Wednesday, June 10, 2009
The Man with the Fish on His Foot
The last vestiges of the red tide had just about disappeared by the time we arrived at Boca Grande for our annual week at the beach. And while the breeze carried a tinge of acrid, fishy aroma, the shoreline was no longer the carpet of carcasses it had been just a couple of weeks earlier.
So I set out on an early morning walk just like I always do when I’m at the beach—barefoot. After all, to imprison feet in shoes while going on a beach walk is, to use a comparison oft applied to another, even-more-gratifying sensual experience, like wearing a raincoat in the shower. There’s something about that whole sand-between-the-toes thing that is essential to beachgoing.
I’d made it about a half mile when, flush with the vigor of an aging body finally beginning to warm up and deceived into thinking I was actually in shape, I thought: What the heck, why not jog for a while? I broke into a trot. It felt pretty good. My stride was long, my pace not bad. I figured I might have a future starring in those TV commercials where a middle-aged guy runs down a beach with a couple of golden retrievers bounding on either side, then arrives on the porch of his beach house as his wife pours him a big glass of lemonade and the voiceover talks about a prescription medicine that would put some bounce in his step and some lead in his pencil.
The next thing I knew there was a dagger in my right foot and I was tumbling onto the sand. I sat up. I reached for my foot. And there, stuck to it, was a catfish.
For the record, it was a Gafftopsail catfish, bagre marinus, most notable for its long curving dorsal fin, a dorsal fin with a barb like a fishhook, a dorsal fin now impaled just south of my big toe. The fish itself was a relatively recent arrival on shore and had washed up under some seaweed. But its freshness was of little solace.
The pain was fierce. I hollered. I cussed. I grabbed the fish and gave it a yank. It didn’t budge. It hurt even worse. I cussed some more. I yanked on the fish again. Nothing. Except excruciating, ungodly pain.
So I did the only thing I could do. I stood up and started gimping my way back to our condo, the catfish flapping against my sole. I felt like that guy in Carl Hiaasen’s Double Whammy, the one who is forced to walk around with a dead pit bull clamped onto his arm. These things happen in Florida.
And I am here to tell you that, should you ever feel lonely and want someone to talk to, then just attach a catfish to your foot. Or any other available body part. It is a real conversation starter. First, people’s mouths drop open. Then they start to say something, but, you know, what do you say to a man with a fish on his foot? Still, they try.
Said one woman, “Is that a shark?”
Said another: “Has this ever happened to you before?”
And one guy, a real smart aleck, actually said: “Hey, did you know there was a fish on your foot?”
Back at the condo, my devoted wife donned gloves and tried to separate me from my piscatorial companion. She yanked, she pulled. I yelled, I cussed. Finally, we found a hacksaw, cut the fish from its fin, and proceeded to the emergency clinic. Incisions were involved. I’ll spare you the details.
“Next time,” the doctor said, “wear shoes.”
No way. It’s still not worth it.