Editor's note: This is part 2 of a 3-part story. You can find part 1 here.
When we got there, it was a beautiful little pond. Maybe 50 yards by 30 yards, but manicured right down to the last cattail and water lily. We walked up and stared at it for a moment, nobody saying anything, until suddenly there was a big splash. My rod was already rigged with a big popper, and I marked the splash by sound and looking at the ripples in the moonlight.
“Okay guys, this is a little different than the river. So what I’ll do is this, I’ll cast it out there, and then I’ll hand the rod to one of you, and then you strip it in, and we’ll keep doing that until you get a fish, and then we trade. If anybody comes, you drop the rod and run. We’ll meet back at the car. Good?” Nods all around. “Okay, who’s first?”
There wasn’t even a moment’s hesitation, Paulie and Darryl pushed Louie forward. I made a nice long cast out into the pond to a few oohs and ahhs and realized they had never actually seen a cast before. The fly landed with a satisfying “plop!” (something nobody said ever about a trout fly) and I handed the rod over, showing him how to strip without actually doing it, lest I hook a fish by mistake. “Go like this,” I said, “and if you hear a splash, lift the tip of the rod up? Got it?” In the dark I could see his big eyes and serious face as he nodded.
Strip. Strip. Strip. Splash! Louie jerked the rod up and probably would’ve fallen over in his excitement, except the fish had inhaled the fly. As it was, he was slipping around on the wet grass, and all of the kids were hooting and hollering while I was going “Shhhhh! Shhhhh!” We were all giving him advice, even though the other two had never caught an actual non-crappie fish before. All pretense of stealth was forgotten. I skidded down the bank in the dark and showed him how to keep tension on and let the fish take line and then take it up. I thanked my foresight for using 2x tippet as we basically manhandled the beast to shore. After what seemed like half an hour, but I’m sure was more like five minutes, I waded in and held up a stellar 3 lb. largemouth bass, the work of some diligent bucket biologist. The kids crowded around me and I showed them all how to hold it. They touched it in reverence. Finally, I took my forceps and released the poor abused beast.
That first fish took the edge off. I made a few more casts as Darryl took the rod. We started moving counterclockwise around the pond and finally had a hookup right near the weed bed against our side. This fish was even bigger than the first, although the fight was pretty much the same hoot-and-holler-rope-and-wrangle.
Paulie had been watching all of this and he decided that he wanted to try casting. Since we were doing as well near as far, I explained it in the fewest possible words and motions. He tried a few which resulted in some splashing and a wind knot.
“I suck at this!”
“Well, learning to cast a bass bug in the dark is not exactly the recommended procedure,” I said as I cut out and retied the knot in the dark. “Want to try again?”
His mouth was set in a line of grim determination as he held out his hand for the rod. When I heard the whipsnap of a broken off fly, I merely suggested we switch up flies for luck, then took the rod and tied on a mouse pattern. This one crashed down on the edge of the lily pads, and before he could rip it off the water to recast, I reached over and put my hand on his forearm.
“Twitch it.” I shook my hand in explanation. He did as I said and although we couldn’t see the fly the hand motion looked reasonable. “Okay now twist it back like this,” and I mimed a slow retrieve, winding the line in my fingers. “Slowly.” I didn’t realize how quiet we were until I realized I was holding my breath and I could hear the crickets chirp. “You are doing great,” I said, more to break the tension than anything.
At that moment, the line went straight with a zizzing sound as something grabbed it. I thought he might drop the rod, but I underestimated him. He played that fish as cooly, probably more cooly, than I would. This kid had stones. Unlike the other two fish, everybody watched this battle in silence. Only occasionally did I say, “Give it some line” or “Reel, reel, reel.” All we could see was where the line met the water, but it moved back and forth in front of us like the ball in a tennis match. Finally, in a beam of moonlight, the fish made a leap and a splash.
“That’s a pickerel!” If only all bucket brigadiers were as successful as this one had been. Now, I was really on edge. I wanted this kid to land this fish more than any fish I’d ever caught. I tempered my excitement with patience, because there was no wire leader, but after a good five minutes, I waded in and was holding a 24″ pickerel. Not a monster, just a hammer handle pickerel, but a monster first fish. The kids erupted into hooting, hollering, dancing, and back slapping. Just then, lights flashed on and we heard a bullhorn voice, “Freeze!”
Well, damned if that was happening. The kids took off like tadpoles into the dark. I wrenched the fly out, and got a nasty cut from the pickerel’s teeth, then I waded ashore. “Stop!” The light zoomed this way and that, trying to cover us all, and then I knew it was only one person. I heard the whir of an electric motor and headed around the pond away from the light. The driver broke off from chasing the kids and circled the pond with me. As soon as I was out of view, I laid flat in the Ikibanaesque cattails and let him motor by me in his golf cart. Then I got up and sprinted towards the road. I hit the fence like a blind coyote, tumbling over it almost before I processed it. Then I ran down the road towards the car to the fading encouragement of our pursuer. “Goddamn kids! I called the cops!”
