by Thomas “T-Bone” Maul
Editors Note: This story stretches the limits of non fiction and fiction. As you know we only accept non fiction stories and will continue to do so. T-bone insists this story actually did occur and is guilty only of his own creative writing. We believed him and it is a great story, but we’ll let you be the judge.
I went fishing with a couple of old buddies last weekend. Well, Russ is an old buddy; Tim Feeney, on the other hand, is more like an acquaintance. We fished from the bank of the Mississippi all through the night on Friday. Channel catfish like to be caught by moonlight for some lunatic reason. We used to fish in Feeney’s old dilapidated boat, but it breathed its last breath and sunk. That boat led to plenty of gossip about Feeney’s twin brother, Jums, which made him the talk of the town for months.
Jum’s wife had passed away about the same time that Feeney’s boat sank. Not long after, a kindly old woman saw Feeney, and, mistaking him for Jums, said, “I’m terribly sorry to hear about your loss. You must feel awful.”
Feeney assumed she was referring to his old junky boat and said, “Truth is, I’m glad to be rid of her. She was a rotten vessel from the very beginning. Her bottom was all shriveled up and smelled like dead fish.” Jums had to move away due to all the gossip about how poorly he spoke of his deceased wife.
I’ve known Russ and Feeney since the first grade. In fact, Russ and his father took me on my very first fishing trip. His father drove us in his old truck to one of his infamous hotspots. It was a small bridge about twelve feet above Walnut Creek. “You boys go on down to the hole. I believe I’ll fish from right here inside the truck.” He pulled his truck up to the bridge railing, put his cooler of beer next to him on the seat and plunked his worm straight down from out of the truck window while adjusting the radio dial.
Russ and I took opposite sides of the creek and were fishing the hole facing one another. About a half-hour went by when, suddenly, I saw Russ contort his body, drop his pole, stand up on his tiptoes and begin winking at me. I assumed he was clowning around, so I stood on my tiptoes and began winking right back at him. Then he screamed like a banshee and I happened to notice a worm dangling from his eyebrow. “Ahhh…Ahhhhh!!!” he cried. I looked up and saw the tip of his dad’s pole bending with action.
“Quit your yelling, Rusty, you’re scaring the fish!” his dad bellowed while tugging at his pole to get the hook unsnagged.
“Ahhh…Stop! You hooked my eye!” cried Russ.
His father finally quit tugging at the pole and got out of the truck to take a look down over the bridge to see Russ clutching his eye and screaming in pain. He came down and managed to get the hook out of his eyebrow with a pair of needle nose pliers. He gave Russ a beer, before operating, for anesthesia. Russ still has a small scar on his eyebrow and I don’t blame him for making up more respectful stories as to the origin of it.
Feeney wasn’t accident prone like Russ, but he was the type of kid who responded to anything anybody said with, “I know that.” His parents bought into the new school of psychology that felt spanking your child would stifle their creativity. In laymen’s terms, Feeney was a spoiled brat. My friends and I took up some of the slack for his parents’ unwillingness to properly discipline their child by punching him senseless every now and then. Feeney brought this up while we were fishing.
“How come you guys never talk about how you used to beat me up?” he asked.
“Uh, we figured that it’s best to leave a sleeping dog lie, Feeney,” I replied.
“Wonder who said that?” he asked.
“No, I mean originally.”
“Heck, I’m not sure. Maybe Mark Twain, he’s well remembered for lots of witty sayings,” I answered while making my first cast into the river.
“I think I have the ability to create witty sayings too. I would like for people to remember me by them and, in a sense, live forever,” mused Feeney.
“Feeney, you going to get your line in the water or babble nonsense all night?” asked Russ, wisely trying to divert Feeney’s attention.
“A hook out of water reels in little opportunity,” replied Feeney, beaming with pride. “I’m going to begin writing these down.” He took out a small pocket notebook and began scribbling. Russ looked at me and rolled his eyes. It was going to be a long night.
We stayed about thirty feet apart along the riverbank. Feeney had his line in the water, but was scribbling away in that notebook. About every ten minutes, Feeney would share another one of his timeless pearls of wisdom with us. “Even a catfish can stay out of trouble by keeping his mouth shut.” Ten minutes later, “For wormy greed the fish sacrifices his freedom.” Ten more minutes, “A fish’s terror is the joy of the fisherman.”
After awhile, Feeney yells out, “Guys, I got one!” We could see by the bend in his pole that it was a monster. Russ grabbed our net. It is difficult to successfully land a channel catfish without the aid of a net. We both ran to the edge of the water directly below Feeney. “Hunger is the line connecting fish to fishermen.”
“Feeney, do you have a fish?” I asked, looking down the bank and seeing my pole bouncing frantically unattended on a forked stick. I realized something big had my line when I watched the stick give way and my pole slide quickly into the river.
“No, I just meant I had another witticism, my hook has been snagged for some time.”
“Awww Feeney,” I groaned, running to the spot where my pole used to be. “I just lost an eighty dollar pole all because you want to be the next Ben Franklin, you melon head!” I yelled angrily.
Russ made a cast and his worm and reel went pretty far, but the hook stayed inches away from the tip of his pole. “Oh cripes, my line is tangled,” he moaned.
Feeney was quick to chirp in, “A tangled line makes a tangled mind.”
Russ set down his pole, walked over to Feeney, picked him up by his armpits and launched him over the bank, notebook and all, without saying a word. I liked Russ. Feeney’s arms and legs were flailing as he splashed into the murky water.
“That was real cute, Russ,” he said, while climbing back up the bank. “Anger blows out the candle of wisdom, Russ.”
Russ grabbed him by his wet clothes and threw him in again.
Feeney climbed out again, “That’s it, I’m leaving.”
“Feeney, we can only take so much; those silly sayings are driving Russ and me mad,” I reasoned.
“The mark of a genius is seldom appreciated in one’s own home,” he replied.
Russ began moving toward him again. Feeney quickly snatched up his pole and began running for his car. His wet sneakers made squishing noises along the way.
Russ and I stayed and fished through the night in peace. We took turns sharing his pole. I don’t know if Feeney will ever go fishing with us again, but I do know that each of us learned something important that night. I learned not to leave a pole unattended in the future. Russ learned a constructive way to deal with anger, and Feeney learned that the Mississippi is a little cold this time of the year.