Saturday, September 09, 2006

Sea Ranch, Abalone, Where The Rubber Hits The Nose...

A gay architect drew these plans and in my late twenties, freshly home from years of overseas rascalations, I made a few phone calls and with good timing and a waft of PDL had a place to go and a house to build and another adventure to have not far from home.

It was like I could ease back into "homelife" without missing the adventure of the road.

This house took us almost four months to build and we stayed in it two weeks before we turned over the keys. Otherwise, we stayed in another rental house in the same developement, all expenses paid, except for the beer.

There really isn't too much to tell about the building of this house. The architects screwed up a whole bunch and we fixed it.

We hired a guy with a bad comb-over to help us install a thin, tongue and groove redwood ceiling in the living room. I almost couldn't do the work, I was laughing at him so hard. Everytime I shot the nail gun off near his hair, the expelling air would blast him up close, and his comb-over would flip over and hang down the side of his face. He would cuss like a sailor and then flip it back over the top. Once was funny. A couple of times was hysterical. All bloody day just wasn't fair to those of us trying to get some work done.

I rode a ladder down a wall from the top of the second story to be thrown off the first story roof and onto a stack of plywood. I tore a calf muscle and limped for a couple of weeks and kept it tightly wrapped.

Our plumber was a surfer who got seasick.

The house was located in an exclusive community full of architectural "marvels", and we got amusing visits by the design review board of Sea Ranch, to make sure our design was marvelous enough.

The house was located about three hundred feet from the edge of a steep bluff, leading down to a cove full of kelp strewn rocks, a small gravelly beach, and a hidden trove of delectable abalone.

With my first paycheck, I bought a wet suit and taught myself to abalone dive. The beginner's game is simple.

You wade around in waist deep water and you feel around under rocks for a shell that measures 7 inches. Then you use a flat prying-iron to peel the abalone off of its suctioned perch, pry snail-like meat from its shell, pound with tenderizing hammer, dip in bread crumbs and fry lightly in olive oil.

Salt to taste.

This can only be done during the lowest tides. You had to have a chart. You had to have coincidental time. You had to get up pretty darn early in the morning, usually.

The advanced game was simple, as well, but you had to have a reasonable pair of lungs, a bit of courage, and a stomach that could handle swallowing sea water and vomiting it back out.

You had a floatation device, usually an innertube wrapped in a net. You were not allowed tanks. You had to hold your breath. You had to hold your breath and dive down sometimes twenty feet (where all the big ones were) and then you had to tuck up under rocks and look beneath them, find your prize and pry it from the rock with your iron, grab the abalone and shoot back to the surface without getting tangled in the kelp that dragged across your head and shoulders as you ascended in a need-to-breathe panic...

You had to do this while dark sinister creatures like sea lions investigated you and became passing sharks in your mind.

You had to find your innertube when you got to the surface, and waves would sometimes play hide-and-seek with it and move it quite a ways away from you.

If you did this enough, you had to have a freezer.

When I dug up this photo, the first thing I thought of is the last thing I am going to tell you. I don't know why, but the horrific image came bursting back to me like a catastrophic event. Like the memory of the 89 earthquake or the Oakland Hills Fire, or waking to find two smoldering towers...

I shuddered when I thought about this, shook my head to myself and thought, "Yes, this must be told".

At the very least, the memory will lose some of its awfulness in the retelling, and I will feel better in the morning, having expunged a grotesque thought, if only temporarily, from my over-taxed mind...

There is a rope hanging down twenty feet of the steepest part of the bluff I mentioned, leading to the cove where I pried my trade...

The rope is to fascilitate climbing up or down, as the path is extremely steep and loose there, and you were a slipping and falling fool if you didn't grab it, and use it for assistance.

On this particular morning, there was a very low, low tide. So low it brought out the rock pickers. Several of them. And one in particular.

Now I'm not the type who usually looks at the asses of men. Quite matter of factly, their shape does absolutely nothing for me. Even the lowly butt crackers get nothing more from me than a one shot toss with a piece of debris to see if I can "make a basket".

But there was a guy on the beach, who had a butt like a Hottentot. A white guy. A family guy. Probably a computer programmer.

How he got his butt to squeeze into his wet suit, I will never know. I think that is what drew my eyes toward his backside. That very question.

Wet suit rubber does not stretch as much as you think it would. Not the thicker ones you need in cold, Pacific waters. But there IT was, a swelling rear on a man. It looked like a weak spot on an innertube was about to completely burst, or the bubble on a pizza. The man was weeble-weebling around in a cove looking for abalone and being part of a family. I looked at the kids' backsides for signs of incipient proturbance. Thankfully, they seemed normal enough.

On mornings with extremely low tides, I could get my limit of four abs very quickly, and I would sometimes hang around and help others find the four they would take home proudly and cook up for friends and relatives. I liked to teach kids what to look for. I liked to impress the ladies and give them helpful cooking tips. I liked to hear the quiet thankfulness of struggling men.

If you are the hunter and provider of your clan and your kids have more abalone than you, it can be quite distressing to the ego. I liked to assuage the dented egos of family men. I figured, it was the least I could do considering what they were trying to accomplish...

