If you live on an island, you better have a boat. That’s not just my opinion. I’d say it is pretty much a fact. But not everyone subscribes to my way of thinking, as I found out recently on a little misadventure in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Sometimes islands just sprout up in places where there was no land before,” said Quandry Jones, a man on a deep sea fishing boat for the first time whose first two names sound more like a dilemma than two thirds of a moniker.
“Look yonder!” yells a man who couldn’t have been more than 4 feet tall, but dragged a mustache that seemed 5 feet long.
He was pointing to a scraggly, treeless stump of land poking up into the lead gray February sky off to our left. I don’t know if that is starbord or leeward or heyworth. I paid good money to a man whose job it is to know that boatiferous language. And if you’re an English teacher, yes, I made up that word over there. When I get to a place where I need a word, but don’t have one, I make my own. I learned that in shop class.
Anyway, back to stumpy island. It had to be the only land between Destin and Mexico, at least to my limited knowledge of geography, especially geography that might change while you’re adjusting your bait and maneuvering your pole and wondering if you’re the only sober man on what could be described as a boat if you were a refugee fleeing a small island like the one we were chopping towards. The goal of the rusty and dented vessel and its captain, a horribly sunburned man named LaMoose from Canada, was to extract at least 40% more money from us than the cost of beer, gas and the boat payment.
The closer we got, the scragglier the island seemed. Right on the edge leaning towards us was a whiplash tree, or so I thought until it became the shape of a bearded man flailing his arms and screaming words that the fine folks at MoonPie would rather I not use on their corporate nickel.
“That feller right there is crazy,” said a mechanic from Georgia, one of our paying passengers and a terrible fisherman, despite his incessant lying about his skills. “Look at his face. That’s the face of a mad man.”
He should know. His face fit the same description.
Squinting to see the skinny man, it occurred to me that he looked just like Lyndon Johnson, the former President of the United States, if LBJ had lived long enough to pretend to be one of the Z’s in ZZ Top. Lyndon, as I was already calling him in my head, was presumably in trouble and totally alone on an island the size of a couple of 18-wheelers. The whole scene was surreal, like those album covers from the early 1970’s. LaMoose picked him up and he drank 4 bottles of water almost without taking a breath in between. I gave him a box of chocolate MoonPies and he ate every one of them in about two minutes.
He said his name was Conjunctivitis. We all stopped and looked at each other.
“You know that means pink eye, don’t you?” said Quandry Jones. “Very contagious situation, son.”
“Should have left him on the island,” said the mechanic from Georgia. ‘I’ve caught enough stuff in my life. I don’t need no conjunctivitis. Pink eye either.”
LaMoose questioned him. “Why are you on an island that doesn’t exist?”
“Drug dealers took my boat and throwed me in the water and left me to die,” said Conjunctivitis. “I’ve been here for 6 days, I think. Lost track. Bad storm last night. Nearly drowned. That island won’t be here in a week. It’ll peter our under the waves, guaranteed.”
“Drug dealers left you here?” said the Georgia mechanic.
“No,” said the stranded man through parched and swollen lips. “They left me out yonder in the water. I swam over here.”
“What is your profession?” asked Quandry Jones, sounding weirdly formal and professional himself, a dialect that did not fit anything I had seen him do or say since getting on the boat.
“I was a drug dealer too,” said Conjunctivitis. “But I stopped.”
“When?” asked LaMoose.
“When they chunked me overboard and a big old fish down there gave me the Jonah lookover,” said Conjunctivitis. “Figured I was swallowed for sure. Then I saw that ugly island and it saved my life.”
The whole story sounded fishy. The more I thought about Jonah going back to Ninevah to tell his swallowed-by-a-big-fish story, however, I figured that would be much harder to believe. It was a quandary, just like Mr. Jones on our boat.
We headed back in since we were all fished out and a little nervous. LaMoose called the Coast Guard and gave them the details of what happened. They were waiting at the dock when we got back and they had a whole different story.
Seems Conjunctivitis was no drug dealer. He was just a runaway husband from Panama City. His name was Lownardo, a name that was almost, but not quite as strange as Conjunctivitis, which he’d just made up after seeing a medicine bottle wash up on the beach of his temporary island. Worse, Lownardo’s scorned wife was waiting there too. As I left heading back to my truck, she was calling him names that made both Conjunctivitis and Lownardo seem downright respectable and normal.
As of this writing, I still don’t know how he ended up out there in a place that probably won’t even be a place in two weeks, but I imagine he wishes he were back on that nasty little clump of salty peace.