It was damp in New York last night, or at least in my little slice of it. The rain, or sleet, or frozen slurry hadn't yet begun, but you could feel the wet and the lethargy in your bones. The Chinese and Puerto Rican delivery men wielded their beaten bikes with their usual bravado, but they were sheathed in bright orange plastic, or black Hefty garbage bags with openings they tore for their head and arms. They outpaced cabs and swerved past pedestrians. They alone are impervious to the weather.
Whiskey was tired still from the weekend. We had traveled to the suburbs with her and found a foggy beach in Rye. She cavorted in the sand and Sound with a dozen other dogs and had come home, well, dog tired.
Though she didn't have her usual bounce, she didn't register even the slightest objection when at 2:17 this morning I slipped on her leash and led her out into the cold.
We walked, as we usually do north, uptown. Where the people are poorer and darker, and I've found through the years, more prone to having a conversation with a stranger and his dog in the early hours of the morning.
Around 104th Street on the East River Esplanade, the river bends and widens. This is mid-Hells Gate, but away from the roil where the Sound collides with the incoming tide. The water last night was glassy. The surface being broken only by the bait of a single Puerto Rican fisherman trying his luck alone.
"Buenos noches," I offered, dropping my esses so I sounded like I speak Spanish better than I do. He greeted me back in Spanish and then began in English.
"I come here every night," he began. "I have seen you and your dog many times before."
"We're out here a lot. I have an issue with insomnia and this is what I do to combat it."
"I too, have insomnia," the old man continued. "Or I used to. Now I fish because I must."
There was a long pause after the word must. I've learned that pauses are precious in these conversations and it's better to wait them out than to try to fill them.
After a minute or two and two or three spits into the water, he continued.
"A fish, I have not caught in 73 days. I must keep coming and fishing until I find my luck."
"There can't be much running now. It's deepest winter."
"It does not matter," he said "A fish I must again catch. That is why every night I am here."
Every four minutes or so, with the metronomic precision of a Beethoven etude he would wind in his line and cast it out again. His bait remained where he had hooked it. He was not even getting nibbles.
"73 days." He said again.
Whiskey and I stayed with him for most of one of those days.
I got home just in time to shower and get to work.