Troutaholics Anonymous

Posted on March 8, 2018

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Cover image by Amber Mullen, don’t you wish your ice cubes looked like that?

This is the long version of the story that was published in the last issue of the Fly Fish Journal. I had to cut half of it to fit, and it I sent it to 6 published authors who each cut about 100 words and told me to shorten it further I would have to cut whole scenes.  Thus I had to roll up my sleeves and do it myself which was a great learning experience. I cut 3,000 words in 90 minutes in two passes. I cannot find the intermediate version which was most likely the best version. I felt somewhat better after it got published when I was having beers with my editor, Steve Duda, and my other editor/artist Amber Mullen, and he said “Yeah, every word was blood on the floor.” Well, hell that would’ve been nice to know before I started! I’m not complaining though, in the magazine, with art, it’s something like 16 pages, and if you go to the website and buy it you will be supporting me, the people who make stories like this possible, and a whole slew of much better writers. This magazine really is the last print bastion of great fly fishing fiction. Please support us.
Apparently Jimmy Kimmel subscribes. I’m still waiting for the phone call.

Troutaholics Anonymous

There were cars in the yard when Fast Eddie and I pulled in. I drummed my fingers on the dashboard while I pondered it before I shrugged it off. If I can be a day late coming back from a fishing trip, Doris can certainly have some people over. We sorted gear into Eddie’s 20th century four-by and I invited him in for a beer, stashing my stuff in the mudroom on the way. There in the living room, perched on sofas and chairs like they were waiting for a Christmas card photo, was my wife, her extended family, and several people I didn’t know.

“You are a day late,” said Doris, arms crossed.

“I hope you haven’t been sitting there since yesterday.”

“No, yesterday was David’s bar mitzvah,” said Gordy, my brother-in-law.

I cocked my head and pursed my lips. “You’re Jewish?” Gasps and disapproving glances went around the room.

“You would know,” spat Doris, “if you spent more than Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family!” I heard the popping of a beer as Eddie came back into the room. He plopped into the only unoccupied chair in the room as if he was settling in to watch the Wembelton.

“If your family is Jewish, why do you spend Christmas together?” All heads swiveled towards him as I secretly thought “Where’s my beer?”

As if he could read my mind, Eddie shrugged and smiled, “Last one, bro.”

“I think it might be better if you left, whoever you are,” said Gordy.

I looked at Gordy, “Fast Eddie, meet Gordy, my windbag brother–in-law who seems to have forgotten he’s in my house. Gordy, meet Fast Eddie, my accountant.”

Eddie looked at Doris. “Doris, I know we are late, but Holy Jesus,” he looked at Gordy, “Sorry. But you should’ve seen this fish Burt landed, a 30” brown if it was a foot. His leader snapped at the last moment, so he tackles it, and he’s just like laying there on it…” He started to pull out his phone to show the pictures while I was trying to prepare a look of false humility.

Doris looked at Eddie, finally closed her mouth and she looked over at me, “Burt, this is an intervention.”

“Now I really wish I had that beer.” Not so much as a grimace. This was a tough room.

“For the record, he hasn’t had anything to drink since the drive.” I aimed a heel kick at his shins, but since I was in my Tevas, and he skirted it, I just rammed uncomfortably into the metal frame of the modern steel settee with a very unfulfilling “Klang!” Rack up reason 101 to despise the Doris-lead Ikea infection in my living room. My stoicism, it turns out, is directly proportionate to my audience. Had I been alone on the river I would be curled up fetal at this level of pain. Today, I just bit the inside of my mouth.

“If only he drank,” said Doris.

“It’s not funny Burt,” said Gordy. “You have a serious problem and we are here to address it. It’s beginning to affect your family life and your job.”

“But I’m a respected Electrical Engineer with my own company!”

“You install home theaters, Burt.”

“Home automation,” I mumbled.

Gordy waved his hands, “This is all irrelevant. We are here because we all love you.” I was highly skeptical of this as I was looking at his kids and trying to remember their names. “And we want the best for you, but your constant prioritization of fishing over family and work, is about to cost you both.”

“But Doris told me to get a hobby because I worked too much…”

Doris stood up. She had a pad of paper. She opened her mouth to talk, but Eddie burped and crushed his can, then stood up and spoke in a loud, yet conspiratorial tone in my ear as he pressed the can into my palm. “This was more entertaining with booze. Later,” and walked out. And he is my best friend.

Doris was shaking by then, “And him…”

Her sister Alice put a hand on Doris’s shoulder, “Stick to the script, dear,” and shot me a glance like a scorpion would save for a rattlesnake.

“Dear Burt,

When I first met you, you were an ambitious…”

“I don’t recall ever being ambitious.”

