the first morning after a really long night

After downing Biondetta’s cocktail the world went black. The next thing I knew I was clutching the porcelain toilet, giving to the sewers everything I had taken in and there was a black cat purring near my leg. Whatever it was Biondetta gave me sent me spiraling into the abyss and I came out of it on a bathroom floor.

The man outside the stall calling me señor had walked off and returned with another man, who wasn’t quite as pleasant as he had been.

“Sir, you need to get out of the stall.”

“Okay, one minute.”

“Sir, you need to stand up and leave now.”

“Fine. Fuck! Hang on.”

The guy kept knocking on the door until I stood up and opened the stall. There was an older Latino man standing next to a guy about my age, dressed in slacks and a polo shirt with a scowl on his face.

“Sir, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

His eyes narrowed in on me.

“How did you get in here?”

The black cat that had been keeping me company hissed at the man in khaki slacks and a red polo shirt. I assumed he was the manager since he was dressed in that distinctly dipshit middle manager kind of way. Neither the cat nor I liked him and his khaki pants very much.

“I came in with a girl. We’re leaving now.”

The manager guy moved to cut me off.

“What girl? And where did that cat come from?”

“Jesus man – let me by. There is a girl outside waiting for me and we’ll be leaving now. I have no fucking idea where this cat came from but I’m pretty sure having a cat is not up to code. I’m sorry I got sick in your bathroom but I’m leaving now.”

“Sir, there is no girl outside. The place is empty and that’s not our cat. We are just now opening. How did you get in here? Did you sleep here last night?”

I had no idea what he was talking about. I hadn’t slept since the nap I took on Captain Alvaro’s boat after banging Desi. I needed sleep and water badly and I didn’t need to deal with some self-important manager in bad khaki pants who was standing between me and getting some rest.

“Look guy – I have no idea what’s going on. I just want to leave.”

He looked me over closely for a few more seconds and then he stepped aside and let me pass. When I opened the bathroom door, the morning light that came pouring in gave me a moments pause. Shit, did I sleep in the men’s room? I didn’t even know where I was. By the looks of the decor and the tables I was in some kind of Mexican cantina. I was hoping I was still on the island and not across the border in some crime-ridden town. Where was Biondetta and how the hell did it get to be morning? Those were the first two questions in a long list my feeble brain was compiling.

I staggered out of the cantina and onto the even brighter street that seemed overly ready to embrace a new day. The cantina was just off the makeshift beach on the island. The sun was coming up and people were already dressed and wandering around. People who, unlike me didn’t smell of piss and vomit and whose clothes looked fresh and clean. I started walking toward the dock, hoping I could catch a water taxi and get back to our boat.

As I was walking over to where I had seen the water taxi before I bumped into Ike and the rodent boys.

“There he is! There’s our sport! Told you we’d find him boys!”

Ike came over to me with his standard bigger than life smile and gave me a solid hug.

“We were worried about you sport. You kind of went AWOL on us. No big deal but let us know where you’re headed next time.”

“Sorry about that brother. I ran into Biondetta and she whisked me away and I woke up this morning in a cantina on the men’s room floor.”

Ike started laughing and the rodent boys joined in from behind.

“Who is Biondetta sport? Did you pick up some girl while you were wandering the island last night.”

“Biondetta – the one I should have made a move on instead of sleeping with Desi.”

“Whoa! You got laid last night? How did that happen? You were a complete mess!”

Ike was feigning surprise but he seemed very genuine. I was too tired for his games and wanted a cold drink of water, a cup of coffee and some sleep.

“Whatever Ike. Did you stay with Cindy last night?”

“Cindy? Ok, do you know something I don’t?”

I was growing exasperated.

“Cindy! The girl we followed and the girl you hooked up with on Alvaro’s boat? Cindy! Christ dude – I am too tired for this right now.”

Ike broke into peals of laughter and then he slapped me on the back.

“Man, I don’t know what party you ended up at but I should be pissed you didn’t drag me along. It sounds like it was a blast.”

He stood in front of me, smiling and looking me in the eye but gave nothing away. He was waiting for me to say something else. Now my confidence was waning. Yesterday had been a long day and the clouds hadn’t completely cleared out of my brain. I needed some kind of reality check because a weird panic was creeping up on me.

“What did we do last night Ike?”

“Ha, sport you were a trip last night! I have never seen you let loose like that before – like a mad man. We talked to those girls on the boat next to us – that crazy chick in the white and she suggested the bar we went to last night, the one with the suit of armor. Ring a bell?”

Bell no, but maybe a chime.

“Okay, Cindy – that’s her. Then we all went to that party and then the bar? Am I forgetting something? I feel like I blacked out at some point.”

Ike furrowed his brow and kind of chuckled but there was a slight look of concern in his face.

“You, me and the boys went, Jax. That girl wasn’t all that great and we moved on to more fertile soil. Do you remember the round of shots you ordered at the bar? We started with tequila and just kept going. You don’t look good, sport. You feeling alright?”

I didn’t remember shots at the bar. I didn’t remember a suit of armor and I didn’t remember hanging out with the rodent boys. What I did remember was Desi, Biondetta, Cindy and Captain Alvaro and champagne and magic brownies. I remembered crazy, drugged up sex and lots music and dancing. I remembered the captain’s cigarettes, Biondetta’s legs and Desi’s lips. I remembered bowls of grass and glasses of white wine and eating mussels. I remembered littering – there was a lot of littering.

I stood in front of Ike waiting for him to crack. I was waiting for a punchline. The punchline never came. Finally he spoke up again.

“Hey man – let’s get you back to the boat and get you some fluids and some rest.”

We walked over to our dinghy and headed back out into the harbor toward our boat. I began replaying as much as I could remember in my head. Was Ike just fucking with me? Was it some hallucination from residual bits of memory floating around in the sea of narcotics and booze I had ingested? It couldn’t be – it was far too elaborate. I didn’t say anything else until we got back to our boat. While the boys started tying up the dinghy and raising the anchor, I walked toward the cabin and went below. I wanted to change shirts and find some Gatorade. My head was pounding as was my pulse.

I pulled a clean shirt from my bag and took off my soaked one. As I did I felt a flash of pain in my shoulder. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. It was a bite mark – Desi’s bite mark. I raced up the steps and onto the deck to show Ike.

“Ike! See – look. This is from Desi, Cindy’s friend. She bit me while we were having sex.”

