SEPTEMBER 7, 2014

 

STRANGE FISH

 


So anyway, the warmer than usual weather, indicative of a dry El Nino approaching (not good for California deep into a drought) has caused all sorts of strange things to wind up in local fishermen's nets and lines. In the East, someone caught two rare albino lobsters. Someone else caught a creature so weird the biology wonks are scratching their heads, saying, well, it could be a mantis shrimp. If its a shrimp, at four feet in length, your basic catfish and wading children better watch out because there may be more of them out there.

Now we hear, on top of everything, a man from Fullerton just caught a wahoo off the coast of Los Angeles. A 50 pound wahoo at that. Nothing so exciting has ever happened in Fullerton before.

Eugene came motoring in from his foray out to the Farralones where he caught the strangest looking fish anyone had ever seen. Little Imbecilla Cupcake stared at the thing dangling from the yardarm and said it best after taking her forefinger out of her nose, "That sure is the ugliest fish I ever seen."

Everyone asked Eugene if he knew what it was and if he was planning on eating it.

"I don't know and I don't think so," Eugene said.

It took the commercial fisherman, Pedro, to identify the monster.

"That's a rare South American Bupkis," he said. "They usually hang out off the coast of Peru."

So they all stood there looking at the bupkis and Imbecilla put her finger back in her nose meditatively.

The nights are getting chilly -- not dreadfully so, but noticeably cooler than early in the summer -- and so the sleeping areas of Marlene and Andre's household are filling up again. Snuffles has returned from whatever odious location he spends his summers to the bad castle of the hole in the deck where Jose and Javier nearly burned the place down on Javier's fiftieth birthday.

He is a man who enjoys exciting and excitable women,

Javier's birthdays trend to the violent and often involve some hours in the city jail, so the younger Jose has started looking for ways to make himself scarce when early June rolls around. It is not that the man from Mexico City is particularly violent himself; he is just a man who has a flair for the spectacular. He is a man who enjoys exciting and excitable women, which is always a recipe for vigorous drama. Jose, who hails from Sonora, is a good boy raised well and well taught by his abuelita to be courteous, honest and hardworking.

He is always about being a good example and he tells little Adam to please not open his switchblade in the house and definitely not to bring it to school. Little Adam looks up to him for Jose is helping him to learn Spanish.

Adam goes down to the riprap border where Pahrump is fishing for dinner. He already has some perch and two sea bass, so this dinner will be a welcome refresher from the Food Bank dry goods. Adam watches the man fish and asks him questions and the man answers. He tells Adam about how the Ohlone used to catch salmon by standing with legs straddling a narrow fishway made of wicker and they would just drive a trident down to spear a week's worth of lox for their bagels. Or whatever. That was when the fish were so plentiful the water boiled and the steelhead run caused tsunamis up the Eel River and the Humboldt.

One can see there are many different kinds of people living in this household of Marlene and Andre.

In the Old Same Place Bar, everyone wanted to know Padraic's opinion on the upcoming vote of the Scots for or against independence from the United Kingdom.

all that was left in the ashes

Padraic hemmed and hawed, then told them all about how King Fergus Mór mac Erc had once united the Gaels in the kingdom of Dalriada, creating a vibrant, creative civilization bound by the sea of Moyle. The Lordship of the Isles came to an end under MacDonald's tartan, then came the Saxons and all that was left in the ashes up to 1912 was fierce longing. World War II ended even those wan hopes as Parnell, our beautiful lost Parnell, Ireland's last hope, the man who would have been king, went down in flames during the Kitty O'Shea affair, the brave poets of the Post Office Insurrection of 1916 slaughtered by the English cannons and the hangman. Scotland, which had supplied its unknowing bairns to the Ulster Plantations, sent its Orange sons of the Boyne off to the Somme, never to return. Then came the brutal Black and Tans and savage 1921.

"Well, are you for or against," asked the Man from Minot.

"There's danger and there's hope." Padraic said. "The North could go up in flames, or we could have a new Dalraida."

"Is that stuff in the jar any good," Eugene said.

For answer, Suzie popped the top of the jar and speared an object lurking in its viscous depths to land it neatly on the plate held by Dawn who plopped the dish down with a fork, a knife, a napkin, and a chunk of bread. Pickled eel.

"I asked if it was any good," Eugene said.

"Don't know. Nobody has had it for four or five years."

Eugene cut a piece off and speared it with his fork and raised the morsel to his lips. "How long has it been in that jar?"

"Four or five years." Dawn said.

"It's better than lutefisk," Padraic said.

Eugene set the morsel back down on his plate and thought better of eating it.