“Don’t interrupt, Burt, let her finish,” said Gordo.

“You were ambitious, hardworking (Lies, all lies!), and your fishing, although objectionable on every level, especially the company you kept (As if Eddie was still in the room), was under control (I agree, I hardly ever got to go). Over time, your addiction to fishing has grown, you have worked less (I do have my own company!), and found less and less time for your family (Your family, you mean.), until today, you missed one of the most important days in a young Jewish man’s life (What is his name?), the very last straw in a veritable bale of straws of broken promises (I didn’t know she had metaphors in her, I began to soften).”

She stopped. All eyes were on me. “And?”

“And this is where you agree to treatment, or you agree to get out,” said the Gordotski.

“Out of my house?” I’d always disliked the Gordinator in a distant and unexplored way, but I was beginning to examine my heretofore uncharted emotions.

“It’s natural to react with anger,” said Alice, “but we are here for what’s best for you.”

You know, I chastised myself, all you had to do was buy her brat a present and you could be rinsing your waders right now.

“What’s best for me, besides anger management?”

“Well, you are going to need to start attending meetings,” said Alice.

“What kind of meetings?”

“Troutaholics Anonymous.”

“And get a new job,” said Doris.

“I’m a respected Electrical Engineer with my own company.”

“Starting tomorrow, you will go to work for Gordy.”

“I have patents,” I said. I’ve seen fewer glassy stares in a taxidermy shop. I shrugged. Trout season closed today anyway.

I raised both hands palm up and shrugged. “I admit it, I’m a troutaholic.”

 

The next morning, I got up and rummaged in my closet. When I came out wearing my best bright blue Orvis shirt, meaning the least faded and with the fewest holes, Doris gave me the stink eye.

“That’s what you are wearing.”

“He said ‘office casual.’ People pay extra to have holes in their clothes these days. I picked it special.”

“Those holes are different, they are designer holes” she said and stormed off to leave me contemplating hole quality. Fortunately, there was a honking before I sank into a pit of hole inferiority despair, or HID, as I’m sure somebody has labeled it.

Gordinski was outside in his leased Lexus. I got in and poked and prodded at the geehaws on the dash for a while in response to his stony silence. Talk about inferiority complexes, my F150 never even fantasized about being this overdressed. “You can’t text and drive, but there are paragraphs of instruction on your display there,” I mentioned by way of icebreaker. “This one here is my favorite, it’s 250 words long and the last sentence tells you not to read it while driving.”

“Don’t you ever take anything seriously?”

I said in my best voice-over voice. “In a world where texting kills, your Lexus will display a message for you not to text.”

“Do you know,” he started, “Do you know how much shit I take for your antics? It never stops.” He leaned over and slammed the glove compartment shut as I was pawing through it.

I laughed. “So, all of this was your idea.”

“If I have to hear about it day and night, I might as well take you under my wing and keep you out of trouble.”

I looked at my watch. “I’m a respected Electrical Engineer.”

“I know, I know.”

“I’m supposed to be meeting with Jimmy Kimmel this morning. We met fishing and he has this project…”

“What? Oh, never mind. Cut the crap. Look, I’m going to set you up. You’ll start off as a junior engineer in my app dev group. It will take a few days to get you on board. Do you think you can stay out of trouble?”

I sighed and set back. “Sure, boss, wake me up when we get there.” He took a call and I overheard something about “Operation Dogfood.” It seemed urgent, contentious, and like I shouldn’t be eavesdropping on it, so of course I did my best to grok it before I nodded off.

His office was full of people half my age all in competition to show each other how smart they were, which clearly stopped somewhere short of being able to dress themselves There was enough hair product to waterproof a tent. And when did high water pants and oxford shoes without socks become trendy? The only woman in the group had blue hair that looked like it was cropped with a weed whacker and styled with a cow tongue, overalls, and lip piercings that carried a veritable charm bracelet of paraphernalia. She had an intense body odor of exotic spices and seemed plugged into what I can only describe from what leaked out of her earplugs as Norwegian punk funeral dirge metal. Everybody gave her a wide berth. I liked her immediately. I elbow-bumped her and winked on the way to my cube.

Garfield was assigned to be my guide. Probably not his name but with his red hair and pudgy moon face that’s all I could think of, and I’m pretty sure I was contemplating something important like taking off my socks and perhaps sanding some holes in my jeans when we were introduced. No matter, I was not expecting to be here long enough to pass the name test.

They put me in my very own cube with a computer and monitor. I opened up my backpack and hung up an Alpine Anglers Greenback calendar. Garfield stuck his head in and cocked it to the side while simultaneously pouting with his bottom lip. As a dog person, I steadfastly decided to find all of his expressions ridiculous.

“Fish, huh?”

