Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Godspeed, Captain Pinchy!

And now, finally, the full story of Captain Pinchy — or at least a marginally fictionalized account I turned into a short story for my Creative Non-fiction class.


(This story's hero)

…………

Godspeed, Captain Pinchy!
- An act of contrition by Drew -

The morning of Saturday, May 8. About half an hour after midnight.

kidicarus222: i have the crab
kidicarus222: only one, though
Toconut B: ah, from where?
kidicarus222: your friend’s work. the place at the end of the pier
Toconut B: cool
kidicarus222: i named him captain pinchy
Toconut B: so when does the shit go down?
kidicarus222: i gonna take him over to the girl’s house way late
kidicarus222: like
kidicarus222: 3 or 4
kidicarus222: because i want them asleep
Toconut B: but aren’t they in LA!?
kidicarus222: wait
kidicarus222: who is?
Toconut B: aren’t jill and meggs in LA?
kidicarus222: no
Toconut B: really? they didn’t go?
kidicarus222: i saw meghan this evening when i drove by
kidicarus222: and jill is with lee tonight
Toconut B: ahhh, ok
kidicarus222: i hope captain pinchy makes it
kidicarus222: i actually kind of feel bad for the little thing, ugly as he is
Toconut B: can you get the saltwater right?
kidicarus222: i got a big pot of actual seawater from the beach, so he’s cool right now
Toconut B: ok
kidicarus222: and then it won’t be long before i put him in the tub until they find him
Toconut B: if you’re sure they are there?
kidicarus222: they’ll be there
kidicarus222: at least one of them has to be asleep in her bed by 3 this morning
kidicarus222: right?
Toconut B: ok, good luck to you and cap’n punchy
kidicarus222: pinchy!
kidicarus222: he has a name
Toconut B: sorry
Toconut B: so do you think the girls will freak out ?

…………

People have it too easy, I think. What with microwaves and the internet, everything’s so damn convenient these days that people can afford to sit on their asses and complain. I’ll bet cavemen had exciting lives. You don’t sit down and bitch about the weather or loincloth chafe when you’re running from saber-toothed tigers.

From the way I see it, people need to have their lives made more interesting. Everyone can benefit from some skillfully tossed monkey wrench — a surprise obstacle that slows the gears of daily monotony to a halt, thus allowing room for the variety that only chaos can bring.

I think this whole mess began with my old roommates sometime during winter quarter of this year. In June they had moved out of the Pasado house and into this unreasonable Del Playa monstrosity. Marcy had just had a birthday, and I burned her a CD of offensive and bizarre songs. The best of the bunch was the first track, this song “Fuck the Pain Away” by this chick named Peaches. It was a pretty song. And it was a nice present, I thought. I wrote with a green Sharpie on the front, “Thinking of you on your special day! — Love, Drew.”

I got to the house and Katie was on her way out and she just tells me, “Oh, it’s unlocked. Let yourself in. Marcy will be home in like five minutes.” I did. As I put the CD on Marcy’s bed, I realized what an opportunity I had. The girls’ whole house. To myself.

Without a moment’s cogitation, the natural instincts of a little brother immediately kicked in and I began removing their couch cushions and stacking them in a fort formation in the center of the living room. The living room furniture having been stripped bare, I then switched all of the backgrounds on the PC desktops to pictures of clowns — they don’t like clowns — and then I replaced their internet homepages with a fanpage for Andrea Barber.

I then wrapped various articles like books and alarm clocks in tin foil, which makes even the dullest household fixtures seem like birthday presents from the future. I decorated the ceiling fan with bras and panties, which turns the room into a strip show if you put the fan on high, and then I strung the lawn furniture from the outside overhang with duct tape. You know. Just because.

And just when I was sure I couldn’t possibly do anything else before Marcy returned, I ran to the giant shared closet and tied together twenty or so pairs of sneakers, creating one long shoestring centipede some unlucky roommate would accidentally discover while reaching for their running shoes.

I got phone calls, afterwards. “Why? Why would you do this?” with those naughty Peaches lyrics playing in the background. And to that I would calmly explain to all seven roommates that nothing had been permanently damaged and I only did it to make their lives more interesting.

