This is a sketch of myself, taken by my Mother, via ballpoint pen. I was ten years old when this picture was taken. Do I look my age? You can be honest.
It was very unusual for my Mother to go along with us on our fishing trips, so I figured – correctly, as it turned out - that we were on the Malibu pier. She would have no patience with the boat ride - despite its brevity - to the Redondo barge. This day had been a special treat.
I used to love fishing. When my Dad, brother and myself planned for a trip – Saturdays only – I would look forward to it the entire school week leading up to the fated day. And I didn't ignore my studies either; its just that everything beginning and ending before The Wonderful Trip suddenly became glorious. I would study the fish report in the newspaper, to note what was hitting, in what quantity and where. Not that it made any difference. We either went to Malibu or Redondo. At Redondo you would get bonito who when hooked would, in clever desparation, pull the line againt the barnacles collected on the barge's bulk in order to snap it. But at Malibu I once hooked a thresher shark. And on one memorable, unremembered day, I caught the biggest fish of the day…a 5 lb. perch.
How I looked forward to these outings! It's not often that a person in this current life looks forward to an event with such intensity that it achieves an almost mythological status. The magic of the ocean became plain to me then.
I loved listening to the transistor radios arrayed on the chairs and railings. I loved the sandwiches Dad made for us: salami and mustard on Roman Meal bread. I loved the mystery…knowing that your hook and bait (shrimp was a favorite) was hidden below water, possibly being inspected by who knew what kind of creature. I loved the thrill…as I felt the sudden panicked tug on the other end of the line…I loved the awe…at the first sight of twisted scales and the flash of white underbelly.
Now, when I was younger, I felt no compunction about pulling the fish into the foreign air and stuffing it into a burlap sack where it can suffocate slowly, but at least be good enought to do it out of sight. Then, when I grew a little older I felt that death should come quickly. I looked to my brother then, to rap the fish's head sharply against the railings. But sometimes, as with Mary Queen of Scots, it would take more than one hit.
And I never could disengage the hook. I would usually end up tearing it out, dislocating the jaw. I felt bad, but, you know, I had to use it again.
But this was long ago. Then, about 20 years later, I tried to go fishing again. And that same initial excitement was there: but as soon as the fish was brought to the surface, all I saw was how gruesome it was. I could try catching and then throwing them back – but what was the point? I simply no longer wanted any part in this.
I at times chided myself for considering so closely the feelings of a fish. Really, how much pain could it feel? Then why, I'd answer rather sharply, would an anchovy lie placid enough in my hand, and then start to flap about in gaping terror as soon as I slipped a hook through its nose (I always hated live bait)?
The point is – I haven't gone fishing since.