I looked at the calendar. “Trout. The source of all my troubles.”

“My dad took me fishing once.”

“Too bad,” I said.

“Too bad?”

“Yeah, if he’d made a habit of it, maybe you wouldn’t be stuck here in Dilbertville.”

“Dilbertville?” And this, I thought, is why god didn’t give cats the power of speech, they lack the power to understand either rhetoric or sarcasm in their walnut-sized brains.

I poked at my machine. “How do I log into this thing?”

“Oh, IT will email credentials.”

“But if I can’t log onto my computer, how can I get my email?”

“You have to take your computer to the help desk.”

“What’s the name of this place?”

“eXerbis.”

“eXerbis? Really? How long did it take Gordot’s kids to come up with that?”

“Startup names are getting hard to come by, I guess.”

“Especially, if you don’t want people to know what you make.”

I started typing various things into the password box, I got it on my 6th try: exerbis123.  Garfield’s eyes were wide, “Hey, how did you do that?” I’m telling you, today’s youth have no imagination. The next thing that came up was a dialog box that wanted me to change my password.

You must change your password. Your password must meet the following rules:

Your password must be at least ten characters. (exerbis123, I count 9)
Do not use the company or product name. (Like exerbis?)
Do not use consecutive numbers. (Like 123?)
You must include a special character !@#$, etc. (Um.…)
Use a mix of upper and lower case. (do as I say, not as I do…)

It took me ten times to get this one right because it turns out that your password needed four out of five of the rules to work, but if you got all five it would fail. I settled on “Trout_Anon_step1.” Garfield said he had to go lick himself or whatever cats do. I couldn’t get into anything except the network drives so I started searching for Operation Dogfood. Celestine, the blue-haired chick, IMed me on the office chat, and we went to lunch.

We grabbed food at the on-campus plaza and ate outside in a courtyard with a waterfall and pond surrounded by concrete and glass buildings sitting at odd angles to each other like they were blocks dropped by a petulant child. We chatted about Nietzsche, quantum entanglement, and music. I introduced her to Dick Dale and she almost smiled. She got up and went back to work, and I lounged in the sun for a while before I rousted myself to go look at the water. I wondered if part of my recovery would include staying away from moving water, which has always been my real drug.

Around 3:00, Monsieur Le Gordet showed up at my cube. He looked at the calendar.

“What’s that?”

“My window to the free world.”

“Burt, I just don’t think you are taking this seriously. As an addict, you can’t have any contact with your old ways at all. No friends, no reminders, no fish porn. Nothing. It’s like an alcoholic keeping a bottle in his desk drawer.”

“Which reminds me,” I said, opened my bottom drawer and poured a healthy slug into my coffee. I held up the bottle to him, and he was the most lovely shade of eggplant.

“You need to go to a meeting.”

“I figured. I’m still waiting for my Outlook credentials…” I lied.

“Not a work meeting, a Troutaholics meeting.”

“Celestine and I were going to get our hair dyed and then go to an emo poetry reading. They are going to read everything backwards and turn their smiles upside down.”

I think I heard his teeth grinding together. “Get your stuff.”

I shrugged, dropped the bottle into my pack and stood up. He hustled me out of there with a hand on my elbow like he was hustling Trump out of a #metoo rally. I waved to Celestine.

Gordonomo dropped me off in front of a church. “Meeting’s in the basement. I’ll be back in an hour. Try to find a sponsor.” He actually squealed the tires when he left. I watched him drive off, shrugged, and walked around until I found the basement entry.

I don’t spend a lot of time in churches. Did you know they decorate every available wall with a dead guy on a torture device? It’s enough to give you PTSD. I can see why people have to go to bars to recover from them. I walked up to a set of metal doors and stepped into a dark room full of uncomfortable, folding wooden chairs. Everybody looked at me. All four of them. I felt overdressed: everybody else was wearing flannel. There was a guy at the podium whom I might’ve interrupted.

“Hello, new member!” He seemed absolutely overjoyed. “What’s your name?”

“My name is Burt.” I expected everybody to turn back to the speaker but they looked at me like a nest of eagle chicks waiting for me to regurgitate salmon entrails. “And I’m a troutaholic?”

“Welcome Burt,” murmurs went around the room. I shuffled to a seat in the back.

“Trout were my gateway fish. At my worst,” continued the man at the podium, “I used my kid’s college fund and booked a trip to the Seychelles, looking for my first trifecta. I told my wife I was in alcohol and drug addiction rehab and insurance paid for it.”

“That’s a good one.” “Rehab always works.” “Wish I’d thought of that,” went around the room.

“Did you get the trifecta?” I asked.

He looked at me with penetrating blue eyes. “Not the first year, but then rehab rarely sticks the first time,” he smirked. Everybody applauded and he stepped down.