They didn’t buy it.

Regardless, that afternoon marked the first of a series of “life improvement sessions,” none in which the girls ever seemed to be willing participants.

Duct tape obstacle course: they didn’t like it. (“Monique fell down!”)

Cooked octopus tentacles from a seafood deli stuffed into their sink, making it look as though some purple sea demon were taking over their house, kitchen first: they didn’t like it. (“Drew, that’s gross.”)

Changing their outgoing answering machine message to ones about them having blood in their stool: they didn’t like it. (“My professor called the house that day.”)

A game of Find Your Tampons: they didn’t like it. (“Drew, we need those.”)

The time I decorated the house in clown d├ęcor, much of it handmade because no one actually sells clown decorations anymore because clowns are scary: they didn’t like it. (“Monique fell down again.”)

And blocking out all of their cable channels except Telemundo and the Sci-Fi network: they seemed most annoyed by that one, curiously.

But despite their exasperation with my antics, the girls never asked me to stop. They’d ask why, and they’d get the standard answer — convenience, caveman, saber-toothed tiger — and that was that. They still never locked their house properly, knowing full well I could break in and release wild lemurs in their bedroom, which I actually thought about. And sometimes, if I took too long, they’d ask me if I’d forgotten to prank them. Week by week, my relationship with my old roommates had mutated into some sick offshoot of sadomasochism in which annoyance and confusion replaced pain.

…………

Midway through spring quarter, the pranking logically progressed to the next level: the one where I put a live crustacean in their bathtub.

The idea formed in my head as I stood near the seafood section of Ralphs, where I had happened into conversation with one of my more long-winded writing professors. As I nodded and politely agreed, I eyed the lobster tank. Its locust-shaped, rust-colored prisoners bobbed and whirled aimlessly like wind-up contraptions in a toy store display window. When the conversation with Professor Thisandthat ended, my face squished against aquarium glass and into the beady, black eyes of one such lobster. You’re going to help me with the best prank yet, Mr. Space Bug, I remember thinking.

Admittedly, the original plan required some slight alteration before I could go into action. Recipes for homemade saltwater solutions hid from the all-seeing eye of Google. And a friend who majored in aquatic biology told me that most store-bought lobsters are actually quite docile. Rather than use their claws to pinch people like they do in cartoons, these undersea sloths sit on the floor of whatever body of water they’re stuck in and maybe — maybe — they might scuttle away if you frighten them.

“All you have to do to catch them is just to come up from behind and pick them up. They won’t even be able to snap at you with their claws if you grab them by their mid-section,” explained my own personal Jacques Cousteau.

No, I needed something that wanted to fight. Slowly, I made a functional plan.
  1. Get dinner at the fish place on the edge of Stearn’s Wharf.
  2. When dinner’s done, order one Rock crab to go. (Though the larger Dungeness crabs look more like the space invaders that would frighten my roommates, Rock crabs are cheaper — usually only five to six bucks per pound.)
  3. Specify that I do not want him put on ice. (Crabs freeze to death in subzero temperatures. Restaurants usually presume customers wouldn’t want a live crustacean wandering about their car, but I needed a live one.)
  4. Put the crab in the large stainless steel pot I had previously dunked in the ocean to make the little guy as comfortable as I could.
  5. Wait for the girls all to go to bed (probably around three or four in the morning, since this was a Friday night).
  6. Go into the house between three and four in the morning and toss the contents of the pot into the bathtub, seawater and all.
  7. Scrawl the following words on the bathroom mirror in soap: “IN A PINCH?”
  8. Plug in and turn the stereo I had brought, complete with special burned CD containing the following tracks: one of five minutes of total silence, then twenty of so of the Beatles’ “Octopus’ Garden.”
  9. Get outside and wait about four minutes and thirty seconds.
The girls hate bugs. They even hate little bugs. Meghan I remember specifically fleeing from a lone daddy longlegs. I figured a crab is basically a giant bug — just one that lives in the ocean — so the girls would be faced with the paradox of not wanting to touch the crab, but also wanting it gone as soon as possible. Not only would this confront the girls with the task of catching and removing the crab before they could use their shower, they’d have to do it at four in the morning, because I’d wake them up at that hour with one of the only Beatles songs hokey enough to have been written by Ringo.

