Life in Crystal Beach
Episode 2: A Fish Tale


I suppose most people who live at the beach eat fish.  For some reason, I never acquired a taste for the little creatures. I like to fish, I just don’t like to eat them.  I know people who will eat one kind of fish but won’t eat other kinds complaining that some fish tastes fishy.  That seems really odd to me.  It’s sort of like saying that chicken tastes chickeny. If fish doesn’t taste like fish what does it taste like? I do like some seafood.  I like to eat shrimp.  It tastes shrimpy. I guess that’s why I like it.  I wouldn’t like it if it tasted fishy. If it tasted fishy I’d just eat fish! Crabs are okay but they’re hard to eat and I’m not crazy about eating a creature that stares at you while you’re tearing it apart.  Creatures that are cooked and served whole, that is, with their head still on are creepy.  As far as I’m concerned, just put the meat on my plate. I don’t need to know where it came from.

The Tiki Beach Bar and Grill where I work serves a lot of fish. The Tiki is one of Crystal Beach’s oldest establishments.  It’s not a fancy place.  The floors are painted cement, the walls consist of various materials of different colors and the furnishings are simple. The walls are decorated with photos and advertisements and signs with amusing phrases.  There’s even a life-size Elvis standing along one wall.  The ceiling is very high so the dining area seems larger than it is. There’s a long bar along one wall where patrons can enjoy beer, wine and liquor and there’s a large fireplace that gives the restaurant a sort of coziness in the winter. It’s a simple beach bar.  The food is good and fresh and reasonably priced.  Of course, like every place in Crystal Beach, the service is pretty slow.  We call it being on “beach time”.  Sometimes tourists get upset at how slow things move down here but that’s the way it is.  There are no fast food joints.  We don’t have a big enough population to support one.  But that’s okay with most of us. I took a job at the Tiki about three months ago.  I was lucky enough to be hired as a bartender.  Pete is my supervisor and the bar manager.  My training consisted of learning how to open a can of beer and pour a shot of liquor over ice.  It’s a complicated job. I’m glad I have a college degree.

We seldom have anything exciting happen at the bar.  Like I said, it’s pretty laid back down here. Last spring we did have a bit of excitement that I suppose is worth mentioning. Ben Pages, a regular customer came in one late afternoon and ordered a beer.  He took a stool midway down the bar. He usually came in about twice a week.  He was a quiet man in his early fifties.  The way you can tell if a man is a longtime resident of Crystal Beach is that he’ll have a beard and long gray hair tied back in a ponytail.  And if you ask him, he played or still plays in a band. He’ll order a light beer and smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.  Ben was a longtime resident.  He was about half way through his second can of Bud Light when another couple of regulars walked in.  Dick and Gloria Swanson were also longtime residents.  They normally came in for a drink three or four nights a week, especially on Thursday nights.  That’s because Thursday is steak night. On a normal Thursday we’ll go through a couple of cows worth of steaks.  During the summer months, we could eradicate a small herd! Dick and his sister, Janet, were originally from High Island, a town smaller than Crystal Beach about 20 miles northeast. They moved here, to the bigger small town, about fifteen years ago.

On this particular evening we had a pretty good crowd even though it wasn’t tourist season and it was Tuesday night.  The bar at the Tiki is a long one. It stretches down one wall about forty feet.  Dick and Gloria found two stools together at one end.  Dick ordered a Tiki Wheat, a locally brewed beer, and Gloria ordered a glass of wine.  It had been almost a week since I had seen them in the bar.  Rumors were that they had been in Richmond, Texas, visiting family. In a small community like Crystal Beach, rumors spread at the speed of Wi-Fi.  Even the most private moments usually end up on some social media site within hours.  Down here it’s sort of tu business es mi business.
When I served them I got the feeling that Dick was not in a very good mood. When I sat his beer down in front of him he ordered a shot of tequila. Gloria gave him a look of disapproval. He didn’t seem to care. I don’t know about the rest of the world but in Texas tequila is a popular shot drink. I, personally, can’t do tequila shots or drink anything that contains tequila.  More than any other liquor, tequila makes me indestructible and aggressive.  It often gets me hurt so I just don’t touch the stuff. On occasion I will have a margarita since that’s the official drink of the beach made famous by Jimmy Buffett.

