This is a preview copy of Tales of a Metal Fisherman by Buffalo. To order the full e-book or a paperback copy, please visit nantucketebooks.com
Dedicated to R.B. and E.C.M.
One for showing me a way;
the other for telling me the way.
I guess the only difference between a new job and a new school is in one’s age. I mean, you don’t know anyone there, an outsider to the environment. That’s what I felt like, being transferred to a town in a state that I never had any desire to be in, though the idea of being employed appealed to me over starvation and deprivation. Working in a large office that shuffles buy orders like a deck of cards does not leave one with much time to converse with one’s fellow workers, and can also further the feeling that one has a third eye or is of the wrong skin color. That was how I was feeling: a fish stuck in a gravel pit that had no water.
After a couple of weeks of being in the town, I realized that maybe I should go out and be sociable, try to meet some people who were not of the same mold as those where I worked. So I did the obvious: I went out to bars to meet people.
After a couple of weeks of returning to my apartment with an alcoholic buzz and promises of strangers to give me a call, I came to the conclusion that my pit still had no water in it and that there weren’t any storm clouds on the horizon. It was late, on a Saturday night, and I had given up all hope of making any social contacts with where I had been trying. Driving around, I saw a grungy neon light on a small building, proudly proclaiming that it was Barbar’s Bar.
Now, to most people, the outside of this bar would have been enough to have made one drive on without a second thought. To me, the name brought back the story of Barbar the elephant, a children’s story that I had grown up with and had enjoyed. The parking lot was asphalt that looked like the knees on someone’s jeans, only potholes of dirt showed through instead of knees. The cars parked outside of Barbar’s had all seen better days: maimed Mercuries, pick ups that shouldn’t have been, Dodges that hadn’t and showed their physical scars. It seemed not to be the kind of place where one would hope to try and meet someone of the opposite sex.
I pulled into the parking lot and stared at the front door, wondering what I was doing there and what was going on inside. Was this a local hangout for Republicans? Did old drunkards bring their pink elephants to here to die? While I was sitting there in my car, the front door opened, letting out loud raucous rock and roll music and a man who looked to be in his later thirties. He moved his way around the side of the building where he stopped and proceeded to urinate on the side wall. Completing his business, he turned and walked back into Barbar’s without caring if anyone had seen what he had done.
This was obviously a sanctuary of male stagdom, a refuge for men to forget what was outside. Thinking I needed a little male bonding, I got out of my car and went in.
The inside the bar looked like what I had expected: a veil of cigarette smoke in the air being slashed by rock and roll music that the inhabitants had probably grown up with, though no one appeared to be listening to it. Through the darkness, I saw that there were seven or eight drinkers in the bar and that no one paid any attention to a stranger entering their sanctum. I sidled up to a bar stool and sat down. “What do you want, buddy?” the bartender asked me.
“A beer,” I replied, noticing the bartender. He seemed almost too jovial, as if I was the butt of some joke that I had not heard. He left and returned with a foamy draft in a glass,set it down in front of me without a napkin. The circles on top of the bar made me wonder if he was trying to make sets of the Olympic rings. I thought to myself that he must have gotten some type of pleasure from making Olympic rings.
I was about half way through nursing my beer and ready to leave when the front door opened and stayed open, letting the smoke out to make room for who or what was waiting outside. I stared at the open door, wondering why no one was complaining about the cold entering the bar. Then I saw no one cared that the door was open. Looking back at the open door, someone stood there in the doorway. “If I had crossed the Sahara, I couldn’t be drier than I am now,” the stranger at the doorway bellowed out. “Alcohol can always assist anyone who’s asking, so I’m tellin’ you that I’m overdue for a beer.” The patrons looked at the stranger as he entered and spoke, smiling at him.
