My first description of Dickie Becker as a fisherman who works when it’s light and sleeps when it’s dark and that’s why he only needs one outlet, might have given you the impression that he is a simple man. Dickie Becker is not a simple man. The truth is that Dickie passes out in a chair well before it gets dark. Same diff, I guess. Dickie is a lobsterman which, when you think about what happens to a lobster, being caught, cooked and ripped limb from limb actually requiring a bib to catch flying body parts, could put him in the category of aiding and abetting a monster. That monster would be us. Dickie would never kill a lobster.
Dickie can’t get anyone to fish with him; it’s much too dangerous. He has a bad habit of trying to save every minnow that comes up in the pots and falls to the deck jumping around gasping for water and life. On a calm day this is little more than amusing and time-consuming, but when rough, it’s damned life threatening. Bung tried it once (he must have lost a bet or had a little too much Grand Marnier) and said that to stay alive he had to stomp as many of those ”little suckers” as he could as soon as they hit the deck. Must have been quite a sight — minnows slipping and jumping and gasping, Bung stomping and screaming (way too much coffee) and Dickie saving . . . nobody at the helm. It was blowing 40 and the seas were six feet high the day that Bung went out. He thought he was going to die. Only the seaworthiness of Dickie’s boat keeps all hands alive. She don’t need no stinking helmsman.
Dickie’s boat, the Can’t Take It, is pretty small, about 28 feet and open to the weather. She’s a great boat, though, and she’s got a lot of character, as does Dickie. He swears that when the people making the movie Jaws were looking for a boat the Can’t Take It was their first choice. Dickie claims he refused because he didn’t want to make a Hollywood whore out of her. Although we cannot substantiate the story, we’d like to believe it.
Dickie Becker, and I’m sure you did not know this, also runs the only seagull hospice that I’ve ever heard of. In November, when the northerly gales start to stir the ocean from its lazy, mirror-like, syrupy summer deception, the brown and white teenage macho male gulls looking to stretch their wings decide to challenge the 15 to 20-foot breakers crashing through Canapitsit channel and wearing 100-foot rainbow-colored tails caused by the rising sun shining through southerly waves throwing themselves into the northerly wind. A natural confluence to some but a gift to me, it’s breathtaking. Soaring and dancing and darting in and out of the pipes formed by the curling waves, teasing the white water tips of the curl these birds, puffed full of confidence, play a very dangerous game. A wing tip catches water and down they go. With one small inaudible snap, it’s over.
Except in the way he runs his life, Dickie doesn’t live on the edge of anything. His house is in the middle of town, up Broadway and then a left onto Bayview, second place on the left. Humble little ranch but they find him. The gulls know about him. They swim through the channel, by the breakwater up to the beach by the marina and walk onto Broadway dragging the broken wing behind them. They take the left onto Bayview and stop at the second house on the left. They’re home. At any time during the fall or winter, four or five wounded gulls can be found in the yard, one wing dragging behind, in a circle probably recounting the story about the one that didn’t get away or the zig when there should have been a zag. Dickie can’t fix them; he’s tried and found it too heartbreaking. Instead he feeds them canned cat food for as long as they stay alive which is usually only a couple of months. And then they’re not there anymore.
There is a lot more that I could tell you about Dickie. He has his demons and contradictions, but not today. Today it’s the good stuff. Like the day that he was so hungover that he laid two courses of roofing shingles upside down. He’d still be going if I hadn’t gone up there to check on him. Dickie pounds nails for me in the winter. He’s mostly a source of entertainment because, like everyone else around here, you never know when he’s going to show up. A necessary pain in the ass, he has one priceless obsession: he loves keeping the job site clean and orderly. He’s my alter ego. If he doesn’t show up for a couple of weeks I find myself mired in “where I last used them” lost tools on top of soon-to-be lost tools on top of other tools I threw aside looking for those tools . . .or my lunch. All the while cursing his soon-to-be-fired ass to hell, which is never going to happen, is it?
The job site becomes a dangerous place with a rapidly-declining efficiency rate because most of my time is spent swearing and looking for the tool that I think I just used. When Dickie does show up it’s very early in the morning and he is in penitent sinner mode, a little shaky but able to hold a broom and put everything back in order before I get there, when all is forgiven again.
I love Dickie like a brother. I know his heart, his secrets and his demons, which is the problem with this island. We all know way too much about each other and it shows at all the wrong times. Too much like family without the Christmas presents. I had an old friend who used to say that if the neighbor knows what time the smoke starts climbing out of your chimney in the morning, he knows too much. We not only see the smoke we can also see down the chimney to the kitchen table and around into the living room and beyond.
Will Monast and his wife Leslei live in West Tisbury. They washed ashore after spending 25 years on Cuttyhunk raising four children, but that’s another story.