I could picture it happening: It would probably be Taryn, the light sleeper, who would find him first. She’d probably scream, and do that excited jumpy thing that makes her look like a Peanuts character dancing. Meghan would scream too, then look away, then look back, then scream again, then look away again. She’d continue in that cycle for a while. And Jill would probably just laugh.

Yes, this would be something to be proud of.

…………

I first met the crab I was to name Captain Pinchy when the waiter brought him out as the product of my request for “the cheapest crab you guys got.” At one-and-a-half pounds, he didn’t appear small, really. Eight legs, two claws and a carapace wider than my outstretched thumb-to-pinky span. I couldn’t exactly tuck him under my arm like a football. But the waiter assured me he was a runt.

“That’s the one,” I said.

Glenn held the pot in his lap on the way home. Something about the sound of Pinchy’s bony legs scraping against his stainless steel home disturbed me, so I turned the music up.
“I’m glad you do this to your old roommates and not your present ones,” said Glenn, straining over the sounds of B-52s. He had slid the pot lid off enough to peek at Captain Pinchy.

I could see Pinchy’s soft crab face, his alien features angling from the bottom of the pot towards Glenn. It occurred to me that my dog had ridden in my car, as had countless stowaway flies and bugs. Once, even, a spider wove a web in the space between the windshield and the passenger-side vanity mirror. But this, doubtlessly, was the first time I had ever chauffeured a crustacean.

…………

Online research on Captain Pinchy’s brethren would teach me that the snapping, clamp-looking mandible things between his eyes and his underbelly were called his “mouthparts,” even though they weren’t really his mouth. Instead, he did his chomping and chewing with an extra set of tiny legs that evolution had molded into makeshift teeth. The result was what looked like a mouth laid sideways with leg-jaws that would snap scissor-like at the horizontal axis of Captain Pinchy’s orange body. Happily, the black orbs that rested on the ends of the stalks that slid out from under Pinchy’s bony shell — his carapace — actually were his eyes. At least one thing on his body looked like what it was supposed to be.

The most intimidating feature on Captain Pinchy’s body were his claws. I think every worthwhile animal had one God-given tool to hold his own in the food chain, and Pinchy’s kind had a set of pinchers from which I preferred to keep my distance. Chelapods, a website with a googly-eyed cartoon crab mascot called them. The foremost of a crab’s ten legs. His eating utensil and his first line of defense. His fork and his knife built into one. Yikes.

Whenever I learned about a new crab feature, I’d race to the kitchen to see if Pinchy had it. He invariably did, at least as near as I could check without touching him. My temporary crustacean housemate sat in the same cooking pot from the car ride, submerged in enough seawater I’d fetched from the ocean that he was completely submerged. Every now and then, Pinchy would spurt bubbles from what I was ninety percent sure was his mouth.

Eventually, I got hungry. I decided against the can of crab bisque, since it would be in poor taste with Pinchy in the kitchen. The alphabet soup was nearly boiling when I returned to the kitchen to my horror movie moment. By bracing himself on either side of his pot, Pinchy had begun to raise himself out of it. Though his body had just emerged from the water, his claws stuck all the way out of the top of the pot — fully extended and reaching upwards like a zombie tearing through the out of grave.

“Oh no you don’t!” I yelled, likely to no effect, even though I read crabs hear quite well. I shook the pot and sent Captain Pinchy plummeting back into the brine. He made more bubbles. Blurp blurp.

I had narrowly averted disaster. Having some sea monster with mouthlegs and eyestalks and pincers — pincers! — loose in the house, hiding in shadows and waiting to jump onto my face, hollow out my flesh with his claws, and filling me with baby crab eggs? No thanks. That’s horror movie stuff. Leaving just enough air to breathe, I put a cutting board on top of the pot then weighted it down with a dictionary.

