Short story — Chubasco

Ken Jones

Staff member

“Man, what a lousy day!” The chubasco had come right up the Baja coast bangin’ into villages, knockin’ out the spiffy new resorts, and overturnin’ boats. Then it got really serious before it moved north, skirted by San Diego County, and hit the “Big Orange.”

Luckily, most of Orange County saw limited damage as it survived the display of temper by Mother Nature. It was a welcome relief to local anglers who had read of the devastation caused by “El Cordonazo” (The Lash of St. Francis), the name given to the chubasco that blew in from the Pacific in September of ‘39.

That tropical storm, hurricane, or chubasco (the description depending upon which newspaper you read), had brought nearly three inches of rain in one day, flooded much of southern California, and resulted in more than 90 deaths. Among the many structures damaged or destroyed were the local piers: two thirds of the pier at San Clemente was washed away; the pier at Doheny Palisades was damaged; the “T” at the end of the Balboa Pier was gone; half of the Newport Pier was missing; and damage was inflicted upon both the Huntington Beach and Seal Beach piers. Luckily the new storm although damaging was not as lethal.

For some reason (he had to go fishing!) Earl had traveled down to the pier at Newport Beach following the storm. He had the mistaken belief that he actually might still be able to catch some fish.

What Earl found were big waves, a strong current, mattings of giant kelp that had been ripped asunder from their assorted anchoring’s, and flotsam and jetsam from unknown ports of call. What he didn’t find were fish. He had a constant battle to keep the seaweeds and the trash (especially the heavy plastic bags) off his line. To make it worse, he had just received a cell phone call from his wife letting him know that his son was in trouble with the computer teacher again (something to do with inappropriate connections to the internet). Just perfect!

One last cast and Earl would call it a day. Who knows, maybe there was still a fish down there that hadn’t deserted the pier with its brethren? But just like the thousand and one previous casts (maybe a slight exaggeration), the line was soon entangled in the weeds. This time the weeds were a little thicker and heavier and Earl had to hand-line the mess up to the pier. Entwined in the sinewy-fingered weeds was a small glass jar or bottle, purple-hued and of strange design. For once in the morning Earl had found something interesting!

Sometimes one would see a bottle strangely floating in the water next to the pier. At times his friends would try to net the bottle but usually with little success. Generally it would just float ashore. Usually the bottle would contain a small note saying if found to contact so and so. Typically it was from a youngster who had heard about such things. Sometimes it was one of the bottles that the local “Friends in Arms” had been tossing into the ocean to carry their messages of peace “to our brothers and sisters in distant lands.” Most of their bottles never reached those distant lands. This though was not a simple bottle; it was beautiful and might be worth some money? Luckily, no one else was around when Earl decided to pry open the cork-like stopper in the jar.

Out popped a genie but it wasn’t a Disneyesque, Shaq-like Hollywood genie. No, this genie looked like Lucy Ricardo from I Love Lucy, but she was wearing a pirate costume. Lucy said, “Hi. Who are you? What do you want for a wish?” It was, Earl assumed, the standard question that a genie might ask. Nevertheless, Earl was still a little taken aback by the idea of a genie, especially a red-haired, Lucy-genie. “Well, I wish I knew how many wishes I will get?” “You get three and you’ve just used the first. Ha!” Earl turned away and thought about what he should do. No genie would trick him! He looked back at the genie. Lucy was now gone replaced by what seemed to be Hoss Cartright of the Ponderosa clan. What was going on? It seemed like he was watching one of the cable channels that carried old TV shows.

Earl finally said, “for my second wish I want three new wishes and to be clear, I don’t think it was fair to try to trick me.” The genie wasn’t happy but finally responded, “granted, but you’re no fun.”

Earl thought for some time before he noticed his rod and reel and the seaweed that covered his line. “For my FIRST wish I want good weather and great fishing whenever I visit the pier.” “That sounds easy enough,” said the genie that had now morphed into Fred Flinststone. Proud of his first wish, Earl said, “hop back in your bottle, I have to have time to think about my other wishes.” And, no sooner said than done, the genie disappeared down the neck of the bottle.

