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Friday, April 13, 2012

Diving for Dollars

Hola my friends and readers from around the world! Seventeen countries represented now... isn't the ability to communicate globally just awesome!

My work on the Mensa Annual Gathering in Reno is sucking up my free time like a super sponge and I find myself scrambling to do things to keep my sanity. Thus the photograph postings on Facebook in the evenings when the e-mail traffic slows down. I can't concentrate long enough to write with the frequent interruptions, but I can sneak in a moment here and there for pics.

The weather forecast has gotten really confused for beautiful downtown Fallon these days. We are expecting a high of 51F, but with a 30 cents chance of mixed rain and SNOW? The cold 20 mph breeze from the northern side makes it a slightly uncomfortable day to play outside. Thunderstorms are possible.

Today is Happy Friday the 13th! Always a good day for me, and it is also our day to take Mr. S. to lunch and then shopping. He is having a lot of back pain that we can't explain so I don't know that we will be able to take him for a long ride afterward. I know that will make him sad as he really enjoys getting out. We'll see.

The story that I have selected today is one of two that I wrote about diving and swimming in the ocean off of Dania Beach. This one is the shorter of the two and tells of youthful exuberance and the constant battle we faced just trying to get along in an ignorant society. The other is titled "What do you say to a barracuda at 30ft?" and will probably post soon. The two boys in this story are indeed the sons of the lady that I helped in the February 16th posting "Sometimes getting into trouble is the right thing to do."

Diving for Dollars

                   When you are fourteen and inspired by living life in the South Florida sun and surf, you are both invincible and all knowing.

    My Cubano brothers Raphael and Stephano and I swam in the canals, rivers, and ocean together every day that we could. Raphael could hold his breath the longest; Stephano could swim so far that we used to say that he could swim to Cuba and back without stopping. That was enough for them, to be that physically gifted and enjoy life. As for me, I was almost as good as Raphael at the deep free dive, but couldn't match his breath holding ability. I could swim through any kind of surf or water but after three miles I wanted my seahorse tube to float in, while Stephano was not even working hard. I always wanted to be more than just good enough and kept trying to equal them both.

    We lived a strange existence in the international world of Florida in the 1960's. I went to school with mostly white kids, with a very few minorities through sixth grade; but I ran the streets with Seminole Indians, Cubans, an Italian Jew, and black kids from Caribbean islands. I wonder now what in the world they saw in me? They were literally and figuratively oppressed by the white culture, and the time of double bathrooms and water fountains was not yet over in Florida.

    I mention this because when we would all go to Hollywood beach together, we would get abuse from the white owners of businesses, or sometimes the white patrons of the businesses, even people on the beach would make comments and move away from us. We were not loud, crude, rude, or obnoxious like today's youth of that age frequently are. The cultures of my adopted brothers did not allow for that, nor did their inherent shyness with whites other than myself. I can only attribute the behavior of the population to ignorance and prejudice.

    Dania beach was more fun for us, and we knew the water well along that stretch of coast line. So there we were, on Dania beach camping out with a blazing campfire and drinking lemonade, (or something), and discussing how we were ever going to get rich. It was probably my idea, most of the crazy stuff we did was my creative ramblings brought to life.

    It was the combination of the feeling of not belonging to "normal" society, with our love of water and the joy we felt when we were all together doing things that caused us to come up with our "perfect idea". We would form our own "Sea Resources" company. Of course we had no idea what a company actually was or how you built one, but we had ideas and that was enough for us to go forward with creating a plan. In technical language, we were going to get stuff from the ocean and sell the stuff to whoever would buy it.

    In defense of our idiocy, a couple of us had been in the Junior Achievement class and they convinced us that real life business was just as easy. We knew that tourists would buy nearly anything, and we were going to get it for free from the sea. Every shop along the beach sold seashell and driftwood art and every department store and pet shop sold tropical fish. We were going to be rich and never have to work for those nasty, hateful people who called us names. Yes, I said us. You ask, "But you are white aren't you?" Why yes, yes I am, the worst kind of white boy. I did not know my proper place, and I thought my brothers of many colors were my equals in every way. If you have read my story about the KKK you would understand better.

    So there we were, full of ourselves and our amazing abilities, and convinced that we could do anything. Another planning session on Dania beach for good measure, and a head count of who was actually in on this deal. Raphael and Stephano were right there with me, but then they always were.

    My Seminole brothers were willing to be "on call" and help with loading, unloading, etc., but otherwise had to work at the Seminole Village full time. Their uncle wasn't a man to mess with if you worked for him. If he said be there at whatever time, you had best not be one minute late or you would be cleaning alligator poop up until you were a very old man.

    Our black friend Lawrence had a good head for business and math, and could figure out prices and profits really fast. It was amazing what he could figure out about profits, especially since we hadn't done a single thing yet. This young man was born to be a preacher, and in fact did become one in his adult years for the First African Baptist Church in Hollywood. He could sell us stuff we couldn't see like nobody's business!

