MEMORIES OF A
CENTRAL PARK ANGLER
by Randy Kadish
How should we measure time?
By minutes, hours, days? If so, is time nothing more than a string
of shapeless, carbon-copy moments, each one exactly like the one
before, like the one to come? If time is not like that, should we
measure it another way: by man-made events such as wars,
friendships, fishing trips? If so, this day was the most important
day in my life: the day my book was published.
How should I spend it? By
going to the Morgan Library and seeing the first book ever printed,
the Gutenberg Bible? By going back to where my outdoor writing
career accidentally began: the lake in Central Park?
I took my seven-weight rod
and bass flies, walked to the park and wondered why it took me so
long to publish a book. After all, it was thirty years ago--thirty
seasons of football, of falling leaves--when I first dreamed of
becoming a writer. How cruel, how slow time seemed, as if I were
trapped in the quicksand of my failures. Yet on my special day, as I
thought back, the time seemed like one giant, compressed yesterday.
Where did it go?
I walked to the lake, to the
flat rock at the mouth of Wagner Cove. The lake, I saw, was
cluttered with a small navy of rowboats, mostly commanded by
laughing kids. Surprised, I remembered the Memorial Day weekend was
right around the corner. To me the lake was under an invasion.
I set up my fly rod and tied
on a green popper. I reminded myself to slightly bend my knees and
not to pull my elbow back during the cast. I cast toward the big
tree. The popper landed about seventy feet away.
I thought, not bad. I
pointed the rod almost straight down, twitched it back and forth and
retrieved. The popper seemed to write a line of Morse Code on the
water. I jerked the rod tip once and stopped retrieving. The popper
created expanding rings on the water. The rings took my thoughts
back forty years to the hula hoop craze. I thought, today I
shouldn’t rush. Today I should let the rings dissipate before I move
the popper, the way the books and magazines say I should.
I waited, and the rings
blended into the flatness of the water. Again I retrieved, and
before long I lost myself in the cycle of casting, retrieving,
waiting, casting--until I remembered why I started fishing: Fishing
and meeting people on the banks of the lake helped me forget my
guilt and my grief over watching my mother slowly, painfully die;
helped me forget the fear of my dead-end future.
Fishing At The Mouth
Of Wagner Cove
I retrieved the popper alll
the way to the rod tip. I remembered to fully rotate my hips during
the next cast and to stop the rod abruptly, as if I were hammering a
nail. I cast. Again I cast. The popper flew past the tree. Pleased,
I created and watched the hula hoops on the water and remembered
how, before I ever picked up a fly rod, I dreamed of becoming a
great angler and spin caster who could cast all the way to the far
bank of the cove; but always my cast landed at least thirty feet
short. Frustrated, I read books about spin casting, the same way I
had read, unfortunately too late it seemed, books about writing.
The books helped. I cast
farther and farther, but still well short of the far bank. I was at
another dead end, it seemed; so like a mad scientist, I experimented
with my own casting techniques, suspecting, but not fully admitting,
that for me, casting was about more than reaching the far bank. It
was also about becoming very good at something, anything, and
partially erasing my failures, my one-after-another rejection slips.
Slowly, very slowly, the
experiments worked. When the leaves started to fall, I finally cast
all the way across the cove and snagged a crankbait on a tree.
Thrilled to lose a lure that way, I thought, during the long winter,
I might forget what I learned about casting. I should I write down
my techniques so I’ll be able to review them the next spring.
I did, and I thought of
other struggling casters. I decided to turn my notes into an
article. I wrote it and sent it off to a local magazine. Six weeks
later I still hadn’t heard from the magazine. I phoned the editor.
He editor told me he wasn’t interested.
Angry, thinking I had racked
up yet another failure, I said, "Would you be interested in an
article on bass fishing in Central Park?"
"If you could get it to me by May
I hung up, went to a
magazine store and bought two fishing magazines. I read several
destination articles, then picked out one and used it as template.
The next day I wrote my article in three hours. A month later I read
my first published words, but still I was blind to the long, often
twisting road that lay before me. So I baby-stepped the road and
published one article after another. Finally, almost by accident, I
wrote a book.