Ike started laughing again and walked toward me.

“Yep, that’s a bite. You should clean that thing. You definitely had a better time than we did. Tell us next time you find such a great party, bastard.”

He then walked away and to the rear of the boat to help the hamster with the anchor. We were about to set off. It didn’t make any sense why Ike would insist he didn’t remember the day before or how he could possibly be as together as he was at this point. I was in shambles. I rubbed my shoulder to confirm it was there and the pain tingled again in my flesh. Desi had definitely bitten me. I was sure this was some kind of elaborate prank the boys were pulling and we would meet up with Alavaro and his crew again somewhere either on the way or back in Marina del Rey.

We didn’t. We sailed all the way home without anyone mentioning The Melmoth or what happened on it. They talked about a couple of bars, none of which I remembered but no one said anything about stuff I recalled . I went below and napped for 30 minutes and when I woke up we were pulling back into the Marina.

We docked, cleaned out the boat, returned the keys to the rental center and then we all went our separate ways. I walked into my apartment and threw my bag down on the floor and I crashed on the sofa. I ordered a pepperoni and sausage pizza from Dagwood’s and sat around, mired in my hangover. Around 8pm I decided to take a shower. I walked to my bathroom and started the water and then took off my shirt. I immediately looked at my shoulder in the mirror.

Yep, still there – a bite mark from Desi. I stared at it for a long time and then I removed my board shorts. I felt something in the pocket and so I unzipped it and pulled out a business card. It was a white card made of nice material with raised black ink on it. It merely read Captain Alvaro, Man of Leisure and there was an image of a little black cat next to his name.

I flipped the card over and in very elegant handwriting was a short note:

Jackson, we will meet again very soon.

-A

I stood in my bathroom staring at the card, flipping it over and over for a few minutes. No one was talking about Alvaro and the girls. No one mentioned him. If the boys were pulling a fast one then they were doing a damn good job of not giving anything away. I walked back to my living room and picked up the phone and dialed Ike.

“Yo!”

“Ike – level with me now because this shit is getting out of hand. What happened yesterday?”

“Sport – I told you everything. We partied on the boat and then went ashore and went barhopping. That was it. Man, you got really twisted huh?”

“So no Cindy, Desi or Alvaro?”

“Dude…no.”

“And no Biondetta.”

I mostly muttered that last bit to myself. I hung up the phone and went back to the bathroom to look at my shoulder again. I then stood there staring at the card. I had no clue what had happened but somewhere along the way my reality broke away from Ike’s. I believed him that this wasn’t a prank but that only left open alternatives that crossed way over the line of the fantastic or believable. Something happened and I had a scar and a card to prove it, or at least support the idea.

The card still sits on my dresser. I think I saw Biondetta again not too long ago but I can’t be certain. I scan the faces in crowds at times, looking for…well, just looking. The one thing that is certain, when I do encounter those people again, and I believe I will, there is going to be some explaining on their part. Who the hell are they and what the hell happened and why am I the only one who seems to remember anything? Those are the first things coming out of my mouth. Oh, and another thing, next time I am going for Biondetta with forceAlvaro and Desi be damned.

Advertisements

wasted perfection

If you’re reading this it may already be too late. You may be as equally fucked as I am. What I mean to say is that if you show any interest whatsoever in this blog then you suffer from a semblance of the same moral character flaws as do I. You are slightly depraved. That being the case, there may very well have been a moment in which you pondered the perfect buzz, that ethereal state in which sobriety and intoxication are balanced in a sliver of the sublime. You aren’t yet stumbling or slurring and you’re cognizant enough to forgo off-putting conversation topics such as your soft spot for Japanese porn, but the world has a magical quality to it that only that drink, that smoke or that pill can offer. Or maybe, if you’re so lucky, you stumbled across a crystal platter of magical brownies, each with a promise of sweet intoxication and a new perspective denied to those who abstain.

The brownie was hot, gooey fresh in my mouth, oozing with a dark chocolate center but crowned with a crispy, flaky layer on top. I know – that sounds really good right now. I describe myself the exact same way sometimes. I used the back of my hand to wipe off the brownie drip descending from my bottom lip, still clutching the next brownie in my hand. I washed the bite down with a taste of Dom. Who knew fine champagne would pair so well with dark, gooey brownies? Standing on the deck of the boat, with the southern California sun sparkling off the loping waves making their way to shore, I felt entirely at ease with the world. The soft rush of the third, or was it the fourth, glass of champagne to my head left me fizzy from belly to cerebellum and the smile on my face beamed effortlessly at the people standing in front of me. There was Ike, now wearing captain Alavaro’s captain hat, Cindy, still clad in the polka dot bikini and still wrapped around Ike, the captain, now with his hat removed sporting a Shakespearean forehead and well-groomed mane of salt and pepper, and to my right Desi, her warm flesh pressing against me so tightly I could feel each breath she took. Each of us had a flute of champagne in one hand and a brownie in the other. We were embarking on this odyssey as a team, save for one.

Biondetta continued to scorn our company, preferring to sun herself alone on the back of the boat. I had to admit, there was a mild but lingering anxiety over her ominous warning of the “strange trip” coming our way. For some reason, there in the sunny moment of the loosening of reality and the imbibing of both the gifts and the company of our new friends, the name Cassandra was nesting in my thoughts. Did I know a Cassandra? I feel like I may have spent an evening with a Cassie while in Vegas for work once but that was al I could come up with. Did Biondetta remind me of her or was there another Cassandra somewhere, locked within my memory vault created and masked by past nights of brutal debauchery? I still felt like I was missing something.

This pensive moment was interrupted by the soft touch of Desi’s tongue, tracing a small delicate line up my ear lobe. The interruption sent tingles throughout my body and in the tingling the thought was lost. If you have ever partaken of anything other than just a drink then you know there is a moment when things kick in. Sometimes it takes an hour and sometimes it happens much sooner but when it does it’s as if the filter to your world has been removed and every sensation from taste to touch changes. Perhaps Desi’s tongue cued this seismic shift in my reality.

As the tingling reverberated through my spine, rolling into and out of my appendages, I suddenly noticed the blue of the water around us brighten to more of an aquamarine wrapped around crystalline azure. The sunlight that had been merely sparkling on top of the water became diamond-like bolts bouncing off the waves. The warmth of the mid-day sun heated my face, softly burning from my cheeks, down my neck and penetrating to my core. The smell of ocean was everywhere – not dead fish ocean but the salty sea. I turned to Desi who was already making her way to my lips.