So I hung out and helped out this particular morning, all the while taking furtive glances at the backside of this guy stuffed inside his rubber suit.

Some wonders never cease...

It was like looking at a massive spider on a hair-thin thread of spider webbing, descending down to stare at you while you read in bed. Profound contemplations occured to you unrequested. You looked at the rubber and that Hottentot ass and you just had to question everything...

The mysteries of the physical universe made you awe inspired, and you felt closer to the idea of God...

But that bubble was soon to burst.

This picture invokes a horrible image in my head. The image occured because I was impatient. I had to get to work. I was late and the guy with the Hottentot ass was having trouble getting up the twenty foot piece of dangling rope and I figured if I pulled myself up to him, I could help him get his fat butt off the rope and out of the way and I could get on with my day.

Oh, it was horrible, too. Noone to blame but myself...

Hottentot dad was obviously a big man. I'm a pretty big guy. There must have been five hundred pounds or more on that rope. More likely more. He was stuck near the top. He wasn't going up. He wasn't coming back down. He was just perched there like an overturned diesel in a tunnel, and we were all at a standstill. I waited briefly at the bottom of the rope for my turn to use it. I could have probably climbed around his swollen backside, but I had a bucket full of abalone that weighed about ten pounds in one hand, and a slip would have meant a possible drop. It was a fall of about twenty five tumbling feet leading to rocks that knew no mercy. The abalone shells would have been broken to bits. And I wanted ashtrays.

The Hottentot dad was in one of those panicky frozen modes. I tried talking to him calmly, but he just made nervous jokes and prayed the rope would hold him. I think he knew he was large, and wanted not to be, and the dilemma made him make nervous remarks in stressful situations like these.

He said. "I sure hope this rope holds my fat ass!"

"It will!" I said. "It's held bigger."

"What do I do now? I'm gonna get tired holding on like this."

"Hang on," I said. "I'll come up and give you a hand."

"OK," he said. "Are you sure the rope will hold us both?"

I wasn't sure. But I was pretty sure. "Sure," I said. "No problem."

I pulled myself up hand over fist. When you climb a lot, you learn to set your feet and use your legs. The legs have been designed to lift and move the body around. That is what the legs are for. The arms are for other things. Balance. Flipping burgers. Love making. The arms are not designed to lift and move the body around. Unless you are a monkey.

"Lean your head and shoulders forward and stick your butt out away from the rock." I instructed the Hottentot dad as I climbed easily, not putting muuch of my weight on the rope at all. "It will shift more weight to your feet and you won't have to hold on so tightly with your hands."

This was a mistake, it turns out.

Hottentot dad tried what I had suggested. It worked. Force vectors rearranged themselves and lessoned the weight on Hottentot dad's hands. He felt relieved.

"Yes, this is much better." he said thankfully.

But it was not better. You see, forces of other types had also silently shifted as his weight shifted. Sinister and unforeseen pressures were building and preparing to release themselves directly onto me. I was just an innocent bystander, climbing a rope to help a fella out. Little did I know what horror would come tumbling down on me. Little did I suspect that fifteen years later, I would dig out a photo from a paper sack, and I would shudder.

I got up right behind Hottentot dad. His huge rear was a derigible directly overhead. It was all I could see. I was nose to tailbone here. There was no longer a man in front of me. Just a mass of taught and straining rubber.

"I'm right behind you now," I said. "You can't fall. What I want you to do is squat a little on your legs, and feel how comfortable you really are standing there. Your legs are the strongest part of you. I want you to focus your attention on how well your feet are planted, and how strong your legs are are."

"OK," came a timorous reply.


It was as sudden as a power outage and as violent as a parking lot crash. Hottentot dad's wetsuit burst open from its seam in the back, and its contents spilled out in a heap upon my head. AND THERE I WAS, holding a rope tightly now because I had promised this unknown man safety, with his corpulent collection of cheeseburgers and bacon fat piled atop of me. I mean, one second I was two or three inches away from a smooth and straining rubber, and the next I was covered in cellulite like a victim of a birthday-cake-in-the-face, and I had my eyes open and it was HORRIBLE!

HORRIBLE I tell you!

I'm shuddering again.

For some paranormal reason, the embarrassment of having one's wetsuit contents drop out and land on someone else's face gave our Mr. Hottentot some new vigor and determination, and he scrambled up the remaining three or four feet of steep terrain with an alacrity that wasn't pretty whatsover, but appreciated in profound and spiritual ways by me and I needed to speak to heaven.

"Oh, thank God!" I said.

I could stop looking up now.

I could try and recover.

I could try and forget



Tisty said...

bwahahahaha! It was instant karma baby. You where laughing at the mans butt, then the mans butt wiped the smile right off your face.

It's like tripping up guttering when you peak into some ladies pram and think "that's the most good aweful looking baby I've ever seen!"

great story!

Spicy Little Pi said...

lol great story!

cheeky's right, you are a good writer ;)

Sabra said...

Scott - Absolutely GORGEOUS house! You still got the plans??? Want to build another? How many bedrooms - how many bathrooms - and how big is the closet in the master bedroom? I have a pretty massive shoe collection that will someday be looking for a home back in the States! Hope all's good w/you!

Stop by when you get time:

Luv the story, here, too Scott!