The Amateur Actors of Orange County

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Abby begins her apprenticeship in surf fishing and a mysterious stranger appears at Sam's front gate.

Chapter 9 (v.1) - The Smartest of Those Who Play in the Waves

Submitted: November 16, 2016

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Submitted: November 16, 2016



The Smartest of Those Who Play in the Waves

Great Uncle Donny now had his protégé and great niece empty the contents of the sand crab trap harmlessly back into the churning surf, as this lesson did not include her learning how to actually catch a fish with that captured bait, only how to catch the bait itself.  So she liberated the fortunate crustaceans imprisoned in the trap back into the safety of swirling waters coursing around her ankles. The actual fish catching lesson would be scheduled for another day.  However, there was one more important lesson that Donny felt that Abby needed to learn before they quit the shoreline for the rest of the afternoon.

“Slowly turn around and look at the ramp leading up to the pier, Abby”, he asked her and she immediately, albeit slowly, complied.  “Do you see a man in a Hawaiian shirt, wearing mirrored sunglasses and looking directly at us?  Don’t be afraid to look directly right back at him.  I want him to know we see him”.

“Yes”, she answered after sighting the man.

“Guess why he is watching us right now?”

Abby did not guess, but simply shrugged in answer to her great uncle’s question.

“He’s hoping that I’ll put may hands on that trap and catch some sand crabs with it myself.  It’s not going to happen and he should know better.  We have a history, him and me.  Do you notice that he is wearing kaki colored pants?” 


“That is a part of his uniform.  Underneath that Reyn Spooner Hawaiian shirt will be the rest of that uniform, with a pretty little silver and blue badge pinned onto it”, Donny added; in a tone rife with sarcasm. 

“Is he a police officer?” Abby now asked, somewhat worried.

“Yeah, he’s a cop, of sorts.  His first name by the way is Roger. His last name escapes me at the moment.  Don’t be afraid of him.  He’s not coming for you.  Not today anyway.  You’re under 16 years old.  He wants me.  Look at him, he is still hoping I will touch that trap.  Not going to happen Roger!!!”, Donny now shouted at the top of his voice, projecting it directly at the FGD officer, wearing the uniform partially concealed within his Reyn Spoorer Hawaiian shirt, and then Donny continued to shout some other invectives.  “Not today tyrant!!!  Better luck next time abuser of the rights man!!! Sic semper tyrannis!!!” he then shouted in Latin, then suddenly calming himself he asked Abby the following question, “Abby, do you know what ‘sic semper tyrannis’ means?”


“Just as well that you don’t”, answered Donny deciding to change the subject.

“He wants to cite you because you don’t have a license?” she now asked her great uncle.

“Yep”, answered Donny as he smiled at the man in the Reyn Spooner Hawaiian shirt; who then realizing that the jig was now up, broke his gaze on Donny and disappointedly began to walk slowly up the ramp to the pier above, to look for easier, less wary and less angry prey.

“Why is he wearing a Hawaiian shirt?”

“He doesn’t want people to know he’s in the Gestapo, so he is hiding it.  Technically, I suspect he is not supposed to be out of uniform, i.e. completely in undercover mode, so that’s why he is trying to conceal it underneath his Reyn Spooner shirt.  Nice shirts by the way.  Not cheap.  But I digress.  So he wears that Spooner shirt over his uniform so people won’t see him coming, until its too late and he is already writing in his nifty little citation booklet that he loves so much”.

“What kind of cop is he?” now asked his naïve great niece.

“The worse kind, a fish and game cop”, answered Donny with an ominous inflection in his voice.

“A game warden?”


“He was staking us out.  Well, one good stakeout deserves another.  Now we’re going to go stake him out; should be safe enough, just as long as we keep our distance.  You don’t want to tread to close to one of these rattle snakes if you can avoid it.  We don’t want to be cited for interfering with an officer of the so called law in the performance of his tyranny”.

And so Great Uncle Donny and Abby slowly began to follow what Donny was now referring to as “Our little fish and game department flunky”, at a safe distance of course. First they made their way across the sandy beach to the ramp of the pier.  When they got to the top of that ramp, they spied the FG Warden moving very slow, gradually working his way down the wide boardwalk of that famous pier.  Almost painfully slow he moved, like a hunter on the stalk, carefully trying not to spook any of his unwary prey.  And who were his prey?  At the moment his prey consisted of various men who were now fishing off the Huntington Beach Pier.  Towards the beginning of the pier, the part that hung over the shallows below, there where men dipping their fishing lines into the churning surf below, hoping to hook into surf perch or corbina.  Looking a bit father down the line, towards the middle of that aging wooden structure, other anglers were fishing for other things; possibly hoping to hook into a ray, or an angle shark, or even a halibut if the tide would only start cooperating.  Way down the very end of the pier would be other fishermen hoping for bottom fish like sculpin with its poisonous spines. Carefully remove those spines from that fish renders it harmless and makes for a delicious broiled entre.  Or perhaps some of those fishermen would have to settle for the far less tasty sand bass; another species known to in habit the deeper water below that portion of the pier.  So far none of these anglers took noticed of the stranger among them, donning a Reyn Spooner Hawaiian shirt, while he intently watched them from behind his mirrored sunglasses, as he still took his own sweet time, making his way down the line of the Huntington Beach Pier.