Sometimes you kiss someone and it is more of a peck. Sometimes the kiss is just two lips pressed together. I’ve had some women thrust their tongue into my mouth as if it were a sea cave and they were spear fishing. I’ve had some women kiss me with just a frozen, gaping hole of a mouth as if they were waiting to me to plop something in. Some kisses match your movements with their own subtle parries, a sort of coquettish fight against relinquishing. Then there was this kiss, standing on the deck of the boat in the warm sun, that is pure bliss. Her plump lips first touched mine lightly but kept moving into me, until it was if we had melted into one another. My every moment elicited an equal movement from her. Our bodies fully pressed together and we explored each other’s skin, all while our lips remained entwined. Our breathing synchronized and I felt her chest expanding into mine, almost to the point of bursting, before the resulting exhalation pulled our hips together. Her hand moved through my hair sending more goosebumps racing across my body and my hand fell into the small of her back, demanding she find a way to get closer to me. I could feel my heart skipping beats and could feel hers pounding through her breast into me. If anyone ever could have made love with a single kiss then that would have been the one. (yes, I just used the phrase ‘made love’) The entire world around us was lost. When the kiss finally dissolved, I was still holding Desi close to me, our noses touching. Our pose threatened to protract on into eternity were it not for the sound of clapping.

I turned to my right and saw the captain, Ike and Cindy smiling at us and clapping enthusiastically.

“Bravo. Bravo! Encore! Encore!”

The captain was once again bellowing out his ‘as seen on tv’ voice. Ike’s eyes were large like saucers.

“Oh man – oh man. As gross as it sounds sport, that was hot and I kind of want you two to do it again.”

Desi leaned into my left ear, causing more goosebumps to pile up into the goosebumps still coasting across my skin.

“Should we thrill them again?”

“Fuck them, thrill me.”

With that she locked onto my lips again, a kiss melting the two of us once more with the aid of magical brownies and the taste of Dom Perignon. This would be my last coherent memory of the day. This would be the moment on the roller coaster as it slowly climbs along a 70-degree incline and hesitates at the top before rapidly descending into the rest of the ride.

What had I been trying to think of earlier? Fuck it – hold on to your hats and glasses.

black cat blackout

So there I was clutching the cold white toilet, kneeling on the tile floor in front. The shirt I was wearing was soaked with sweat and my Patagonia sat in a puddle of what I hoped was water but felt fairly confident was not. I could hear Biondetta’s voice in my head, gently repeating, “I told you not to eat any of those.”

My body temperature was sky-high and my thoughts were coming at me fast and in muddled clouds of confusion. I had to focus. I needed to do the math and figure out how I got to this point. What did I remember? What happened to me? I channeled all my available energy into focusing on the time line of events of the past day.

From the other side of the stall door I heard a soft knock.

“Senor, are you ok? Senor?”

“I’ll be fine. Give me a minute. Can you bring me a glass of water? And Ike – find Ike or Ikemael of whatever he’s calling himself.”

The gentleman outside the door shuffled his feet back and forth and hesitated before turning to exit the bathroom. There was another stall next to me that was empty. At least I wouldn’t be taking up all the available real estate with my sweating and retching.

I closed my eyes and went back to my thoughts. I remembered walking through the streets of Avalon, the little city there on Catalina. I remembered renting a golf cart to get around and going to some kind of party. I could see faces, most of which were laughing and very happy. The Captain, the ladies and Ike and I had been together all day. I wasn’t completely sure where I was at that very moment though. In the midst of these thoughts I heard a soft meow.

I looked down and creeping beneath the partition from the empty stall to my right was a black cat. Who the fuck let a cat into the bathroom? It came and rubbed against my side.

Side bar: I don’t like cats. I don’t dislike cats but merely prefer not to be around them. What I’m trying to say is that I mean them no malice. I don’t kick them when no one is looking, but I don’t get all mushy the way I do with a dog. They are slightly annoying and I’m perfectly happy living a catless existence.

Thus, in my most existential moment to date, when I’m not entirely sure if I’m leaving the bathroom on a stretcher, in a body bag or on my own two feet – I am being comforted by a scraggly black cat. I laughed to myself. Of course I would die next to a cat. Where the hell was Ike?

I reached down and pet the cat. I had no idea where Senor Whoever went and so this cat was my lone friend for the moment. He liked to be pet right on top of his shaggy black head. The act of petting the cat must have settled my nerves because I suddenly had a moment of clarity. I was back on The Melmoth with Desi and friends.

The Captain has just walked off to talk to or scold Biondetta for throwing the pomegranate seeds into the ocean. Someone did need to talk to these people about throwing bowls and cans into the ocean. Someone should make them donate to Surfrider. I decided to put my soap box away and just enjoy the moment.

Desi had first wrapped her arm around my waist but then quickly wrapped the rest of herself around me, sort of like in the movie ‘Alien‘ when those little slimy things would wrap around someone’s face. She seemed genetically predisposed to upright, full body cuddling. I noticed Ike, we had dropped the Moby Dick bit except for Desi who continued to call me Starbuck, was wearing Cindy in a similar fashion. Look, if a woman in a bikini wants to drape herself around me, so be it. That’s not a Jackson Panic law so much as just a general rule of thumb.

Ike was in heaven. We had chased The Melmoth almost since we left the Marina and all because of Cindy, the woman in white. Now he was standing on the deck with Cindy in his arms and a big stupid grin on his face. We were pouring flute after flute of Dom Perignon, the day was sunny and we weren’t sailing back until tomorrow afternoon. This was going to be one hell of a weekend.

Truer words were never spoken.

Ike began telling the girls about how we met. He had all the details correct, about interrupting me at the cantina, the drinks over at the pier and the late night bullshit session in the parking lot with the varying groups of people we had met throughout the night. I wondered whether he would end the story there and leave out the hookers but that motherfucker fearlessly went through the entire story, even telling the girls about phoning up escorts after I went to sleep and the resulting scene that took place in my kitchen. He was ballsy and unapologetic – that was certain. It was also the first time I heard him admit the women he called were hookers and not merely dancers.

