Chapter 38

It’s a beautiful day and the sea is warm and very clear. Seagulls swoop and dive, and a several of them follow us.  The sun glares off the water and the temperature is starting to climb. I look around the boat for anything that resembles sunblock. Nothing. Figures. The next time I want to say something is highly improbable, I’m going to say “that’s about as unlikely as finding sunblock on a Mexican fishing boat.”

Ernesto climbs down from the driver’s area and begins to get some fishing poles ready. There are about a dozen fishing poles hanging in a rack on the back of the cabin, tucked away nice and neatly. Ernesto pulls a fishing pole off the rack and disconnects a hood from it and inspects the shiny lure and hook setup before casting it over the back of the boat. Then he counts as the reel spins wildly, “uno, dose, tres, quatro, cinqo, says, siete, ocho, nueve, dies.“ When he says dies, he stops the reel from spinning by reeling it in a turn and then places the handle of the fishing pole in a holder built into the tail end of the boat. The holders look like tall white cup-holders without bottoms, and when he puts the fishing pole in one, the handle hangs down below the holder and the reel and the rest of the pole stick out above the top.

He picks up another pole, inspects the hooks and lures, and does it all again, this time putting the pole on the left side of the tail end of the boat. He grabs another pole and casts it out and counts to eight this time, and then stops the reel and places it in a holder in the corner of the back and right side of the boat. He points to a pole and looks at me to see if I understand. He hands me and the pole and helps me put it in another holder. “Entiende?” he asks.

I nod like a good little moron, and pick up a pole from a holder, release the hook from a ring in the pole, step to the back of the boat, bend way back, and cast it out as Ernesto warily watches. I count to eight, turn the reel handle one full rotation to stop the line to set the reel, then place it in the left side corner holder. “Bueno” he says, and he looks over at Pablo, like he just taught a crippled guy to walk. Pablo looks unimpressed.

We do this a couple of more times, with the last poles farther up the side of the boat and counting to six. All together we have six poles in the water trailing behind the boat at different distances. The boat has slowed a bit, but we are still moving at a good pace. Ernesto keeps his eyes on the poles on both sides of the boat, as well as the idiot helper they have with them. I have no clue what to do should we actually hook a fish. I guess Ernesto will take it and I’ll just watch him. How tough could it be? It’s only fishing for Christ’s sake. I need to relax. This is not rocket science.

Ernesto brings out a couple of folding chairs from the cabin of the boat. He mimes sitting in one and then points to me and then the chair. Yes, I know how chairs work. How much of this am I going to be able to take before I jump off the boat and start swimming home. He takes one chair, and I take the other.

He reaches into a large, square ice cooler in the middle of the boat and pulls out a couple of beers. Do they drink anything else down here besides beer and tequila? He tosses me one, and sips his casually, while I chug the first half of mine to begin killing my taste buds.

Cold brewskies, a fishing boat, a beautiful sunny day and a fairly calm and beautiful sea. I hear people pay big money for fishing trips like this. I wish I could do this all the way home. Beats the crap out of busses. Missing that bus was actually a good thing. I smile when I remember the St. Christopher’s medallion hanging around my neck. I feel like someone is watching over me on my journey home.

We sit there, staring off the back of the boat, drinking beer and relaxing. I wonder what I’m going to tell Robb when I get home. And Mom, how am I going to tell her about Dad?

One of the fishing poles bends really hard and Ernesto is catapulted up off the chair and has the pole in his hands in the blink of an eye. He begins pulling and reeling, pulling and reeling. They both yell, “Ay yay yay,” and shout other things too. I just smile and watch.

It seems to take forever for Ernesto to pull the fish up to the rear of the boat and he points with his nose to a long wooden pole with a large steel hook at one end. I grab it and I think he tells me to hook it. Yes, hook it. Okay, I’ll hook it. I’m not used to spearing live fish, and the thought of stabbing it makes me hesitate. I don’t want to hurt it.

Ernesto is keeping a watchful eye on that hook in my hands, and I seem to be taking a long time to get the job done. I take a few swipes at it, but all I do is poke it a few times, probably pissing it off. “Fuerte, Pancho, Fuerte”

Hard, okay, I get it. I reach the hook past the fish and then pull in like I’m scooping it up. I bring the huge fish into the boat, hand over hand. It struggles on the hook, knocking me over, and lands in the back of the boat near us. Ernesto puts the fishing pole back in the holder and takes the hook from my hand and removes the large writhing fish. Next he smacks it on the head with a rusty ball-peen hammer. The fish moves no more.

