The Family – Chapter 2

The Kid

Fate often seems to play tricks on those who need it least and Destin was a prime example. Unfortunately his mother was named Destiny so of course he was Destiny’s child and he would carry that appellation throughout his early school years. Far worse was the meaning behind those names; from earliest age his overly indulgent mother told Destin that he was destined for greatness. For some that would provide motivation to work hard, grow, and achieve that for which they may, or may not, have actually been destined. For Destin it led to swollen ego and a personality demanding attention. He had few if any friends and if the truth were known, he really didn’t care. His callow assumption was that he was better than others so they shouldn’t stand in his way. It was an attitude that was almost fated to lead to problems later in life.

Somehow he found fishing, the pier, and the Family. When he first visited the pier he was full of questions while darting from angler to angler whenever a fish was hooked. What was it? What had been used for bait? How do you catch ‘em? Non-stop questions and a frenzied energy that quickly grew tiresome to most of the regulars.

As usual, Cassidy was the first up to offer advice and guidance. “Destin, you need live bait to catch most halibut. Get some of these small hooks, put them on a light line, and jig up some live bait. You’ll need a bucket and a small aerator to keep them alive. Then hook them like this, behind the collar, and drop them down there, between the pilings. You’ll feel the halibut bite but give it time to mouth and swallow the smelt. Then strike and make sure you get the fish away from the piling.”

Destin did listen, and he learned quickly, but he also was of unctuous character, and failed to thank Cassidy for her advice. Martha, who normally championed working with kids on the pier, said “he’s a pukey kid with no manners,” let him learn on his own. But Cassidy’s patience was legendary if sometimes misguided.

Within a few months Destin could hold his own, as far as fishing, with most of the group. He had watched and learned the techniques and his mom provided whatever new tackle was wanted.

He would catch a halibut and run impulsively to each angler showing off his catch. If his were the bigger fish, or if he was catching fish while the others were not, he had a sarcastic, almost derogatory manner, in announcing the results. There was little surprise that his impetuous actions and rebarbative mannerisms failed to win friends on the pier.

One day Ellen brought a special surprise to the Family. It was a lure that her father had hand-made back in the early 50’s. It was made of metal and with its margaritaceous sheen it resembled the small queenfish that schooled under the pier and attracted in the white seabass—when they were around. In the El Niño, warm-water year of 1957, the local waters were invaded by huge schools of the giant croakers and her father’s lure was the hottest lure. He personally caught over thirty of the large fish with four being over forty pounds in weight. One truly huge fish hit 57 pounds.

Not too bad for pier-caught fish but even more amazing was the fact that the lure survived the succession of fights. Sooner or later all good lures are lost unless they are retired—and Ellen’s father said that a lure that was any good was meant to be lost on a fish. But her dad also called the lure a woolly-booger, a term meaning quite extraordinary in his Southwestern slang, and it did survive both the fish and her father’s death.

Ellen had told the Family about the lure several times but had never actually brought it to the pier. All marveled at its condition for although it had caught many fish it retained its sheen and would still make a good lure. But for Ellen the lure was one more reminder of her father and a prized possession never again to be used.

Destin had been fishing nearby when the story was told and had heard every word. And he wanted that lure. So while Ellen thought she had securely put the lure away amongst her belongings, she was wrong. Destin had spied its location and was waiting to make his move when the appropriate time came. That time came when the ladies made their trip to the front-of-the-pier restrooms after lunch. When no one was watching, he grabbed the lure, hid it in his jacket and headed home with his fishing equipment.

There was no mention of the lure until later that night when Ellen arrived home. In panic she called each of the Family members but no one had seen the lure.

The next time the Family gathered the lure was the main topic of conversation. There was the possibility that the lure had simply fallen from Ellen’s bag and had been lost. No one really believed that scenario. Jasper was the one who remembered Destin fishing nearby. “He was listening to your story and kept hanging around until just after lunch, I would be willing to bet he’s got the lure. We know he’s a thief and I think the little bastard took your lure.” They tried to look at different possibilities but in the end it was always Destin that was the main candidate. But how to find out for sure? Jasper finally suggested they let him lead the investigation and with that decision the group went back to their fishing

The next day Jasper began his quest. He was determined to right a wrong and the fact that it was a mere lure (even if considered a family heirloom by Ellen) made little difference, to Jasper it was the same as an attack on his friends and no one could attack his friends. Honor and chivalry seem like old-fashioned words today but for Jasper, an old fashioned kind of guy, they represented a code to be upheld day in and day out.

