Fishing with Wilcox
After we moved to Texas, Wilcox who lived in the apartment underneath
us took me fishing. My dad had been dead six months from a car wreck,
and Texas is where we had family. Wilcox took me to the spillway and we
sat on the concrete ledge with our feet hanging off. We pulled up
catfish after catfish.
Wilcox worked a crane at the C&C Scrapyard in Balch Springs. I
liked Wilcox. He was bald, with big gray sideburns, like a young Martin
Van Buren. I was eight. My favorite book had large pictures of the U.S.
I would stare at them and think, That man was president.
When I asked about the scrapyard, Wilcox made his arm like a crane as
he explained what all he did, which was pretty boring even though it
involved a crane. His elbow poked up from his shoulder and his fingers
and thumb turned into a metal-grabbing claw. I stared at his hands
because he played guitar and had the most amazing calluses.
He saw me staring. He set aside his pole and held out his hand.
He said, "Here feel that."
I put my fingertips on his so their bellies rubbed.
"That's from practice," he said. "Hard work is the most important
lesson a boy can learn."
Earlier, he had been trying to teach me things.
The calluses reminded me of dinosaurs because dinosaurs had thick
callus-like skin. I liked imagining my whole body was made of callus. I
imagined that was what it must feel like to be a dinosaur. Dinosaurs and
U.S. presidents, these were the things my mom told people I liked after
she told them I did not play sports.
There was one downside to being a callus-skinned dinosaur: If I got a
callus, I'd pick it. It didn't hurt unless you went too far. I thought
it would be fun to pick Wilcox's calluses. I didn't understand how he
managed to control his natural instinct to pick. If I'd been a dinosaur,
I'd have been crazy.
Wilcox said he could teach me guitar if I wanted to learn. Fishing, he
said, wasn't that hard. Anybody could fish. He could come to my
apartment, and it wouldn't cost us anything. He was available for two
lessons a week. That would be fun, huh? I was supposed to tell my momma
about it, after we got home, but I didn't.
The next time we were coming back from grocery shopping, Wilcox was out
plucking his guitar on his front stoop.
He asked me, "Hey buddy, when we going to start lessons?"
My mom said, "Lessons for what?" She said it suspiciously.
I said, "Wilcox does guitar lessons."
My mom looked at Wilcox and said, "He's not learning guitar." The way
she said it was friendly but still like Wilcox was a new person we met
at church. "He's going to learn the piano for his college
Wilcox tilted his head and pooched his lips like he was
confused. We walked upstairs because we'd bought ice cream, and
it would melt if we stood there all day having conversations.
Here's what I knew: Scrapyard Crane Operator was the job for me.
We went fishing a few more times. The way me and Wilcox would do
fishing is we would glob biscuit dough on our hooks. Then we'd lower
our hooks in the water, and those catfish would smell that stuff and
come over to gobble it up. We'd pull them out of the water and smash
their brains on the concrete ledge. Then we tossed them in a paint
bucket full of ice.
That was fishing.
After the last time we went fishing, Wilcox walked me upstairs and said
he wanted to talk to my momma. I called my mother Mom because we were
yankees from New York State, but I didn't correct him.
She was folding laundry, and when she stepped out of the bedroom, she
gave a look like, may I help you?
"I was thinking I would fry these fish up for supper," Wilcox said. He
lifted the paint bucket with his shoulder, just a little, to indicate
My mom said, "I don't know about that."
It felt weird with Wilcox right there almost inside our apartment.
He said, "No better way to get to know each other than frying up some
He smiled big.
My mom said, "Maybe some other time. I'm very tired."
Mom didn't look tired to me, but I knew sometimes she could be tired in
the way that she just wanted some quiet. She would say she was tired
but not go to sleep. She would just turn off the TV and we'd listen to
the air conditioning. I would flip through one of my books. She would
say, isn't that peaceful? I would say, yes it is.
That night we didn't do that. We watched America's Funniest Home Videos.
On a commercial, I asked, "I thought you were tired?"
She said, "I was. I'm all right now."