Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Balls, Gills and the Meaning of Life...

When you take a look at sporting pursuits that generate the largest amount of literary pretension, two come immediately to mind: golf and flyfishing.

Peruse the shelves at any large bookstore and you will find them absolutely stuffed with gilded-prose paeans to chasing little white balls or chasing little fish. Personal memoirs about how the author, struggling with the deeper questions of (to steal a line from the late, great Douglas Adams) Life, the Universe and Everything, found his answers either on the misty dew-bejeweled fairway or the misty, dew-bejeweled trout stream.

Now golf, I just don’t get. I’m not what you would call a fan.

You see, when I was sixteen my grandparents, worried about the truly inordinate amount of time I was spending plying the illicit and wholly intoxicating waters of whatever local ponds I could sneak into, bought me – quite unexpectedly - a set of golf clubs in the ultimately vain hope that golf would somehow turn me from a budding delinquent redneck into a refined junior gentleman.

I shrugged my shoulders, took the clubs and hit the links. For about four tortured weeks I tried. Mightily.

But it quickly became apparent I possessed neither the interest nor the temperament for golf. I kept staring at the water hazards and wishing I had a rod. Or staring into the woods and wishing I were bowhunting. Or wishing I were pretty much anywhere but standing in the middle of this goddamned golf course surrounded by a bunch of drunk, pastel-clad jerk-offs suppressing their homoerotic tendencies with manly, metaphorically-loaded Alpha Male talk of gripping their shafts in order to better crush their balls.

But I knew it would make my grandparents happy so I sullenly kept after it.
Filiopiety toward ones elders can only go so far, however, and one afternoon when the well-dressed asshole who had been shouting at us for the past five holes nearly lobotomized me with a golf ball after playing through without the courtesy of a warning, the needle on my internal fuck-this gauge indicated it was time to quit.

So I grabbed his ball, teed it up, hit a fine shot back at him and followed it with my middle finger and a shouted invitation to grip my shaft. With his lips. Which of course got me kicked off the grounds.

Having decided that golf was, to put it charitably, not for me, I traded my golf clubs for a Remington 870 and still consider it one of the best deals I’ve ever made. And my opinion of golf hasn’t changed one iota over the years.

But flyfishing? Well, I can see that. I can understand that. I get it. Most of the problems in my life have been worked out - or at least recognized and acknowledged – with a rod in my hand.

Of course being an Okie that rod was usually chunking a spinnerbait or a plastic worm for bass, so unlike so many Compleat Anglers out there I’ve never believed flyfishing holds the world-exclusive on piscatorially-aided self-enlightenment, but I enjoy it and can see where its grace and form lends itself to waxing poetic.

And therein lies the basic problem with flyfishing literature. Everyone’s an angler-poet, casting for meaning (and an appropriately deep metaphor) across the limpid pools and riffles of the soul.

Or some such shit as that.

Simply put, much of it, well, sucks. And by sucks I don’t mean it has a few minor quibbling issues. I mean it blows harder than a Pigalle hooker. It's the kind of self-absorbed prose usually reserved for vanity presses and uhh…you know…long-winded personal blogs…

There’s simply so much published crap out there that if there were a category for books bought but never finished, the flyfishing memoir would beat hell out of diet books and celebrity autobiographies.

But now, some 640 words later I finally come to the original point of this blog post, the point any real journalist would have made in the opening paragraph, which is: I recently picked up a copy of James R. Babb's "River Music" and it is one helluva good read. Highly recommended. Seriously, I couldn't put it down, even for Jon and Kate's divorce announcement. It's that good.

How's that for succinct?


  1. You'd probably also enjoy John Gierach's books. Good stories, good advice hidden away in them, and lots of love for fishing and particularly fly fishing but none of the limpid pools and flowery metaphor.

  2. Mdmnm, I like Gierach very much. Have several of his books. Great writer.

  3. Two writers-- Jim Babb and Seth Norman. There are others but...