Ernesto removes the shiny lure from the fish’s mouth and tosses the huge fish in the ice chest in the center of the boat where he also keeps the beer. I’ll think about how I feel about that later, but now I’m engrossed in watching him go over to the pole, inspect the lure and the hook to see if it’s alright, then he casts out, counts to ten, then puts it back in the holder where it came from.

Ernesto catches two more fish, and tosses them in the large ice chest in the back of this heaving, bouncing boat, never even looking like he’d miss. The last one he tossed over his left shoulder and it went right in without even touching the sides. Ernesto must be the Michael Jordan of Deep Sea Fishing.

He begins to pull in another fish when a second pole bends fiercely and Ernesto barely has time to look at me and he says something, which I take to mean I should get this one. “Si Pancho Si, rapido!”  I pick up the pole, and it’s as if a giant has the other end and yanks it right out of my hands. We watch it sink quickly out of sight. Ernesto has a stunned look on his face, momentarily forgetting he’s in the middle of catching a fish himself. I don’t even want to look at Pablo. I don’t think he likes me being here. That fishing pole did not look that heavy when Ernesto is reeling in a fish. He makes it look so easy.

Ernesto gets back to work with the fish he has, and then the fishing pole right next to me bends down hard. I grab it and hear the Spanish cries of someone who only has a limited number of fishing poles on his boat, but I have to redeem myself. I’ve got to show these guys I’m not slow in the head.

I pick it up out of the holder and stand there for a moment just getting used to how much the pole is pulling on me, and wanting to drag me overboard. I stagger unwillingly toward the back edge of the boat, being pulled by Moby Dick himself.  I wonder how Ernesto braces himself to keep from going over, because if I don’t figure it out soon, I may get dragged off this boat and meet the same fate as Captain Ahab.

I look over and see he has his pole handle in his belly and his right foot is wedged up against the floor and the back wall of the boat. I gotta do something quick. The frantic screams tell me I probably shouldn’t have done this. If I let this pole go over, I’m pretty sure they are going to make me go after it.

I wedge my left foot against the back wall of the boat and lean back with all my weight on my right leg, bending it like a shock absorber. I finally stop moving backward, but with the bobbing of the boat on the ocean swells, I feel like I’ll lose my balance at any moment. I scoot my right foot out to widen my stance and begin to pull and reel, pull and reel, mimicking Ernesto right next to me. He can only watch in horror, and Pablo is yelling his ass off and steering the boat. The swells seem to have picked up a bit, and the boat is going up and down, tilting left and right, as well as moving forward.

Ernesto grabs the hook with one hand, grabs the fish with it in one sweeping motion, drops the fishing pole and pulls his fish into the boat, smacks it on the head with the hammer, pulls the hook out of it’s mouth and tosses the fish into the ice chest. Then he picks up the pole with the hook on the end of it and waits for me to get my fish close enough to spear it.  All that happened in about three seconds. That was like watching the fishing version of a rodeo guy taking down a calf, flipping it over and tying its feet in record time.

And the yelling has stopped.

As Ernesto waits for me to pull my fish closer to the boat, another pole dips down hard.

Ernesto looks like he’s lost. He puts the hook near me and runs over to the pole and begins fighting with another fish.

Wait a minute! I’m supposed to do all that? Didn’t he have to show me how a chair works just a few short hours ago?

Okay, think about it. First, I have to get the fish near the back of the boat . . . check. Next, grab the hook—it’s in Pablo’s hands right next to me.  Good, some help. Hey! Who the heck is driving the boat?

I don’t have time to worry about that now. I need to get my fish just a little closer to the boat. Just as Pablo gets ready to hook the fish for me, the pole goes limp. “Ay yay yay. Damelo,” he says, reaching for the pole.

I offer no resistance and he reels what is left of the rig up. He looks disappointed, I feel really embarrassed. Ernesto pats me on the back and casts his pole again as Pablo goes and finds another shiny silver lure/hook setup.