Desi and Cindy didn’t seem to mind at all that Ike was the kind of guy who would bring over a prostitute to a stranger’s house for a little fun. In fact, they thought it was hilarious. It was hilarious but normally when you meet an attractive woman you leave out little details like your car is a piece of shit, your credit isn’t much better and occasionally you phone up a hooker and ask her to come over. Or, so I’ve been told.

I was in the middle of giving my version of the story – the one that ends with ‘did you really bring hookers to my pad’ disbelief, when Captain Alvaro returned with his overly courteous manners, smarmy smile and cigarette that now sported almost three inches of ash. He extended a crystal platter stacked with gooey, dark brownies, each of which was about two inches by two inches.

“Would anyone care for a magic brownie?”

Ike immediately brightened even more at the prospect of brownies with magical powers, but seeing as how we had all just met, I felt the need to confirm what exactly we were being offered.

“How magical are we talking, Captain?”

With this Desi leaned into my ear and whispered the word ‘kryptonite.’

“Well, since I’m not Superman – what could it hurt? How many brownies does one recommend?”

“I would recommend not having any and throwing the entire plate overboard.”

Biondetta and her icy demeanor had returned. Apparently she wasn’t happy with the two things we had thrown over the side so far and felt the need to add another. It was either that or there was something about Ike and myself which she found entirely repugnant.

“What is the deal with you wanting to throw food over the side of the boat?”

The ice in her stare turned to an apoplectic sneer.

“Personally, Jackson, I don’t care what you do but I thought I would offer you the courtesy of choosing to forgo the brownie and the resulting strange trip it is going to take you on.”

I turned back to the Captain, “Back to my original question Captain – how magical are these brownies?”

“They are as magical as the legal medicinal limits in California will allow. As to your other question, I recommend half a brownie to start.”

Ike beat me to the punch and grabbed a brownie and had bitten it in half before I had even moved. The girls, save for Biondetta, joined with equal zeal.

I looked back at Biondetta who once again had locked eyes with me and so I hesitated. Behind the outer layer of bellicosity, there was something tender to Biondetta, something earnest.

That thought was quickly lost as I grabbed a warm brownie and bit it in half. I looked at Biondetta again and she rolled her brown eyes and turned away to face the open ocean. The brownie tasted good. I love brownies and I love magic. This day was shaping up very well.

“Tell me something, Starbuck, or Jackson, as you seem to prefer – what is it you want to do with your life?”

The Captain tossed his cigarette into the water. Littering. Again. He then pulled another from the pack and offered me one. I don’t smoke.

“That’s kind of a heavy question for such a beautiful day. Don’t you think Captain?”

“It’s only as heavy as you make it.”

“Fair enough – then I’d say I really haven’t a clue.”

“Ah, so no real plan for what comes next?”

“Plan? Not really. Here’s what I know Captain. Do you remember the fable about the lazy grasshopper who just kicks back all year while the ants farm and stow away food? Then when winter hits he doesn’t have any food and we’re all supposed to learn that we have to be industrious and plan ahead. Here is what Aesop didn’t tell us – both those insects are dead within the year. An ant lives a matter of months and a grasshopper just a little bit longer. They both died and the ants probably died first. All of this we see around us ends, no matter how much we plan. So, as of right now, yeah, I don’t have much in the way of a plan but I’m still on the same course as everyone else – live for a while then croak.”

The Captain was smiling at me again through clenched teeth that were anchoring his newly lit cigarette. He then removed the cancer stick and spoke, after a pregnant pause.

“Interesting. Some might think that somewhat pessimistic.”

“On the contrary Captain – it is an open embrace of life and everything in it. I live to suck the marrow from the bones of the day.”

The Captain then burst into laughter, which quickly spread to Cindy, Desi and Ike. I raised my flute to them all.

“Here’s to life!”

We all toasted and drank and then the Captain walked over to me and poked his bony finger into my chest.

“I like you Jackson. Why don’t you finish the rest of that brownie and embrace the rest of the day?”

He didn’t have to ask me twice. Ike and I both gobbled down the remaining brownie and each took another from the tray. The girls followed suit. This was going to be a day to remember.

sailors do it wetter

There was a moment, standing there on Captain Alvaro’s boat, The Melmoth, in which Biondetta and I locked eyes. She was defiantly glaring at me, perhaps trying to ward me off by letting me know I was not welcome, but at the same time, deep within the dark brown of her eyes, there was a pleading. Was she telling me to leave or was she asking me? I didn’t have time to think about it for very long as the Captain, with his hand still on my shoulder, started pulling me along with him to the front of the boat where Ikemael and the two girls were talking.

“And here is where the party is at!”

The Captain’s bellowing voice had the tone of a circus ringleader or a pitchman for an ‘As seen on TV’ product. He definitely resembled John Waters but he had the feel of some kind of shuckster, a smooth talking gentlemen with a great offer that will only be available for a limited time. He was almost too polite and spoke with a casual formality that seemed more like a presentation and less like conversation.

Ikemael and the two girls, both of whom were now dancing to Kanye’s Gold Digger, looked over at us and smiled. Ikemael raised a flute of champagne to greet us and I saw the girls were holding similar flutes and there was a bottle of Dom Perignon off to the side. Obviously our new friends had more refined palates than the Tecate tainted ones we were sporting. Ikemael raised his right hand and the Captain gave him an enthusiastic high-five. During their exchange the other girl, not Ikemael’s new love, walked over to me and handed me a flute of champagne brimming over with bubbly.

“You look thirsty, Starbuck.”

While I gladly accepted the champagne I cringed slightly at the ‘Starbuck.’ This Moby Dick routine was getting old. As you may expect, there is another Jackson Panic law dealing with attractive women in bikinis who offer you a flute of Dom Perignon. You graciously accept while allowing her to call you whatever the hell she wants.

This new beauty, wearing only the slightest red and white striped bikini, then took my Tecate from my hand and threw it overboard. We then clinked glasses and took a deep drink of the cold champagne. It clashed momentarily with the residual Tecate lingering in my mouth but the fizzy sweetness then came through and it seemed like the perfect drink for this very moment. The bearer of my champagne was playfully smiling at me from behind the glass she held pressed against her lips.

“Thanks for the drink, but my name is not really Starbuck. It’s -”

“It is today, Starbuck. I rather like that name.”

There were strong tones of Italian in her accent. The kind that made you think you could listen to her read the dictionary and find it pretty hot. Of course, it helped that she was standing in front of me in a bikini holding a bottle of Dom Perignon and looked damn fine doing it. Fuck it – if she wanted to call me Starbuck then who was I to argue any differently?

