Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Memories of a Central Park Angler by Randy Kadish

Today we are privileged to run a piece by Randy Kadish. Randy is the author of the histocial novel, The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace With the World, which we reviewed here on the blog. Many thanks to Randy for allowing us to run this piece here on Fishing for History.

Memories of a Central Park Angler


Randy Kadish

How should we measure time? By minutes? Hours? Days? If so, is time nothing more than a string of shapeless, carbon-copy moments, each one exactly like the one before, like the one to come? If time is not like that, should we measure it another way: by man-made events such as wars, friendships, fishing trips? If so, July 1st was the most important day in my life: the day my book was published.

How should I spend it? By going to the Morgan Library and seeing the first book ever printed, the Gutenberg Bible? By going back to where my outdoor writing career accidentally began: the lake in Central Park?

I took my fishing rod and lures, walked to the park and wondered why it took me so long to publish a book. After all, it was thirty, long, long years ago when I first dreamed of becoming a . How cruel, how slow time seemed when I was locked in the prison of my failures. Yet as I thought back on my special day cruel time, unlike me, seemed to have withered into one giant, compressed yesterday.

I walked to the lake, to the flat rock at the mouth of Wagner Cove. The lake, I saw, was cluttered with a small navy of rowboats, mostly commanded by laughing kids. Surprised, I remembered the school year just ended, and the July 4th weekend was right around the corner. To me the lake was under an invasion.

I set up my fishing rod, and pointed it upwards, at about 45 degrees. I reminded myself to keep my elbow close to my body and to bend my knees slightly. I cast a topwater lure across the cove. It landed about twenty feet short of the far, tree-lined bank.

I thought, Not bad. I pointed my fishing rod toward the water, twitched it back and forth and cranked the reel handle. The chugging lure seemed to write a line of Morse Code on the water. I jerked the rod tip once and stopped reeling. The lure's head popped up and created expanding rings on the water. The rings took my thoughts back forty years to the hula hoop craze. I cranked the reel handle. I told myself, today I shouldn't rush. Today I should let the rings dissipate before I move the lure, the way the books and magazines say I should.

I waited, and the rings blended into the flatness of the water. Again I retrieved, and before long I was lost in the cycle of casting, retrieving, casting-until I remembered why I started fishing: Fishing and meeting people on the banks of the lake helped me forget my guilt and my grief over watching my mother slowly, painfully die; helped me forget the fear of my dead-end future.

I retrieved the lure to close to the rod tip. I remembered to fully rotate my hips during the next cast and to stop the rod abruptly, as if I were hammering a nail. I cast. My lure landed just short of the far bank. Pleased, I created and watched the hula hoops on the water and remembered how I once wanted to be become a great angler and a great caster who could cast all the way to the far bank; but always my cast landed at least thirty feet short. Frustrated, I read books about casting. The books helped. I cast farther and farther, but still well short of the far bank. I was at another dead end, it seemed; so like a mad scientist, I experimented with my own casting techniques, suspecting, but not fully admitting, that for me, casting was really about becoming very good at something, and erasing, in my mind at least, at least some of my links in my long line of failures, and my inability to forgive my mother.

Slowly, very slowly, the experiments worked. When the leaves started to fall, I finally cast all the way across the cove and snagged a crankbait on a tree. Thrilled, I thought of how, during the long winter, I might forget what I learned about casting, so I decided to write down my techniques and then review them the next spring.

I did, and then I thought of other struggling casters. I decided to turn my notes into an article. I wrote it and sent it off to a local magazine. Six weeks later I still hadn't heard from the magazine. I phoned the editor. He told me he wasn't interested.

Angry, thinking I had racked up yet another failure, I said, "Would you be interested in an article on bass fishing in Central Park?"

"If you could get it to me by May 1st."

I hung up, went to a magazine store and bought two fishing magazines. I read several destination articles, then picked out one and used it as template. The next day I wrote my article in three hours. A month later I read my first published words, but still blind to the long, twisting road that lay before me. Baby-stepping, I wrote and published one article after another. Sad that my mother wasn't around to see my success, I wanted to make an amends to her, so I turned to writing a book.

The hoops on the water had disappeared. I forgot to retrieve. I cranked the reel handle and thought, it's strange the way I became a . It didn't happen when I wanted it to, thankfully; because as I look back, I'm sure success would have gone to my insecure head and blocked me from the journey I came to write about: my spiritual and emotional recovery. Yes, I became a published relatively late. Was it a Higher Power's time? An accident's time? Or did it just happen?

