BABES IN BOYLAND
For a year Maria and I nagged the fisherboys we work with to take us on an outing with them. Sure, sure, they’d say, but something always came up. Did they not take us seriously? Was it that unprecedented that two women would be out-of-the-blue ready to torture worms and tease the hooks out of fish cheeks?
Or did they take us all too seriously? Out in the dark chilly woods or on the breezy open waters, would our lusty spirits break them? Like women on submarine crews, would their safe boy-fun turn dangerous, threatening their happy homes and their cherished hard-shell images of themselves?
Couldn’t it just be about fishing, for godsake?
With Malone, we finally found a tactic that worked, stumbling on to a principle I’ve known for many years but forgot to apply: men don’t really want women to be dependent on them. If you’re interested in going fishing with us, we would say, we’ll be at the canal at 6 o’clock. See? No pressure.
We corner Bill, who has been promising to take us fishing “any time you want” for months on end. “What night do you want to meet us at the canal? Wednesday? Okay, six o’clock.”
So then the notoriously elusive Malone stops by my office. “You and Maria going fishing any time soon?”
“We’re meeting Bill on Wednesday. Join us if you want.”
Malone is wary, then agrees. “I'll bring beer. You bring two dozen bass minnows.”
Wednesday. I’m rushing from work, pulling into the parking lot of the bait and tackle shop and my cell phone rings. “Your pal Maria has a big mouth.” Malone. “She told Larry Johnson we're going fishing and he says he’s bringing his kids.”
The private party is now a circus. Bill shows up with his canvas chair and triple-tiered tackle box. Larry arrives, dragging a red wagon with two preschoolers, their blankies and their dinner. Then Malone, with his scowl and cooler of beer. He also brings a pint of Absolut Citron – a special treat for Maria, so he can’t be too ticked off at her.
In fact, all of a sudden, everything is about Maria. In my mind’s eye, I see one of those diagrams they use for football: Maria’s O standing on the rocky canal wall with her fishing pole. She is loud and demanding and darling. Arrows show the three X’s converging on her, grinning and teasing. My O is drifting solo away from the group, unnoticed. She hooks the first fish – a good-size bass – and there is gleeful frenzy in landing it and getting photos.
Malone and Bill do of course mosey my way. Larry, his children as protective amulets, is the one who came only to bask in the Maria-glow. The social mapping going on in my mind is a dusty template left over from high school mixers, good for nothing except an excuse to feel sorry for myself and what good is that? I came to have fun. I pop open a Labatt’s.
Malone tells me my fish-finder rig has too much weight on it for fishing with minnows. He helps me reconstruct, using his teeth to bite the line. He isn’t doing any fishing of his own. He is edgy, coaching and consulting, clambering easily over the rocks, first one at anyone’s side to help pull in a catch.
My line gets snagged on the bottom. Bill comes to help. He has a technique, he says, and in the process of pulling line from my reel he sees I know nothing about “setting the drag.” He teaches me. He’s a serious fisherman who takes off regularly for secluded lakes in Canada, rediscovering tonight how much fun can be had five minutes from his house.
Maria finds an empty Poland Springs water bottle for the Absolut and comes to sit next to me. We dribble the lemony vodka into our mouths. The sun is setting. We catch some small bass. Larry’s little boy catches a fat bullhead on a worm and a guy not in our party lands a giant carp on a wad of bread.
Night falls. The rocks are littered with half-empty cans of beer. Larry has taken his kids home to bed and Bill has gone to have dinner with his daughter. After another snag takes my whole rig I decide to switch to an ultralight pole. Suddenly I hook a big one – never felt such a huge weight on the end of my line. Snap! The line breaks. Malone takes my pole, checks it out and shakes his head. “No drag.”
He starts cleaning up the beer cans. “Where’s the bottle of Absolut?”
“Gone,” Maria says. “Finito.” She staggers my way and throws her arms around me. “We have such a great time. And we see eye-to-eye on everything – except that one thing.”
“Evelyn?” Someone I went out on a limb for.
“Evelyn – she’s gonna take you down. Right, Malone?” He is back from putting the beer cans in the trash.
“You know what I think about that one,” he says.
Suddenly we’re arguing. Alone in the dark canal park our voices get louder and louder having the world’s stupidest debate, which seems to be focused on how na´ve and trusting I am and how I could be taken advantage of, which is the craziest thing I ever heard. Can anyone self-conscious enough to draw mental social maps full of X’s and O’s be the gullible fool they think I am? Come on!
“We’re being nasty,” Maria finally decides. “Let’s just each give her a big smooch.”
And that was that. With a damp smooch on each cheek and an unsettling dampness in my eyes, I drove home. Home. Where the social map is clear and comfortable. I crawl into bed with my Jim, his arms pulling me close to him.