FISHING FROM SMALL BOATS

FISHING FROM SMALL BOATS by Jim Beane

May 24, 2020

Haven’t gone fishing this year, not yet. Didn’t go last year either. Piddled a little with surf fishing in August, but you don’t catch much from the sand at the Outer Banks of North Carolina in late August. Pompano, a mullet or two and a very occasional undersized suicide flounder. Offshore? Another story altogether. I’ve caught tuna, dolphin and wahoo and seen a few marlin caught and released. Caught a load of Triggerfish one year off a submarine wreck. But this year, I have yet to wet a line. Opening day of Rockfish season has passed and the fish are biting. I have an open invitation to jump aboard a friend’s charter boat whenever I feel like tagging along, but haven’t taken him up on the invite. It’s not much fun fishing alone when you’re surrounded by strangers. My brother was my fishing partner. He was the one who called Friday night to say come along tomorrow. And I’d go, more often than not. My wife likes fried rockfish. At 6am, I’d get to the dock and Little George, Blue, Old Joe and any other assorted dock rats my brother and his pal Captain George could round up to make a party would be waiting. We’d leave as soon as I got onboard. The motors were warmed-up and George did not like to waste time. Nearly always caught our limit. My brother and Captain George were a good team, George could find ’em and my brother could catch ’em. Captain George owned a charter boat and when he was booked, my brother served onboard as mate. They knew well each other’s moves. Over the years, they became best pals and we did a lot of fishing together. I was always Jimmy to them. Captain George, my brother, Blue, Old Joe, all gone now.

My brother-in-law is an avid fisherman and by my estimation one of the best single anchor wreck fishermen on the East Coast. We fished a lot together, mostly in New Jersey ocean waters. We skipped out to Montauk a few times for winter cod fishing, but mostly we fished off one of the four boats he has owned since I’ve known him. His current boat is a 36′ Maine built walk-around. A beauty. We have had adventures, trips from Maine to Jersey and Jersey to North Carolina, headboat fishing, Bogan’s Basin. Brielle, Point Pleasant, Long Beach Island. Total luck, I happened to marry his sister. He’s much older now, his sister and I have been married forty-one years. I’m much older. We don’t go out much anymore.

As a boy, i spent some parts of summers away from the city visiting with relatives distant to me. They lived in tidewater Virginia. A boyhood of creeks and skiffs, snakes and crabs and carefree days that I’ve never forgotten. I felt like I was growing up around the water and the men who worked on it. My father’s first cousin Harry Lee Towles owned and operated an oyster house on a back creek off the Corattoman River. Boats and crab traps. Eelers. Docks and poling through reeds looking to see what I could see. Lively was the closest town. Sometimes my cousins joined me. I’ve known two cousins in my life, Don and Glenn. Don was two months older than I and Glenn or Buddy as we all called him, was somewhere in age between my brother and sister, both older than me. Glenn died in a motorcycle accident when we were all in our early twenties. I never knew him well, but I did get to know and like my cousin Don. Don enjoyed fishing or at least the drinking beer part and owned a small boat he kept in the water at a marina located on a creek off the Rappahannock River near Kilmarnock, Virginia. He and I spent some time together on that river as men and even caught a fish or two despite Don’s lack of attentiveness to his equipment. My brother went once with us and brought his own equipment. I’m sure that day we caught rockfish. Don and I were mostly perch fishermen. I like a drift for flounder or weakfish and nothing beats a cooler full of fat white perch for a holiday fish fry. Don suffered a heart attack that put him in a coma the year we turned sixty-two. He left this world two weeks after my first daughter’s marriage. Don wasn’t one to ruin a party.

Twelve years ago, when I was still working full-time, I bought a 23′ outboard, center console fishing skiff. The last thing I needed was a boat. Boats require maintenance and repair. The boat I bought was used with not many hours on an Evinrude outboard motor. By then, my brother was done working as a steamfitter and almost done living. But the boat brought new life and purpose. We repaired things ourselves and shared costs. We would call the trip because of weather at the boat, not on the phone. He would be the Captain and I would be his mate. We decided together where we went what we fished for, me being a bottom fisherman and he being a trolling machine. It was a good arrangement. He got to tease me about not catching and I got to tease him about not finding. A few friends went on occasion, but after a while I quit asking and my brother and I spent our summer Saturdays fishing the Chesapeake Bay from our own boat. Five great years of fishing followed. But age and health don’t care much if the fishing’s good. I hope someone is making good use of the small boat my brother and I fished from for those five years. Maybe I should call my friend and tag-along. I think I can smell’em now.