After he attaches a new lure and hook to the fishing line, Pablo tosses the shiny new rig back into the water and another fishing pole bends, and another, and another. We must have run across a school of them—and the lunch bell just rang. All three of us are now pulling and reeling, and still nobody is steering the boat. I don’t think there’s anything for miles around, so I guess it’s okay. It just feels unsettling not to have anyone at the wheel of a moving vehicle, especially as moving as this one is.

After a while, Ernesto grabs the hook and lands the fish with one graceful swooping motion, smacks it with the hammer, then throws the fish into the ice chest without even looking again. He jumps to Pablo’s side and hooks his fish. As the two of them are spearing, smacking, and tossing fish, they leave me to pull in my own fish as they set the rods again and cast them out. Seems they don’t want to waste a single minute without having as many hooks in the water as possible. Either that, or they probably figure the fish on my pole is a goner anyway, so just forget about it and get the other poles working as quickly as possible.

When they finish I can see Pablo wants to take the pole from my hand, and I don’t really have a problem with that. I hated feeling foolish last time, but Ernesto ever so slightly nods no and they stand by, watching me. Ernesto grabs the hook as I get the fish to the back of the boat. He jabs and pulls in my first fish. “Ay yay yay!” I scream. They all scream too, and pat my back.

Pablo hands me the hammer and I go over to the flopping fish and this part feels really weird. Smacking a fish with a hammer. Is this legal?  I swing a couple of times and they laugh because this fish is jumping around like crazy and I’m not even coming close to hitting it.  Every time I miss, the hammer bounces off the deck of the boat. I sound more like a carpenter than a fisherman.

As they laugh, I jump on top of the fish and ride it like a bucking horse. These things are really strong!  I finally hit it, but it just keeps bucking, practically knocking me over. I hit it again, expecting it to stop, but it just keeps on going. It’s like some kind of energizer tuna or something. Ernesto and Pablo are just cracking up, holding their sides, and having a hard time staying off the floor of this bucking boat that lurches up and down on the mischievous ocean.

Now I’m pissed. I begin beating the shit out of the slimy fish, but the fish is dodging me, and it’s so hard to hit and hold onto at the same time. “Bang.” “Bang.” “Bang.” With every swipe I take at the flopping fish, I smack the fiberglass deck with the hammer. Finally I take a knee and hold it down against the deck and smack it quickly before it figures out a way to wiggle itself free. The boat lurches up and I get smacked in the face by the tail, lose my balance, and fall over with the fish on top of me.

Behind me the guys can only speak in one word sentences, in between laughing and gasping for air, “Andale . . . Pancho . . . rapido.” I drop the hammer, grab the fish by the tail, stand up, and swing it over my head and smack the whole thing down on the deck of the boat, but it keeps trying to wiggle out of my grip. I swing it and hit the deck of the boat again, and again, and again, but because the fish is wiggling around so much, it softly lands on the deck each time. This is not doing anything. I feel like I’m digging a hole in the back of this boat with a rubber fish-shaped pick. Man, these fish are strong.

The smell of fish and sea air fills my heaving lungs as I swing the fish around again, three more times in a row, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP! It finally stops moving, but I do it a couple of more times, just to be sure; it could be faking.

The boys liked that.

Some more shouting and congratulating and we all try and catch our breath. My arms, shoulders and back feel like rubber. I had no idea fishing was such a physical sport.

I take the hook out of it’s mouth and pick up the fish. They admire the size of the fish. I guess it’s a big one. Bigger than any of theirs anyway. It’s only two feet shorter than me, and I’m almost six feet tall. “Bueno Pancho, Bueno.” I feel proud, vindicated. It may have been ugly, but I caught the biggest fish. I turn around and throw the fish to the ice chest just like Ernesto, but the boat comes sharply down off a wave and the fish goes sailing overboard, missing the ice chest by a mile. They both just stare, not believing what they’ve just seen. I can hardly believe it myself.

Pablo speaks up, looking at his friend, but loud and slow enough so I can hear.  Pablo speaks something about fifteen fish I think. I hear either “Pancho” or ‘Pinche” a bunch of times. It’s a little hard to make out the difference the way he’s talking.

Ernesto just smiles and says “Calma te” over and over again, and then he says a couple of sentences that seems to have worked.  Pablo, a bit calmer now, turns to me and smiles, places the fishing pole in Ernesto’s hand and walks up to the bridge or whatever you call that steering place above us.


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Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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