8/24/2007

Oh, Captain. My captain.

A couple years ago I read a book called “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” What a great read. I don’t read much, but when I do, a good book can take possession of me. It makes a permanent dent in my conscience, so that I’m forever changed and I perceive the world differently. ZMM is one of those books.

ZMM casts a father and son embarking on a cross-country motorcycle trip. As the farther narrates the trip to the reader, he occasionally detours onto brief philosophical discussions, which he calls Chautauquas. Often an element of the trip (the weather, a tourist attraction, a landmark) -- or a feature of the motorcycle itself (the engine or transmission, for example) -- serves as a metaphor for the pending philosophical discussion. It’s cool. Great authorship.

That’s how I envision my Neo-Snoop Bloggy Blog. Every post is a new Chautauqua. And what would really be swell is if readers would comment on the Chautauqua, add their thoughts and insights, and that these contributions might give rise to a new Chautauqua. Jeez. I’m sounding like one of those 1960s hippies I despise.

We’ll see how things work out.

Today’s Chautauqua is about fishing. Specifically, we’ll discuss deep sea fishing off the coast of San Diego, which I had occasion to do earlier this week.

Four other fellows and I drove to San Diego where a chartered boat awaited us. We embarked on a 12-hour, deep sea fishing excursion that would bring us into Mexican waters. I didn’t know this ahead of time. I spent half the trip silently praying Los Federales wouldn’t pull up in a watercraft with a .50-cal machine gun: “Senior. Senior! Los pescados son demasiados grandes para continuar. Nos da mucho dinero ahorita, o van a la carcel ustedes.” No joke, folks. I was frightened. Beforehand, we took a vote whether to go into deep waters or to stay shallow. I voted deep. Little did I know that meant vamos a Mexico. We even had to purchase Mexican fishing licenses and sign documentation for Customs. I would have recanted my vote, but that would have made me the douche bag of the group. I’d rather take my chances in a Mexican prison.

Scene: 3 hours by boat, south of Dana Point, San Diego. Mexican waters, off the coast of Coronado Island. 7 AM. Overcast. Warm sun. Calm ocean.

On the surface, 5 guys stood on the back of a boat, holding their rods, indulging in the great pastime of fishing. I felt guilty sticking my hook through the nasal cartilage of a live sardine, but the boys are all doing it, so it’s time to man-up. Fun and relaxation are the ostensible goals. But beneath the surface, something sinister lurks. This is what I’d like to investigate in today’s Chautauqua. Beneath the surface, a huge psychological battle is raging. The fight is among friends. The battle has two fronts: 1) Who’s the sorry SOB who gets seasick? And, 2) Who’s the sorry SOB who catches no fish?

That’s what’s on everybody’s mind. I assume that much. It was on my mind. My inner-voice was screaming to me, don’t be that sorry SOB. Anybody but you.

Of course I wanted to see my friends have a good time. I wanted all of us to spend the day pulling monster fish onto the boat -- just as long as I was in the upper-echelon of fisherman. I wanted the first catch, the biggest catch, the most catches; and of course I wanted to watch one or more of my friends double over the side of the boat, puking from motion sickness, so that I might aggravate his infirmity by shoving a handful of fish guts under his nose. We’re obligated to weed out the weakest among the herd.

Sure enough, a friend snagged the first catch. Then, a second catch. Lucky bastard. Then another friend caught one. And then, a third friend. Damn them all! Lucky bastards. Only one friend and I had no catches on the day. An hour passed. Those with catches leveled barbs at us. So easy to be a wiseass when you have a catch in the boat. The pressure mounted. I waxed anxious and contemptuous. What a stupid pastime, anyway – standing on a boat, dizzy from the hot sun and the incessant waves, waiting for my line to spin so that I can count one-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand, and then click-lock the reel and start winding in the poor bastard of a fish, whose only crime was acting to squelch the pangs of hunger. Why did I spend my precious time and money on such a silly endeavor? What does it matter anyway? I could be back on shore right now doing something fun in air-conditioned comfort instead off...

