THE HAPPY HOOKER AND HER BIG ONE
Genie K. Jacobs
I could almost feel the contempt as he glared at us, his face red with disgust. His eyes squinted beneath a worn hat splattered with old fish blood and scales. “What the Hell are those two old broads doin’ here?” he grumbled.
Immediately about forty men standing around him at the LA Airport turned to look at the two old ladies lugging their suitcases towards the Mexicana Airlines counter. I had to work hard to keep from laughing at the expressions on their faces - looks of wonder, of disbelief, and nausea.
“I don’t know about you,” I finally said when we walked confidently back to the group, “but Shirley and me are goin’ fishing.”
Now all forty men in the loosely assembled group were staring at us. Several of the older ones began to hide their faces by closely examining their fishing gear.
“Damn it to Hell! I head for Mazatlan to get away from my old lady and I end up with TWO,” exclaimed the tall one who tried to look like Tom Selleck.
“Well, greetings to you, too,” I said cheerfully. “This is Shirley and I’m Genie. Is Al here yet?”
“Naa, he’s always the last one here,” replied the young long-haired guy wearing designer shades.
He continued staring at my sweatshirt with “HAPPY HOOKER” painted in big purple letters. He smiled as I winked at him.
Shirley and I sat together silently on the early flight from LosAngeles to Mazatlan. Al Zapapta, my instructor, had arrived with our tickets just as the they announced that our flight was now loading. He was already slumped in his seat, fast asleep.
George, a nice looking kid of about twenty, walked over to us. Finally the ice had been broken, I thought.
“You ladies are really going to have a good time. I’m George, sorta the official photographer.”
Overjoyed to have the kid’s attention, I told him how Shirley and I got to be on this fishing trip, even though Shirley had never fished before.
“I retired a couple of months ago when I turned sixty-three. No way would I be playing Bingo at the Senior Center every afternoon.” The thought of such a dull existence made me laugh. “Not me…I’d head straight for Davey’s Locker and enjoy the day out on the ocean, fishing.”
“Yeah. Genie once talked me into going out on one of those boats. I was sicker than a dog the whole time,” added Shirley. “Never did fish. Got a bad sunburn though.”
“You should be OK in Mazatlan, unless we get caught in a thunder storm,” said George. “What’s the biggest fish you've caught, Genie?”
“A twelve-pound yellowtail. It put up a tough fight. Won the jackpot,” I bragged.
“Ever been big-game fishing?”
“No. My husband and I used to talk about going to Mexico for marlin, but he died about ten years ago, never did get to go. So this is really special for me.”
“How did you hear about it?” George asked.
“Saw a write-up about a class at Orange Coast College. It was called something like How to Big Game Fish with Light Tackle. Sounded good so I took it. Al was the teacher. He convinced me to sign up on
his next fishing weekend in Mexico. Guaranteed me a big fish. So here I am!”
“Genie didn’t want to be the only woman. She talked me into going,” added Shirley.
The plane landed at the small Mazatlan airport in the middle of a desert. The hot dry air hit us as we walked out of the plane. We lined up to check out through Mexican Customs. “We sure look like a motley group of American tourists,” I whispered to Shirley. “Think they’ll let us in?”
We passed and were loaded onto a small dirty old bus. The smiling driver was totally unaware that his bus had no shocks. We bounced and held on to the worn leather flat seats, except when we’d hit another pothole. Shirley and I looked out at the dry empty land. The dirty windows would not stay open.
After about an hour, the bus was in the city of Mazatlan. The driver, still smiling, pulled into a driveway and stopped at the entrance of a modern tall hotel.
“Wow,” Shirley said as she looked at our hotel. “Is this gorgeous, or what?”
“ Quick! Let’s get our keys and check out our room, “ I said.
A handsome young bellhop picked up our luggage and guided us into a gold and red elevator. We rode up to the fifth floor. We followed,
admiring the beautiful native designs painted on all the tiles. Suddenly we could see the blue water of the Sea of Cortez.