Next up was a young woman. She had a bob under a Sage ball cap, and was wearing a flannel shirt over jeans which were tucked into Timberlands. She looked familiar. “My name is Heather.”

“Hello Heather,” went around.

“I used to be a model. I was blonde, and this,” she grabbed a shank of hair, “came almost to my waist in a braid.” She looked around at us and I could see her eyes were moist. “I met a guy at an Eddie Bauer shoot, a trout bum, a guide – a poser. He had a little cabin and an operation up north and I went to visit. I remember my first big rainbow, after that I couldn’t get enough.” Susurrations of agreement went around the room.

“But when he posted the picture, all the comments from men were catcalls, and all the comments from women were catty. They called me a ‘cupcake.’” Now I recognized her. I’d seen the images shared somewhere.

“But Ben, he said posting those pictures of me were the best thing that ever happened to his business. Soon I was posing with fish I didn’t even catch, and people were booking trips to fish with me.” I heard a tongue cluck.

“First I dyed my hair, so that people would take me seriously, then I cut it off. I wore Ben’s clothes.” Somehow, I thought, none of this had diminished her beauty, and may have done the opposite. “Ben got a job in Kamchatka, and left me to run the business. At first it was good, but the guiding got in the way of fishing. I would drop clients off and go back out. I fished on all of my off days. I began to hope people wouldn’t book.”

“Amen to that,” mumbled across the room.

“When Ben posted a picture of him with some Russian cupcake, I knew we were over. It was late in the season, I closed the lodge but stayed on to fish. I was obsessed. When the snow came, I was stuck with no food.” She paused and I could really see the tears now. “I, I ate wild steelhead.” Every person gasped. Chairs were instinctively kicked back away from her as if she had just confessed to being in the Donner Party. “That’s how I knew I was at the bottom.”

She got a standing ovation.

The next guy who got up was a smallish man with a beard and a glint in his eye which can only be seen in direct descendants of leprechauns. He brought a banjo with him and half played it without paying attention to it, and half sang his confession. By the time he got to talking about dyeing and shaving his wife’s cat to make flies, I had tears rolling down my face. His list of deprivations would’ve given John Gierach two books worth of content.

After that people looked expectantly of me. I thought, all I had to do was buy the kid a bar mitzvah present, like maybe a new Beamer, and I could be fishing right now. But, I hate to disappoint an audience, so I walked up to the podium. “I remember my first fish, a rainbow out of a stocked pond, with a worm on a Zebco department store rod when I was a kid. I think there is something in your brain, like a little bell, fishing either rings it, or it doesn’t.” I saw heads nodding. “Part of it was the fight, part of it was knowing that I had done this all by myself. Found this fish, hunted it, landed it. At first, that was enough. But later, when I discovered fly fishing, it was like somebody had taken that bell and polished it, and coated it in something romantic, so it didn’t even have to ring. You could just know it was there and maybe ring it or maybe not.” People moved to the edges of their seats. Some clasping their hands and leaning forward.

“There is a great fetishery to it, which may be as addictive as the fishing itself, the way a garter belt is sexier than a bare leg.” I looked around, “We all know, it can’t be about the fish, there are hardly any fish anymore.” I shrugged. “I dunno, maybe it’s the marketing that has me hooked now. I never much thought about it before.” I brought myself back. “Ah, hell. I sure do like it when the bell rings, though. You know what I mean?” I smiled. People clapped and nodded. After that, the meeting broke up. People came up to me. “Oh, man, you are dangerous. I’m totally ready to relapse,” said the leprechaun. That made me smile, until I realized that should’ve made me feel bad, and then I really had to smile.

The first guy who was speaking came up to me, a rangy looking guy with sandy hair. He stuck out his hand. “Ted.” We shook.

“Burt, I watched you in there. I don’t think you are going to make it.”

“What if I don’t want to make it?”

“In that case, I definitely don’t think you are going to make not making it.”

I tipped my head and gave him the same look my dog gives me when I talk to him about anything besides food. “Look, Burt. I get that you don’t think you have a problem. I get that you think the people who sent you here have the problem. But that is still a problem. Maybe you haven’t hit rock bottom. Maybe you don’t feel like you need to make amends.”

“You got that right.”

“Maybe you feel like the people who sent you here are all people who do what they think they ‘should’ be doing, and because they live miserable, gray lives, they are jealous of your freedom and they are just squeezing it out of you to make you miserable too.” By this point, his hands were in front of him as if they encircled a ball, or a neck, and he was squeezing with all of his might, his eyes bulging and veins sticking out on his neck and forearms.

