Confessions of a Spit Rat

Maybe he’s right. His advice is never to pay for anything you can get for free. For wi-fi, he says, go to the Safeway or McDonalds. The bakeries all sell day-olds at dramatically reduced prices. Recharge your laptop at the public library. The city of Homer has four new restroom facilities, he tells me, and draws a crude map in the black glacial sand. You can hook a hose—seven bucks at the hardware store—to the faucet in these facilities and hose yourself off. “But lock the door, first,” he says. Grab all the sugars, creamers, and hot-sauce packets you can at fast-food places. Save them in a Ziploc. Take advantage of free napkins, paper towels, shots of liquid soap. Stay clear of art galleries. Never go to restaurants. Take free walks on the beach; talk to people. He is, I decide, a nightmare for the local Chamber of Commerce.

He has a point, though. I’d never given it much thought before, but every time I come to Homer I nearly bankrupt myself, coming home with a walrus-tusk necklace I wore only once, a Peruvian wool pullover that looked fantastic in Homer but at home looked foolish and smelled of goats, trolling the aisles of sporting-goods stores, vaguely desiring something but not quite able to put my finger on what. I’ve spent my life’s earnings in this manner. Perhaps Murph is right: not everything of value should be paid for. Like the silvers leaping in the lagoon, the good life is free for the taking.

We exchange numbers and slink off to find separate places to boondock. Spit Rats might work in pairs in daylight, but at night they’re best left alone. I park on the public beach and feed Rocket. We do some beach retrieves. I drag the huge cooler out into the sand and use it as a footstool while we watch sea birds harrying a school of baitfish. We crawl into the back of my truck. With the windows open I sleep freely, occasionally waking to the sound of teenagers four-wheeling nearby.

Perhaps Murph is right: not everything of value should be paid for. Like the silvers leaping in the lagoon, the good life is free for the taking.

FOR THE NEXT FEW WEEKS I live the life of a Spit Rat. Occasionally I encounter Murph. We team up on an incoming tide and catch (legally, more or less) three silvers apiece on cured roe Murph inherited from a fisherman returning to Idaho. I fish with Mike several more times, fully exhausting the value of my rifle. Mike invites me to parties where we eat smoked sockeye and talk about moose hunting. The rain comes in earnest; the art galleries along the Spit molder in wetness. Rocket and I move into Mike’s motorhome and wait for better weather. Murph’s green van glides by, brakes, and continues on. He’s moved into a woman’s house to wait out the rain. He likes her child, but her, not so much. She’s a part-time baker at one of the restaurants, and now he shows up on the Spit with bags of day-olds which he hands out to weary fishermen. Our lockers of fish at Coal Point are growing daily.

But Safeway is on to us. They’ve moved their sauce packets behind the register and now you have to specify: “May I have five ketchups, three Tabascos, and five creamers?” In Murph’s trail are unsympathetic clerks, annoyed waitresses, and wet floors in the public bathhouses. The rumor is he was severely scolded when he waded out onto the flats and began picking mussels off someone’s floating dock. As I’m emerging from my truck one morning, a boyish and shy Homer policeman asks if I saw the No Camping sign. I set up my French press and tell him I was just napping, not camping. He moves on.

“They know we’re ratting,” I tell Murph.

“Be cool,” he says. “It’s all good here. It’s beautiful.” He points to the landscape again.

We fish together, me and Murph, but if I spy his van at the Safeway I go to the library to recharge my laptop and cell phone. He does likewise. On his advice I go on the pollock adventure and reel in doubles almost every time I lower my bait. The captain blasts Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, and there’s none of that deck-rolling you get on halibut outings. Back at the dock, I have a ridiculous number of pollock, and I’m nearly ashamed of my wealth.