The Family – Chapter 9

Don’t Make ‘Em Mad They’re Already Crazy

For the most part the attitude the Family adopted in regards to the people that made up the population on the pier was libertarian, a mind set that said I will not bother you if you don’t bother me. Of course they restricted that definition somewhat when it came to things like obeying fishing regulations and protecting the pier. There was no place for violence and they kept a keen eye out for those that might cause problems. But the one hundred and one idiosyncrasies that might describe the life and people on the pier were generally ignored.

This attitude seemed to reflect in part a distrust of government, especially the local beach patrol that sometimes seemed just a tad too heavy-handed and far too arbitrary. Yes, they knew that some government was needed, and that the police were a necessary force at the beach, but they preferred to work out solutions on their own. Still, there were times when it wasn’t easy.

Perhaps the strangest gang that visited the pier, and one that did attract the Family’s attention was a group of four headed up by Samdabby. He was assisted—if that’s the word—by the trio of Boney, Strawfoot and Napoleon Bass. They really weren’t considered regulars but most weeks would see at least a couple of visits by the group. Samdabby was the leader and the only one of the four who had actually done much fishing at the pier but most of that had occurred years ago. His nickname, a nom de guerre if you will, was given to him by another angler who admired his skill in catching the sanddabs that would visit the pier each winter. Sam became Samdabby and he seemed as proud of that name as his skill in catching the small but tasty fish.

Boney was perhaps the scariest of the group due in large part to his baldhead and evil looking tattoos. He had served a five-year sentence at the Pleasant Valley State Prison, a stark, unpleasant, oxymoronic place where his condition only worsened. Prisoners said the roads out of town ran to Coalinga, King City and nowhere, and he seemed destined to choose the last. He barely survived his sentence. His problems were mental, not criminal, and when he forgot to take his meds, a somewhat common occurrence, he would think he was back in prison, develop an atrabilious temper, and be quite willing to fight anyone he perceived as a threat.

Strawfoot was a big hunky kind of guy whose Bill Bandy-knees and bad leg left him with a dangling foot and a nickname that he had come to accept. As far as the family knew he wasn’t dangerous but he was unpredictable and people said you should always keep an eye on ‘Foot.”

Finally there was the diminutive Napoleon Bass, all five foot-two inches of him, who had been in an accident at an early age. The accident resulted in a metal plate in his head which he said helped relay signals from outer space. His size had the same affect that small size has on many men—an addiction to prove his might—and he more than the other three combined was apt to get caught up in fights on a regular basis. The fact that he never won those fights didn’t seem to matter, nor did his steady loss of teeth. Like a bulldog, he hung on. Donnybrook would have been a good middle name for the bellicose Mr. Bass.

Martha once said that Napoleon reminded her of Ernest T. Bass, the character on the old Andy Griffin Show. He was about the right size, had the right temperament (she could see him throwing rocks at people), and with his missing teeth he looked like an old hillbilly. When Ellen chipped in that Ernest T. had once live in a cave for six months, and that it was there that he learned to wash his food by watching a raccoon, it set the family off. They talked non-stop for nearly two hours about the TV show and missed three strikes on their fishing poles, all of which had to be mama halibuts.

There had been a time when Samdabby’s cuckoo nest gang had hung out with Bear, Luther, Milo, Penny and Tuborg, but something had happened to split the groups up. The latter were simple drunks, Samdabby’s group had more severe problems and in the not too distant past they would have been in hospitals, not out roamin’ the streets. They were products of a disingenuous system that on the one hand labeled them as mentally unstable while on the other hand allowed them to roam free.

All they had to do was take their medicine in the correct doses at the correct times, something most doctors knew would not happen. But it kept certain advocates happy and sometimes it seemed that was all that mattered. It was a system seemingly guaranteed to produce failure and when the mentally unstable began to roam the streets and cause problems—to themselves and others—people wrung their hands and, like Pontius Pilate, looked the other way.

