Why the Fish?

About This Site:

Sidney Homan the Bard, by Mike Werkle

Sidney Homan the Bard, by Mike Werkle

I’d like to say that my son Danny pushed me into establishing this site. It’s partly true: he claimed that I was “out of the loop of life,” too much stuck in the 50s, needed to get modern. Still, I take final responsibility, although I do so with much embarrassment. After all, isn’t a site, whatever your official reasons, also an exercise in vanity, self-indulgence, little more than idiosyncratic PR? I feel like the German dictator in Mel Brook’s The Producers who, looking into the bathroom mirror, is reduced to saying, “Heil Myself.”
The site’s title comes from my book A Fish in the Moonlight: Growing Up in the Bone Marrow Unit, published in June, 2008 by the Purdue University Press, a collection of stories from my formative year in the 1940s and 50s that I told first to Danny and his brother David, and then to the children on the Bone Marrow Unit of my university’s Shands Teaching Hospital, in my role as Artist-in-Residence of the Arts in Medicine Program.

In the story that gives the collection its title, “A Fish in the Moonlight” I tell of the time three high-school buddies and I were swimming one midnight, quite illegally, in a lake that fronted a country club’s golf course, when the cops arrived. Three of us grabbed out clothes and raced to the far side, hiding there in the forest, but my pal Connie, a wonderfully crazy guy, lay in the water, half in, half out, a bright new moon shining on his pale skin, wearing nothing but his underwear. Here’s the relevant passage from the story:


By the time we made it to the opposite side of the lake we saw the two cops standing over Connie, looking down at him, the car’s lights blinking ominously in the background, the officers in silhouette, Connie’s white face and chest aglow in the moonlight.

“What the hell ya think you’re doing?”

The cop’s ominous question was met with silence.

“Just who the hell you think you are?

At last Connie spoke, a single, nonsensical line, but delivered with an eerie conviction. “I’m a fish, a fish in moonlight.”

“What?” the second cop said incredulously.

“A fish in moonlight.”

Both cops retreated to their car to discuss whatever it is cops discuss in that twilight period between the questioning and the arrest. A fish in moonlight? Was this a joke? Was he a madman? A poor unfortunate in the clutches of some piscatorial delusion? Could he be serious? Was he mocking their authority? Undergoing some self-inflicted humiliation? While the cops were debating, Connie waved to us on the other side of the lake, and then, leaving his clothes behind, began to creep away from the shore. When he was fifty feet from the cops, he broke into a full run, heading straight towards us.

We all managed to escape.


Then, over fifty years later, I got a call from Connie.  He was living in south Florida, had read the book.  He came up to Gainesville for the weekend, and one marvelous night, as we sat in the living room with my wife Norma, I read “A Fish in the Moonlight.”  And you may have guessed it already.  At that moment when the cop shouted out, “Who the hell do you think you are?” Connie, the real-life Connie, fifty years after the incident that gave rise to the story that led to the book, replied plaintively, “I’m a fish, a fish in the moonlight.”