The hoops one the water had
disappeared. I forgot to retrieve. I cranked the reel handle and
thought, it’s strange the way I became a writer. It didn’t happen
when I wanted it to, thankfully; because as I look back, I’m sure
success would have gone to my insecure head and blocked me from the
journey I came to write about: my spiritual and emotional recovery.
Yes, I became a published writer relatively late. Was it a Higher
Power’s time? An accident’s time? No one’s time?
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 outgrew the
lake. Maybe even outgrew fishing. Will I one day? How many hours
have I spent fishing on this rock? How many hours 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. 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
"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. Good luck."
"Thanks." I cast. That guy is yet
one more future memory. Memories, I guess, are like stars: always
forming. Do memories, like stars, have real dimensions? Real laws of
space and time? Or do memories just exist in the expandable, hard
drive of my mind? Yes, so many saved memories, like my first one of
fishing this lake, the one of the middle-aged hippie.
She wore thick, granny
glasses and told me she was from Boise. I thought she didn’t look
it, then told her I never met anyone from Idaho. She told me Boise
was a great city with great fishing and a great orchestra. I
wondered if Boise, therefore, was a place I should consider moving
to. I wanted to fish, not talk, but she just stood there, watching
me, asking questions about New York. Soon I realized she too was
lonely and sort of lost. So I kept talking to her and suggested
parts of 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
I wondered what to say, then
remembered what I had read about listening: reflect back her words.
"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 the
things he wanted to do."
"Are you from Manhattan?"
"From Brooklyn, originally. The
same neighborhood as Sandy Koufax."
"Sorry about the Dodgers."
"We got over it, finally, but not
until we got the Mets."
"What was growing up in Brooklyn
"Great. Filled with endless street
games: stickball, football, hide-and-seek."
We continued talking, mostly
about living in New York and in Boise. There was a silence, long
but, for me, not uncomfortable. The woman from Boise told me her
name was Joan and good-bye; and though I was again alone, I no
longer felt lonely.
I retrieved and hoped Joan,
where ever she was in the world, found the love so many of us were
looking for, then 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 was so lonely I finally took workshops and read books and learned
how to communicate.
I walked about ten feet down
the south bank. Memories--are they where time retreats to? Without
memories would time, or at least the past, vanish into nothingness?
I roll cast, then scanned
the rowboats. Unlike time, they moved in different, random-seeming
directions. I remembered how I hated rowing. I scanned the trees
surrounding the lake like a necklace. I scanned the apartment
building lining the park like a fortress wall. Suddenly I had the
feeling I was looking at a giant, group photograph. The row sitting
on the ground was the lake. The row sitting on chairs was the trees.
The row standing up was the buildings.
I wish I could I be a part
of the photograph. But looking at a beautiful photograph can be
better than being in one. If so, why do I feel so far away from this
lake, as if it’s in a parallel universe or in a movie? Maybe fishing
in Central Park is an old challenge I too have outgrown. Maybe
casting and retrieving, like moments, are carbon copies of
themselves. Or maybe, as I watch and hear people talk and laugh, I
feel lonely and wish I were with close friends instead of with
I thought of Robert, my old
fishing friend. I remembered the day we fly fished the Beaverkill
and he hooked a monster fish he couldn’t land. I offered to help,
but he refused. Finally he brought the fish in and saw it was a
foul-hooked sucker. Furious it wasn’t a trout, he screamed, "Get it
off! Get it off!" I remembered the day Robert and I fished the
Central Park lake and he caught, but then illegally killed, a
beautiful bass just so he could take a picture of it.
Angry at Robert, I thought
of Steve, Joe and Debbie. I remembered the summers and the gray
beach house we shared. I remembered how years later they never asked
to read anything I published.
Yes I’ve turned my
resentments into recurrent, carbon copies of themselves. I should
let my resentments die. This special day should be about me, about
what I’ve finally achieved. Instead I’ve become a POW of bad
memories? Yes, I’m trying to relive the past which, like time, can’t
be changed? Why? Because I’m scared of critics panning my book?