“Oh, Shirley, tomorrow we will be out in the middle of this Sea in our own boat!” I sighed as I took in the beauty of the sun creating myriads of sparkles upon the water in vivid crystals of all colors.
The bellhop stopped at the door to our room, unlocked and opened the huge weathered door and motioned for us to enter.
“Shirley,” I exclaimed. “We have a whole suite of our own. Can you believe it?”
We ran through all our rooms. We were delighted with everything. The black and white sofa was long and soft. Both bathrooms, one off each bedroom were extra-large and finished in handmade decorated tiles.
After changing into something cool and casual, we were ready to party. Al was in the lobby with the rest of the men. In groups of four to six, we were loaded into open-air taxies, and whisked off to the El Patio Restaurant for the traditional Welcome Party and Dinner. A few Tequila Slammers, and total strangers became best friends. The mariachi band was super loud but we were louder as we sang along with them and banged on tables and glasses with the silverware.
“How about it, Shirley,” Dave asked, “wanna dance?”
“Sure do,” she yelled as she tried to get up from the crowded table.
Big Dave lifted Shirley onto the table where she immediately began her own version of “The Mexican Hat Dance”. The men clapped and cheered for my sixty-eight year old young friend. Shirley was thoroughly enjoying her time in the spotlight. Only twice did she step, quite accidentally,into two of the dinner plates. She kicked up her foot and without breaking the rhythm, wiped enchillada off her shoe. She twirled and wiped the refried beans from her other shoe. It was a miracle she didn’t fall off the table. She couldn’t see a thing through her steamed up bifocals.
For her Grande Finale, Shirley led us in a long La Conga line that pushed through the crowded restaurant picking up other happy diners. We burst into the kitchen where the cooks were complimented and kissed. We exited grandly through the patio and into the street. Art said, “You gals are really fun to be with. We’ll look for you at breakfast at 5:00!”
At the fishing docks, we were greeted by groups of sleepy but friendly fishermen.
“Hey, Shirley. You are a fun party girl,” said smiling Sam.
“Glad to see you so happy, Happy Hooker,” said the long-haired guy.
Al sent all the men off to a boat. Shirley and I were with Al, Bob and Art on the TOM CAT. It was the newest fishing cruiser in the fleet of the Marina del Oro. I felt like a queen on my private fishing yacht. The TOM CAT pulled smoothly out of the harbor and into the sky blue waters. We had an excellent skipper who knew where to find the big-bill fish.
Within an hour, the skipper, his deckhand and I simultaneously spotted the most beautiful big fish break out of the water. His huge fin was open and he glittered like a blue jewel. He leaped high into the air and then gracefully returned to the safety of the sea.
“Its a sailfish! Looks like a big one!” someone yelled.
The skipper immediately turned the boat and headed towards that spot he had marked near the horizon. It wasn’t long before I heard the shout, “HOOK UP!”
“Bring him in, Happy Hooker! He’s all yours,” said Al.
Without any hesitation, I strapped myself into the swivel chair. I grabbed the huge rod and while trying to hold on to the reel, I slipped the rod into the metal holder attached to the seat between my legs. I clamped my hands tightly on the rod and the knob that controlled the huge reel. This was it! I would bring in this fighting sailfish all by myself no matter how long it took. The heavy line was unwinding at a steady pace from the spool and disappearing into the sea far from the boat. My sailfish had decided to make a run away from the boat, taking yards of my line with him. I braced both feet against the stern of the boat. As I slowly lowered my rod, I tried to wind my reel as fast as I could to get some of the line back on the reel.
My mates began shouting instructions and words of encouragement: “Give your line some slack now!”
“Let him run.”
“You’l have to tire him out!”
“You’re doing great, Genie. “
“Hang in there!”
