The thrill of going fishing with my dad was all consuming. I had visions of us catching salmon, cod, and swordfish, both of us struggling to reel them in, nearly capsizing the boat as we hauled in the greatest catch of a life time.
I asked my dad if there were swordfish in the Puget Sound. I hoped not. I worried if I caught one it might try to saw off one of my appendages as sort of a last stand. Or I envisioned my dad struggling to reel one in only to have it spring out of the water and spear him in the solar plexus, and yell, “Bull’s eye!” Dad assured me there were no swordfish.
Dad gathered all the equipment we would need: the tackle box containing hooks, and lures that looked like feathers plucked from exotic birds, bobbers, the army green fishing pole, and our bait: garlic coated marshmallows.
“What are we going to catch with those?” I asked. I was expecting a coffee can full of night crawlers, not marshmallows with the hue of nuclear radiation. I unscrewed the lid and took a whiff. They reeked of garlic and preservatives.
“They’re good. Try one,” Dad encouraged.
“No thank you,” I said, remembering the time when he convinced my sister to bite into a cod liver oil vitamin.
We journeyed down the dirt road from our house with our fishing paraphernalia until we reached the scoliosis stairway leading down to the beach. They had been swept off their feet by the eroding cliff side or the incoming tide numerous times.
Next to the stairway was the Moyle family boat, buried in brambles. Dad pulled it out and located the oars. The boat had a foot long gash in its nose. I asked if the boat might sink. Dad assured me we’d be ok. I envisioned us rowing out into the water, Dad saying “See it’s fine”. A few minutes later “It’s just a little bit of water, nothing to be worried about.” Then “Here, use this to shovel out that water”. Cut to: both of us frantically shoveling water out of the boat. End scene with the two Rob’s and the garlic coated marshmallow container bobbing in the Puget Sound, Dad suggesting we swim back to shore, me asking him to give me a moment while I finishing peeing in the water.
With one oar my dad pushed us away from the sandy shore. Barnacle pimpled rocks scrapped the belly of the boat. Soon the boat became buoyant and gracefully glided out onto the water. I watched the gash in the nose with a nervous eye. With my free eye I watched the bottom of the sea floor fade from view.
This was it. The moment. I was giddy with excitement and fantasized about feasting on salmon later that night. I could smell the lemon, the dill, the tartar sauce. I asked what would happen when we caught the fish. Dad showed me the steel hammer he had brought from his toolbox. I was expecting a wooden mallet. I don’t know. It seemed kinder. Although I’m sure they’d prefer not be battered with anything, a mallet, a hammer…beer batter. I was less concerned with the barbarism and more concerned with my fish having a hint of steel flavor. Already this wasn’t lining up with my preconceived notions.
Dad gave me a brief tutorial on fishing. He warned me not to have too much slack in the fishing line when casting otherwise I might hook myself or him. After that I was afraid to stand up and cast for fear of hooking my colon.
Coupled with the hook were a few ball bearings, which were to help submerge the hook, and a radioactive yellow marshmallow. It didn’t seem like enough. The colorful lures remained in the tackle box because dad said we didn’t need them.
Dad held the army green fishing rod with his dominant hand, and gave it some slack. With one finger he held the bail open then in one smooth motion sent the hook and balls flying away from us. The reel whined as the hook soared through the air. There was a microscopic splash in the distance where the hook landed.
In fishing it’s important to reel the line back in gradually. If you feel a slight tug it means some curious fish is nibbling on your bait. What you want to do is tease the fish by slowly reeling the bait away from it in order to coax it into taking the bait. When you feel the line start to run away from you know you’ve got one on the line. At this point you want to carefully reel it in. Then you watch it flap around in your boat as it suffocates to death or if you don’t want to watch this horrible sight you can be a kind human being and beat it over the head with a wooden mallet, or a hammer, or your foot, or your oar, or your own head.
After he was sure I had a grasp on the concept Dad handed me the fishing pole. On my first cast I swatted the water with the rod and the hook fell about ten feet from us. I reeled the line back in and tried again and failed. Dad gave me additional pointers.
I watched as the hook flew through the air and landed a good distance from us, a faint smile on my face.
“Ok, now slowly reel it in,” Dad instructed.
