The Story of Carl Beekman & Fish Sticks

This story is about a dude named Carl Beekman.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

He worked in an office for eight years, on the eighth floor. Outside of his building was a Circuit City that had gone out of business. Adjacent to the vacated box store was a movie theater and a highway opposite that. And in the middle of all this commerce was a little retention pond that the pollution filtered into. Mr. Beekman would venture down to a bench alongside the polluted pond on his lunch break every day. Day after day, year after year, he would eat the same cheese sandwich at the same time next to the stinky cesspool. The only thing that changed through the years was how polluted the swamp continued to get. Carl would even throw the plastic bag from his sandwich down into the rainbow colored water and it would be instantly lost among the tires and cups with oil and popcorn grease and battery acid and highway debris.                                                     

One day, he’s down eating lunch, and he notices this beautiful bird land in the center of the dirty, decaying, urban wetland lunch room and he draws a picture of it on his napkin. He’s fascinated by its plumage, its white crest, its magnificent beak. He takes the picture back up to his office and looks it up online to see if he can find out what type of bird it might be and he soon discovers that it was an endangered species. Somebody said it was one of the last White Hens, but I don’t know if that’s true. 

After looking it up online and finding out that it’s endangered, Carl thinks about that swamp and submits to the government for a Federally Protected Wetland Grant to restore the area for migratory birds. So after a couple of minutes on the phone with an agent, he gets the money, and quits his job, moves out of his apartment, goes down into the swamp and builds a little hut out of garbage and he lives in there for a year and a half and he helps clean it up and it starts flourishing. All the animals start procreating and the plants are growing and the water is beautiful. And then, when all the new breed of animals started showing up, the new generation of the swamp families didn’t quite know who this old guy was living in their new, fresh, clean pond. Carl could not connect with the younger animals. He felt dejected and left the swamp, used the remainder of the Federally Protected Wetland Grant and bought a 12-wheeled, land and water sport utility Duck. He angrily drove his Duck back to the swamp and he shot it up with a paintball gun and he threw a bunch of garbage into it and re-polluted the wetland.  His anger did not stop there.  He continued on in his Duck, to other retention ponds and polluted those, too!  And, he’s still out on the run doing it.  He’s really hard to catch because he drives that Duck, so the authorities get up to him-and [whoop!] he just takes the next tributary. You can look him up online.  They’re trying to catch him, following his trail of polluted ponds. Anyway...

Fish Sticks

Is there a sign on the back of my head 

that says desensitized? 


Well I’m sorry I said anything. 

You sang a song 

you then learned to sing 

and said that you missed the songs you sang 

before you learned anything. 


In a fishbowl on the beach, 

I know the salty water stings, 

but it’s not hard to see 

that from a bowl the world’s out of reach. 


I see my face in the lake at the end of a pier. 

All the fish seem to wonder what I’m doing here, 

when I hold my head under and hear them all scoff. 

I will then open up my mouth and let my mind jump off.


It says there’s a sign at the end of this swamp 

that says destruct, it’s fucked it’s done it’s just mud, 

no such dumb luck. 

Construct new huts, 

blind new kinds of ducks 

then make them occupy new titles 

like on the royal aisle, 

where they print up a phone book 

as thick as a bible. 


You were baptized in a river, 

I was thrown off a bridge. 

Then I landed on a crab you slept with seahorses. 

I started having seizures, you started having kids. 

You found your inner self, I found my inner fish. 


And my other car is a boat, it has a boat name. 

I was sure we both came, but no. 


No such conch, no pontoon, no one is listening to you. 

The sun does wonders to your brain the way it burns right through. 


I am swimming in a trough, 

I’m sure you’ve written me off by now 

but just when I think that all is lost,

I see you stepping in the water. 


To me every edge of the lake is a fifty foot cliff 

and once you are swimming with me there’s no way out of this. 


So let’s just turn back into amphibians. 

Let’s just tread until our legs give in. 


Let’s start over.

“Fish Sticks” appears on Chris Otepka’s 2010 album Goodness Gracious recorded as The Heligoats. The preceding story can be heard in many versions if you catch him while touring between his Chicago/Port Angeles, Wa. homes.