The kids had beat me handily to the car, partly because they were kids and took the shorter route, partly because somewhere between the fence and the car I started laughing and couldn’t stop. I could see the the fear in their eyes when I showed up, but my laughter was contagious. We all bailed into the car and blasted down the boundary road, me covered in mud and algae, them excitedly reliving the exploits over and over again.
“Dude, you caught a freaking pickerel on a mouse pattern in a golf course pond. Do you know how sick that is?” I looked over at Paulie. “It’s like, it’s like, it’s like catching a steelhead in an Olympic pool, that’s how cool that is!” So sue, me. Memories are sewn from hyperbole, and I wanted this one to grow big. I turned to the back seat. “You guys killed it, just killed it. I hate to disappoint you, but you will fish for a long time before you catch fish like that again.”
“Until we go back,” said Darryl, grinning ear-to-ear.
“Shhhhhh!” I said, and we all burst out laughing all over again.
I dropped them off around midnight. When they were getting out of the car I had an impulse. I got out and went around to the trunk. “Hey, you guys, you are the Three Musketeers, I want you to have something.” I handed them my old yellow seven and a half foot Eagle Claw that we’d been fishing with. It was a glass rod I got from my ex’s dad when he died. I taught myself to fish on it and the Medalist and old dry line on it were probably the same as had come on it when he got it from some department store as a combo spin/cast kit. I had other rods, but this one was the one with all of the memories, and for some reason none of my high-modulus modern rods ever came to mind when I was chasing the brown water dogs. But just then, I knew it was time to pass it on.
Paulie took it, holding it in front of him with both hands like it was a crown on a pillow. “For all of us?”
“For all of you. You earned it tonight. I wish I had one for each of you.” With that, I shut the trunk, waved and drove off. They were still huddled on the curb when I turned the corner.
I got busy doing nothing for a while. I literally cannot remember the next few days. The next time I saw them was at the creek. Louie was holding the rod high, while Darryl and Paulie were wading in the water trying to unhook it from an old bed spring. They were straining and pulling, trying to jerk the rusted ball of wire out of the mud.
“That seems like a lot of work for one fly.”
“We hooked this damned thing so many times, we just decided to take it out,” said Darryl as he tugged away. I didn’t really think about it, I just waded in. I could see it wouldn’t come out without removing a veritable beaver dam worth of twigs, branches, and the leaves they had caught. I began yanking them out and tossing them ashore. In less time than I thought, I had moved a lot of it out, and the three of us heaved the rusted old carcass free from the sucking debris. The water already was flowing faster. We stood there soaked and muddy in the middle of the creek.
“You know,” I said, “we might as well finish what we started.” There were shrugs all around and Louie reeled in the line. In a couple of hours we pulled out the box spring, a TV, a refrigerator, a washer, two bikes, fifteen tires, and enough bottles, cans and fast food trash to fill a dumpster. It made quite a pile, and we stood back to survey it. Why is that people will drive out of their way to dump trash in water? I have never understood this.
“Damn, you kids should be proud of yourselves.”
Darryl made a good point: “Now what? We can’t leave it here.”
I looked at it and scratched my chin. “I suppose we could get a truck and take it to the dump. You guys too tired for that?”
“We can do it!” said Louie.
“Okay, I’ll go get the truck, you haul what you can up to the street, I’ll come back and help for the rest.” So I scrambled up the bank and headed out to the Budget rental up the street, where I got one of those box trucks. My rent money was rapidly dwindling to beer money, but I tried to focus on the good I was doing. I stopped to get some contractor trash bags and Cokes and when I got back, they had made a huge dent in the pile. I helped the older boys carry the really heavy stuff up, while Louie stuffed small stuff into sacks, and while we were taking a break a guy pulled up in an early 90s maroon coulda-been sedan. You know the era, back when everything looked like a used bar of soap: coulda been a Ford, coulda been a GM, coulda been a Chevy.
“What are you kids up to?” Said the lanky red-headed guy unfolding out of the car wearing chinos and a polo shirt.
“Just doing a little good Samaritan work,” I said. “Hauling some junk out of the creek.”
He ambled over and looked over the low parapet of the bridge. “I never really noticed this spot before. It’s kinda nice.”
“It’s ours!” blurted Louie. The tall fellow turned real slow and looked at him. “Nobody’s going to take it away from you. Hey,” he said like he just thought of it, “you know, I work for the Union Leader. What about if I take your picture and write a little blurb about this. Can’t guarantee it will make the paper, but you never know. People eat this stuff up, kids taking an interest in our old city and the environment. It’s a twofer.”
I put my hands in my pockets and shrugged. “We’re not exactly photogenic at the moment if you know what I mean.” The kids were looking back and forth between us, and I realized this just might be the biggest thing that ever happened to them. “Ah, what the hell, what do you want us to do?” So after that he had us pose on the pile and took some pictures of the creek from the bridge and then showed us loading up the truck. He asked their names, and Paulie said his name was Paul Norton and these were his brothers, Darryl and Louie, which he spells “L-O-U-I-S.” I felt dumb for never figuring that out. He got all my info then so that he could fact check and stuff. Honestly, by then, the fatigue was beginning to set in and I just wanted to finish this before the kids crashed and I was left alone. I think he got that and wrapped it up. So we loaded up the truck and everybody piled in and we headed to the dump.
