Bunch of the guys I worked with liked to go down to the Keys, when they got some free time. Capt. Gabby, who was “between jobs,” had two large skiffs sitting behind his trailer on an island just north of Key West. The guys needed a couple boats, Gabby needed money; we made a deal.
We spent the day snorkeling and fishing along the reef, where the shallow waters of the back country ease off into the Gulf of Mexico. One of the bunch, a nice enough guy by the name of Russell, brought along his dog, a husky. We let the husky run along the beaches on one of the islands, hoping to tire it out. It was young and excitable.
After the guys had a cooler full of fish, crabs, and assorted collectibles, Gabby, who had decided that the life of a fishing guide was not for him, shouted “I’m heading back!” He had his wife and some of the girls, who had had enough sun, with him. “You know the way!”
We knew the general direction, but without a chart finding our way through the basins and banks of the back country wasn’t going to be easy. We had only out been there a few times before. There were six of us on board, plus the dog. We hadn’t gone but a couple of miles, before it became apparent that we were lost. And after another mile or so of looking for a channel deep enough to get back in the general direction of Key West, we were out of gas. Thanks, Gabby.
As we sat there pondering what to do next, the dog began to run from one end of the boat to the other. I had been swimming with an old pair of Dacor fins. There was a sharp edge that always dug into the joint on my big toe. I usually brought along a pair of socks to keep this from happening, but hadn’t done that this time. “I sure hope that dog doesn’t hit me on the toe,” I thought. Sure enough, the next time through, he stepped right on it. I let out a yelp. To make things worse, the bottom of the boat was filled with sandy grit and oil. Every time the dog ran by he would step on my toe. As if it was working some intentional, insidious torture, every time it ran by, its long sharp middle toenail found its way into the place on my foot, grinding sand and oil into the wound.
After a while I thought, “This is going to be inevitable. That dog is going to nail me every single time, and there is nothing I can do about it but sit here and quietly endure the pain.” So that’s what I did. After a while somebody pulled out a bottle of rum. We passed the bottle around and swapped stories. That helped a lot.
The present mid-term political campaigns, with candidates leveling outrageous charges against each other and diatribes coming from the left and right, remind me of being in that boat with Russell’s dog’s grit-coated nail finding the hole in my foot every time it ran by.
Eventually a young kid in a small skiff came by and towed us in, wisecracking all the way about how stupid we were. When we told him where we were going and that it was Gabby’s boat, he got quiet and acted scared. I just read recently that that “the northern end of [that island] has developed a negative reputation and come to be known as ‘Little Beirut.’” Some things never change.