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Because I was spending the summer on Long Island, where the weakfish run, I bought a saltwater fishing rig at O'Neill's Tackle Shop, as I shall call it, in the Hamptons. O'Neill himself waited on me. He called my rod a "stick." The reel, he said, was guaranteed. "It's got gears," he told me, cracking it open like a walnut. "You want crap, I'll sell you Japanese."
"No crap, O'Neill," I said.
O'Neill closed one eye, held out the stick and examined it for bruises. "This is about as good a stick as you're going to get," he said, "for what you want to pay."
"What if I paid more?"
"Then you're talking custom sticks." O'Neill spat into an ashtray. "You're talking graphite. You're starting to approach elegance."
"Forget it," I said.
O'Neill wound the reel with 15-pound test line. He sold me some two-ounce weights, some lead-headed jigs and some purple plastic worms. "You'll need squid," he said, reaching into a small refrigerator and extracting packages. "Skimmer clams. Mussels." He paused for a moment, surveying the dead and semidead items on display. "Maybe you ought to have some real worms. You want real worms?"
"Whatever you say, O'Neill."
"Yeah, you better have real worms," he said, tipping back his baseball cap. He sold me a map that showed all the creeks, ponds, lakes, bays and ocean beaches in the vicinity. He sold me a spikelike rod holder to drive into the sand so I'd always have a hand free for drinking beer. He sold me a fishing license and a bumper sticker that read: SURFCASTERS DO IT IN THE DARK. Then he looked around the shop in a kind of panic. "How about a clam rake?"