When I was fourteen, boys were abundant on street corners and empty lots. They were shooed out the back door on a summer’s morning and not expected back until supper time. Fourteen-year-old girls were upstairs trying on trainer bras and deciding where to stick the circle pin on their blouse. They were plotting their transformation into sophisticated sixteen-year-olds. Boys, clueless, plotting nothing, were slipping behind in the prefrontal cortex game. At my screen door, I was Huck Finn, one foot poised on a raft being tugged by the mighty Mississippi, the other ready to let go of the shore and be swept away on an adventure. Once outside, there were no parents or coaches to form me, polish up my character. There were a few caveats to my freedom. Tyrannical management required that I had to have swept the car port, put out the garbage cans, and mowed the grass. On a typical summer’s day I would fetch my pal Steven Lively (“Step,” of course). We would sling fishing poles across our handlebars and bike to Towser’s Branch, a cocoa-colored stream winding through boggy woods.
Today I am Marshall, adult adequate fly fisherman, bound for adventure, a Mini Cooper replacing my bicycle. There was no grass to be mowed or car port to be swept. I had emptied the trash by deleting political emails in my inbox. I left our condo at 6:00 AM, leaving management, My Life’s Editor, asleep. An hour down the road, I got the hungries. I stopped at McDonald’s. When Lewis and Clark’s expedition was on the road in 1804, they consumed at least 6500 calories a day. My needs were more modest, a 300-calorie Egg McMuffin. There was no one at the cash register, so I stepped up to a shiny kiosk. “Ordering made fast and easy,” it said. “Start order,” it said. I selected, I touched. Egg McMuffin didn’t light up. I pushed hard on the screen. I begged for an Egg McMuffin. From 2001, A Space Odyssey, I heard a mellow voice: “I’m sorry, Marshall, I’m afraid I can’t do that. You are not shiny; you do not have bright LEDs like I do. You are inefficient. You failed statistics your sophomore year.” I became aware of a presence by my elbow. A short, smiling lady, Maria on her name tag, asked, “May I help you?,” her tone reserved for a doddering, but cherished abuelo.
Did Huck Finn have to deal with this? I think not.
My morning drive’s objective was a rendezvous with Kip, my graduate school roommate, and his son, Eli. We were to meet in the parking lot of the Best Western in Florida City, stepping-off point for the Everglades National Park. [Readers may remember a prior adventure in the Glades in “Three Men in a Boat.”]. I was pumped by the prospect of fishing with Kip, whose fishing intensity to mine is like a neutron star to a dime store flashlight, and his son who could possibly be even more intense. For me, it would be as if I were a scrub soccer player on the same field as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Renaldo, or the right fielder of my high school days, positioned between Carlos Stanton and Aaron Judge.
Aglow with anticipation, I swung east to cross the state on Alligator Alley. Halfway along, the interstate ahead of me exploded into a riot of blinking taillights and in seconds became a parking lot in the middle of the Big Cypress National Preserve. I studied a bumper sticker on the car ahead of me saying, “My kid can beat up your honor student.” I festered there for an hour while Kip and Eli sent plaintive texts asking when I would arrive in Florida City. When I finally broke free of the seething masses and got on the Florida Turnpike, I misread my GPS and got lost in Hialeah.
The actual fishing was slim because of an arctic cold front, a failed crop of soybeans in the Midwest, and a tsunami in Surinam. Wedged between two piscatorial studs, I managed to hook an occasional impressionable young snook who said “nah” to their offerings. On the second day of the trip, I overslept and woke up to two men banging on my door. They would have posted no “Likes” on my Facebook page, if I had one. There was also the small issue of my breaking Eli’s fishing rod and creating a snarl on his reel that would baffle Cal Tech PhDs. On earlier fishing trips I had broken Kip’s fly rod and his push pole, together costing many, many ducats. My current performance was therefore not viewed as exceptional. Saturday morning early, I slurped down a cuppa next to a French family grimacing at the Best Western’s buffet, and slunk out of town in the Mini Cooper.
I wonder if Huck has room on his raft.