The Economy

by DAVID BRUZINA

I couldn’t tell if the guy was Japanese or something else. Chinese maybe. We were below the dam on Strom Thurmond Lake. I had the legal max two hooks in the water baited with cut bait. It was hotter than monkey piss, and this guy had snuck up.

There I am fishing off the dock and waiting for the hydropower gates to open and the water to churn into white peaks and rapids and the thirty pound stripers and 80lb hybrid catfish to surge beneath the pier legs. This guy comes up with less English than anyone in this xenophobic region of nowheres has any right to have. He’s dressed in beige and communist sunglasses, and he veers discourteously towards my fishbucket to notice I’ve caught nothing but bait so far.

And then he wants to ask questions in oriental.

I’m being friendly and speaking slow. I explain I’ve only been to this spot twice and have yet to solve it and consistently pull in the big muscular pig-sized fish that I want. He’s tapping his smart phone and shows me a photo of glare on the tiny screen—The fuck?

And then I see: it’s two leg-length eels stretched on a weedy bank. And this guy’s gesturing downstream: best I understand he caught those eels ten kilometers that way. Cool, I tell him, You eat ’em?

I’ve had catfish and carp fixed Chinese style by an old coach —shit tons of garlic and leeks and red Szechuan pepper in the sauce. But I don’t know if this guy is eating them or not. If he’s bragging or asking or complaining. I reel in one line to show him my cut bait, but we’re not getting through. It’s frustrating. We share a noble purpose, the taking of fish by hook and line, which practice, cruel and mindless as it might seem in the abstract, binds human beings and fuses the chemical brain to the symbolic fabric on which we’re every one of us pills.

I recast my half bream and watch the line taut and slack as the bait drifts and hits bottom. I set the bail arm, reel in some slack and set the rod in its holder.

This guy is gone. I see him in the parking lot cranking a PT Cruiser in light blue.

There are universities an hour south of us. Atlanta is three hours that way. The local nuclear power plant could be hosting a foreign engineer. Two hours east, there’s a Bridgestone tire factory, aren’t they Japanese? This guy would be management, dress and manner, the way he walks, but this is boatless damdock fishing. There are better lakes and spots—ten thousand better fishing locations. This is bottom rung. It’s hot and slow. Discarded gar rot on the bank. The heat sounds like flies.

I can’t figure an easy story explaining why he’s around here trying to fish.

I wonder about his lovelife.

Or if his wife came from wherever with him and is stranded in some sandy and pine-shaded outpost here in god’s country flowing with vines and runnels and leaves—what’s her lovelife like?

What hobbies does she likely have in this lonely day of our lord?

DAVID BRUZINA currently teaches reading, writing and rhetoric in the English Department of the University of South Carolina Aiken. He enjoys cooking, fishing, hunting, arguing, and goofing around with dogs.