“Subject possessed many idealistic and unrealistic expectations of others causing him to be especially sensitive to their deficiencies, particularly deficiencies and contradictions in the functioning of authority figures. Subject’s logically coherent, hypercritical attitudes toward authority appear to serve as a justification in his mind for aberrant behavior and attitudes of ‘righteous indignation.’”
W. Roy Evans
Minnesota Department of Corrections, February 7, 1967
One of our favorite Earl Fish stories was when he picked up a job hitting a bank. He didn’t like hitting banks. Stores with safes were better, easier. Banks had security systems, silent alarms and, of course, their safes were harder to blow up. But he took it because, as Willie Sutton once said, “That’s where the money is.”
He said that the job was a shitshow from the start. He probably should have worked with professionals, but by the time he figured that out, they were already on the second floor of the bank and he was getting ready to blow the safe. That’s when he heard the sirens, and a few seconds later the sound of police officers charging up the stairs. As he tells it, he looked across the room and out the large window at the front of the building and thought, “There’s no way I’m getting locked up again. They can shoot me if they want.”
With that, he charged across the floor and launched himself, slightly crouched, arms crossed in front of his face to prevent losing an eye to the shards of glass that would be flying and prepared to land with a roll in the middle of the street and then just start running. But, of course, stuff like that only happens in the movies. For Earl, as he admits now he should have figured, the window was both bulletproof and made of Plexiglas. He hit it and bounced straight back onto his ass on the bank’s cold granite floor, was taken into custody and began his second trip into the joint.
If you’ve lived properly, then by the time you’re middle-aged, you should know at least one real outlaw well enough to call him a brother. Outlaws aren’t crooks or confidence men. Or, maybe better said, not all crooks or con men are true outlaws. An outlaw is preternaturally badass. He doesn’t aim to hurt people, ever. He breaks rules and fucks with the powers that be, but it’s done out of a sense of rebellion against the boredom of what can be a very conformist world. We’ve known a few outlaws over our years, but none is as solid a soldier against the mundane as our friend Earl Fish.
In the end, an outlaw gets it, too. At some point they age out of the need for the rush and danger of high-risk, low-value propositions like cracking safes or robbing banks. Earl finally figured that out after getting caught for the second time breaking out of lockup and getting more years tagged onto his sentence. Eventually, he did his time like a man, focused his energies, started a prison magazine and when he got out, spent years fighting for prisoners’ rights. Still, he never learned to cotton to foolish rules and the arbitrary bullshit of “authority,” crafting a life back home in Minnesota with the prisoners’ union, as a dean of all things mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico, and even a couple stints down here in Guatemala bouncing at Café No Sé. But the reality of an existence uncompromising in both love and lust for life, is that living by your own rules often has a really shitty pension plan.
And now Earl needs a bit of help from folks like us, who may not have colored outside the lines with as much grace and beauty as our brother, but dig the hell out of that kind of spirit, nonetheless.
See, Earl, aka Popeye, aka WUOF (Wrinkled-Up, Old Fuck), the man with the map of Oaxaca written in the smiling wrinkles of his mirthful mug, needs some help with mounting medical bills. Earl had his leg amputated in Oaxaca about a month ago, due to blood clots, and though losing one leg will barely keep him down (we’d still have him as primary back-up in a barroom brawl any day of the week), the cost of recovery is threatening to swamp him.
We ask you, with all the sincerity and humility of which we’re capable, to pitch in and help us help a brother out. Ilegal Mezcal, Café No Sé and La Cuadra Magazine have set up a website with T-shirts and bags on sale where all the proceeds will be directed to Earl. We expect that he’ll spend most of it covering the costs of rehab and hospitalization charges, but also fully endorse any choice he might make to redirect some of those funds to the purchase of agave-distilled booze. The shirts and bags are each printed with a photo of Earl, and either a quote from his 1967 Prison Psychiatric Report or the report in its entirety. If you want to read the whole report, see page 29 of this magazine. If you’re the kind of folks we think you are, then you might see a few lines in there that describe you pretty well, too. We saw more there than we’d have originally expected, and more than enough to feel some pride at sharing at least that much spirit with our brother Earl.
Please visit the website and buy something, or just drop some jack in the kitty. We’d hate to see Earl have to turn back to his previous career to handle this situation. Kinda.
JPR / MJT