By Dave Anderson
This little false hint of a January thaw has awakened that need to drive to the ocean and just… see it. Any spot will do, it’s that inherent energy that the ocean holds that makes these short trips therapeutic. Today, after I dropped my daughter at preschool, I found myself following a familiar road, heading out of my way to a place that holds many memories. Following the footprints of a much younger and greener me, into a place that would become a major part of my story.
I first walked these beaches in the winter of 2005 when I found my way into a very exclusive neighborhood; as I skipped out onto the exposed ledges, I found a spot that screamed big stripers. It had everything; deep water, drastic depth changes, changes in bottom composition… The first time I fished it that spring the fishing was amazing with fish from 28 to almost 40 pounds. The next night was even better.
Needless to say, I became a regular at this spot. But as spring gave way to summer, I learned very quickly that a security guard was stationed in the neighborhood so that the ‘summer people’ could enjoy their high-priced paradise without worrying about any of the ‘underprivileged’ population sneaking in to enjoy a quick peek of the breathtaking view or—worse—marring it by leaving footprints in the sand that weren’t left by a fellow millionaire. It’s funny how money cultivates feelings of entitlement, but I’m jumping the tracks here.
After a few years of being asked to leave in the summer, I finally found a way in that only required that I keep the use of my light to a minimum. I was parking in a hayfield about a mile from the gate and walking in. By that time I knew exactly where the guard parked his vehicle and that he spent almost the entire night sitting in there listening to the radio. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he had a job to do and he could not be persuaded to look the other way. The only tenuous part of walking in was that I had to pass within 200 feet of his vehicle, but if I ducked into a driveway and walked a short distance behind a stone wall and some shrubs, he could not see me unless he was really focusing on that one area—he never saw me, not even once.
There were a few times though that his intuition seemed like it told him that someone had avoided detection and was out there exploiting the land and water he was there to ‘protect’. His downfall was that he seemed to be afraid of the dark; he NEVER shut his ginormous flashlight off. The jittering beam would precede his arrival by as much as five minutes, like a freight train rounding a bend on a moonless night. It never occurred to him to look on any of the rocks out in the water, and I’m sure training his eyes on that glowing beam killed his night vision anyway, so he never made me—again, not even once.
One summer night I was in there, hitting all of my usual spots, slinging eels—near perfect conditions, I’d only have wished for more wave action. I was on a short boulder that jutted out from the gravel beach when I saw the beam, waving like a lightsaber, 20 feet over my head on the bluff. I wasn’t worried, but I moved to a lower spot to make the most of the height of the boulder behind me. He walked down from the bluff and looked around for 10 minutes, I kept casting while he stumbled and searched just 25 yards behind me. He climbed back up and disappeared. I moved down the beach, further from where his car was parked and resumed my nightly ritual.
The fishing was just not coming together, and Mr. Rent-A-Cop was really testing his training. He showed up again, right behind me… it was a dark—no moon—he didn’t see me. The lack of fish was bothering me, half of me wanted to leave but the other half wanted to take on the challenge of salvaging the night. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t risk walking back down the road because Chief Wiggam was on the prowl, so I decided to fish my way down the mile of shoreline that lead back to the field where I had parked.
It should come as no surprise that my decision yielded zero fish and zero hits. As I stood at the shore, making my final casts, I hoped that I had lined myself up in a way that would offer a direct route to the car. I climbed the steep embankment and saw that I was roughly in the right spot, but that a thick patch of bramble and briars separated the shoreline from the field. Looking left, I saw that there was a long section of mowed grass leading from the water to a large house up near the road.
I thought about the hour, it was very late. I thought about the walk back and having to ninja my way through the neighborhood to avoid the guard. I decided I would walk through the yard and hope for the best.
When I do something like this I often find myself locked into a cyclical inner monologue. I imagine what might happen if someone caught me and then I think about the best story I could tell that would diffuse the situation and disarm my accuser. I always settle on having lost my way and selling the desperation of being ‘lost’ and ‘in a panic’… worried wife… work the next day… you get the idea. The reason for repeating it over and over, I think, is to get the tone and inflection right, make myself believe it before I have to say it out loud.
So I was walking up this million dollar lawn, sometime after 1 a.m., muttering and refining my excuse as I went. The house was white, standing out stark against the shadowy darkness of the trees around it. As I approached, I noticed that the property line was pitching in, forcing me to walk closer and closer to this modest vacation home—it was summer with a light sea breeze, windows would most definitely be open. My stride modulated to half speed as I concentrated on placing each step. My main concern switched to being exposed by a motion-activated flood light, luckily they didn’t have one. As I tip-toed past the east wing of the sprawling estate, I was passing a set of tall windows when a light flicked on inside, my body went cold with dread as my eyes instinctively fixed on the figure inside. My synapses were firing at record speed, processing worry, readying an excuse, fighting the urge to run… but the rush of emotions fell dead in the height of the moment. My brain was short-circuited by the amount of flesh I was seeing. Here was a man, probably late-60’s. Bald on top with wild bed head gray hair wrapping the sides. His face wore the grimace of trying to stay mostly asleep—he was the opposite of alert. He was short and portly and moving slowly. He was also bare-ass! And I saw it all. Everything from his alarmingly dangly testicles to his scruffy—steel wool—chest hair. He turned and I instantly felt bad for his proctologist. “Should’a been a podiatrist..”
All of the drama leading up fell flat in a whispered, yet exasperated, muffled huff, “Jesus-fucking-Christ!” My new challenge was trying to get out of there before bursting out laughing. As I rounded the pillars at the top of the driveway, I knew I had made it. The cold chill of alertness was replaced by the seeping warmth of fatigue. I felt like I didn’t know what to do with that mental image; all I could do was laugh. I don’t remember what year that was, but we all have memories that never leave us; the birth of a child, big fish caught or lost, little league home runs, falling in love… and unfortunately, this man’s… everything, seems be stored on that same kind of encrypted memory. So thanks mystery millionaire, you don’t know it, but I own a part of you and I cannot—for the life of me—get rid of it.