Archive for the From the Vault Category

Toast to the Twin Towers

Posted in From the Vault with tags , , on September 5, 2011 by Mike

My dear friend Eric Nelson snapped this picture of me in September of 2000.  It was my first day in NYC and I spent a lot of time gawking up at buildings and taking predictable pictures.  We were part of a small documentary film crew and that day we shot inside the World Trade Center Complex, mostly footage of hordes of commuters unloading from the PATH trains below, and up in the Top of the World observation area in the South Tower.  It was an incredible location and everyone was accommodating and gracious.  The views were unforgettable.  I ended up living in New Jersey for a while and there were several drunken evenings when I relied on those looming towers on the horizon to lead me back to my homebound train.  I made it every time and I am still thankful.  Cheers.

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Last Dance of the Love Bug

Posted in From the Vault, Verse with tags , , , , , on August 20, 2010 by Mike

For the past few hundred years, poetry has been inaccessible to the masses. Other than popular music lyrics and advertising jingles, poetry sits behind a velvet rope and is only seriously considered by an elite minority. (I’m not sure where Andrew Dice Clay fits in to the equation, but that would be a fascinating term paper subject.) Back in the 1990’s while living in Beaufort, South Carolina, I tried to bring poetry–I didn’t say good poetry– into the minds of everyday people, if only for a day.  I posted the following ode to love bugs in a few chosen spots downtown with an anonymous pen name so my identity would remain hidden. I only unveil it now because: (a.) it no longer matters and (b.) I am currently in a domestic war with ants and I want to dredge up positive sentiments towards the insect world again.  

 

One for the Rodent

Posted in From the Vault, Writing with tags , , , , , , on January 11, 2010 by Mike

I wouldn’t have been the first person to go mad in a New Jersey traffic jam. To me, Jersey people were more apt to part with their sanity than their toll change and, with every Turkpike merge, I expected someone to leap from their car and bludgeon me with their car jack.

But on that day I wanted it. I would have welcomed any roadside abuse, any punishment would have been an improvement to my day, to my life. And I was just as ready to deliver the pain. With foot hovering over the gas pedal, I was ready to demolish the first car that honked in my direction. Sometimes the tense, dead calm of urban traffic can spur these private eruptions and they are largely hard to justify. The reason for my own private misery was pathetic at best.

I was under attack by critters.

They were not in my car, mind you, but their recent invasion never left me. My tiny suburban bathroom was overrun by a bionic breed of ant. Was an ant problem big enough to force me from my car onto the New Jersey Turnpike to scream like a wet baby? At that point I believed it was.

I’d been living and working in the New Jersey suburbs for nearly two years and the pace and attitude of the urban northeast had worn me down, left me cold, and made me homesick for the South more than I realized. As a novice documentary film editor, I was up there with the intention of breaking into the entertainment industry while lazing in the comfort of creative and fulfilling work. The longer I labored on the project—when the 3-month gig became a multi-year sentence—I became less fulfilled and felt certain that our little film would never grow up to be “entertainment.” The job was dull and interminable and North Carolina seemed like an uncharted island on an undiscovered planet.

One would think that the appearance of some ants would’ve provided something constructive to focus on besides the gloomy string of future workdays; instead, their arrival felt like an apocalyptic sign. This particular breed was fast. It multiplied at will. It was nearly indestructible. I couldn’t sit on the toilet without having to ceremoniously dispatch a dozen ants that were marching across my face soap and through the bristles of my toothbrush. And why is it never just one ant? It’s always multitudes, straight lines or platoons of them invading and exploring. Ants will file up your neck and crawl into your dreams if you let them. Every dark speck I saw began to move and my head was constantly darting from side to side, always hunting ants, with my index finger shooting up like E.T.’s, ready to squish squish squish.

