You never know what kinds of things you might learn with a putter in your hand.
This time, I learned all about lobster fishing from my buddy, Mike.
We took to the links on a blazing hot day recently — the kind of day when you don’t have to bother making a tee time, because the course is empty since nobody in his right mind would think of tromping over miles of baking fairways. But then, since neither Mike nor I ever hit a ball that ends up in the fairways, I guess we are exempt from such logic.
He had just gotten back from a week or so in New England, where he and his wife Sandy were visiting one of her long-ago college friends. The woman’s husband was a Rhode Island lobster fisherman, and he asked Mike if he wanted to tag along for a working day. Mike jumped at the chance.
As we golfed, Mike spent the first four holes telling me all about lobstering, and I learned about wondrous things, like using clam-bellies for bait when the lobster pots were put out. I marveled at every detail. After all, who knew that clams had bellies? Who knew that lobsters will willingly climb into a pot before we take them home to boil them in one?
Mike talked almost nonstop, not even pausing when it was time for either of us to tee off or to putt. I know that’s supposed to be grounds for golf homicide, but it was OK with me, since neither Mike nor I ever keep score when we golf together. We both find that we golf better when we don’t keep score — and there’s no way to prove that we don’t.
He said that they caught 126 lobsters that they kept, not counting several eels and fishes and crabs and other scuttling sea critters. They threw back an equal number of lobsters because they weren’t large enough after their carapaces were measured. See what I mean? When you don’t have a putter in your hands, how many times does the word “carapace” come up in the conversation?
Anyway, sometime during the fourth hole, as I searched for my ball among the bunkers in the rough to the left of the fairway, and Mike was dropping a new ball to replace the one he lost over the fence on the right, Mike said, “When we came home, reeking of lobsters and fish and eels and clam bellies, John’s wife took one whiff of us and said, ‘Ah-h-h, the smell of money!’”
I smiled at the thought, because Mike and I were both pretty drenched in sweat by now, and there would be plenty of wifely whiffing when we got home. If a New England woman can forgive her man for reeking of clam bellies, there was always hope we would still be allowed in the door.
By the time we reached the fifth tee, he had pretty much finished with his tale of lobster fishing in the mighty Atlantic, and he said to me, “I know it sounds sort of stupid to go on vacation and then spend a long, hot day working at somebody else’s job, but I figured it might be my only chance to be a lobsterman for a day. Have you ever wanted to do something like that?”
I nodded, and now it was my turn to talk while Mike putted, because I knew exactly what he was talking about.
It was sometime around 1980 when my wife and I took the kids on a camping trip through New England. We were camped on Mount Desert Island, Maine, when I decided to get up at dawn and take a drive around the island as my family slept. I whispered to my wife that I would be home by breakfast, and she nodded and sighed before slipping back into slumber.
I drove a half-hour or so to what the locals call “the quiet side” of the island, where folks make their living from fishing rather than tourism. I don’t remember the name of the town — it might have been Tremont, or maybe Bass Harbor.
I parked the car and walked down to the wharf, where I watched the lobster boats leaving the harbor on their way out to sea. Most of them were already under way, but I noticed a man carrying buckets and ropes and cages down from his pickup truck to the wharf, where he was loading the gear onto a sturdy working boat.
I asked him if he needed help, and he was glad to accept my offer.
As we carried load after load of his gear, I asked him if he was a lobsterman, and he said no. He worked for a university, and he was going out to collect as many species of fish as he could catch for research purposes. He would be out all day and come back just before sunset.
“Would you like to come along?” he asked.
My heart raced. There was nothing in the world I would rather do. “How soon will you go out?” I asked.
“Right away,” he said.
My heart fell. I asked, “Can you wait an hour, so I can go back and tell my wife where I’m going?” Remember, this was in the days before cell phones made such whimsy possible.
He shook his head. “Sorry,” he said.
We shook hands, and I helped him cast off. He puttered out of the harbor and off to the sea. I got back in the car and drove back to camp, where my wife and kids were just stirring for breakfast.
I finished telling Mike my story — and then I hammered my putt six feet past the hole.
“Well, maybe you’ll get to go someday,” Mike said as he picked up my ball, called it a gimme, and tossed it to me.
It may be my imagination, but as the ball plopped into my hand, I thought I caught the sweet, sweet aroma of clam bellies baking in the sun.
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The author splits his time between Naples and Chicago. Not every day, though. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.