Last night I couldn't, once again, sleep. Rather than waste my time tossing and turning, I opted to get dressed and go for a long walk with Whiskey, my 19 month old golden retriever.
Since I happened upon the Tempus Fugit about a year and a half ago, I have curtailed my long night walks, preferring the ambiance of the age-old speakeasy. But last night, as the temperature dropped into the thirties and a light wet snow began to fall, it seemed like a perfect night to head to the river to see what I could see.
We headed east one block to the water and headed uptown. Before long we were at the wide expanse of waters called the Hell Gate, the confluence of the Long Island Sound, the Harlem River and the sweep of the tides from the estuary we call the East River. The water roiled with the crush. You could fairly hear it over the hum of the sparse traffic on the FDR Drive.
I met a Puerto Rican man smoking bent cigarettes and sitting on an overturned plastic bucket by the wrought iron fence that separates the walk along the river from the river. He had two rods in the water fastened to the fence with frayed bungee cords. I leaned on the fence in just a minute and without any introductions, he began.
"Last night," he said looking at the water and not me, "last night I saw 'El Cangrejo grande.'"
"El Cangrejo grande?"
"The great crab that rules these waters."
"I thought it was PCBs and swimming rats that held sway," I said.
"Cinico," he spat. "El Cangrejo has been here for many anos."
"I've been coming here since I was a teenager, I have never heard of him," I said.
"He is 200 pounds and he speaks."
A tugboat pushing a giant barge chugged by going downriver. It was taking sludge 12-miles out to dump into the sea. We paused and thought of the warmth in the cab of the tug. They had, probably, brandy in there. We could use some tonight; it was cold. Nothing makes you as cold as seeing people who are warm, I thought.
"Last night I was here. Two strippers I caught. Two nice strippers, beautiful strong fish with clear eyes."
"I'm surprised they are running this time of year," I commented.
"I decided to try for one more. One for me. One for mi madre. And I wanted one for my brother who lives downstairs from me. So I decided to try for one more."
He checked his current lines, they were slack. Nothing was biting tonight. I've spent many hours along the water and I've seldom seen anything caught.
"El Cangrejo came right up the the surface after about an hour."
"He was big?" I asked.
"His head is the side of a basketball. He said to me in the Queen's English a simple word. 'Home,' he said."
"I shook my head 'no.'"
"There are no more fish tonight," he said. "Go home to your fitted sheets and space heater."
I laughed thinking about my own fitted sheets.
"El Cangrejo grabbed the fence in his claws and spread apart the bars. He reached into my bucket and grabbed the two strippers who were barely still alive. He released them back into the murk.
"'Captura y liberacion' El Cangrejo said. Catch and release."
I looked around the area. There was no sign that my Puerto Rican had been smoking dope or drinking from small easy to conceal bottles.
"It is time I go," I said. I did not want Whiskey coming claw to paw with El Cangrejo. "Buenos noches," I said, leaving off the sibilance in Spanglish fashion.
"Buenos noches," he said. "El Cangrejo es dios."
Whiskey and I walked carefully home.