What To Do About Captain Fathom
by Bruce Anderson, December 3, 2008
Allan Graham, a long time resident of Albion, a legendary local character who calls himself Captain Fathom, is drinking heavily and making a major nuisance of himself. If he can be confined to nuisance status, if his careening conduct doesn't again become violent we'll be spared another round of "What Can We Do With This Guy?"
Captain Fathom got out of jail last Monday. He went back in last Friday, got out last Sunday morning, went back to jail last Sunday afternoon. He's "decompensating," as the psychiatrists describe a deteriorating, generalized inability to cope.
Fathom is better off in jail because he's killing himself and, as he goes, causing everyone who knows him and likes him to throw up their hands, or avoid him, or write him completely off, even fear him. How dangerous he is to others is a matter of opinion. If he's as dangerous to others as he is to himself he should be locked up for the rest of his days.
Over the past year Fathom has been arrested for threatening a cop and arrested for an ugly episode at the Mendocino Pharmacy where he threatened to kill the women who work there if they didn't give him drugs, busting up the place as he departed. From jail, Fathom wrote a plausible letter to the editor announcing the death of Bruce Levene, who was not dead. Levene and his many friends were not amused.
In between these episodes, Fathom has been arrested for violating the terms of his probation, which he does immediately upon release from custody in the time it takes him to walk from the jail into Ukiah to buy a half pint of whiskey. If there was still a state hospital system in the state, Fathom would be there. Further back, if Mendocino County had the county farm it used to maintain on Low Gap Road for in-county habituals, Fathom would reside there more or less permanently. He does well in custody, as they say, but the County Jail is stuffed with incompetents and crazy people because there's no other place for them, so Fathom is perpetually processed in and out of the local justice system as if he were a more or less mentally capable, more or less culpable, more or less responsible for himself.
Unlike a lot of impossible people, Fathom has a place to go, his own place at Spring Grove in Albion, a parcel of collectively-owned land dating back to hippie times. Fathom has a nice little cabin at Spring Grove, and he draws Social Security. If he's got a tv set he's got everything he needs. Instead, he wanders around yelling in his bullhorn voice things like, "Shoot all cops — with LSD!" Lately, he's been leaving off the tag line.
Fathom's ex-wife still lives at Spring Grove, not that she or their daughter, Raven Caspar Moon, a school teacher with a life and children of her own, could be expected to care for their berserk patriarch, who's been crazy and getting crazier for a long time now, and here he is at age 70 because he won't stay home and keep it all indoors.
He showed up in Boonville last Monday morning just after he got out of jail where he'd been for months. He was with a presentable young man, so presentable I thought the young man had come to the office on business of his own. (Fathom usually appears here with other lunatics. Apparently, though, the presentable young man had picked Fathom up hitchhiking and had been dragooned into a visit to the Boonville newspaper. The young man was clearly anxious to be on his way, and just as clearly anxious to off-load his raving cargo.
Noting the cheap booze on what we call our "hospitality table," Fathom asked me if he could have a drink. He was already drunk, I thought, but I would have said no anyway because I know Fathom is usually on some kind of psycho-drugs of the prescription type with which alcohol is not to be mixed. Besides, it was 9am on a work day and the booze, including a bottle of the absolutely lethal Captain Morgan's Tattoo, rum-based rotgut from Puerto Rico, belongs to my colleague, The Major. No drink for The Captain, so The Captain and his besieged chauffeur walked on out. I'd never denied anyone a drink, but if there's anything more tedious than a crazy drunk, it's a crazy drunk in your work space at nine on a Monday morning. And the kid accompanying Fathom had his hands full without Fathom getting drunker.
Karen Bates from the store down stairs walked in. Karen handed me an envelope she'd found in one of her planters. It was to the paper from Fathom. Composed in pencil on lined jail paper, the subject seemed to be Carmine DeSapio, a New York politician from the 1940s, a figure from Fathom's formative year. The letter was otherwise unintelligible.
During his booze quest of a visit, Fathom was mostly incoherent in the way he's been incoherent for two years now. "I'm the illegitimate son of Mussolini. Viva fascism. Long live the Albion Nation." And so on. His one lucid statement was, "We've got to kill all the cops." He didn't laugh.
Fathom's worse than I've ever seen him, and his dragooned young attendant had gone from looking impatient to looking alarmed. "Go, home, Fathom," I said. "And stay there. This isn't good."
That was Monday morning. Monday night I'm at the Boonville Lodge and in comes Fathom. He's subdued. The Lodge is scrupulously managed these days. Bad behavior and you're out which, of course, is the way it is most places. If Fathom acted up he'd be out of The Lodge. He wasn't acting up, and I wondered for the umpteenth time how crazy he really is. He didn't even seem to be drunk. How had he sobered up in the space of ten hours?
I scrunch down in my booth hoping Fathom doesn't see me. He sees me.
"I need a little money to get back to Albion," he says.
And this is what happens to most of us with people we've known for a long time who've run off the rails. I think back. I remember the abalone Fathom brought me. I remember fifty dollar bills he'd send in with his subscription renewal. I remember him from lots of places where he was amusing, when he wasn't a roving imposition. I think I owe him. I give him a twenty. He says he'll mail it back "in a couple of days." and immediately walks to the next door booth where he asks three strangers, "Can I buy you a drink?"
On Thanksgiving day, Johnny Schmitt, owner of the building housing the AVA office, caught Fathom trying to get into our office by using a credit card to jimmy the lock on the door. I assume Fathom intended to raid our hospitality table, but in reality world it's called breaking and entering.
Friday, The Major is walking to the Boonville Post Office when he hears Fathom yelling, "Kill all the cops!" Fathom is addressing Dave Severn who's a block away. Spotting The Major, Fathom yells, "My brother!" The Major replies, "Stay away from me, please." Militarily rebuffed, Fathom turns away. The Major says later, "He's too much. I can't be bothered."
Later on the Friday, Fathom is arrested, probably for drunk in public. The next day, Sunday, he's released. I'm driving over the hill from Ukiah. Just past Stipp Lane on the Ukiah end of the Boonville-Ukiah Road, where the road bends enough to obscure traffic in both directions, there's Fathom, out in the roadbed where he is likely to be hit, hitchhiking towards Boonville.
It's an MSA day for me — moving stuff around. If you own a truck you can count on many MSA days. I'm hauling so much stuff I legitimately don't stop for Fathom because there's literally no room to put him. I can see the recognition in Fathom's eyes. He knows it's me passing him up, which is certainly the way he'll see it, one more rejection, another betrayal by someone he thought was a friend, an ally in whatever war Fathom imagines himself fighting.
An hour later, about noon, there's the sound of sirens. Fathom is flat on his back at 128 and Mountain View Road bellowing in faux-Italian at the sky. When the Boonville ambulance appears in response to a "man down" call, Fathom warns the women responders not to touch him. Deputy Squires appears. The deputy is not a hand holder. The deputy sees merely another 5150. Over a thirty-year career in local law enforcement, deputy Squires has dealt with a lot more nuts than he has crooks. In you go, Benito, no negotiations, and you can knock off that foreign bullshit, too.
The deputy slaps the plastic cuffs on Fathom and Fathom is on his third trip to jail in two days.