“Is he going to check to see if any of these men have licenses?” whispered Abby to her great uncle.

“No Abby”, he answered back in a normal tone of voice, realizing that there was no way the warden could possibly hear them, given their present distance from his location on the pier; especially over the sound of the pounding surf below. “Nobody needs a license to fish off a pier in California.  The only place I know where you don’t need a license, if you’re over the age of sixteen, that is. All he can do now is watch and wait to cite them for something else”.

“Like what?” she now asked.

“For something undersized, or even something else forbidden to take at all.  Perhaps a halibut under twenty-two inches long, or even farther down the pier, a sand bass with its under sized limitations.  He’ll be looking for someone violating one of those regulations”, now noted Donny, as he leaned on the wooden railing of the pier, pretending to be interested in something else.  “I can tell you one thing though.  He won’t be citing anybody for an undersized halibut today.  Those guys in the center of the pier hoping to hook into one of those are wasting their time.  The tide’s not right for halibut”.

And so the game warden continued to wander farther down the pier for other prospects to fit into his citation booklet, then bingo, when he reached the very end of pier he opened his book and began to write and was immediately challenged by a very frightened and perplexed fisherman.  Too late, the officer had already started writing, right after looking into this fisherman’s green plastic bucket and despite the invectives being hurled in his direction the game warden continued to calmly write into his citation booklet.  And when the fisherman’s invectives failed to dissuade or impress the warden, the fisherman began to plead for mercy and clemency, as he was only trying to feed his family, etc.  Those futile cries for sympathy did not work either.  After all, once a ticket is written, it is written; it can not be unwritten.

“That man is not having a very good day”, noted Abby to her great uncle.

“Yes, this is going to be a very expensive fish fry for him and it won’t even taste all that good once that fish is cooked”, hazarded Great Uncle Donny, even without being able to see or hear what the man was being sited for.  To him it was a foregone conclusion. 

“How do you know it won’t taste good?” Abby now asked, since they couldn’t yet see what was in the man’s bucket.

“I can’t see what is in that bucket from here, or even hear what that guy is now yelling to the fish and game cop, but I’d be willing to bet a free fish and chips dinner platter and a pitcher of beer that it’s a puny undersized sand bass. And in my humble opinion sand bass taste like mud.  Won’t even be a big meal either; hardly worth the fine that that ticket is going to be costing him”. 

“How do you know what he is being sighted for, if we can’t even see what is in the bucket?” Abby then asked, referring the green bucket that was now being waved around by the distraught fisherman, in front of the warden’s mirrored sunglasses, as he seemed now to be begging the officer to take a second look. 

“Its got to be a small fish, or a ticket wouldn’t have been written. And due to the fact that the only fish caught at the end of the pier with a size limitation, other than halibut, are sand bass.  And as I just noted the tide isn’t right for halibut”.

“Are halibut only caught in the deep water at the end of the pier?” she now asked.

“Halibut are caught in all depths around piers.  But most are caught in the shallows just before, during and after the grunion start running.  Usually a few days before and after the full and new moon cycles; there won’t be any grunion stacking up around here, not today, and therefore there won’t be any halibut stacking up either”. 

So after the fish and game warden finished his unpleasant citation duty, he left the now stunned fisherman behind and walked back the way he had come.  Mission accomplished. At which point, Donny and Abby walked over to look into the poor man’s small plastic bucket to verify Donny’s suspicions.  It was indeed an undersized sand bass. 

Abby was thoroughly impressed with her great uncle’s powers of deduction and observation that day and from that time forward would trust him in almost anything that he would tell her; unfortunately even things clouded by his personal deeply held biases and beliefs regarding the State of California Department of Fish and Game, i.e. that “tyrannical regime” he believed it to be; which would eventually lead to getting young Abby Shields into all kinds of trouble.  Kind and loving though her great uncle might be, he was also a bit of a pied piper and a very bad influence on minors, albeit a very loveable and kindly bad influence. 

Back to the present day:

George Rook had a long history of bartering his freshly caught fish for goods, services and favors from time to time; without involving the exchange of actual money.  For involving the payment of actual money in the selling of sport fish is, as already pointed out in this story, illegal in California.  Actually bartering sport fish catches for goods, services and favors is too, technically, but why quibble; so to is driving five miles above the speed limit and who doesn’t do that from time to time, unless they are George Rook who has never owned a single automobile in his entire life. 