Bzzzzzzz went my line. My heart pounded. My hands trembled. My mind recounted the captain’s counsel from earlier: This is how yellow tail fishing works. Your line goes from 0 to 60, and there’s no in-between. Let him run. Count. Then click the lever. Don’t jerk. Nice and smooth, like a ballet. He’ll try anything to bump you off of him. He’ll break you off at the bottom, or go under the boat. Stay with it…

The reel was still whirling. Three seconds had passed. Click. Yank. Bend. My line had a hold of something. Something big. Definitely a yellow tail, or even better. Perhaps a marlin or a shark. Get the cameras ready and call the record books. Damn! I love fishing.

I spent several minutes fighting the fish. I had to run halfway around the boat and back again. I loved this. The other guys’ fishes practically jumped in the boat. I had to fight mine. Nothing easy about this catch; I was earning it. Then I saw the fish’s color. “Color!” I shouted, which was the cue for the captain to ready the hook and snag the fish from the water. Pray let your thrust be true, Captain. If this fish doesn’t make it into the boat, I’ll never hear the end of it. I’ll be the guy who let one get away. I might even be the guy who didn’t catch any. Death by drowning first!

Please fish, don’t break free now. Please Captain, hook this fish. If I get this one in the boat, I can relax and enjoy the rest of the trip.

Stick. Fling. Thump. My fish lay in the boat. “Whoa. It’s a slug,” exclaimed the Captain. It was indeed a slug. The biggest catch so far, and the most cantankerous, too. What a spectacle I made as I dueled with this fish around the boat for 5 minutes! Suck on that, fellas! I caught myself a slug.

I’ll spare the readers the details of our entire excursion. I’d like to close this Chautauqua by observing how fishing can illustrate human nature, human disposition. Isn’t it just like life? How unfortunate that luck should play such a huge role in our experience – and on the estimate we pass upon ourselves. Five guys, all with the same bait, the same rods, the same lack of fishing experience, in the same waters, and yet we put so much stock into which sardine a fish decides to bite. What did that fish’s choice say about any of us? Nothing. It was as random as the weather, or a celebrity drunk-driving jail sentence.

Everybody on the boat understood the blind luck behind fishing, yet each of us claimed efficacy when luck smiled on us. Even as they reeled their fishes in, I cussed my friends for their blind luck and arrogance. And even as I reeled my own, I marveled at my prowess as a fisherman. What a peculiar prism the ego makes as we peer through it and into our world.

45 comments:

Hammer said...

I read ZMM about 15 years ago. I didn't quite get it.

The worst day fishing is better than the best day at work..or so they say :)

Blogarita said...

I can't quite engage in a Chautauqua about fishing, deep sea or otherwise, but I've read ZMM twice. Great book. I got much more out of it the second time. I was just thinking a couple of weeks ago that maybe I should read it again. Thanks for the reminder.

Queen of Dysfunction said...

I've been deep sea fishing off the coast of Monterey and I am familiar with what you experienced.

However, unlike you, I lack the writing chops to describe it as adequately.

Enemy of the Republic said...

I don't know much about fishing, but I have read that book and it kicks ass. Glad to know you also favor LOTR. There are only a few books that really can take you to great places without you even being aware that you left.

snowelf said...

LBB,

To me, this post symbolizes both luck and hard work. Sometimes people just luck into things in life and everything seems to just fall into place. For others to accomplish the very same thing, they have to struggle, fight, or approach the situation very carefully. Isn't it funny how life is like that. However, for those of us that things don't come as easily to, I think it shapes us more as people and forces us to think more critically.
Honestly, I'd rather have more life skillz any day.

--snow

p.s. Not too shabby for your first neo-snoop post. ;)

Breazy said...

Hey LBB! I saw your comment on my blog and thought I would stop over and visit you a moment. You asked me if I was a film librarian and I guess you could say that I am. I started working full-time at a local hospital Monday(after working at home for six years)and I am in the X-Ray Film Room or as they call it "the file room". I LOVE it! I love looking at the all the bones when I am loading the viewer for the doctors. Anything anyone needs that concerns films, except taking them of course, my office handles, it is pretty cool and we are trying to go all digitalized. Our specs are already digitalized and they are working on everything else being that way too.

Thanks for stopping by my blog, I look forward to seeing you again!

Just a Girl said...

First time visitor, but I like what I see so far and will be a reoccurring guest!

Curious, did anyone end up losing their lunch?

tornwordo said...