“Hey, Captain.” “How’s the fishing, Cap’n?” “How you doin’, Cap’n?” “I just told you, you damned deef dummies; I’m as dry as dry, drier than the driest martini ever drank. Axel,” he said to the barkeep, “start pourin’ me a beer and I’ll tell you when to stop.” The drinkers there moved around the stranger, the one they called Captain. While he may of had a hat on like the skipper wore on Gilligan’s Island, that was the only thing about him that looked nautical. An old, green army fatigue jacket, sneakers that weren’t tied and should have been buried either at sea or in the ground, pants that might have gone with someone’s old zoot suit and a flannel lumberjack shirt. “So how’s the fishing been, Captain?” one of the drinkers asked him. The captain completed swallowing his glass of beer, turned to the questioner, and belched loudly. “I’ve had better, I’ve had worse. Just landed me a Barracuda; still got it hooked outside. Caught a Cougar and bagged two Bugs last night.” Now, hearing that someone claims to catch a barracuda when one is a thousand miles from any salt water leaves one with the idea that their leg is being pulled. A cougar I could maybe believe, though what the captain would have want with land animals or bugs made no sense to me. “I’ve got a line on a Javelin and a Mustang that’s been provin’ a real bitch to land. Been tryin’ to hook it for two months, an’ I think I may have finally figured out what it’s goin’ to take to pull her in.”
Now, I normally do not get involved in matters that do not affect me, but hearing such lies drew me like a moth to a light. “Uh, excuse me, but, being a stranger to your little bar, how is it you people can listen to this line of bull? There aren’t any wild mustangs within miles of here and there certainly aren’t any barracuda indigenous to this area.” My comments drew a reaction of hostile looks from the drinkers around the captain. “Are you calling the Captain a liar, stranger?” The man who spoke at me showed me that my decision to speak like I did may have been an unwise choice. If he hadn’t of been a pro football player, it wasn’t any fault of his own. Another reminded me of one of those wrestlers that you see on the TV. I had a feeling that I was destined to visit a hospital very soon. “Now avast and belay your thoughts there, maties,” the captain said to his cohorts. He turned at looked long and hard at me, giving me the feeling that he was the key to my survival. “Now, there, mister, are you callin’ me a liar? I may have been called many things before, though I don’t ever recall of hearing myself being addressed as a liar.” His voice was soft, like steel wool, which seemed to be the color of his eyes, though it was hard to see much between the darkness of the bar and the thick smoke in the air.
“Where you from, matey?” he questioned me. “Idaho,” I replied, “or that’s where I used to live before I moved to your folks’ wonderful metropolis.” “So you’re a potato head, eh?” His chuckle didn’t im¿cont prove my attitude towards him, though I made sure that it didn’t show to the others. “The only problem with tryin’ to hook up in those areas is that yer so danged far apart between catches. You got to always go where you can find your prey to hook. That’s why I like being close to a larger city, where the fishin’ tends to be easier.” “Why should fishing be easier in a large city?” I was beginning to believe that I was lost in a sea of confusion and that this person called ‘Captain’ was a mirage of land that might save me from drowning in a sea of physical abuse. “Nothin’ worse than trollin’ without hookin’ nothin’,” he said at me with a smile. “That would make sense, though I am still confused as to why they,” I said denoting those around him, “call you captain.” “That’s because we know him as Captain Hook,” the one who looked like a wrestler said. “Like the one in Peter Pan? That Captain Hook had a hook for a hand, and your captain has both hands, so why call him that?” I queried. “It’s what he does, mister.” The bartender’s comments were supposed to allay any misunderstandings that I had. The problem was that the fog of understanding was as thick as the smoke. “What is it that he does?” I posed to the barkeep. “Why is he known as ‘Captain Hook’?” “Blow the wind and knock down a domino,” the captain erupted. “I hook the wild runners, the skips who don’t skipper, return the runaways.” “Huh?”