Amazingly the weather and the water had turned clear which called for another final cast. Earl put a fresh anchovy on his hook, cast out a short distance from the pier, and watched as a hungry barracuda appeared and grabbed the bait. After a short battle, the 9-pound “log barracuda” was sitting on the deck. Unbelievable! What about using squid as bait? A cast and a white seabass appeared. After a rugged fight, and a hard time avoiding the sharp-edged mussels on the pilings as he netted the large fish, a 30-pound trophy “king croaker” joined the barracuda on the deck. Earl needed to head home but decided to make just one more cast, this time with a lure. The lure hit the water and almost immediately there was a huge commotion in the water. It was a “bonito boil” with a school of bonito following the lure. Bam, something hit the lure hard and a monstrous bonito appeared at the top of the water. It would go 15 pounds when later weighed and it wore Earl’s arms out bringing it in. He thought he had never fought anything so strong.

Given the ache in his arms he decided to call it a day. No one on the mostly empty pier had seen his battles or his fish but he really didn’t care. He had caught three fish, all near record size for a pier, and that knowledge was all he needed. He whistled a happy tune as he trudged home with his trophies and a small bottle snuggled into his gear.

That night Earl thought long and hard about his next wish but he simply couldn’t concentrate; the day’s fishing clogged his mind. Eventually he decided to phone his friends and set up an outing on the pier for that Saturday. He thought that conditions just might be excellent for fishing.

Saturday morning the four friends were scheduled to meet up at six a.m. at the donut shop but, as usual, Andy was late. No problem, the rest were able to scarf down an extra donut. Most important, all were at the pier in their normal spot and baited up by seven a.m. On his first cast Earl hooked into a 12-pound kelp bass which Andy helped net. On his second cast it was a 29-pound halibut netted by Andy and Miguel. Cast number three was the largest spotfin croaker that any of the guys had ever seen. And cast four resulted in a nearly six-foot-long shovelnose shark (guitarfish) that drew an audience from fellow anglers on the pier.

Unfortunately, Andy, Miguel and Red had failed to get a bite and they began to look at Earl just a little bit differently. When he proceeded to catch a plethora of new giant-sized fish—sand bass, mackerel, opaleye, corbina, sculpin, pileperch, and even a bonefish, they were really perplexed. They were being skunked while at the same time Earl was catching an array of unbelievable fish.

They copied his bait, copied his hooks and terminal rigs, and even moved into the spots he was fishing. But they caught nothing. When Earl finally reeled in, one after another, a yellowtail (uncommon to most piers) and two tuna, an albacore and bluefin tuna (both pelagic, deep-water species truly rare to any pier), they knew something was amiss, something truly weird and mysterious. Earl didn’t admit a cause, even when asked, so they finally just decided it was time to go home. They helped him carry the fish but were in a confused and surly mood when they headed out to their respective homes.

He thought long and hard about his success but somehow was missing the fun. Over the next few weeks he did manage to visit the pier a few more times, and had spectacular success, but the fishing was too easy and the fishermen at the pier just weren’t very friendly any longer. The day he hooked a giant (black) seabass, Pacific sailfish, and striped marlin from the pier were almost the last straw since he had to beg and then finally pay people to help him haul the fish up to the pier. Even worse, his buddies refused to fish with him. They said they were just too busy even though he knew they had gone fishing without him.

After much thought, Earl finally uncorked his exotic bottle once again. This time Elliot Ness from The Untouchables emerged from the bottle together with his Tommy gun. What the heck? Elliott the genie finally spoke, “decided to let me out did you?” Earl said, “I think I made a mistake!” “Wasn’t the fishing good?” “Actually it was too good, there just wasn’t any challenge to it.” “You said you wanted it great!” “Come on, what’s your second wish?” “I just want you to change it back to the way it was. The fishing will not be as good but I think I will be happier and I’ll have more friends.”

“Maybe you should be a little bit more careful next time, you’ve only got one wish left.” “Just head back to the bottle and let me think about what I want to do.” No sooner said than done although the genie had now assumed the shape of Mighty Mouse with his silly looking tights.

Should Earl choose riches? He had a comfortable job, a wonderful marriage and liked where he lived. What would he do with more money? Should he wish for world peace or something similarly earth shattering in nature? He just didn’t know. The only problem he had recently experienced was of his own making, the fishing fiasco. He did recall the problems his son was having in school. That night, as he waited for his favorite fishing show to start on his TV, he had a thought. Later, lying in bed and unable to go to sleep, his thoughts were further developed.