“Okay, Starbuck it is, but I didn’t catch your name.”

“That’s because I didn’t offer it.”

With this she broke into a girlish giggle and took a pull directly from the bottle of Dom and then handed me the bottle, indicating I should do the same. I raised my glass to tell her I had enough of my own but she pushed the bottle playfully into my chest, giving me a look that told me to just do it.

“Forgive Desdemona, young Starbuck, she’s lacking a certain sense of refinement. She loves to drink fine champagne but does so like an eighteen year-old girl at a keg party.”

The Captain was flashing me his incissor-heavy smile once again, with his cigarette firmly clenched and still dangling an extraordinary amount of ash. I looked back at my new lady-friend.

“Desdemona eh? That’s not really one I come across very often.”

I then proceeded to drink directly from the bottle myself, a much bigger drink than Desdemona had.

“Well, now you’ve come across me. Or at least you will if you’re lucky.”

I admit it – I choked, literally. I coughed up champagne onto the back of my left hand that was holding my flute. My eyes watered up and I felt the champagne seeping down the wrong pipe. My current predicament wasn’t eliciting any sympathy from Desdemona though, as I heard her peals of laughter coming from beyond my now blurry vision.

“Careful Desi – you don’t want to kill our new friend with champagne.”

There was something about the way the Captain said it that I didn’t like.

“Are you okay baby?”

Desdemona, or Desi, walked over to me, still giggling, and began rubbing my face.

“Yeah, I just choked a little.”

“Here, I’m sorry for making you choke.”

With that she gave me a quick kiss on the lips. I would have been more grateful had I not still felt the need to cough and were my eyes not still watering, but the kiss was a nice gesture. She remained close to me as I blinked and sniffled a few times.

“I guess I’m not good at holding my liquor.”

“So what are you good at holding?”

It seemed like everything she said was purred forward bursting with double entendre.

“Ah, well, certainly not my own since you definitely got the better of me just then.”

“I’ll let you in on a little secret, Starbuck. I’m going to get the better of you every time. I always end up on top.”

So there I am, a foot away from an attractive woman in a bikini who is feeding me champagne and throwing me lines that carry naughty little promises of promiscuity and the whole thing is playing out next to a group of people who have stopped their conversation and are clearly eavesdropping on ours. I looked past Desi and saw Ikemael, the Captain and the other girl staring at us.

“Do you guys need to be alone? I can take the Captain and Cindy back to our boat if you’d like.”

I couldn’t do anything but blush. The happy threesome was over there laughing and Desi was amused as well and I felt like an awkward asshole unsure of what to say, which doesn’t happen all that often. Desi broke up the stilted moment on my behalf by bending over and picking up a bowl that was sitting off to the side.

“Would you like some pomegranate seeds to go with your champagne? They’re the perfect complement.”

I am not a huge fan of pomegranate seeds but I was just fucking thankful that we might direct the attention to something else besides my choking on Desi’s flirtations. As I was reaching for the bowl, a hand reached past me from behind, grabbing the bowl. I turned around to see Biondetta throwing the bowl overboard. What is it with these people just throwing things into the water?

Biondetta icily glared at me again, “Those things are nasty.”

“Biondetta! What on earth are you doing?”

The Captain’s voice sounded shrill this time and tinged with an unexpected anger. Biondetta wasn’t looking at anyone other than me.

“Believe me, you didn’t want any.”

“I guess I will take your word on that.”

She then turned and walked back to where she had been sunning herself. I pivoted back towards the group and gave them the universal ‘what the fuck’ look. Our three new friends looked very agitated but Ikemael was his usual self, bordering on cackling.

“What the hell was that?”

The Captain looked at Ikemael and smiled a close-lipped smile, excused himself and walked back to Biondetta, leaving me and Ikemael alone with the girls. Cindy, the one person I had not yet met, then extended her hand.

“Hi, I’m Cindy.”

Whereas Desi was clearly from another country and Biondetta and the Captain also seemed foreign, Cindy was without a doubt an American girl. She was tanned, blonde and lacking the subtle beauty of the other two – less mystery but more breasts. I shook her hand and introduced myself.

“So where you girls from?”

Ikemael then slapped me on the back and laughed.

“Good luck with that one brother. I’ve been trying to get that out of them for ten minutes!”

I felt Desi’s arm slink its way around my waist. Quite frankly I didn’t care where they were from at this point, though in hindsight I probably should have. Regardless, when you’re standing on a gorgeous sailboat drinking Dom Perignon and an attractive woman in a bikini has her arm around you – you don’t ask too many questions. That’s a Jackson Panic law.

So how did I get from that point, a virtually perfect one, to hovering over a toilet, sweating bullets and hoping I didn’t die?

the mysteries of catalina island

I stood on the deck of our sailboat and took a long swig of the cold Tecate in my hand. The short trip from the Marina to Catalina had been an interesting mix of quiet introspection with a touch of lost-at-sea panic, but now we were anchored just off the island, next to the boat Ikemael had been chasing since we left port. The boat with the smiley face flag and the woman in white was blaring Jay-Z from its stereo and the two ladies were still dancing near the mast. Ikemael was now seated in the dinghy looking up at me, waiting for me to join him. He wasn’t impatient though. He seemed cool with allowing me to take in the moment and the scenery around us. The sky was now a brilliant shade of blue contrasted against the deeper blue-greens of the water around the island. The sun cut through the clouds that had both led and chased us for a spell on the water and the day was shaping up to be perfection.

I looked down at my fellow sailor in the dinghy, “Shall we?”

Ikemael smiled back at me beatifically. He was thrilled I was enjoying the moment as much as he was. For all the bullshit chaos that kid caused, he was genuinely interested in the people around him being happy and it multiplied his own happiness in some symbiotic fashion. I made a quick run below deck to fetch another couple of Tecates with lime. I have a fondness for Tecate dating back to college but can’t take them without a lime. It’s simply uncivilized.

The hamster smiled a stoned-out smile at me as I passed him and I acknowledged him with a quick nod. I wasn’t entirely keen on spending much time with the rodent brothers and I didn’t feel compelled to invite the Hamster along. Pinky was still face down on the table in the galley but I was fairly certain I heard him breathing when I took the beers out of the cooler and so I just let him be.

