A Fish Out of Water

A Fish Out of Water

Words: Patrick Sullivan
Photos: Vinny Picone

I was sitting in my flat eating a can of tuna. I had poured out the water and added mayo when I got a call from Marvin. “We’re going fishing,” he
said flatly.

“I already have fish.” I hate the water. The incessant swaying and rocking of boats turns me green. I once threw up on my grandmother while riding the Staten Island Ferry, and she won’t travel with me now.

“You’re going. You have to go. I bought you a fishing shirt.”

“Where are we going? Who is going with us? Why are we going fishing?”

“Because it’s going to be fun. C’mon. Get over it. You’ll thank me later.” Marvin was one of my oldest friends, and, despite his myopic vision, he tended to see the world more reasonably than my own interpretations. Besides, fishing sounded manly. Hemingway liked to fish, and Melville was a total fisherman groupie. Maybe it would do me good to commandeer their muse.

It was set. We would leave early for a day of drinking, vaping, and making fish late for their appointments. The writer in me had spun the journey into an epic monomyth where I would emerge as a hero from the gates of hell lounging on fluffy pillows with half-naked nymphs.


I woke at 4AM. Marvin wasn’t supposed to be there until 6, but I didn’t think I could fall back asleep. I decided to watch YouTube videos about fishing. I watched one on how to tie line to a hook and realized the men in the video were obviously uneducated nudniks with no true concept of art. I was going to reel in the biggest, most artful fish they had ever imagined. The next video I watched nearly made me vomit. A man had caught a large fish, and, once he had reeled it in, his friend reached over the edge of the boat and hooked it with what seemed like a miniature whale harpoon. There was blood everywhere. I quickly closed the tab and stepped away from my computer. What was I getting myself into?

Before I had any more time to brood over my predicament, my apartment buzzer startled me back to reality. It was Marvin, one hour early.

“You ready to go, Ishmael?”
“Well seeing as you’re an hour early, no.”
“Put this shirt on.” He handed me a multicolored striped shirt that smelled like old people.
“Why does this smell like old people?”
“Because I got it at an estate sale last month. Just put it on. It’s not like somebody died in it.”
“Yes, but they did die, right?”

We went outside and two of Marvin’s friends were waiting for us in the car, lazily vaping away. They also had on some weird shirts. It was like our parents were taking us to Disneyland, and they didn’t want us to get lost. I chose not to point out the faux pas.


We arrived at the marina and it smelled terrible. I thought, “How in hell could this be the same place my delicious tuna fish comes from?” But I didn’t dare utter my thoughts lest I be discovered as strange and difficult yet again. Instead I sheepishly stated, “This is cool. I like docks...and stuff. Which one of these vessels is ours?”

He pointed at a ship of less than average beauty, manned by a grumpy looking old guy sitting in a chair, reading the newspaper. “Oh.”

We boarded, and the old guy gave us the rundown. “Don’t do this; don’t do that. Don’t touch this; don’t touch that. You better listen up you little twerp, cuz I ain’t jumping in if you go overboard!” His scowl made him look like Skeletor or Destro, clearly my nemesis in this epic tale of the sea.

Marvin diverted the negative attention away from me as he always had done since we were children, and the man seemed to appreciate the diversion. The fishing poles had been set up for us, so my dream of artfully tying knots that would beguile even the old man of the sea were temporarily put on hold. The captain fired up the engine, and we slowly motored out of the harbor.

Eventually we got to a place where it was “safe” to put our lines in the water. I couldn’t help but think that the fish would use a different word for this. After that last YouTube video I had developed a sort of empathy for limbless, cold-blooded vertebrate. I mean, did one really have to beat the poor fuckers to death? Wouldn’t it suffice to suffocate them with oxygen? I saw it as a sort of reverse waterboarding, clearly malicious enough.


As soon as we put our lines in the water people were catching fish, the buzzing of the reels and frenzy of excitement. Was this what Hemingway felt? Was this how Melville found his story? And then it happened. I felt a snap and a jerk on my line. I screamed like an eleven-year-old girl, then realized I had to start fighting back. This was my great white whale. I leaned back, arching my back as I assumed any powerful waterman would. I reeled with a fortitude that I imagined would make Gellhorn wet. I postured. I grunted. I had it. I had slain the beast. Melvin helped me bring it up. I was in love.

I sat at the stern of the boat drinking a Bud and puffing on the vape. I pictured jealousy swelling in the heart of Neptune, mermaids smitten with my brawn and grit. My mind raced with visions of lesser men clamoring for my je ne sais quoi approach to angling. I fished. I was a fisherman. My shirt smelled like pussy.