Q: Concerning the Echeneis, Or Sucking Fish
by Scott Korb
In Bay St. Louis, Missouri, children knew all about fish and scales and gills and how to insert two fingers down into the wide-open mouths and press with your thumb against the underpart of the jaw, and they'll stop that flopping around. Children made fishfaces. O, hold tight. Don't be scared; it's not going to kill you. Won't bite. You see any teeth in there anywhere? No they said, and the fish stopped flopping around. Sometimes the fish were larger than the children and these fish were hung by their tails on a rack and were photographed stretched out next to the lucky fisherman, while he stood in front of his boat with his arms crossed and his white shirtsleeves rolled up just below his elbow. He wore an apron stained with fish blood, which in the photographs came out in one shade of dark black. The photographer made notes with his pencil: the name of the man, his age and address, the genus of this catch and his boat, and whether he had any family to speak of. Most of the men had a few children and a wife, lived in among the other fishermen in long rows of houses just off the docks, and ran a boat named after their mothers: The Sally, The Francis, The Dorothy, The Marie, The Carla, &c.
Children knew all about shrimp and how much for a pot and that purple came from the blood of shell fish. And this all came from their fathers and mothers. Mostly from their fathers. The whole lot of them would talk about their fathers who caught so many fish in large nets and hauled them in and sold them for a profit. Some of their fathers had even been photographed and with that came national fame of course, because they took those portraits for the papers.
They packed the fish so good in wooden crates, crates that somewhere men with tattoos would haul down off large boats and crack into with bent crowbars. Neither here nor there. A strongman with ice entered among these fathers, and having delivering his large block held between menacing pincers, exited. There was some exhibition and fanfare in this of course: his muscles bulged and he made sure of that, as if to say please and thank you please not to pique me, sirs, I don't give no shit about you all. Sirs. He was very polite about it all, though kept mainly to himself, dropping the block down heavy, the strong-and-silent type.
Fishermen paid for their boats over time and always had payments, but that was all beside the point, everyone's got some payments. Everybody owes somebody. Most of these men were some poor kid's father, and these poor kids looked up to these men with steady jobs who put food on the table, don't you forget it.
The children mostly picked shrimp alongside Sadie Kelly and Martin Gabler. Two of five, one of seven, two of eight, one of nine, two of ten, two of eleven, three of twelve: they argued over the relative worth and might of their fathers and there was always a lot to be gained and lost in this competition. The results were always either positive or negative. Martin Gabler bent his arm like a bodybuilder, told Sadie to feel that muscle, and let her know in no uncertain terms that his father could do some serious damage to her father, given the chance. They might wrestle given the chance and my father and on and on went Martin.
It's all money the fathers said. Boys would be boys.
Sadie Kelly's father was a fisherman, and not very fond of the sucking fish that got caught up in the net with the rest of them, to answer the question, taking up the room where the other fish should have gone, because he said there is no money in sucking-fish. (To the question concerning them: I am not very fond, Sadie, they're such a nuisance. How many pots for you to-day?) And Sadie had words with Martin Gabler concerning the sucking fish and if they weren't such a problem, my dad could: which she followed with the assertion that of course her father could do equally as serious damage to his father, given the chance and no more sucking-fish. It is all money.
(To the question concerning how many pots: she picked seven pots of shrimp yesterday and five pots to-day. And to the question concerning how much per pot: five cents, in 1911.)
The ice man had steady money and a huge cart with large blocks of smoking ice, though this steady money depended on the answer to the question concerning the water, whether it was good for seafaring. To the question concerning the water and its goodness: yes, praise heaven, the water is good for seafaring. They packed everything so good. And it was all money ($$$$).
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There was a good amount of fishing is Seattle, near to where A.E. Stuart had all those contented cows. He was making millions.
About the author:
Scott Korb was able, ere he saw Elba.