By John Jodzio
Listen to John read this story:
He's a professional baseball player, just not the one I want. The one I wanted to go deep sea fishing with was the shortstop, the one who does the back flip before every game, the master of infield chatter, the guy with the infectious smile and the chain of urban sports bars.
What I get is a designated hitter who once kicked a seagull for fun. His name is Eusebio Urbina and there are rumors.
Isn't it obvious, all the pundits on TV scream — his skull is gynormous, he keeps pulling his hamstrings, his eyes are as yellow as Post-it notes.
"Pleased to meet you, Danny," Eusebio says. He holds out his massive hand out for me to shake, but I leave it suspended in mid-air. I spin on my heel, shove a photographer out of my way and walk up the gang plank to the fishing boat.
"Let's just get this over with," I yell down.
We troll through the harbor, past all the cruise ships and docked sailboats. It's just the two of us, Eusebio and me, in a huge orange boat that has "Doritos" written all over it. On the hull, on the galley tables, on the steering wheel cover. Doritos. There are bags of Doritos strategically placed on the benches to look like throw pillows. There is a mini-fridge stocked to the gills with sandwiches and pop. There is a fruit and cheese plate the size and shape of a small butte.
"You weren't my wish," I tell Eusebio.
Eusebio sighs. He digs into his duffel bag and yanks out a bottle of dark liquor. He spins the top off it, takes a long swallow. He holds the bottle out to me, shakes it back and forth.
"And you weren't mine," he tells me.
I'm fifteen. According to every oncologist, shaman and tea leaf reader in the tri-state area, I've got between three and six months to live. Right now, I am wearing a blue shirt that says "Carpe Diem" but I've scratched off the 'e' and the 'm' so the shirt reads "Carp Die."
I grab the bottle from Eusebio and put it up to my lips and take a pull.
We clear the harbor and Eusebio cuts the engine. He's already finished off one bottle of rum and he takes off his shirt and ties it around his head. He scratches his goatee, takes another pull on the new bottle he's just opened.
"You drive," he says. "I'll sleep."
He flops down on one of the benches in the back of the boat, lights up a cigarette. I think back to when Eusebio was hitting everything out of the ballpark. Every time he came up to bat, the place went ape shit. Whenever he hit a home run, he did this complicated dance full of elbow and chest bumps and high fives with the shortstop. I was fine then, not sick at all.
Now, Eusebio hardly ever gets off the bench. Whenever he does there is only heckling and slurs, the occasional syringe chucked at him. The shortstop won't mention him by name in post-game interviews. The shortstop calls him "The Designated Hitter" or "Number 8" like he's forgotten who Eusebio is.
I slide into the captain's chair and start the engine. I yank the throttle down and feel the boat lurch forward. I am drunk and sweaty and I can feel the liquor sloshing around in my gut as we take off. Eusebio points to some seagulls.
"Fishing tip," he tells me as he closes his eyes. "Birds follow fish."
I follow the birds, cut the engine near when they swoop down from the clouds. I drop anchor and I grab a rod and reel from the compartment under the deck. Even though I'm pretty wasted, I slosh a handful of frozen jumbo shrimp out of the bait box; hook one of them through its gut. I take my rod and rear back, use my entire upper body to cast out. I set the rod into the holder and wait.
Eusebio's snoring. If I had a Sharpie, I'd write something on his forehead. Something like "Cheater" or "I Heart 'Roid Rage." That's the kind of thing we do all the time at Children's Hospital. Kids wake up with the words "Pillhead" or "Sicko" written on their forehead in permanent marker. The parents never think it is funny, but the kids always find it hilarious, make the nursing staff bring a mirror to their bedside to look at it over and over.
I reel in, cast out again.
Eusebio arches his back, rubs his palms over his eyes. He stands up and stumbles over to the edge of the boat. He unzips his pants and cuts a whiz into the ocean.
"How goes it?" he asks.
I shake my head. Eusebio digs in his bag again. The skin on his chest has turned beet red. I assume he's reaching in his bag for another bottle, but instead he holds up this greenish metal orb.
It's a grenade, but Eusebio rolls it around in his hand like it's a piece of fruit. He pulls the pin on it with his teeth and then he starts to laugh. I let my rod go, turn and face him.
"Time to quit dicking around," he tells me.
Eusebio rears back and chucks the grenade into the ocean. It lands and in a few seconds later the ocean explodes. This is not my wish either, but it is brilliant thing to see, a deafening explosion and this shower of sea water misting against our faces. There is a pop, pop, popping sound and I watch as the ocean starts to spit up fish. The surface of the water turns black with them — mackerel and sea bass and bluegill and fish that look like they are from the beginning of time. They have long skinny jaws and big jagged teeth and I take the fishing net and start to scoop them into the boat.
Eusebio jumps into the water and hands fish after fish to me. I pile them one on top of the other. First I fill the galley and then when I run out of room I pile up them on the deck. When that is full, I shove them into the storage areas under the benches, then into the cooler with the soda.
Eusebio gets back into the boat. He opens another bottle of rum, lights up another cigarette. We've been on the high seas for half a day, but I feel like I've been out here for months. I am shirtless and grey with dirt. I am rank with fish. I am drunk on rum and my legs feel like sea legs -- rickety and bowed.
I pick at my teeth with a pocket knife and stare toward the horizon. I take a piece of rope and practice knots.
"Are you ready?" Eusebio asks me. His five o'clock shadow has turned into a rough beard; in the moonlight his teeth have a greenish tint.
I sit on a bench and I tilt my head back to look up at the sky. The boat is running low on fuel, laboring under our catch. The stars above us are tiny and flickering, useless.