    We did check with a couple of pet shops to see if they would buy fish from us and they said they would if we would guarantee them for live delivery and full replacement if they were sick, or died within twenty-four hours. Oh yeah, we were up for that, we would have agreed to nearly anything, just to get them to say that they would buy from us. Lawrence checked with the tourist shops along the boardwalk regarding shells and driftwood and they told him to get out. I asked a white girl I knew to check with some shops on Dixie Highway and they said to bring in anything that we found and they would look at it. Do you see what I mean about prejudice?

     Raphael was getting antsy to get wet, and Stephano, as usual, was laid back waiting for his older brothers to make the call. So we headed off to our favorite beach in that part of the state. There were a lot of fish around the Dania pier, and we just knew that we were going to cruise along selecting the choicest ones and make our fortune.

    We parked Raphael's car as near to the pier as we could on a nice Saturday morning, given that every retired old fart too poor to own a boat were there already at 8:00 a.m. Stephano unloaded the inner tube and cooler contraption we used for fishing and lobster gathering, and put in a bunch of plastic bags we had obtained from a pet shop friend.

    Raphael unloaded his fishing spear and I gave him a bad time about it immediately, telling him that we wanted to sell the fish, not cook them up. As always he just laughed at me and went along with it. We both stopped what we were doing, looked at each other at the same time and said simultaneously, "Barracudas!"

    Stephano busted up laughing at us so hard he fell off the back of the car with his pants half way down. He was wearing his cutoffs under his pants, and forgot to untie his shoes before he started removing his jeans and was trying to do so when he tumbled off laughing at us. It wasn't a big deal, he didn't fall that far and was laughing the whole time. Stephano never wore shorts anywhere but at the beach, otherwise long pants; he was bashful and feared girls laughing at his legs. In all honesty they were very skinny, but it was due to malnutrition as a baby in Cuba.

    We kept putting our stuff together talking all "big time professional like", about how we would only take the best specimens of fish to make sure our demand stayed high. Not a bad business principle really, but you have to actually deliver on that deal for it to be of value.

    The gear we had would have made serious tropical fish hunters of today laugh until they peed their wetsuits. We had our masks and snorkels, our swim fins, and our trusty cutoffs. Raphael and I had dive knives thanks to Christmas presents from my scuba instructor. Stephano had a kitchen butcher knife stuck inside a piece of car radiator hose, tied to his belt loops on his shorts. It was actually quite ingenious and went across his lower back were it was easy to get to. On the left or bottom end, he had a piece of wire mesh secured up inside the hose far enough that the tip of the blade didn't extend out. The top end where the knife actually was removed or inserted had a heavy piece of truck inner tube over it with a slit in it for the knife to go through. The knife handle had a loop of braided boat rope that stuck out and was used to quickly pull the knife when you needed it. The inner tube kept the knife inside no matter what you did, water wasn't trapped inside ever, it was brilliant.

    Raphael started down the beach with his arms loaded with stuff, and I had flippers and masks and snorkels in mine. Stephano was behind me with the tube and cooler rig singing "Babalu" in his best Desi Arnaz voice, which I can truthfully say, would not keep us out of the poor house. Just north of the pier we set up our receiving area for all of the great fish we were going to catch, which is to say we put up the beach umbrella and parked our extra coolers and towels.

    We had donned our gear and were all starting to back into the water, when I looked over at Stephano and nearly jumped out of my skin. I yelled, "STOP!"

    When Stephano had fallen earlier we didn't notice anything wrong, but lucky for all of us I saw the scraped elbow and blood on his arm before we got into the water. Blood like that would ring the dinner bell for every shark and barracuda within several miles of us and believe me, there are a lot of them in the waters along the east coast of Florida. Raphael yelled at his brother in Spanish to get back away from the water and hurry. It wasn't that drastic of a deal as long as the bloody arm didn't actually go in the ocean, but you can't tell a Cubano not to look out for his family, they get a little over protective.

    Raphael and I checked each other all over after that scare I can tell you! We parked Stephano, (who was really upset because he couldn't help), under the umbrella to watch our stuff. The two of us backed into the water pulling the tube and cooler along like a toddler's toy boat. Stephano would have laughed at the sight, but he was too upset and was talking to himself like a nut case.

    We hadn't really thought out the actual catching-without-harming the little fish method before we entered the water, but we had our large fish scooping nets straight from the pet shop. They worked great in the 100 gallon tank there. As a back up I had a big butterfly net on a wooden handle up on the beach. But we shouldn't need that.

    Nor had we thought much about wave action around pier pilings, even though we could see the water doing its dance. As we swam out parallel to the pier the fishermen above were making a lot of noise about swimming there. I had a brief flash of a scary thought that nearly made me suck in water, suppose they got really mad and started casting and retrieving their lines with the hooks on them in an effort to snag us. Snagged means blood and blood is very bad as we know.

    Within about twenty feet of the pilings the water was really getting difficult to deal with. Raphael suggested that we dive and see what we could locate in the way of choice fish where we were, which was about 2/3 of the way out the pier. We checked on Stephano and could see him standing at the waters edge watching us. We took in a good breath of air and went under to find our fortune in fish. What we found was a terrible current which wanted to pull us under the pier, swirling sand and a few fast moving fish. OK, this wasn't according to plan, if we had one, which we didn't exactly.

