Well the clock has struck and it’s way past midnight, a time I normally want to avoid like the plague, and for some reason I find myself wide awake thinking about Florida. Why is it that these family thoughts would come deep at night festering and pushing their way into my psyche. It’s probably because I spent the day at the water staring at boats and the ocean. Ironically it’s one of the most peaceful things I do and enjoy. As I am about to tell you, one might think this would not be the case.
You see in the last months under no fault of my own, I have returned to being relatively thin. I have lost my adult bubble and have returned to my late adolescent figure, which was always very skinny if not downright scrawny. I’m not there yet, but a little more time and I should be able to fit into the beautiful white linen suit I wore at my first wedding in 1968.
This has set up a whole new look at my clothes and thoughts about mens clothes in general, but that is next weeks ramble. I am now here to describe the winter of 1955, when my family made our annual winter pilgrimage to Florida, in particular the Casa Marina Hotel in Key West, Florida.
In the fifties, my mother was terrified to fly (as there were only prop planes) which she quickly got over with the onset of jets and flew millions of miles to shop and sight see in every conceivable corner of the earth. But at this time we would all take the train from Grand Central Station one evening, sleep in luxurious sleeper cars and arrive the next morning able to open our window shades to the miles and miles of orange groves passing by our windows. We had arrived in Florida. By lunch we were in Miami, a few hour drive and we landed in Key West.
It was here on vacation where I truly learned to be afraid of most everything. You see, unbeknownst to me at the time (as I was only eight years old) my Father being omnipotent in almost everything he did was an avid deep-sea fisherman. He could have been Ernest Hemingway’s soul mate, competing vigorously with Ernest to see who could catch the biggest fish. Three or four times during our stay he would rent the largest and best equipped boat with many outriggers to go as far out in the ocean (it felt like we were crossing to Spain) to capture the truly big fish, the marlins and the sail fish. Obviously, some days were better than others, but catching nothing, rather than discouraging him, only made him want to go more. He was like the old man in the sea, except he was young, determined to catch the biggest fish of the year.
So let’s get back to me. I had no interest in fishing. I wasn’t even interested in standing on a dock and throwing a line into the water. This has no appeal to me. Live and let live is my motto and why spend precious hours trying to catch something I don’t even want to eat. I was all of four foot and weighing about 75 pounds with a 24-inch waist. Skinny was an overstatement. For years they had been force-feeding me emulsifiers and milk shakes to fatten me up, but to no avail. My anxieties were simply too great.
My father would hear none of my lack of interest in spending a long day looking for the great white whale. He was determined to teach me to fish like a man. The boat would rock worse than a roller coaster while trawling ten miles off the coast of Florida. This was my first major terror. I kept pleading with the captain to stay within sight of land. Somehow I had this idea that if the boat sank (which I was sure it would) I could somehow find my way back to shore. But we were way beyond seeing anything. I was completely lost and felt totally groundless. It was just one big horizon of water.
But, more importantly in true Hemingway style my father thought it appropriate that I should have a line to myself. I should fish like all the men, the only problem being I was a terrified little boy.
So for hours we would trawl the deep blue waters off the Continental Shelf and my father caught a relatively small sailfish that was at least twice as big as me. As far as I was concerned sail fish, shark, etc… were all the same to me. They were enormous and could swallow me in one gulp.
Right before we were about to begin to call it a day besides being terrified, bored, and sick, I was like a roasted, fried, red tomato. I was beginning to get ready to hand over my reel to the crew-member when I felt this enormous pull on my line. I was no match and in one swoop I was lifted from my chair and was about to be propelled off the back of the boat, when one quick acting crewman grabbed my legs as I was dangling with rod in hands almost completely out of the boat and about to fall into the scariest ocean I had ever seen.
They pulled me back into the boat, we lost the reel and the fish (good riddance) and I was sufficiently traumatized enough by the event to last a lifetime.
Of course this never daunted my father. The next time, they simply strapped me to the chair with belts that went around me at least six times. I felt like I was in a straight jacket, but at least I was safe.
The huge fish, the endless forbidding ocean, my scrawniness and fear left their mark on me. So now that I approach being svelte and suave and debonair in my new form, I wonder what dark forces lie below the ocean ready to pull me in.