|Austin-Bergstrom International Airport|
TOELESS ON TANGIER (Soon to be a Major Motion Picture!)
by Marco Perella
We are yachting on Chesapeake Bay with Fred and Linda. Yes, the same. Since I have immortalized Fred's prowess as an airplane pilot, marathon bicycler and clothes horse he has made me his official biographer and we get invited on various jaunts to record the intrepid lifestyle and colorful adventures of this modern Ulysses. Fred is currently in a boating phase and he proudly whips his 45 foot Hatteras, ("the Cadillac of yachts") down the treacherous coastline of the Eastern shore on our way from Washington to Norfolk. That he is the skipper of a boat called the "Mullett" barely detracts from the brawny image he conveys. Linda is first mate and ship's surgeon. (More on that later.) She has also instructed us to bring plenty of fleece. Fleece?
Diane and I are the perfect boating guests because Diane is Icelandic and the smell of the sea makes her double helixes do loop-de-loops as they print out Lief Erickson dragon ship genetic messages to her savage little Viking cells. We're barely two days out and already she has been appearing on deck dressed in steel breast plates and one of those helmets with wings on the sides. I myself come from a rich maritime tradition because my Sicilian ancestors came to this country on a boat. I'm right at home as long as I stay down below in steerage.
We have faced death a thousand times on this perilous journey. The north wind has been blowing for days and creating a viscious chop. We lost the color TV when Fred tried to gun through a rather large wave and we went airborne. (I suspect this was a planned maneuver to prevent me from watching ballgames.) We've also run aground three times in places like "Sharkfin Bay", "Old Woman Cove" and "Choptank Shallows". Treacherous waters. The very names make even the sturdiest watermen blanch. We have come through unscathed however, and hardship has made us a tight little crew. Fred has taught me how to navigate and even lets me take the helm in open waters. He has also instructed me in the fine nautical art of flibberring the jibbett. This is where you scuttle around on deck making up interesting nautical phrases.
Our port of call is Tangier Island, a community of crab fishermen isolated from the mainland for centuries. The island was discovered and named by John Smith of Pocahontas fame back in 1608 and has been permanently inhabited for almost that long. The bloody British used the island as a base for their attack on Ft. McHenry in the War of 1812. That star-spangled thing. What mysteries await us as we dodge crabpots and diesel in to the picturesque little harbor? The north wind has blown all the water out of the bay and it's a record low tide. Cormorants wallow in muddy shoals and stranded clams click forlornly at our passing. The propeller kicks up ominous mud as we dock at Parks' Marina.
About one quarter of the 600 some odd Tangerines are named Parks. The others are named Pruitt, Crockett or Dise and they've been marrying each other for three hundred years. The adults are all four feet tall with twelve fingers on each hand and one big eye in the middle of their foreheads. But by some impenetrable anomaly all the children are robust blond, blue-eyed beauties. Tourist season is over and we are almost the only strangers on the island as Linda, Diane and I take a walking tour of the town. Fred prefers to retain some of his majesty by riding his bike.
He fits right in because space is at a premium here and there are few cars. The tiny clapboard houses butt up right next to each other along the 10-foot wide "main lane". Transportation is by bike, motor scooter and golf cart. Bike theft is rampant. We walk past the grocery store as an old woman comes out, casts her eye down the block and says, "Someone's stolen me bike! Ay! I'll just steal me another! Cackle-cackle!" At least that's what we think she says. 300 years of isolation has produced a very peculiar dialect among the Tangelos. It sounds like a combination of old British and that weird language Jodi Foster spoke in the "Nell" movie.
We ask two Cyclopean crabmen in a golf cart if anyone on the island has seen "Chessie" the Chesapeake sea monster:
"Ooo de grayme fester doody westernshoremen budday wuztrunk." one replies.
When we ask the same question of the women behind the grocery counter they reply that the President's daughter has never been to Tangier and anyway they think she's a pretty nice looking girl. Then they give Fred an appraising eye and ask if he'll be staying on the island for long. Fred chortles and says something about it depending on the tide. The women say nothing but they flutter their many digits together in a very disconcerting manner.