I loved that book. I still struggle with it's underlying message on quality.

This also reminds me of the stupid adage, perception is reality. Even though you put in work and had some luck, you can still end up being a boob.

PBS said...

I used to own that book but lost it in a move somewhere, sometime. It had lots of good points to ponder--like your new style of writing. I like it! Humor mixed with psych stuff is my favorite type of reading.

Peter said...

Hi Rich, I haven't read the book but I have done a fair bit of fishing, mainly shallow water but a couple of trips out to deep water.
I suppose it would be fair to say that there is usually a "contest" between the members of a fishing party and you definitely don't want to be the one that throws up.
There are always differences in our "languages" here in Oz a shag is a Cormorant (bird) so I have no idea whether you caught a worthwhile fish or not.... perhaps we should go back to those Boobs and Breast Implants.... I'm pretty sure we are on the same wave length there.
Well written story BTW.

Dave Morris said...

Teach a man to fish...

I've picked up ZMM several times at the bookstore, but when I couldn't find another book or two of interest, I just set it back down. Who wants to be the stupid bastard that waits in a long line for one book?

Once I booked a chartered fishing expedition out of San Diego. I was staying at the Hotel del Coronado and it was June. Gloom June. The morning was so foggy, we had to cancel the trip. Fuck, I was ready to pull the brains out of a marlin. I ended up riding a waverunner about 70 miles instead, jumping the wake of a California-class battleship leaving the bay.

I think the my Chautauqua of that trip was that even San Diego sucks at certain times of the year, but if you can find a waverunner, it makes everything OK. (???)

Palm Springs Savant said...

It was a good book actually, thanks for reminding me of it. Since I spend a few days each week in San Diego I hear all sorts of fishing stories. I myself am not a fisherman, but some fellas at work go every Saturday...such dedication

~Fathairybastard~ said...

What, no pictures? Damn. Yep, the worst day on the water, what he said. Never did any on the ocean, but would like to some day.

Little Wing said...

Hey Rich.
Great book, that ZMM......zen is all about staying in the moment, always.
Because the moment, the now, is all we have.

Elaine said...

Awesome! I'm glad you caught a big one!!

next time you're in San Diego, contact us for all your charter fishing needs! (My hubby runs a charter fishing business).

Miss Cellania said...

I read that book back in the 60s, when I was a hippie.

Miss Cellania said...

I don't remember a lot about it.

Midas said...

I always thought fishing is the best time to catch up on reading. A nice drink in one hand, nice brimmy hat, a pillow or two, and my book. It's the best fishing time I ever spent.

Luck. Trying playing backgammon and you'll see it again.

Chunks said...

Never read the book, never caught a fish. Man, I feel so out of the loop!

I kind of got stuck on the line "Five guys stood on the back of the boat, holding their rods"

Maybe I'm picturing it wrong.

Anyway, great post!

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Deep-sea fishing...now you're talking MY language (only on the opposite coast).

I'm usually the SOB that gets seasick...but I still have fun.

Gotta check out that book.

jali said...

I love the new Butt!

I HATE fishing. My father had no son, so I was elected to do all the guy things with him.

Beth said...

To be honest, I think the meaning behind a catchless day is the fish population's way of telling you to stop sticking hooks in them and let them live!!! :)

Jack K. said...

Ah, the desire to wax eloquent right here. But, isn't that just another fishing story with the context changed?

I think so.

Why do men need to outdo each other?

It seems to be a waste of time and effort. Who gives a damn? Maybe the guys in the "contest". Maybe not.

Thanks for the invitation to join the melee (chataqua).

Oh great One said...

I've never been deep sea fishing. Used to go fishing with my dad in the mountains though. At the time I thought it was so boring. I couldn't understand how he could sit on the bank all day long. NOW I think that would be heaven,without the cleaning the fish part.

Jenny! said...

Fishing scares me...I dont want to touch the worms and hook them!

Stepping Over the Junk said...

I went fishing on Sunday. Just some morning striper fishing but it was awesome. Saw a guy bring up a three foot something or other. The man I was with went tuna fishing recently. That's all I've got on fishing. But where you went in southern cal there fishing is where my grandfather used to go years ago.

appletini said...