I couldn’t help feeling like some sort of swashbuckling pirate as we cruised over to the girls’ boat in our dinghy. It felt like we were a boarding party of buccaneers getting ready to raid the ship anchored ahead of us, but instead of swords and guns we had Tecate with lime. Suddenly I wished we had brought along a few extras; we might need them to pacify the crew of the ship we were about to board.

The water was still pretty glassy with just a hint of chop and the dinghy covered the 100 or so feet quickly, abruptly ending my lame pirate fantasies. As we approached the rear of the smiley-face ship, Ikemael stood up and waved. He then bellowed out a salty, “Ahoy!”

Jay-Z was still blasting loudly and the girls dancing on the mast, one of them being Ikemael’s white whale, went on dancing, oblivious to us. Ikemael shouted ‘Ahoy’ again but was drowned out by ‘99 Problems.’ Our only problem at this point was being heard.

We pulled up right behind the smiley-faced ship, bumping up slightly against the back. Ikemael looked at me, momentarily at a loss as to what to do. I offered nothing but a shrug and downed another swig of Tecate. As far as I could tell, there were a lot of other ships in the sea and one of those was bound to have attractive women so I wasn’t nearly as invested in the present situation as was Ikemael.

We were on the verge of pulling around to the front of the boat when a head popped up over the side of the ship.

“Are you gentlemen looking to board us?”

Staring down at us from the deck of the ship was a man somewhere in the range of 60. He was food-deprived skinny, with an almost skull-like face and thinning black hair that was for the moment covered by a white captain’s hat. The most interesting feature on his chiseled face was the pencil thin mustache adorning his top lip, officially completing his look of John Waters the sailor.

Ikemael looked back at me, apparently as surprised as I was by the bony apparition above us. He raised his eyebrows at me as I finished my Tecate, then he collected himself and addressed the captain.

“Aye captain. We mean to board your vessel.”

The old captain grinned and an equally bony hand raised a cigarette to his lips. Through his brilliantly white incisors, he welcomed us aboard, lowering a ladder from the rear deck. Ikemael leaped out of our dinghy and onto the platform, handing the captain a rope to tie us off. He was shaking hands with the captain as I awkwardly climbed aboard the ship with my freshly opened Tecate in my left hand and Ikemael’s unopened one in my right.

As I stood up I found myself face to face with the captain and his cigarette carting smile.

“And he comes bearing gifts! You’re not Greek are you? Where’s your horse?”

I cocked my head and flashed an uncertain smile at the captain. I had no fucking idea what the old man was talking about but he didn’t seem to care. I extended my hand for a shake, still holding Ikemael’s beer, and the captain immediately grasped my hand with both of his skeletal claws, taking Ikemael’s Tecate in the process.

“You must be Starbuck. My name is Captain Alvaro, but you can call me Captain for short and this is my ship, The Melmoth. Welcome!”

He shook my hand vigorously and smiled through clenched teeth from which dangled his long, slender cigarette bearing an alarmingly large load of ash. Ikemael had already made his way up to the front of the boat, effectively leaving me alone with the peculiar captain.

“Ishmael tells me that’s your boat over there with the little round man on it.”

I looked back toward our ship and saw the Hamster standing on the deck, smoking his glass pipe and staring at us.

“Yeah – at least, that’s the boat we rented. You own this boat you say?”

“Yes, she is entirely mine. Whenever the sirens of the sea call to me, I sail out into the blue until there is water, water everywhere.”

His smile flayed his face once again, curling up into his jutting cheeks bones and giving a squint to his eyes. His cigarette continued to threaten to loose its ash everywhere but he paid it no mind whatsoever. He also paid no heed to personal space, as he was standing less than a foot away from me with his precarious cancer stick in my face.

Something suddenly hit me.

“Did you say your boat is named The Melmoth?”

His smile became a little more intense,”Yes it is.”

“As in Melmoth the Wanderer?”

His teeth clenched harder on the cigarette, nearly biting the damn thing in half. I had never seen such a large smile open up across someone’s face before.

“Ahh, you’ve read it I take it.”

I nodded slowly, fascinated now by the cigarette and its gravity defying ash.

“Yes, that’s an interesting name, captain. A little dark maybe?”

“So it is.” At this he paused and sized me up before continuing, “I’m delighted you and Ishmael came aboard. Are you hungry?”

I looked up to the front of the boat and saw that Ikemael was now talking to the woman in white, actually she was wearing a the polka-dotted bikini now, while the other girl was still dancing around the mast. The third woman was seated a few feet away from us in a large, white sun hat. She was wearing a black bikini and was rubbing oil on her long legs, the right which bore a tattoo of a pin-up girl angel. Her dark hair was pulled back but I couldn’t see her face because of her hat.

“Or perhaps you would like to meet the rest of our party?”

I returned my attention to the captain who was still oddly smiling at me and nodded. We walked over to the woman in the black bikini, who took no notice of us at all. She continue rubbing oil on her legs.

“Biondetta my dear, where are your manners?”

The woman continued about her business, ignoring me and the captain’s question.

“Biondetta! Please say hello to our guest, the young Starbuck from across the way.”

This time she looked up at me and gave me the curtest of smiles. The captain extended his hand, indicating I was to walk up to the front of the boat where everyone else was. As we were walking away Biondetta spoke again.

“Did you think you could just come over here uninvited?”

I was sort of startled by the abrupt tone in her voice. The entire situation was off. The captain was a very odd man and Biondetta was just rude. I turned around to look at her and was taken back by how exotically beautiful she was. She had fine features and a long slender nose with cat-like, seductive dark brown eyes on either side. Her skin was flawless and her lips pouted ever so slightly into a tempting bow.

“I believe we did just that.”

The captain put his hand on my shoulder. A plume of cigarette smoke wrapped around my head.

“Well said, young Starbuck. Ignore Biondetta – she is grouchy if woken before noon.”

I knew at that moment that I was in more trouble than I ever would have anticipated. I looked back toward our boat and suddenly it seemed very far away.

Ishmael and Starbuck, no the other Starbuck

After discovering that the two captains who were sailing our ship into the harbor at Avalon on Catalina Island were both incapacitated and face down on the table, I popped back up above deck with great alarm. Ike was still staring off at the other ship ahead of us, which was much closer now and in my tenderfoot opinion was threatening to be too close very soon. I called to him a few times, trying to control the mounting fear that was permeating through my vocal cords, but he either couldn’t hear me or was more likely ignoring me.