But it wasn’t just the ants. While they seemed content in taking over the tiny bathroom and my subconscious, the kitchen was the habitat of the mouse. I saw him for the first time when I was on the telephone cooing into the receiver to an old girlfriend back home. Dinner had been finished for a few hours, the dishes cleared and pots soaking, the kitchen aromatic and quiet. He must have felt comfortable enough to make an appearance. I saw movement under one of the front eyes of the stove and thought it was just a shadow—then I saw his head, hunched shoulders and dumpy little mouse body. I stood up, dumbfounded by his indifference to my presence, and approached. He scurried back down into the depths of the oven, probably crapping as he ran, leaving a trail of turds unreachable by hand and unseeable in the poor light with undetectable diseased vapors to taint every future meal.

I’d had a mouse before, back when I lived in the wooded boonies of South Carolina. But at the time I was living alone in a barn apartment so mice seemed like part of the deal. Once in awhile I’d find droppings by the split baseboard in the bedroom or hear faint scampering when I’d come home late. But I never physically saw the mouse so I wasn’t bothered by our cohabitation. I could even enjoy the idea of a mouse nearby. It was like a quiet, secretive roommate who kept to itself and reminded me every so often that I was not alone out there in the woods. When I finally left that apartment, on the last day of the move actually, there was one corner of the bedroom with a few rows of boxes and some bags of trash still left to be taken out. As I removed the final bag, I noticed the mouse sitting in the corner blinking up at me. He didn’t scurry away fearfully or make a rabid lunge at my shin—he just sat there, calm and confident, and watched me take out the last load, leaving him the apartment once and for all.

For some reason I’d never expected anything like mice or ants in New Jersey. Believing the “Garden State”-designation was some leftover moniker from the American Revolution, I thought Jersey would be paved and industrialized and that nothing except rude people and cockroaches could survive there. So the appearance of the new mouse, all those years later, was somehow more unsettling. I had been burglarized a few months earlier and it felt like another home invasion when that mouse showed up. But this time it wasn’t cash and security that were taken; it was the feeling of peace. My simple apartment was almost all I had and even it was a vulnerable disappointment. The mouse became the ultimate symbol of my displacement. He didn’t sneak around and try to stay in hiding and didn’t leave clues for me to discover. He simply walked out of my oven, looked at me from across the kitchen and on cue sent out the telepathic, “how YOU doin’?” like a typecast goombah in a Sopranos cartoon.

Calling the landlord and complaining about pest control was sure to be a waste of time. I discovered early on that the tenant-landlord relationship has a different dynamic in the densely populated northeast. When I first moved in, he’d informed me that parking in the driveway was off limits unless I did all of the landscaping for the property. Tenants were also responsible for upkeep of the heating system—a belching relic of a boiler that would frequently break down and leave everyone in the house garbed like high-altitude mountaineers and tinkering with useless thermostats. Even when I was robbed he never came by and even told me “not to go crazy” with improved security. Knowing his assistance would be minimal at best and figuring there would be a full infestation before he ever sprung to action, I sought other solutions.

I went to the bathroom, sat down, crushed some ants and made a plan. The next day during my lunch break I went to a local hardware store and purchased a couple of wooden mousetraps and cheap ant poison that must’ve been quite funny to the hordes of ants inhabiting the bathroom. It was so irresistible to them that—according to the label—they were supposed to break the waxy glob into pieces, take the chunks back to their nest, throw a poison food party and decimate the entire ant population. From what I could tell the poison made them faster and more plentiful. But at least with the ants, periodic squishing trips in the bathroom felt like progress. With the mouse I had to rely on this simple invention to trap and kill him. I knew hovering over the stove with a rolling made as much sense as waiting for the landlord to come over and make everything right.

