God help any poor fool born in Kentucky named, Earl. It doesn't begin to matter that an Earl is something over in England that was suppose to be something. It doesn't matter that DUKE OF EARL was a big hit. There's just something horrid about the name. I reckon Earl Scruggs had a lot to do with it. If you are from Kentucky and named Earl, well, you simply must be akin to Earl Scruggs. You must be at least a third cousin to Lester Flatt and Mother Maybelle Carter and The Foggy Mountain Boys and know every word to "PEARL PEARL PEARL."
I've always ran from the name. The only time anyone got by calling me such was my old swimming coach, Don Combs. His father's name was, Earl. Earl Combs batted on MURDER'S ROW with a couple of fellers, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. That made everything OK. Besides, my coach was that indominatable sort that could call you anything. You owned no choice but to like it.
And there was Errol Flynn. His name really wasn't, Earl. But when you are named Earl you'll grasp for anything.
All this Earl stuff cursed me from day one. Why did Earl Scruggs have to be so damned popular? Born in Kentucky and named Earl. Talk about handicapped. Nobody with a lick of sense would hire someone with such credentials. I am proof. Even if I snuck off and caught Bin Laudin it wouldn't matter. Somewhere down the line some investigative reporter would find out what my real name was and that would be it. I'd be made fun of. They'd probably let Laudin back loose and give him another chance to be caught by someone with a respectable name.
The truth is, this damn name has cost me millions. If I had been named, John, Sam, Tom or any number of other names I'd be out on my 60 foot catamaran somewhere in the Caribbean. I'd have fresh lobster soakin' up butter. Something in a bikini would be in charge of navigation. And I'd have a brute of a man hired. If anyone mentioned, Estill county, Kentucky or called me, Earl, they'd be whooped within an inch of their life and unmercifully thrown overboard.
You want proof?
Anyone that was a lobster catcher appreciated the third weekend in July. That was "Opening Day." A religious moment. My tribe always went to the Keys to lay waste the spiny challenges. One Saturday afternoon on July 20th, 1985, I was with my red headed wife, Chesteen, in Key West. I'd already gotten triple the limit and we found ourselves back on land in an old building talking with a little lady named, Grace. Grace told me that she was married to a man named, Earl.
I continued listening. She allowed her bunch had raised chickens in California before they'd come to the Keys.
I'd raised pigeons all my life. As bad as they were, they beat chickens. Only a numbskull fooled with chickens.
Then Grace came on. Wanted money. A thousand dollars.
Did I look like God's Own Fool?
"Oh honey," said Grace. "Today is the day."
"Look," I said. "If your son hasn't found anything in sixteen years, why do you think today is the day?"
"He's close. I just feel it."
Grace didn't know it. About ten years ago I had sent an application to work for her son. I knew he looked at it. When he saw it was Earl from Kentucky that was enough. It didn't matter that I had my degree in anthropology and was a certified diver. All he saw was Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt. "What do I get for my thousand?" I asked. I didn't have fifty dollars but I didn't let on. It felt good her thinking I was a something.
"Your money will make you a stockholder in our company. It's good for six months. If my son finds anything during that time you will get a share of what is found."
"It depends on how much is found and how many shareholders there are."
"So, you're telling me, after six months, my thousand is no longer good?"
"That's right. But you can do it again."
"Ma'am, I can't sling thousand dollar bills here and there just because you have a feeling."
Grace looked at Chesteen. "Can't you get your husband to invest. I'm trying to make you two a fortune. You'll never have to work again the rest of your lives."
Chesteen looked at me with a straight face. In her pocketbook was the rest of my pigeon money that was to sustain us for another month. If I shot fish and caught lobster for most of the rest of our meals we'd have just barely enough to make it back to Kentucky. "I can't tell him what to do," she said.
"How long did you say your son has been treasure huntin'?" I asked. The place we were in was grave dead and miserable hot.
"Sixteen years. Dolores and him use to pan for gold in California. But I'm not counting that. Do is his mermaid. She's got hair the same color as your wife's."
"I thought you told me you all raised chickens.?"
"We did. We also searched for gold."
When they weren't feeding chickens they were panning for gold. Grace wanted me to donate a thousand because she had a feeling. Nothing found in sixteen years. But today was the day. Her husband's name was, Earl. "Ain’t-cu all found ANYTHING?"
"Well, they did find an olive jar. It was busted up. Look, I want to help you. The best help you'll ever get is from strangers. I've got the contract right here. Read it. Sign at the bottom. That's all you have to do. If you don't have the money, that's OK. Just sign the contract. I'll make it where you have the next six months to pay. If anything is found during that time, you're contract is good. You'll get your full share no matter if you paid in full or not. Surely that's a good deal."
I began reading the contract. Grace handed me an ink pen. She sure seemed bad urgent. There was a lot of legal jabber. Being from Estill County it was hard to trust that sort of stuff. Finishing, I glared at the line where I was to write my name. "Where did you say you all originated?"
"We came from California. Before that, Indiana. My son had a dance band at The Lew Wallace High School in Glen Park."
"So, you all had a band and then fooled with chickens before treasure huntin'?"
"Yes. Look, I shouldn't tell you this. My son would kill me. But he paid a man named Gene to look over the old records over in Spain. Gene found a bunch of stuff and put him on the spot. It's just a matter of time. My son doesn't want anyone to know. He's really not wanting me to sell any more shares. But you and your wife, well, I just like you."
Yeah, right. What you'd REALLY like is my thousand dollars. Yankees that went west and snuck south. I handed the contract back. There was sadness in her eyes as she took it. She really wanted my name on the thing. Just then the phone rang. Grace's face was stunned. Oh god, I thought, somebody has died. "WHAT!" she said. "THROW AWAY THE CHARTS! YOU'VE FOUND THE MAIN PILE!" Grace put the phone down, going out the door, running madly down the street. She still had the unsigned contract in her hand.
I picked up the phone, it was dead.
The next morning the world knew what had happened. Grace's son, Mel Fisher, had finally discovered The Nuestra Senora de Atocha. A Spanish galleon of the 1622 fleet. Forty miles west of Key West, Mel's divers had discovered stacks of silver bars, chests of gold coins, gold bars and emeralds. Another King Tut's Tomb.
Jimmy Buffet flew down and sat on a pile of silver bars playing for the crew and all the investors.
I loped back to Kentucky feeling like Lee after Gettysburg.
Got almost home before we ran out of gas. Coasted and pushed to Grandma Freda's. She gave me three dollars to get on back into the hills.