TECHNOLOGY 5/18/20

TECHNOLOGY by Jim Beane

Technology and I are not friends. We are becoming friendlier but we are definitely not friends. Don’t get me wrong. I like technology but I fail to grasp the inner workings, the lingo, the intentions. I have been trying this year to manage my website on my own but nothing works quite the way I want. First, I’ve got a whole new software routine called DIVI which I know nothing about. I worked as a carpenter for forty years and every year, every day, almost every hour spent on the job was physically demanding. Bur the longer I worked, the easier it became and the stronger it made me. By the time I stopped, I was at my best. I could build houses, remodel bathrooms, build decks, garages and sling hammers with any man claiming to be a professional carpenter. But I developed a slight problem-age. At sixty years old, the handwriting was on the walls. I couldn’t stand on a roof for long, I couldn’t stand on a ladder all day and I was losing the one thing that had been my saving grace since starting in construction- agility. I no longer had the ability to catch myself if tripped or somehow knocked off balance. The entire time I worked on construction sites, residential construction of the architectural variety (high dollar work the crew called it- I am still uncertain why as we were paid no more to build a shed than build a sauna). Blue collar workers are paid by the hour, not the job. There are no salaries, no sabbaticals. Show up with your tools and get to work.

Now, in these new and changing times, we all have smartphones, the great equalizer. We cannot stay off them. They are fun, informative, friendly, rewarding. Smartphones are smart, smarter than most of us. In these sad times of social isolation, they are invaluable. I don’t have a landline where I live now, my wife and I use our cells. But in this moment, we, meaning all humanity, not just some, not just the privileged but all humanity, worldwide. Think for one second how lost and alone we might feel  without the means to communicate. But everyone has a cell, you say. And that is modern America or at least who we see in America walking her streets and driving on her roads. What of the invisibles? Those without state of the art technology, a technology designed to help but furthering the inequity of class. I am not down on technology, I am down with technology. I am down with a technology for the people. Free top value education needs to be made available to all. This is what governments are for-to provide for the people. No ranting here, I’ll save my rant for another day. But how are we to close the gaps that exist between peoples in the world, to become equalized, to become one people, not one religion, not one race but one diverse people.

 

WRITING GROUPS April 27, 2020

In 1994, I published my first story. For some time before that, I had been encouraged by family and friends to start submitting my fiction to literary journals. At that time my girls were twelve and nine years old and I worked full time as a paid by the hour residential carpenter. Naturally, I was reluctant to take their advice. Hesitant and fearful of rejection, I finally gave in and submitted to the Potomac Review, at the time a local lit mag I had been reading. The editor,  Eli Flam, wrote me a most kind reply saying he was interested in the story, but it needed a little work. Turned out to be a lot of work, but at that stage of my writing I was unaware what a lot of work meant. I learned from Eli that a “lot of work” simply meant editing. However, I had already edited or read (not the same) the story what seemed like a hundred times. Over the years I have found self-editing to be most difficult. The problem is familiarity. The writer knows his story too well and rereading and re-editing often leads to a clear and easily understood narrative that the author is absolutely sure will be the next great…whatever.

Eli made full use of his editorial prowess on my story and when he sent it back to me, I read through and wondered why I hadn’t seen such blatant flaws. Lesson learned-don’t rely on yourself, your wife, your mother or your best friend to advise you what will strengthen your narrative. Get a set of fresh eyes.

As a creative writer, especially a fiction writer, when absorbed in my work, I often find myself wearing blinders as to what makes the narrative successful. What’s necessary? What’s not? What needs repeating and what does not? The mix of many fundamentals makes the story shine, but what’s a good mix? Is the right person telling the story? Whose story is it? The whens, the wheres, the whys, the hows and the whos. Are the answers to all the questions on the page or lingering in your mind.

As we progress in skills, we explore, trying to understand how the parts fit together to make a whole, how the gears of the machine mesh together just right for our readers to fully understand the intentions of our narratives and to extract a glimpse of the human condition. We right about life but we make it up and it must be convincing or what’s the point.

Don’t misunderstand where I am going with this. Sometimes we don’t have the benefit of extra eyes. My wife is my first reader. She was a schoolteacher, an English major in college and a stickler for correct usage. However, she’s not crazy about any of the topics I choose to write about-mainly, she wants to like my characters and she likes happy endings. Having your wife be your greatest fan is not much risk, it is not what we creative types call ‘putting it out there”. So, I conclude one extra set of eyes is never enough. Join a group.

At the time, I was taking as many non-academic classes as I could fit in my busy schedule concerning the art of fiction writing. I read books on writing, I wrote on weekends and at night. I pounded nails forty hours a week and I regularly attended workshop style classes at a local venue named simply The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I don’t recall exactly what workshop it was, but not long after its conclusion I received an invitation to form a group of six writers, three males, three females. The invite was from a fellow workshopper and she indicated she invited what she considered to be the most promising writers to form the group. I do remember we all were working hard at learning how to write a quality short story.