Once the mousetraps were opened, I had to reacquaint myself with the operating procedure. I’ve never been much for surprises or sudden noises. Afraid to unite fuse and flame, I was one of those shaky, timid little boys who could barely light a firecracker without wasting all the fuel in a lighter and angering the expectant crowd. So the hair-trigger death bar on the mousetrap filled me with fear and awe. I decided on peanut butter for bait—it was right there in the pantry, after all—and setting the trap led to several humiliating moments where I tripped the mechanism early and the bar slammed down and I’d eat a spoonful of JIF to calm my nerves. But I knew I was a grown man and if other grown men could shoot guns and fix their carburetors, then I could catch a frigging mouse. With held breath and a skilled surgeon’s touch, I armed the mousetrap and set it down behind the oven.

Nothing happened on the first night. I woke up the next morning and peeked around the range but only saw the baited trap. There were fresh droppings on the kitchen counter between the coffeepot and the toaster so I knew he was still around and getting even bolder. I brushed the little pellets up with a moist paper towel while the coffee was percolating and imagined the mouse gaping at me from some invisible vantage point, bored and waiting for me to go to work so he could casually pop sugar grains into his mouth and shit on the silverware.

The following evening I went up to the neighborhood tavern to have beers and listen to the local drunks yell towards the Yankee’s game on the television. Once in a while I felt at home in New Jersey, when a conversation with a stranger or a stiff drink would transport me to another place, a nameless oasis untouched by expectation or stereotype. That night was particularly pleasant since Clemmons was on the mound and Sly-The-Reptile-Guy had brought his baby python to the bar and was buying Absolut shots for anyone who’d hold it. So my mood was cheerful when I cashed out, wandered home, strolled into the kitchen and nonchalantly glanced behind the oven.

I’d caught the mouse.

While I was thrilled that the plan had worked, I was floored by the gory spectacle of the miniature crime scene. There were tiny bright puddles of blood leading to the trap that was now wedged almost entirely underneath the stove, all signs of a grim struggle. When I bought the trap I assumed that death for the hapless mouse would be quick and painless. I even imagined that he would die happy with the free offering of peanut butter laid out for him alone. Like he’d quietly stumbled upon his own sweet smorgasbord and maybe even had a little taste before the bar dropped and the lights went out. But this was obviously no expedient demise. Once the device was tripped, the bar came down and hit the mouse in the middle of his snout. Given the speed of the bar’s release and the small surface area of the point of impact, I figured his nose would’ve been sheared completely off his face. But the bar held fast and the poor thing must’ve gone mad with pain and confusion trying to shake it loose.

I held the small picture of death up to my face. I felt sick and guilty and my nose itched the more I thought about its last dying moments. Using the end of a pen, I pried the bar off of his snout and nudged the body into the trashcan.

That night I set a second trap under the pantry that never caught anything. For several weeks I’d bend down to investigate the trap, expecting blood and a fresh body, but I never saw anything except a hardening glob of peanut butter. The droppings failed to reappear. My unlucky victim must’ve been a solitary mouse trying to keep warm during the last bitter month of a prolonged winter. I couldn’t help feeling like I killed a drifter, a wily opportunist just trying to get by in that hard, unforgiving place.

Meanwhile, the ants persisted and had to be professionally wiped out. The exterminator suspected they were thriving in some standing water behind the tiles of the bathtub. When the hot water faucet was disconnected from the wall, hundreds of angry ants swarmed from their disturbed nest and were quickly drowned in a monsoon of Raid. The hole of the nest was sprayed repeatedly and the faucet was replaced and recaulked, leaving the few insect survivors buried alive.

The new tenants of the house probably think nothing of what lurks behind the shower’s hot water handle as they step naked into the dingy stall. Checking the rump roast, it’s doubtful they consider the hidden network of pipes leading into the oven. Babes in the Jersey woods, I guess, with bad people looking through their windows at night, browsing for things to steal.

I am now back in the South, flirting with adulthood in a town that is the Fountain of Youth for guys like me. Guys who know bars, with the sweet skin of college life still clinging to them like outdated fashions. The film is done and is just another project on another shelf waiting for an audience to glance away from the explosions of the multiplex long enough to notice it.

