The Season's First Charter
Jan Stephen Maizler


It started simply enough....that last Margarita almost loosened lips that better judgment
and a need for grocery money had kept in check. The thoughts that just about saw the
light of day went like this: “ if you only want to throw flies at those tarpon, just don’t
waste my time.”

As soon as he walked into the bar and met my gaze, I felt a sick wave pass over me: what
the gaze revealed was a sartorial sea-goer resplendent in the latest marine fashion--breath-
able cottons in the pinks and oranges of a Florida Bay sunset, gold shark tooth necklace,
and multicolored topsiders. It was my first customer of the tarpon season, coming to fetch
me, clearly fourteen hours too early.

He recognized me somehow and swam my way. He wanted to know, had to know, how
I’d done on my own today. He’d heard, the word was out: Silver Kings had been spotted
rolling their gunmetal bodies over the green grassflat pastures in hot, still Biscayne Bay.
And, yes, the Pink Hotel that referred him to me also told him what I looked like, and
where I could be found. “ So, how did you do?’ he said. I forced a smile and the corners
of my mouth tugged at the burn of summer’s growing sun. “ Relax”, I said, “ and order a
drink. Then, we’ll talk a bit.” He waved for help with a gesture no doubt redolent with
money, fancy cars, compliant family members, yet mildly tinged with a teaspoon of
decency that showed requisite attendance at a House of Worship. He was The
Consummate Man. No one answered his wave and his smile waned. He got up and walked
to the bar and he asked.

Alone again, I dove deep into the wave of quiet and it enveloped me. My father came to
me, first cloudy, then more solid in form. He was sitting next to me on the dock, facing the
salmon and yellow Gulf sunset. “ Remember,” he said, “ angling has nothing to do with
trying or with effort. It’s like dancing. Either you’re born with it or you’re not. And that’s
the truth of it.” I soared on those words, dreaming rising air columns upward on the
warm, comforting mist of his now-remembered wisdom.

“So, how’s the fishing?’ I looked up at him and blinked. He was back again, friendly face,
friendly body, and friendly hand newly adorned with a bottle of imported carbonated
water. I guess too many sunblasted days and a salty devil that bit my ass and wouldn’t let
go made me stiffen at his soft drink. Sadly, this fellow had inadvertently wandered into the
razor’s edge of my feelings, a garden turned into a minefield seeded with the painpatches
of a love gone dead.

Now waiting for a response--could he read me?--he went on about how he got to me. It
wasn’t the hotel, really. It was his partner, his colleague, who told him about me. He
became uneasy, sensing my sourness, and he wanted it sweeter. He went on, determined
to have it All Right; for him it was probably always All Right. His colleague - a
cardiologist - had fished with me last year and said that I put him on more tarpon than
he’d ever seen. With a polished but deliberate gulp of his water, he said he was happy to
be fishing since he’d been so busy lately and under so much strain. His tempo jogged
alongside his declaration of professional distress. He pulled closer and continued:
Medicare had made it tough on his income this year. Uncle Sam was watching the checks
more closely! He went on and on. My half-hearted courtesy grunts dwindled in my bored
stupor, and he and his words went into a figure fadeout.

Later that night in my room, looking down at Club Deuce, sleep came slowly and full of
disturbing images: the throbbing pain of a corpus mortis relationship. She was tidal in her
ways with me- her promises would flood in fully, but I’d been left high and dry by the
vehement speed of her ebbing departures. More heartache, and then, descent. The sun
sparkles of today’s bay ripples appeared and turned into countless reflective replicas of
her blue eyes. The eyes blinked in innocence and changed into a billion fly’s eyes images
of the tarpon I’d jumped today. All the fish jumped and landed back in the water,
splashing bayspray droplets on my chest, and I awoke. I glanced down at my sternum and
the dream’s last drop gave me a mischievous wink and disappeared into Wonderland. I
swooned. When would it be over? She was in me like a drug.

The clock said two o’ clock. I needed more sleep and more energy to pole my client
around this coming morning. I searched for a soothing image to calm me. Finally, after
so many passing pictures, the quiet peace of poling across grassflats so green and pure
soothed me. The quiet whoosh of the pushpole as it entered the water for another push
towards rolling tarpon quieted me and sent me dreamward and downward to find
myself in my first trip to Florida on the clackety-clack Southbound train from Gotham.
The train moved and I mused through the window, barely tall enough to see the moving
ground, but fully able to see the sky as it changed from the gray rushing smokechugs of
the North to the periwinkle blue of the South. A shifty-eyed teenager caught my young
eyes as I sat close to my parents eating their railroad pancakes.