However, for whatever reason, Samdabby’s group seemed to hang together and was able to function fairly normally to a point. Samdabby was the leader and the others appeared biddable and cooperative to his suggestions. It didn’t make sense but human beings are unpredictable and whatever synergistic principles were at work the group did seem able to survive. People sometimes would shake their heads at the pastiche gathering and wonder to themselves how they survived. Perhaps some sort of Gestalt spirit imbued the group or perhaps they had a Guardian Angel looking over them? Whatever the cause, the group had been together now for several, mostly uneventful years (if you ignore the petty fights and occasional outbursts). Perhaps it was their common problems themselves that seemed to bond them together.

As long as they didn’t bother anyone at the pier the Family wouldn’t bother them. Of course consistency in behavior was not guaranteed, and the group was not always harmless, so they were watched but that was the sum extent—most of the time

George P, The Professor, had once attended a conference in Cairo, Egypt; a conference that he felt was a total waste of taxpayer’s money. However, he had learned a phrase—“mafish nizam”—that he prized forever after. The phrase, meaning there’s no system, was used by Egyptians to explain the hundreds of things that didn’t seem to work efficiently whether it be government offices or colossal traffic jams. The phrase was ingrained into the argot of the Family and it was used fairly frequently given the often changing and increasingly inefficient policies, regulations and laws that were forced onto local residents by a sundry group of governmental entities. However, there are truly few government programs as inefficient as those concerning the mentally disabled. When Samdabby’s group would visit the pier someone would inevitably utter “mafish nizam” and the Family would nod in agreement.

One morning when Jasper arrived at the pier he found a nearly naked and trembling Napoleon Bass standing in a trashcan. His hands danced at his side with celerity while rivulets of tears flowed from his eyes and made his perpetually filthy face even less attractive. Mare’s nest hair and a slavering Great Dane-like frothing at the mouth finished the picture.

Jasper was already in a foul mood due to a traffic jam on the freeway at 5:30 AM in the morning and really didn’t need new problems but he also never shirked responsibility and it was obvious that Napoleon needed some kind of help what with his katzenjammer condition. Jasper stood before the crying man a few moments before he spoke: “Napoleon, are you OK?” Napoleon stopped his unintelligible, gibberish mutterings and his crying but his vacant, black eyes seemed to stare right through Jasper. He became silent. “Napoleon, are you OK?” Finally Napoleon answered Jasper. “The fish told me to do it, the fish, the monster fish

The answer was not one that Jasper would have expected. Napoleon often wandered out to the pier but he rarely fished and there was no sign of a rod and reel, tackle box, or bait. And, where did the clothes go?

“Napoleon, where’s your clothes?” Napoleon looked at him a minute and then started to cry again, “the fish, the fish, the fish got ‘em. That monster fish got ‘em.”

How do you respond to such a statement? Jasper finally said, “Napoleon, try to calm down a little. What are you doing in that trash can?” “The fish, the fish, that monster fish told me to give him my clothes and stay in this can.”

Jasper said, “get out” and reached out to Napoleon to help him out. Napoleon seemed to hesitate but finally climbed out of the smelly can. Five foot, two inch-tall Napoleon Bass, clad only in droopy, stained skivvies, smelled like three day-old bait, and didn’t look much better, but at least he didn’t seem to have any injuries.

Jasper walked him over to the family’s spot on the pier and sat him down while grabbing a blanket from his cart.

“Napoleon, will you drink a cup of coffee if I get it?” “Ya.” Jasper went over to get a cup of Joe from Virginia who had witnessed his rescue-of-sorts of the diminutive Bass. “Poor guy, give him some coffee and a roll” said Virginia. “What you going to do with him?”

Jasper really wasn’t sure what to do. He could simply call the police who would then probably either throw him in jail or call the medical troops—and perhaps that was what Napoleon needed because he could be dangerous. But Napoleon normally hung out with Samdabby and his own family and Jasper had a feeling they could help him much more than the police. Jasper muttered “mafish nizam!”

