The Mast-Head: One of Those Days

It had started in an ordinary enough way

Sunday was one of those days, you know, the kind that get people saying that’s why we live here.

It had started in an ordinary enough way. My friend Hammer and I had decided to go oystering. Hammer had even bought a new bottle of quality vinegar and shallots for mignonette in anticipation of watching the hapless Giants later accompanied by a dozen or so on the half-shell.

A year or two before on a similar cold-starting day, another friend and I had located a prodigious cache of oysters in a location easy to get to but out of other harvesters’ way. When we got to the landing, however, we noticed several trucks and trailers and then more trucks lining the shore across the water. People were scalloping, but why; we thought that opening day was still about 24 hours away.

Hammer got his nickname years ago, when he was working for a house builder here. Sometimes a man of few words, when we would ask how he was doing or what he had been up to, he would answer simply, “Hammer, hammer, hammer.”

There is something of a laconic tradition around here when discussing one's labors. Years ago, a sometime commercial fisherman used to reply, “Eel, bait, eel,” when asked the same thing. Story was that he eventually spray-painted the phrase on the side garage doors at Stuart’s Seafood in Amagansett. As payback, the boys took a payloader and buried his rusting, beige AMC Pacer, which never ran anyway, in a hole in the gravel-and-shell parking lot, or so the story went. Hammer and I were honestly baffled, thinking that scallop season in town water had been moved to Monday. It was Sunday. Could all of these people just have jumped the gun? We went to check it out. A Marine Patrol officer was checking for permits at the entrance to the beach like a club bouncer looking at IDs. We asked. The town trustees, he said, had decided to open the season a day early for noncommercial scalloping. Somehow, I had missed this. Not so, the dozens of people out in the harbor. Hammer and I stood around for a few minutes, then went and got our gear and joined them.

It was easy pickings. By the time we started, about midday, people were already staggering out of the water under the weight of full baskets. The sky was silver and the water was, too. In ones and twos, harvesters peering into their look-boxes slowly moved around in the waist-deep mercury water.

Hammer and I took only about as much as we each felt like opening. It was indeed one of those days.