‘Linwood on 40 Years of Gutting Fish’ by Danny Harris

Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. He launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. You can follow People’s District on Twitter @PeoplesDistrict, and can read his previous columns here.

“In 1971, I done had it with the south and moved up here. What with the racism and the lack of jobs, I needed some change. Up here, people be talking about how Washington is the south. Man, please, this place ain’t the real south. May have some little southern pieces, but this ain’t no southern town. Up here, we’s in the northern world. You best trust me because I be knowing these things. I may look young and handsome, but I am older than you think.

“When I left North Carolina, I knew some people here and they helped me to find a little place and some work. My first job was washing hospital clothes at a place on New York Avenue. After that, I was a roofer. Then, about 40 years ago, a friend who was working at the fish market on Florida Avenue NE told me to come and cut fish with him. See, I didn’t know nothing about cutting no fish at the time. He told me it was easy and I could learn real quick. So, I trusted him and went to cut fish all day.

“I guess I liked it because I have been doing it for 40 years. And after 40 years, I have probably cut off more fish heads and scaled and gutted more fish than anyone you will ever meet. I have seen a lot of great people come through here and have cut fish for some of this city’s greats.

“I came over to the fish market in SW about 35 years ago. I done seen the market and fish change a lot. When I first came here, seafood was real inexpensive. People used to think it was real low class to eat fish. You would see that fish like swordfish and tuna were sold for almost nothing. There used to be a place in Alexandria where we would send the fish we couldn’t sell and they would make cat food. Ain’t it crazy how things change. Next minute, you got someone saying that them fish are all fancy and expensive and now they sell the stuff for all kinds of money. Man, we couldn’t pay people to take it back then.

“The price don’t make much matter to me though, as I just cut them fish. I make sure that my knife is always nice and sharp and I cut them fish right. When I get home, I take me a good bath with some soap and clean off all of that fish and smell. That way, people still want to talk to me after gutting fish all day.”

18 Comment

  • Right on. I keep telling people D.C. isn’t no damn southern city….

  • He’s got some great one-liners.

  • southern efficiency. northern charm.

    -wise man.

  • what a great character.

  • bfinpetworth

    I love going down to the fish market and having the guys clean the fish for me. They do it dirt cheap, so I assume they are not being paid very well – thus I always tip them about 200%. Still a bargain – Prices are great down there and if you get to know the guys selling the fish, they will set you up with their freshest catch. MUCH cheaper way to go than Whole Foods and other similar high-end shops.

  • I think it depends on where you come from. If you come up here from the North it feels distinctly more Southern (especially NoVA), and vice versa for those coming from the South.

    • yes, it’s all a matter of perspective. I mean, from the 9th Circle of Hell, the 8th Circle is “up”. DC is about as southern as Orlando. It’s not about geography, it’s about culture.

      • Agreed– it’s cultural not geographic. I was thinking about how the racism and homophobia in DC, and especially NoVA, is more in line with what you’d encounter in the South.

        • Sadly, I have to agree with you there…. although, I might argue racism and homophobia are alive and thriving in the north, just not as out in the open as down south. Fortunately, I’m from one of those pockets of southern tolerance (New Orleans) that feels immune to all that BS.

  • Also, I’m glad to see Danny Harris do a piece on someone at the Maine Ave fish market. Those guys are always so upbeat, which is remarkable considering how messy and smelly their jobs are. We could all learn a lot from them!

    • also nice to see a Danny Harris piece was is just a nice profile of an interesting character, rather than something gratuitously controversial designed to get us all pissed off and ‘yelling’ at each other!

  • The only thing that makes DC less Southern and genteel are the gobs of northerners and others who have transplanted here over the last few decades. The true DC area folks are still as polite and friendly as ever- we just have more uptight overworked lawyers here now, who aren’t from around these parts. We’ve been “diluted” if you will. However, you guys have made us more “hip” and “trendy” and acted as the vanguard of urban revitalization.

    • “the true DC area folks are still as polite and friendly as ever”

      The really depends on the generation.

      I’m was born and raised in this area and for the most part, not that friendly or polite. I’m more to myself and have a “whatchu lookin at” type of attitude. Don’t really like small talk either. I never could fit in with “the south”. Just can’t, I have zero southern hospitality… MAybe thats just me, maybe its not. Theres a lot of other people my age (Teenagers, 20-somethings) that are the same way. Maybe its because we grew up in the different era of D.C. where all that southerness wasn’t around anymore.

      Maybe older native (40+) are nicer. Maybe it depends on where in the area your from, how you was raised, maybe even race.

  • Did he really say, “we’s in the northern world.”? I call BS. People don’t talk like that anymore, LOL.

    Much of my family is from DC, few of them are polite in the stereotypical southern way. Besides my grandmother.

  • Why does this man get to be the arbiter of defining “what is Southern and what isn’t?” Is North Cackalacky the one and only South? Does he consider Texas the South? Or Kentucky? I guess everyone in the South is supposed to sound like Scarlett O’Hara, wear hoop skirts, and own a plantation… such simple-minded thinking.

    The Mason-Dixon line has worked just fine since the 1760’s separating North from South (and keeping those thieving Quakers from trying to steal more Maryland land).

    • Who made you the arbiter on who gets to give an opinion?
      as far as I’m concerned, this guy has as much right to an opinion on the subject as you or I do. Feel free to disagree. That’s YOUR opinion. He’s giving his. Nobody (especially not him) said he was the Decider.

      the M-D line is an arbitrary line based on geography, not culture… or at least not culture as it is today. Maybe DC was much more southern in 1860, I dunno. At any rate, it’s meaningless as a distinguishing border between ‘north’ and ‘south’.

  • Another cool story Danny. Love your stuff.

  • Great profile about an interesting individual – but extra chuckles for all the nutty comments! Though sometimes I just long for a “day off” on this site. . .

Comments are closed.