Thursday, July 3, 2014


At fifteen, I drove with a friend, and his dad, to visit the dad’s sister for vacation in a working-class town on a large island. A day after we arrived at Auntie’s little rambler, we boarded a trawler for a fishing adventure. The captain, a friend of Auntie and a serious fisherman, boated us out to sea, where we couldn’t spot any land. He’d also taken along several other serious captains. We fished with long, sturdy poles that we baited with hunks of squid. We motored away from gaggles of shrieking seabirds. The fishermen sought ‘weakfish’—they aimed to compete for who caught the first, the most, the biggest. Everyone, even My Friend and The Dad started hauling weakfish onboard. All the captains resembled Ernest Hemingway, sporting big grizzly beards, stained with salt, over many seasons working the briny. I, myself, had only caught a tiny, suspicious red fish, which drew derisive cheers. “Hey,” I said, “it’s the reddest fish, and the smallest fish, and the least fish.” But then I registered a mighty tug, and, thinking I’d landed a muscle-bound weakfish, began reeling in the winner. Only, I hadn’t landed the winner. I’d landed the homeliest fish, with its horror movie teeth, skin like mud, and prehistoric cave markings. The hook had exited through one of the beast’s eyes. In fact, the eye was no longer attached to the fish, but that didn’t register, didn’t meter. The swimmer wanted more squid, maybe. He didn’t seem to mind our world, the world of a bright, airy, less humid sea. He breathed. The captains, collectively, could not place the creature. Tossing it into a watery bin, they vowed to identify it, on land, against a field guide. In the meantime, they noted, I’d caught the ugliest dang fish anyone had ever seen.

We returned in late afternoon, and Auntie asked Me and My Friend if we’d take her over to McDonald’s. She’d lost her husband to illness a year before, and struggled with the weight of his absence, but at the same time wore a big-brimmed hat and garrulous clothing. She repaired to the kitchen to prepare a drink for the ride. While we waited for her, I studied her husband’s Emmy award, which sat on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. I’d never seen an Emmy before. I kind of kicked myself, internally, for that thought. (“Who ever sees an Emmy before?” I asked myself.) The husband must’ve edited, or lighted, or scored. Auntie then appeared in the living room clutching a huge drink—a Cosmopolitan perhaps—in a large plastic glass. We helped her into the motorboat. The McDonald’s offered a boat-thru window. My friend operated the tiller, if that’s what you call the steering handle on the motor, while I navigated the waterway and other boating traffic. “I’m pretty looped!” Auntie declared, more than once. She had gulped most of her Cosmo. At one point, inexplicably, she stood upright in the boat, while it hummed toward McDonald’s (by then in sight) at a respectable clip. “Oooh!” she said, as she cartwheeled overboard, nearly capsizing the craft. She drifted underwater, her hat fastened to her chin on a strap. The day quietened. Very many seconds elapsed. I said, “Is she gone?” to My Friend. He was too tense to shrug. He kind of raised one shoulder, like a tic, when she reappeared, holding up the glass as if it still contained a Cosmo. “That first step is a real doozie!” she flubbered, as we tugged her into the motorboat. After we got home, My Friend and I threw rocks at some dudes down at the beach.  

I awoke early the next morning. Everyone else, except The Dad, still slept, but The Dad had gotten bitten by a mosquito on his lower lip. He sat in the kitchen, with a fat novelty lip, going, “Bluh, bluh, bluh”, about indiscernible topics, so I went outside for a stroll. I thought I might let air out of a bunch of tires. In fact, I kept a tire gauge handy in my back pocket, so, if caught, I could reasonably claim that I’d been checking pressures, up and down the block, as any Good Citizen would do. “Yes sir”, I’d said before, to more than one befuddled car owner, “30 psi, looking great!” I’d gone halfway down the street, steadily effecting a “pssssss” sound, lowering each car an inch or two closer to the ground, when I came into earshot of familiar voices—two of the captains from the fishing adventure, sitting on a front porch. “Hey!” I shouted, raising my hand in halloo. When they squinted their eyes, lacking recognition, I added, “What kind of fish was that, from yesterday, the really ugly one?” The leader of the voyage raised his hand, which clutched a bottle of bourbon, and pointed in the direction of a tool shed. “Got it over near the propane!” he shouted. “Gonna hit it with a stick!” I found the fish, indeed, in a laundry basket beside a propane tank. It seemed dead, but when I put my tire gauge in its mouth, to pry its teeth apart, it clenched down tight with an awful metallic crunch. “Hey”, I hollered, “it’s still alive!” but the captain came at me—or the fish—with a baseball bat. “Gonna hit it with a stick!” he said. I grabbed the laundry basket, and ran the fish, who still bit the tire gauge, toward the water. The captain chased me in an awkward amble, waving the bat overhead, but I beat him to the edge of the tide and threw the fish into its native element. It sort of half-swum and half-sunk as the captain arrived, doubled-over, winded. I’d like to think that the ugly fish swam for some time with the gauge in its mouth, biting it upward, like Franklin Roosevelt smoking one of his elegant cigarettes. 

Too silly? Perhaps you ought to read Essay On Essay On Wood.


Heather Fuller said...

And thus the Universe's catch 'n' release balance sheet squared up.


As it worked out, I caught, and I released. The catching was under more peaceful conditions. But the releasing took place under menacing conditions. No telling what'll happen when a 60 something "grizzled sea captain" is wobbling toward you with a Louisville Slugger. Along the way, I think he forgot what he was doing, and so when he got to the edge of the water, he had more, like, existential type questions than when he took off after us. Us being me and the fish. I'd like to think that the ugly fish is still swimming, one-eyed, tire gauge in mouth, just, you know, checking pressures.