I walked around the right side of the cabin, along the narrow walkway of the deck leading to the front of the boat where Ike was sitting. I could pretend at this point that I had deftly acquired all the starboard and port terminology in the first thirty minutes of this story but that would be a lie. Thus, I’ll continue with front, right and whatever land loving layman term pops up in my non-sailor vocabulary.

“Ike!”

He was sitting motionless with his back to me but let loose another, “Call me Ishmael,” which was completely tone deaf to the residual fear evident in my voice.

“For fuck’s sake – Ismael, our beloved captains appear passed out below deck!”

I now have Ishmael, or Ikemael at this point, at full attention. He turned with a nonplussed look on his face, his brow scrunching slightly in pensive consideration.

“I guess you would be Starbuck.”

This wasn’t at all what I was expecting or really hoping he would say but it effectively threw me off my immediate course. Due to an obsession with the recently revamped Battlestar Galactica, I had completely forgotten that Starbuck was originally one of Melville’s seamen, a mate on the ship that was hunting Moby Dick. Upon hearing the name, I immediately thought of the ridiculously hot Katee Sackhoff from the Battlestar show and wondered why Ikemael was now mixing his stories. It took a moment of consideration for me to connect the dots and stop thinking of Katee before I remembered the Moby Dick connection. Actually, I kept thinking of Katee but managed to think of other things as well.

Another side note, gender studies indicate that women are likely better at multi-tasking than are their testosterone fueled counterparts. My own anecdotal evidence seems to suggest this is true, except for one area – sex. Men can be thinking about sex while doing any number of things. We might be running a country, ala Berlusconi or Clinton, we could be an artist like Currin or we can be average Joes, dangerously close to being lost at sea and slightly worried about our survival yet still titillated by the thought of Katee Sackhoff. I’m not saying women don’t also think about sex while going about their business of running countries, creating art or being average Janes. I’m merely saying that those of us with penises are doing it all the time. That might be the reason we struggle with multi-tasking – we’re already doing it all the time.

But I digress…Ikemael had just called me Starbuck.

I can only answer him in the half-hearted voice of a confused and panicked man, “Uh, yeah – maybe I’m Starbuck but I’m pretty much at the end of what I remember from the book. However, we have larger problems.”

“Yeah, I heard you. The rodent boys are sleeping?”

“Sleeping, passed out – maybe dead. I didn’t stop to check since I figured it was more important to find someone to share my panic first.”

Ikemael smiled at me, “Well, Starbuck, looks like you and me might be sailing this here ship to Catalina.”

“We don’t know how to sail.”

“No, Starbuck, you don’t know how to sail.”

With that, he walked past me back toward the cabin and disappeared below. I followed a few seconds behind. When I went below I found that the hamster was awake, just stoned out of his goddamn mind. Pinky still appeared asleep but was breathing. I had no idea what the two had loaded themselves up with, but judging by the cornucopia of vials, bags and jars scattered about – it was a smorgasbord of narcotics.

Ikemael was propping Hamster up and gave him a solid slap across the face.

“All we have to do, young Starbuck, is get our cheese eating friend here lucid enough to give us the vaguest of directions. I used to sail some back home and so I think we’ll have just enough to get us into port safely.”

We were now effectively at sea. The marina had mostly disappeared behind us and Catalina, in my landlubber eyes, loomed in the distance like the island in King Kong. The smooth sailing now took on an ominous whisper of foreboding and the clouds that were being pushed by the same wind that had filled our sails were gathering around us in dark cumulonastiness.

While Ikemael was filling a glass of water to throw into the hamster’s foggy face, I slipped on the black Patagonia fleece that had seen me through adventures from the Badlands of the Dakotas to across the world in Turkey. I’d stared down mountain lions and muggers in this jacket and felt it must bring a touch of luck.

After a couple of glasses of water to the face, the hamster was able to slur out instructions and confirm our questions. Turned out, Ishmael was more of a sailor than he originally let on. With an occasional fact check against the hamster he was able to keep us on course and avoid the large barges. I saw that the boat with the woman in white had put up some kind of yellow flag with a happy face on it. Ikemael continued to keep an eye on the other vessel and even revised our course once to stay near it. Ikemael was nothing if not singular in focus at any given moment. Yet another example of male multi-tasking while focused on sex.

As we approached Avalon, we radioed the harbor patrol and were told there were no moorings available and that we would have to anchor off the island near the old casino. That sent a brief look of concern flashing across Ikemael’s face and a prolonged stare to the other ship. Then he looked back to me.

“Anchoring is harder than it looks but we should manage. We will probably lose the ship with the She-devil though.”

It struck me that he was more concerned for the girl than the anchoring part of that equation but that was Ikemael’s way. Pinky was now sound asleep below and the hamster was staring vacantly into space and smiling at me from behind the mists within his mind.

We approached the casino and circled around some other boats already anchored. We found a suitable clearing and dropped our anchor. We repeated this unsuccessfully several times. Each time the anchor was not secure and we would begin to drift. Ikemael was growing frustrated and decided we needed to move to a better spot that might make anchoring a little easier. We motored slowly into a more crowded area with a flotilla of white boats. We were spaced about 30 yards from another ship near us when Ikemael noticed first their yellow happy face flag and then the woman in white.

Ikemael dropped the anchor without looking down, his eyes wrapped around his white whale. From their boat we could hear music starting to play. One of the other female passengers began to pole dance around the mast of their boat. She was dipping and grinding and slapping her ass while the woman in white watched and laughed. Then, Ikemael’s white whale began to strip down, revealing a little polka dot bikini. She joined her friend and the two put on a show right there in the middle of the water.

With a brilliant stroke of luck, we found ourselves securely anchored and within shouting distance of the boat next to us that had females dancing like strippers at sea on the deck. The clouds had cleared and the sun was blazing down in full flesh welcoming glory. The girls next door obliged. The hamster gawked at the dancers for a while before looking back at me and saying the first thing of the day we didn’t have to beat out of him.

“Sweet.”

He was right. It was sweet. I went down below to crack open my first Tecate of the day. When I returned topside, I found Ikemael lowering our dinghy into the water. He looked up at me with a grin, “How do you feel about boarding their ship?”

