We were City kids, pure and simple. Our exposure to the “great outdoors” was pretty limited to the cobblestone streets of the inner city. We were very blessed to have Lake Hopatcong as a summer haven for many of our younger years, but, while Hopatcong was a far and welcome cry from the steamy city streets, it could not be considered the great outdoors. We were city kids and any exposure to the “great outdoors “, usually brought about some less than stellar results. ( see Rob’s post about cross country skiing as an example)
My adventure revolved around an ill-fated fishing trip. Not Gilligan’s Island “ill-fated”, but ill-fated nevertheless. All the other kids that lived in the neighborhood were also “city kids”, Rob and I were by no means in the minority. When we went out to play, it was on concrete, surrounded by concrete. The rare exceptions were the times we went to Washington Square Park to play (where there were actual trees and even some grass), but overall, we were all the same, city kids.
All except one. His name was Artie and I’ll leave his last name out of this. Artie was from New York, but he was from “Upstate New York”, a whole different world than the City. Upstate NY is beautiful country with rolling hills, green valleys, deep lakes, and wonderful wildlife. Though in the same State, another world. Artie had moved to the city because of his dad’s job and he was a country boy at heart. He knew how to hunt and fish and farm and many other things we only saw on television. Artie was a big tough kid, and no one messed with him. If they teased him about being a country boy, they always regretted it. Even the Jane Street Gang kept clear of Artie. For some strange reason, Artie liked me, as well as another guy I called a friend, Billy F. The three of us developed an unlikely friendship. Two city kids and the kid from the country. (As a side note, Arties’ toughness was not limited to his childhood years. Many, many years later I found out he went on the become a member of the NYPD and was actually involved in a few shootouts. )
Back to childhood; Artie always talked about hunting and fishing and hiking and told Billy and me how much fun we would have if we would only try it. Hunting was out of the question, but fishing? That sounded like fun. So, when we told Artie we were interested he enthusiastically began setting up a fishing day at his Uncles lake house in Newburgh, NY. He had all the equipment necessary; fishing poles, life vests, rowboat, etc. all we had to do was go.
Getting permission from the parents was a bit of a challenge. I remember Dads’ first question:
“Fishing? What the Hell do you know about fishing…???”
Me: “Nothing, but Artie will show us what to do.”
Dad: “You live a block away from the Fulton Fish market? Why do want to go and catch fish?”
Me: “because it will be fun…!”
Dad; “who else is going?”
Me: “Ummm… Billy F”
Dad: “oh Jesus!!!”
This went on a while and the only reason Dad acquiesced is because he liked Artie. He liked his toughness and he probably hoped that some of that toughness would wear off on me. Stay tuned.
So! Off we went to Newburgh NY for a day of manly fishing! We caught a very early train out of the city and were at Arties’ uncle’s house early in the morning. Artie gave each of us a fishing pole to use for the day and I remember Billy and me giving him a blank stare.
“You have no idea how to use this, do you?”, he asked.
We responded with a simple, “Nope.”
With great patience, Artie tried to explain the workings and techniques of lake fishing versus Ocean fishing. We listened with very dumb expressions on our faces. Billy asked some good questions, or so I thought.
“Why go through all this trouble with a pole and everything, Trying to get the fish to come to you? Why don’t you just put a net out there or shoot them? (city kid) I thought it was a reasonable question, but the look of horror on Artie’s face led me to believe otherwise.
He, somewhat less patiently, explained that nets would not be sporting and would take all the adventure out of it. And shooting fish??? That was absurd!! And besides we were going to eat the fish, and shooting them would destroy them and be cruel.
“Wait…. we were going to eat the fish??”
“Of course!!” Yelled Artie ( I think he was beginning to regret the whole idea) “why else go fishing if you are not going to eat the fish!!! We will gut them, clean them and fry them.”
Billy and I looked at each other.
“Wait… what? ……. gut them? Clean them?…… what?”
Artie:” YOU HAVE TO CLEAN THEM BEFORE YOU CAN EAT THEM!!!!”
Me, thinking: “The Fulton Fish market is sounding pretty good right now…”
So, after Artie regained his composure, we pushed off from shore in his Uncles rowboat and off we went.
It was a beautiful morning and the lake was smooth and glassy as Artie effortlessly rowed us to a spot that he said: “ the fish usually are”.
Billy and I again looked at each other and wordlessly asked each other;
“It’s a huge freakin lake… aren’t the fish everywhere?”
Under the circumstances, we thought better of asking Artie so we just shrugged and enjoyed the ride. Soon, we found ourselves in a pretty little cove where Artie was confident that “the fishing would be good”. He stooped rowing and we drifted lazily as he said; “ ok, time to bait our lines”.
Blank stares from Billy and me.
Artie, now showing some signs of serious stress;
“We have to bait our hooks, so the fish will come to our lines!!”
Me: “hooks? we catch the fish on hooks?”
Artie: “WELL DAMNIT! THEY ARE NOT GOING TO JUST JUMP INTO THE BOAT!!!
I think his right eye had begun to twitch.
What happened next happened pretty quickly. He threw us each a brown bag from inside the cooler that he had brought on the boat.
“Now, “ he said, “ bait your hooks and I’ll help you cast….”
Again we shrugged and reached into the bags. My reaction was first as I felt the slimy, withering worms that were inside.
Me: “Oh Hell! What is in there???”
Billy let out a small girl-like scream as his hand found the earthworms.
Artie looked at us in disbelief.
“THEY ARE JUST EARTHWORMS FOR GODS SAKE!!! THE FISH LOVE THEM! PUT ONE ON YOUR HOOK!!!”
I complied, or so I thought, and put one of the fat, slimy worms on my hook, not realizing I was supposed to put the hook THROUGH the worm. It quickly fell off the hook into the bottom of the rowboat.
The look on Artie’s face was almost maniacal.
“JESUS!!! YOU HAVE TO PUT THE HOOK THROUGH THE WORM!!!!!”
Billy, watching this whole exchange determined that he would make Artie proud and do it correctly. He reached in to bag and visibly shuddered when his had came into contact with the mass of worms. He stayed strong, however, and withdrew a nice plump one. With a look of dread on his face, he then placed the hook through the worm. His reaction was immediate. He began to gag uncontrollably as Artie looked on with horror.
“HE’s GONNA’ THROW……..”
I never finished the sentence before Billy vomited rather profusely all over the seat.
I, not thinking at all, with only the desire to get away from what was happening as my goal, jumped to my feet! Not smart in a rowboat.
I’ll never forget how wide Arties’ eyes got as the boat capsized.
Into the lake we went; worms, fishing poles, life jackets, vomit, and the sodas we had brought for refreshment.
Thankfully, no one was hurt and we were able to get to shore, get the rowboat uprighted and start our short “row” back to the point where we had embarked.
Fishing poles, soda, bait worms were all a loss, and, of course, we were soaked. The wind had picked up making us quite cold as well. Artie rowed like a man possessed; not looking at nor saying a word to Billy or me. I can only imagine what was going through his mind. When we arrived back at shore, we dried off as best we could before getting the train back to the city and the Fulton Fish Market where all the fish are already cleaned.
I don’t believe Artie spoke to Billy or me for the rest of the school year.