Shirley was taking pictures. Al was sleeping. I was determined. It was only possible to get a foot or so of the line back on the reel whenever MY sailfish felt the need to rest. His recovery was amazingly quick as I felt him surge forward. Again he stole more of my line. Again and again the same thing happened. Using all my strength I reeled in some line. I then heard the line pull off the reel. Several times he jumped out of the water marking his exact location, but he didn’t appear much closer to the boat. I prayed that the line would not break! I worried that the hook would come out of his mouth as he twisted and turned. The skipper kept turning the boat to help me keep my fish in front of me. The deckhand stood by in case I could no longer hold on to the rod.
Suddenly I remembered the scenes from Hemingway's book: “The Old Man and The Sea”. I recalled the movie and saw old Spencer Tracy as
he battled with his big fish day and night. Would I be strong enough to live through this? How many hours or days would it take me to reel in this monster? What if I had to go to the bathroom? I tried not to think about that as I once read in a fishing magazine that if I handed over my rod to someone, for even a second, the fish would no longer be counted as mine.
The rough knob on the old reel handle had cut into my hand. My right hand was burning. It could be bleeding. I yelled to Shirley, “Bring me that washcloth I threw in the beer cooler. I need it to put on this damn knob. My hand hurts like Hell.”
There were several blisters on my hand. The cool washcloth felt good. I put it over the knob, giving me a better grip. Making a few quick turns, the precious line came slowly reeling in. I refused to give up. Bob poured a cup of ice water over my head. Determination revived! This was a battle of life or death. MY sailfish was fighting for his life. The Happy Hooker had never beeen soooo haaaaaappy!
I had no idea how much time passed when Art shouted, “I can see your fish. You’ve got him right next to the boat!”
I could not look as the deckhand expertly clubbed the poor defeated fish on the head. With a gaff and the powerful help of all the men, my first sailfish was hauled aboard. It measured seven feet and eight inches and weighed close to 100 pounds.
Elated and exhausted I exclaimed, “Good God, this is better than sex!”
Bob, Art and Al laughed. Bob said, “Not quite. But almost.”
I looked at Shirley and whispered, “Those young studs have no idea of what makes an old Happy Hooker Happy!”
After lunch, Shirley tried with all her strength to bring in her first fish, but after a long struggle had to give up. Art took over and easily reeled in the tired sail fish. Shirley tried again with the next hook-up. She had a hard time breathing and was unable to continue. Bob took over and in a matter of a few minutes he brought in the sailfish. Our fishing buddies laughed as they decided to give Shirley the nickname of “Foreplay Shirley”. They all agreed that she played the fish well enough to make it easy for any man to finish the job.
I was able to bring in another sailfish and a beautiful iridescent Dorado that wonderful afternoon. The Happy Hooker no longer needed directions from the men.
The TOM CAT returned to the dock as the sun was setting. The colored ribbons flying from the mast announced our catch of four sailfish, a marlin and a dorado. I modestly posed with my three fish and graciously accepted compliments from all the men. While in this state of bliss, I signed the necessary papers and wrote a check to have my first sailfish mounted. It would be skinned and the skin sent to Mexico City to be mounted in fiberglass. In about six weeks my first sailfish would be shipped to Los Angeles by airfreight.
The sailfish was costly but my fish and I were worth it. I pictured it hanging in my den over my TV. I could look at it as I sat rocking in my
recliner. I would joyously relate to all who would listen, my story of how in 1990 at the age of sixty-three, this old lady caught this big fish all by herself. The memories of my youthful golden years would be fantastic!
We arrived back in the Los Angeles Airport four days later with our new fishing friends. The Happy Hooker and Shirley were now a part of this exclusive society of fishermen. They hugged us and gave us their business cards. They even begged us to come on the next trip in November.
“Bye, Marv,” I yelled as I waved to him and a couple of his friends exiting the terminal. “Sorry you got seasick! See you in November. This Happy Hooker will be glad to show you how to catch one of those big ones.”
The Happy Hooker grinned.
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