I knew our adventure was just beginning.

of mice and seamen

A lot of random invites come my way. It has something to do with the fact that most people know I’m down for whatever adventure is at hand and then also because at some point I made a concerted decision to befriend interesting characters: the artful dodgers and rapscallion bourgeoisie of the new millennium. It’s my own assorted, and at times sordid, menagerie of misfits. This crowd can be trying at times but I much prefer the antics of people who frequent Burning Man versus the crowd who plans their next trip around golf.

This isn’t to say the antics are limited to the bohemian or the aspirations of an ever decreasing middle-class. So when Ike phones me up and asks if I want to sail a 27′ sailboat out to Catalina Island, I don’t bat an eye. Of course this is something we would do.

During one of his min-sabbaticals, which most of us would refer to as a bender, he met up with the living embodiment of Pinky and the Brain. These were two guys, one of whom had the amorphous stature of the hamster you kept in a cage growing up, with beady eyes hovering over a cheese-eating grin that flashed mostly incisors. The other was a tall and lean 30-something with a constant smile whose goofy amiability compensated for his lack of mental prowess. The hamster played the role of Brain even though he wasn’t all that brainy. He was however the alpha male of the duo and called the shots. Ike invited me to meet up with the three of them over in Venice at a place called The Brig.

The three of these knuckleheads hatched a plan one night to rent a sailboat and sail out to Catalina. The next morning one of them called and made a deposit. Now they wanted one more crew member and Ike chose me. With the glassy red eyes I saw in Pinky and the hamster, I gathered they were rarely not high. They seemed to be a classic wake-and-bake duo who performed whatever task they needed to perform satisfactorily under a haze of cannabis. These were the two guys Ike had chosen to sail out to sea with.

We had a few drinks and discussed the trip and the rodent duo threw out enough nautical references to make me feel they at least had a passing knowledge of ships and sailing. I had never set foot aboard a sailboat before. I had been to a couple of yacht parties once while dating a gal whose ex-boyfriend sold yachts, but those were docked and were definitely not sailboats. My understanding was that sailing required much more knowledge and activity than a motor powered vessel. I agreed over drinks that night to sail with these boys but the lack of confidence in my confirmation was a telling sign for Ike. He followed me out to the parking lot when I was leaving.

“Hey sport – you don’t sound like you want to be a part of this venture.”

“Look – it sounds fun but when was the last time those two were sober?”

“I have no idea.”

“Exactly. I’m not certain I want to head out into the Pacific Ocean with a couple of guys who may be stoned and may not have a clue what they’re doing.”

Ike looked a little stunned that my confidence in the rodents was flagging.

“They know how to sail and they’ll be right as rain when we set out. Besides, it’s just Catalina. People go back and forth to there all the time. People even swim it.”

“It’s still the goddamn ocean Ike and we’ll still be on a ship we could crash at any point. I know jackshit about sailing so I would be totally reliant on those two to get us to the island safely and quite frankly they don’t inspire a lot of confidence.”

“Do you trust me sport?”

“No, not even as far as I can throw you.”

“Good – then we head out Saturday morning.”

Ike knew I couldn’t let a chance to do something like this pass me by. Sure, I had little confidence in the rodents and less in Ike, but there was a good chance we would survive this adventure unharmed and so I was in. Even when I wasn’t sure if I was in, I was in.

The plan was to head out at dawn on Saturday morning in order to have as much time as possible to relax and explore the island once we docked. I met the crew at the marina shortly after 5am on Saturday. The rodents appeared fairly sober as we shook hands and loaded supplies on the boat. The thought of a day of sailing was pretty exciting to me and my hopes were high for the day. Once loaded, we backed out of our slip and motored slowly out of the marina, careful not to cause a wake. The hamster disappeared below deck to chart our course to the island, which didn’t appear all that difficult. Before I knew it I was helping hoist something and then unfurl something else and we were sailing. I had never dreamed it would be so easy.

Ike and I were sitting at the front of the boat, slightly chilled by the cool of the morning and the mist of ocean waves slapping against the stern of our boat. I had a piping hot cup of coffee topped with a shot of espresso and Ike was sipping coffee cut with Bailey’s. The water was glassy and we were gliding across the ocean pushed gently by a tailwind that promised to take us right to the island. The skies were clear above us with a few clouds lurking ahead but the winds seemed to be pushing them along as well and so it was literally smooth sailing as far as I could tell.

Ike is a great guy to be silent with. He never feels the need to fill the intermittent moments of conversation with a comment or a thought. I was enjoying my coffee and the casual rhythm of a mild ebb and flow of water underneath us. Off to our right I could see another ship headed in the same direction. I could make out a few people walking around the deck but we were still too far to take in any details. We had been cruising along for a bit when I looked back to see what the rodents were up to but I didn’t see them anywhere up top. Ike was staring at the boat in the distance through his wayfarers, wrapped up in University of Southern Carolina hoodie.

“Where do you think Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum went?”

Ike didn’t answer me. He looked to have a visual lock on the other ship.

“Ike.”

Still no response.

“Ike!”

He turned to look at me, his face masked in serious countenance.

“Call me Ishmael.”

He then pointed to the ship ahead, which was still off to our right, running parallel to us. As far as I could tell, we would soon pass them. At this point they were about 60 yards off and I could make out the people aboard more clearly. There were three women and a man standing on the deck of a ship that appeared slightly larger than ours. One of the women was clad all in white and was staring in our direction.

“Right. So, Ishmael, you’re checking out the woman in white?”

“Oh she’s not a woman, she’s the devil herself.”

“Now you’re going to have to make a choice. You can’t be both Ahab and Ishmael.”

Ike was pleased I was following along with this gambit.

“We’re going to have to talk to her.”

I looked back toward the other ship. The woman appeared the way almost any woman would at 60 yards – good from afar. I looked back at Ike who was locked on her again.

“Maybe your eyes are better than mine, brother. I can’t say whether we should.”

“Oh we definitely should, sport. We definitely should.”

“Ok. Back to my original question – where did our captains go?”

Ike looked back over the ship and replied, “They must have gone below.”

I decided to walk back and check on our mousy leaders. I ducked down the ladder into the galley. Pinky and the Hamster were sitting around a fold out table there in the galley, face down on the table. There was a smoking pipe sitting loosely in Pinky’s left hand. These two brainiacs were unconscious and our boat was being pushed by the wind toward an island with no one to steer us.

Oh, and Ike was acting really weird.