Up until this point, The Ghost didn’t hold an honest job for longer than a few months at a time.
But this is a story about the good times. Some of the best in fact. This is the story of salty skin, a party boat, blue eyes filled with tears and two lovers learning the intimacy of their union. If only for a little, wonderful while.
There was one job The Ghost kept for three consecutive years – excluding about two to three months a year due to wicked weather in the winter months. It was on a fishing boat that did daily charter trips. They were called party boats because they were also used occasionally on weekend nights for one to three hour booze cruises. There were a half dozen boats going out of this particular town near our home. There were usually two three hour day trips; one was very early leaving at five in the morning, and the next left at nine am. The trips were three hours long and this meant The Ghost would have to work two shifts daily. The Ghost did some asking around and decided to pursue one particular boat for employment. Not having any previous experience with boating or fishing, The Ghost won the captain over with his charm – and he could be very charming. I guess the captain could see that he was enthusiastic and strong and the rest would take care of itself.
The Ghost loved being near the water. He loved being on a boat, and he knew a thing or two about cooking fish. The pay was good but he soon found out it was grueling work. This position taught him discipline; for getting up early, getting there on time (the boat would leave without him, otherwise) and a whole lot about weather and aquatic life. I had to drive him to the dock every morning because he had his license revoked a few years previously but I didn’t mind. So in this way, we were partners. It was his job, but it was our life together and we were a team. He was drinking less and really loving the physicality of the job. He was getting healthier due to the regimented schedule and even lost a few pounds because he was getting more physically fit. I was enjoying watching his child like enthusiasm and growing interest in fishing. He became fluent in the language of line and tackle and developed an intuitive sense of when they would have big “hits” (this meant that fish were biting the bait on the hooks) just by looking out the window and gauging the weather. His skin was soaked with sun and salt at the end of his long days. His blue eyes began to sparkle with joy.
The Ghost loved coming back to the dock with lots of happy fishermen whose buckets were full of the fresh catch of the day. When his boat went out from that particular inlet on the south shore of Long Island, they would find mostly fluke, flounder, porgy and blackfish. A little further out into ocean waters, they would get striped bass and further out on full day trips, they would find big stripped bass and blue fish. Ocean fishing was a favorite of The Ghost’s. He loved the action of the rougher waters and the constant hits on the customers’ lines. Every day on the water was different and I think that’s why he loved this job so much. The Ghost was also very much a people person. He was outgoing and could find a way to start a conversation and connect to anyone. He made lots of friends while working on the party boat. He would chat with the guys who worked on the neighboring boats and occasionally he would also make a connection with one of the customers who would request trips based on when The Ghost was working. There were days when he would have a beer with the Captain and other deck hands after a trip – but only one. The Captain, a quiet man in his mid thirties who rarely looked you in the eye, gave the impression he had seen too much and wanted to see much less. He never took off his hat, a broken down dirty army green hat that his brown waves curled up against. He had a beard like the Gorton’s Fisherman minus the mustache and pipe. The Captain was against drunkenness and drug use. He made it clear from the start that would not be tolerated. The Ghost heeded this warning. He was particularly serious about not doing any drugs because after a few trips on the boat, realized he would need to be completely clear headed. The Ghost use to say to me, “The sea can take us at any time – it’s stronger than we can imagine.”
One particular benefit of this job for both of us, was the increased time we were able to spend together. He was home and finished with work and cleaned up by about three o’clock in the afternoon. I was usually home by four o’clock in the afternoon if I worked the early shift and opened the bookstore where I was the manager. So, we often had time to go to the beach, cook dinner together and have long romantic summer evenings. There even came a point when he would voluntarily do laundry or clean up around the house and even have dinner ready for me by the time I got home on my late nights. He really did make an effort and those were the days when I couldn’t wait to get home to him and be wrapped in his arms.
As I said, these were some of the best times we spent together. We were very much in love. I was driving him to the docks early in the morning and though it was only a ten minute drive each way, it was still four hours before I had to be at work myself. I didn’t mind. Things were going well for us both. There was money coming in and we seemed to be focused on the same goals in terms of our life together. Our days off were by far the best. We would try to coordinate them so we would be off together. After his first two months on the party boat, The Ghost was converted into a full fledged angler. We went to the local West Marine shop to buy matching overall surf fishing waders in hunter green; giant rubber overalls that were a stiff onesie from boot to shoulder strap. The top of the smallest pair came up to my chest (me being all of 5’1″), while his came up to his waist. We bought shiny new surf poles, a giant tackle box and and all the accessories. The Ghost would spend nights organizing the goodies in his tackle box, re-stringing his pole and teaching me how to do the same. Each day he learned something new from the captain and enthusiastically share the information with me at night. The Ghost began reading The Fisherman Magazine, and listening to the Fishing Report on AM radio. I think something about this experience replaced his childhood pigeon coop passion. He was able to do this on his own terms and because he was a man now, no one was able to get in his way. Eventually, he got into his own way, but like I said, this story is about the good times.
Things went on like this for a while and The Ghost reach a point, if just for a while, of calm and happiness. We also began to explore our spirituality together and decided to return to church. We attended services on Sunday, taking communion tougher and eventually both volunteered for the parish San Genaro feast. I worked in the kitchen with the ladies making acres of sausage and peppers, while he chummed up to the guys and ran the concessions selling tickets for rides, soda, fries and beer. We were becoming a part of the community and growing closer by the day.
Our union was so stormy, like the sea itself. There were so many ups and downs, mostly due to his chemical excesses, and my inability to cope with them. Interestingly, it was the days of fishing together when I felt closest to The Ghost. We had those ridiculous waders on, in the moments just before the sun rose in the horizon before us, together in our purpose but silent. There was communication without words – the pass of a hook, him re-baiting my hook and throwing out some chum to lure the fish before I reached the bait bucket or tugging on my line to see if I’d got a hit. We’d steal moment to hold hands and kiss while our poles were nestled in the white pole holders buried deep in the sand. I remember clearly one time I caught him looking at me with tears in his big blue eyes. He stood there with a ribbon of pink and orange dancing in the sky behind him, looking at me with his head turned away from his pole and said nothing. In that moment, I knew how happy he was, and how he couldn’t say it in words. “I know,” I said. “Me too.”
Fishing Wisdom I learned from those very beautiful days:
Some things take time and patience, but the stillness of the wait can stop your heart with its beauty.
While you’re waiting, don’t concentrate on what hasn’t come along; appreciate the beauty of what is before you now.
Any experience requires all your senses. Be glad you have them.
It can get rough out there, but there may be hidden treasures in rough waters.
The best catch might come in the darkest wee hours when the rest of the world is sleeping.
Anything that hooks you could make your day or might potentially be bad news.
I still can’t tell the difference between a Fluke and a Flounder. Either way, you probably shouldn’t trust a fish that has both eyes on the same side of it’s face specifically so it can hide on the ocean floor- camouflaged- and still see everything that’s going on.
Fishing… well, it’s never really about the fish.