I have unloaded my belongings into a new rental nest and settled into a new life, complete with a good girl and wiser ambitions. And on those melancholy nights when I’m home alone, when the kitchen is serene and twilight is at hand, I’ll give my oven door a little kick and listen for the quiet, hopeful stir of footsteps.

Falling from Space: Skydiving Made Easy

Posted in From the Vault, Writing with tags , , , , , on December 10, 2009 by Mike

The following was written during the winter of 2000 as an “According to Mike” article.  Good thing I’ve already done this; my cardiologist would never go for it.

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I only had three full days to get mentally prepared for my first skydive, the ultimate test of bravery/sanity.  I assumed it would fall through over the weekend. Either the weather would be nasty, I would have to work or would chicken-out.  But once Sunday evening came around and the morrow’s skydiving plan was still afloat, anxiety hit hard.  Sleep was evasive.  Sitting wide-eyed in bed, I decided to read some Hemingway to either get sleepy or find some 11th hour injection of manly nerve and bravado. The ironic fact that Papa Hemingway was an eventual suicide wasn’t lost on me.

On the day of reckoning I was up early to rendezvous at The Waffle House with my follow jumpers. So I sat in the parking lot and penned a brief will.  Being a natural worrier, this seemed to be the right thing to do. Details on who was to get what—it’s difficult to sincerely divide a goose egg—aren’t important, but here’s a snippet: if for some reason my chute fails to open and I go splat sometime later in the day, know that I love you all.

As it turned out, only six out of a rough list of 40-something potentials showed up.  We had our coffee and smoked our cigarettes and broke the yolks of our eggs while exchanging nervous laughter. We were really going to do it. While most people were or on their way to work or mulling over their vote in what was to become quite the newsworthy election [2000], we were preparing to leap from a mechanically sound airplane somewhere over St. George, S.C., wherever that was.

On the convoy out to the jumpsite, I pondered the gray band of sky and pictured myself tumbling rocklike through its expanse.  Adventure on land and water can seem unsettling and foreign, but to taunt gravity and trust sheer fabric and rope with your very life seemed pretty dumb, the more I thought about it.

We arrived at Blue Sky Adventures in St. George late in the morning. The business, which is four years in operation and hosts thousands of jumpers annually, was basically a small private airport with a cozy office sitting just off the tarmac and a nearby hangar holding all of the jump gear. Owners Wally and Melissa West were extremely friendly and accommodating, but the undercurrent of danger was obvious. The doom factor, which we were trying to forget about, started with the reams of release forms alerting us that the recreational activity we were about to participate in could leave us, “seriously and permanently injured or even killed.”

But while we were literally signing our lives away, skydiving videos were running on the television and confident, steely-eyed jump studs were there to assure us that everything would be okay.  They were also playing guitar-rock anthems to get you pumped. The nervousness settled into a spirited team camaraderie as we ventured out to the hangar to meet our jumpmasters and learn the basics.

What shocked me most was the brief nature of the instructional speech.  Since we were jumping tandem, there really wasn’t much to explain. Roughly, here’s the orientation: meet your jumpmaster (the complete stranger that you will be hooked to provocatively and who holds your life in his hands), squirm into some sleek pastel flight-pajamas, stuff your body into the torture device of a harness, decide how you want to exit the plane, get on plane. Very simple, very efficient.  It happens so quickly that you can’t dissuade yourself from following through with it. I’m not implying it was unprofessional or that our physical safety was compromised, but it is wise planning on their part to expedite the fundamentals and get you off the ground and up in the air.

And up in the air you are with a target jump elevation at over 13,000 feet.  So the gutted two-prop plane carries the wad of brightly-colored bodies to elevation, with Aerosmith blaring from the boom box seat-belted into the rear of the plane, and your jumpmaster reiterates the gameplan and makes sure you’re not completely freaked out with fear or vertigo.  Together, you check the altimeter, secure yourselves together, discuss again your proper body position for the 45-second freefall, then wait your turn at the hatch. My jumpmaster was “Robbo” Dunn and you can’t imagine a more laid-back, pleasant person. But beyond another’s personality, you really can’t imagine the instantaneous bond that is established between two people as they tumble backwards out of a plane together.

