Fishing with Pat
By middle school, I didn’t want to go fishing anymore. I was on the football team then, and it was obvious that fishing and hunting were things you did with your dad or granddad. I didn’t have a dad, and my granddad who was still alive lived back in New York. It didn’t bother me. Fishing wasn’t my thing. I could live with that.
Then my mother started dating Pat. She had no plans to get married for a long time, she told me, but it was important to her that I get to know Pat. She said she had fun with him, but she said it with her voice soft and her eyes closed a little. Her tone was the opposite of the tone I used when I said that something was fun.
I have fun with Pat. I have fun with go-carts.
Pat took us to his condo at South Padre, and in the morning, me and him went deep sea fishing. This was very different from other types of fishing.
Deep sea fishing felt a lot like riding on a boat all day, except with fishing poles tilting off the back. With deep sea fishing, I didn’t even have to hold my pole. I got bored, but Pat was having a blast. He smoked a cigar and said, “This is the life.”
I said, “What?”
He said, “This!”
He held up his hands like he meant the air and everything.
I checked out the rest of the boat. The captain’s name was Captain Dago. He had a ponytail and he was young.
When I went into his area, Captain Dago asked, “So do you want to steer the boat?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. He shrugged, like, OK, suit yourself. He was eating an orange. I figured steering wasn’t that difficult if he’d been able to do that and peel an orange. I was thirteen, and I enjoyed being challenged minimally. “Is being a captain hard?” I asked.
“Mmm,” he said. “Sometimes.”
That’s when Pat started going crazy.
He shouted, “You got one! You got one!”
Captain Dago looked at me, his eyebrows saying, you should go. You are supposed to be fishing.
Pat leaned back and worked the reel. I could see his underwear and the wiry hairs of his abdomen. He looked very old when he strained. He had a lot of gray in his beard and in the hair by the top of his underpants. In the locker room, boys were calling this hair the Happy Trail.
I had a few armpit hairs that I shaved every week because I heard hair comes back thicker if you shave it. I had no Happy Trail to speak of. I was pretty sure my mom had seen Pat’s Happy Trail, but I couldn’t think about that now. I was supposed to be doing something.
Pat shouted for me to get the net, and I did. I held it under the fish as it splashed for dear life. Pat made several comments about how large and beautiful the fish was.
When we reached the dock, Pat wanted Captain Dago to take a picture of us with “my” fish. I didn’t want the fish to be mine because I didn’t do anything. Pat said what counted was whose pole caught the fish.
“That’s retarded,” I said.
Pat said, “It’s the rules.” He said this very slowly.
“The rules are stupid. I didn’t do anything. The pole was in the water, and it came up with the fish, and now you’re saying it’s mine and let’s take a picture? It’s not. I think I should have a say if a fish is mine or not.”
I walked to the end of the dock. Captain Dago took the picture of Pat and the fish.
Every time I went fishing after that, I was older and fishing was code for hanging out on a boat and drinking beers. At least that’s what me and my friends did for fishing.
I asked my mom once if my dad liked fishing. It was a few months after her and Pat broke up.
She said, “He liked fishing OK. He wasn’t in love with it.”
I said, “Did he like something else better?”
She said, “He really liked softball. He played fast-pitch softball. He was pretty good. Third base.”
“Huh,” I said, like it wasn’t a big thing, but deep down I felt good about this news.
I pictured my mom with her fingers in the wires of a chain-link fence, watching one of my dad’s games. I could see a groundball rolling hard to the second baseman. My dad holds out his glove to make the double play, the throw coming from first. I can see his heel on the bag, like they teach you. His muscles tighten, feeling the runner’s steps. His eye tracks the ball, re-measuring its distance, its speed. My dad has long arms like I do. They come in handy because double-play throws are rushed. The ball comes in low or high, and it’s good to have someone at third who can make a tough catch.
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