… because I’ve been spending way too much time revising the manuscript and emailing prospective agents, and far too little time writing for fun….
The Gringo and the Fisherman
My wife Jackie and I used to spend each winter in Mexico, in a little fishing town called Puerto Escondido. In the harbor below the town there is a small fleet of fishing boats. The boats go out every night and when they return in the morning they do so at a dead run; everybody heading for shore before the sun is fully above the horizon.
There are two reasons for this daily race. The first is that the earliest boats back will get the benefit of the buyers who are already waiting on the beach; tourists, local families, and restaurants.
The second reason is that there just isn’t enough room in the small bay to hold all the boats at the same time. There is no seawall to tie up to, the water is shallow, and the bay’s sandy floor doesn’t hold an anchor well. About half the boats tie up to buoys, but each boat needs a wide berth to keep from smashing up against the others, so the available space disappears quickly. When the bay is full the rest of the boats are dragged up onto the sand and left while the fisherman wash and tend their nets. The whole family pitches in; the mothers clean and sell the fish and the children throw scraps of entrails to the pelicans that cluster nearby.
Early one morning I decided to walk down to the beach at sunrise and photograph the proceedings. When I arrived the harbor was already filled and the place was swarming with people picking out fish and haggling over the prices. I walked over to one of the boats that was sitting just out of the water. A dozen men were struggling to push it further up the beach. Nearby was another gringo, a guy about my age, and as we watched I said something like, “A couple of years ago I’d have been right in there, helping.” He nodded and said, “Yeah, better watch out now,” as I started walking away. I turned and looked back at him, waving as I went down the beach. “No, I mean really, watch out!” he yelled.
There is a universal warning sound that humans make, usually just prior to a disaster. It is the sound of air being drawn inward over clenched teeth, sort of a reverse hiss; a sound that says, “Too late, you’re screwed.” The last time I heard it was from a New York cabbie during my first trip to the city, when I opened the back door of his taxi and stepped out into Fifth Avenue traffic. Now it seemed that was the only sound on the beach, and I realized I was its focal point. I turned around and found myself looking into the panicked face of a young man. As he backed away from me, mouth open, waving his arms, I heard another sound; the high-pitched whine of a boat’s engine, closing in fast.
I turned toward the ocean to see a twenty-foot fishing boat heading for the beach at full throttle. It blew through a flock of pelicans and came straight toward me, the fisherman at the helm waving frantically at me to get out of the way. At the last minute I took one step backward. The boat left the surf, sailed past my nose, smacked down onto the sand and slid up the beach. The fisherman cut the engine and for a moment, as they say, all was quiet.
I took a deep breath and looked around at everyone. Everyone looked back at me. The driver of the boat made the palms-up shoulder shrug that means, “Eh, Mexico!”
Then, with a collective shake of its head, the little community went back to haggling over fish.
THE FISHERMAN AND THE GRINGO
(With a nod to Alfred Noyes and his poem, “The Highwayman”,
which you probably read in English Lit. class freshman year.
It was awful then; it’s still awful.)
The sea was a wind-blown torrent, as the Fisherman turned for home,
Ahead he could see the other boats,
As they fought their way through the foam,
All night he’d thrown his nets and now, with his cooler full to the brim,
He dashed through the storm in the sunrise,
Through towering waves in the sunrise,
Heading for shore in the sunrise,
Where his family waited for him.
The Gringo left his place early, to take a long walk on the beach.
With a Styrofoam cup of coffee, and
A durazno (that’s Spanish for peach).
His beautiful wife had warned him, “Dear, be careful, it’s dark on the sand!”
But he left their warm bed in the morning,
Strode out alone in the morning,
As the sun came up in the morning,
And the shadows fled over the strand.
The Fisherman’s young wife stood on the shore with her baby clutched to her breast,
Anxiously staring out over the waves,
At the storm blowing in from the west.
She watched as the black clouds gathered, and prayed that the weather would hold.
For until he arrived on shore safely,
Bringing his little boat safely,
Through the shrieking wind and the pounding surf
She would wait, standing there in the cold.
The rest of the fleet was already home, the boats were high on the beach,
Dragged by dozens of helping hands,
Away from the surf’s deadly reach.
The crowd stood silent and listened, for the last engine’s high pitched keen,
When into the midst of the drama,
Unaware of the drama,
With coffee in hand and looking for fish,
The Gringo arrived on the scene
He wandered along in front of the boats, oblivious to his fate
The crowd tried to wave him away from the shore,
But by then it was really too late.
His ears perked up when he heard the scream of the fifty-horse Evinrude
Ramming the boat through the water,
He turned his face to the water,
Saw the boat leap out of the water,
And he knew then and there he was screwed.
The Gringo turned to step out of the way, and everyone gave him room
He was eye to eye with the Fisherman,
As the boat flew by in the spume.
He stood open-mouthed as the airborne craft went past him like a knife.
So close the driver could touch him,
So close the boat actually touched him,
Shaving some hair off the Gringo’s leg
And some years off the Gringo’s life.
The boat came to rest and the engine stopped, there was hardly a sound on the sand.
Just some Ave Marias in thanks that the boat
Was safely back on the land.
The Gringo looked at the Fisherman, as he quietly turned to go
On his shaky way back toward the condo,
His quiet, comfortable condo.
And the Fisherman smiled at him and shrugged,
As if to say, “Eh, Mexico!”
They say that it took ten strong men to drag the little boat back off the beach.
Now the Fisherman fishes more cautiously,
Avoiding the storm’s deadly reach.
But the Gringo has a long memory, and it feels to him like a scar.
And he stays off the beach, in his condo,
Way up off the beach in his condo,
With his beautiful wife in his condo,
He watches the waves from afar.