A long travel day. A missed connection in Ft. Myers with a former Army diver who served in Vietnam, before Frenchy knew him. So Frenchy tells his best story about W -- instead as we head north:
“We were both in the same dive company, and the weekend was coming up, and W -- asked me if I wanted to go diving over the weekend, and I said, Sure, man, why not. Someone picked me up at the dive section. We were taking a van, and we drove over to W—’s house. And he and his wife were having a bit of a tiff over the whole nine yards…. Anyway, W— picked up his gear and started down the sidewalk, and the upstairs window flew open, and all of W—‘s clothes came flying out of it. And he calmly put his dive gear into the van, and walked back into the house…and another argument ensued. And he came back out, and we went diving. I never did ask him if she went down there and picked up his clothes, or maybe he did it, I don’t know. But, yeah, his wife was a piece of work.”
The other thing to know about W—is that in Vietnam they’d been partying/jumping/diving off a crane into the water for fun all morning:
“They were cooking out on the beach, they had lobster, nobody else was taking them, they were easy to catch, and some of the Red Cross women had come over. W— got up there later that afternoon, everybody was drunk by then. W—went climbing up the crane derrick, and everybody was hollering at him, No, no! Don’t do that, the tide went out, not enough water there! W— proceeded to do a swan dive off the crane derrick and planted his head into a coral head. And a whole bunch of guys jumped into the water and pulled him out and poured a whole bottle of liquor on his face, where he was all cut up. Took him to a doctor who put him in a neck brace, which probably wasn’t necessary, because he said he couldn’t move his head anyway. If anybody said anything to him, he had to turn his whole body. And he’s still got a Cro-Magnon lump on his forehead. But: Divers will be divers. And that’s how I got him to tell me that story. I kept saying: What the hell did you do to your head?”
“What was that other guy’s name? D—H—. And he would do just about anything on a bet. So it’s little wonder he was covered in boils. But one particular boil was giving him a hard time, and one of the divers on the barge said, I can fix that, just take a coin and put it over the boil, soak a cotton ball in some alcohol, light the cotton ball on fire and put a wide-mouth jar over it, and when the air inside the jar cools, it’ll pull the head out of that boil. So they did. Of course I guess the coin didn’t cool off as fast as they thought it would, but that boil exploded inside there, and of course the coin went flying upside down, and the heated part landed on D—‘s skin. [Laughs.] Yeah. They only did that once. Wonder why.”
Random thoughts on the drive. Lunch in Ybor City, the night in Tallahassee.
If a group of people were particularly down and out, and one of them pulled his civilian commodore’s jacket from his hometown yacht club out of his suitcase, they could all be feted at the local yacht club. Some yacht clubs more…humble…than others, and easy to be a commodore, but evidently some mutual agreement among commodores, equality, no matter their origins.
A handled “mug-o-rita” at the Ybor City restaurant, like something from a 7-11 that would hold two gallons of fluid. One of their frozen drinks called the Faceplant. Names for a strip club with a mermaid theme. The Mermaid’s Cloaca. The Mermaid’s Tail. The Mature Mermaid, The Big Mermaid, The Buxom Mermaid. The Scaly Nipple. And bars: Bottom Dwellers. Denizens of the Deep. Scumsuckers.
Magic as a motif: Synchronicity, Harry Potter, Randy Cox’s belief that the universe employs scenery techs to move things around just beyond his vision (and often screwing up or re-using the scenery in a sloppy fashion), the BP monster of the abyss, the mysterious radio voice calling them in from sea to Shittown, God Himself as narrator (whom they try to outwit, even as he tries to wrap up the story multiple times). And weaving this motif with those of fatherhood, relationships, aging, diving, the environment, the Gulf in all its connotations.
Is the term “divers dying of nostalgia” as a euphemism for nitrogen narcosis specifically a Gabriel Garcia Marquez phrase, or more generally used?
A guy with Florida State plates, who’d been tailgating me, races around and cuts me off. Frenchy calls him a Yankee bastard. My confusion: I wonder if I am the Yankee bastard. Then Frenchy calls him a goddamned protestant. Then: local yokel!—Frenchy channeling his father driving home from church in about 1952. A car with an Arkansas plate: Goddamned cowboys! Frenchy cries.