ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Fishing on the Jetty", by Richard Risemberg

The shirtless fisherman was muscular, his back covered with tattoos. He carried the beginnings of a paunch, but it was solid paunch. He wore the face of a man discouraged with life, frowning under a short neat beard. The tattoo on his back depicted a sort of fantasy cathedral, or maybe the Emerald City of Oz. In any case, someplace magical, someplace far from the jetty that separated the boat channel from the creek. The creek was generally agreed to be polluted among the fisherfolk, though many of them still fished in it. The boat channel was less so. That was the belief. The state allowed fishing in either one, but posted signs warning that certain fish were poisonous at certain times of year. The tattooed fisherman scowled into the flat, dimpled water of the boat channel. The flag on the breakwater at the end of the boat channel hung limp under a hot blue sky. The tattooed fisherman and his buddy had set five fishing poles into the holes along the railing of the fishing platform. They had caught nothing so far.

The tattooed fisherman's buddy was an older man, thin and sinewy, with a little chin beard and his hair tied into a messy ponytail. His clothes hung loose on him, and he wore round-toed boots of the sort you rarely saw any more. Unlike the tattooed man, he wore a wide-brimmed hat. He sat on the concrete bench at the back of the fishing platform while his buddy tended the lines. A skinny woman walked past them on the jetty, following a small dog on a leash. She stared into a cellphone as she walked. Everyone ignored everyone else. There was nothing to see from the jetty but the breakwater and the broad flat sea. On the other side of the boat channel was a beach with some houses behind it, but it looked like a painted backdrop. The only sound was the slap of water against the rocks under the fishing platform. The tattooed fisherman grunted and said, "They're sure not biting today."

The thin man stood up and wandered to the railing. He leaned his elbows on it and looked down into the water. Close up it was a transparent greenish brown and lapped endlessly at the rocks of the jetty. A few small crabs walked about on the wetter rocks, and seaweed drifted just under the surface, along with a plastic bag and several styrofoam cups. "Hey," the thin man called. "I just saw a big yellow fish."

The tattooed man frowned a little deeper. "Yellow, or orange?" he asked.

"Orange, I guess."

"Round fish, or long?"

"Round. Sort of."

"That's a garibaldi. They've got them around here."

"Ever catch one?"

"Naw. They just drift around being stupid," he said.

"Ain't that what all fish do?"

Tattoo shrugged. "I don't know what the hell fish do. Or how to make them bite, today."

"Hey, look at that," the thin man said. The noise of a passing boat caught his attention. It was painted orange and named the Garibaldi. People holding fishing poles were distributed along the after deck. "Named after my fish!"

"Day-fishing boat. Hell of an expensive way to get a free lunch."

They could hear music playing on the boat. Its big diesels puttered steadily as it passed. Well after it was gone, the wake reached the jetty and jostled noisily against the rocks. Tattoo checked the lines, one by one. Nothing.

"Hey," the thin man called. "Is it high tide or low tide?"

The tattooed man looked at the rocks on the other side of the boat channel. The tidemark was only a thin dark line above the mumbling water. "High tide, I guess. Why you want to know?"

The thin man shrugged. "Just wanted to know. Think it makes a difference to the fish?"

"If I knew what made a difference to the fish, maybe we'd have a few right now."

"I thought you fished a lot."

"I do. And I usually catch something. But it's just luck. I copy what my grandpa used to do. It worked for him."

"Maybe the fish have gotten smarter."

"Maybe we're just stupider. Shit." He stared at the unmoving filaments of the fishing lines. "Maybe there were just more fish in my grandpa's day. He went twice a week, and he always brought a few home. Carried his damn fishing poles on the bus."

A squadron of pelicans flew over in the usual V formation. One of them peeled off and plummeted into the water with a loud splash. He surfaced immediately and gagged a fish down his long throat, then pumped himself into the air and followed his compatriots. The thin man said, "We ought to be out there, in a boat."

"We'd need a boat for that, wouldn't we?"

"Can't argue with that."

The skinny woman with the dog walked back along the jetty. Her gaze was still locked to her cell phone. The wind tousled her short loose hair. After she had passed, the thin man said, "Wonder why she bothers coming down here if all she's gonna do is look at her phone."

Tattoo smirked at his buddy. "Maybe the dog likes it. Who cares?"

"It's something to think about. Since the fish aren't biting."

"Maybe we ought to think about how to make them bite."

The thin man went to one of the poles and pulled it out of the hole in the railing. He reeled in the line then cast it out again. The hook fell into the water with a plop. He put the handle of the pole back into the railing. The bright line sagged in the sun. Tattoo stared across the boat channel. The thin man sat back down on the concrete bench.

"Next time," he said, "remind me to bring my radio." The man with the Emerald City tattoo didn't answer him. The thin man stared at his buddy's back, examining the tattoo.


Richard Risemberg was born to a mixed and mixed-up family in Argentina, and dragged to LA as a child to escape the fascist regime. He's spent the next few decades exploring the darker corners of the America Dream and writing stories, poems, and essays based on his experiences.
He has published widely in the last few years, as you can see at

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