Meanwhile, Ms. Almeida unpacked the boxes which had just arrived from Europe to begin making the Portuguese specialty called Bacalhau. She took out the contents from one box and tossed it into the sink to rehydrate and loosen the salt off. A tremendous fetid odor rose up and the dog ran from the room. She opened up the window and turned on the fan and a raccoon walking by with an intent to raid the hen house passed out. The wooden boxes bore the legend "Hergestellt en Norwege: Lutefisk."

Portugese fishermen, in their zeal to supply the nation with the main staple for Bacalcau, which is to the Portuguese what spaghetti is to Italy, the baguette to France, mushy peas to the English, kraut to the Germans, had long ago exhausted the Mediterranean of its supply of cod. Fortunately, a supplier stepped in with not only tons of schools of living cod, but tonnes of boxes of salted cod already available and seemingly unwanted save by a handful of towns located in Midwestern America.

They did not want lutefisk -- they wanted iPhones

Once upon a time, the Norwegians consumed quantities of lutefisk, but the modern generation, learning of subtler, more varegated dishes, like Matjes Herring and T-bone steak turned their noses up at the stuff. They did not want lutefisk -- they wanted iPhones and hamburgers. So millions of pounds of cod that had been dehydrated in the wind before being buried in pits with gallons of lye as a preservative and then hung out to dry again remained stacked in boxes. Some of those boxes several years old, for lutefisk does not decay.

So it was that Norway rescued Portugal, which went through an unruly time of civic unrest, going even to the extremes of ousting its benevolent dictator Salazar and allowing its last territorial possession, the Azores, to go free for lack of salt cod before glomming onto the Nordic Solution.

Pedro Almeida, out on the pre-dawn high seas, headed for the fishing grounds listened to the radio for his favorite program, but the show had been canceled as the host, Pastor Rotschue, was slated for surgery. Pedro had been listening to that show for nearly his entire life -- recently the televangelist had celebrated 40 years on the air with a special that had featured dancing in the streets outside of broadcast station.

The Pastor was an unusual sort of televangelist who believed that since life was so short relative to Eternity, we might as well enjoy ourselves and have a good time as all the Creator had provided had to have some kind of divine goodness in it, even wine and booze and making whoopee.

Pedro wondered about a man of the cloth carrying such opinions, but he had millions of followers and the guests on his show were always lively good people. And he always dispensed advice and wisdom with such warm good humor over the years Pedro had come to think through the impersonal radio of the man as a kind of friend in the funny way people tend to imagine the voice on the radio happens to be addressing them personally. Well he was a man Pedro wouldn't mind having as a good friend were the fellow ever to notice him listening in reality.

Now the Pastor was headed to the operating room for a bit of heart repair. In Pedro's opinion there was nothing at all wrong with the man's heart, but what did he, a poor fisherman know.

The old ship's prow beat upon the waves and the new ship's dog, Ferryboat, gazed outward through the port glass at whatever may be out beyond the reach of the cabin lights, the swelling moon drifting overhead through Blakean clouds of charcoal and chiascuro gods deliberating the fates of men.

Best of luck old friend, he said.

As the Editor was putting out the lights in the Island-Life Offices he noted a copy of "The People of Helmsoe" on a copywriter's desk and recollected an anecdote about Strindberg in which a former classmate had remarked about the demented genius that "Er var een rigtig ekelhafte fisk."

an old Ole and Lena joke

This, by the way memosyne chains things together, brought up an old Ole and Lena joke. Ole was laying upstairs dying and the doctors said he had not much more time to go at 94. Things looked bad indeed. Lena busied herself downstairs preparing for the wake and all the people that would be dropping by to pay respects, because in such a time a woman has to occupy herself. Well Ole felt a burst of energy late at night with the moon hanging high, perhaps the last shot of adrenaline he would have in this life and he began to feel hungry. So he climbed out of his bed and crawled on hands and knees down the stairs, slowly and painfully, to the kitchen where he found trays of ham and cheese sandwiches. And he stood up with great effort and unwrapped the saran wrap and was about to take a bite of a sandwich when Lena came storming in and slapped him.

"Hey, you stop that! Those are for the funeral!"

There came from far off across the water the ululation of the throughpassing train as it trundled from the gantries of the Port of Oaktown with their sentry lights along First Street, letting its cry keen across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline, through the cracked brick of the former Cannery with its leaf-scattered loading dock, its ghost-haunted, weedy railbed, between the interstices of the chainlink fences until the locomotive click-clacked past the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off out of shadows on the edge of town past the old Ohlone shellmounds to parts unknown.

 

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