And that’s how it happens. No matter if you exit forwards or backwards, there is an immeasurable length of time that is the pinnacle of chaos.  You don’t know up from down, the wind is deafening, you’re laughing and screaming at the same time but nothing is really coming out because your mouth is eating air at 100+mph, your jumpmaster is moving your limbs around like an action-figure to achieve perfect form, and you’re simply falling out of the sky.

But when he pulls the cord and the chute opens, it’s like you’re completely frozen in space, then all is serene.  Your heart-rate is still off the charts and you’re still tearing up, but the chute has opened and no matter how clumsy your eventual landing will be, you will survive.

You were expecting a rush but the actual rush exceeds all your expectations a thousand times over.  And that rush comes with firm ground, high-fives, draft beer, better friends, indelible memories and a crazed staring contest with your own mortality.  I can think of no better present to give someone than the gift of a first skydive.  Keep that in mind when you’re shuffling through the malls over the next few weeks and every store, every yuletide sentiment, is the same as every other year.

Delivering the Goods

Posted in Family, From the Vault, Writing with tags , , , , on October 5, 2009 by Mike

1 yr later

Just one year ago, we took our first anxious steps into parenthood. The following piece was written at that time, commissioned by a local real estate website that was looking to get a personal profile of Wilmington’s new baby hospital. The website went under, leaving this article a homeless orphan playing with matches in a ditch. So for Foster’s 1st birthday, let’s go back in time to relive his grand entrance. Happy birthday, buddy! You’ve come a long way!

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Carrie is pregnant. Very pregnant. My wife has journeyed far beyond the baby bump stage when strangers would pat her stomach with shameless adoration. Now she’s feeling large and immobile, ready to be done with it, a little anxious and impatient after nine long months. Those same strangers now give her a wide berth, expecting her water to break at any moment. The bags are packed, we have our guidebooks, the paid time off is safely stashed. It’s like we’re loaded up and ready for vacation but our son won’t come out of his room. Meanwhile, across town sits our destination. Wilmington’s brand new Betty H. Cameron Women’s and Children’s Hospital is our Disneyworld.

The Women’s and Children’s Hospital is the stunning new addition to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, the hub of our local healthcare system. Over the years the hospital has seen structural growth, technological advances, and a diversification in services, but it’s arguable that these components have been simultaneously augmented like this before. The new facility will revolutionize how women and children receive care in Wilmington for years to come. Groundbreaking on the 195,000 square foot hospital began Jan.19, 2006 and it received its first patients Sept. 14, 2008. An estimated 4,000 children are born at NHRMC each year. With this opening, each one will receive treatment in a state of the art facility that is worthy of its superb medical staff.

Clearly, the staff is excited about their new workspace. Jane McLean, Clinical Coordinator for Labor and Delivery and Obstetrics Coordinator for the Operating Room, highlights the upgrade. “The large, private rooms are more accommodating for families and their guests. There are hydrotherapy tubs that can be moved from room to room. There are also multi-head showers, which are great tools in early labor to manage contraction pain. We’ve tried to make things easier for the mother, while encouraging them to get out of bed and move around.”  Accessibility to staff is another key component to the mission of the new hospital. McLean continues, “Our systems are now decentralized. There are charting stations throughout the unit so we can stay close to our patients. We used to have a call bell but now it goes through a computer and to the mobile phone of the assigned nurse. It’s quicker for the patient to have their needs met.”

Meanwhile back home, Carrie is now in the throes of early labor. It has been going on for two days and her contractions are getting stronger and closer together. All of our instincts and Lamaze handouts are telling us to go to the hospital. So we gather our luggage and laptops and massage tools and a giant red fitness ball and pile into the wagon like a Cirque du Soleil troupe, heading off towards 17th Street to have our baby.