“The Captain is a repo man, mister,” the barkeep clarified for me. “A repo man?” I asked no one but myself. “What do you repo? I thought you said he was a captain, like with a boat and fishing lines.” The patronage burst out laughing like they had just heard the funniest joke that they had ever heard in their lives. The feeling that I had of being the butt of a joke returned. “Well, matey, what I do is steal from shysters, rob the renegin’ renegades, find fleein’ fliers who think that they are smarter than the financial institutions that employ my services.” The captain paused, giving the barkeep a moment to replace his empty glass with a refill. “I’m a delinquent’s worst nightmare come to reality.” He accepted the refilled glass and began to down it. “I’m the unseen force that makes the world go ‘round, the no-see-um that you see only after I’m gone.” “What is it that you repo?” I asked. As a response, I got a showering of sprayed beer from him. “I swear, I’ve seen the cute and the dumb before, matey, but never at the same time as I now have with you. I repossess cars.” Like the sun starting to illuminate a day, I began to understand that the barracuda hooked outside was a car and not a fish, and that the mustang and the javelin he had spoken of were also cars, not a horse or a throwing spear. “I’m sorry to have seemed so ignorant or have thought that you were spinning tales, sir,” I said, “and apologize for any misunderstanding that I may have had.”
“Now, matey, if you really mean that you’re sorry for what you said, I’ll accept your apology, but only if you buy me a beer and lend me your ear.” Even before he had completed his sentence, there appeared a beer in front of the captain and myself with the bartender standing in front of me for pay. “Let me tell you about that ’cuda outside and what fun a job being a paid thief can be.” Without waiting for a response from me, he started talking.
“I got the work order on this fish a week ago last Thursday. The deadbeats were four months behind and thought that they could pull a fast one.” The captain smiled a toothy grin at me. “They all think that they’re smarter than the Cap’n. “Anyway, I did all of the usual follow ups and search for this ’cuda…” “Uh, excuse me,” I interrupted him, “but what are the ‘usual follow ups and search?’” I noticed that he was not one who enjoyed being interrupted by the look he flashed at me. “Goin’ to the last address on the work order, checking out his employer, asking anyone who I might know who might know someone who might know where the fish is at. There are other ways, but some of them are so secret, that the only way that they’re ever passed from one repo man to another is by word of mouth. A lot of angles never were told, as a matter of fact.” “Why weren’t they ever told?” My ignorance was wearing thin on the captain.
“Because they ran up against a great white, a Moby Dick, a ghost fish.” While I didn’t say anything, my face must have showed my stupidity. Slowly, like I was a child, he explained. “The great white shark is one of the meanest, non-thinking killers in the ocean; Moby Dick took Cap’n Ahab to Davy Jones’ locker, and a ghost fish is a fish that makes you into a ghost.” Apparently my ignorance still shone from my look. “They got killed, you potato head! Blindsided from a boom, went out on a voyage and never noticed the squall in their future. I learned a lot of my tricks from ol’ Red Sell and Crankshaft Chuck. They were two legends of repoland. But enough of this side leanin’ and luffin’, matey, I was telling you about that ’cuda. “I went to the address and found that they had moved and his boss said that the requested party was no longer employed at the address I had been given. Well, on the work order it said that this ’cuda had a custom paint job from the factory, special ordered. That by itself can often times be a visual dead give away, so I was always eyeballin’ any ’cuda that I saw for that fancy paint job. “Realizin’ that this was goin’ to be an interestin’ game of hook and land, I knew that a lure of a different nature would be required. I started lookin’ through the want ads at the job listings, tryin’ to see if there were any mechanic’s job openings, since that is what the skip had done for a livin’. If he was out of work and tryin’ to get work, where better to start? “I had gone to five or six of listings, using my badge of authority to gather any information and assistance.”
“You are also a policeman?” I foolishly interjected the question and regretted it with the look he gave me back. “Who said I was a policeman? The police ain’t no friends of repo people; that much you’ll usually find out at the wrong time.” He finished his beer as the bartender set another down in front of him. “All that I said was that I used my badge. Best two dollar investment that a repo man could ever make.” “A two-dollar badge?” “Yep, from good ol’ Woolworth’s toy department. You flash a badge on people, don’t let them really see it, and you’d be surprised at what kind of results you can get. I tells them that the person is wanted for questionin’, and to get me an address or phone number of where I can get in contact with them. Later, I phoned in to the office to see if there had been any messages and, wouldn’t you know it.” “What?” “I hadn’t no sooner left the last place where I had flashed my badge when someone drove up to apply for the job. Guess who?” I could see that the answer should be simple enough. “The Barracuda person.” “Milk a monsoon, there is a brain behind those potato eyes.” His smile showed me that he was glad to see that I was beginning to figure some things out. “Yep, and I also got a phone number on him.” “So you called the phone company and asked them the address of the phone number listing, right?” I thought that I was on the beam with the captain, but found otherwise.