“Um, maybe?” I reached into my pocket and offered him my flask. He took his eyes off of his hands and looked up at me, then looked at the flask. He took it and drained half, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Well in that case, you need a sponsor. I can tell you how to dupe those bastards and keep fishing. That Seychelles dodge? I invented that one. I use it every 18 months. Turns out being an alcoholic is way more acceptable than being fish-crazy. Miserable people can understand a drinking problem. They can forgive a drinking problem. It has an outcome. But nobody gets standing in the rain for a month only to catch fish you are just going to put back. Worse, nobody wants you to be happier than them.”

I looked at him, and said, “Yeah, makes total sense.” I held out my hand to get my flask back and took my own deep draught.

 

Low’G-rider picked me up right on time. “I got a sponsor,” I beamed.

“Good, now you can start to make amends. Speaking of which, I’ll pick you up at 5:30 tomorrow. AM.”

“Tomorrow’s Saturday, I was going to make a day of throwing away my socks and maybe get some hair product.”

“I know it’s Saturday, we are going golfing. You know what golfing is, don’t you?”

“Sure, it’s like ferret bagging, but there’s no ferret to root for.”

“Ferret bagging?”

“Also invented by the Scots. You put live ferrets in your pants and see who can last the longest. World record is over five hours. Say, isn’t that about as long as it takes to play a hole of golf?”

“Take this seriously, Burt. Golf courses have been the canvas on which business has been written in America for the last 100 years. You need to learn it. You owe me.”

“Respectfully, Big G, I bet I’ve closed more deals on the river than your whole family tree has closed on the golf course. Fly fishing is the new golf.” Even as I said it, part of me died and I promised to never, ever close another deal on the river.

“Burt, we’re not talking home theaters here.”

“Home automation,” I said. “I did Kevin Costner’s house.” But he was already on the phone.

When we pulled into the yard, my truck was gone. I looked over at Goronomo. “I don’t suppose you know where my truck is?”

“Burt, it was part of your old life, it had to go.”

I drummed my hand on the door handle and looked straight ahead at my empty parking space. I kind of needed that truck for my business.

“You can deny it all you want, but things were getting bad. Doris told me that you pawned your signed Eric Clapton guitar to go on your last trip. That was a prize possession.”

“I didn’t pawn it, we were going by his cabin and I lent it back to him so he could record a riff on a new piece. He said it had just the right tone.”

“Oh, so now you know Eric Clapton.”

“Met him salmon fishing on a beach on the Olympic Peninsula.”

“You are so full of bullshit, get out of the car. Just get out.”

I shrugged and got out. Then on second thought I leaned back into the car. “It’s a good story, actually. Super cool cat. Didn’t even recognize him for the first hour or so. Ironically, he credits his sobriety to fly fishing.” Goblammo pinned it and the door yanked out of my hand, slamming shut as he drove away. “I built him a home recording studio in his cabin,” I said as I watched him go. “He gave me the guitar as a gift.” Then I turned and walked to the house. “I have liner note credits,” I said.

Doris was waiting at the door, as if I might get sidetracked by a trout between the car and the house. She was beaming as if I was five and it was my first day at school. “How was it?”

“Like fishing in a dry wash.”

“Is that good?”

“Well you know what they say, the best day working is worse than the worst day fishing. Sobriety is a bitch.”

“Oh, Burt. Please. Please try.”

“This is me trying. I spent a whole day with your insufferable brother-in-law. I went to a freaking ‘meeting.’” I looked around the mudroom. “Hey, where is all my stuff?”

Doris looked down and wrung her hands. “They said you might be mad.”

“They? Might? Mad? What exactly am I definitely going to be mad about?”

“We gave your stuff away.”

“The operative word here is that it was my stuff, ergo, not your stuff, ergo, giving away an option not.”

She stamped her foot, “Look Burt, you either give up fishing – forever – or give me up.”

I was not done. “It may not’ve looked like much to you, but that was my father’s rod. Maybe to be my, our, daughter’s rod. If you are saying I can’t take our child fishing, why are we even having sex?”

She looked at me, her eyes widened, she burst out crying and ran into the house, slamming the door. I figured she locked it too, but didn’t bother to check. I looked directly at my crotch and said, “Sorry little dudes, I guess Plan A for celebrating my new career path with an upstream swim is off.” I guessed it was Plan B for the celebration, and I dialed Fast Eddie for a ride.

 

Fifteen minutes later, we were on his porch and beer was coming out of his nose. “Golf?”

“Yeah, you know what golf is, right?”

“Sure, it’s my flip channel when I’m watching the public service legislation channel and it gets too intense, you know like in the 23rd hour of a filibuster.”

“I hear you. Ever since they went to shaky cam, I can’t stop watching that stuff.”

“I think that is the cameraman snoring.”

“Golf,” we both said simultaneously and clinked bottles.

