The Utility Player, Chapter 3

Now the utility player is fishing for striped bass.

They are running out by the lighthouse.

So says the salty ship’s captain on the internet.

Locally, everyone agrees: the kid at the cash register where the up buys his surf rod and reel; the owner at the market where the clam bellies are in the bottom row of the freezer across from the household detergents; and every single person the up meets while running, trotting, and eventually staggering up the beach to his house, and beyond.

He overshoots his house despite keeping a keen-ish eye out for the pinstripe shirt he buttoned to the handrail of the staircase leading from sand to boardwalk. In a rookie blunder, he buttoned the shirt too high up and too close to the handrail, making it invisible from the shoreline. This is a definite whoopsie. Unable to tell one set of dune overpasses from the other, the up way overshoots his new street.

This is good in the sense that he is now a mile closer to the lighthouse, where the striped bass are running. It takes him a momentito to figure this out: the winning clue is that when he finally decides one of these weather-beaten wooden stairways must be his, he comes out on a walkway named Lighthouse.

That really is a solid clue. The up can add Sherlock to his long list of nicknames. Reinvigorated by the nearness of striped bass, he hustles on back to the beach and casts his first cast of the summer, even though it is still but a month into spring.

When I say he hustled, let’s understand that to mean staggered with a bit more sprightliness. He had been virtually running earlier, holding the two long pieces of his rod in either hand, pumping them like the coupling rods of a railroad engine. Oh yes, he was his own choo-choo train, chugging up alongside the water’s edge just like the steam locomotives skirting Walden Pond back in the late 1830’s.

Chugga-chugga, went the up, for a solid half an hour. He is trying to normalize running, as this is an activity he must often perform while playing baseball. Running the bases needs to become less of a do-it-yourself affirmation of the theory of relativity, wherein time slows down the faster the mf goes, even though he is going imperceptibly faster, and not what anyone would call fast at all.

Still, there is a different motion involved. He notices, for example, the swaying of his hips, not in an erotic sashay but rather like two sloshing Jell-O molds on either side of his waist. There is also energy pulsing from his knees in the form of mild pain. Furthermore, there is urgency.

The urgency is expressed by the up’s huffing and puffing, and what must be the look of concentration upon his face. His eyes look like two full moons, and he appears to have a thousand noses. Most impressive is the parallel slicing of his hands, fingers together, chop-chop-chopping, as though he is burrowing a tunnel through the air, perhaps channeling a wormhole of his own, as he hustles down the baseline.

You really have to give it up for the the up, even though his hustling is an average decent baserunner’s ambling. Hustling, ambling — it’s all good, though clearly it would be even better if the up lost the Jell-o molds. This is part of why he is running up the beach with a fishing rod in either hand.

Another part is, he’s just like that, the up. Why walk when you can run, or whatever it is you do that is closest to running-adjacent.

And as for the striped bass, they also have invisible qualities to their running. For example, the up does not see a single bass nor any other fish. He does see many a seabird, however — soaring, flitting, skittering, pondering — and that gives him hope for the morrow, when he wakes up just after dawn and runs the same drill again. Minus the running, though. Sometimes you gotta let it rest.

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