Fishing Boat Captain
It was the last Saturday in May, and I had sat in The Moon at the bar watching a college basketball game as I romanced a cold Guinness.
“I warned them,” he said. He had a hard-edged expression, but he was not angry. He leaned his hand on the bar. I thought his fingers resembled old tree limbs.
“What happened?” Kate asked. She curiously stared up at him. “Usual, Dave? Gin and tonic.”
“Yeah, thank you,” Dave said. He was tall, and strong looking for an older man. He stared down at me. “Barfed on my boat, took them back to the Vinoy, immediately.”
“This is Rob,” Kate said. She elbowed over in my direction. “He comes in a lot, like you.”
“Hi,” I said. I shook his big hand. “What were you doing?”
“Sorry,” Dave said. “Dave, fishing captain. But today I was a nurse guide, I warned them, livewell was full of grunts, just dumb, there were groupers to be had.”
Kate returned with Dave’s cocktail.
“What did you warn them about?” I said. I lifted the Guinness. “Cheers.”
“Cheers,” Dave said. He sipped the drink Kate had made him. “Choppy gulf, I told them we’d be bouncing a bit,” Dave said. He leaned onto his elbows. “They didn’t pay any attention, it wouldn’t have stopped the fishing, I worked for free, today. I wouldn’t accept money for an incomplete trip.”
“Groupers good tasting,” I said.
“Yeah,” Dave said. “Remember, when you clean them, use salt water, not chlorinated water, they’ll lose the flavor.”
“Really?” I said.
“Never mind,” Dave said. “Ocean was rough, for them.”
“Hmm, not much fun,” I said. “I know better, I get seasick just standing on the pier.”
Kate had moved over near us. She had greeted some new guests.
“Another Guinness?” Kate said.
“Ah,” I said. I looked up, and noticed the basketball game was a half-time. “Why not.”
“You can manage seasickness,” Dave said. “You know?”
“I don’t like taking drugs,” I said. “How so?”
Dave nodded at me. He stood up, and turned his wide shoulders in my direction. He pointed down at my shoes.
“First off,” Dave said. “If you can, once on the boat, go barefooted, it’ll help anchor you down. And stare out at the horizon, it’ll help your inner ear.”
“Never even considered that,” I said.
“Eat something solid, nothing with acid like orange juice, stay off the booze,” Dave said. He sipped his drink. “Try to get up where you can feel a breeze, that’ll help.”
Kate chuckled at Dave.
“I don’t get it,” Kate said. “I used to go fishing with my dad, I never got seasick, went on a romantic cruise with my honey. I spent the first day in the bathroom.”
“Not much for romance,” I said.
“Where on the boat, were you in the boat’s interior?” Dave said. He had closely observed Kate. “A room without any windows?”
“Let me think,” Kate said. She adjusted her glasses, and her mouth was partially gapped open. “Been awhile back, but, yeah, we saved a bunch, figured we’d not be in the room much.”
“It was your inner ear,” Dave said. He pointed at his dark eyes. “Eyes tell you one thing, your ears sensed something else, learned that in the Navy.”
Kate nodded, and she waved over at a regular.
“Learn something new,” Kate said. “Maybe I’ll win a cruise.”
“It might be fun,” I said. “Never been on a cruise.”
“What’s your line of work?” Dave said. He nodded at me.
“Insurance, mostly,” I said. “Sometimes novelist.”
Dave grunted, he tapped on the bar.
“I’d still be in the Navy,” Dave said. He frowned. “But, my time was up, they bounced me.”
As Dave finished his drink, I had noticed on the inside of his right wrist was a trident tattoo. Beneath the tattoo, I suspected it was a specific date.
“What’s up with the pitchfork?” I said.
Dave turned his right wrist up, and he examined the tattoo. He nodded, he was quiet, and he appeared reflective.
“It’s just a tattoo,” Dave said. “Why’d you ask?”
“People and tattoos,” I said. “Some are for show, but others, the one’s almost hidden, like that one, they mean something. Those tattoos interest me, I’m just curious, but it’s none of my business.”
Dave slowly nodded, he stood up tall, and erect.
“I was a SEAL,” Dave said. He stared forward. “I don’t prefer to talk much about it, but the date, I lost one operator under my command. The date reminds me to earn my trident, every day.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I guess you’ve never barfed on a boat?”
“I have, a bunch,” Dave said. He shrugged. “I had to learn to overcome it, it’s a mental challenge, not a physical challenge.”
“Really?” I said. “Guess I don’t understand.”
Dave looked down at me.
“What do people fear the most?” Dave said.
“Death,” I said.
“I agree,” Dave said. He pointed at me. “Are you going to die?”
“Yes,” I said.
“It’s a certainty?” Dave said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Then start from there,” Dave said. “Why worry, or, why control what will eventually happen anyway?”
“Never thought of it,” I said. “How’d you stop from barfing?”
“I didn’t,” Dave said. “I kept training.”
And it was apparent to me at that moment, the one advantage aging provided was perspective.
“Train the mind,” I said. “The body would eventually catch up?”
“That’s the hard lesson,” Dave said. “As you’re body gets tired, you have to allow your mind to master it, otherwise, you fail.”
“I bet you could write a book,” I said. I sat back.
“Not how I was taught, I keep quiet,” Dave said. He grunted. “But, I’ll say this, I took a great pride in my jobs.”
Dave was an outdoorsmen, a rugged soul that I thought respected nature. And I thought he had a simple dignity.
“Everybody has a story,” I said.
“I don’t talk, because we were a team,” Dave said. “I was not our there alone.”
“I understand,” I said. “Sort of…”
“Have you ever sailed into a white squall?” Dave said.
“Never,” I said.
“What keeps you alive,” Dave said. “Training, and then more training, without that, you panic, you die. The storm will eventually move on, you have to train to overcome the fear.”
“When did it all click in your head?” I said.
“Not sure what you mean?” Dave said.
“When you stopped being afraid?” I said.
“Never,” Dave said. “That’s the training, it’s a mental challenge.”