Years ago I was walking the streets of New York City with my youngest sister, when she said “Let’s have fish for dinner.”

I was in my early thirties. She was 15 years my junior and had come in from the suburbs where we both grew up.

“Sounds good,” I said.

I grabbed her hand and we began to weave our way south toward Chinatown and Canal Street where the fish market spilled from the shops directly into the street. It was nearing twilight. When we arrived, the streets and sidewalks in front of the shops were slick with a day’s worth of fish guts and blood that had been dumped out of the doors. You had to steady yourself and walk in little steps, or you’d slide to the pavement.

The smell of fish was so strong it burned the eyes. You felt the thickness of it in your throat and deep in your lungs. It was like low-tide-meets-a-sewer, then pumped through an oily vent where the oxygen had been extracted.

My sister and I went into one of the bigger shops and I saw a look of horror spread across her face.

Under florescent lights, Chinese men in white butcher’s coats splattered with blood hacked, sawed, sliced, and gutted every kind of fish known to man. Blue-white light bounced off the cleavers and knife blades.

As you looked about you saw salmon, scrod, bass, snapper, cod, carp, marlin, shark, catfish, grouper, barracuda, clams, mussels, tuna, squid, octopus . . .

Many of the fish were still alive, gasping and staring at you. And then they were not.

Plastic garbage pails were filled with purple and brown clots of just eviscerated fish innards.

“Let’s go,” my sister said.

“But we have to get a fish,” I said.

She was turning green.

On a table in front of us were fish with mouths agape, bulging eyes, fins slapping, their bodies kicking and contorting. They were stacked in plastic containers that had inches of water in them, or they were stretched over deathbeds of ice.

On the floor at our feet were buckets full of live frogs. Other buckets held live crabs. Others had snails, turtles and eels. In one there was something that looked like the bloody stubs of alligator paws.

Every inch of the place had something squirming, clawing, pulsing, bulging, bleeding or gasping. Every inch had something alive soon to be dead, or something dead that had just been alive. Blood sluiced off the steel tables and into the drains on the floor.

If these creatures could scream, the sound would have been deafening.

I was about to buy some crabs and a few red snapper, when my sister yanked my arm and said. “I’m going to get sick; I have to get out of here.”

She jerked me to the street.

So, without buying anything we walked out, and then quickly away from Chinatown. When the color was back in her cheeks, I said, “So, what about dinner?”

“I still want fish,” she said. “Let’s just go to a grocery store.”


“Can’t we just get normal fish?” she said.

A few minutes later, we were in a clean, well-lit, well-merchandised Gristede’s grocery store. My sister walked over to the fish section and selected two frozen filets of flounder. We went back to my apartment and cooked them.

Between the idea and the reality falls the slaughterhouse: For thine is the kingdom.

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About the Author

John Rexer, the founder and editor of La Cuadra Magazine, expatriated himself from Los Estados about 12 years ago because he couldn't stand seeing his city, New York, lobotomized by the metastasizing sameness of WalMart America and didn't have a pillow large enough to Chief Bromden the place out of it's misery. After knocking around Mexico for a while he landed in Antigua, Guatemala - broke but certain about the decision to stay out of the States. Without much of a backup plan he opened Café No Sé (with a rusty credit card) on a residential street, in this sleepy, third-world, colonial town with the intention of creating the best bar in the known universe. For those of you who've been through Antigua, you know he succeeded. Primary mission accomplished, a few years later John started "creatively transporting" mezcal from Oaxaca into Guatemala with the intention of creating a multi-national company that would deliver the finest agave spirits to the citizenry of the world. That company, Ilegal Mezcal, is currently selling its booze around the globe. La Cuadra Magazine, an idea hatched a decade ago in a booze fueled bitch session with current Editor-in-Chief, Mike Tallon, is actually just the first step in larger plan to develop a publishing company that will create a genius literary movement in this new century in much the same way that Ferlinghetti's City Lights project launched the Beat Movement of the 1950s. Writ short, his aspirations are as big as his liver. Or, as Mike has noted on a number of occasions, John Rexer puts the "messy" back in "Messianic."