Scared of my writing amounting to an anthill in the scope of the
wide world? Scared of not finding real friends, real love? Scared of
facing a fork on the road of my life? If I were only more like time
and never felt fear or reached forks. But I don’t want to stay where
I am. Don’t want to work a dead-end job and spend most of my free
time writing, working alone like a little Isaac Newton.
But, unlike time, I can
change directions, in spite of my fear.
I retreived all my line,
then walked along the winding, asphalt path to Belvedere Fountain.
The large, three-tier fountain was surrounded by a square, red-brick
plaza. The bricks reminded me of the Yellow-Brick Road in the Wizard
Of Oz. I thought of how Dorothy tries to escape time, or at least
the present, by dreaming up people and places that aren’t real. I
thought of how I try to escape by remembering things that at least
Who was better off, Dorothy
I walked to the concrete
bank, roll cast and watched the fly line form a big unrolling loop.
The popper flipped over and landed about forty feet away. But in my
mind the unrolling line carried me back to the morning of 9/11. In
disbelief, I stared at the TV and felt lost and terribly alone. I
wondered where I should I go to find a hint of sanity, of comfort.
I grabbed my spinning rod
and my lures and meandered to the plaza and fished; but instead of
finding sanity and comfort I found obsession. Again and again I
wished I could turn back time and erase the horrible carnage of
9/11, and also of wars, of alcoholism and of abused children. But
wishing couldn’t dent time’s armor. I thought of how time didn’t cry
The Bow Bridge
Who was better off, time or
I couldn’t answer, year
Again I roll cast. I
retrieved my popper, slowly, continuously. Instead of hoops or Morse
Code, the lure sculpted a short, narrow wake.
A women and her two dogs
walked up to me. The boxer, stared at my fishing rod. The bulldog
looked at me and smiled as I were his friend. I petted him.
"We take them fishing all the time
in Wisconsin," the woman said.
"They know the drill. Every
time they see fishing rods they get excited."
I said, "So even dogs have
good memories of fishing."
"Absolutely." The woman smiled.
"Good luck. Take care."
I thought, yes, maybe it’s
the people I meet, more than the fish I catch, that brings me back
to this lake, because people, unlike moments in time, are different:
People like the woman who told me she was visiting from Canada.
I said, "You don’t have a
"I’m from New York. I moved to
Toronto many years ago for a teaching position, but now I’m retired.
I love the way the city is taking care of the park, and building a
new park along the Hudson River. I wish I could move back."
"Why don’t you?"
"I had a rent-controlled apartment
I had to give up. Now there’s no way I could afford a free-market
one in Manhattan."
"What’s Toronto like?"
"It’s a nice city, but for some
reason, it never felt like home. Looking back, I guess I’ve always
been lonely there."
I felt sorry for her and
wondered if I left New York for a place like Boise, if I’d regret it
and always want to move back.
"I’ll just have to make the best of
it," she said. "Maybe if I stop coming back to visit I’ll forget how
much I miss this city." She said good-bye and, though she didn’t
know it, walked into one of my memories.
I again cast and thought, in
some ways I’m like that woman. I too want to go back and relive my
past, and want to lock some of it in timeless--I hope--fishing
memoirs, memoirs really about how I’ve changed. Yet years ago I was
stubborn, unable to change, until after my mother’s death when
change, through fishing, found and rescued me.
Change, however, never found
the carbon-copied moments that make up time.
Time, are you really a flow
that, like the Yellow-Brick Road, leads somewhere? Or are you just
an infinite cycle that, like the red bricks of the plaza, has no
beginning, no end, and leads nowhere?
Time, are you really an
inanimate, naked idea? Time, do you really exist at all? If not
would I have memories and hopes?
But I do have them; and
maybe they should be my private worm hole so I can always go
back--toll free--into a past I can use to change and grow, or go
forward into a future I can choose and clothe; and then I can
become, I’m sure, a teacher, or a travel writer or something else
"Any luck?" someone asked.
How many times have I been
bothered by that question, and haven’t even looked at the person who
I turned and saw a young
couple. They held hands. He carried a tourist map. I said, "Yes, I
had some luck."
"What did you catch?"
I smiled and hoped a future
memory was about to start.
Text and photos by Randy Kadish 2007 ©
Randy's historical novel,
The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make
Peace With The World, is available on