Too Many Fish to Fry
There are fish stories, then there are not-fish stories. I’m collecting wannabe fish and not-fish stories. The only link between them is me, and my life.
Fish Story #1
At the age of twelve, I was taken by my father to go deep-sea fishing in Freeport, Long Island. My dad often treated me as if I were his son, instead of his older daughter. He had no sons, so there I was, a surrogate son. It was okay with me, because I loved my dad, idolized him even. Any special attention from him was wonderful. Any time I could get away from my mom was equally wonderful.
At that time in his life, Dad was a cabdriver in New York City. His haunts were the airports and Manhattan hotels. He cruised the streets for maybe ten or twelve hours a day, stopped for meals at cabbies’ favorite cafeterias (at which I would sometimes meet him for a talk, later in my teens). He liked talking to his passengers. As for the hours he was on duty, I’m only guessing, because my father led a double life, which I didn’t know about then.
It was a cold day as I remember it (must have been in the fall or maybe early spring), and we left the house so early in the morning it was just turning daylight. We picked up Abbie, Sandy’s husband. Sandy was next to the oldest of my thirteen cousins on my father’s side. Her sister, Marsha, was the eldest. Later in life they became permanently estranged.
My father’s car was a dark green Plymouth, or maybe a Chrysler. I sat up front between him and Abbie. In 1953, most cars seated three in front and three in back. Abbie had a great sense of humor and we laughed a lot as we headed east along Sunrise Boulevard to Freeport.
Dad said we should stop and have a good breakfast at a diner on the way. It was probably the first time I had breakfast in a diner. I had eggs and toast. Probably not bacon, since my mother kept a kosher home. I still hadn’t tasted bacon by the time I reached twelve. Everyone I knew was Jewish, except some of my schoolmates, so I hadn’t even had an opportunity to eat bacon.
When we arrived at the dock, we met up with some of my uncles and friends of my father. The party boat was designed to hold about twenty or thirty people. I was the only girl aboard. The men settled along the perimeter of the boat in preparation of casting their rods out to sea. The fishermen each had a pail of live bait near their feet. Little fish or worms swished around in the pails’ water as the boat left the dock.
We were on our way over a dark gray ocean under a solemn gray sky. It was cold and I shivered, wishing I’d worn another layer under my coat. The boat’s prow plowed through the choppy waves, parting the sea with a V-shaped wake behind us. I was excited and enchanted by the new experience of being at sea. After a while the boat reached its destination in what seemed to be the middle of the ocean, with no land in sight. Suddenly the motor was switched off, and the roar of the boat and the crash of waves were gone. For a brief moment, there was an eerie kind of silence (at least as I remember it), and then the gruff sound of men’s voices and laughter began, as if another kind of switch was turned on.
My father baited the hook on my line. I followed him to the places he had picked out for us to stand. The rail was about waist-high for the men, and nearly shoulder-high for me. Still, I could look over the railing and see the gray-green water swirling below, lapping against the boat. Lapping, lapping, and the boat swaying, swaying, swaying, lapping, lapping… and I vomited.
And kept vomiting until all of my breakfast was feeding the fish the men would soon be catching. The muscles in my chest on down to my female parts were in agony as they responded to the retching of my seasickness. I was weak and shivering, with shuddering chills. My dad found a place for me to lie down on deck: a covered storage locker about six feet by six feet, and a dark blue blanket to throw over me. I could barely stretch out my legs (even though I was a short kid) because of some coiled ropes at my feet.
I kept moaning, “Dad, make the captain turn the boat around.” But neither he nor the captain would listen. For the next eight hours, I lay there, nauseous, pain-wracked, angry, and shivering as I realized my father was not God.