“You scurvy scum” he blasted at me, “a repo man is a leper among people who live normal lives. The phone company don’t care a fig or a fart about helpin’ no one but themselves.” He stared long and hard at me. “What you gotta do is have someone who is carin’, sympathetic, and who likes a little extra money every now and then.” “You mean you greased someone?” His reaction showed me my stupidity had returned. “Call it whatever you want, so long as it gets results, right Billy Boy?” I noticed that the last of the comment was made to the one who looked like he should have been a pro football player, who smiled back at the captain. “Anyway, let me just say that I got an address for this shy shrimp skip.” “So you went over and got the car, right?” I thought I knew what was going to be said, but the glare that the captain gave me back reinforced the idea in me to stop asking questions and interrupting. “If I had, I probably wouldn’t be here now, drinkin’ this beer.” To prove his point, he gulped half of his beer down. “No, that would be what a fool wantin’ to be keel hauled might do. What I did do was first go by and see if the car was at the address, which is kind of hard to know when there is a garage and the door is closed. Only Superman has x-ray vision, you know. I parked about a block away and waited to confirm if that was where the scurvy bilge rat resided. “It was after dark, and, sure as smelt, a Barracuda pulls up to the driveway and parks. A man gets out, op¿cont ens the garage door and then drives the car into the garage and closes the door, makin’ sure he locks it. I thinks to myself, ‘Cap’n, you got yerself a real smartie here.’ Well, I now know where he lives but not where he goes during the day. “I knew that there was nothing else that I could do until the sun came up, so I went out and trolled for some other fishes that I had a line on. Landed two of them that night, which always makes a repo man feel like life is good. So I goes back to the ’cuda’s house before sunrise and waits to see what happens with the ’cuda. “It was around eight that the front door opens and out comes the skipper.” “Skipper? I thought that a captain was the skipper?” Damn my ignorance, I thought to myself, right after I had said it. “A skipper is the bloke who thinks that he’s smarter than the financial institution that loaned him the money or the monkey who’s goin’ to try and get the car back.” As an apology, I motioned that another beer should be brought to the captain. Axel was one second ahead of me, leaving a fresh filled glass of brew in front of the captain. He finished his prior beer and belched. “All day I follow this mate around town, waiting for him to make a mistake, only he don’t leave his car for longer than a few minutes or he keeps it in his sight. Realizin’ that he wasn’t goin’ to give me any part of chance, I called it a day around two in the afternoon. “I goes home and ponders this fish, of how I’m a goin’ to land this one in. Last night, while trollin’ for tunas, it came to me. It was so simple that I wondered if’n I wasn’t getting too slow and old in my years. So I makes a call to a helper of mine that I use every now and then, tells him what it is I want done, and he agrees that it should work. “Now, I’m sure that you know that sulfur smokes like a house on fire when it burns, and what better way to get a reaction from someone than yelling Fire! It’s not somethin’ to do in a crowded theater, subway, or family gatherin’, cause you will get results. Anyways, my helper had saved a bunch of smoke bombs from the Fourth of July, and we placed some around the sides of the skipper’s garage. “Now, you gotta understand that around midnight, the minds of most people react instead of thinkin’; that’s was what I was dependin’ on. The smoke bombs are smoking and, because there is no moon, so you don’t notice that the smoke is colored. My helper runs up to the front door, bangin’ on it and yellin’ that the garage is on fire. Well, I’m sure that most everybody on the block was awoken from all the noise that my helper was makin’, and, sure enough, a porch light comes on and a face peers out a window at my helper. “’Your garage is on fire,’ he yells at the man in the house. The face inside sees the smoke, and assumes that an innocent driver has stopped to warn him of his impendin’ danger. The front door bursts open and out he comes a runnin’, keys in his hand. The first thing that he does is open the garage door and drives the ’cuda out onto the street. ‘Do you have a hose?’ my helper yells at the skipper. “Well, the bloke stops his