San Nicholas island is the most remote of the Channel Islands that line the Southern California coastline. The 22 square mile piece of land is controlled by the US Navy, and is used as a training facility and for weapons testing. “They’d send us out there on a boat, or they’d fly us out there for a week at a time," Slip remembered, “We were there to wreck out a few miles of overhead.”
It was summertime, and the job was a real treat, different from the typical work on the mainland. With limitations and lack of convenience, even the tiniest of detail could not be overlooked. All materials needed to be brought in or hauled away, with much more obstacle than your normal job site. Once removing the spans of overhead, all facilities needed to be collected, organized, hauled, and then loaded on a boat to return to the mainland.
After a long day’s work in the wind, the line crew returned to their barracks, hosted by a fat old Mexican cook and an elderly, toothless housekeeper.
As the job had gone on for quite some time, the group became comfortable with each other, discussing all sorts of things, some more personal than others.
“… Say, what happened to your teeth, Old Man?”
It was hard to not notice— the look of a 75 year old man changes dramatically when there aren’t falsies there to improve it. It had been a few days since he had his teeth in, and the question had filled an empty gap in the conversation.
“Wellth, I dunno where I puth’em. I took ‘em out th’since they was a’botherin me an now I can’t find ‘em. When I was changing’ out the shteeths on the bunkts I took em’ outh. I musth a droppthd ‘em, I thought I puth’em on the handthrail outside. Dug throughth the shteets and looked everyth damnth wheres. If you findth ‘em lethme know. Ith’ll be a while ’til I getht to the mainlan and geth me sum newuns..” “My luckt, one of these Gawt Damnt birtds hault ‘em off…” he said as he wiped his shiny, white-whiskered chin and swung his pale, wrinkled arm toward a big black bird staring at him through the window. He spent most of his day battling filth, birds, and filth from birds.
While banging pots and pans in the kitchen, the cook muttered something in Spanish that translated to deaf, English ears,” Son las almas de los indios. Vuelvan a molestar los blancos…” *
After dinner, with bellies full, Slip and the crew headed back to their beds. The threat of reaching under their cold, white pillowcases and finding the old man’s teeth weighing heavy on their minds.
That’s the funny thing about questions, sometimes they come with answers.
Several nights went by, and the face of the housekeeper sat empty as he struggled to eat. The search was over, and he had to accept the expense of getting a new set of teeth. The crew couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, strangely wishing they had been the lucky ones to dive into their bed to discover his missing pearly whites.
The job site was over three miles from the barracks. Since they were removing a line, one guy would fall the poles with a chainsaw and another follow up with a torch and cut off the hardware. The wire was rolled up by hand, (some components used later as fencing materials at Slip’s house,) and every piece staged to be loaded on trucks and shipped back to the mainland by boat. This went on for weeks, wrecking out miles of infrastructure.
Yet another pole bounced to the sandy island floor, and the Grunt moved in with his torch to cut the metal from what had once been at the top of the pole. As he went to lay down his flame, he paused. As he shut down the torch, he flipped up his lid and yelled, “Hey, Boys!!! Get a load of this!!!!” The crew fell in quickly, excited about what the foreign land could have to offer. A circle of boots formed around where the man had stopped working. They all leaned in with hands on their hips and smiled from ear to ear. They couldn’t believe what he had found:
Between the cedar and the bracket sat lodged the pink, shriveled set of the housekeeper’s missing teeth!!!!!!
*Translation: “They are the souls of the Indians, returned to bother the white men…”