How could I win?
The field was kicking with wind and the sun was metal glinting in space and you could see through the water to the bottom of the stream so clearly that even if you spotted a fish in there, a chub or whatever, he had already seen you coming when you were still back at the house having a cup of coffee and looking at that People magazine article about Angelina Jolie's mastectomy while you were just sitting there on the john.
Henry had the Zebco outfit I had bought last year before trout season. That was back before I had taken Violet out fishing with me; a blustery afternoon where all of my dumbass visions of father/daughter outdoors camraderie went up in a puff of crazy toddler smoke. We'd been lakeside maybe all of ten minutes when I realized that the kid didn't give a shit about catching any fish.
She wanted to throw things in the water. Or maybe hurl herself into the cold deep. But after two casts and a bird's nest of tangled line that emerged from the small hole in the reel in the form of a thin tight knot that appeared so deadly serious that upon seeing it for the first time I knew that things had been shot to hell before they'd even gotten three feet off the ground.
Fools die hard though, huh? An so here I was back for more; a glutton for the kind of punishment that guys like me deserve, I guess. We let time, even just a weak year, lap up over the cool stones of reality and gloss over the cold hard truth with water we pretend is paint.
And the cold hard truth is that Henry was whacking the fucking rod down into the shallow meadow stream as if the water was a dragon and the rod was the only sword in all the land that could stop the beast from eating the shit out of us.
"Henry!," I tell him for the 65th time in two minutes."Lift the rod up, dude! Aim it at the sky and get it out of the water!"
My commands cloak him in the fine mist that covers a lad when he must choose his path at that old school Old Testament proverbial fork in the dusty dirt road.
His decision dangles from a beam of sunlight.
It drops slowly down onto the back of his young ruby neck.
I hear the faint cannonade of drums as the pan flute whistles fill the air with the theme from 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Every moment I have ever lived has come down to this: a man and his son, fishing for the first time together underneath the wild blue canopy of promise and forever.
The wind whips our hair like snakes on fire.
Choose, boy. Choose.
He smashes the rod down into the stream again. And again, real quickly...a big giant pro basketball player's long middle finger to me and my patronizing bullshit.
"Henry!" I shout as I watch the nub of earthworm that he had on his hook go sailing through the air.
What a world, I think to myself as I hit pause on life and just watch things go down.
What a fucking life, huh?
One second you're a baby worm born in some guy's worm garden, some long trough of cheap lumber and horseshit and apple peels and brown gunky lettuce or whatever, and you're there pigging out on the slime and the minerals seeping out of the decay, living La Vida Loca/a resort worm born into the good life/a fatso/el gordo, God knows where you are born...Ohio maybe....maybe suburban Cleveland or maybe Erie, Pa or maybe in the south somewhere/where do they grow worms? who knows?/everywhere maybe, and it doesn't even matter because one day they scoop you up and some big human/God finger handles you and counts you (you're one of 18 if you're a nightcrawler, one of 30 if you're a redworm) and thumps you down into a squat plastic arena with the rest of the worms whose fate it is now is to lay beside you in this damp lump of dirt and wonder what the hell could possibly happen next.
Oh man. They have no idea. Poor bastards. The Walmart fridge back by the camping crap. The sudden lid lift and the epic burst of sunlight. Swift random thoughts of freedom. Then... the hook point in your guts. The confusion. What is happening to me?
Fucking why is this happening to me?
Then my son whips the rod I asked him not to whip and part of your torso goes flipping through the late spring air into a patch of grass where probably some ants or a spider or something will eat it by tomorrow morning.
I zoom back in and I'm over all that now. I'm way more concerned with the state of this 40 dollar upper-echelon Zebco rig that I bought and that is being systematically destroyed before my very eyes than I am worried about the state of affairs down in Wormville. It's pretty much the same way that, if there was a God, he'd be way too busy trying to constantly salvage some of his shit, some of his forests and rivers and all, to be able to watch you and your sorry ass being whipped around ragdoll-style, pathetic frothy snot swishing out of your lame weak allergic nose and eyes as you scream and cry like a little bitch while dialing up his mobile number non-stop/over and over and over again/'praying' to him for some saving, some salvation, to have some more 'blessings' bestowed upon your fat ass that you can mention on Facebook and just genuinely being a real annoyance while he is trying to make sure that the whole fucking thing doesn't fall apart at the seams underneath the weight of you and your team of a billion careless bullshit artists.
My wife shows up as Henry embeds his size 12 empty bait hook into the tough old man skin of a wild willow.
I must appear flustered, I guess.
She looks at me through her pretty girl sunglasses and I know she wishes she could just Gyllenhaal me with the blink of her sensational baby blues but she cannot and this is her fate, at least for this afternoon down here on the crick at the neighbor's Memorial Day trout stocking/bbq/bonfire/beer drinking bonanza, and so she sighs a winter wind at me and says with that certain pretty girl disineterested tone that comes from a place on the undercarriage of the freaking soul:
"Why don't you just cut off his hook and let him throw the bobber around?"
That lands on me hard, like a jet.
I hate her so much right now, her soft pretty Utah lips over there spouting out simple little country wisdoms while I am over here overthinking this fleck of worm hurling through the sky and unsure how to reign my own son in.
I want to grab her and savage her here in front of everyone, in front of my own child, for Chrissakes. I want to make mad love to her in the middle of the creek, on top of three rainbow trout and a cold river rock until all of the people over by the campers come obver to watch us bumping and grinding down in the water.
"Look at Serge and Monica," they'd say in flat rural Pennsylvania farm tones. "Who knew?"
But no. No, I just grind my teeth and hide behind my thousand sheets of afternoon blahness and I dig in my creel for my clippers and I find them and take them out and clip off the hook from Henry's line and he doesn't even notice or even stop slapping the shimmering stream for barely a hot second.
I look at the rod and I notice a very fine thread of black dancing in the breeze; one of the guides is coming unwrapped and I just have to smile to myself. The thing is probably ten minutes away from a ride on the trash truck, but suddenly it doesn't matter to me at all, man.
The freaking kid is having a blast. Sweet boy/ halfway down the lane between two and three/ the greatest moments in my life, here/now.
Henry keeps hollereing out, "I got another one! I got a fish, Dad!"
I'ts actually kind of beautiful, really. He isn't catching shit, of course. You know that. He doesn't even have a hook on his line. Hell, people out golfing near a pond this holiday weekend probably have a better chance at landing a fish than Henry does at this point. He has no idea about any of that, though. Isn't that wonderful?
To him: this is fishing.
To him, to my boy: this is the greatest thing that could have ever possibly happened. His daddy handed him a fishing pole by a stream under a shining sun and it was Go-Time.
Plus, he's quite high on potato chips and apple juice.
Look at him stabbing the water with his rod.
My boy, slaying a dragon out here in the middle of this country meadow while down the road, left or right it don't matter, some young soldier's bones are lying still down in his grave, too far underneath his own kid slamming his own fishing rod onto a cool creek to be of much help, the worms coming and going at all hours of the day and night.