after hours and hours of non-bonding and non-fishing, my sister pulled out a book,
Nick, my nephew, pulled out a Game Boy, and my dad somehow continued to feign
interest in Armor-All. Me, I had no diversion except piecing together the reasons
why I was such a malcontent. Here I was, on a boat, absolutely the odd man out.
I live in New York City, I'm "a writer," I would normally be waking
up right about now. And being surrounded by three sets of parents and their offspring,
I'm glaringly childless. And I'm nursing a horrendous hangover, mostly because
my mother opted to not buy the Advil I requested because she doesn't "trust"
ibuprofen. "It's too new."
I just sat there, quietly.
it was my shift. With the cat-like agility of former Chicago Cub shortstop Shawon
Dunston, lifetime batting average .269, I subtly shifted my gaze from sandwich
to poles. And, evidently, started fishing. Ten minutes of absolute focus. Ten
minutes to make my dad proud of his TV watching, city-dwelling son. Ten minutes
of proving my worth to my family. I broke into a sweat again, mostly from the
bottle of Shiraz I downed last night, but it was sweat nonetheless.
as they used to say every three minutes on The Wonder Years, it happened.
The line went tautI saw it! (as was my job)and Captain Paul (not Captain
Paul) sprang into action, grabbed the pole, and handed it to me. I had caught
a fish! Or, more accurately, I saw a fish get caught and had a pole handed to
me! But at that moment, something primal seared through my body, something that
is implanted in the soul of Man from the beginning of time, something basic about
survival and longevity of the species, and I instinctively knew that it was time
for me To Reel. And reel I did. Not with the dull wrist crank of the Car Wash
Kid, but with the assured artfulness of the lead dancer of the Ballet Russe or
cheers of my boatmates were thrilling. Somehow, I had become a better fisherman
than theyI know that makes no sense, that it was luck of the draw, that
any boob could have been at that ten-minute pole helmbut it didn't seem
to matter. I had caught a fish (I, not they), and I was reeling it in (I, not
they), and they would be eating it tonight (they, not I. Again, I don't like fish.)
I was the hero in a battle of humankind against the unknown depths of the sea.
And my dad was there to see it. Truly, there are few moments more significant
in life than a fatherly pat on the back. And he was patting. And I was reeling
(physically and emotionallywhat a neat word!)
whole afternoon suddenly made sense.
my sister patted me on the back. But this was of a pat of a different nature.
She leaned in and whispered, "Would you let Nick reel the rest of it in?"
single part of my body screamed "No!" (And I hadn't heard a peep out
of my shin since the last time we all went Christmas caroling.) See, this was
my moment. Selfish as that may sound, I hadn't had a moment in a long time, except
for the time I realized that I knew all of the words to "American Pie"
and then got clocked by a well-thrown bottle of Jack, understandably. At this
stage, my heroic activity, my thrilling fish tale had merely entailed rolling
up a piece of string. The actual reward was still fighting and writhing at the
end of the hook. It was still an intangible. I had to see the prize. I had to
land it myself, or it wouldn't count. I had to catch the fish. And I got up so
early. And this is such a perfect moment of manhood. And my dad was there. And
I immediately handed the pole over to Nick.
Nick took it and, with the expertise of a Minnesota boy whose father has a moose
hunting license, he reeled in the fish with agility and grace. The huge thing
eventually plopped on the deck and flailed about and Nick grabbed it by its bloody
gillsbettering what I would have done which would have been "shrieked"
and "maybe kicked it a little"got his picture taken, and that
I realize that I come off pretty damn swell in this story. I sacrificed my day
in the sun so that my nephew, this sandy haired eight-year-old (Nine? Eleven?)
could have a story to tell his dad when he got home. I gave Nick something precious.
I gave him a childhood memory of a successful adventure. And I knew that that
simple gesture made me a good uncle. And a good man.
fuck that. What the hell was I thinking? I never, ever, ever get a chance to catch
a damn fish. And if anyone needed to catch a damn fish on that damn day, it was
me and not some happy little child. The hell of this day (six o'clock in the morning?!)
pretty much assures that I'm not doing this again any time soon. It was god-awful
from start to finish and the only AAA-battery sized amount of joy I got out of
it was that I was going to land a fish, and now, for the sake of having a cute
time that everyone can ooh and aah over when we make our damned s'mores tonight,
I have to be the good guy and give the moment of glory to a tiny brat child, the
same tiny brat child whose temperament is such that we are eternally forced to
cheat against ourselves so he can win every asinine game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos
we ever play, or else there would be a whine and a pout so daunting that no amount
of extra half hours of Scrappy Doo before bedtime could possibly quell. "Here,
take my pole! Take my day! Take my car! Take my knowledge of Impressionist painters!
Just take it all, little boy! Because I'm an adorable fucking uncle
I know you're going to make it up to me so thanks in advance for your annual Christmas
present of a homemade construction paper duck."
we docked and went out for chicken.
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