This summer Johnny becomes obsessed with the idea that his children must know the ocean, so even though he knows nothing about the ocean himself, he decides to take them deep-sea fishing on a rowboat at Canarsie.
He also believes that they should take little four-year-old Tilly along with them; he feels bad for Tilly because she has a mean brother named Gussie.
After a fun trolley ride, they find a man who rents boats. The man offers Johnny some liquor as an “eye opener,” so Johnny leaves the children outside and goes inside for the drink. He comes out with fishing poles and supplies, and helps the children get in the boat.
As he instructs them on the proper way to enter a boat, he pushes it away and jumps in, but ends up falling in the water.
When he comes up from under the water, he warns the kids not to laugh, and they don’t, but Francie is laughing hard on the inside. Johnny finally gets himself into the boat, and they are on their way. The horrified children watch Johnny put a worm on a hook and they start getting sunburned; after what feels like forever, they go ashore for lunch.
Johnny tells them to wait in the boat while he gets lunch. He comes back (drunk) soon after with hot dogs, pies, and sodas for them all. After lunch, they start to go back out to sea, but Johnny ends up rowing them in circles until he has blisters on his hands and the kids are sick. They head back to shore, where little Tilly falls in the water getting out of the boat. Johnny scoops her out of the water and comforts her.
He goes back to the place where they rented the boat, has more to drink, and buys some fish that they can take home. He doesn't tell the kids to lie, but it is clear to them that he wants Mama to think that he caught the fish.
They get in the trolley all disheveled, wet, and sunburned. Tilly vomits all over Johnny’s coat, which causes the other two kids to vomit too. Good times.
Johnny takes little Tilly home, and when her mother sees her, she goes nuts and screams at him. Katie is pissed at him, too—the kids are horribly sunburned, it will cost a dollar to clean his jacket and it will never be quite right again, and the fish he bought are rotten and have to be thrown out.
The kids go to bed feeling horrible from the burn and nausea, but still giggle thinking of Papa falling in the water.
Johnny sits at the kitchen window and wonders why things didn't go as he expected. Things always work out well in the songs he sings about the sea. The children were supposed to come home with a deep love of the sea and tons of fish, and he feels like the songs betrayed him.