The first mission was to find out if Destin had actually stolen the lure and for this Jasper enlisted another family, of sorts, from the pier. Out at the end of the pier hung a motley assortment of so-called anglers, alcoholic paupers who used the pier as their home until midnight most days. The group varied from four to six individuals and also varied as to how father gin had affected their brain patterns—and their coherency. The group was mostly harmless and actually had their own code of conduct, a fact that would have surprised most of the passerby’s who saw them on the pier. A couple of the guys could be bothersome at times, and even scary to some people, but the group restrained the most egregious behavior. They realized, in some manner, that complaints to the police who patrolled the nearby streets could affect them all.

Bear was the raffish 37-year old doyen of the pack and it was to him that Jasper ventured late that night. Jasper brought a six-pack with him so Bear knew that something was up, but by the time Jasper had finished his story Bear had already decided to help. Still, the six-pack of Bud might help in convincing the others.

Just as his nettlesome actions had offended many of the anglers on the pier, Destin had managed to rub Bear’s bibulous group raw on several occasions. He never openly mocked the group but by his haughty and contemptuous manner he clearly let them know that he considered himself superior, and not only when it came to fishing skills. What Destin didn’t realize is that those who partake of the hair of the dog still sometimes want to do good; often they’ve just misplaced the moral compass that helps give direction. This was a chance to do a good deed—and perhaps teach Destin a lesson.

Bear, Luther, Milo, Penny and Tuborg made up the group of John Barleycorns that night and over the six-pack they discussed with Jasper a method to discover if Destin had the lure. Milo, in his usual brusque manner, suggested a whumping on the side of the head but Jasper said, “no, there will be no violence.” Bear then offered up a plan that used a bit of chicanery to accomplish their goal. They all knew that Destin couldn’t keep a secret and felt the plan would easily pull him in. Luther, with his mostly toothless grin and high pitched voice, said it would be “just like luring a haleeebuttt to a sexxxy little ‘chovy.” No one questioned his strange sense of metaphors. All agreed on the mission; the only dispute was who was gong to get the extra Bud.

The next day when Destin appeared at the pier Bear rushed over to him in an excited state and said, “Did you hear? Ellen is offering a $200 reward for a fishing lure her dad made. Can you believe it, $200 for a stupid lure? Destine had to stop and think. He wanted the lure but his profligate inner voice said $200 was too much of a gift to pass up. And, to be true, the lure was little more than a piscatorial gewgaw that had grabbed his attention and provided short-term excitement. Plus, the money would buy many, many lures. But how to get the reward without revealing what had happened? Then he thought of Bear and his alcoholic friends. If the drunks returned the lure to Ellen, they would be the suspects if theft were considered. Perhaps a simple act of dodgery on his part could remove whatever risk was involved?

“Bear, I think I saw the lure you’re talking about. You know Joe, that new guy who snags the corbina down near the surf, I saw him with a strange lure yesterday. He said he found it by the foot of the pier. Maybe I could get it from him and we could return it for the reward?” With those words Bear knew that Destin had the lure. Bear thought to himself, yeah sure, if you had the lure why would you share the reward with me, how dumb do you think I am? But, he had to play along with Destin’s scheme. “Do you really think you can find it Destin?” “I’ll go find Joe, get it from him, and you can return it since you told me about the reward. If I do all the work I get $150 and you take $50. That’s fair, isn’t it?” Bear grumbled, as he would be expected to do, but agreed. Destin disappeared for two hours and then came back with the lure. Destin appeared a little apprehensive about giving Bear the lure but had little choice. Bear told him he would get the money the next morning.

