Sunday, August 29, 2004

Handcuffed to a Chicken

Intentionally inflicted violence causes a very special kind of sorrow in its victim. There is a pain beyond the physical which leaves you alone and remote. Everything must be internalized. You are reduced to a condition which will always defy explanation and understanding. No matter how far you reach, there will never be another hand to grasp.

I grabbed that along with my lunch-box on my way to school every morning. So I was happy when a group of boys showed some interest in me, and only thrilled to find myself spending early grade school with them. I was struck by how easily they comported themselves, and also afraid of the way they seemed to ignore feelings I think important. But it was fun, very fun to run with some guys, and it was exciting to see how teachers would exchange smiling glances for small infractions. Gathering whirlwinds of self-confidence we where.

One crisp fall day we jostled our way to a lower field during recess. Acorns crunched under foot in air mighty with leafy wetness. I was smiling at something, and then there was this kid. Someone among us had decided that he stood in opposition. I don't remember any significant words being exchanged, but there was suddenly pushing. Memories of playground loneliness fresh in my mind, I enjoyed being a member of this unified force. As the kid backed off a bit one of us taunted him: he evoked the notion that the kid was very different from us, and I saw how the kid's face changed.

I had spoken to this kid several times before joining my new pack. He was introspective and bright, and we had shared opinions in class. When I found a tick on my leg in gym class once, he must have sensed my apprehension when he said "I know, you don't think of it happening to you. But it's just a bug, pinch it off ". I liked him.

So now things have escalated, and pushes progressed to headlocks. Scuffling, red faced determination bearing down. Then spit and blood spatters. The kid was down face up, a knee planted on his chest, and three blows landed crosswise on his cheek. It was just then that his eyes met mine, and I saw in them a yearning to understand, a plea for intervention, a knowledge of a heck of a lot more than I was willing to admit to him or anyone else. All in far less a space of time than it takes to blink an eyelash.

But the most horrific thing, the barbarity of the scene was this: I stood there like a statue as someone just like me poured their soul out. Then a teacher blew her whistle and it was over in a a flash.

Soon afterward the pack and I drifted apart, and I could never become friends with the kid. At the end of that year the school we attended closed for ever, and we all went to others in our respective neighborhoods. Just like the playground whistle, it was over.

If only there was some forebearing. I didn't know that the kid's pleas would issue into my dreams for the rest of my life. That hardly a month would go by when I wouldn't find use for the advise he gave me in gym class. That forever afterwards my arms would hang at my side like meat in a butcher shop.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Swimming With Anvils

I dread people.
I abhor their foibles
I feel forced to labor under their misconceptions of me
I count seconds while they're talking
I am repelled by their aspirations

Being popular or the life of the party would be a sentence unendurable

There is no measure by which I can express my preference for a wagging dog's tail over the embrace of a stranger

People frequently interrupt my happiest moments to observe that I'm sulking

Chipper hosteses who take me by the hand to "do the rounds" make me feel like Frankenstein in a tuxedo

Oh, and if I have to listen to one more story about your trip to Bolivia with an empty drink in my hand I'm going to eat five pounds of baking soda and take a vinigar enema.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


A couple a' people know that among tangible things, there are few that I would rather recieve than a Costa Rican Bahia. I enjoy them to no end. Today, about three weeks after my 74th birthday, I sit on the porch and waft away my last one of these, drinking in the first kiss of fall's breeze. It was on a night just like this, not to many years ago, that Davie came around to asking me about the scar on his leg.

I grew up on The Outer Banks, the luckiest kid alive. I meandered through fishnets, tramped through swamps and aggoged at seafaring tales bellowed in croaking voices. Aeroplanes, shooting stars and baseballs raced through my summer skies, abandoned cottages with creaking boards ready made fortresses replete with lizards and ducklings. Fishing rods just naturally found their way into my hand, and I did just about anything I could to get them bent into a circle.