Like I mentioned, we had a pretty good crowd for a Tuesday.  It was about 6:00 in the evening and the dinner crowd was beginning to wander in. Pete asked me to give the waitresses a hand so I picked up an order pad and selected a small table for two.  Large groups are a pain in the ass.  Someone is always wanting to substitute this for that or they want their meal prepared a certain way or some other goddamn thing that makes taking the order difficult.  Then I usually write it down wrong and everybody gets pissed.  This ultimately results in a big tip of zero!  There was only one fellow sitting at this particular table so I figured it would be a cinch. Turns out the guy was just here for the day to do some fishing. He ordered a burger and onion rings.  The onion rings are really good here except they give you gas – not just Tiki onion rings, but all onion rings. Never eat onion rings if you’re going on a date.  That’s a real mistake. On the subject of gas, there are two ways of expelling gas: one is with a belch and the other is a fart.  In some countries it’s considered a compliment to burp, but nobody, anywhere, is complimented by a fart.  Interesting fact. 

By the time I‘d put the order in and gotten back to the bar, Dick was on his third shot of tequila.  Gloria decided it would be smart to order a little food to maybe soak up some of the booze.  I grabbed the order pad.

“What can I get you?” I asked in my best waiter voice.
“Let’s get some goddamn fish, why don’t we? Maybe some rotten goddamn fish!”
Dick was getting a little loud.
“Dick! Not so loud, okay?” Gloria whispered.
“Well, we do serve fish, but I’m not sure we have any that’s been damned.” I said jokingly. Dick didn’t find it funny.
“Let me tell you something, you smart ass kid, if I want goddamn fish, I want goddamn fish!”
“Dick!” Gloria repeated in a louder whisper.
“I’m sorry,” she continued. “I’ll have a shrimp salad and he’ll have the flounder.”
“Okay then,” I said. “That’ll be one shrimp salad and one goddamn flounder. Right?”
“That’s fuckin’ right! And I’ll have another tequila.”

Gloria shook her head. As I headed for the kitchen, Pete grabbed my arm.  He explained that evidently a few days ago while they were gone somebody had dumped some fish in front of Dick’s door and the fish had rotted. Now the whole house smelled like rotten fish. He figured it was intentional.  Dick was a crabber by profession and he was always in a row with other fishermen who he accused of robbing his crab traps. He was famous for making accusations without sufficient evidence so he had a few enemies.

I made my way down the bar looking for any sign that someone might need another drink.  Ben caught my eye. He ordered another beer.  I had just delivered it when Dick must have noticed Ben sitting halfway down the bar.
“Hey, Ben Pages, is that you, you son-of-a-bitch”? Dick yelled with a bit of a slur.
Gloria tried to quiet him but it was a hopeless endeavor.
“It is you isn’t it, you son-of-a-bitch!” Dick got louder. “I’ll bet you’re the son-of-a-bitch that put that fish on my front deck, aren’t you?” He pointed his finger at Ben.  Ben just sat there not sure of what to do. 

I should stop the action here and give a little background.  Ben and Dick’s sister, Janet, had a thing going for quite a while.  Rumors were that they were planning to get married.  Then, one day, she just up and left town.  Dick wasn’t at home at the time so he didn’t get to talk with her before she left.  Unfortunately, as she was driving to Beaumont on interstate 10 she was involved in an automobile accident and was killed. That was about six months ago.

“It was you, wasn’t it?  I knew it!” Dick continued.
“Dick, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ben said quietly.
By now everyone in the place was aware that something was going on. It was so quiet you could’ve heard a French fry drop.

Dick got up from his barstool and stumbled around the bar.  Gloria was hot on his heels pulling on his shoulder.  As he passed other customers sitting at the bar, they got up and moved away.  Ben kept his seat. It looked like a scene from some old western movie. Karen, the owner of the bar picked up her cell phone.  I figured she was calling the sheriff.  We don’t have a police force in Crystal Beach.  That’s because we’re not really an incorporated town so we are under the jurisdiction of the county.  That means that our law enforcement is provided by the county sheriff and a constable. There’s a rumor that when a sheriff’s deputy screws up somewhere else in the county they are assigned to Crystal Beach as punishment!

As Dick approached Ben, Ben got up from his barstool. In an instant, they were standing face to face. Tension was on the rise.
“Why the hell did you do it?” Dick almost shouted.
“Dick, I still don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”
“The hell you don’t!  Someone put rotten fish on my deck and now the whole place stinks! I know it was you!” Dick lowered his voice but increased the intensity.
“Look, Dick, why would I do something like that?” Ben asked sincerely.
“Because you’re a son-of-a-bitch, that’s why!”
Gloria laid her hand on Dick’s shoulder. “Dick, come on. Let’s sit down.”

