In which Chicken Sheets gets drunk and goes sailing before having to help Citizen Jim row a stolen boat back to “the mainland.” (BONUS: Night Sailing Playlist included at the end of the story!)
On Saturday evening my friend Cynthia invited me over to play Rummikub with her and her family.
Then she insisted I bring wine.
When I sent her a text asking what kind of wine she wanted, she texted back: “Doesn’t matter as long as the bottle is HUGE!!!!”
Luckily the Walgreens a block from my house had HUGE bottles of wine on sale, and so I got the hugest bottle I could find, a brand I’d never heard of called Octogrape. (The label featured a purple octopus wearing an eyepatch and grasping various types of drinks in each rainbow-colored tentacle–a high ball, a martini, a flute of champagne, a beer stein, as well as a few unidentified bottles in paper bags–so I figured it was probably going to be very good.)
Everything was going fine at Cynthia’s until I realized I was drunk and that she hadn’t touched her glass of Octogrape. By the time she announced that we’d been invited to go sailing I was up for anything.
(I know, I know! It was 10:00! At night! What was I thinking?)
She drove us to the pier in Fairhope where her friend Skeevy lived on a boat called the Gal Thruster. She’d told me about Skeevy, and I let her know it concerned me that a man who hasn’t been sober since 1997 was going to be piloting us through Mobile Bay so late at night.
“Oh, he’s not driving the boat. His friend Stoner is,” she said.
I must have had a horrified look on my face, because she immediately said, “Don’t worry! They just call him Stoner because he gets arrested every so often for throwing rocks through some of the shop windows downtown.”
“Why does he do that?” I asked.
“He says the ladies who work in the dress shops are always giving him dirty looks when he walks by but doesn’t go in to browse,” Cynthia said.
I guess the wine was really starting to do its work, because I smiled when she said this. “Yeah, I guess I’d throw rocks at them, too.”
Full disclosure: I continued working on the Octogrape since Cynthia insisted on pouring more than half of that huge bottle into a giant thermos before we left for the pier. She still hadn’t had so much as a sip of it.
The next thing I remember I awakened on something they kept referring to as “the deck” with an old song called “Sausalito Summernight” blasting from somewhere inside the boat.
I could barely recall where I was, until I heard the sound of water slapping the sides of the boat while a strong wind filled my nose with the unholy stench of the sea. The rocking motion was a little disconcerting, but not as disconcerting as the sight of the guy who was supposed to be the captain of our expedition: he was passed out a few feet away from me with his legs hanging over the front end of the boat (I think that’s called the brow, probably because it’s curved like an eyebrow).
I crawled across the deck, my fingers losing their purchase on the wet, pebbled plastic of the gunsale, until I could grasp the broom and pull myself upright. (The weird thing is, it wasn’t a broom; it was just a metal pole with a big white sheet attached to it.)
“I think Stoner’s dead!” I yelled as I scrambled to flee what might turn out to be a crime scene. I couldn’t get the sinister loop of “Night Boat” by Duran Duran out of my mind when I thought of Stoner’s head lolling back and forth as the ship dipped and rose on the waves.
“Nah, he’s just stoned,” said Skeevy when I finally reached him and Cynthia.
“I thought you said he got that nickname from busting dress shop windows with rocks?” I said to Cynthia.
She shrugged. “He did. But he’s also a bit of a pothead,” she said.
Now “Good Morning Judge” by 10CC rolled out from a pair of speakers under the seats where Cynthia and Skeevy sat lounging around on the sternum, which is the rear of the boat; I’d always thought sternum only referred to a part of the human body, but I guess the language of seafaring has its own weird logic.
“Who’s in charge of the music?” I asked.
Cynthia threw a thumb to the right of her. At some point during the gap in my memory of the evening another person had joined our crew, a burly youngster with a red Viking beard and a man-bun popping out from the back of his head. He was called Bjorn or Leif or Erik or something.
I didn’t really have time to be formally introduced before Skeevy said, “What in the goddamn holy fuck is THAT?”
He pointed in the “starbuck” direction (which, I found out, is the opposite of the “porn” direction: nautical terms are very confusing but also very funny), where there was a great commotion coming from a small boat with a single passenger. Whoever it was seemed to be frantically maneuvering the oars in such a way that the boat just kept going in circles.
We watched that for a while, wondering who could be so stupid. “Ahoy, mother fucker! Identify yourself!” shouted Skeevy.
The oars quit beating at the water before a voice came from the hapless rower. “You don’t need to know who I am, you ruthless cutthroats! You need to release the prisoner you’re holding named Chicken Sheets so she can help me get back to the mainland!” a man’s voice shouted as the little boat floated closer to where we sat in the water.
“Shiver me timbers!” I said, then yelled, “Precious Lamb, what are you doing out in the middle of the bay this time of night?”
“Quit asking stupid questions and throw yourself overboard right now!” he yelled. “I can’t sit here all night listening to that deep-cut yacht rock bullshit! You know I hate Climax Blues Band! Next to Chicken Lips, they’re the worst band to ever come out of Staffordshire!”
I was suddenly very sober, and very worried about Citizen Jim. “I better get onto Citizen Jim’s boat,” I said. “He’ll never see dry land again if I don’t.”
Skeevy nodded, his captain’s hat turned backward on his head. He had a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth and a can of beer in each hand. “We might all need to pile into that fuckin dinghy,” he said. “I can’t find the goddamn light I need to help guide me back into my fuckin boatslip, and Stoner’s still passed out–sonuvabitch can’t watch for goddamn pylons if he’s passed out. Good chance we’ll sink before we get docked back at the pier.”
“You better hurry up or I’m gonna leave your ass out here in the middle of the ocean!” shouted Citizen Jim.
“Does he really think we’re in the ocean?” Cynthia asked.
“I think he does,” I said. I sighed, looking at poor Citizen Jim out there in his little row boat. I was afraid if I didn’t join him he’d start firing a flare gun or something. I was no longer drunk enough to deal with the Coast Guard on top of Citizen Jim on this night.
“Stimpy!” Citizen Jim shouted. “We have got to get this boat back before the family I stole it from finishes using the public restrooms on the pier.”
I lifted my arms above my head, flexing my toes on the edge of the boat, trying to brace myself for hitting the water. I hoped Citizen Jim wouldn’t clock me on the head with one of the oars he was holding as soon as I got close to his boat.
The universe answered my concerns when Skeevy’s sound system pumped out the first strains of “Life of Illusion” by Joe Walsh as I dove into the bay.