Our first meeting had me filled with anxiety, after all, I was no writer, I wasn’t even willing to admit to anyone that it was my dream avocation. However, I forced myself as I have done many times since to step out of my comfort zone and put my mettle to the test.

I can now say, the experience has been the backbone of my progress as a writer. We met first in 1998 and are still meeting, one evening a month to review and critique our works in progress. We number seven now and all have had success in the publishing end of fiction. The writer’s in my group have books and essays and short stories published many times over. Some of us are now teachers and mentors. Others are editors. We come from different walks of life. Four of the founders of our group remain. We aren’t pals or drinking buddies. We are professional writers putting eyes on our peers work to help them strengthen their narratives. It’s not easy, but the benefits are beyond description.

BROTHERS

BROTHERS

My older brother Richard died six days before Christmas. In late June he would’ve been seventy-four. His health had declined over the last few years. He had breathing issues. He was overweight and had suffered three major heart attacks in twenty three years. The first occurred the year he turned fifty. By then, he’d worked as a union steamfitter for thirty-two years. He drank hard and worked hard. His mantra was ‘take me as I am, because I’m not going to change’. Bad attitude. Cost him two marriages and any kind of civilized relationship with our sister. Not that I had any kind of relationship with him. Our phone conversations had devolved into shouting matches because neither of us could hear what the other was saying. My ears ring and he was deaf as a post. Too many years too close to loud tools, machines and rock n roll. Even when we could hear we never talked of much except fishing and baseball. I hadn’t seen him for a couple months. I don’t visit him if I’m not invited. Made that mistake, once. He was drunk when he yanked the door open after I pounded on it. He shoved a .45 automatic to my nose. He did not recognize me. He has always been well-armed. So, I don’t surprise him, but I should’ve forced an invite. I knew he wouldn’t take care of himself. I knew he wouldn’t look out for his health or his house. I knew things had probably gotten beyond him. But I didn’t go. I said I would but I didn’t. I expected him for Thanksgiving, but he  bailed with a promise to see me at Christmas. On Thursday morning, December 13th, I received a call from a friend of his, a retired firefighter and current charter boat captain on the Chesapeake Bay. Charlie told me he had gotten a call from my brother that he had fallen and could not get up. Charlie had the local firehouse ambulance crew follow him to my brother’s house. He said it was bad. He  couldn’t tell how long Richard had been laying there, but it had been a while. He said the house was full of trash. It would be the third time I will have raked out my brother’s house after he has had some medical emergency that puts him in the hospital for a week.. He lived alone. He was not a tidy person. The ER staff reported kidney failure, blood infections, failing heart. When I looked at him, I felt sure he would not make it out of the hospital. ER transferred him to the ICU. Four days in the ICU brought a visit from the palliative care doctor in charge of his case. We talked a long time. She is a kind, sensitive woman. My daughter, a physician’s assistant, another kind sensitive young woman, was in the discussion. Despite some encouraging reports from the ICU docs claiming Rich was responding to the antibiotics, the palliative doctor made it quite clear his days were numbered. Rich transferred to hospice care on the 18th. He was clean, comfortable and surrounded by professionals who treated him with respect from the moment he was rushed into the ER until he passed quietly in his sleep. I had been with him for long periods of time at the hospital, but had come home to take a break. At 2:50 am, I received the call from hospice informing me Rich had passed. He had not suffered, he simply slipped away. A good death. May you have a peace in death brother that you never seemed to quite reach in life. RIP Rich. Have good fishing.

RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD FOUR CORNERS

This essay was written for and presented to the third grade class of Saint Bernadette’s, located in Four Corners, Maryland.

This is what I remember. In 1959, when I was seven years old. My mother and father sold their house on 12th Street in Michigan Park in northeast Washington DC. We moved to a place I never heard of, Four Corners, a small crossroads in Silver Spring, Maryland. When we lived in the city, I played stickball in the alley behind our house with my brother and his friends, and walked the city streets to school and neighborhood stores alone. My mother saw danger lurking in those alleys and crowded streets and my parents decided the suburbs was a better place to raise their young children. My father was a construction man and my mother a schoolteacher. The fifties was a time for building new houses and churches, and raising families.

