The year after we met, Patricia, who became my wife, and I, moved onto the second floor of a Victorian manor in North Plainfield, New Jersey. That winter of 1993-1994 was the coldest on record. We paid through the 12-foot ceilings for heating.
I read in The Fisherman about ice fishing on Round Valley Reservoir, but never joined in. During a move that August to Chester, New Jersey, I came close to throwing out my tip-ups. I had trout fished that spring, but compared to previous life as a commercial clammer, I was not connected to the land and water, and I almost tossed aside something essential to me.
Once established in Chester, I went through dozens of jobs before I began waiting tables for Larison's Turkey Farm. Patricia called the restaurant "Turkey Central." We married in 1997 shortly before I began working there. Larison's had been a landmark for six or seven decades. I think it is that long. I once sat down to dinner with Mr. Larison and a couple of others. He was 97, but the place went out of business just after I quit in 1999.
I felt like Benjamin Franklin stepped out of existence.
The bald eagle became the national symbol, not the wild turkey that Franklin suggested, but the wild turkey is one whacky bird that symbolizes the Great Thanksgiving Feast of Friends, the social cluster jam that can incentivize capitalism from the ground up, not from the high venture command that levels the field for everyone but vultures. The crowds were steady at Larison's and the work reliable. Fun too, that place was a riot.
But before I began working at Larison's, during January 1997, I ice fished Little Swartswood Lake with a friend's son. The friend had also shellfished with me behind Long Beach Island. My passion for ice fishing surged. All these years later, I remember this with crisp focus.
The next weekend I began ice fishing Budd Lake. For three winters, most of my fishing was solitary, and the best I remember of these outings was a frigid, 15-degree afternoon when I encountered a loneliness that would have been unbelievable to me growing up.
I not only faced it without depression, I relished it as the very essence distilled of my struggling life. It took a few seasons before I felt this at its best, and the vibrant social scene at Larison's didn't cheat the experience. I had worked hundreds of jobs since I began taking them in 1987, along with shellfishing sporadically until 1993. Most of them temping, I had a dozen agencies, so all told, I'd say I worked close to 300 jobs in about a decade. I was conscientiousness and a hard worker, if I could be. Sometimes I was so self-divided hard work wasn't possible, yet conscience remained.
In essence, I'm a writer, not a workin' man. Clearly at odds with the expected, I'm nevertheless the most persistent man I've known. Besides, on that issue of work, I've never met anyone else who has worked as many different jobs. After that decade--I was ice fishing Budd Lake with a friend by this time--I found a job I could accept long term and stayed with it for 13 years. But I've had the goal of success as a writer from the age of 16. Nothing has stopped me.
Budd Lake could have been the moon. It was beautiful. I can't tell you how precious physical light really is. And ice stepped on. I was like an astronaut from a spacecraft I not only manned alone, but built alone. The spacecraft of my unknown life, which I know well enough to have done it successfully.
Me in 1997