I like drawing fish almost as much as birds. The big cartoony eyes and odd colors and shapes–they are a ton of fun. As a kid, my friend’s father would buy fish from the market during Lent and the guy who sold it, no shit, looked like a grouper. He was a hairy fucker who wore a Dago-t and had moles all over his face and neck the size of dimes and a lower lip that protruded and always had a Lucky Strike sealed to it with spit. His name was Louie and whenever something surprised him he’d say, “Fuckin A?” For instance:
“Hey Louie, the Sox won.”
“Hey Louie, It’s going to rain.”
“Hey Louie, the precinct captain is banging your wife.”
“Fuckin A? Poor bastard.”
He was a funny guy who really knew his fish and once taught me how to eat a smoked chub right off of the bones. I loved the fish section of the market; all of the different colors and pungent smells and pink fish flesh seemed alien and otherworldly to me.
When I went to the Tsukiji market in Tokyo, it was an all out assault on the senses; a blinding sensation of motion and temperature and speed and ice–the fish laid out for the restaurateurs, often still writhing in ice-bins, their scales a repository of refulgent, shimmering light.
Fish are mysterious and beautiful to me-. Later in my Tokyo trip, I spent time feeding the koi in Ueno Park, which are considered the royalty of aquatic life in that culture even though they are basically carp. I love looking at fish and the way they move.
My dad took me to watch the smelt fisherman on Lake Michigan as a little boy once. He told me to notice how many different languages I heard at Montrose Harbor as we walked the dock. There were Greeks, Mexicans, Poles, Ukrainians, Slavs, Swedes, Italians. It was one of those activities that brought out all of the tribes in a peaceful collaboration rooted in their native countries. It was also magical. I remember looking under the dock and seeing the silvery whir of bait fish, moving so quickly as to be indecipherable. My dad was not a fisherman, nor am I. It was just something he knew about and shared with me.
I love watching those fishing shows like The Deadliest Catch, even though they’re fishing for crabs, it is dangerous and hard work. In the fish market in Tokyo, I saw any number of guys up to their elbows in fish-guts; butchering tuna, amberjack and eels. It is hard dirty work.
It is also a reminder that the seemingly pastoral world beneath the sea is actually around-the-clock murder-. There is nothing gentle about the ocean. The truth of it is little fish get eaten by bigger fish. Those fish are devoured by still bigger fish and on and on. The salient lesson seems to be, “Don’t be a fucking guppy.”
This piece is called, The FishMan. His super power is he eats the shit that falls into the pond.