“Get this. I was at lunch the other day and they have this big water feature there and guess what’s in it?”

“Pennies and algae.”

“Yup. And huge brown trout.”

“You don’t say?”

“I think this is a definite risk to my sobriety.”

He scratched his chin. “Fortunately, I don’t have that problem. When do you figure?”

“Saturday is golf, so how about Sunday evening?”

“As long as we are back for Game of Thrones.”

“Can you drop me off at my place in the morning?”

“Of course, but I’m getting up hella early to go fishing. I’ve got a new spot.”

“Almost doesn’t make it worthwhile going to bed, does it?” I said and grabbed another beer out of the cooler between us. “I think I should practice my game.” And with that we drove over to the local miniature golf course and broke in.

 

The next morning Fast Eddie dumped me on the lawn. I had dressed for the occasion in a pair of his old cut-offs and studded cleats with neoprene booties. I had a fishing vest stuffed with multicolored golf balls from the night before. I even had my own 40-year-old left-handed putter. I may not have screamed “Recovery” to the casual observer in any one of several categories. It was certainly not clear to Gordipshitz.

“Are you absolutely serious? What is that get up?”

“My finer golf attire, it turns out, was in my fishing bag that you gave away.” I shrugged. “This was the best I could do on short notice.”

“Are you ˗ drunk?”

“Only on the recommendation of my girlfriend and my sponsor that I take up a new hobby to keep my mind off fishing.”

“Get in the car, we just have time to go to the pro shop and fix you up.”

I may have nodded off, because the next thing I remember was being prodded with a large cup of hot coffee.

“I wasn’t sure how you take it.”

“With Bourbon, preferably.” The poking became more of a shove at that point. I took a deep gulp and promptly burned my esophagus all the way down. This was not going to help either my stomach or my mood, especially when we bumped into the golf course driveway and a healthy dose of the coffee sloshed out and parboiled my underutilized genetic material, which in retrospect was nearing its expiration date anyway. It did, however, add to my overall dishabille by making it appear like I had wet myself. I got hustled into the pro shop like it was a delousing station and came out shortly after much more poorly dressed than when I went in, with Gorblammo babbling about tee time or some such. The ridiculous shoes hurt the bruise on my heel and made me limp.

Bags were unloaded and we started walking up to the tee when I stopped dead in my tracks. “Oh, shit.”

“What’s the matter now?” I tilted my head at him. He said that like I had been the one bitching endless the whole time.

“That’s Bill Gates.”

“Damn, if you aren’t right for once. Please. I beg you, do not embarrass me.”

“Yeaaaaaah. About that, see Billy Boy is kind of pissed at me.”

“Do not start with that crap.”

“It has to do with me refusing to use Windows with my systems…”

While we were chatting, Bill must’ve recognized me because the next thing I know, he’s prodding me in the chest with the handle of his driver, as he was holding it by the head? club? face? bulby thing? “Burt!”

“Billllll, long time no see.”

“Not because we haven’t been calling. Are we going to have to send the lawyers after you ˗ again?”

Gordina’s head was swiveling back and forth between me and Bill like he was watching a tennis match.

“I’ve been busy with my new um, enterprise, Bill,” I said, putting my arm around him, “no need to do all of that lawyer stuff.” I looked down the fairway. “I tell you what, why don’t we settle the whole thing with a friendly bet?”

“I didn’t know you golfed.”

“Well, a bunch better than you cast.”

“Ghhh, ghheee, ghheee,” went G-g-g-ordy.

“Shush,” I said, “I’ve been practicing.”

Bill smiled like a con man with a fat mark. “You’re on, Burt, what are the terms?”

“Well, if you win, I will refactor my code. If I win, I want a ride home in your helicopter, and I want you to promise to never, ever take up fly fishing.”

“Ghhh, ghheee, ghheee.”

“Shush!” I said, and Bill and I shook. “Bill, meet Chuck Gordongione, my caddy.”

It turns out golf isn’t that hard. It’s the applied application of force with relaxed finesse and timing. In other words, it’s a lot like fly casting. And, like a lot of things, the less you care, the easier it is. Certainly easier, say, than practicing drives with an off-handed putter out of the back of Fast Eddie’s truck as he careens down the highway at triple digits. And I sure cared a whole lot less than Bill. He can be a little bit ADHD about this stuff. I took a deep hit off of my flask as he hit a pretty good drive for a middle-aged geek with the muscle tonus of calamari. Only a slight hook. I came up behind him and put one right down the middle, ten yards further. “Side bet?” I said, tossing the driver to Gordian Knot and getting into the cart with Bill.

I was saying, “Bill, you are swinging inside/out with a closed face. That’s why you are hooking,” when my phone buzzed with a text.