We arrive at the front desk and explain our urgent business. We are sent to the Perinatal Evaluation Center for assessment. Once inside the facility, I am struck by the calm and quiet. I was expecting an asylum of moaning, birthing women. It is so quiet I start to wonder if the entire wing is still closed to the public. When we are taken to a private room and Carrie is examined, we learn that she has dilated one centimeter and has a paper-thin cervix but is still possibly a day or two away from delivery. It is too early in the process to admit us. We trudge back home to wait some more.

With a population of nearly 100,000 people, Wilmington is too large to rely on Durham and Winston-Salem and other state hospitals to take our sick and needy.  The construction of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital gives families the chance to stay in town even when their loved ones are facing high-risk pregnancies and other medical complications.  Barbara Buechler, Registered Nurse and Hospital Administrator, illustrates the importance of such services. “Our 45-bed, all private room Neonatal ICU is the only private room NICU in the state of North Carolina.  Private room neonatal intensive care provides an environment that improves clinical and developmental outcomes for sick and premature infants.  In addition, the sleep sofa in every room allows mom to stay with her baby during hospitalization.  This provides the benefit of parent-infant bonding and parents feeling confident caring for their baby at discharge.”  This December, the Betty H. Cameron Women’s and Children’s Hospital will open southeastern North Carolina’s only Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. As a result, emergency situations involving children can be handled close to home and Wilmington will continue to establish itself as a leader in state healthcare.           

Back home again, Carrie and I jump at every gas bubble. We wonder if we’ll even know when it’s time. But then her water breaks and it is as dramatic and exciting as it seems in movies. We lock down the house, pile back into the car and leave knowing that when we return, it will be as a trio.

We are finally admitted and set up camp in our room on the Labor and Delivery ward. The room is immense and the sofa is soft. Our families come and go, taking full advantage of the visitation policy that allows the patient to decide who is admissible and how long they can stay. Carrie’s contractions are breathtaking and we take arduous walks around the maze of hallways in the hope that gravity and movement will conspire to push him out. It doesn’t happen.  During the night it becomes clear that there is a problem. Her dilation stops at 6 centimeters. Excruciating contractions are not advancing him through the birth canal. Depending on her position in the bed, his heart rate nosedives and our entire team spends long hours frowning at monitors.

In the wee hours of a Monday morning, despite our hopes of having a natural childbirth free from interventions or undue pain management, Carrie ends up having a C-section. The umbilical cord had wrapped around our baby’s neck and prevented him from coming out on his own. This wasn’t our plan, but who can plan for a medical emergency? The wonderful part of our story is the strong, healthy son we eventually took home with us. Would it have been the same ending in a smaller, older, less-equipped facility? Perhaps, but it would have been a much darker road. Despite the gravity of the situation, we knew we were in able hands. The staff at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital was amazing and touched our experience with professionalism and warmth. The facility was the Disneyworld we were hoping it would be. Our son, Foster, will say thanks when he learns to talk.

The Odd Appeal of Fishing

Posted in From the Vault, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2009 by Mike

Some people have asked why I don’t post some previously published work.  I couldn’t think of a real reason not to, other than the fear of seeming horribly self-indulgent.  But perhaps there’s room for some old stuff on here. I was lucky enough to have a column called “According to Mike” in the fine entertainment newspaper, “Lowcountry Weekly,” during the late 1990’s. The following column came out during the winter of 1998. I’ve kept the local references although they will mean little to most of you. Beaufort, SC was a fine place to call home for awhile.

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fishin picIt is the middle of December and we’re still in shorts and flip-flops.  The pace is slow, the sky is clear, the snow is somewhere else.  This is why we’re here.

       We are fortunate to live in a region where the seasons cruise into each other with the grace and urgency of a Waffle House waitress.  Some places lure you with ski slopes and changing leaves: the Lowcountry specializes in the extended summer.

