SI Vault
 
UP A LAZY RIVER
Paul O'Neil
September 03, 1956
Man would not be man if, somewhere in his heart, he was not a bum—if he did not nurse a recurring dream of indolence and irresponsibility, and did not yearn to stretch out on a tropic beach or under a western watering tank and let his whiskers grow and occasionally have a shot of something rousing from a bottle. It is a dream which has a way of growing stronger in summer, but in most strata of society a fellow just can't hustle off to hunt for Tom Sawyer's island, or for pearl oysters—he can't, indeed, even doze off on the courthouse steps at noon—without causing a raise of eyebrows and a wag of tongues. Fish, however, are a bum's best friend. Not the lusty salmon, nor the leaping trout, nor any fish which must be pursued, but the flounder and the catfish—fish which inhabit the tide flats and the back eddies of slow rivers, fish which may be lured to the bait from a recumbent position. Millions of men annually escape that constricting maze erected over the centuries by their women with no more equipment than is reflected in the still life at left. They escape in every country under the sun—the photograph was made by W. Eugene Smith in a Portuguese tidal inlet off the Gulf of Cadiz—and, though the red wine in the jug might be white mule, or cider, or muscatel or rye in other parts of the world, it is a picture which reflects a universal aspect of the masculine soul. A man need not row a weather-beaten boat such as this Portuguese fisherman's craft more than a dozen strokes to achieve Purpose and, hence, a suspect but unassailable license for bumhood. After that languid series of motions he is free to drop an anchor (a tin can full of cement), bait his hook, float his bobber upon the softly gurgling flood, pull out the cork, tilt his jug, lower his hat over his eyes and sink back into that comatose and reflective state in which man reaches true nobility of character. In the process, although the odds are against it, there is a chance that he might even catch a fish.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 03, 1956

Up A Lazy River

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Man would not be man if, somewhere in his heart, he was not a bum—if he did not nurse a recurring dream of indolence and irresponsibility, and did not yearn to stretch out on a tropic beach or under a western watering tank and let his whiskers grow and occasionally have a shot of something rousing from a bottle. It is a dream which has a way of growing stronger in summer, but in most strata of society a fellow just can't hustle off to hunt for Tom Sawyer's island, or for pearl oysters—he can't, indeed, even doze off on the courthouse steps at noon—without causing a raise of eyebrows and a wag of tongues. Fish, however, are a bum's best friend. Not the lusty salmon, nor the leaping trout, nor any fish which must be pursued, but the flounder and the catfish—fish which inhabit the tide flats and the back eddies of slow rivers, fish which may be lured to the bait from a recumbent position. Millions of men annually escape that constricting maze erected over the centuries by their women with no more equipment than is reflected in the still life at left. They escape in every country under the sun—the photograph was made by W. Eugene Smith in a Portuguese tidal inlet off the Gulf of Cadiz—and, though the red wine in the jug might be white mule, or cider, or muscatel or rye in other parts of the world, it is a picture which reflects a universal aspect of the masculine soul. A man need not row a weather-beaten boat such as this Portuguese fisherman's craft more than a dozen strokes to achieve Purpose and, hence, a suspect but unassailable license for bumhood. After that languid series of motions he is free to drop an anchor (a tin can full of cement), bait his hook, float his bobber upon the softly gurgling flood, pull out the cork, tilt his jug, lower his hat over his eyes and sink back into that comatose and reflective state in which man reaches true nobility of character. In the process, although the odds are against it, there is a chance that he might even catch a fish.

1