The Front Porch: Off the hook

John Warren | Guest Columnist

settled onto a bench behind the Pier Club one recent evening and summoned my sweet boy, who was more interested in finding things that would make a satisfying plunk when hurled into the lake.

“You’re going to tell me another story. Blah, blah,” he said.

He really is a sweet boy. He’s just over the Chautauqua version of his dad, who seeks to colorize dog-eared black and white snapshots he didn’t care about in the first place.

“See that building? That was the Oriental Bazaar when I was a kid,” I’ll say. And, “I remember throwing coins into that fountain when I was little. My mother would only let me throw pennies. And also, I don’t think it was the same fountain.”

But this would be different. This story is about fishing and swearing.

My Week Four friend the summer in question was Raymond. He had replaced the Week Three friend, Ulysses, who was a digger. A week of hanging with Ulysses and I was becoming a digger by association, and so I was glad when Raymond came along.

Raymond wore glasses with an active-lifestyle strap that secured them to his head, and he had a tall mess of hair that made him look top heavy. He and I were about adventure that week, and one morning that adventure was fishing. The chosen location was University Beach, and on this day the beach was full of young coeds sunbathing.

Many years ago, behind the University Club, there was a chain-link fence partitioning that beach from the Children’s Beach. The fence is important.

Raymond brought a borrowed rod and worms. To our alarm, we caught a little fish in short order. We hadn’t expected this wrinkle, and neither of us wanted to touch it. Raymond suggested we defer the problem by sacrificing this fish and using it as bait to catch a larger fish.

Our subsequent public stoning of this little fish was likely the first thing that caught the attention of the sunbathing coeds.

The bludgeoned little fish got his revenge, because when Raymond cast his line back into the lake, the fish floated. And quickly, sea gulls began to circle. Raymond frantically began reeling in the line, but not before one of the seagulls snatched the fish in its beak. The gull didn’t get far before it splashed into the water. Its beak was hooked.

The gull was about 25 yards out, and we determined there was only one thing to do, which was to reel in the line.

The sunbathing coeds, meanwhile, had perked up, and did not like what they were witnessing. And the seagull, well, it knew how to work a crowd, because as it got closer to the shore, its frantic flapping increased, and the situation escalated. The backlash started with grumbling and soon reached a crescendo of profanity.

The first hurled object was a sandal. Next came a torrent of soda cans, which I would like to tell you were empty.

As Raymond was busy, I turned to the fire-breathing coeds. Learning that one cannot reason with an angry mob, it turns out, is a lesson best learned early. If there was a book about dealing with angry mobs, it would read: “Don’t.”

The gull finally reached shore, and Raymond placed the bird in his lap. As he worked to free the hook, it gave up the fight, as if to concede, “Hey, this stinks for me, but I don’t have nerve endings in my beak, and those soda cans have gotta sting.”

I don’t know that my one-week allegiance to Raymond would have been enough to hold me there, but the aforementioned chain-link fence was. I was pretty sure we’d be swimming for it. But Raymond finally freed the bird, taking a hard bird-kick to the chest as he released it. We gathered our gear and made a run for it through the crowd of adoring coeds, who fortunately did not give chase.

There are no eat-your-vegetables morals here, though at least I think my fidgeting son understands now why we don’t fish.