       With this lingering pleasant weather, you can’t help but notice all the boating activity.  From Charleston, Folly Beach, James Island, and all the rivers big and small that divide the land, everyone is out on the water.  Some are cruising, some are smuggling, some are lost—but most are fishing.

      There are a lot of big-money boats out there on the water.  Floating Winnebegos with complex trawling and rigging equipment, double Evinrude engines that could propel an oil tanker, stocked wet bars, bean-sprout pitas, air-conditioned cabins and crews with matching golf shirts and docksides. These vessels are usually tied up at the fancier marinas, freshly scrubbed in the sunshine, with faint whispers of Buffett and blenders and convivial small talk drifting out to the envious fellow-boaters and tourists who gawk along the dock.  

       Last Father’s Day, I joined my dad, grandfather and uncle on a charter-fishing trip out of Hilton Head on a similarly well-equipped boat.  It was reasonably priced and the captain was knowledgeable and friendly enough, but it felt like maritime grade school.  The captain not only drove the boat, he also caught the bait, found the spot, hooked the lines, cast the poles and offered condescending directions on how to appropriately reel in the fish that he had actually caught.  But we played along and posed with our trophy fish and enjoyed the cheesy spectacle that we had become.  We also left with three coolers of mackerel fillets, which was the whole idea anyway. 

       Though there’s nothing like fishing out on the open ocean, the intracoastal waterways encourage a different kind of fisherman.  Drive by any public boat ramp in the Lowcountry on a warm winter morning and notice the trucks parked with their empty boat trailers.  These are the people I appreciate the most.  The guys who take their boat from the front yard, stop by the Texaco for coffee and powdered doughnuts and beer, back that sucker straight into the water, and head out in search of fish. 

      Realistically, your supplies list needn’t be very long or detailed for a good day of fishing. 15’ of buoyant watercraft, some bait, a few hooks, a pole and faith that some mysterious aquatic creature will go along with the plan. No escape from the elements, whatever the elements may be. Direct cancer-causing sunshine or full downpour, you deal with it.  There’s no posh cabin to hole up in, not even a flimsy tarpaulin on rods to duck under. No pampering, no comfort, no radio? No distractions.

        There’s a casual de-evolution thing that happens when you board a small fishing vessel; you drop several levels on the civilization scale and have permission to behave like someone else. Where you jettison all the good manners you practice on a daily basis and reinvent yourself for the afternoon. The someone else you become can be gross and dirty and altogether unrefined. The new-you can mayonnaise his sandwich with the same knife that was just used to gut baitfish and was cleaned by a quick submersion in the ocean and dried off with the oil-rag.   He can eat said sandwich with his grimy barefeet propped up beside the cutting board where fish parts and blood and fecal goo bake in the sun.  He can stare at that carnage while he eats, without a stir of nausea or guilt, and flick random fish scales from his bread and take another bite. He can belch aloud while peeing off the side of the boat, and not say “excuse me” for either action. 

       It takes you back to when early men survived on Cheetohs, bologna, RC Cola and secret caches of warm bottom-shelf liquor.  You can be burly and barbaric like Spencer Tracy in The Old Man and the Sea and get medieval on mute, unassuming fish. It’s beautiful and liberating and makes for a glorious day off.

       Besides, what better way to test your survival skills as a possible technological doomsday approaches? [Note: Pre-Y2K] Next time you’re out on the water, play the Subsistence Fishing Game: no matter how ugly or small or previously unidentified the fish, if you hook it, you have to take it home and eat it.  Moreover, if you catch NO fish, you have to eat the bait.  Squid-ka-bobs and Menhaden-head Marinara will surely be a welcome change for holiday get-togethers.

        So all you people who cut work or school to fish, I applaud you.  You are unshaven and smelly and probably doing something illegal, but we love you.  You are the heart and soul of this spit of land we call home. Most of all, you provide picturesque images as we look down at you while crossing the bridge to the drudgery of our own jobs and the domestication of our own lives. We all hope something’s biting.