His puzzling smile made me feel strange, but I still floated on the comforting knowledge
that the Rug-A-Chug was taking me South with Mom and Dad. The teenager started
singing softly across from me. My pancakes stayed untouched as I watched him rock back
and forth with his song. His words grew louder and louder, but my parents went on
eating, apparently not a part of this event. He sung on, closed his eyes, and raised his
voice even more. It got so loud it exploded my glass of milk, but in the slowest motion, so
that I had plenty of time to cover my eyes, but nothing ever touched me. I opened my
eyes and saw the milk and glass shards hanging dead still in the air like a frozen skyrocket
burst. In a moment the silver and white faded. In the black of my head cavern, the song
went on, but sung by a much older voice. I slowly opened my eyes and gazed up at the
dawn-lit roof of my flat. Outside and down at the Deuce, the song continued through the
mouth of an old drunk. The lazy lyrics of his comfort song shrouded him in shadows away
from the rising sun, as he checked into the vampire cave of his alley, to sleep and wait
until the next night.

I roused myself slowly: the uplifting reassurance of knowing I’d slept a bit more was
having a tug of war with the enervating sorrow of love lost. Reassurance won and bore
me through my morning’s preparations. That done, I grabbed my tackle and headed down-
stairs and almost tripped on the broken floorboard I told the landlord to fix a million times,
if once. As I headed through the front door, I saw a Nordic-looking girl laugh as the wind
blew off her workout cap. I’d felt right in my hunch not to take any fly tackle, since the
wind would have made casting a fly difficult if not impossible. A cavalcade of South
Beach smells greeted me on my walk down Collins Avenue-- pot, piss, baking bread, chic
perfume, car exhaust, workout sweat, and the deep, sweet good morning bouquet of
cafe con leche now being poured into my special cup at the Porto Serotica by Rosa, my
waitress especial.

My pulse began a mild jog with the first swallow, then leaped a small hill as a customer’s
demand spun Rosa’s rolling curves en silhouette. She flashed me a smile with her lustrous
brown eyes. I stirred inside, but the dream fragments of a thousand blue-eyed bay ripples
broke through and I shuddered: shake it off ! I drank the balance shot-style, winced, and
walked down the block to my car.

The drive to the Miami Beach Marina passed through alternate waves of sadness and
hope. I recalled our last encounter. She was leaving--she’d had enough of my
unavailability, she called it. Between my fishing, writing, drinking, and dancing the night
away, there was too little room for her, she said. I had thought this was just another “ false
cast”, but it was the real thing. I took it hard, very hard, yet I was faced with the
unavoidable awareness of how powerless I was over her or anyone else.

One sure sign that it was far from over was that living felt like an effort--the dawn of day
brought dread over tasks seemingly too overwhelming to handle, instead of the euphoric
rush of pending projects.

He was there, waiting for me at the juncture of the seawall and the dock that my skiff
was tied off on. I walked up to him, gave a fast smile, and glanced down at the three
flyrods he was holding. And out the words came, “ if you only want to throw flies at those
tarpon, just don’t waste my time.”

As he looked down at his three rods, I gazed past him at two drunk-looking jet skiers
turning figure eights around the pilings of the bridge. Overhead, a black stretch limo head-
ed towards the mainland, another night’s pleasure over. The foreground of my focus
shifted back to him as he angrily protested, “ what’dya mean, I don’t understand, my part-
ner said fly tackle was no problem, I mean it’s not that windy.” I raised my hand to stop
him. “ Let’s not get into all the reasons why; it just won’t work, so let’s just forget it.”

He sat and sulked, somber and possibly sullied at this prospective breach of purism. The
wind began to blow harder, bumping my skiff against the dock fender: probably twenty
five miles an hour out of the northwest, pushed by the arrival of a late season front. He
glanced at the water and back at me. “ It’s pretty rough,” he said. “ Right,” I said. “ All
we can do now is run out of Government Cut and head south to the lee side of Key Bis-
cayne. There’s been some schools of tarpon traveling off the beach...or, we can just for-
get it.” I could almost read his thoughts as he deliberated skyward: robbed of the Pristine
Experience, he might have to gaze at a hotel, another boat, or even, God Forbid, a bather!

After a bit, he seemed to shift and soften, “ Okay, Captain, let’s give it a shot.” And give
it a shot we did. After a sloppy ride, no sooner did I cut the engine, and start poling that
we found a big school of tarpon traveling and rolling northward one hundred yards off the
beach. He made a good cast with a live shrimp on twelve pound spinning tackle, and after
a marvelous fight punctuated with long runs, jumps, and car-sized splashes, we released a
silver beauty over one hundred pounds. He repeated this twice more, and ended the day
drenched with sweat, salt water, sunlight, and smiles. Back at the dock, he evidently set
aside his Medicare poverty, and bought us each a good bottle of ice-cold beer. He ex-
tolled the pleasures of the day and how surprised he was that a day starting with disap-
pointment could end so very well. I offered, “ sometimes a loss sets the stage for some-
thing new and beautiful.” Now, I would have to learn this lesson too.



Copyright © 2002 Jan Stephen Maizler
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