runnin’ around and looks at my helper. My first thought was that there was a goin’ to be an underwater snag to my smooth sailin’, but the next thing you know, the skipper goes runnin’ around the side of the house. That was where a plan can be changed.” The captain took a long drink off of his new glass of beer, as if he was waiting for something. “No questions, no assumptions, matey? Since you seem to be so damned smart, then what did I do?” “Drove over and hooked up the ’cuda?” I didn’t want him to think that I was being a smartass or a dummy. “That may have been the plan, but it seemed that Saint Elmo decided to walk on land and bless the repossessin’. My helper looked in the driver’s side and saw the ultimate mistake: the panicked puka had left the keys in the ignition. So, I’m getting ready to move in and hook up when I see my helper hop into the ’cuda, start her up, and take off. I rendezvous-ed a couple blocks away with him, hooked it up, took him home, and here I am.” To confirm his point, he gulped the last of his beer down and stood up. “That’s an interesting tale, Captain. It sounds like you enjoy your work,” I said. “Work, matey, is a four-letter word, and in my rulebook, there are other four letter words that are more enjoyable.” With a wave of his hand, he disappeared out the front door and into the night.
The following Sunday, I decided to go to Barbar’s and watch the football game that was on television. I knew Barbar’s was not a sports bar, nor had those whom I had met there seemed to be sports fanatics. What I did know was that they had a television there, and I thought that the frequenters might be watching the game. Besides, I wanted to show off my new car.
I pulled into the parking lot and saw there were more cars there than I had ever seen before. Thinking to myself that Barbar’s might be some kind of hangout for the Sunday football viewers, I got out of my car with hopes of enjoying a game with friends.
Then I walked in. I stood in the doorway and stared at what I was seeing. Yes, the television was turned on, but it was not the football game that they were watching: everyone there was watching Face the Nation. I stood there stunned, my mouth hanging open. Axel, standing behind the bar, yelled at me, “Close the damn door! You’re lettin’ all of the heat out.” I stepped in and pulled the door shut. I walked towards the main cluster of viewers like a man in a dream.
“Well, look what the dirt blew in,” Bos’n Billy called at me, motioning me to a group that was seated around a table. “I heard you met Honest Abe and got yourself a new set of wheels.”
“Yep,” I replied, “and I came by to say thanks for your folks’ help.” “Shit, Potato Man, I didn’t do anything. Of course, you could always show appreciation by refilling my glass.” He held up an empty mug to get his point across. I made a move to Axel, but should have known better. Nothing ever escaped Axel’s vision, and his putting a full mug of beer in front of Billy before I could request it reminded me of that. “So how’s the captain been doing?” Common ground was always a good point to start a conversation from. I was also curious why they did not have the football game on the TV, but had learned that direct questions did not apply in this bar. “Finer than a fat, fin-tailed Cadillac, why? Your car not what you thought it was?” “No, not at all.” I nursed my beer for a minute and then said, “You know, there’s a football game on TV. Aren’t you folks interested in the football game?” What I got in return was a stare by all those sitting at the table. I had an idea of what Custer felt like, with all of those Indian eyes on him at Little Big Horn. “Football watchin’ and talkin’ aren’t allowed in this bar.” Axel’s tone of voice did not answer my question. I was going to probe the why further when I heard the Captain’s voice from the doorway.
“Football is for boys who think that they are man enough to be a man. They’re the fat boys who are paid better than Sumo wrestlers, pigs who try to slaughter each other, overpaid weekend warriors.” He strode over to our table and gave me a look that let me know that a beer was immediately required. Axel must have known it, for he was at the table with a brew before the Captain had sat down. “They’re thought of as gods,” he said, “as superhuman entities who graciously walk this Earth with us. Well let me tell you, they’re no better than any other fish I’ve had to chase.” “You’ve had a prior experience with a football player?” I asked. He snorted at the question. “Yep, sure as salt I have. Let me tell you about this one pull.”