Dick shrugged away from her hand. Ben was getting a little more agitated. Suddenly, I realized that I really needed to take a piss but I didn’t want to miss the action.  Where are the commercials when you need them?

“Dick, first of all, you call me a son-of-a-bitch once more and I’m gonna bust your jaw. We’ve been friends for years and lately you’ve been the son-of-a-bitch, not me!  What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me? I’ll fuckin’ tell you what’s wrong with me.” He got right up in Ben’s face and pointed a finger so close to Ben’s nose he could have caught a bugger. “You, buddy, are responsible for my sister being killed!”

It was obvious that Ben was shocked by this new accusation. He was speechless. There was an audible gasp from the audience.

“Dick!” Gloria reprimanded. “Don’t!”
Ben took a step back.
“Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me?” His voice got louder.  “Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me? What the hell are you talking about?” Ben was getting angry.
“If you hadn’t run Janet off she’d still be here, she’d still be alive, you-son-of-a-bitch!”
“I didn’t run her off, you ignorant fool! And I told you not to call me that again! Why can’t you understand? She left me. I didn’t leave her!”
“Yeah, right. So you say.  She liked it here. She wouldn’t have left unless you ran her off.”
Ben stood his ground.
“That’s not true and you know it.  Everybody knew it.  Hell, she told everyone in town how she hated living here.  She wanted to live in a big city.  You know that, she told you that!”
“That’s not true.” Dick said almost in a whisper.
“Yes it is, Honey,” Gloria agreed. “You just won’t admit it.  You never have.  She always talked about leaving.”
Dick’s shoulders dropped.  He looked down at the floor.
“Hell, Dick, I asked her to marry me.  I loved her.  I’d never run her off,” Ben said. “She just couldn’t see living here the rest of her life.”
“Honey, Ben’s not responsible for Janet’s wreck.  It just happened.  It was an accident.  No one’s to blame. Okay?” Gloria took Dick’s arm.
“It’s not my fuckin’ fault, Dick.  And I didn’t put any goddamn fish on your deck.” Ben sat back down on the barstool and took a drink.

Gloria led Dick slowly back to his place at the bar.  Everything was quiet.  Suddenly, the door burst open and two sheriff’s deputies strutted in.  The cavalry had arrived. Timing is everything! When they discovered that what was happening had already happened, they sat down at a table hoping for a free meal. After a few minutes, people started talking again. The show was over.

I suddenly remembered that I’d put in a food order.  I rushed to the kitchen.  The burger was ready.  Probably had been for quite a while.  I decided to go ahead and deliver it.  Maybe the guy at the table wouldn’t notice that it was a little off-temperature.
I sat the food down on his table and started to walk away.

“Oh, hey, by the way…” the fellow started.
Rats, he’d noticed that the burger was cold.
“Do you know if anyone has found a Yeti cooler in the past week?”
“A cooler?” I asked.
“Yeah, a Yeti.  I was fishing here about a week ago and I left some fish in a cooler on the deck at my aunt’s house,” he said as he took a bite of the cold burger.
“Nope, no one’s mentioned to me that they’ve found a Yeti.  I wouldn’t think you’d have much of a chance finding it, though.  Down here those Yeti coolers have a way of sproutin’ legs and walkin’ off.” Still no mention of the cold burger.
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“Say, what’s your aunt’s name?” I asked.
“Lois White.  She lives on Maple Street.”
“Oh.  Do you come down here often? I mean, to visit?” I asked.
“No. This is only my second trip. You know, this burger isn’t very warm.”
“Sorry, you want me to take it back?” I asked reluctantly.
“No, I need to get on the road.”
“Okay. Sorry about the burger and the Yeti.”

As I walked away it suddenly all made sense.  You see, I knew Lois and she didn’t live on Maple.  She lived a street over.  Dick lived on Maple.  This guy must have dropped off the cooler of fish at the wrong house and someone must have seen it.  So, they dumped the fish out and took the cooler.  Must have been someone who doesn’t like fish.

I decided not to tell Dick and Ben about the fish and how the visitor got the wrong address.  After all, the conflict seemed to have been resolved so why make waves.  Besides, everything worked out.  Ben and Dick restored their relationship, and as for me, well, I had a really nice Yeti cooler!