In 1959, Montgomery County public schools had the reputation of being the best around, and parents like mine flocked to that county. Back then downtown Silver Spring was a quiet place to go and shop, see a movie, and have lunch. It was a small town. There were a few department stores, a Hecht’s and a J.C. Penny’s, and a novelty store called Green’s Five and Dime. Green’s had a pet store with rabbits and snakes and a monkey in a cage close enough to the aisle so the chimp could reach out and touch whoever walked by. Small stores crowded both sides of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road. They were the kinds of stores now called “mom and pop” stores. The employees recognized you when you entered, and asked how school was going.

Four Corners was a small community then, a piece of the much larger area called Silver Spring. The crossroads of University Boulevard and Colesville Road formed the Four Corners. It looked quite different than it does today. Both University Boulevard and Colesville Road were two lane roads then, not four and six like they are today. One stoplight hung from a wire in the middle of the intersection. There was no Beltway, no Blair High School, not even the firehouse across from Williamsburg Drive. Open fields, a golf course and the forest of Northwest Branch made it seem like we had moved to the country. Carnivals with rides and games and a big show tent set up every summer in the field where Blair High School now stands.

On each corner of that small intersection called Four Corners stood a local landmark. The Stone House Inn stood where the 7-11 is now. A Texaco station took up half of what is now the Woodmoor Shopping Center’s front parking lot. A High’s Dairy Store was on the north corner and the Presbyterian Church remains in the same spot today as then.

A driver could get full service at the Texaco. High school kids worked there part time and gave free oil checks, window washings, front and back, and gas fill-ups. Small stores lined both sides of Colesville Road heading toward White Oak. High’s Dairy Store to Gadol’s Pharmacy on one side, and Strosnider’s Hardware to the public library on the other side. The public library is now a Bank of America.

I lived on Waterford Road in Woodmoor in a new house that backed up to the woods of the Northwest Branch. Two days after I finished third grade, I got my brother’s old 20” single speed Schwinn bicycle complete with rusted fenders and a chain that fell off at least once a week. I loved my bike, it took me everywhere, and my two favorite destinations were the small stores in Four Corners, and the school playground and gymnasium at Saint Bernadette’s where I played CYO football and basketball with the rest of the neighborhood kids. Saint Bernadette’s still stands and the CYO still provides sports venues for the kids in Woodmoor.

The buildings of Four Corners haven’t changed much since I was a boy. Most of the store names are unfamiliar now. But when I was a boy, Strosnider’s Hardware, my best friend’s mom’s hair salon, the delicatessen that sold cold subs and penny candy to go, the arcade barbershop and watch repair, the Chinese restaurant, Larry’s Five and Dime, the bakery, the grocery store, the gift shop and the breezeway between stores that allowed you to walk to the parking lots in the rear were as familiar to me as my own backyard.

Soda jerks at the People’s Drug, now CVS, hand mixed Cherry Cokes using sweet cherry syrup and fountain style Coca-Cola. People’s served the best hot fudge sundae in the area and if you were lucky, and it wasn’t too crowded, you got to sit in a swivel stool with a footrest at the long lunch counter. The library was the best. A friendly place for kids where a kind librarian took the time to know all the kids’ names and the kinds of books they liked to read.

Next to the People’s Drugs, a door opened onto a set of stairs leading down beneath the shopping center where the Silver Spring Stage is now located. But back then, there were six pool tables and a dozen duckpin bowling alleys. I participated in the Cub Scout Bowling League at those alleys and received my bowling merit badge there. But, things change and bowling became less popular. An indoor slot-car racing track opened in the same space shortly after the bowling alley closed. I became a whizz at racing small electronically controlled hot rod slot-cars, and soon had cases of slot cars and trophies on the bookshelves in my bedroom. The track lasted for a while, maybe until I started attending junior high school at Eastern. Eventually, it became an indoor miniature golf course. It was not a very good one, and did not last long.

Across the street, Gadol’s Pharmacy had the best comic book rack around. I bought the very first issues of Spiderman, Captain America, Daredevil, the Hulk and the X-Men for ten cents each at Gadol’s. At the High’s Dairy Store, the employees wore white uniforms and white paper hats, and hand-dipped fifteen cent ice cream cones in every flavor you could imagine. Fred and Harry’s Seafood Restaurant was my parents’ favorite place to go for dinner. I preferred Fat Man’s Pizza next store and a hot meatball sub with melted mozzarella cheese. Between Fat Man’s and Gadol’s was a pet store, the best pet store ever. Kittens played in straw in the front window, snakes squirmed, fish swam and the pen just inside the front door held so many puppies you couldn’t count them all.

I’m sure there were other stores, and maybe I remember the stores I’m talking about differently than they were, or maybe even my memories come from being older. After all it was fifty-five years ago, but I do remember the wonder of neon signs and clerks who knew your name. Woodmoor was the best place to grow up. My parents were right, and although I never thought of it that way when I was a kid, I know now that it was.