Occasionally there is a good reason behind certain traditions, even if it's not visible on the surface. But as a contrarian and as an idiot, it seems that I learn only from experience. Whenever someone warns me, cautions me, I just don't listen. Never have. Don't play with that knife you'll cut yourself. "We'll see about that." I'd think and ten minutes later be running for the first aid kit. Like all American children I learned to be ware of strangers. This is great for keeping children safe but not great for making friends. Perhaps the reason people claim they have difficulty making new friends and meeting new people is rooted in the word "strangers." It sounds bad. It automatically assume strangeness. When we first met, Anna and I decided we'd no longer use the word to reference people we didn't know, we'd simply refer to them as "unknowns."It seems less bias and judgemental and since I'm always judgemental of people once I meet them, I thought I'd let them start off with a clean record.
At anchorages, amongst one another, boaters quickly morph from strangers into the classic TV image of neighbors. They keep an eye on your boat, lend you tools and even leave fresh baked banana bread on your companionway. Invitations for boat drinks and dinner parties are the norm.
Off the northern tip of Long Island, not the Long Island with trains, smog and New Yorkers but the Long Island with conch, clear blue water and Bahamians at the anchorage at Cape Santa Maria we had three boats as neighbors. We met them all at once at the hotel bar as they enjoyed happy hour and invited us to join them. One was a Catamaran named Sol' Surfin' with Gary and Celeste from California in their mid forties. Another was Rosenante, a monohull with George and Donna from Miami. The last, a trawler, occupied by two men named Jerry and one of the Jerry's wife. All of them had taken similar paths through the Bahamas, shared many anchorages together and clearly did not consider each other strangers.
"I invited Rosenante and Sol Surfin' over for breakfast tomorrow." said Anna
"Why?" I said, thinking mostly of having to do the dishes.
"Was that bad? They seem nice." Anna offered.
"Gary is really cool, he was telling me about his catamaran and he's a really nice guy you should talk to him." said Philip
"The one with the long hair?" I asked
"No, that's George, the other one, the one sitting next to me." replied Philip
"Everyone is going to bring something. I think I'm going to make the spinach quiche thing. Does that sound okay?" said Anna
"Sure, yeah that's good." I said, not really meaning it.
The next morning when George, Donna, Gary and Celeste arrived I deposited myself in the Captain's chair at the helm. I spoke mostly with George because he looked the most intriguing, probably in his mid forties, his natural bleach white wiry hair swept back into a ponytail and his face was decorated with a long pointy hipster style goatee. He spoke like a professor, someone sure of what he was talking about, almost as if speaking, the act of it, brought him satisfaction by curing the ignorance of everyone else with his voice. And it wasn't surprising when he told me he was a professor, some kind of biomolecular scientist, at The University Miami. So I let George talk at me for his benefit. Gary would always chime in to agree with everything George said. Gary and George liked to brag about things they'd seen or done, none of which were all that impressive to anyone but themselves but for their benefit I feigned amazement by raising my eyebrows and saying "oh really, hmmm." My level of interest in conversation with Gary was as low as Gary's sense of humor. He would ask questions to know information nobody would ever care about like,
"What kind of threads do you have on your keel bolts?"
"Jeff, do you know about our keel bolts." Philip would reiterate.
"I have no idea." I'd say disinterested.
"Don't feel bad, I don't know ours either." and then unexpectedly he was laughing. Since he had a catamaran he did not have a keel which I guess is why he thought this was richly amusing. Confused why he was laughing I fake laughed to make him comfortable.
I noticed Celeste, Donna and Anna were talking about something having to do with sewing at which I curled my lip and squinted. Anna is amazing with "unknowns" she's witty and funny. She is wild, adventurous and creative in conversation. One of my greatest joys is to watch Anna make people uncomfortable by bringing up things that are typically taboo which is why I was annoyed to hear that they were talking about sewing.
Before departing the group decided to go spearfishing later in the afternoon. This did not bother me as I knew being underwater would at least limit my irritation with our new neighbors and also I'd heard the reefs off Cape Santa Maria were excellent.
The hunt yielded little, George shot a small triggerfish and a grouper and I shot a lobster. While I was still underwater plans were made for everyone to go over to Rosenante for dinner and drinks.
"Hey Philip you want to share this lobster with me?"
"Well I told Rosenante we'd take it bring it over when we come over for dinner."
"You did what? Why? Why are we going over there?"
"Jeff you're the one who usually likes to be social. Why do you dislike them so much?" said Anna
"I don't know they just bother me."
"Gary is really cool, did you talk to him?" asked Philip
"Yes I did and no, no he is not cool, he laughs at his own jokes and he creeps me out."
"You laugh at your own jokes." Anna chimed.
