Saturday, October 15, 2016


There used to be an old piece
of the bay around where I
lived  -  Sewaren waterfront.
Nothing much to speak of,
especially in 1966. Now it's
all done up, as locals would
say  -  lanterns, benches, a 
boat-launch ramp, parking.
Old geezers sit around there
all day, like a 'seniors club',
talking about fish and sports,
or most anything except 
women. They're all mostly 
done with that. Before he
really died, my father slowly
died, there. He'd say, 'If you
ever need to find me, I'm
probably sitting at Sewaren,
look for me there.' It was
hyperbole; he wasn't really
there that much at all, but he
had that sort of enthusiastic
way with words. The thing
with my father was he liked
to think he was all about the
sea. Navy guy, stories to tell,
South Pacific, WWII. For the
rest of his land-locked days in
Avenel, all he ever did was
pine for the ocean, the shore, 
the coast : inlets, bays,
anything with salt.  It had to
be salt water. My father
detested lakes and 
mountains and hills with 
clear-running streams. 
He'd take me with him,
as a kid, quite nearly
every good Saturday, 
decent weather-wise, 
and rent a little rowboat  -  
at some guy's marina or 
dock, some old gent who 
he knew, a Popeye kind of
guy. We'd clamp my
father's  6hp Evinrude 
onto the back of it, (which 
little outboard motor we'd
have to haul around), and 
with that, with some spare
gasoline too, and a bag of
food and all the fishing
supplies anyone could 
ever want (?), set out for
a day's adventure.  We'd
always begin with the
scap-nets, or whatever they
were called; that's what I
remember, and get to the
bridge at Point Pleasant
Bay or Inlet, or whatever
it or or was. Crabs, in the
mid-morning anyway, would
cling to the sides of the
below-water areas of the
bridge and its abutments;
I guess for the seaweed
and moss and all that. 
We'd use the nets and 
just 'scap' up the crabs
from the bridge sidings. 
No struggle, no skill. It 
was just an utterly and 
simple kill. My father
would have a few large 
burlap bags, and there 
were, honestly, more than 
a few mornings we'd get
back home with some 80
crabs  -  really good days. 
Other times maybe 30 or 
35 was a take. That would 
be done first, so we'd have 
one or two burlap sacks in 
the rowboat with us, loaded 
with crabs, wriggling about 
(to die) and foaming up, as 
they do, as they slowly 
continued to try to respire. 
Like bubble breath. As a 
little kid, seeing this, I 
didn't know much, and it 
was v-e-r-y weird indeed. 
Unsettling. Not cool. If you
listened close, too, as I did, 
you could hear their clicks 
and the sound of their
hard claws and things 
groping and hitting. I 
was treacherously sad, 
always, but, as my father 
always was, he remained
insensitive. It mattered little
 to him what we were doing.
Then we'd set out for the 
open seas, boat lanes and 
all, to fish the rolling waves, 
or find some inlet or cove 
he knew about, and fish 
and/or swim there. He would
surf-fish, usually while I
swam or just monkeyed
around.  It was all pretty 
miraculous  -  we'd find 
little groups of picnickers 
or bathers on these weird 
places I didn't even know 
existed. And they all stayed
apart from each other; no
camaraderie, no groups of 
people bunching together.
I think that's what made it 
so weird; everyone apart, 
each tiny little group, 
keeping to themselves 
and with lots of beach space 
between them. Little family 
clutches of Poles or Germans. 
It was like a foreign movie  -  
sand and umbrellas, little
kids yelling and splashing 
around while these dour 
and large adults waded
in and maybe began 
splashing themselves 
with water; the ladies in 
almost dress-like bathing 
suits, ballooning out, and 
the men in pillowcase bathing 
suits OR tight fitting, almost 
nothing but precise, bathing 
suits. Euro stuff. I guess. 
Remember, this was 1958,
1959 and everything was 
quite exotic in this way. 
My father and I never 
much 'talked' on these 
sorts of forays, rather, 
beach to beach and bridge 
to bridge, it was all just 
fishing commands, and 
the usual instructions and 
boat stuff back and forth. 
Once or twice, we were 
way too far out, and the 
Coast Guard would come 
to the boat and drag my 
father in, saying he was
in danger, too distant 
from sure, the seas were 
too rough for the small 
craft, or that a sea-lane 
was being broached, 
used by other, large, 
boats, and thus posing 
danger all around.  My 
father just laughed
and set out for some 
other place. After a 
long time of this, 
over two Summers and 
Springs, I got really 
bored and began 
completely hating the 
entire endeavor, each 
time. The other thing 
was, for all that work 
and effort, we very 
seldom caught fish. I 
heard endless tales of the 
'blues' (bluefish) running, 
the fluke or the flounder 
running, but outside of 
maybe three or four times, 
we never really caught 
anything. One time, we 
ran into a run of blowfish  -  
catching at least 30 of them, 
in a fast rush, my father was 
just throwing them down 
onto the floor of the boat  -  
they'd flip and flap around, 
and then go still. But, 
as they expired, true 
to their name, 'Blowfish', 
they (literally true) blew 
themselves up, balloon-like 
into this stupid spiny ball 
of fish. And of course that 
meant the tiny rowboat 
space, now taken up not 
with skinny little (dead)
fish, was instead an 
unwalkable pile of 
ridiculous, dead or dying, 
blow-balls of fish. I think
 that's where I first became 
a comedian  -  it was 
ridiculous, tragic, disgusting, 
retarded and gross, all together. 
Just like a good comedy skit.
A rowboat full of dead 
blowfish, and two 
mad-faced idiots
coming ashore.
To make it worse, once 
we got home the real horror 
began. My father had this way : 
certain of the neighbors knew 
that on Andy's good fishing or 
crabbing  days, there'd be a
pile of crabs, lawn chairs, etc.,
 at the top of the driveway, and 
everyone was invited. A crab or
a fish-fest, for sure. There was
a stove in the basement. He'd boil 
up these two huge vats of water,
and in the crabs would go. Some of
them, still clinging to live, or maybe
all of them, scalded to death.
Piles of crabs, on the driveway,
ready-cooked, and people just
ripping at them, drinking beer, 
cracking open claws and tearing
away the backs, to get the white
crab meat. It was brutal. Truly.
Torn and ribbed crab-limbs
everywhere about. When 
finished, the gross clean-up
and garbage cans, and then
nightfall. Adults schmoozing,
sitting around, fat and full, with 
their fourth or fifth beer, getting
louder and more happy. The same, 
of course, with the fish  -  my father
would gut and clean the fish, and
then do whatever you do to cook 
fish, barbecue, oven, whatever.
Bones and fish spines, thank-you,
into the garbage. By this time.
always, I was sick, very tired, and
disgusted too. And by the way,
the bluefish and flounder and
stuff, they were really good fish,
if you liked eating fish. But the
blowfish, ALL those blowfish,
go to find out, they're really
not 'eating' fish at all. Just 
horrid, a garbage fish  -  
and into the garbage
they went.

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