The next morning Earl slowly opened the genie bottle once again. This time the genie was in new garb and Earl had to think hard before he even recognized the character. It was Dodo, the “science fiction pixie from a strange atomic race” with “propellers on his heels and antennas on his ears.” Earl felt like his age was showing.

Earl finally spoke, “I have a wish but I don’t exactly know how to say it. Can I trust you to do me right?” “Of course, if that’s part of your wish.” “Then for my third wish I want perfect conditions whenever my family is on the Internet.” “Tell you what I’ll do. First I will make sure that you always have a perfect connection and that all your downloads will take only seconds. Next I will make sure that spam will never be sent to your address. Finally I will make sure that all obscene sites will be automatically banned from your children. They see too much trash already without having their minds attacked by that stuff.” Earl was relieved, “you got a deal, that should be a perfect wish. But as the genie morphed into Ed the Talking Horse Earl said, “could I ask you one question? Why do you appear in all these different forms?” The genie’s reply was a simple one, “do you know how boring it is to be in this bottle?”

With that the genie disappeared back into the bottle. After much thought, Earl carefully placed the bottle in the old, sturdy, dark green trunk that set amidst a cluttered group of mementos in his attic. No one would disturb it there.

Many years later, after living through the depressing final years and deaths of his mother and a life-long fishing buddy, Earl returned to the trunk in the attic. He sat down on an old chair and then removed the stopper in the genie’s bottle. Out popped a new figure, Perry Mason. Perry said, “long time no see, why have you opened my home?” Earl replied, “I know I’ve used up my three wishes but I thought you might want to consider a new proposition?” Perry said, “I’m listening.” Earl looked at the genie for a long time before speaking. “There is something that frightens me and I thought you might have an answer. If you will grant me another wish I will leave the cap off the bottle. I don’t know what goes on in your bottle, or your head for that matter, it’s simply magic to me. But you said you were bored and I imagine you have been for centuries. Perhaps if I leave the cap off the bottle you can make a final wish of your own. You can certainly return to your bottle and be bored but you may decide to leave it and return to a more earthly existence. I don’t know how that works but I thought it was worth a conversation.”

The genie now known as Perry Mason stood there in silence with his fingers steepled by his waist. He was thinking and for the first time in many long years he was puzzled and unsure of what he should do. A similar proposition had never been made and though he didn’t know how he would react to the possibility of a new life, he was indeed very tired of his confined life in that bottle.

Perry finally said, “what would be your wish?” Earl slowly replied, “I have watched my mother, a close friend, and others wither away from dementia, lost in a world of their own almost as though stuck themselves in a bottle that none of us can visit. We can only watch and see those we love depart from us mentally day by day even though they may live on physically for years. None of them would choose to end their lives in that manner but they do. Then, sooner or later, the dementia even wears away their physical abilities to survive and they die. It is, in my opinion, the saddest way to finish one’s life and has terrible affects on all those around them. We all die a little each day with them. My wish is a simple one, guarantee me that my family, my wife, my children, and myself will never have dementia. We will faces life’s other challenges but this one would be off the table.”

Normally the genie had a quick answer and response but not this time. Several minutes passed before he finally replied, “I will grant your wish. I know you could have asked for more but your thoughts are heartfelt and understood. Plus, I trust you. I know you will leave the bottle open and in doing so you are leaving the door to my home open. It will be up to me to do what’s next and it may take some time for me to make a decision but it will be my decision. We will be partners in this.” Then Perry disappeared back into the bottle.

Earl placed the open bottle in a hidden alcove of the attic where he knew it would be undisturbed. Earl never told anyone about the bottle but in time he knew the bottle was empty. If anyone someday found it they would simply think it an attractive knick-knack of little value and, like most of his valued possessions, would probably be simply thrown away or sold at an estate sale.

Life offers up many surprises but few people have ever experienced the strange interaction that took place between Earl and a bored genie. Luckily, the thoughts of the huge fish he had caught, and the deals he had made with that genie, remained crystal clear in his memory to the end of his life. The genie had kept his word as had Earl.



Well-Known Member
Making and granting wishes is an ingenious plot device. As I've gotten older, what I'd wish for has certainly changed.

The prospect of dementia has become the new boogeyman in the boomer closet.