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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Feeding Frenzy: 1981

The catfish move, digging through the bottom mud, breathe bubbling at the surface as they fumble for food, reeds shifting as the push through the reeds.
"You can watch where they go by watching the reeds," one of the fishermen tells me.
It has a haunting qaulity, as if some invisible Christ were walking across the surface of the water, pushing reeds out of His way.
"Last night those fish was really hopping," the fisherman said, one of the many poor blacks who feeds his family by catching fish, despite the state's claim the Passaic River is polluted. "Those cats is lazy suckers for the most part, and it takes something to make them move, getting hungry or cold, and last night we had a real chill on us, and they sat so long they got hungry from waiting."
A burst of water at the falls makes that fisherman turn, and he points to the grey striped fish struggling to keep itself from rolling over the edge with the gushing water.
"Damned fool don't got no sense," he says, then sits down on a large grey flat-topped boulder to watch. The kids have left their mark on the stone, scratched out names I cannot read: initials tof a gang, blood oaths and death curses. On the slanted side, some local teenage artist has painted the relevant segments of the female anatomy complete with indications of what he plans to do if he ever finds a girl.
The sun has warmed the stone, making it easy to sit on, making me and the fisherman seem as lazy as the fish, though the black man talks about how good life is here by the water, how the water has helped and provided for him, and how much he thanked God it was put here. I'm not totally comfortable with this talk of God, thinking maybe the Mormon preachers got here to talk with him first, and I mumble something that makes him frown.
"You don't believe in God?" he asks.
"Not exactly," I say.
"What do you believe in, then?"
I look down at the water, just as I had when I was a kid when I came down here after cutting school, or church, and the water answers for me with its wide expanse of light, silver and blue and brown all at the same time, flush with fresh fish even this close to winter, wind swaying through the reeds making each look like a drunken sailor.
I watch the black man take out his pipe and stuff it with Buglar cigarettee tobacco, the warnings of the Surgon General no more of an account than the warnings about the fish. He puffs and sends smoke out over the water, a free man taking his pleasure.
He laughs, and takes stock as a flock of geese struggles to rise from the water's surface, a honging, flapping maylay that reminds me of young children splashing in a bath tub, too much madness for what needs to be done. They do not fly long, but float back to the surface of the water, upstream, near the bridge, where the popcorn lady is issuing their morning meal, popcorn the primary course, though she gives them other things she can talk the supermarkets out of: stale bread, beans from broken bags, rice and other things. She is the Salvation Army of the river, but doesn't demand her clients pray before they eat.
No one would take her surmons seriously if she did.
And fisherman beside me laughs, as if reading my mind, shaking his head and he takes another toke:
"It's all God," he tells me. "Every damned bit ot it."

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