My friend Fresh Air Freddy invited me one day to join him on a deep-sea fishing trip and enjoy the healthful benefits of clean salt air.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “After all those years of inhaling smoke in card parlors, I don’t think my lungs could handle the pure stuff. Besides,” I added, “the only fish I care about reeling in are at the poker table.”
“They play poker on those fishing boats,” Freddy said slyly.
“Oh, 10 and 20,” I believe.
“Hmmm,” I said. “Meet Max, the riverboat Sbobet88 gambler.” Freddy, insisting that I have the proper equipment, took me shopping for gear. The rod, reel, line, tackle box, hooks, sinkers, lures, floats, and other junk, plus the fishing license and boat ticket, set me back over three bills, but I figured to win that much easy playing poker with the rubes.
That night, Freddy and I drove up the California coast to Santa Barbara for the overnight excursion. Our boat was the Linda O., a rusty, peeling, beat-up old scow that looked like it had seen service at the Battle of New Orleans. I wondered if it could make it out of the harbor.
“Is that thing safe?” I asked doubtfully.
“Splendid vessel,” Freddy assured me. “Let’s get on board.”
I stumbled up the gangplank onto the boat and followed him below deck to a tiny cabin packed with fishermen; it looked like the hold of a slave ship. I found a top bunk and climbed into it, cracking my head on the ceiling.
With everyone on board, attempts were made to start the ancient engine. On the tenth try, it finally coughed into life, and as the boat began to shake violently, I began to have serious misgivings about this excursion.
After a short and fitful night of sleep, with dreams of being eaten by sharks, I woke to feel the Linda O. rolling and heaving alarmingly. I staggered up on deck to confront a bleak vista of endless cold gray water under an endless cold gray sky. I suddenly understood why Christopher Columbus’ crew wanted to mutiny.
Freddy was already on deck, breathing deeply and wolfing down a greasy breakfast cheeseburger. My stomach flipped and I quickly averted my gaze.
Finally, thankfully, the boat stopped and the captain gave the OK to drop our lines in the water. I went to the live bait tank and after several tries managed to grab a slippery, squirming anchovy which I impaled on my hook, painfully impaling my finger in the process. Dripping blood, I squeezed in among the fishermen crowding the rail and, with a mighty heave, cast my line into the sea.
The line traveled about five feet before the reel jammed and the filament tangled into a nasty birds nest. I couldn’t undo it and had to cut away 50 feet of line. On my second try, I snagged the line of the fisherman next to me. He smacked me and cut my line free, costing me another 100 feet, plus tackle.
The third time I gave up on fancy casting and just let my line drop straight down. After about an hour, I felt a faint tug. Reeling frantically, I brought up an ugly little spiny orange fish that glared at me murderously with its bulging black eyes. I grabbed it…and screamed in pain.
“That’s a sculpin, you idiot!” one of the fishermen berated me. “Don’t you know the spines are poisonous?”
I did now; my hand was throbbing and swelling and had turned the same color as the sculpin. After a while the pain subsided enough to let me attempt fishing again. This time I snagged something really big. After a Herculean battle, I brought to the surface a fish roughly the size of a submarine. It was a groper. Or maybe a merlin. Whatever it was, it had to be of record size.
“Get the gaff!” I screamed. “And a camera.”
A deckhand strolled up, looked over the side, and made a disgusted face. “That’s a shark, you nincompoop. We can’t bring a shark on deck,” he said, cutting loose my last 200 feet of filament.
Finally, the captain ordered lines up, and several of us went into the galley and crowded into a booth to play poker. An old coot in a railroad cap dug out a ratty deck of cards that looked to have seen continuous service since Gettysburg.
“Stakes are ten and twenty, right?” I asked him.
“Yep. Hey, Flo, bring us a sack of dimes.”
The galley cook dumped a pile of change on the table. I glared at Freddy, but he ignored me and bit into a tamale.
I won the deal. “You boys play Omaha?” I asked hopefully. Blank stares. “Hold’em?” More head-shaking. “Not even crazy pineapple? What then?”
“Real poker,” one of the players said. “You know, deuces wild, baseball, spit in the ocean, all that stuff.”
Just great — back to high school poker. Sighing, I called baseball and everyone anted a nickel.
My first up-card was a wild three and I had to match the pot for 30 cents. I kept catching threes and matching the growing pot. After all the betting was over, I was in for eight bucks, but who cared? I had five aces and would skin these boobs.
I showed my hand. “No good,” the old coot grinned. “I got me six kings.”
“Six kings?” I protested. “There’s no such hand.”
“Tryin’ to tell us how to play poker, boy?”
I shoved him the pot.
The next game, even more sophisticated, was “Indian Pete,” played by holding your hole card against your forehead face out. I lost another four bucks. The slaughter continued. In three hours, I was out an unbelievable $200. I stared murderously at Freddy, now munching happily on a chili dog.
Suddenly, it all became too much for me. The crazy games, the rocking boat, the kitchen galley grease, the fish odors, diesel fuel, Fresh Air Freddy’s chili dog….
Clamping my hand to my mouth, I dashed out to the rail. My dinner went overboard, followed by my fishing rod, tackle box, the ugly little sculpin — and finally, Fresh Air Freddy.