Sole Food for a Wharf Rat
It’s what I call a day of grace. Sycamore trees are dropping
gold doubloons at my feet and the warm autumn air wraps me like
a favorite worn shawl. I’m almost levitating because I’ve just
sold another batch of books. Monterey is quivering with
commerce. Pity on anyone who can’t get outside for awhile.
Water splashes gaily at Portola
Plaza’s gargantuan three-tiered water fountain that is situated
at the epicenter of the brick promenade. Surrounding that are
ancient adobes depicting grizzlies and Spanish settlers. I
decide to take a walk that I have recently re-discovered: Wharf
No. 2, the working wharf, not the tourist-laden one that looks
like a street scene from downtown Tokyo.
I take the concrete walkway
alongside the yacht club, which is very low-key, considering
some of the Onassis-sized yachts that cruise into our bay.
Little dinghies and sloops strain at their ropes with names like
Oh! Susanna, Mighty Mary, Intrepid and Twilight. The oily water
reflects back an orb of sun and suddenly I see dozens of orbs.
These are light purple and they oscillate and drift thither and
It’s moon jellies! Hurray! I
don’t have to pay to see them at the aquarium. We’ve had such a
spate of them recently washed up on the beaches. But I’ve never
actually seen them in the bay - and especially not around the
After staring awhile and drifting
with the jellies, I power walk down the creaky wooden planks of
the pier toward the sole operating canneries in Monterey. I’m
not much for fish but the fresh sea air co-mingles with them to
off gas the most refreshing smell. They now have big signs that
invite tourists like me to “buy fresh fish here.”
I peer into the open door of the
cannery where men in slickers are hosing off the concrete floor
and women with their hair in nets are slicing and dicing
everything from snapper to sole. They wave at me and I grin like
a kid on a camp-out.
Sea lions are bellowing and
barfing under the pier pilings and I note five two-person
fiberglass sail boats. A man with a bullhorn is ordering the
teens who captain them to peel out of the bay in formation, put
out their cigarettes, and lean this or that way.
I laugh at the teenage rebellion.
One kid is shouting back to the kid behind him that he has a
lighter. Another one challenges the teacher who shouts that he
shouldn’t have gone past a particular buoy.
After they pass, I continue
around the backside of the cannery and notice a man and woman
staring into the inky water. As I am wont to do, and this is why
I love traveling alone, I walk up to any darned stranger I
please and start up a chat room. Being the big shot, I tell the
couple that they are witnessing moon jellies.
They are admiring the spate of
them and the man kindly proceeds to tell me more about them than
I could have imagined.
“I want to pick up the ones on
the sand and throw them back into the sea,” I say. “I know some
of them are still alive after they get washed up.” (I know
because I’ve poked them hard and they’ve quivered.)
“Oh, there’s really no point in
that,” he says, smiling. “You see they drift with the tides and
they can’t swim against them.”
So THAT’S why they become
castaways. Ya’ learn somethin’ new ever’ day.
“And you don’t want to pick them
up anyway. See those hair-thin fibers that line their outer
rims? Those are stingers.”
We talk some more and I leave
them, merrily filled with as much human contact as I’ll need for
the day. I need to get my exercise laps in so I circle the pier
several more times until a couple fishmongers give me the evil
On my way back I stand in awe of
one mammoth fishing boat, Pioneer, and how it is obviously still
afloat and open for business. It is rusted worse than a thousand
wheelbarrows left out in the rain, but a crusty fisherman is
cranking its two-story high hoist and crane. What keeps it from
taking on water, I cannot say. But it’s clear that this
treasured boat is some sailor’s livelihood.
The next treasure the day brings
me is this: a bum in a stupor, grabbing at his beer in a brown
paper bag, droops on a bench. Just yards away another man, also
in tattered and dirty clothes, earns my respect. He is playing a
small red accordion and taps out a peppy hillbilly tune on what
appears to be a makeshift tambourine strapped to his foot. This
man is working for a living and I dig deep into my pockets to
find half-pence or two but there’s zip.
I debate on whether to walk up to
him and say, “Sir, I sure appreciate what you’re doing to earn a
living. I like your music. Sorry I don’t have any money.”
Instead, I keep walking.
But then, something makes me stop
and look back. He’s staring at me and so I hop a bit, letting
him know I enjoy his jaunty music.
This is soul food that nourishes
me for the rest of the day . . .