Looking For Captain Fathom
by John Wester, December 2, 2009
Alan Graham, AKA Captain Fathom
Katheryn and I never did connect with Soren, or Alan Graham. I did deliver the IWW tee-shirt he’d sent me years ago he'd asked me to bring so that he could reproduce it. But I didn’t deliver it to him personally. We dropped it off at a place on his driveway, to an old hippie who knew him. Their porch was filled with recyclables. Alan’s neighbor's pit bulls didn’t bite, but chased our car a quarter mile down Albion Ridge Road. Katheryn was afraid of running them over and I couldn’t convince her she couldn’t hit them if she tried.
We had driven from where we were staying in Boonville to see Soren in Fort Bragg, but we had first stopped at the Albion Store around 9am to ask where Captain Fathom lived. The woman behind the counter wouldn’t tell me. Policy, she said. An old hippie behind another counter, after I asked if he’d seen Alan Graham lately, said no, and he hoped he never would again. Fathom wasn’t allowed in the Albion Store.
I had called Alan from Boonville the night before. When I told him who was calling, he said, John! My best friend! John, his best friend, has seen Alan for no more than two minutes in the last 40 years.
The last time was in front of the Albion Store. He’d just bought a motorcycle and had cancer. That was five or six years ago.
The other time was in front of the Seagull in Mendocino back in 1970, where I also ran into Stephen Anapolski and John Chamberlain. Stephen asked me about my diabetes and asked if I were insulin dependent.
I had seen Alan moments before that, by coincidence. Alan didn’t want a hug, just a handshake. 1970 was several years past the year of the hug, and I was still hanging on. Captain Fathom was never a hanger-on. A public-nuisance, in the opinion of some, but never a hanger-on.
The cell phones couldn’t connect to Alan when we stopped at the Albion Store, but we did get a hold of him from Mendocino. He said he couldn’t see us that morning because his ankle bracelet had broken and he was on his way to Santa Rosa to get it fixed. But he would be passing through Boonville, where we were staying, on his way back to Albion. I invited him to dinner and what followed was complicated.
You’d warned Katheryn about Captain Fathom. She took the phone from me when I connected to him in Mendocino, and she straightened Fathom out. One Jew to another, one jiving, the other kicking butt. Alan was uninvited to dinner. That night, after Katheryn and I got back from the coast, Fathom called us as he was passing through Boonville on his way back from getting his ankle bracelet fixed. We were in bed. I didn’t pick up the phone.
Why Soren walked away from his talent I try to understand. Maybe he feels he’s paid his dues and got nothing for it. Katheryn’s about to feel the same way about her union, but not quite, she’s training to be a steward.
Soren thinks he’s a dime-a-dozen like the rest of us. I’m no art critic, but the cover he did for my chapbook, “Dear AVA”, back in ‘93 you still remark on. But he’s immune to praise. Don’t know what it’ll take for him to draw again.
After Boonville, staying at that cabin called Sheep Dung Inn that was heaven and fully equipped from satellite to silverware, we stopped to see Tara in Willits. She’s the once Hollywood starlet I met at the commune, Harbinger. She’d lived on Spyrock Road for ten years, years ago, driving Tre Cool of Green Day fame to school along with the other hill muffins whose folks supplied us with our emerald green.
Driving back we took highway 20 to hit the 5, at Tara’s suggestion. Stopped at a place at Clear Lake for lunch. It was empty except for a drunk at the bar who cringed when the phone rang, hoping it wasn’t his wife. I always leave my cell at home, he told us.
The 20 from 101 to the 5 was a marvel of contrasts. After sitting at the largest lake in California, we wound our way to what seemed like the desert. Then we drove down 5 past Sacramento and found a Best Western to spend the night.
The 5 was dull except for going 85. I figured out how they get you from the air. They announce: Your speed is watched from aircraft. A half mile from that highway sign you’ll see a double row of six round yellow markers off the left-hand lane, perpendicular to the direction you’re going. I slowed from 85 to 70. Three or four miles later, I saw another pair of double dotted yellow markers on the left hand side again. A half mile after that, I saw someone who’d passed me 20 miles back, going 90, pulled over by the highway patrol. But do the fines make up for the cost of airplane fuel?
Going through LA wasn’t bad, we hit it around 11am on Monday and we beat the San Diego traffic later which was mostly going the other way.
(Ed note: John Wester used to live on the Mendocino Coast and Captain Fathom is back in the Mendocino County Jail.)