Other strangenesses keep cropping up as we continue our tour among the Tangents. For one thing there's the house numbers. They're in the 16000 range. You know, like 16101...16103. This is pretty weird because there are only about a hundred buildings and three streets on the whole island. Either it's a little joke by the 911 people or the numbers are actually describing the number of bodies buried in each yard. Every house has a yard full of gravestones going back to the 17th century. Think about it. You've got an island with very little room and people dying for 300 years. Where you gonna put them if you're an Episcopalian? After the churchyard fills up you put them in the lawn. Linda says it must make for fertile soil. Ever the gardener. Anyway, yard after yard is filled with tombstones. PARKS, PRUITT, DISE, DISE, CROCKETT, PARKS, CROCKETT, DISE, PRUITT. Out on the end of the island where there's less tourist traffic the graves are really squeezed together. Each one has a concrete lid for easy access. There'll be a PARKS headstone and then five or six older headstones kind of stacked next to it. So I guess the PARKS designation is plural in this case. We think on these things as we wander back to the yacht. Blond children smile at us as they pogo stick in the lane. Pogo stick? Maybe we should tell them about the invention of the skateboard. These Tangenitals are an island lost in time.
Later in the evening as we sit in the cabin with our ration of grog an oilskinned crabman comes out of the mist on the dock and asks us for a "six-beer". Linda says we have no beer and he retreats. Sinister forces are all around us. I am jolted awake by the sound of a crab boat dieseling into the harbor. I hear a voice cry out..."No Dise! I'll Park the boat and Pruitt nothin in the Crock to Ett tonite!" I lapse back into fitful sleep.
Suddenly the cabin is filled with one-eyed crab creatures. They leer at me and as they raise their arms I see crab pincers where hands should be. One of them looks down at me and says: "Hilda Crockett needs a child!" I scream and point to Fred's cabin as they drag me away: "No! Take him! Take him! I'm not blond!" And then they're pounding me ....no...it's Fred hitting me with a pillow. "Get up you lazy swab! By gore I'll have you on biscuit and bilge water! Hah-hah-hah!"
"Milkers! They want milkers, Captain..." I mumble as I start down the stairs to the head. In my stupor my foot slips on the carpet and I plunge ignobly to the lower deck. I start getting immediate messages from the foot region: "Flash! Alert! Bulletin!" I stare down and notice that the little toe on my right foot is pointing towards Cuba. "Hi!" it says. "You don't think about me much and I just wanted to let you know that you'll be paying a LOT of attention to me in the weeks to come!" Fred immediately calls his personal physician, Dr. Feelgood, who suggests heavily sedating me. Linda eagerly volunteers to snap the digit back into position. This is too much for Fred who promptly abandons ship. While I am deciding what to do Linda grabs the toe and twists. "It's okay Marco, I heard it click into place!" she tells me after I wake up. Diane finally talks me into a trip to the Tangier Island clinic to confirm Linda's efforts.
"I'm Nurse Parks and this is Nurse Pruitt. Are you the man with the toe?"
I hop like a maniac, trying to make the front door before Nurse Pruitt grabs my privates with all those fingers. I slug a blond kid and steal his pogo stick and start hopping for the dock. Suddenly Fred is there on his bicycle, wielding a cutlass and lopping off mutated Tangelo hands as he covers my retreat down the narrow street. The town is alive with them now...scuttling out of the shadows as they grope for us. I can hear them moaning: "The Milkers! Get the Milkers!" Thousands of crabs scrabble out from under the many grave casements in the yards and join in the chase. I can see Diane and Linda preparing to cast off as I reach the deck with one final bound. Fred jumps off the bike and stands like a Colossus on the aft deck, carving the crab people as they throw themselves into the mud hoping to foul the rudder. Diane repels boarders by swatting them with big pieces of fleece. (Now we know!) Linda gleefully falls on the mutants clinging to the deck railing and rips off their grasping appendages. We pull away from the dock and make for the harbor channel. Fred holds up his bloody sword and sounds his fearsome war cry to the crab hordes: "I WILL NEVER EAT CRABCAKES AGAIN!"
The Tangerines raise their arms in supplication to him as our boat gathers speed: "Stay! Rule us! Rule us!" But it's too late. The island recedes in the Chesapeake mist as we hit 2000 rpms on the tach. By the time the sun sets over Virginia, Tangier Island is nothing but a dusky shadow in the Mullett's wake.