Jasper took the coffee over to Nap as he was usually called but the young man had fallen asleep on the blanket. Jasper tried to return the coffee and roll to Virginia but she only winked and said “Jasper, you’ve earned you’re breakfast, keep it.” He returned to his sleeping ward, decided to bait up, began to fish, and contemplated the problems of the world amidst a steady attack of mackerel.

At 8 AM Martha and George showed up and soon after the rest of the Family began to arrive at the pier and be greeted by the figure of Napoleon Bass, redolent and fetal-positioned within the blanket. He slept right through the greetings and the discussion that would determine his impending future.

After a quick review of the situation by Jasper, all pitched in to help Napoleon. Clothing of course was the main concern—and there wasn’t any spare pants or shirts—but an old sweater was found and with the arrival of the sun the day was warming up. About then Napoleon opened his eyes to rejoin the world.

It was Martha that first broached the subject of the fish. “Napoleon, Jasper said you were done in by a giant fish, what happened?”

Napoleon began to tremble anew but after a minute he answered. “Yesterday was my birthday and my sister came over and took me down to Denny’s for supper. She gave me a sawbuck and I had a good cheeseburger and a great big piece of apple pie with ice cream on top. She told ‘em it was my birthday so they even stuck a dollop of whipped cream on top of the ice cream. Oh, and two of them bright cherries.”

“Then she gave me something from my dead dad. Said it was his old fishing pole and she knew I could probably use it livin’ near the beach. It was kind of old but still beautiful and I wanted to show it to the guys but they were busy so I decided to come out here and catch a fish. No one was here except that shark guy but he gave me a sinker, a big ol’ hook, and a piece of mackerel. Said to throw it out and I’d be sure to catch a shark. So I did that.” And then Napoleon turned silent.

Finally Martha spoke up, “so what happened, did you hook a shark?”

Napoleon looked through her and said, “Yes, I did.” That’s all he said.

George finally spoke up, “Nap what happened? Tell us what happened?”

Napoleon looked around the group and started to tell a story that all would remember. “I hooked that big shark and got him up by the pier when he spoke up. He said ‘Nap, what are you doing out here fishing for fish like me?’ I didn’t know what to say. I finally told him it was my dead daddy’s fishing pole and that I wanted to test it out but that only seemed to make him mad.”

“He said, ‘Nap your daddy killed way too many fish and now you want to kill some fish yourself; you should be ashamed.’ But all I was doing was a little fishing.”

“That fish told me to bring him up to the pier and I did it—all by myself. But when he got up to the top he was still mad. ‘Napoleon, you’re going to suffer for the sins of your father if you keep this up! Stop fishing right now and throw all that equipment in the water.’ I didn’t want to throw my pop’s pole away but I was scared and did what he said. Then he said I should take off my clothes, throw them in the water, and then throw him back into the water. His last words were, ‘Napoleon, I want you to stand in that can over there and pray all night long for all the dead fish your dad killed and that you might have killed. In the morning, if you’re prayers are honest, I will ask for your forgiveness. If you don’t pray all night or if you’re not sincere in your prayers then I will come for you and you will join your father.’ I was very scared but prayed all night long. I was praying when Jasper Robb walked up.”

What had really happened? No one knew or would ever know because Napoleon refused to change the crux of the Kafkaesque story and while the world-view of the group refused to admit the possibility of such an unnatural occurrence, Napoleon had accepted and ingrained the story. Forever more, the story of the mysterious fish, a criminating, talking shark, would be part of Napoleon’s chimerical ramblings, a story that would leave most people simply shaking their heads.

Later, after Jasper had turned Napoleon over to his buddies Samdabby, Boney, and Strawfoot, the Family tried to review and explain the story. They couldn’t.

All they could agree to was the fact that Jasper had kept things on an even keel and stopped Napoleon from getting into trouble, trouble that might have reunited him with his adversaries at the police department one more time. Things had been kept peaceful and the family had followed a mantra they had chosen for Samdabby’s group a couple of years before, a saying that might sound cruel but one that had been followed with success—“Don’t Make ‘Em Mad They’re Already Crazy.”