Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale
A tale of a fishing trip
That started in Fort Lauderdale
Upon a deep-sea ship
The Dad was a mighty sailing man
His son was just a landlubber
To sea he'd never been
(Sung to the tune of "The Ballad Of Gilligan's Island", as if you didn't know. There'll be more later, if that will keep you reading.)
See that chubby kid holding up a fish? That's me.
(I wish I had been more svelte when I was ten. This is the only existing photo of me that makes me look fat. I was a skinny kid before I was ten-years-old, and I became a skinny kid again when I hit puberty. But, for a period of about a year-and-a-half, I was El Chunko. Unfortunately, today's story takes place during the time period when I was stress-testing shirts. Everything in that photo is conspiring against me. Horizontal stripes? What was I thinking?)
The person standing next to me is My Dad.
(He was prone to fat for most of the time I knew him. He loved this photo. I think it was because I made him look relatively thinner.)
The two of us are standing poolside at The Escape Hotel, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. My Mom took the photo.
(She has never been fat, in case you were wondering.)
The fish is a red snapper. I caught it earlier that day.
(Not being a fish, I can't tell you if the fish thought it was fat while it was alive. I can tell you it weighed about four pounds, and it is the biggest fish I've ever caught. That's because it is the only fish I've ever caught. And, having given you some prologue, we will now leave the land of parentheticals and get on with the story.)
My Dad was employed in the airline industry for the greater part of his adult life. At the time of this story, he was employed by the now-defunct Eastern Airlines. As an airline employee, he enjoyed some perks. Employees and immediate family flew free, on a space available basis, and the space available was always in first class. That meant first-class service, of course. To give you an idea of how nice our travel was when I was a child, I had no idea why comedians joked about the hideousness of airline meals. I had never had anything aside from filet mignon, lobster, or chicken cordon bleu. There was always room to stretch out, and the ex-beauty-queen stewardesses made sure we had anything we wanted, whenever we wanted it. Life was good.
Since travel expenses weren't an issue, we vacationed as often as possible. In addition to flying for free, airline employees also received significant discounts on hotel rooms and rental cars. This left meals and sightseeing as the only full-price activities.
Did I mention that life was good?
For a few years, on an annual basis during the winter, we went from the cold and snow of Boston to the sun and fun of Fort Lauderdale. We always stayed at The Escape, a lovely retreat with huge swimming pool, pitch-and-putt golf course, ping-pong tables, a gym, tennis courts, and other amenities that made it seem like paradise to a ten-year-old kid.
There was an in-house nightclub for my parents to enjoy, and a top-shelf restaurant, poolside, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Great place, gone the way of the dodo, at least as a hotel. While researching this piece, I discovered that, after falling into serious disrepair and closing its doors during the 1980's, it became an assisted living community, known by the locals as "Club Med For Seniors". It is now slated to be re-built as condominiums.
I could go on for some time with stories concerning fun times we had at that hotel, but this isn't the place. Our main tale for today occurs at sea.
During one of our Florida vacations, My Dad made reservations for he and I to go out on a deep-sea fishing boat. It was a relatively small craft for such an excursion. I would guess, from memory, perhaps 30 feet. As I recall, 8 or 9 were in the fishing party that day, with five serving as crew.
It was a nice idea for a father-son outing, and I was excited at the prospect. I had never been out to sea, and my fishing experience, to that point, had been limited to a couple of times on the weed-filled shores of Turner Pond, a silly little smidge of water near our house that reputedly had trout in it, though I had never seen anybody catch one. I saw my friend, Jimmy Murphy, catch three or four tiny sunfish one day. They were so unspectacular and useless, he threw them back.
(Come to think of it, maybe he just caught the same stupid sunfish over and over. For all I know, it may have been the only inhabitant of that pond.)
My Mom, finding the prospect of a day out to sea with scaly things (aside from her husband and son) unappetizing, stayed at The Escape.
It turned out to be an overcast morning, with strong wind gusts, and when we arrived at the pier, I was somewhat taken aback by the whitecaps on the water and the way the boat was pitching at the dock. But My Dad, being an old navy man, reassured me that it was nothing to worry about. He had been on seas much rougher than these, he said.
After all were aboard, we cast off. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the first spot that the captain chose as propitious enough to drop anchor and try our luck. All of us were provided rods by the crew. Those of us without much experience were helped with baiting our hooks, and given some rudimentary fishing lessons.
We all stood at various spots along the rail, with our lines in the water. By this time, a storm had blown in and the boat was rocking quite a bit. The crew walked the deck and gave each of us a rain poncho to put on, which helped a bit. There were no nibbles, though, so the captain decided to up anchor and try another spot. We lurched forward, swaying side to side on the by now roiling sea.
The boat motored on, bobbing up and down over the whitecaps and tilting side to side. I was enjoying the roller coaster aspect of it for a while (I also liked it when airplanes hit turbulence) but then I began to feel a bit queasy. Apparently, so did some others. Many faces had turned pale, and some of the tourists were already hanging over the rails.
The captain decided we had had enough storm-tossed fun for now, so he dropped anchor again. The boat still swayed, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth...
My Dad and I had both eaten substantial breakfasts at the wonderful restaurant at the hotel; plenty of eggs, bacon, sausages, fried potatoes, tomato juice, toast with huge gobs of butter and jam...
The weather started getting rough
The tiny ship was tossed
So were the cookies of the dad and son
Their lunches were now lost
I was the first to give it up. I staggered to the rail and, while My Dad held onto my belt for fear that I might go overboard while upchucking so violently, I deposited my breakfast into the sea. I slumped to the deck, but I felt a lot better.
Not so My Dad. Despite having been in the United States Navy, and sailed the high seas during the Korean conflict, he let go of me and started his own heaving.
You have to understand, at this point, that My Dad had false teeth. In the nick of time, a split second before he puked voluminously into the waves, he spit his teeth out into his hands. Had he not had the foresight to do so, and just let rip, he not only would have lost his breakfast, he also would have sent his choppers on a trip to Davy Jones' locker. It would have turned into a very costly fishing trip indeed, and whatever had been saved on airfare and hotels would have gone toward re-furnishing My Dad's mouth (not to mention that he would have had to spend the remainder of the vacation toothlessly gumming his dinners.)
Following our eruptions, the storm abated, the seas calmed, the sun came out, and we all resumed fishing.
Now, I don't know if fish are particularly attracted to half-digested breakfasts, but it was almost immediately after I had deposited that disgusting chum into the water that I caught my red snapper. My Dad - who didn't catch anything that day, other than his teeth - helped me reel him in. The crew seemed genuinely excited at my catch. Maybe they were just glad we had something to show for all of our misery.
The rest of the day was uneventful. As we returned to port, I sat on the deck, drinking a grape soda, and dreaming of how My Mom's eyes would bulge out when she saw how great a fisherman I was.
That night, after taking the photo, we gave the fish to the head chef at The Escape, who cleaned it and cooked it for us (for me and My Mom, actually, as My Dad couldn't stand fish.) It was absolutely delicious.
Thus ends the tale of Suldog
And his deep-sea fishing joy
He gave his breakfast to a fish
But that fish fed the boy
Soon, with more better stuff.