Since then I have had children, and they in turn have done so as well. When Davie was born to my daughter many things had changed on The Banks, a real hospital where the Coast Guard Cutter Station emergency medical used to stand. When they brought him home about a mile and a half West of here and the surf, I drove over to meet him and visit my kids. Their house is roomy and comfortable, and I always go to the bathroom and fridge first thing. Afterward I stepped over to the bassinet, and Davie and I struck it up right there and then.

As he grew, Davey's forays into scaliness became legendary. He spent his summers with us by the sea. It seemed natural to lend him my rods, and I felt only joy when they bestowed upon him their fortune. My heavy 10 weight fly rod became symphonic in his hands, casting arias into the spray above the ocean. He would never allow it, but I will tell you now that I learned many a thing from watching that young man.

A while back we where invited for a day, on a boat quite nicely appointed. I play pinochle with its Captain, had drank many a time with the crew. My lovely wife baked bread and made sandwiches of land dwelling animals for good luck. The morning was clear and full of promise as we pushed off into the saltiness. Clearing the harbor all settled back for a long ride to the Gulf Stream.

By noon we had each released seven or eight Bonita, casting mackerel patterns on sinking weight-forward line. After lunch, lazy from roast beef and birch beer, we took turns at the stern, watching the fish chase our flies and doing all we could to keep them from lunges. Of course, Davie was the first to see the birds. They where swarming about two miles off our starboard, thick in the air. As we battened our gear the boat lurched into motion.

Underneath the flock was an enormous knot of baitfish. Panicked, they rained on the surface as larger fish attacked from underneath. Poised with one leg over the transom, my grandson was intent on something unseen. Again and again he tossed loops into the air, all the while searching a slightly different direction. Then wwsssshhh, the cast. The fly sank, Davey's eyes electric, slow strip, strip, then wham, the tip of his pole heaved downwards trembling. An expert palm slowing the reel as line shot out to the fish. Far in the distance we saw something that struck us dumb: One of the biggest Wahoo I've seen or heard of dancing on his tail, the monofilament leader a glimmering ray shooting towards us. And all this silhouetted against the deepest ink black squall bearing down fast as fury.

This was a good sized boat, of a design famous for handling the weather. But our fish and this strom where of divergent forces much greater. Every time Davie reeled in, the fish would take line back again. The water become choppier. No one would dare let this one go. We where fastened to the course of the storm as sure as would be a structure on land.

The storm descended upon us like wolves from the forrest. The fish went deep, then a horizontal jot, Davie struggling to keep the rod-tip in place just as the rogue wave hit. His ankles where his head was as he flipped over the transom. MAN OVERBOARD, MAN OVERBOARD. All acted as one now.

The skiff's mighty twin 220hp Evinrudes driving up a wave, then blasting out of the backside screaming as the blades tore free of the water's resistance. Deafening wind careening off the wheelhouse, blowing us further from mark. Men holding men by their collar and belt, pirouetting from rigging in desperate grabs towards the water.

I could see in his eyes that we where separated by our conditions for the first time in our lives: mine standing on a boat destined to return to harbor battered yet sea-worthy, his to succumb to the ocean. Later, in a rare moment, Hurley told me that when I grabbed the God-awful thing, he realized he'd never witnesseed such clarity.

14 vertical feet separated us trough to crest as the boat crashed downward. I jumped upon a starboard gunwale as the vessel careened over, grabbing a stay with my left hand. Through this course of motion I swung with the combined might of man, boat and ocean and landed my mark.

A gaffe is a long sturdy pole with an extremely heavy hook mounted on its end. The purpose of this is to land very large and dangerous game fish as they're reeled boatside. It is swung like a bat so that the point and barb are driven deep into the flesh, affording a hold on the animal.

I left the hospital once in the 15 days it took to get Davie stitched up. Three hours to drop off a case of beer, a fifth of good scotch and a handshake to every man on that boat.

It was that night on the porch that Davie gave me three things I'll never forget: two cigars and an arm thrown over my shoulder.