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| SETTINGS: Stops on a Tasting Tour of Orange County

Something Fishy

Captain Hook Comes to the Rescue at Jon's

Jon's Fish Market, 34665 Golden Lantern, Dana Point. (949) 496-2807.


Aunt Trudy pulls out a packet of saltines, the kind you get when you go to a cafeteria and order a bowl of soup, and carefully breaks them into quarters, tossing each toward a chattering sea gull. The ungrateful birds fly over the tidbits, snapping their beaks and flinging their wings around, like thugs. Mouths full, they hop away from the pack, swallowing the pieces whole so as not to lose even a crumb.

"Don't be so selfish," Aunt Trudy says to the birds.

She reaches into her purse, where she must have at least 20 packages of crackers, and puts two or three more on the crocheted blanket across her lap.

"Did you read this?" I ask her, holding up a napkin dispenser in front of her face. There are little printed signs on the dispensers.

"What does it say?"

I read it loudly: " 'Do not feed birds!!! You're contributing to their delinquency.' Did you hear that, Aunt Trudy? You're contributing to these birds' delinquency."

Aunt Trudy just rolls her eyes and shrugs. She hands me one of the cellophane packs of crackers and says, "Open that, please." Her hands are small and bony, thick at the joints and etched with deep lines.

"Why don't we eat inside when our order is ready?" I say. "Aren't you cold?"

"Oh, honey, I'm always cold," says Aunt Trudy. "Cold doesn't bother me."

It is late in the afternoon, a Friday, and we are sitting at a red picnic table outside Jon's Fish Market at the Dana Point Wharf. A stiff wind blows in off the ocean. Only a few other people are eating outside.

There's an older woman wearing an Angels visor and a sweatshirt with a lamb embroidered on it. She's sitting with an elderly man in a powder blue windbreaker that snaps like a sail in a storm. He keeps shuffling a leg out toward the pack of sea gulls inching up on him. "Shoo," he says, pushing his leg out like he is kicking a soccer ball. The sea gulls tilt their heads sideways and stare at the man but do not move away. His wife lifts a French fry from their basket of fish and chips and tosses it at the birds.

"Irma, stop doing that," says her husband. "I'm trying to get rid of those things and you keep feeding them."

A loudspeaker calls my name. "David, your order is ready. David."

Steve, the manager here, is holding out a tray in his beefy arms. "I picked out two nice ones," he says. He's talking about the local lobsters we have ordered, and he is right. Their splayed tails spill over the paper plates. I take the tray with the lobsters, fries and cole slaw, and head back outside.

"Oh, goodness," says Trudy. "I'll never be able to eat all that."

"You can take the rest home," I tell her. "Make a salad with it."

In the summer, there's a long line snaking out the door at Jon's from noon until sundown and it can take as long as 45 minutes to get your basket of deep fried shrimp or the plates of grilled halibut or swordfish, but in the winter things are slower. In the winter it's slow enough that Jon can take off on fishing trips to Mexico, which, according to Steve, is where he is now.

"Yeah, he and his son are fishing in a marlin tournament down in Cabo," Steve says when Aunt Trudy and I order. "He's already won $56,000 in a tournament in Catalina this year."

"Oh, my," Aunt Trudy says. "I think I need to take up fishing and stop playing bridge with the old ladies."

Steve laughed at that and told Aunt Trudy she should go out on one of the half-day sportfishing boats across the way. "A wheelchair is no problem," he says. "You just have to clamp it down good so you don't roll around on deck."

"Maybe I'll try that," Aunt Trudy says.

"You do that," Steve told her. "I'll go out with you."

Steve is portly and has a gravely voice. He reminds me a bit of my Uncle Vincent--Trudy's husband--when he was a young man. Maybe he reminds Trudy of him, too. Maybe that's why, even though she's almost 90, she flirts with him.

"You go fishing with me and I'll buy the beer," says Aunt Trudy, placing a bony hand on Steve's thick arm.

"You sure you don't want to eat inside?" I ask her as the wind whips the edge of her blanket, lifting it up.

"I'm fine," she says, pulling down on the baseball cap with the sequined American flag that her nurse had given her when I picked her up.

I go back inside the restaurant to get our drinks and when I come out, three or four sea gulls are dancing and shrieking on top of the table, pulling French fries out of the basket on our tray. Aunt Trudy is feebly swatting at them, saying, "Shoo, birds. That isn't yours. Go on now."

Before I can get to the table, a black cat leaps up, hisses, and the birds take flight, screaming at us as they go.

"Well, now," says Aunt Trudy as I sit down with the drinks. "Wasn't that a nice thing for that kitty to do?"

The cat tiptoes off the table and perches across from us on the bench. He has a collar on and a tag. It says his name is Hook and he belongs to the sportfishing business.

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