my view

Sitting at the counter, talking about fish

By NOAH KAMINSKY
Posted 12/9/20

I remember Pete & Kathy’s Luncheonette. The building is still there on Route 52, almost at the corner of 116 in Lake Huntington, NY. The paint is still that deep—beautiful barnyard …

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my view

Sitting at the counter, talking about fish

Posted

I remember Pete & Kathy’s Luncheonette. The building is still there on Route 52, almost at the corner of 116 in Lake Huntington, NY. The paint is still that deep—beautiful barnyard red.

I remember the runny eggs, the bacon grease, the little knick-knacks on the windowsill and the weekend edition morning papers. All of it was secondary to the small-talk or familiar conversation between the owners and their customers.

I didn’t really know anyone there, but they looked like fishermen. Pete must have been a fisherman himself. When he could spare a few minutes, he would refill coffee mugs, put the pot down on the counter behind him, and ask the guys at the counter if the fish were biting.

I wonder what happened to all those pictures of fish. An endless shelf, about a foot below ceiling height, ran around the luncheonette. On it were pictures of locals with their catch, and a small cruddy piece of paper tucked into each frame that noted the fish’s length and weight. Pete was in a few of them.

You can’t catch good-eatin’ fish in Lake Huntington anymore. There might be one mythically large catfish left, but as I said, you won’t catch her. The jet skis dump engine fluid and the algae blooms too frequently to sustain a healthy ecosystem. Usually, I see snakes slithering along the shoreline, catching surface mayflies and unsuspecting frogs, but this year, I didn’t see any snakes near our dock.

One morning, I overheard one of Pete & Kathy’s regulars tell his breakfast partner that motorized boats weren’t allowed on a lake as small as ours. I was surprised to learn that our state’s Department of Environmental Conservation regulated such things, and later found out from my dad that the man was referring to the jetskis. Back then, it was hard to look up laws on the internet.

For the rest of that weekend, and for many days afterward, I thought about the disgruntled fisherman and the ownership he expressed for our community. The luncheonette didn’t seem like the right location to affect change, or take action, but that was where he felt comfortable sharing his opinion. It was his forum.

Fish stocks are affected by numerous factors beyond just their annual yield. Whether our use is essential or recreational, shared resources require collective, inclusive input from all present stakeholders. If we want our grandchildren to experience the same awe and excitement in hooking a fish for the first time, and be there to share the joy with them, then we have to care for our freshwater resources. We have a responsibility to balance our self-interests.

I’m not sure why Pete & Kathy’s Luncheonette went out of business. Maybe they were both ready to retire. Maybe they couldn’t see how important their little forum was for the disgruntled fisherman, who joined them every Saturday morning—who needed more guidance for his cause. Did Pete and Kathy see that fewer fish meant fewer customers?

Like the fisherman, I have my small forum of friends and family where I feel comfortable sharing my opinion. Those spaces aren’t usually motivating forerunners to political action, but they are the spaces to grow support and build awareness. I voted in this year’s election because there are a lot of compelling issues I want solved in the years ahead.

You and I, we’re not friends or family. We don’t always agree, but that’s why we go to Pete & Kathy’s and sit at the counter. To eat some eggs, drink some coffee and hash it out.

Noah Kaminsky is a middle school science teacher and a youth sports coach. He donates his time more than his money.

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