Leaning over a fishing net, a short cigarette bouncing from his muttering lips, a budweiser in his right hand, he looked up at my truck. “Whoda hella you?” he growled. “Umm, I’m a friend of Steve’s. He told me I could park my car here.” Putting down his fishing nets, stepping off of his little boat, he walked up to my truck, put his hand on the window, and said “Is that right? Steve said that, huh?” It was useless to pretend like I wasn’t frightened. He wore dark glasses, practically opaque, that covered up his eyes. He smelled like bait. He had the darkest brown skin I’d ever seen on a caucasian. “Umm, I just wanted to paint. That’s all. Steve and Kim said I could. I’m Kevin- your name is Pirate, right? I met you a year ago, at a party here.” “Ohhhh, you’re da artist kid. Go knock yaself out.”
And so I wandered around to find a spot to paint. Pretty soon, clouds rolled in and I hurried to set up my easel and paints. I was on Captree Island, painting at the home of my friend Steve. In the past, Steve said I could paint there anytime I wanted, but he said that I should just clear myself with Pirate, his “keeper of the gate.” Steve and Pirate are good friends, even though they are from different universes. Steve lets Pirate use whatever dock space he wants.
The thing was, I didn’t care too much about the landscape scene that I supposedly came to paint- I came to (hopefully) paint Pirate.
I first met Pirate a year before, and was thoroughly fascinated by him. “Pirate” is the name that he goes by, I don’t know his real name. He’s an older man who lives on some obscure tiny island on the Great South Bay, in a house with no electricity. He used to be a bay constable or something, but now he does numerous odd jobs around the bay- catching bait and selling it to fishing shops… I don’t know what else he does for a living. He never does not have a can of Budweiser in his hand. He has the most interesting face I think I’ve ever seen. His stories are short, but I found myself straining to hear every last word. In the tradition of great oral historians (and painters for that matter), Pirate tells a story in a manner by which the telling of the tale is just as important as the story itself. And underlying all of this, he has a kindness that was unique. I had seen Pirate talk with children before, and he had a warmth, a kindred spirit towards young, inquisitive minds; an openness that is lost on most adults.
And so, here I was, painting a landscape on Captree Island. The landscape was fine, I suppose. The thing was, I had driven to Captree to talk to Pirate, to see if I could somehow get one step closer to painting him.
I walked back to Pirate’s boat, and found him collecting bait fish with Steve’s little five year old son. “There he is. You see him, little buddy? He’s the albino I been tellin you ’bout. Remember him, buddy?” The little boy looked up, elated, and said “Yes, yes, Uncle Pirate, I remember the albino minnow. He’s beautiful! I can’t believe he’s lived so long! Good for him! Last time we saw him was in the beginning of the summer!” Pirate smiled. “Okay, buddy, we’ll let that little albino go. Don’t worry any, you’ll see him again. Let’s go check the crab traps.” They jumped into the run down little boat, and motored away through the marshes. I watched them pull up crab traps. It was so cool to see the little boy learning all of these things.
I looked into the water, and there in a school of fish was a little white minnow. An albino minnow. I would never have noticed something like that, never in a million years. But, I suppose that’s the reason why I have to paint Pirate. He represents something lost in our homogenized society. He’s the refined hobo, the floater, the last person truly connected to nature on the South bay. It’s as if he’s more a symbol than a man. An avatar, I suppose. He’s like the fiddler on the roof- only he doesn’t have a fiddle. He has a can of Bud. And, he’s not on a roof- he’s in a run down little Boston whaler.
Somewhat sullenly, I worked on this sketch for the next hour or so. Then I closed my easel up, cleaned my paints, and accidently dropped my favorite brush over the side of the bridge and angrily watched it float away. I slowly drove back home to Islip, contemplating my next strategy for the painting of Pirate…