Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Twenty Out The Door...

As I walk through the front door of this grimy, glass-and concrete repository of heartbreak and crushing hopelessness, a man and a young boy are walking out. The man is tucking two five-dollar bills into his wallet. The young boy is craning his neck back toward the counter, watching the clerk carry a child-sized bicycle into the crowded back room where the physical manifestations of a thousand other hard-luck stories are stored, held hostage until the ransom is paid, with interest.

Most never are. A few months later the hostages - past history now erased -  will be taken out, dusted off, assigned a value and then set out to be recycled into someone else's dream, like a big wheel that just keeps going round and round and round...

That's why I'm here, poking in dusty corners and rummaging through the ruined dreams of others, hoping to scavenge something of value among the smoking ashes of their misfortune.

And that's when I see it, leaning against a big tangle of cheap rods, cheap reels and yellowing monofilament.

It's not a reel. It's a time machine, and I'm no longer a dyspeptic, slowly eroding 38-year-old man standing in a filthy pawn shop that reeks of piss and desperation. It's nineteen eighty-something and I'm a mullet-headed teenager standing on the cow-stomped red dirt bank of a windswept Oklahoma farm pond, reveling in the warmth of a mid-spring sun, the sirens of youth whispering their false promises in my ear as I cast that exact reel. The world is good. No rocks on the shoals of my future. Were there ever, back then?

It's morning. School is in, but we aren't, and a whole day of illicit possibility stretches out before us. The next pond, the next adventure beckons, so off we go, stowing our gear in the back of a '71 Nova that stinks of bass slime and Fish Formula. Where? Don't know. Just go. We'll find something. And we do, although none of us are to realize it at the time. We search for no grand, overarching truths, no deeper meanings. We just fish. Is there anything else?

I'm back in the pawn shop. I kneel and disentangle this artifact of memory, this someone else's dream from the snarled pile. The rod isn't the same. Mine was a Lew's. This is a Berkley. But everything else is identical: Medium-heavy action. Pistol grip. Five feet, six inches long. Stiff. Clunky. And at the time, perfect.

The reel, however, is mine. A Shimano Bantam, paid for with the minimum-wage sweat of countless paper bags filled with the groceries of bitchy housewives, lifeweary single welfare moms, alcoholic, rheumy-eyed bachelors, sweet, gray-haired widowers who'd sometimes tip me a quarter and batshit-crazy outpatients from the state mental hospital who'd yell at the sky and pray to gods only they knew as they took the bag from my hands and walked out the door and down the street, shuffling back to whatever world they temporarily stepped out of for bread and milk.

I hold the reel in my hands. It's cherry. History wiped clean. Memory erased. Whatever hard-luck story that led it to this pawn shop corner, forgotten. Ready for a new memories to overlay the old ones. Or in my case, have one set of old memories replace another.

Round and round and round...

I take the rod and reel up to the counter.

"What's your best price on it?"
"Twenty-five and tax."
"I'll give you twenty out the door."
"I can do that."

I give the clerk a twenty and walk out the door with my artifact, this totem of memory suddenly recollected. Ersatz, maybe. But at some point, isn't it all?


  1. The coincidences are raining down, i'll post as soon as I have pix

  2. A memory just snapped into my brain. Mid winter, 1984, the Kalama river, Washington state. The first time I ever felt the power of an ocean fresh steelhead. The line poured off that Bantom 100 as if it were attached to a car entering a freeway. One of the coolest things you can find in a junk store is an old reel with fish scales and salt spray cemented to it. Some would call it an antique, a curio or junk. I'd call it a monument. Thanks.

  3. Chad,

    Really nice writing the last few posts. Better content for free than anything in most any pay rag.

    Nice find on the reel. Bicycle company revolving spools don't do much for me (hah! sorry, heretical spinfisherman here who dabbles with flies) but a great bit of tactile connection!

  4. Anon - believe it or not those early to mid-eighties bantams are starting to get mildly collectable, if Ebay prices are any indication.

    The one in the pic doesn't have the original handle, but other than that it's near mint. How it ended up in the absolute nastiest pawn shop in the absolute sketchiest part of Oklahoma City is beyond me.

    mdmnm, thanks, it's funny, I never really know how the more literary stuff is going to go over in relation to the normal conversational posts. But every time I sit down to write I find myself creeping that direction. I never was very good as a straight writer. OK, that came out wrong, but you know what I mean...

    As for pay rags, unfortunately true. Can't blame the mags, though. They have a formula and format that seems to work for them...I guess, and that formula does not have very much - if any - room in the feature well for artsy-fartsy experimentation.

    Something like that would take away too much space from stuff that really matters. Because we all know you can never have too many ways to pattern whitetails...

    If I tried to submit this or something like it, it'd first get passed around so everyone could get a good laugh and then it'd get handed to the editorial assistant tasked with mailing back rejected queries.

    That's why I think the best literary hunting and fishing writing out there right now (with a few exceptions) is being published on blogs. Just look at what the guys at A Mouthful of Feathers are doing. Good luck finding that kind of writing in print...

  5. Mouthful of feathers is fantastic isn't it - I've been meaning to write about him - but I've foolishly used up by best 'dog line' that would have made a great intro and I've not found another I like as much.

    PS I flinched and my bargain is at someone else's house. Bah!