“Slice into the woods.” – Fast Eddie

I chewed on my lip for a minute while I contemplated this sage advice. We had the side bet going, but one thing I knew about Fast Eddie was that he always had a good reason for everything. And that good reason was he is batshit crazy and way more fun than playing golf with Bill Gates for $100 a ball. Besides, I had a hunch about this.

We lined up and I shanked my drive deep into the copse along the right of the fairway. Bill laughed. The Gipper went “Ack!” I shrugged and picked up my bag. “Good walk spoiled and all that.”

When I got into the woods, Eddie was there jumping up and down. “Oh, man, you are going to love this!”

He handed me a beer and I dropped my bag by a tree, then he guided me through the trees towards the farmland on the other side. In his hand was a small tube. We stopped at the edge of the woods were there was a ditch of stagnant water. I looked both ways and then shaded my eyes with my hands and looked across the field trying to figure the angle. “This is your new secret spot?”

Eddie didn’t say a word, just smiled as he took a telescoping Tenkara rod out of the tube and extended it out to its full twelve feet. It already had a fly on it. He dappled it into the ditch and walked along the berm to give it action. All of a sudden, it was “Wham!” fish on. The long rod gave the fish plenty of leverage and it took me wading into the ditch to help him land a seven-pound carp. You could’ve parked a Porsche in his grin.

“I’ll be damned,” I said, my new duds covered in mud, Bill Gates and the golf game long forgotten. “Give me that thing.”

As we walked along the berm, Eddie fished a beer out of his pack and handed the rod to me.

“Do you think this is it, Eddie?”

“It what?”

“Me hitting bottom.”

He looked me over head-to-toe. “Wardrobe-wise? Definitely.”

“No. Ditch-fishing carp.”

“God, I hope not. This is way too much fun to give up. “

Right then two things happened: I hooked up and Gilbert Grape tackled me. I dropped the rod and we rolled down the slope into the ditch where he sat on my chest and tried to hold my head under water. Through the muddy film I could see Eddie with the rod in one hand and his beer in the other running away down the ditch after the fish. It only took me a minute to acquit myself of Gumby and hold his head under the water a few times to cool him off, then I dragged his ass up the bank.

“What the hell are you doing?” I said.

He was sputtering much like Eddie’s carp. “I cannot believe you would blow off a golf game with Bill Gates to go fishing.”

I shrugged palms up. “What do you want? I’m an addict.”

He got up and shook off my attempts to help him. “Fuck you, Burt. Just fuck you. I never know what you are talking about, if you are telling the truth, or what you care about. I hope you win that game because you are going to need that helicopter ride home.” He stormed off, then stopped and yelled back “And by the way, you are fired!” Eddie was hooting and hollering over his fish. I smiled. Golf turned out to be way more fun than I’d ever imagined. I hoped our wrestling match hadn’t put the fish down.

By the time I got back to Eddie’s, I was pretty dried out and so were my clothes. He was standing in the living room in his underwear, hands out and eyes bulging, listening to Van Halen II at eleven on the earphones.

“Dude, I’m like tripping out. I can feel this in my whole body.”

I hooked a thumb towards the yard, “That’s just Bill’s helicopter!” I shouted.

“What?”

I repeated myself. “Oh, right, beers in the fridge,” he shouted back and he went back to his balancing act.

 

The next night found us with our faces blacked out and flat on the lawn at eXerbis. Which was pretty stupid considering we were under full spotlights from each of the five buildings, but Eddie had this whole Black Beret role play going on and wriggling with the night crawlers was actually more fun than walking to work on the faux flagstone paths had been. None of the office lights were on and it felt like we were on a stage. He kept making some gesture in front of his eyes with his fingers in a V, pointing emphatically at the shadows like he would throw his hand off his arm, and making waking motions on one palm with the fingers of his other hand.

“I’m going to miss this place.” I said. “Over.”

“Bull,” he said. “Rodger.”

“No, I, I dunno, I feel like I had so much untapped potential here. Over.” He shot me a glance but by then we were at the edge of the path that circumnavigated the water feature. He got up on one knee and dappled with that Tenkara rod.

“Where, and why, did you get that?” I said lying on my back and putting my borrowed 5 weight together.

“Back of a magazine. It’s trendy. Plus, you only need like one fly. And that fly,” he beamed, “is called a ‘flymph.’ Who doesn’t want to catch a fish on a flymph?” He had me at that.

I knelt next to him. I tied on a chunky black streamer out of Eddie’s critter box. Then a Hornberg. Then tossed a Muddler under the waterfall. Then a black-nose dace. Then 48 different dry flies. Out of desperation, I finally went to nymphs. I was beginning to wish I’d had some flymphs. We hadn’t said a word in hours and GoT was definitely nestled in the DVR by now. Eddie looked at me. “Like maybe they put the fish away at night.”

