We grew up inland, so mostly we fished in lakes. My Mom, Vi, and her husband, Tony, lived in the city for a long time, however, and the closest water available was the Atlantic. When I would visit them in the summers, we would fish off the pier.
One summer, we spent a lot of time on that pier. This wasn’t a board walk pier, or a tourist pier, or anything romantic. It was just a pier. A lot of people fished there and it smelled like a lot of people fished there. It wasn’t where you took a girl for a stroll and a stolen kiss. It was where fish went to die.
One day, I was there with Vi, Tony, their neighbor Matty, and his wife, whose name I’ve forgotten. Matty had a broken leg, probably well earned. He was reckless, impulsive, gregarious and the life of any party. That day, he was limping around in a full leg cast, aided by crutches. I was about 11 at the time.
My mom had given me a pole that I could use to “fish off the bottom”, which basically meant, “sit down, behave yourself, and feel important with this pole that won’t catch anything, while we adults use our much better casting rods to catch the real fish.”
Or maybe I was reading too much into it.
There was talk about mackerel vs pollock and I believe it might have been mentioned once or twice that you had to use the casting rods to catch the mackerel, which were the better eating fish, but a little oily. There was also a lot of posturing and bragging, as the cold beers got passed around from the ever present cooler. I drank my “Sody-pop”, as my mother liked to call it, and kept my eye on the prize, with my stupid ole fishing rod and no casting apparatus, while I kept one ear on the adult conversations to see what bits of grownup mystery I could capture in my net. I can see me sitting there, all blue eyed and brown skinned, with my denim cut-offs, dirty keds, and my favorite white striped t-shirt.
At some point, I got a bite. A big bite. And I yelled, “Hey! Hey, you guys, I got something here. I caught something!” Matty came over to help me pull it in. “Probably pollock or pickerel or something. Maybe a shoe”, he told the others. Well, we kept working on it, and we pulled that thing in, and what do you think it was? A beautiful, huge, mackerel. “Well, huh.”, Matty said, “Will ya look at that!” People made a big deal, and took pictures with their gigantic polaroid cameras of me and my two-foot fish. It was my little moment in the sun, until Matty had to go and steal my thunder.
After I caught the big fish, everyone started fishing off the bottom, as it seemed the good fish were biting there. Someone else caught one, and the mood became even more celebratory. Or maybe that was the beer. The problem with beer is that it has a window of jolliness, and once that window closes, things can get less jolly without much warning. Our window closed that day at about 7:30 PM. At that point, Matty’s wife wanted to go home, but Matty didn’t want to go, so they had words. Bad words. Then Matty, in a fit of anger, took his crutches and threw them in the Atlantic.
“WELL, THERE!”, he said, “Now look at what you made me do!” and he turned around and limped back up the pier towards a good bar that had cold beer and no cold wives. The rest of us were shocked into awestruck silence for about a second, and then we laughed, even Matty’s wife, because Matty was such a riot. Everyone forgot about my huge fish after Matty’s display of manly bravado. Later on he cooked my fish and he declared it the best fish he ever ate. That was Matty’s charming side. Lucky for him, he was more charming than not, and so usually got away with his impulsive drunken acts.
The next day some guys were out on a boat in the harbor. They saw a crutch floating around, and they pulled it in. It had Matty’s name on it. One guy said, “Hey, I know Matty! He musta dropped his crutch!” He brought it over to Matty’s house. Matty got 50% of his crutches back. Everyone laughed, Matty loudest of all.
Who do you know that’s charming? And have you ever wanted to go back in time and hug the kid that was you? What would you whisper in the kid’s ear before you released her?
PS I went fishing around for some info about fish to check my memory and I found this video. It is so reminiscent of those trips to the pier, that I had to show it to you. I laughed out loud when I saw it. I believe this is the State Pier in Gloucester, MA. We fished off the Portland Pier in Portland, ME. I borrowed it from a guy named Joey C. Thank you, Mr. C.!