The dump has changed a lot since I was a kid. They weigh you when you come in, then you drive around and put different stuff into different containers, and then you go into an office and pay for the dangerous stuff, like the TV and refrigerator and tires. I parted with a lot more of my cash than seemed right for a good deed, but as my Grandmother used to say “In for a penny, in for a pound.”
We dropped off the truck, after gassing it back up, and then I took everybody for pizza. I got to tell you, being an environmental hero is expensive. I could’ve replaced my much-abused and leaking waders by the time the day was over. Since my wallet was so well-lubricated, after I dropped them off I stopped for a shot and a beer on the way home. While I was looking at my fuzzy reflection in the back bar I thought how much we’d accomplished that day, and it only took us six hours. I compared that to how much I would get done in eight hours in a cubicle and definitely felt better about my current career status. I cheered my reflection, decided on another round, and maybe another after that, and then wandered home.
I slept late even though the day was mercilessly hot and humid and I was really only tossing and turning since dawn. A banging on my door got me out of bed. When I opened the door there were two guys standing there in matching paramilitary crew cuts, short sleeve shirts and ties, wearing the kind of expression you can only get from holding in your farts for your entire adult life.
Even though I was only in my boxers, it was my house, at least for a little while longer. So I just crossed my arms over my chest and looked at them, pretending I was also trying not to fart. I was sore all over from yesterday and a little head sore from the corn in the Mickey’s Big Mouths I’d had last night. I didn’t feel like repeating myself to two assholes who had just woken me up. The looked at each other and then the fart-retainer on the right flashed a badge.
“Drift?” he said with the hints of a superior smile creeping around his lipless mouth.
“Yeah, that’s me. What do you want.”
He held up the paper. I had to squint to see it, but there big as life was me and the kids. I actually smiled. “Yup, that’s me!”
“You are under arrest.” All I could think of was that something had happened to the kids.
“For stealing city property.”
“What city property?” I was honestly bewildered.
His partner stabbed the paper. “This city property. Do you think you can just take whatever you want, whenever you want?”
“It’s trash. It’s been there for years. You didn’t care about it then.”
“Oh, we care,” said fart-retainer two, spinning me around while his partner slapped on the cuffs. I couldn’t believe it. It was too surreal.
“I don’t even get to put on pants?”
Fart-retainer one leaned over my shoulder and whispered in my ear like a lover, “You should’ve thought of that before you were a wise ass.”
And so in my tartan plaid wool boxers they perp-walked me out of my rotten little flat and took me to jail, just like that. I couldn’t believe any of it was happening, it just made no freaking sense. They did all of the usually bureaucratic theatrics to book me, just so that I would take it serious. Then they sat me in a puke green room for a while on a metal chair with my hands cuffed behind me, just to show they really were in control. And then they came in and old-schooled me, trying to get the name of the kids.
“Who are the kids?”
“I don’t really know. I was just kind of hauling stuff out of there and they stopped to help. Didn’t they give their names to the Leader?”
“Turns out those names weren’t real.”
Freaking Paulie, what a little genius. Even when he had a chance to be famous he held back.
“Well, since I just met them, that’s all I know.”
“You know, this town isn’t that big, we’ll find them.”
“It’s that important to punish kids for picking up trash, even though you got the mastermind right in front of you?”
Their eyes were bugging out like bad taxidermy. I had to ask myself, if this was really the biggest crime they’d maybe ever worked.
“We could add a bunch of charges on here, you know. Adding to the delinquency of a minor and such. Interfering with a waterway. We will add them when we find those kids.”
“I have to pee,” I said. “Bad.” So of course they got up and left me alone for a good long while.
When they came back I asked about my phone call, even though in 45 minutes I hadn’t thought of anybody to call. They brought me to a room with a phone and I called my dad, the only number I have memorized. We talked about the weather like we always do. Then I talked to my mom, then I told them I loved them and I would see them soon. No sense in worrying them.
Since I didn’t have any money for bail, and apparently I was a flight risk perhaps to steal more litter in another state, they booked me into county where I got a nice orange jump suit to cover my shorts, and a pair of jailhouse socks like they give you in the hospital. I made it just in time for dinner, which was good since I hadn’t eaten all day.
It’s funny the things you remember. I remembered one guy, a badass I’d met working the fishing boats out of Portsmouth, and he’d told me this: “If you are ever in jail, when you get into gen pop, take off your socks. They slide all over on the linoleum tiles and make it a bitch to fight. And you are going to have to fight.” So as I walked into the lunchroom and every eye turned towards me, I very carefully and very slowly bent down, took off my socks, rolled them up and put them in my pocket like I’d done it in a hundred jails before. A big guy, and I mean huge, like that refrigerator we’d hauled out of the creek, with a head and legs, walked up to me. He was tatted up and down and had a beard that stopped about even with my eyes. I stood obliquely to his right hand, what I hoped was his strong hand. That way he had to come around me to hit me. As big as he was, I might be able to dance with him for a while. I looked him in the eye.
Continue to part 3 of The Snob.