Under my father’s lip a strip of light brown hair curls over his chin. Aside from his eyebrows, it was the only visible hair above his neck. On the nape of his neck someone had inked a green triangle bordered in blue. That marking and others hidden were part of him. If he had intended to be Melville’s noble savage, he never let on. He was Alan, and very comfortable being himself.
Julius was younger than him and adjusting to a rapidly changing world. I was only a boy with no idea that the world did change, with or without my approval, and that it was under no obligation to advise me of its temperament. My father was something apart from the world. Later in life he would fight it and grow old in doing so and maybe a little bitter. Only occasionally would he laugh at the absurdity of a mortgaged society.
Easing back on the throttle, my father peers at the cliffs of Barcelona Point to the south, swings north to Nichol’s Point, then ahead to Mashomack before turning east toward Cedar Point. He repeats this triangulation ritual several times. Impatient and cold, wanting the artificial breeze to cease, I stammer, “Isn’t this the spot, already?”
But it is not, generally perhaps, but not precisely. It never was the first try. The wind would push and the tide would tug. A general rule was this: the hook would be pulled and reset at least once before he was satisfied.
Julius is on the anchor. I am both sympathetic and envious. His orange gloves, while keeping his hands dry, direct the rivulets of cold sea water down his cuffs. The gloves make it difficult to grasp the line and cause his fingers to cramp. The job is laborious and leaves one open to the whims of sea spray coming off the bow. And so I feel sorry for Julius. And, too, I want to be the hook puller. I want to contribute, to show my father that I am strong and courageous. But I stand back behind the helm and watch, half grateful and half resentful.
I feel the pointy spurs grab bottom, not so much feel it as sense it, watching the surface water lap past us leaving swirls of tiny bubbles. We pull up and move again without dropping a fishing line. I am ripe with impatience. “What difference does it make?” I quietly debate. “Won’t the chum draw them?” I expect the sea gods to suspend their laws and have the bait float into the fish’s mouth. But entitlement is not the way of my father. He knows the elements are aloof and it is man who must shape his fate in these fickle confines. We settle finally and I reach for my fishing pole.
My rod is a short, stout model given to me by my Grandpa Sena, not my adopted father’s father, but my birth father’s father. It needed some refitting when I got it, and Alan made it like new. I think now that this gift from one grandfather, disowned in a way, could have been taken as an insult to the man who would raise me. What need do we have for a rod from him, father of the son who forsook his wife and child?
I imagine Alan easily could have felt hurt, and yet he took that rod and rewrapped the guides, replacing those that were worn, and he disassembled the reel, delicately like any other reel in his arsenal. And with those gigantic hands and fingers, he tenderly oiled the gears and sprockets and cared for the little Penn article like he’d made it himself. He wound new line on its spool, varnished the wood butt of the rod and presented it to me with a smile, saying, “This is a good rod.”
In fact, even long after I had left the crew of the Stinkpot V to stumble through early adulthood, that rod stayed on board. Its sentimental quality never wore thin in Alan’s mind. Rather, I think he revered it.
And that stout rod is in my hands as Julius, my father and I release line into the waters where Little Peconic Bay meets great Gardiner’s Bay. We stand on the gently swaying deck of Stinkpot III, the early day sun cloaking us as remnants of the stiff cold wind leak over the cliffs. And we wait for the flounder to bite.
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