I turned from the cove, looked across the lake and scanned the banks for other anglers. I didn't see any. Surprised, I wondered if the anglers outgrew the lake, maybe even outgrew fishing. I wondered, will I one day? How many hours have I spent fishing on this rock? How many hours fishing this lake? How many hours talking to tourists and strangers?

"Are there really fish in the lake?" The accent was English and thick as grease. It belonged to a man about my age. His shirt was light gray. His chest was shaped like a barrel. He reminded me of the Tin Man, but a nice camera hung from his neck. I assumed he had a heart.

I answered, "Big bass."

"In England I used to fish for carp."

"Used to?"

"Now I'm more into traveling, but I still have my father's fishing rods. Maybe they're worth some money. How could I find out?"

"You can check on the Internet."

"The Internet? Right. How'd we ever live without it. Good luck."

"Thanks." I cast, then thought, that guy is yet one more future memory. Memories, I guess, are like stars: always forming. But memories, unlike stars, don't have real dimensions, and real laws of space and time. Do memories, therefore, just exist in the expandable, hard drive of my mind? Yes, so many saved memories, like my first one of fishing this lake, the one of the middle-aged hippie.

She wore thick, granny glasses and told me she was from Boise. I thought she didn't look it, and then told her I never met anyone from Idaho. She told me Boise was a great city with great fishing and a great orchestra. I wondered if Boise, therefore, was a place I should consider moving to. I wanted to fish, not talk, but she just stood there, watching me, asking questions about New York. Soon I realized she too was lonely and sort of lost. So I kept talking to her and suggested parts of the city she might be interested in seeing.

"I used to fish with my father," she said. "Funny, for so long I kind of forgot how those were the only times I really got to talk to him. I guess now that's he's gone I try to forget that he was only sober for two things: working and fishing."

I thought of asking her if she was a twelve-stepper, but I wasn't sure if that was appropriate, so wondered what to say, and then remembered what I had read about listening: reflect back her words. "That sounds like it must've been really hard on you."

"It was. That's why I don't think about it, I guess. Did your father take you fishing?"

"My father only took me to do the things he wanted to do."

"Are you from Manhattan?"

"From Brooklyn, originally. The same neighborhood as Sandy Koufax."

"Sorry about the Dodgers."

"We got over it, finally, but not until we got the Mets."

"What was growing up in Brooklyn like?"

"Great. Filled with endless street games: stickball, football, hide-and-seek."

We continued talking, mostly about living in New York and in Boise. A silence, long, but for me, not uncomfortable. The woman from Boise told me her name was Joan and good-bye; and though I was again alone, I felt good because I had made an amends to the world and helped someone feel welcomed.

I reeled in line and told myself, I hope Joan, where ever she is in the world, found the love so many of us are looking for. I thought back to when I was so shy I couldn't look anyone in the eye or express my thoughts and feelings, to when I couldn't get a second date and was so lonely I finally took workshops and read books and learned how to communicate. I wondered, why did asking for help take me so long? Yes, I was damaged, but I didn't cause it, and at least I've tried to cure it. Today I must feel good about myself.

I walked about ten feet down the south bank and thought of a memory I wanted to forget: My mother often telling me I was no good. My father finally, finally agreeing to take me to a baseball game, but then showing up an hour late. Memories, are they where time retreats to? Without memories would time, or at least the past, not have a place to go and vanish into nothingness?

I cast, then scanned the rowboats. Unlike time, they moved in different, random-seeming directions. I remembered how I hated rowing. I scanned the trees surrounding the lake like a necklace. I scanned the apartment building lining the park like a fortress wall. Suddenly I had the feeling I was looking at a giant, group photograph. The row sitting on the ground was the lake. The row sitting on chairs was the trees. The row standing up was the buildings. I told myself, I wish I could I be a part of the photograph. But looking at a beautiful photograph can be better than being in one. If so, why do I feel so far away from this lake, as if it's in a parallel universe or in a movie? Maybe fishing in Central Park is an old challenge I too have outgrown. Maybe casting and retrieving, like moments, are carbon copies of themselves. Or maybe, as I watch and hear people talk and laugh, I wish I were with close friends instead of with memories.

