I stood into the whipping onshore winds, 30 feet above the Pacific, where waves portended increasingly wicked weather patterns. My sister and I have entered into the strange world of fishing for dungeness crab on our local pier. No we are not entirely the only women there, there are sometimes one or two more — but yes, our demi-Chinese background is a flimsy but important connection to that mostly immigrant lot, working these waters for food just as much as recreation. We are not ancestrally that far-removed from those sea hunters holding down their territory with buckets and panoply of poles, bedraggled with odd bits and junkets that is the providence of fishing.
The men are abrupt and unshy in asking me to make sense of my weird fishing pole belonging to my deceased father. The more worldly fishermen are merely dumbfounded as to why I am using a fly fishing rig off a pier — but I stand my ground in my non-CostCo jeans and retort that it is indeed an ocean fly-fishing rod that can coincidentally handle the weight of a snare and imagined crab. And if this man appears gentle enough for any human disclosure, I admit that I am not fly casting, but rather repurposing the same rod and reel that has also graced the rolling rivers of Oregon, the open waterways of the Sierras, and icy brooks of western Colorado — not because I have some innovative approach to crabbing (I have no approach whatsoever), but because the purchase of more apt equipment (and oh how these men love their equipment) drives up the cost of anything I might catch. The price is already dear, as each hour on the pier is an hour someone is watching my impatient son on wage, and the snare and disgustingly oily bait and the gloves to deal with them each have their own accounting.
An elderly Vietnamese man immediately likes us. After his curiosity with my fly rod, he admits he owns 50 different poles and unlike the disdain of the other men, he admires my unusual rod and reel because he doesn’t yet own one. He particularly likes my sister, asking her if she has a husband and when she answers no (for reasons outside his purview and worldview), he says she should find one who likes to fish. He doesn’t have any sons to marry her to, since they are all already married, adding with disappointment and a tinge of dry humour (and certainly not elation) that he has too many grandchildren. Too many who must not appreciate his hobby like his beloved wife. A wife, he boasts, who catches more fish than he does.
The surf is rough today, and only the rare reel-in results in a cringing crab, mostly too wiry to keep. Most of the men seem to know each other and share in an unspoken etiquette while taking a fatherly pleasure in helping my sister navigate her unruly crab net. And though it is not quite ten in the morning, some of them partake in flasks of undiscernable alcohol or musty marijuana I assume to relax the very stressful experience of holding one’s fishing pole while endlessly waiting — or of course needed on a medication-basis.
A somewhat-preppy, white man stops to ask how it is going. I say it would be hard for a crab to hold on to the ocean floor in such torrid surf, nonetheless for it to stop and eat something attached to a fishing pole. Cued by his warm weather outfit, I ask if he is visiting and he says no but he has brought family from Kansas here to see the ocean for the first time. He then asks who I’m there with and where do I live and other questions too numerous and probing, and it dawns on me that not just my sister has found an admirer on the pier today. In turn, I have discovered on this pier yet another god-awful trolling idea for my single lady friends, or at the very least another social event for my artist friends to ironically wear formal attire to.
We catch nothing which is always a bittersweet relief for me. No slaughtering, no prayers and apologies for cutting short the life of my unsuspecting victim, no snuffing of vitalities that even a hard-shelled, bottom-feeding, spider-creature relishes in. And no guts, thankfully no guts to wrench from cavities; no fingers dirtied by innards primatively exposed and decimated and discarded — those uncomfortable vulnerabilities and unknown consequences put off for my life’s other contingencies. Put off instead, I imagine, for the lines of dead people’s poetry, my failed paintings and the thoughts and writings I wrangle with here.
(My recent sculpture, 2012. Porcelain dead bird suspended by fabric and string)
“Man is ennobled by the vengeful spite or injustice of the gods. It does not make him innocent, but it hollows him as if he had passed through a flame. Hence there is in the final moments of great tragedy… a fusion of grief and joy, of lament over his spirit.” George Steiner, Death of Tragedy