I finally stood up, switched on my head lamp and walked over to the pool, Eddie at my side. There in less than three feet of water were the epitome of genetic engineering: at least a hundred overweight piscatorial capons.

“Do these fish seem educated to you?”

“Maybe that’s how they got the gig,” he said.

Just then headlights swept across us as a car pulled into the parking lot. We looked for cover and did the only logical thing, jumped into the pool. We sat there, in the shadows on the far side, submerged from the nose down. We heard a car door slam and footsteps on the crushed gravel path. When Gortholemew crept up and looked both ways before plopping a fly into the pool, I was more surprised than the Blessed Mary’s father when he found out he was going to be a grandparent.

His presentation may have sucked, but before the fly even popped back up to the surface, a trout engulfed it and shot into the air. It started racing around the pool, and even though we saw it coming there was nothing we could do about it. It wound us up like a butcher with a Christmas roast and in a few moments, me, Eddie, the Gronk, and the trout were inexorably intertwined. Since the gig was up, I stood up and hand-lined in the fish while Gapster stood there open-mouthed. I extracted the fly and unwound Eddie who had a happy-ending rapture look on his face.

I inspected the fly. “Operation Dogfood. You are using a dog food fly, you despicable bastard?”

“Dog food flies!” said Eddie, slapping his forehead. “I have dogfood flies! Why didn’t I think of that? Damn flymph brain,” and he went mumbling off across the pool.

Gobbler’s Adam’s apple was bobbing up and down. “Kibble’s all they’ve ever had. That’s all they will take.” He looked around to make sure we were alone. “Please, Burt, please, you can’t tell anybody about this.”

“This soup is too rich to eat alone,” I said.

“Poetic,” said Eddie over his shoulder.

“After all the hell you put me through,” I said as I sloshed across the pool. “Is that my father’s rod!?”

“I just had to. You don’t understand the pressure I’m under. The venture capitalists, they send people here at night to see if my lights are on and if I’m working. I don’t get a minute to myself. The fishing, it’s all I have.” He started crying.

“So this isn’t about the bar mitzvah at all? This was about you being jealous of me.”

He was completely babbling. “I’m not even Jewish. I just lied to apply for a scholarship to go to school. Then to get the loan for the company. Once I went that far, I couldn’t stop. I thought I was going to be rich, but in the end, I just work for my investors. My stock is more dilute than spit in a flood. These people are worse than the mob. And you, you crazy bastard, you don’t even work, you just drink and fish! You deserve to be taken down a peg.”

I started laughing. I bent over. I put my hands on my knees. Then I stood up, took my phone, looked back at one of the buildings and turned the lights on in Guido’s office. “For the investors,” I said.

“What the hell?”

“Something I did the other day when I had a little time. I own my own business too, you know.”

“No offense, Burt, but this is a multi-million-dollar IT business and you made what last year?”

Eddie had hooked up and was splashing around the pool with that ridiculous rod hooting like a freight train in love. I hollered over at him, “You keep the books, how much was it?”

He shouted over his shoulder. “Three-quarters.”

Gollumspawn laughed. “Seventy-five thousand take home?” He swept his arm, “Compared to this?”

“Three quarters of a million,” I corrected him. “Ten times that that after I give Bill his code.”

Eddie had corralled the fish. “I thought you won.”

“I did, but I already wrote the code; I just wanted him to work for it.”

“You, you, you made almost a million dollars last year fly fishing? I work like a dog and I’m in debt up to my ears.”

“I own five houses,” I said.

“If this is true, how does Doris not know you are rolling in it?”

“Just like you; she would know if she listened. When I proposed, she told me to get a job. You make a bad role model.” I shrugged. “Sometimes I tell her I’m going fishing when I actually go to work.” Eddie hooked up again.

“That’s how he did Reba McEntire’s ranch,” said Eddie.

“Now I feel bad,” I said watching Eddie and the fish.

“You, feel bad for me? Not very bloody likely.”

“Well, I do. I thought I was screwing you, but I may have done you a favor, and now I feel guilty.”

“What are you talking about?”

“After I caught up to Bill, I had to up the side bets to even out. I kind of talked Bill into buying you out on the last green. As of tomorrow morning, you are probably out of a job.”

“You should go work for him, Gordo, he’s an excellent boss” said Eddie who played his fish right through between us.

I had a very sour taste in my mouth, it looked like I was going to have to help Gordette out. “If I’m stuck with you, you have to talk to Jimmy Kimmel. He’s pretty pissed about Friday, and that was a six-figure deal. And, I’ll be taking this,” I said pulling the rod out of his hand.

“I hope you didn’t put them all down, Eddie.”