I thought of Robert, my old fishing friend. I remembered the day we fished the Beaverkill and I took him to fish the Covered Bridge Pool, one of the most beautiful places on earth. We waded into the river. Ten minutes later I looked upstream. I didn't see Robert. An hour later I sill didn't see him. I waded out of the river. Robert was standing by the car, drinking beer. I walked to the car. In the back were two empty beer cans. It hit me: Robert was a closet alcoholic. I demanded he throw out the beer cans.

I remembered the day Robert and I fished the Central Park lake and he caught, but then illegally killed, a beautiful bass just so he could take a picture of it.

I thought of my friends, Steve, Joe and Debbie, and remembered that they never asked to read anything I published.

Angry, I retrieved my lure and thought, yes, I've turned my resentments into recurrent, carbon copies of themselves. I should let my resentments die. This special day should be about keeping the focus on myself, on what I've finally achieved. Instead I'm again I'm trying to rewrite some of my past, things I cannot change. Why? Because I'm scared of critics panning my book, and my writing, therefore, amounting to an anthill in the scope of the wide world. Scared of facing a fork on the road of my life. If I were only more like time and never felt fear or reached forks. But, unlike time, I can change directions, in spite of my fear.

I reeled in my line and walked along the winding, asphalt path to Belvedere Fountain. The large, three-tier fountain was surrounded by a square, red-brick plaza. The bricks reminded me of the Yellow-Brick Road in the Wizard Of Oz. I thought of how Dorothy tries to escape time, or at least the present, by dreaming up people and places. I thought of how I try to escape by reliving memories that at least are real.

Who was better off, Dorothy or I?

I walked to the concrete bank, cast and watched my lure fly across the lake. The lure carried me back to the morning of 9/11. In disbelief, I stared at the TV and felt lost and terribly alone. I wondered where I should go to find a hint of sanity, of comfort.

I grabbed my fishing rod and my lures and meandered to the plaza and fished, but instead of finding sanity and comfort I found obsession. Again and again I wished I could turn back time and erase the horrible carnage of 9/11, and also of wars, of alcoholism and of abused children. But wishing couldn't dent time's armor. After all, time didn't have shape or mass and didn't cry or care.

Who was better off, time or I?

I couldn't answer, year after year.

I retrieved my lure, slowly, continuously. Instead of hoops or Morse Code, the lure sculpted a short, narrow wake.

A women and her two dogs walked up to me. The boxer, stared at my fishing rod. The bulldog looked at me and smiled as if I were his friend. I petted him.

"We take them fishing all the time in Wisconsin," the woman said. "They know the drill. Every time they see fishing rods they get excited."

I said, "So even dogs have good memories of fishing."

"Absolutely." The woman smiled. "Good luck. Take care."

I realized, yes, maybe it's the people I meet, more than the fish I catch, that brings me back to this lake, because people, unlike moments in time, are different: People like the woman who told me she was visiting from Canada.

I said, "You don't have a Canadian accent."

"I'm from New York. I moved to Toronto many years ago for a teaching position, but now I'm retired. I love the way the city is taking care of the park, and building a new park along the Hudson River. I wish I could move back."

"Why don't you?"

"I had a rent-controlled apartment I had to give up. Now there's no way I could afford a free-market one in Manhattan."

"What's Toronto like?"

"It's a nice city, but for some reason, it never felt like home. Looking back, I guess I've always been lonely there."

I felt sorry for her and wondered if I left New York for a place like Boise, if I'd regret it and always want to move back.

"I'll just have to make the best of it," she said. "Maybe if I stop coming back to visit I'll forget how much I miss this city." She said good-bye and, though she didn't know it, walked into one of my memories.

I again cast, then thought, in some ways I'm like that woman. I too want to relive my past, and preserve some of it in timeless fishing memoirs, memoirs about how, after so many years of being stubborn and arrogant, my life had become unmanageable, and finally, thanks to fishing, I learned how to change. Time, are you really a flow that, like the Yellow-Brick Road, leads somewhere? Or are you just an infinite cycle that, like the red bricks of the plaza, has no beginning, no end, and leads nowhere? Time, are you just an inanimate, naked idea? Time, maybe you don't you really exist at all. But then would I have memories and hopes?

But I do have them, and maybe they should be my private worm hole so I can always go back, toll free, into a past I won't regret and will use to change and grow.

"Any luck?" someone asked.

I turned and saw a young couple. They held hands. He carried a tourist map. I said, "Yes, I had some luck."

"What did you catch?"


He laughed.

I smiled and hoped a future memory was about to start.

Copyright © 2009 by Randy Kadish

You can visit his web site by clicking here.

-- Dr. Todd

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