    Raphael went all the way to the bottom, while I leveled out at 15 feet, which was the plan and I could just make him out moving around below me. I did not like the visibility at all. I waited for him to start back up to the surface but his lung capacity was far greater than mine and I had to surface. The current had me dangerously close to the pilings and the razor sharp barnacles which were attached to them. I knew if you got up against those you would be fish food before anyone could help you.

    I dove again and headed towards what I thought was Raphael but when I passed about 20 feet I could see it was a nurse shark floating in the current just above the bottom. They look really scary with their snaggle tooth face but they don't ever bother anyone, I had shared ocean with them many times. I was on my way back to the surface and making an effort to swim away from the pier when I spotted a shadow go over my head and towards the pilings. That tends to freak you out a little, when things cross between the sunlight and you underwater.

    Popping up like a whale breaching the surface I found that I was still only twenty feet away from the pilings in spite of my efforts to move away. I looked around and saw a hand pop up holding a little yellow and bluish-silver fish, and then Raphael's silly grin behind it. We turned around in a circle to look for the tube and cooler and saw what had passed over me. Our tube was flat but still attached to the floating cooler as it bounced off of a piling. As we carefully moved closer we could see that the tube wasn't just flat, it was shredded. We started back paddling away from the pier when we realized how close to disaster we were.

    Raphael is still swimming one handed, holding what amounts to the most commonly caught and chopped up fish in the ocean around Florida, a yellow grunt, an edible fish, or a bait fish, but decidedly not a high priced aquarium species. But, since he chased this fish all over the place and lost his net in the process, he was not of a mind to let it go. We discussed whether to go after our coffee can-with-concrete anchor and rope assembly connected to tube and cooler, but decided against it since the cooler had now smashed and sunk. Sorry about the styrofoam Poseidon, we didn't know.

    We had been swimming steadily for more than 20 minutes by this time, and I was surprisingly tired from fighting that current. I suggested to Raphael that we should probably go back to the beach and rethink where to dive, besides his prize catch could probably stand to be in water without a hand wrapped tightly around it. He laughed as usual and we started swimming toward the beach but trying to angle away from the pier towards calmer water.

    That is when the fishing line went over us and the lead sinker hit me on the back of the head. I looked up in a fog and saw a gray haired guy with a red bucket hat in the act of throwing more lead sinkers at us. I was struggling to keep the lights on in my head. He was casting a line at us with no hooks, but did have several lead sinkers on it all in a row. The whole time he was doing that he was cussing at us for screwing up his fishing. That is what Raphael said afterwards, because all I could hear was the noise in my ears.
    We were still trying to swim and move away from the pier but not doing a very good job of that with our recent handicap. The sinker had hit me right above the mask strap in the middle of the back of my head. I was on the north or outside position and Raphael was swimming up beside me telling me to swim for shore. Another cast by the angry man and Raphael reached up to block the sinkers which were headed for me again. This time they wrapped around and around Raphael's right hand and wrist and tangled up. He was caught and couldn't pull loose. I tried to turn back towards him and he said, "swim for the beach, your head is bleeding!"

    I remember being confused about what to do, I knew that blood was bad, we could get killed because of blood in the water. But I also wasn't about to leave my brother tangled up, and subject to being pulled into the pier and cut to pieces. Raphael is right handed. His dive knife is on his right leg. He couldn't get to his knife to cut himself free. That settled it, I was turning around and fighting the waves and current to get to him.

    A flash of brown went by me like a body surfer, but against the waves. It was Stephano and he was swimming for all he was worth. His knife flashed in the sunlight and parted that heavy fishing line like it was thread. He reversed course with Raphael in tow, although that wasn't all that necessary as Raphael was a strong swimmer and OK now that he was loose again. They caught up with me as I was swimming in a circle and getting closer to the pier. The two of them assisted me away from the waves hitting the pilings and across the water to a safer place to swim to the beach.

    As we got out of the water I had a brother on either side of me because I wasn't standing up too good on my own just then. As we stopped just in a couple of inches of water and seafoam, I noticed the blood drops in the water next to Stephano where his arm had started bleeding again. I said to him that he was bleeding again. He and Raphael both laughed at me as the back of my head was bloody and I had blood down my back. We walked out of that water without looking back to see if anything was following us.

    A couple of notes regarding this adventure. The old man who injured me and could have killed Raphael was detained and questioned by the police who had been called by the bait shop owner who witnessed the attack. They released him without charging him at all. Good old boy system, alive and well: Check!

    We moved our efforts to the Florida Keys and did successfully catch and sell some tropical fish to pet shops but that was a couple of years later and we used scuba gear to do so. We also collected and sold driftwood we found along the mangrove "forests" of the southern tip coastal areas, where it took a boat to get to. There wasn't any fabulous wealth for us, but we had a great time together and at least it paid for the gasoline and beer.

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