That night Jasper returned and Bear handed him the lure. Good deed done and the Bedouins of the pier enjoyed six-pack number two minus one Bud (no reason to repeat last nights argument). But Jasper wasn’t finished. Good deeds deserve reward, as do bad deeds. It wasn’t enough that Destin would not receive his money for the lure; he also needed to be taught a lesson. Once again the assembled group discussed the approach and the final decision was both simple and blunt. Somewhere in Milo’s usually twisted tangle of memories was a remembrance of The Scarlet Letter, a book he had been forced to read in college. He had never forgotten how an adulteress was forced to wear a large “A” over her breast as a symbol of her sin. Perhaps Destin deserved a badge of shame to show people he was a thief? The proposal seemed to strike an agreeable chord with the group. But how could they get Destine to advertise himself as a thief?

One of the habits of the group was that they used one of the benches out at the end of the pier for a bed. There they would take turns napping, one at a time, while the less somnolent would keep an eye on their meager possessions, the lares and penates of a desolate home. It was protection in theory, in truth there was little that others would deem worth stealing. The regulars on the pier knew that the besotted group slept on the bench and had long ago deeded over the bench and the area to them. Tourists tended to steer a wide path when they saw the pestiferous looking assemblage that included a couple of old mountain bikes (minus a few parts) as well as grocery carts filled with SAGAT clothing (Salvation Army, Goodwill And Trash) and a collection of odd odds and ends. Not to be overlooked were the Dickens-like characters themselves. The gnarly-looking conclave discouraged discourse, especially when combined with the odorous stench of cheap booze that seemed to surround them like a drunkard’s halo. However, the hallowed bench would serve the group well in their new plan of action.

The next morning Destin showed up ready for his money but Bear had to tell him that Ellen and the Family had not, as yet, made their appearance. And, for the first time ever, Bear offered Destin a beer. Destin had actually consumed very little alcohol but he couldn’t admit that to Bear and readily accepted the drink. Unknown to Destin the drink contained chloral hydrate, the infamous Mickey Finn of earlier times and within a few minutes he had passed out. It amused the group as a whole but didn’t amuse them nearly as much as what happened next. They stripped off Destin’s shirt and laid him down on the bench. Next they took some suntan oil supplied by Jasper and in the middle of Destin’s chest wrote out the word thief. The word was repeated on Destin’s forehead and then, at Milo’s excited urging, they put the letter T on each cheek. They then laughed and waited for the sun to do its work (although they made sure to apply fresh lotion every half hour or so).

Destin was asleep for nearly four hours but after two they turned him over and wrote thief on his back. Luther and Milo were giddy with excitement and so stoked that they led tours of the slumbering miscreant’s body for anglers who ventured over to see what was going on. Or at least they did until Bear told them to “shut up.” They still giggled and could hardly restrain themselves but at least it was kept in the group.

By the time Destin awoke he had the look of a just cooked lobster, at least his skin was of that bright red hue. That is except for the pearl white letters that spelled out the word thief on his chest, forehead and back, and the two “T’s” on his cheeks. Unaware of the character-defining words on his body, Destin sat up while the group kidded him and told him he couldn’t handle his alcohol; sheepishly, Destin agreed. When he asked about his shirt they told him he looked too hot, they had taken it off but then it had blown off the pier. Since the family still hadn’t arrived, and he was suffering from a massive headache, Destin said he was going down to the beach.

As Destin walked off the pier the regulars looked at him and then nodded in agreement. It wasn’t until he reached the beach that the laughs of some of the bikini-goddesses made him stop. What were they laughing at? Then, as he saw the reflection in the window of the surfboard shop, he knew something was wrong. He rushed over to the public showers and looked in the mirror with growing anger. But minus a shirt he had to once again run a gauntlet of stares as he returned to the end of the pier.

“What did you do to me?” he cried to Bear? Bear gave him a long stare and then replied, “Man, you did this to yourself. We don’t like thieves out here. And the lure? It’s going back to its rightful owner. If I were you I would make yourself scarce because everyone now knows you for what you are.” Destin didn’t argue but turned and left; it was a fitting denouement.

And that was that the last time anyone saw the kid at the pier. Ellen got her lure, Bear and his boys had a story to tell forever after, and the Family was able to once again settle back and concentrate on their fishing.

The Lessons of Life…the word character is one of those words that is sometimes referred to as a Janus-faced word, a word that can be used with two opposite connotations. Thus the boy has character (good) or the boy is a character (bad). In Destin’s case, fate—his mother’s choice of name and her advice—may have determined the direction of his character. Still, there are those who will argue against such predestination. Who can truly say?