Scott Laudati: Fishing on Gilpin Point

IMG_8770.JPG

            There’s no quiet.

            There’s no quiet anywhere in the world. You try and write in the City. Why not? It’s New York. Everyone’s written in New York.

            But getting started is always tough. Take a walk on Wall Street. Most trains will dump you off down there. It’s the oldest part of Manhattan. There’re still ricochet holes in the J.P. Morgan building from the old days when people had voices and an anarchist tried blowing it up. Cross Canal. Nothing good there. The City really cracked down and the Chinese don’t sell those little green turtles anymore. Head into a Village. Rats the size of Basset Hounds talk in code and work together to get a garbage bag across 6th Avenue into Father Demco Square. North of that it’s all shit. Midtown. Assholes from New Jersey who want pubs because 11 generations ago someone came from Ireland and a pint of Guinness keeps that spirit alive. Actresses from Wisconsin found a roommate on Craigslist and they pile out of the Port Authority. A generation ago they would’ve been giving blow jobs in the bathroom. The pimps used to call it The Minnesota Mile. Now they wait tables and practice country accents on a cold stage in Queens. Central Park looks wild but apparently, every rock and bush was meticulously planned in a board meeting. The south end is like hospice for the carriage horses. They drop to the asphalt and heat stroke before the eyes of fat newlyweds. “Help him. Do something!” They yell at the Coachman, some scared immigrant like it’s his fault their high-fructose flab just murdered a horse. The north end is another country. Dominican families fish in the lake for something to eat. The filth is so thick turtles try and break through for the bait but their little arms can’t penetrate. Then it’s churches. Fried fish. Corner boys. I pass Paris Blues but the one time I went in they charged me $7 for a Budweiser. I pass Hamilton’s house right on the border of Harlem and the Heights. And then I’m home. Ready to write? Yea, right.

            There’s no quiet.

            I make tea. I take the Snake Plant from the window and put it on my writing desk. Maybe it will expel something that clears my head. Did you know you’re supposed to re-pot plants when you bring them home from the store? My grandfather was the head of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. He said if your plant was turning brown re-pot it with new dirt. He also said if that wasn’t working put it in the bathroom. I tried it once in college. After a week in a four-man bathroom, that plant glowed like it was taken from the green grass of Eden.

            But there’s no quiet.

            Something starts to happen. I remember a feeling that took me once when love began to act like it was supposed to. When the chords matched the feelings and it was all going to be ok. Then a fire truck wails and it’s gone. I bite my lip while I watch cars dodge the firetruck and an ambulance follows, with its own siren. The feeling comes back. Then the pit-bull gets loose. Then the guy who lives on my stoop starts yelling about white people. It’s hopeless. There’s no quiet.

            I give up. Watch John Oliver. Watch VICE. Get pissed. The world sucks and VICE sucks. I guess I pass out but I wake up to more car horns and I feel like I haven’t slept at all. Then I remember my grandfather, the botanist, is dead, but we still own his house and it’s my favorite place in the world. It’s my favorite place because it’s 2 acres in Maryland right on the Choptank River. And the river is where I spent my youth. And the river is full of blue crabs. And the fish jump even when it’s 3 p.m. and it’s 90 degrees. And there are turtles who paddle so slowly against the current their arms wave at you as they float by. And it’s my favorite place because it’s quiet.

            Can I write there? Oh yea.

            Take the early train out of Penn Station. My mom picks me up and since I mowed the lawn last time I was home she lets me use her car. Drive south through New Jersey. A clear day and to my right even Philadelphia looks good. Take the Delaware Memorial Bridge over the river where the fresh water currents mix with the salt from the bay. And then I’m on the Eastern Shore. The flat lands where my mother was born and my lineage put roots down when they landed on this American dirt, leaving the highlands of Argyll sometime in the early 1600’s.

            It’s the right place for the end of the world. It’s the land of Trump people but I can’t fault them. They vote like idiots but they’re genuine. They are the America we pretend we aren’t from. My grandfather’s house has been vacant for a year. The neighbors keep an eye on it. They mow the lawn. They clean the sparrow nests out from the porch. They get insulted when you offer them compensation. You think Clinton people would do that?

            I stop at the bait store when the corn fields end. It’s hot. It feels like somebody microwaved a wet blanket and wrapped me in it. I’m in Easton, Maryland so I don’t lock the car and I walk inside. Between the fishing poles and the archery is every shotgun ever made. Have you ever looked at a rack of guns and not wanted one? I haven’t. I brought my gun permit. But even with all that excess firepower and the 2nd Amendment, I can’t find anything in my budget. I remember that the first question I had to answer to get my gun permit was, “Have you ever been part of a Communist organization?” It was the first time I “officially” lied. It felt very good to beat the government at its own game.

            “You wanna hold sumthin?” the kid asks.

            He’s young but he looks just like the old guy counting money. Maybe this place is a summer job. Maybe his inheritance.

            “I need a peeler”, I say, “it’s the only bait that works.”

            “I only got stills.”

            “What’s the difference?”

            “Nothing. Just means they died today.”

            The kid rings me up. $1 for a decent sized peeler crab. I’m going to be eating fresh catfish for dinner. I can already taste it.

            A peeler is a crab that has shed its old shell. For 24 hours, it’s defenseless. Its skin is soft and thin. Then, by the next night, its shell has returned, rock hard. If you catch a crab in this peeler state, you can use it for fish bait. The fish go insane for the soft pieces of meat. It’s like hunting with a machine gun.

            A single lane road goes the 28 miles from Easton to my grandfather’s. The road bends along the low marsh lands. It’s high tide and in the cattails, I can see Oriels and Red Winged Black Birds. I drive over the drawbridge and the keeper in the lawn chair sleeps like a mannequin. Then it’s a left on Hog Creek. A right on Pealiquor road. And through small towns with peach stands and little girls selling corn from the family farm. Priests spend whole Sundays out here taking river boats town to town to deliver homilies. Nothing changes. Time doesn’t pass.

