Fishing rod over shoulder and tackle box down by side, the boy
ambled slowly across the south end of the beach to the pier. A small flock of
seagulls flew high over-head scanning sea and surf for sardines and blue
Wish I hadnt even got up today, the boy thought.
His shoes left deep impression in the sand. Each step had him that much closer
to what he hated. The pier.
Today was when he would know for sure if he had what it took to
be thought of as a man, not a twelve-year-old boy anymore, the other fishermen
there in Key West would tease and prod how he would always be. A
twelve-year-old boy. No matter what.
He would either finally be accepted today, or as it had always
gone, teased and prodded relentlessly for his weak stomach when out in a boat
or how his muscles cramped stiffed-up-tired before the day was truly done and
before the suns last rays had finally melted black.
Today was the day. No doubt. Today was the day. Do or die, today
No less then four hours ago at home, the boy had made up his
mind never to walk the beach again, let alone cast line and fish the pier, if
this constant teasing and prodding from the other seasoned fishermen did not,
from today forth cease.
Strange the boy had put so much effort in thought on the subject
because he honestly didnt know or remember what had brought him there to
the pier, four years ago, in the first place.
But isnt that how it goes with most great mysteries,
tangled amidst human nature? No one knows for sure why it is they do what they
do. Other then they just do. And continue to just do.
Same for the boy.
He continued to just do and come down to the pier here
every other Saturday morning, his four-year routine now, going on five, and
cast his line and let his thoughts drift to the gentle sway of waves out there,
far beyond the surf.
That would all change, though.
As already said, the boy had already made up his mind. His mind
was set. And set sure.
When a twelve-year-old boy has his mind sure-fire-set on
whatever it is hes resolved to do, rest assured nothing can be done to
alter or change that mad concocted plan.
Because of this the relentless teasing and prodding, had,
if anyone had paid attention forced the boy to get somewhat of a
backbone and much thicker skin, to shelter ego from insult and any other
further hurt, deemed sure to come his way.
Kidding, teasing, prodding; didnt much matter. Far as the
boy was concerned, verbal hazing of the likes could all be lumped along side
No difference at all.
Not to the boy, there wasnt.
He thought of it much the same as a lion in the wild and a lion
in a cage; one roaming freely in the wild, where as the other, trapped hostage
in a cage no difference is there at all between either cat? other
then one is free to roam wild, while the other is, unfortunately, trapped
hostage in a cage.
A lion is a lion, no matter if in the wild or, sad to say
trapped hostage in a cage.
This was for sure, without doubt, the boys best stab at
abstract thought, to tighten down the screws and try and make sense of
going on five years now why he had been teased and prodded in rank by
Key West fishermen.
No other reason or excuse why, the boy thought, other then
because Im small and no muscle.
Just then, he saw himself as the unfortunate lion, trapped
hostage in a cage; but instead of locked behind cold, steel bars, the
boys cage was self-doubt a psychological Stone Hinge reminder of
All that self-doubt suddenly worsened, for there was the pier
a looming presence of battered wood, barnacle infested withered,
Fact true, the whole pier seemed point-blank-ready to collapse
in rumble. Any day now. Any second. Thats how the weather-worn pier
looked. How it had always looked. Ready to collapse. In rubble. Any day now.
Though still riddled with self-doubt, the boy heel-toed it past
the boardwalk to the pier. The same flock of seagulls as before had, by now,
expanded wider in number crazy-mass-winged-flock of white well
over two hundred birds soaring high above, overhead.
The boy then rigged his rod and cast out line.
As the seagulls continued to soar high above, white-capped waves
swelled larger and crashed down even harder upon the shore there, where the
surf pulls back out again a terse cue for any surfer, board waxed and
ready to plunge in and paddle out and morph in mind, body and soul, to
that odd rhythmic flow of turbulent sea and surf all while not wiping
out. Most important thing to do. Not wipe out.
So far yet, there was no tug on the boys line. With the
sun burning off any chance for any shade from the clouds, the boy couldnt
help but see his destiny like those point break waves out there, far beyond the
surf; only to the boy, the waves he saw in his head were mammoth swells
hurricane gusts, wind and water set course to crash down and annihilate.
Simply put, wipe him out.
Him, and his life, the boy believed.
Yes, thats what the boy believed envisioned his
life to be. Total wipe out infinitely adrift in self-doubt and headed
for high-rise swells of mammoth rage and unbridled devastation.
No hope was how the boy saw his future; how he saw his life
shattered fragments of daydreams that had once stirred the hum of thrill
and adventure of a time stand still, to reach out and grasp hold of and never
to let go, the brass ring to wed fate and destiny together in tranquil solace,
Forever lasting in tranquil solace.
That is, before depression sat in silent plague of
stealthily mental haunt. But the boy hadnt spoken about this to anyone.
Last thing he needed right now was to admit he suffered from something of the
likes, as this, and endure further teasing and prodding from the fishermen
there in Key West.
