where the writers are
Memories of a Central Park Angler
The Way of the River

... 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 had outgrown the lake, or even fishing itself. Will I one day? How many hours have I spent 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, and 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?”

“That’s what they said about the wheel.”
He laughed. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.” I cast, and then thought, Another future memory, I’m sure. Memories, I guess, are like stars: new ones are always forming. But memories don’t have real dimensions. Do memories, therefore, exist only in the expandable hard drives of human minds, like the first memory I have of fishing this lake?

She wore thick, granny glasses and looked like a middle-aged hippie. She told me she was from Boise. I told her I had never met anyone from Idaho. She told me Boise was a great city with a beautiful river and a great orchestra. I wondered if she was just a bit biased, but wanting to fish instead of talk, I looked away from her and watched my fishing line, but out of the corner of my eye I saw her standing there, watching me. For me, the silence between us became uncomfortable. Finally, she broke it and asked questions about New York. Soon I realized she too was lonely and sort of lost. I looked at her and suggested places in 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 asking was appropriate. Wondering what to say, I came up blank, until I remembered what I had read about listening and showing empathy by reflecting back a person’s words. I said, “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 only what he wanted to do.”

“Are you from Manhattan?”

“Brooklyn, originally. I went to the same high school as Sandy Koufax.”

“Too bad you didn’t have his fastball. I’m sorry, I mean about the Dodgers moving.”

“My uncle still hasn’t gotten over it, even though we got the Mets.”

“What was growing up in Brooklyn like?”

“Great. Filled with endless street games: stickball, football, hide-and-seek. I guess back then we all thought the whole world was part of Brooklyn.”

We continued talking, mostly about the two cities we loved, and soon talking to her seemed more important than fishing.

She looked at her watch. “I should really get going. It was great talking to you. Maybe New Yorkers really are friendly.”

I laughed.

“I’m Joan, by the way.”

“I’m Randy.” We shook hands and said good-bye. As I watched her walk away I felt grateful I had met her. At first I wasn’t sure why, until I realized it was partly because I had helped someone feel welcomed in a huge, foreign city.

I snapped out of my memory and reeled in line and thought, I hope Joan, wherever she is in the world, has found the love we are all 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 finally admitted I needed help, and then took workshops and read books, and learned how to communicate. If only I hadn’t spent so many years unable to ask for help. Yes, I was damaged, but I didn’t cause it. Today I must not regret or deny the past. My memories will keep it alive.