Never read the book, but you have me interested now.

I once caught the biggest fish while deep sea fishing....won the jackpot.

Don't worry.... Los Federales usually don't bother gringos :)

For the philosophical portion, I agree with snowelf.

btw, thanks for stopping by my blog ;)

Damsel Underdressed said...

This is really eerie...I was just FISHING on LAKE CHAUTAUQUA in New York!

Lyvvie said...

A slug?

I want a picture.

Susan as herself said...

I love that book too.

I read it in college near Woodstock, NY, while burning incense and wearing Birkenstocks, flowers in my hair, and a long gauze skirt. (And no it wasn't the 60's---it was the mid-80's, but my college town was stuck in 1969, so you just worked with it.)

NWJR said...

I love a good fish tale.

Scottsdale Girl said...

I've always said "I'd rather be lucky than good, anyday".

I giggle at "5 guys stood on the back of a boat, holding their rods," because deep down I am a 12 year old boy.

Scottsdale Girl said...

Oh AND I am getting ZMM for the Prince to read...your description decided it.

just me said...

i wish i could leave an insightful comment, but as soon as you mentioned fishing....I had to stop reading.

Sorry bro. Fishing is like an instant tranquilizer.

BV said...

I LOVE deep sea fishing. I, too, have been fishing in Mexico off the coast of Puerta Vallarta. Abosolutely one of the best days of my life. In fact, everytime I've been deep sea fishing is in the top ten best days of my life.

It's okay to throw up and get sea sick, just don't be a little bitch and sit in the cabin. You suck it up and you "chum". The last time I went was of the coast of NC and we hit a school of dolphin and you couldn't rest. Everytime you put your line in the water another fish hit. I was puking and reeling in at the same time. We caught 60 fish between 5 of us. They were little, but it was amazing.

I could talk about this all damn day long.

Okay, so I'll get a little deeper here. I was on a website the other day that was anti clubbing baby seals. I was sitting there feeling sorry for the little guys when it dawned on me why I felt so bad for them. They're cute. Plain and simple. I have zero problem gaffing a 500 lbs Marlin right in the face and slamming him against the side of the boat or struggling with him for 3 HOURS!!! while trying to pull him in. So, why the hell should I care about someone clubbing a baby seal? They are both large animals. I have come to the conclusion that it is because they are cute and fuzzy and that if I'm going to continue fishing large game...I shouldn't judge.

Jeannie said...

Life IS a lot like that - I happen to be the one who gets seasick - and have been laughed at for it.

It's quite ridiculous how arrogant some people are when they have merely lucked into a particular situation - sometimes one that another is imminently better qualified for - just take a look at Hollywood.

I think therefore, if life has not been as kind to us, we can still find a measure of contentment in knowing that it is not entirely our own fault.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Well I be damned! It is Zen-like, or Chatauka-like, whatever. Nice piece, Bugs.

Becky said...

I get so jealous of the smallest accomplishments of my peers, but become jubilant and look at me look at me, when I get something right. It's primal.

Webmiztris said...

i've never been fishing, so I can't really relate but I have to agree that Mexican prison sounds much better than being the douchebag of the group.

mist1 said...

Are live sardines tiny or is it just that the ones in the cans are babies? If the canned ones are babies that would be like eating veal and I don't want to offend anyone by eating baby fish.

Little Wing said...

Wow and to think I was going to just pass on the five guys with rods in hands.........

Superstar said...

whatever you do...don't go fishing with a hangover. The smell, sounds and rocking on the open ocean is REALLY, REALLY BAD!!!!


~shakes head~

I didn't see where you might be going w/ the Walt Whitman "capt" quote...then I finished...
LOL ;o)

gusgreeper said...

adam just recently went on a deep something fishing trip. you've prolly read i grew up portaging and fishing. fishing is many things to me.

Violet said...

So, I had to Google to find out what a slug is... Did you catch a giant freakin' snail? If so, can you even eat that? Like some type of Mexican escargot?

Interesting point on the way people view the events thtat are happening around them. You should really embrace your inner-hippie.

Ari said...

Ew. I HATE (and, sadly, fear) slugs. Always have. Anyway, maybe luck was on your side. You didn't catch a fish, but I'd say you caught a pithy blogpost!