I'm burning American money," Moon challenged them. " If you're really British, let's see you burn some British money!"
With that, he crumpled up the money he was holding, and setting it down in the ash-tray, he set fire to it. The sailors looked at each other in confusion; I could hear the familiar sounds of people around us starting to ask each other what was happening.
" What are they doing?" I heard a voice ask.
" Burning money." Someone replied.
" Why doesn't somebody call the cops?" the first voice asked.
Moon threw a few more dollar bills on the fire, gazing at the sailors with a look of disdain. Stung to the quick, they all began to pull out money and throw it on what was now turning into a small bonfire on our table. Ricky and I pulled back a bit, not wanting to get our whiskers singed, and I saw the two college girls exchange glances, wondering what they were doing in the middle of such a bizarre scene.
The burning money began to create a small cloud of smoke, and once again, I saw the manager hurrying over to our table. He seemed alarmed; nervously wringing his hands together.
" What is going on?" His desire to be of assistance to his customers was fighting with his sense of caution. " Gentlemen please, let's not have any trouble."
I felt sorry for him, and tried to soothe him. " It's ok, nothing serious...these gentlemen are just burning a little money. Just a little fun...I'll see to it that they put it right out. Have the waitress bring us another round will you?"
Apparently reasoning that anyone who burned money would probably also spend plenty, he hurried off to find our waitress. The Brits were still digging around for more bills to burn, caught up in Moon's pyromaniacal frenzy.
" Smiling Dog," Moon said to me, as he peered closely at the sailors one more time; " Maybe they ain't Japs."
" You old rascal," he told me, " I believe we owe these boys an apology, I think they might be British sailors after all!"
I suddenly felt very tired. The money had all burned up and the ashes were smoldering in the ashtray. The two chicks were gone; probably deciding that we represented more fun than they were prepared to deal with. They had fled while the clouds of smoke obscured our vision. And now Moon was trying to include me in his little game. It was all too much; mindful of the fact that we had to work the next day, I decided to go back to the boat.
Ricky felt the same way, and we got up to leave, mumbling apologies and explanations to the British sailors, who were thoroughly confused. They had burned up all their money and the only thing they got out of it was the dubious satisfaction of having proved to us they weren't Japanese. The voices that had been talking about calling the police were silent; it was time to go.
Outside the night was beautiful, the fog was thick and we walked down the cobble-stoned streets of Eureka's Old Town, tired and ready to crash.
Moon was very pleased with himself, humming a little tune as he strolled down the street. The only thing that would have made the evening better as far as he was concerned, was if we could have talked the chicks into coming back to the boat with us.
He hummed a little and skipped along. "Smiling Dog," he said, with an expansive wave of his hands, " if we could have got those chicks back to the boat, they would have been like wildcats on fire!"