Well, not all the fishermen there in Key West teased and prodded
Nothin stops ya comin down here, every other
Saturday morning, does it? The voice did not resonate in youthful glee
nor serious banter of mid-age; more like a bleak winter sheet of rock-solid
No other way to say it: The man who suddenly spoke was old. Sure
enough he was.
Had someone rattled off a triple digit guess, that wouldnt
even come close in range in giving even an honest portrait in words of how old
he really looked.
But he cared little. When your skin is leathery-tanned and
creased deep in rutlike, thin wrinkles as was the old mans face
there was no valid reason whatsoever for any kind of love affair with
any kind of mirror. As the old man saw it, any love affair anyone had with a
mirror was nothing short of gift wrapped vanity, hid well behind spoiled,
ill-manners hypnotized in trance, under the reflective shimmer of
ones own self-indulgence.
No, the old man cared nothing anymore, if ever he had, of how he
looked, for there were enough memories preserved, pristine in mind of his
brazened youth of the women he had so passionately loved and who, it turned
out, had loved him just as passionately back.
These careful guarded memories of youth long ago never permitted
the old man to wallow in self-pity or sorrow or lost regret. For it seemed, in
as so far as he could remember, he had none. Self-pity. Sorrow. Lost regret.
None of it.
Legs bowed out at the knees, the old man waddled up next to the
boy, who was now reeling back in his line, dead-set on another try, and said,
Dont feel like talkin much today, huh?
Sssh, the boy said. Youll scare the
fish. Still no tug or pull to line.
The old man smiled. No fish worth scarin here, down
by the pier. Real fish worth scarin are out there. He pointed westward,
where the sun was now at high noon and beating down with fierce heat.
Course, out there, ya dont take to scarin no fish. They take
to scarin you.
The old man knew this, for he had, time and again, laid hook to
and had fought to reel in, record-book worthy catches of sharks and marlins.
As story goes, the old man had once been fishing for white shark
off the coast of Long Island and had, soon after docking back at the pier, met
in the late spring of '72, an unknown speech writer and novelist at the time,
gathering vital data and information. Research, as he had put it,
for a book Ive been paid to write.
Guy didnt even have a
Title, the boy interrupted, until twenty
minutes to press. I know, he continued. Heard the story before.
Told me, more then once, you have. Chest puffed out.
The old man chuckled at the boys brazen act of toughness.
Never really got around to tellin ya how we fishermen there that
day, took to razin that there young writer, now did I?
Chest relaxed, the boys once tough demeanor vanished.
No, he said, you didnt.
So, it was told that day, back in late spring of '72, of
how, then unknown speech writer and novelist Peter Benchley, was given a
good teasing and prodding by a group of Long Islander fishermen, the old man
He went on
Know why we did that, do ya? he asked the boy. He
shook his head; his rod and reel back by his side now and tackle box not but
inches from his feet as well.
Cause, the old man continued. We
fishermen there, knew that young writer
Benchley, the boy politely interrupted.
The old man grinned and nodded. Knew that Benchley there
really didnt belong with us, even if he wanted; that he had more
goin for him in his life, then to be down there on the dock, hangin
out with a buncha scally-wag fishermen like us. Even if it was just that
day, gathering research and all, like he said he was.
Sorta like how it is with me, huh? The ominous cloud
of depression that had once taken hold, suddenly lifted and was gone. The boy
smiled at the old man.
And he smiled back. Sure enough, he said, dirty
brown grimace of nicotine stained teeth, chipped and brittle from years spent
scourging the sea for the next record book catch, hook, line and sinker.
The boy knew for sure now the reason for and why, the constant
teasing and prodding by the local fishermen there in Key West; it was just
their way of saying: You dont belong here. You have more going for you
in your life and better things to do then spending it down here on the docks
every other Saturday morning with a bunch of scally-wag fishermen like us,
as the old man would say.
And did. Told the boy the exact same thing he had more
going for him in his life and better things to do.
And dont start sayin its cause ya
love fishin and all. No kid yr age could take to lovin
fishin this much. Yre stubborn. Tryin to prove by
castin line here at the dock ya got what it takes to be a man. Let me
tell ya, spendin every other Saturday down here like ya have, for darn
near passed five years, wont get ya any closer to bein a man
Only tanned. The old man chuckled again and the boy hugged him.
Then said, Goodbye. For the last time.
Upon turning seventeen and graduating high school third
in his class the boy, by way of scholarship, held room and board at
Harvard finally acquiring a hard-earned degree in law and went back to
Key West to build a solid practice and to hopefully find and thank the old man
for what was said there that day at the dock.
But the old man was not to be found, only stories told by aging
rummies in Sloppy Joes Bar of how the sea had gone and taken the seasoned
fisherman to his watery grave, ten thousand leagues below.
And as the new practicing lawyer in Key West turned to leave, he
glanced up at the wall and noticed a tarnished, dusty silver framed picture of
the old man.
It hung beside Hemingways.