I was familiar with the player he named, a name that shall hereby remain anonymous. “Now, when one gains fame or notoriety,” said the Captain, “they seem to think that makes them better than all the others, that they have privileges that no one else has. With this case, he seemed to think his vehicle was his and that he was goin’ to pay for it when he felt like payin’. Since he was a defensive tackle, he was big enough and mean enough that no-one wanted to make him mad.” I glanced at Billy and saw his smile, which made me wonder even more if he had ever been a football player. “Well, this slobby skipper thought no-one would ever try to lay a hand on him or his car, and he did everythin’ to make sure that it stayed that way. He was so brave, or fat-headed, that the address I had been given for him was still where he was livin’. It all seemed too easy, for there weren’t any security gates or even a garage to hide the fish in. I thought that this pull was gonna be a piece of cake. “I sat down the road from his house, waitin’ for him to come home, go into his house, and leave me the fish. My work order said that it was a pickup truck, and, sure enough, a pickup truck comes trollin’ down the road, pulls up, and parks in the driveway. Now, I’ve seen some big people before, but I could not understand how he was able to fit in that truck. He went around to the side of his house and rolls this big piece of concrete behind his truck, blockin’ it from going anywhere. He rolled two more pieces of concrete behind the truck, apparently making it impossible for anyone to do anythin’ to it. Decidin’ to come back after dark, I fired up my trawler and left. “It was around three in the mornin’ that I thought I’d try and make my move. I cruised back to the house and parked close. I got out of my trawler with the idea of movin’ the blocks, hookin’ up, and runnin’. It was right after my first attempt to move one of those blocks that I started wearin’ a truss: I knew I’d never be able to pull it from the house.” “So you came and got Billy, right?” I asked. “Billy wasn’t sailin’ with me then, matey.” The Captain downed the remnants of his beer and gave me the eye to order him another. “No, I came back in the mornin’ and started tailin’ him, hopin’ for a chance to hook the fish. What I learned was that everywhere he went, he made sure to park his truck in such a way that I couldn’t hook it. He’d parallel park it between cars, parallel park between trees, parallel park between anybody nearby. No front or back hook up was possible. “Well, I knew that this fish was goin’ to be mine by crook or not by crook, and that was all that there was to it. After a couple of days of tailin’ him, I got an idea. You see, most everybody is a creature of some habit, and he was showin’ me his habits.” I nodded in agreement: the group at Barbar’s had shown me that much. “He would go to the place where he worked and parked a certain way: between two cars that obviously were either friends or fellow workers of his. One mornin’, he pulls into his usual parking spot, makin’ sure that there was a car in front of him and behind him, and goes in to work. I sure wished that I could have been there when he came out and saw his truck gone.” “How did you do it, Captain?” “I had a friend get there before anybody else did and park his car in front of the place where he would usually park. Once he parked the fish and left, I had the friend move his car and off I went with the fish. It was simple enough.” It did make sense to me. “Was there ever any fallout from this football player, Captain? Did he try to find you and make you physically pay for it?” “All that I can say is that someone did come to Barbar’s, foamin’ at the mouth about some thief stealin’ their brother’s truck. Strangely enough, this same person no longer talks to his brother about any matters anymore.”
“Why not, Captain?” “Because he’s a fathead who always thought that he was better than anyone else,” Billy piped in. “Brotherly love only goes so far, and I always did want to pay him back for how he always treated his younger brother: me.”
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Buffalo was born in Modesto, California, famous for its winery, and the hometown of George Lucas. His father was a veterinarian who later owned the family farm. Growing up in Modesto, Buffalo had, in the words of Gaylord Buzzard from the Broom-Hilda comics, “a ream of paper, a typewriter, and the delusion [he] knew how to write.”
Years passed, the family farm was paved and housed over, he got divorced, his parents died. Tired of the California rat race, Buffalo moved to Cope, Colorado, a pretty close approximation of “nowhere.”
Buffalo is the owner of Buffalo’s Last Stand in Cope, a souvenir shop for all things bison, and eastern Colorado’s premier book store, where he meets travelers from all over America.
TEXT © Buffalo Beck
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