The ponderous river, kinda huge and quiet, Molding mud in silence. --Clyde Sanborn
Nearly Normal Jimmy woke up on a mound of Schmidt beer cans. He didn’t remember a thing. That was good. And it didn’t hurt either – that’s why he liked living out on the Sand Spit – no rocks or anything, nothing but soft sand and moss-covered logs to fall down on.
It was a Sunday morning in July in 1982. The tide was up and the old logs cluttering Dunlap Bay rose a foot or two off the mud bottom. The sky was cloud-free and the hot sun came up early . Jimmy got to his feet and stretched. “Kee-rist, I’m going back to bed,” he said and he stumbled back into the cabin and slept until noon.
Jimmy’s cabin was just past the young, tender willows, on the edge of the bay. The mound of beer cans was tidier than it seemed. If he had some fried chicken from town, he gave the scraps to Herk, his big black dog. So there was really no trash and the air was fresh anyway. No one else lived out there except Clyde and Clyde was gone.
This was a time in the life of Clyde Sanborn that most people forgot about. Clyde, a charming man with a velvet baritone voice, was attractive to more than one woman, but Linda was the one who stuck around long enough to reform him. She got him to quit drinking and move off the Sand Spit. They took an apartment in Big Lake, which was far enough from the river to give Clyde a new start in life. And he got a job -- that was amazing – Clyde going to work as a clerk in the Washington Unemployment office in Mount Vernon -- where a lot of his friends who were fairly often unemployed themselves, would come in for the weekly check and see Clyde behind the counter in a clean shirt and regular shoes. “And I tell you,” Nearly Normal Jimmy said. “Clyde must be the unhappiest man on earth since he quit drinking. You should see the look on his face. I’m taking bets he won’t last until Labor Day.”
He said that to Hitch, a friend who sometimes shared soft summer nights on the Sand Spit. Hitch was a Swinomish man and a leader of the Clan of Men Who Walk Slowly into Town. And for being a quiet and gentle man, his words counted when he spoke, “Clyde will be all right.”
“I was just saying that,” Jimmy replied. “Don’t get mystical on me, and don’t Bogart the Fritos.” He reached over and grabbed the bag from Hitch. That was breakfast, and the afternoon stretched out before them.
“You shoulda been there last night,” Jimmy said. “I was at the Lighthouse and Ernie Benson was mixing free-style cocktails for me and Barbara Cram, we just had a good time.” “Yeah, Barb, she’s all right,” Hitch said. “But she was getting on my case – you know how she does that, saying Jimmy, when are you going to make something of your life -- stuff like that. Barb will get right in your face. I told her my life is on the river. All I need from town is beer and cigarettes …. well, food, but otherwise what do I need? I got it all here.”
“It’s all here,” Hitch said, looking around.
“We got blackberries in the summer and salmon in the winter and we can order up a hundred pounds of potatoes from Midnight Produce. If I need firewood, it just comes floating down the river. I explained all that to Barb, which she already knows anyway, and we drank a lot of Ernie’s cocktails. I don’t remember too much after that except walking home pretty late, “Jimmy said.
The Sand Spit didn’t really belong to anyone. One hundred years ago it had been where the Skagit River came around the bend and swept into LaConner. But they built a breakwater from the hill at Pioneer Park out to McGlinn Island and diverted the river around it, and so the sand piled up where the river once flowed, and then after a while the willows and alders began growing. You couldn’t farm it and nobody really had title, so it was rent-free for shack dwellers and river rats and a few old cars that might have worked at one time or another, and a landing where people from Fishtown tied up their skiffs -- plus LaConner’s only communist trash pile. “It’s a communist trash pile,” Jimmy explained to his visitors, ”because anybody can make a contribution and somebody might haul it away to the dump but otherwise it just stays here and it belongs to nobody.”
That was his explanation. But Jimmy sometimes got nervous, thinking maybe some fastidious townsfolk might make inquiries, or there would be too much talk, like maybe those bums ought to work for a living instead of smoking dope all day. Maybe they ought to clean up that mess. Jimmy kept his eyes and ears opened for such vibrations – that was his role in the scheme of things, to warn the river rats.
“I keep my eyes peeled,” he said.
“Like a banana,” Hitch said, “but you don’t look like a banana.”
“Hitch, you don’t make any sense,” Jimmy said.
“White people are crazy,” Hitch said.
“Let me finish. My job is to keep my eyes peeled. I try to see trouble coming before trouble sees me,” Jimmy said.
“You wouldn’t see trouble coming if it fell out of the sky. You couldn’t see Godzilla if he farted in a hurricane,” Hitch said.
“Yeah, but I can make it home when it’s darker than inside of a skunk’s ass,” Jimmy said.
“You might make it half-way home, but you fall down, get up, fall down again, you only don’t get lost because you’re not going anywhere,” Hitch said.
“You’re right. I never get lost, because I’m always home.” Jimmy said, “and this is the best place anyone ever lived.”
“That’s right,” Hitch said, “but you forgot to mention the clams -- lots of clams around here.”
“Hitch, you got to shave off that Fu Manchu mustache, it’s way too ugly,” Jimmy said.
“Ugly? Not half as ugly as your mama’s mustache,” Hitch said.
“Your mama is fatter than a whale, she couldn’t fit through Deception Pass at high tide,” Jimmy said.
The Sand Spit wasn’t on the map. It was where the Skagit River used to be, and the River might come and take it back some day. (to be continued)
Note: “Midnight Produce” refers to the practice of helping yourself to the bounty of a farmer’s field. Also, some people are wondering whether this is all true or if I just made it up. My advice is just enjoy the story. Poems by Clyde Sanborn can be found here. If you find a map of LaConner on the Internet, you can see the Sand Spit as an un-marked stretch of land south of Pioneer Park. McGlinn Island now belongs to the Swinomish tribe -- I guess it always did. Ask someone else about these legalities, and a NOAA chart will give a more accurate rendition of the area, although even those charts can be out of date, because the Skagit River keeps moving around.
Subscriptions. What will Nearly Normal Jimmy and Hitch do next? Will the Buddhist ever come back to the bar? And will Ben Munsey jump over any more fences? No, he won’t, but Singin’ Dan still has an oar in the water. ….. We need your help to continue this story. Please go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button with your $25 donation. Or write a check for $25 made out to Fred Owens and mail it to 35 West Main St., Suite B #391, Ventura CA 93001. Thank you very much.