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
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