            My grandfather was a botanist, not a landscaper. Some of us dig this. Some don’t. The house has been on the market now for a year, and no one is interested. Vines have overtaken the yard. Things that have names never translated from Japanese have conquered the gravel driveway. I park under holly trees that smell like my childhood. It’s a distinct smell that you would know immediately if your young feet have ever tried to walk over their dead leaves. There are big spiders and black snakes everywhere. It’s a nightmare for city people. For people like me.

            About an hour before sunset I throw my first line out. I’d found my grandfather’s old marine knife in the shop and used it to cut up the crab. The sun is still high even though the day is growing late. The fish jump. One after another. In a nest a bit further down the river, two Osprey’s feed their young and make a call like dripping water as I walk out on my grandfather’s dock.

            I hang my feet over the wood and they sit about two inches under the water line. A snake or a turtle swim by, a head like a tree branch studies me and then disappears. This could be the last time I’m here, and even though I always dwell on finality, I never feel like I’ve made the most of anything.

            I was just in LA for six months. I can’t remember why I even moved out west. I never wrote there either. It was quiet, but something else was off. The vibe out there was all wrong. I walked the Sunset Strip every day, past the In-N-Out Burger. Past the Guitar Center and the Comedy Store. Sometimes I’d go all the way to Beverly Hills. Or the other way. All the way down Hollywood to Vine. To The Frolic Room. One of the last real bars. And on any given day I might share a beer with Johnny Depp or the homeless guy with no shoes who smelled like boiled piss.

            LA was a pointless detour. The only thing I ever did worth a mention was win the Thirty West broadside competition. A big envelope arrived at my door on the anniversary of my second month with 20 broadsides. It was a poem called The Wooly Mammoth and I could read it weeks later and still think the words were good. It was about the girl I always write about. The one I went crazy with. The one who ruined my life that I still laugh with sometimes when we see each other outside of Wawa.

            I went to Ralph's for a sack of flour. Then, I went to the hardware store and picked up a paint brush. I walked home and bought a burrito on my way. I had the apartment all to myself. I could make wheat paste on the stove and make a mess. My roommate had a heart attack my 2nd week in California and was holed up in a hospital in West Hollywood. He had a way of giving bad advice about everything. He’d certainly have an opinion on graffiti.

            I poured flour and water together in the pot I used to make pasta. It became a thick broth. Like milk. I put my broadsides into a backpack. I dug around outside for a bucket but I couldn’t find one. I gave up and just took the pasta pot full of wheat-paste with me out into the night.

            I lived on Tranny corner. The same one Eddy Murphy had been picked up on. There were prostitutes everywhere and they just shit on the sidewalk. The cops never bothered them, which is cool, but it’s also gross when you see piles of human shit everywhere. And human shit doesn’t look like dogs. And whatever diet a transvestite prostitute is on makes it smell considerably worse.

            I walked up La Brea and made a right on Hollywood Blvd. LA is an ugly scene during the day, but at night it’s sinister. Anyone with $50 and a dream can land here. The sidewalks are lined with tents. Crazies eat their hair. Gutter punks strum 4-string acoustics. Little kids run down the street and kick homeless women for fun. Unchained pit-bulls take shots from their owners but they don’t leave, and sad moans that can only come from mammal souls drown out the Scientologists trying to beckon the weakest members of every party walking by.

            It’s a real horror. LA is the worst place I’ve ever been.

            I dropped my pot full of wheat-paste just next to The Roosevelt. I dipped the paintbrush in and then slopped the goo across my broadside. I did a few in a row. They looked good. Like street art companies pay for. But the cops will still arrest you, so I moved on. I did this same hustle, in collections of 3’s, all the way down Hollywood Blvd. I saw the faces of those that had come before me. Passion and hope led them here. Cooked into these streets. Nameless. Worthless. I stepped over them while I hung my art. I saw the price this city demanded from its servants. I chiseled a brief mark into Los Angeles, but I didn’t have enough of my soul left to pay the bounty. So, I fled. And it was like I’d never even gone at all.

            And now I’m back. On this river of my youth. I pull in a catfish. It’s big. Bigger than my forearm. The peeler worked.

            I carry the fish, my hand suppressing its fins, to a wooden board. I give the fish my hardest swing with the hammer and it’s dead. The thick green hues of the catfish’s skin instantly dull brown. Then I put a nail through its skull to keep it locked onto the board. The knife is dull but I saw off the fins and tail. It will be a good meal.

            The last time I caught a fish here I cooked it the same. Two big fillets. Fried on a cast iron skillet in coconut oil with some vegetables and rice. I had split the fish evenly between myself, my dog and my grandfather. He died last January. My dog tapped out in October. I learned a lot from both. They were very good at things they were supposed to be good at.

            I look out at the river as the sun sets behind the far trees. Just over that marsh is the mainland, and then all of America is in front of me. I sit back and think about these words now, and wonder if they mean something.

            I quit smoking here two years ago,

            My grandfather and I used to row around looking for turtles.

            This is where my dog first swam.

            I can finally think.

            It is quiet.

Scott Laudati is a poet and journalist from the northeast. He has been published in various journals, along with a 2x 48th Street Press broadside recipient and Thirty West broadside contest. He is the author of the poetry collection, Hawaiian Shirts In The Electric Chair, and the novel, Play the Devil, both through KUBOA press. Visit him on Instagram: @scottlaudati

Lawrence Black: How We Got Here: The Evolution of the Storyteller, from Artist to Entertainer

Compass North: An Int'l Interview Series: Sarah Spinazzola