Within a few seconds the line went stiff. Very stiff. I flushed with excitement.
“I got one!” Judging from the resistance I had something big. The line was heavy. It was a salmon. It had to be. A fifteen pounder at least. I could smell the lemon! The dill! The tartar sauce! I saw my catch coming into view. It was big. Dad cheered.
“Alright, kelp!” A big clump of ocean salad hung from my hook.
Dad pulled cleared the hook and put another radioactive yellow marshmallow on the hook. I cast the line again and slowly pulled it in. This went on for some time. I caught more ocean salad, caught some driftwood, even snapped the hook off the line. My head was getting hot like Donald Duck’s. Under water I could picture the all fish laughing at me. I was on the verge of giving up when I felt a nibble on my marshmallow. My shoulders hunched over like a cat creeping up on its prey. Gingerly I began to pull it in. I let out a low maniacal laugh and began licking my lips. I became inflamed with bloodlust. I felt a tug and the hook set in its mouth. The line jerked to and fro as it fought to free himself. The line ran wild, yet I was not swayed. I was in control. My hand firmly clasped the handle of the reel and I began to pull him in nice and steady. As I did the line grew heavier. My excitement grew when my dad confirmed that I caught something rather sizeable. Together we struggled to reel it in. We could smell the dill! We could smell the lemon! We could smell the tartar sauce! I could taste victory.
My catch was coming into view. Just below the surface I could see a Plainfin Midshipman. My first catch ever! It began to emerge from the water. Its head was green and it had venomous spins protecting his gills. His body was large. And grey. Much larger than his head. Disproportionately large. Odd looking fish. It looked like a shrunken head on King Kong. Attached to my fish was another fish. A dogfish, which is basically a small shark, and it was climbing up the body of my fish with its teeth, swallowing it like a Boa Constrictor. I watched in horror as the dogfish shook my fish violently from side to side in an effort to severe its body from its head. There was a splash in the water. The line went light. The dogfish swam away with the body of my fish in its belly. I was still in shock, staring at the head on my hook.
“He ate my fish!” I cried with indignation. My dad slapped his knee. He couldn’t stop laughing. It was quite a hoot to him. Meanwhile I stared at the foggy eyes of my fish, trying to imagine what he would have looked like with a body.
It was in that moment I learned it’s a dogfish eat fish kind of world. I also learned it takes less time and energy to get your fish from the supermarket. You ask the man behind the counter for the fish. He wraps it in paper. He gives it to you. You put it in your shopping cart next to the lemon, dill, and tartar sauce.
Later on I ended up catching a dogfish. When I saw him wriggling on the end of my hook I remember having this unbelievable urge to make it a dogfish eat fist kind of world.
I’m not sure what happened to the dogfish that ate my fish but I hope he got his ass eaten. Quite literally.
Asian women lined the walls of the lobby like sentinels. Not a single man, other than a patron, was in the house. A babbling brook cooed in the corner. Though the establishment was in the center of the city, it was as quiet as a cave in the dead of winter. I approached the marble counter. I was asked if I knew what I was getting into. I lied, told them I did.
The girl behind the counter placed a consent form in front of me. I threw my chicken scratch signature on the dotted line and slid it back to her, letting her know, without words, that her attempt to intimidate me had failed.
She swiped my debit card.
“Would you like a receipt?” She asked.
“No, I never look at those things,” I said.
Once the transaction was complete she extended a hand, bowing ever so slightly, and instructed me to sit down and wait until my hostess came to retrieve me.
On a wooden chair I sat and waited, a blissful smile on my face. I was about to set sail for the Island of Relaxation. I envisioned myself walking out of this place an hour later, a new man, refreshed, revitalized, rejuvenated.
No less than 5 minutes had passed before my hostess came and retrieved me.
“Follow me,” she said.
She made no effort at small talk.
At the top of the stairs was a community of shoes, all neatly placed. She told me shoes were not allowed inside. Nor was talking. Only whispers.
