Somebody told me later that Otto Larsen and Eddie Daniels ran a tight ship when they were at sea. But when they hit port—look out. They turned into a couple of lusty, high-spirited roughnecks out for a good time. And they usually found it.
Otto was first mate and Eddie second mate on a 22,000- ton freighter that worked both coasts of North America. Portland was home port and their ship docked the day prohibition ended. Somewhere during the ensuing melee, they hooked up with my mother and Agnes.
Late that night, the two party girls brought Otto and Eddie home for a nightcap. As it happened sometimes, the two guys stayed over for breakfast. Otto and my mother took one bedroom, Eddie and Agnes took another, and I stayed holed up in my own messy back room. (About that time, I was working my way through Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan of the Apes. I tried to read one chapter each night in bed.)
From that point on, though, whenever Otto and Eddie’s ship came into port, my mother would discreetly scoot me over to my grandparents’ for a few days. Sometimes, we’d all get together for dinner.
Underneath their bluster, Otto and Eddie were a couple of generous, good-natured characters. At my grandparents’ flat, I remember vividly one night the two of them came bursting in with a package of thick steaks, a slab of bacon, a wheel of cheese, and I think one or two bottles of bourbon and a case of pop—all compliments of ships stores, they said.
Otto was tall and lanky, with a thick Nordic accent that gave me a lot of trouble at the start. When he drank too much, he would sometimes belt out Norwegian folk songs at the top of his deep off-key voice. I had no idea what in the devil he was singing about—or talking about either, for that matter.
On the other hand, Eddie was as American as they come. With sloping, heavily-muscled shoulders, he was built like an old-time line backer. He said he was born and raised on a Nebraska farm—a cornhusker who left home when he was 16 years old.
What captivated me about Eddie, however, was that crazy double thumb on his right hand. Honest to God, sticking out of his right thumb at a 45° angle was a small mutant—a second thumb, nail and all. As an eleven-year- old, I thought it was grotesque. And utterly fascinating.
Otto told me the crew called Eddie, “Double Thumb” Daniels, but never to his face.