Standing at the kitchen counter, I ate the soup right next to Pinchy’s prison. If you don’t make noise yourself, a quiet house on the far side of Pasado stays pretty quiet, even on a Friday night. The only sound to compete with the scratching of my spoon against the bottom of the soup bowl was the tinny tapping of crab legs and echo of water slosh in a stainless steel pot.

…………

The real motivation to stay in that Friday night had nothing to do with crabs. Rather, I had a workload the size of Texas. Instead of diving into a seemingly paradoxical creative writing assignment, though — “write a piece of creative non-fiction that has a thesis” — I was chatting online with Brie, who knew the girls well enough to conspire with me. Brie had just asked me, “So do you think the girls will freak out?” when the roommate barged in.

“Your crab is dead.”

I hadn’t realized Cory was home. He smelled like rum and cigarettes. Miasma: his signature scent.

“He’s not dead. He’s just tired,” I responded, without having any real knowledge about crab sleeping patterns.

Cory persisted. “Naw, man. I poked him with a butterknife. He’d dead. You own one dead crab.”

Leaving Brie’s question unanswered, I swiveled a half-circle from my keyboard and walked immediately to the pot. Glenn stood there, doubtlessly thoughtful and introspective. I looked down at what Cory alleged was Captain Pinchy’s carcass. I shook the pot. Water and sand swirled all about him, but Pinchy remained motionless.

“Glenn, what do you think?” I asked with an anxiousness that surprised me.

“He looks dead, that’s for sure. Do you know how long crabs can live outside of the ocean?” Behind Glenn’s glasses, his mechanical engineer brain was sending some train of higher-level thought to save Pinchy.

“I don’t know. A few hours if you don’t put him in water.” I looked at the microwave clock. “It’s been four hours and we did put him in water.

“But not much,” Glenn reasoned. “Maybe not enough. Besides I think putting the cutting board might have blocked air from getting to the surface of the water.”

“You think I suffocated him?”

“Might have.”

Guilt washed over me, flooding my face with the familiar stinging blush. After a few moments of silence, it spilled out my mouth with the word “shit.”

“I didn’t want to do that,” I said, perhaps talking to Captain Pinchy. Then, “What do I do with a dead crab?”
“You cook it,” Cory said.

“I can’t cook him. I named him. And apparently killed him. So I can’t cook him. That would be kind of…”

“Perverse,” Glenn ended the thought for me.

Cory disagreed. “That would be kind of delicious, you mean.”
As it often does, the guilt had settled in a knotted pocket behind my left eyebrow.

“Okay. We’re still not even sure he’s dead. Did anybody actually pick Captain Pinchy up at all?

Cory stared blankly. Glenn shook his head.

“Okay then. We should actually pick him up before we declare him dead. He might still be alive. Now who wants to pick him up?”

No volunteers.

“I think that would be your thing, dude,” Cory said.

He was right. I rolled up my sleeves and drew in a breath that would hopefully force back my fear of Captain Pinchy’s freakish appearance. Slowly placed my fingertips under either side of the captain’s shell — at the halfway point between good leverage and distance from Pinch City — I lifted him out of the pot. His legs slowly released from their bent position and drooped downward, deathward, limp like the hand of a person who just relinquished his last ounce of life. I placed Captain Pinchy back into the water.

“His legs moved,” I announced.

“That could have just been the water running off him. Or gravity,” Glenn posited.

Without a word, I’d need a second test. I again pulled him from the pot, this time less gingerly. I lifted Captain Pinchy above my head, spilling seawater — and likely crab effluvium — on the counter. I scanned his underside for movement, anything: wiggling eyestalks, clasping mouthparts, a fluttering of some flap or swelling of some heretofore unknown gland. Nothing.

I plunked the crab back into the water. We stood around the pot, eyeing the unmoving visitor I had brought into the house: Glenn inquisitively, Cory hungrily and me in that spot between hopeful and hopeless that people often occupy when death seems possible.

Blurp. A single bubble. A death bubble?

“We’ll try one more time, then we’ll know for sure,” I said, plunging my hands a third time into the water that smelled like old fish. “I just need to be sure to know whether he’s really dead because then I’ll know — GAH!”

As he dangled from my hand, his left pincher swung around feebly toward me. Two quick jabs. The moment I realized that Captain Pinchy had enough fight in him to stab at my hand, I dropped back into the water.

