“Please be gentle with my fish,” I screamed. “He’ll hit his head. Drop him in gently.”
With all this ambivalence, I never did become a mate or a fishing captain, but nothing pleased me more than climbing up on the bridge with my father, and helping steer the boat. Dad would tell me to “aim for that buoy, or point of land,” and I was in heaven steering this boat at 10 years old. At that age, the “Dawn” felt like the Queen Mary.
Having a charter boat captain for a father got harder as I got older. He was up every day during the summer at 4:30 a.m., usually as I was coming home from beach parties or Montauk dance spots. Everyone knows in Montauk that the fishing is equaled only by the summer nightlife. I always tried to sneak home before he got up, but a few times we actually met on the front porch, me looking bleary-eyed and nervous, and him looking wide awake and annoyed. We never had much to say at that hour, except a meek “Good morning” and an icy, “Goodnight.” Those were the times I also wished I’d been born a boy.
Because of Dad, our family life revolved around the weather report, and nothing could interfere with it. When boys managed to call me at 6 p.m., I’d have to wistfully say, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk now, the weather report is on.” My father could always predict the next day’s weather, often better than most meteorologists. But he faithfully stayed glued to those forecasts every day of his life.
Television and radio were followed in importance by the anemometer, hung prominently over the washing machine. Before I could tie my shoes or spell my name, Dad taught me how to read the little red line bobbing with the Montauk gusts. Every time I walked by that thing, I looked to make sure we weren’t expecting a hurricane or a tornado.
Dad’s business influenced my social life continuously. It was impossible for boys to call me in the mornings or early evenings, because that’s when all Dad’s clients would call to book the boat. He kept a big reservation book, right by the phone. For weekend trips during the summer, customers had to call a year in advance. Even my dates had to call a year in advance!
Dad had his own language, which he spoke to all his fishing buddies. They would talk about “the Elbow” and “the Canyon” and “The Butterfish Hole,” all famous fishing spots in Montauk. They would talk about “the rips,” a section of rough water where the Long Island Sound meets the ocean, on the way to Block Island.
My family has always kidded my father about two distinguishing characteristics—his tan captain’s hat with the visor and anchor patch, and his beat-up green pickup truck. He never takes his captain’s hat off, not even when he came upstate to my college in the mountains. The green machine is a Montauk institution. Rust holes in the floor can swallow your hold hand, and it only goes about 15 mph. The only road it has seen in its 20-year lifespan has been from my Dad’s house to the dock, about 2 miles. Like Dad, it has led a sheltered, but content life in Montauk.
When I lived for years in Manhattan, it was always comforting to take the Long Island Railroad out to Montauk and see the green machine and Dad, faithfully waiting for me at the end of the line. After all, would Dad come and get a son? No way. It’s a fringe benefit of being Daddy’s little girl.
Pages: 1 2