Anyway, getting back on point, one of George’s various, shall we say bartering clients, or perhaps partners would be a better term, was the famous, now aging movie star and personal friend, Sam Witherspoon.  Here is how that relationship would typically play out sometimes.  Although Sam always requested that his friends, clients, talent agents, press agents, managers, and basically anyone whom associated with him on a personal or professional level, would, if they were coming over to his beach house, need call ahead of time and simply let him know that they wanted to pay him a visit.  And they were all, his friends and associates, willing to comply with this quite reasonable request, except for George.  Sam could never get George to cooperate with this courtesy.  George would simply drop by Sam’s beach house whenever he wanted to and without calling ahead of time.  However, in George’s defense there was a very good reason for him not calling ahead of time.  His visits to Sam’s front door were governed, not so much by clocks, but by the tides.  So Sam, always keeping a wary eye on the tidal charts himself, could almost always predict to a high level of certainty when George was likely to drop by unannounced.  And with George usually doing so with a free gift of freshly caught surf perch, or corbina; occasionally even a halibut.  Perhaps the word “free” was a bit of a misnomer, as there were always strings attached to these free will offerings of fresh caught fish. 

Here is a recent example of how the tides governed George’s frequent, unannounced, visitations to Sam’s front door.

“Howdy George”, said Sam to his friend, after he opened his front door, “I was expecting you to drop by today, unannounced; as per usual”. 

“I guess you read this morning’s tidal chart?” asked George.

“Let me asks you something”, Sam now queried, “What would you do if I was away on a shoot and wasn’t here to answer my front door?”

“I’d go over to your next door neighbor’s house and ask him if he wanted some fresh corbina to cook for his dinner”.

“You know Larry?”

“Yeah”, answered George plainly.

“How is it that you know him?”

“Last time I came by with two corbinas you were away on a shoot.  So I knocked on his door and introduced myself.  He likes to eat barbequed corbina too”.

“Oh, I see.  Did he provide the beer for the feast, as well?” asked Sam.

“No, he likes white wine; very expensive white wine from somewhere in Europe.  I think Germany.  All I’ve ever gotten out of you is free Corona or Budweiser”.

So that is how George’s bartering system worked.  He provided the “free” fresh fish and the other party, in this case Sam Witherspoon, would provide the “free” charcoal, or rather “free” mesquite wood to be precise, to barbeque it, along with the “free” vegetables to put on the plate with that “free” fish, and most importantly, the “free” cold beer to wash it down.  He never provided expensive white wines from Europe, or California for that matter. 

And so, as already noted, George’s unannounced visits, as with everything else connected with surf fishing, were always governed by the tides.  He who does not know the tides does not catch fish from out of them.  Well, usually anyway.  As with everything else on this little blue marble, there is also something called “dumb luck” in regards to surf fishing. 

“What do you have in your krill?” now asked Sam of his irrepressible friend.

“I have two fresh corbinas and one nice fat surf perch”.

“How big?”

“At least a two pounder”, answered George.  And that is big for a surf perch.

And so within a 90 minute time frame, Sam Witherspoon and George Rook found themselves sitting in his front yard grilling two nice sized corbinas and a nice fat surf perch above the smoldering embers of a pile of mesquite wood, placed squarely in the center of Sam’s out door barbeque pit. And as he tended to the grilling fish, Sam realizing that they had one fish too many, as they were only two of them, looked out to the side walk that ran right next to his picket fence and sighted passer by who looked like he could use a good meal.  The gentleman in question appeared to be homeless, as he was pushing what was probably all of his personal belongings in this world, down the walkway in a shopping cart.  Sam had seen him many times before pushing his cart aimlessly northward along the walk way, and other times pushing it aimlessly southward, in the opposite direction.  Always in no apparent hurry in whatever direction he was taking. 

“Howdy Mister?” kindly asked Sam of the stranger, “Care for a plate of fresh barbequed fish?”

The stranger look slightly wary at Sam, but none the less decided to carefully approach and pushed his cart over to the fence, nearer to Sam’s property line. 

“Which one?” now asked the stranger pointing to the three fish on the grill.

“Take you pick”, now offered Sam.

“I’ll take the corbina on the left”, answered the Stranger, while pointing to the fish in question.

“Excellent choice”, now commended Sam.  “I see you know your fish?  You must have some experience with this particular species?”

“Yes I do”, quietly answered the down on his luck stranger, as he pushed his cart off the footpath and then returned to stand and look into Sam’s cooker again.

“Then please tell me sir”, now asked Sam, whose curiosity about this mysterious homeless transient was now suddenly piqued.  “I’d be very interested to hear from you just exactly what you know about this particular species?”

“It’s the smartest of all the fishes, at least the smartest of all those who like to play in the waves”, answered the stranger.





© Copyright 2018 Jim Pack. All rights reserved.


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