We passed through the curtain-shrouded entrance into the Cave of Relaxation. There was a slender walkway down the middle of the room and on the right and left were small rooms divided by thin curtains which looked like bed sheets. A gentle non-intrusive New Age soundtrack wafted in the air, joined by a bounty of pleasing aromas, all part of the experience. They call it aroma therapy. Above the sound of music was what could best be described as the sound of sex. Heavy breathing, moans, wet slapping and smacking, caused by hands wet with lotion. Either the temperature in the room had spiked suddenly or my face was flushed with embarrassment. What sort of den of debauchery have I walked into?
My hostess led me to her corner office, a tiny room on the left hand side, at the very end of the slender walkway. Four drapes hung from wooden poles in the ceiling above us. She handed me a pair of Thai pants to put on. Now I’ve been putting my own pants on for years but I couldn’t figure these things out. The waist line was big enough to fit a hippopotamus and as far as I could tell there was only one pant leg. A minute later my hostess returned. She looked at my legs, both of them sticking out the only pant leg I could find.
“Ummm…I need help,” I said.
There I stood, balancing myself on her shoulder, while this grown woman helped me put my pants on.
“You ever have Thai massage before?” she asked with some suspicion. I was too proud to tell her I hadn’t. Although it was probably apparent I hadn’t. Exhibit One: putting legs through one pant leg.
She told me to lie face down on the mat. I did as she said.
I closed my eyes. At last, I thought. I exhaled and prepared for my voyage to the Island of Relaxation…
The voyage began with a crushing weight which started at the balls of my feet and moved up to my Achilles and then crept up to my calves. I thought, Dear God this small Asian woman has the hands and strength of Goliath! I began to breathe deeply. Inhaling through my nose. Exhaling through my mouth. My head was getting light. The crushing weight continued to creep up my body until it got to my buttocks. I began to feel a deep ache in my abdomen. Unfortunately I had my testicles trapped underneath my body and Asian Goliath was mashing my man-grapes into new wine. I was sweating and seeing stars. Turn this ship around! Take me back to port! If I was sterile after this I wouldn’t be able to sue them because I had signed the consent form. I craned my neck to see how she was inflicting me with this pain. She had her arms wrapped in two of the drapes hanging from the ceiling. She was using them to balance herself while she walked up and down my body like a balance beam.
By the time she got to the middle of my back it felt as if my rib cage had been turned into a vice and was strangling my heart and lungs. This must be what it feels like to be road kill, I thought. At any moment I was going to cough up my heart. I quickly adjusted my man-grapes most inconspicuously before she started to walk up and down me again.
“Where does it hurt?” she asked.
Besides my reproductive organs? “My right shoulder,” I said. I saw the drapes next to my head slowly inch out of eyesight. The wood creaked as she repositioned herself. I closed my eyes, and stifled a whimper. My body went into shock as she used one heel to separate my scapula and the other to mine for knots.
“I carry a lot of stress in my neck, too,” I said, hoping I would get a breather.
She said something I couldn’t understand. I looked at her blankly. She repeated herself and patted her lap.
“Put my head in your lap?” I asked, not quite certain what she was telling me to do.
“Yes,” she said.
With tender man-grapes, the swirling sounds of sex in one ear, and the other right next to the place babies come out of I was feeling mildly uncomfortable.
Her boney elbow drilled into my neck. I felt a nerve tingling in my lower back. I think perhaps the nerve in my neck was shouting to the nerve in my back “Help! Help me you fool!”
The gentleman next to me moaned and said, “Yes, yes.” He and his hostess carried on a conversation. My hostess had to shush them several times. Talking was not allowed. Nor were shoes. Only whispers. And tears. And stifled whimpers.
We were nearing the end of our time together. She began stretching my limbs. This was the most pleasant part of my Thai massage. Having been a gymnast and a diver I am still very flexible. She put me in the fetal position and stretched my right arm behind my back. It felt great until I felt something creep in between my butt cheeks. I felt relieved but also humiliated when I realized she had inadvertently stuffed my own hand into my backside. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was an ancient practical joke.
My happy ending finally came—no not the one you’re thinking of—I mean it finally ended. I hobbled down the stairs where a sentinel waited for me with a cup of green tea. Usually green tea upsets my stomach but by that point I figured how much worse could I possibly feel?
Once I was finished with my tea I stood up. We all bowed ceremoniously to one another before I turned and walked out the door, feeling not like a new man, but a big violated piece of salt water taffy with sweats, a t-shirt, and sneakers.