I looked at Pinchy in the pot. Under the violently rippled surface of the water, I saw him slowly turn forty-five degrees to the left. I looked up.

“Glenn, will you come with me to the beach? Like, now?”

…………

A little after one in the morning on May 8, my car carried crustacean cargo for the second — and likely the final — time.

“Dude, thanks for coming with me.”

“It’s no big deal,” Glenn said. “I kind of felt bad for him anyway.”

I didn’t take the corners as slowly as I had during the drive home from the restaurant.

“He’s really moving around in there,” Glenn said, watching a Captain Pinchy that had been seemingly invigorated by the car ride.

Those scraping sounds of carapace-against-cookware didn’t grate my ears like they had before. And that pocket of guilt behind my eyebrow had exploded into a surge of energy, the motivation to undo my karmic crime of involving an innocent animal in a practical joke its tiny brain could never comprehend.

I rolled into a parking spot near the same beach where I had earlier scooped up the seawater. At this late hour, all of the trucks and jeeps parked by early evening surfers had vanished. Swinging out of the driver’s seat and darting around the car, I pulled the pot from Glenn’s hands.
“Don’t worry about it. I want to take him,” I said, already two steps ahead of Glenn toward the beach access stairs.

The moon, lazy tonight and only partially full, had just begun to peek over the western ocean horizon.

“We should have brought a flashlight. It’s dark,” Glenn cautioned me.

Carefully but quickly, I descended the steps and until I’d reached the bottom. High tide had brought inky black waves to the bottom of the stairwell. The bigger surges crashed over the lowest step and into the rocks behind it. I strained to make out where I could safely place my foot. Captain Pinchy scuttled in his pot.

“What do you think, Glenn? Just dunk him in?” I asked to the shadowy form near the top of the steps.

“I’d wait until the wave pulls out,” he called back. “Maybe then he can ride it back into the water. Otherwise he might get slammed against the rocks.”

“And that’s it? You think he’ll be okay?”

“Yeah. If he can’t take it from there, he doesn’t deserve to be here.”

A bigger wave rushed toward me, soaking me up to my shins. The moment the water decided to turn the other way, I leaned down and tossed the contents of the stainless steel pot. In the dim light, I saw the form of Captain Pinchy plop sideways onto the wet sand and right itself. And then, when the motion of that one particular wave had withdrawn completely from the beach, I witnessed what can only be described as “hauling ass” — Captain Pinchy’s many legs scrambled to take their master back toward the water, toward home.

As I saw how quickly Captain Pinchy could move when motivated by the ocean, I wondered if he truly was as near death as he made me think he was. He sure looked healthy now. Damn tricky crab.

Another wave enveloped the scene, and then it was gone.

…………

Saturday, May 8, at about three in the afternoon.

Toconut B: drew, what happened?
kidicarus222: well
kidicarus222: the good captain nearly died, and i felt guilty and returned him to the ocean
Toconut B: what? why?
kidicarus222: it was the right thing to do. i felt bad
Toconut B: which beach?
kidicarus222: just off dp, near the entrance to sands
Toconut B: is that even the kind of beach it came from?
Toconut B: will it be okay?
kidicarus222: maybe
kidicarus222: i honestly don’t know
Toconut B: well, i guess it’s more of a chance than most restaurant crabs get
kidicarus222: I think that’s the best way to think about this
Toconut B: so what are you going to do to the girls now?

…………

I’d like to be, under the sea
In an octopus’ garden in the shade
He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been
in his octopus’ garden, in the shade.

I’d ask my friends to come and see
An octopus’ garden with me
I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’ garden in the shade.

We would be warm, below the storm
In our little hideaway beneath the waves
Resting our head, on the sea bed
In an octopus’ garden near a cave

4 comments:

  1. How did I never read this before? This was awesome.

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    1. You're not stalking me properly?

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  2. This is awesome. Also, short story writer Saki shared your views on the benefits of imitation saber-toothed tigers: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/UnrCur.shtml

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    Replies
    1. I am familiar with this story now, though I wasn't at the time I wrote this strange little story.

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