Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Beautiful Thing


Beautiful things have always been important to me. That I suppose is why I became an artist.

When I was seventeen and in military school I took Spanish classes. Although I was not talented in languages, not even English, I was fascinated by the study of it and actually got pretty good at speaking it. Part of the reason my grades were as good as they were was that I dated the Spanish teacher’s Daughter and went over to her house frequently. We would sit in their living room to kiss and cautiously fondle each other for hours on end. She was a beautiful girl but like all good things it came to an end. Military School also ended and I went home for the summer. Being struck by the Spanish language and all that went along with that, I put in for my parents to take me to Mexico where I could practice my Spanish language skills. They reluctantly agreed to do it after I explained the positive educational benefits it would afford me. My brother David, just three years older than me was twenty or twenty-one and far too mature and independent to be traveling with his parents and little brother. “There is no way I would go off on a trip with you and that is for sure”, he often declared. He somehow got caught up in the excitement of the planning and finally agreed to make the trip with us despite his serious reservations. No one pressured him in any way but I think he was afraid that he might miss something if he didn’t go. So he went and complained, moaned and groaned the entire time. Clearly he should have stayed home because he practically ruined the entire trip for the rest of us. We left near the first of July, a hot and dusty month in that part of Alabama and flew into Mexico City. A torrential rainstorm greeted us with wind blowing hard and fast when we arrived. We almost froze getting off the plane because at that point in time you walked from the airplane to the terminal out in the weather. I thought Mexico would be hot and dry; this first introduction was anything but.

We toured Mexico City and the surrounding areas seeing points of interest, Maximilian’s palace, several deserted dusty monasteries and some museums. Coming through the lobby returning to the hotel one afternoon I noticed a brochure on one of the side tables next to the sofa in the expansive lobby. Picking it up I saw an advertisement for a hotel in another city on the west coast of Mexico. The city was called Acapulco and it looked like a paradise of tropical plants, crystal blue water and beautiful women in bathing suits. One photo depicted an attractive young woman swimming through a pool of the bluest water imaginable. On the surface floated thousands of Gardenia blossoms which she paddled through. The girl’s black hair contrasted with the snow white flowers and took my breath away. This place I had to visit! Mother and daddy were reluctant to say yes but ultimately I wore them down till they agreed. We flew down to Acapulco and were dazzled by all the natural beauty we encountered. The amazing hotel from the brochure was a little less than impressive once we got there. We stayed anyway. The many individual little bungalows were separate from each other and perched on a hillside that careened steeply down into the vast Pacific Ocean. They all needed a fresh coat of paint and some other repairs. It was all just a little shabby but must have been awesome in its day, many years previous. Iguanas lay on the tops of rocks surrounded by colorful Crotons and exotic palms adjacent to the walking paths you used to negotiate the hotel’s vast grounds. Some of these reptiles were huge and quite scary if you happened upon them unexpectedly. I had no experience with reptilian creatures almost as large as myself and didn’t want anything to do with them. The alligators we saw in Florida and South Georgia were bad enough. These strange creatures were just as bad and almost as scary.

Breakfast was served on the boat docks, lunch in an open air pavilion overlooking the ocean and dinner was at an enclosed more formal area in the middle of the complex. We went to a restaurant perched on the edge of the Pacific where brown skinned Mexican boys dove from cliffs of dizzying heights. The divers were very impressive; they dove when the waves were out but hit just as the waves rushed back in. When the diving was over the Mexican boys came up to the dining area and passed through the diners collecting coins for their efforts. There were no beautiful women swimming through Gardenia blossoms that I could see anywhere.

One morning after breakfast we went down to the boat dock area of the city where daddy had chartered a fishing boat. Many boats sloshed about in the briny water, smelling of fish and other things I could not identify. We went out in search of the Sail Fish which was right up daddy’s alley because he loved to fish. We rode for what seemed like hours to get far enough out where the Sailfish were caught. After trolling for hours I finally fell asleep in the trolling seat with the butt of the rod firmly jammed down between my legs, oblivious to any further happenings. One of the Mexican men awoke me crying “Ola, ola”. I sat up quickly, just in time to see the sail of a huge fish attacking my bait far behind the boat. This woke me up instantly and adrenaline began to race through me. The Mexican helping on the boat ran up behind me, reached into my lap and threw the drag off my reel which allowed the line to race away into the hypnotic deep blue water. This was like no fishing I had ever experienced and seemed counterproductive. Apparently sail fish need the release time to run and get prepared for the show they put on. The reel screamed as the line shot further and further away. I was just about to panic when the Mexican flipped the drag back on. That’s when it happened. My reel bent over and the fish rose from the depths of the ocean and shot into the air to an alarming height, throwing salt water in a huge half circle. He was a shade of blue I had only seen in the tail of a peacock, like no other color. The fish danced on the tip of his tail and skittered across the water doing what appeared to some feverish other world dance on the top of the water. He flipped, spun and twirled in ways I would have thought impossible had I not seen it with my own two eyes. He was amazing! The fish fought valiantly for what must have been fifteen or more minutes. When he was done he was completely exhausted and only once when he neared to stern of the boat did he muster enough strength to race briefly away. Finally he succumbed to the pull of my line and rolled onto his side as he gave up his escape attempt. The two Mexicans at the stern of the boat pulled the huge fish onto the gunwale of the boat. I absolutely could not believe my eyes. The colors on the sailfish fish strobed different shades of blue, aqua, turquoise and green all over his body, sail and tail. It was though in his final minutes his beauty was beyond anything conceivable to the human eye. It almost made me cry it was so amazing and I knew that he was in his final moments of life. The thing was so incredibly beautiful that I thought it was a sin to kill it. The matter was however out of my hands, Daddy said, “No, we will keep it and have it stuffed to hang in the office.” The fish weighed almost a hundred pounds and I will never get over the experience of catching it. Watching it dance, seeing its colors as it lay dying on the deck of the boat and finally knowing that I was responsible for killing such a magnificent creature.

The afternoon fishing continued and in a short while we hooked another sailfish that performed much as the first one had and was equally incredible. This fish we killed as well. Later in the day after a very long trip back to the Acapulco docks we stood waiting for a taxi to come and return us to the hotel. I saw it! A truck drove by. The truck was filled to the brim and rounded over on top with the dismembered bodies of hundreds of sailfish caught that day. I was thunderstruck. All of them long dead with their beautiful colors faded to ordinary, nothing very impressive, just a truck load of dead fish. Knowing that I had colluded in this horrible and unmentionable travesty against the most beautiful thing I had ever seen gave me feelings of remorse and guilt that I have yet to fully justify. This was forty eight years ago. The image of the dead fish piled high in the truck remained with me for the rest of my life.

Months later a large crate came to our home that contained the stuffed remains of our Sailfish. The colors were ordinary and dull. The fish was not anything it had been in life. It was flat cardboard, painted with an unimaginative eye and an ordinary hand, sad and almost disgusting

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