Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

March 8th, 2003

On Becoming a Reprobate
By Roger Emile Stouff

It's true. I have wasted a perfectly good life.

Lots of people do it. I have seen them, or at least, heard about them. Some people waste a perfectly good life to drugs, alcohol, gambling, womanizing, manizing or obsession with television game shows.

Listen, a scant few years ago I was quite a decent fellow. I was respectable though no blueblood; I was relatively well-dressed and drove a bright red Mustang with a fast engine. I could talk about politics, entertainment, science, religion and even good cigars. In those days, I was pleasant company and smiled a lot, was known for my keen wit and good sense of humor, though I was not above the occasional tasteful but off-color joke now and then.

I was Mr. Responsibility. I took great pride in my work, whether in radio or newspaper. I was a great proponent of professionalism, journalistic ethics and Freedom of the Press. I was climbing the ladder of success.

But then I caught a fish again.

Now I unashamedly rip off ideas from other writers, such as this one from Mr. Dave Ames. We call it "inspiration from prior sources." But when someone like Dave points out something which rings so true, and I see so much of that truth in my own eyes when I look in the mirror, I figure I have already sunk to the lowest depths of despair anyway, so a little plagiarism can't make things any worse.

Sure, I was having a great time, advancing my career and position in the community. But then, after something like a decade, though it may be shorter or longer, I don't really remember anymore, I caught a fish again. At that point exactly, my life turned to decadence, futility and complete failure.

Nothing else really matters. The bright red Mustang is gone, replaced by a pickup truck for carrying my tackle and towing the boat. It's usually filthy with mud from backroad trips to ponds. I can sit and smile politely when talking about decent, polite things, but my conversation efforts usually fail quickly. I can get into about four exchanges with someone about the next election, the war in Iraq or Michael Jackson before the conversation digresses into:

"Which one of the presidential candidates is a fisherman?"

"Do they have bass in the Euphrates river?

"Is there a fishing pond in Neverland?"

I didn't wear hats, believing that hats promote baldness, a condition with which I am becoming acquainted quickly. I hated to be seen with messed-up hair. I was the same about my clothes. I had to have khaki slacks neatly pressed and spotless, my shirts immaculate.

But then I caught a fish again after a decade, more or less. Now I leave the pond and go to a city council meeting or a date with my girl at the waterin' hole with my hair matted into an inverted crater-like shape from my fedora; jeans which are hopelessly crumpled below the knees and slightly wet from wearing mud boots and wading a bit too deep, and shirts with cockleburs stuck to the back like a porcupine, as well as numerous fuzzy dimples from errant hooks getting caught in them and ripped out with a pair of pliers. These are usually my better clothes, such as they are, because I forget to change when I leave work and head out to the water. People often comment, "Does something smell fishy to you?" These are usually not political observations.

And do I care? Not one bit. I tell myself all such concerns are meaningless. Do the fish care how I dress or what my hairdo looks like? Of course not. Fish do not dress nor do they have hair, so the subject is lost on them. Why should I care what "people" think? I happily neglect all reason and obligation, merrily prance to the next fishing hole like a madcap sorcerer, wide-brimmed hat shading my face, fly rod waving in the air like a wizard's staff, tackle bag flopping at my side like a satchel full of medicinal concoctions and voodoo charms.

It's but one symptom of a good life going down the toilet for the pursuit of fish. The aforementioned lady friend has stated that it's probably a good thing that I don't have an addiction to more serious improprieties. Wasting my life to fishing is not, at least, immoral, illegal or unconstitutional. Unsociable, yes, perhaps downright ornery at times, but not imprisonable offenses, save perhaps to institutions for the fishingly insane.

I have learned to be jealous and possessive. Time was when I kept an open-door policy at home, even passed out my keys to a few close friends. I would share anything, good scotch, cigars, books, music, theatrical tickets, with good friends. Now I violently guard my best fishing spots with a determination similar to a badger guarding her nest of offspring. When someone I've known and trusted and been through life, death and other pitfalls with asks me, "Where'd you go fishing today?" I either launch into a fit of indignant rage and kick them out of the house or become moodily silent until they get the message of having worn out their welcome.

On the contrary, if someone tells me they have a good fishing spot, I pester them ceaselessly until they finally break down in exhausted tears and give me the longitude and latitude of the fishing hole in question, along with their own GPS unit to find it. Free from me at last with this divulgence, they pack up their families and move to Katmandu.

I practice diversion tactics. I regularly fish very well-seen, public spots which I know don't even hold minnows, just so everyone can see me on a certain date and time, then write a column about the monster bass I catch out of these places at said date and time. Confusion to the enemy, you see. When I am fishing one of my true honey holes, I park the truck eight miles away and, if I hear another vehicle approaching, immediately fall down and lay flat on the ground until it passes, even if I have a fish on the line. If I'm in the boat, I hide behind trees and fish through the branches, an exceedingly difficult task with a fly rod.

Fishing has turned me into a No. 1 First Class Grade A USDA-Inspected Reprobate, a hermit and a paranoid conspiracy theorist. I am convinced that anyone who is friendly with me is trying to steal my fly rods or find out where the big bass are. I am sure, in my dementia, that if someone offers some small act of kindness, they are only wondering what color Clouser minnows work best in April north of the levee in the basin on overcast days.

There are fears involved in all this. That one day I'll be homeless, having neglected paying the bills and have been evicted from home and sanctuary, to live in cardboard boxes behind the nearest tackle store, scrounging through the garbage bin not for food but discarded fishing flies, piecing together broken rods with duct tape. Baitcasting anglers sometimes come by in the dark of night and throw me Berkley Crappie Nibblets, always in pink.

Oh, I do come by it honest, though. My father was a fishing reprobate of magnanimous proportions. He worked long hours all week, and on weekends had to cut the grass before I was old enough.

Usually, the yard looked like someone had been cutting grass that wanted to go fishing instead. It's easy to spot a yard like that. There are thin ribbons of grass still standing between the paths of the lawn mower as it circled; the corners are cut so deep there's bare earth showing because the operator turned the lawnmower around the corner in fifth gear, on two wheels and at about twenty mph. Also, he generally leaves the lawnmower sitting right where the last cut is made, and the boat is gone. He also forgot to trim with the gas-powered line trimmer. This was the way my father cut grass, with an old second-hand Snapper Comet, blazing through the yard like a tornado, throwing grass clippings all over the place. Pray for your soul if you happened to leave anything in the yard that you might want back, because it was going to be shredded when he was done. I lost many a water pistol or sling shot that way. He'd zoom so close to mom's hydrangea bushes in the front of the house they'd bend over with the back draft and mom would faint where she was watching by the front window. Her marvelous, prized yellow day lilies suffered a worse fate, I can tell you. The yard was pretty, though, all speckled with shredded yellow petals leading to the boat shed, which was open and empty, and dad was gone to the lake.

I remember when I was first interested in growing a vegetable garden, and expressed this to my dad.

He grunted dismissingly and said, "The most important think you need to know about gardening, boy, is that when that garden needs tending, that's when the fish are biting." I gave up gardening not long afterward.

Yet I trudge on, a miscreant and a vagabond. Work and money are merely means to the end, that end being fishing. I eat only to have strength to raise the rod. I make conversation with other people simply because I do not wish to be trucked off to a padded room somewhere, deemed mentally unstable when found fishing in a lightning storm, and back home the yard has become a wild game preserve. ~ Roger

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