That afternoon the three of us dinghied over to Rosenante. After the customary tour of the boat we settled into the cockpit. I sat as close as possible to the side of the boat the dinghy was tied up to, already envisioning a quick exit from this get together. Everyone was overdosing on drinks and George's delicious triggerfish ceviche and equally tasty, Celeste's conch fritters, that were more like conch nuggets due to the amount of conch in each one. Unfortunately the wonderful food was accompanied by conversation with Gary and George. Every five minutes I'd look at the dinghy imagining an escape. The dynamic between the two couples was unusual. I convinced myself they were swingers.
Before sunset the Jerry's and the wife of Jerry arrived completely hammered. Jerry's wife and the Jerry sans wife had gone to the hotel for happy hour and had neglected to anchor their dinghy. The incoming tide took the dinghy out of the bay. Fortunately for the Jerrys, a sailboat in the next bay to the north noticed a drifting dinghy and recovered it and returned it to the wasted duo. When they arrived at Rosenante the wife of Jerry was taking joy in Jerry's mistake. Slurring, slapping her lap and talk-screaming the story of losing the dinghy, she was clearly trying to humiliate the Jerrys. She disliked boats, boating and the ocean. It was clear that this was a source of tension between her and her Jerry. She made it clear to everyone she was a "city girl" and cruising around islands not her idea of a good time which was a strange point to make in front of a group of people for whom it is. I hoped I could segue the conversation from losing a dinghy to my need to get in our dinghy and get the hell out of there. Before I could George stood up and said, "I will be getting high now, if any body would like to join me please come to my cabin, one at a time." Now I knew Philip would never leave. Everyone took turns going downstairs and smoking out of a socket with George.
And then as the sun went down and the alcohol and THC took effect the evening went from annoying to just fucking weird. Gary got out his guitar and started playing. Donna passed out several drums, a wooden flute and a tambourine. I declined an instrument while everyone started to follow Gary's lead in the most appalling version of California Dreamin'.
"All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey." sang Gary
"and the sky is greeeeeeeeyyyyyyyy." harmonized George
I looked at Anna, horrified at the scene, hoping she'd be a source of reality within this nightmare. Instead she had on a giant goofy grin following the beat on a small bongo drum. Looking around everyone was playing an instrument. Donna and Celeste were swaying with their eyes closed. Jerry's wife was standing up in the center of the cockpit, her hands above her head, swaying her hips and shaking her ass off beat to the music.I nudged Anna hard in the side.
"What are you doing?" I said under my breath.
"I know you're drumming. Why are you drumming? Don't you see what's going on? This is weird. They're going to try to indoctrinate us. They're going to make us like them.
Anna giggled loud and kept drumming. She knew these people were off but where as I was annoyed by it she was amused. I felt I was kidnapped, held hostage by this cult of tools. I was concerned at what was happening to my girlfriend and my friend Philip, they were being brainwashed. I thought of my heroes, people like Bob Shacochis and I shuttered at what I was bearing witness to. I started to panic. My body began to tremble.
"I gotta get out of here." I whispered.
"Stop it. Here you want a drum. Is that why you're upset?" Anna teased.
"No. No I don't want a drum. I don't want a flute or a fucking tambourine either. I want to leave before the orgy starts."
Anna laughed and kept drumming.
They took a break after a few other songs including a version of The Boxer in which Anna vocalized the "PSSSH!" sound of the cymbals. From the other side of the cockpit I over heard George, with intense seriousness, tell Philip that he was able to control other peoples mind. Philip, clearly impressed provoked George to continue.
"It's really quite simple if I think something it is electrical impulses, positives and negatives and your mind also functions off of electricity. By focusing my energy I can control what you think." I squinted at George and thought "Well how come I still think you're a tool? Can you control that?"
"Whoa, that's awesome. I really did not know that was possible." said Philip
And then from my other side Gary says, "Did you know that the whole universe is corn? Everything, everything is corn." George nodded in agreement as if this was an obvious thing to say like, "Tomorrow is Sunday or water is wet." I gave Anna a look, as if to say, "Now do you see what I mean?"
"What do you mean the whole universe is made of corn?" Philip said.
"I like corn." Anna added clearly taking pleasure in my disdain for these people.
"I do to" said Gary, "In fact I love corn, it's the essence of everything." He began large sweeping movements with his hands as if he was approaching a meditative state. "Me and you even, we eat cows, cows eat corn thus we are corn. I am corn, I just am. I'm corn."
"I hate corn." I said
"Why" said Gary.
"No reason, it's just not good to me. It bothers me. Corn bothers me."
"Corn cannot bother you, you are corn, corn is independant of positive or negative emotions." said Gary
I looked at Gary for a moment, this middle aged organic, california hippie with a pooka shell necklace then turned to Anna and said, "I know why they call them strangers."