Wednesday, September 30, 2015

CROWIN'

            I picked up Singing Dick at what we called the Market Street Wharf those days, now Newburg Landing.  He hopped into the bow of my Skadaddy, and I gently steered us out into the gray-green Ohio.
            He was the Dick Clark of T-town, being the city’s oldest teenager at 50.  This Dick could do one better in one-upmanship than the famous Bandstand emcee—he sang a lot, especially Motown hits.  He called it crowin’.  At the age when most people began to think about collecting Social Security, Singing Dick had yet to pay a nickel into it.
            Dick was wearing his standard Singing Dick fare: a white T-shirt, its right sleeve bugling with a plastic cigarette case.  He wore faded tight pencil blue jeans and pointed boots.  His brown hair was slicked back 50s style.
            We could not have been 15 feet offshore when he asked, “You got a smoke I can bum?”
            “No, I quit smoking years ago,” I replied.  Dickie was the answer to the Surgeon General’s pleas to quit smoking: over the years Dick had bummed so many smokes some guys would rather quit than to give him one more.
            “You know I’m good for it,” he said.
            “Sorry, I haven’t had a smoke in five years.”
            “Can I borrow a rod?”
            I handed him a rod, a spin cast outfit I seldom used.
            “How about a couple of lures?  You know I’m good for them.”
            We motored downstream to the tip of Brown’s Island where we began casting along the weed beds.  We could not have been fishing for more than three minutes when Dickie began singing a medley of Motown hits: “The Same Old Song,” “What Does It Take” and “You Really Got a Hold on Me.”  I don’t think the fish were so fond of Dickie’s singing and probably scattered all the way to Detroit.
            I gave Dickie the Medusa look I learned from my Little Pop Tart.
            “What’s the matter, Bobby?”  He was the only person in Toronto to call me Bobby since I was a Gerber baby.  “How about crowin’ a little with me?”
            “Can’t,” I said, “it will spook the fish.”
            “Not my crowin’.  Why, last week I caught a walleye this big.”  He extended his hands to indicate its size, a new world record and then some, in the process knocking his borrowed rod right into the water.
            Dickie plucked his cigarette case from his sleeve, snapped it open and offered me one.  I shook my head.  “How about lending me another rod.  You know I’m good for it.”
            I had two rods remaining, both of which were precious to me.  I also had a suspicion fishing was going to be the second thing I gave up in the last five years.
            “Okay,” I said.  “Be careful with this rod; it’s been very good to me.”
            Dickie grabbed the rod and ran a hand along its length, tenderly, exhibiting an emotion he usually reserved for the finale in his medley.  “I’m sorry about that last rod.  I’ll buy you one tomorrow.”
            I gave him another secondhand look.  Dickie appeared ready to cry.  He worked himself up so much his next song wailed with more emotion than normal.  Turkey vultures scattered from their roosts, flew downstream.  I revved the motor, more to drown out his lament than anything else.
            I piloted us to an off-channel about ten yards from shore where the water depth averaged about four feet in gentle current.  “Can I have another lure?” He asked, already rummaging through my tackle box.  Dickie pulled out my all time favorite lure, a chartreuse Dutake Special.  “I won’t lose it to a snag,” he said.  “I promise.  If I do, I’ll buy you a whole new tackle box—full of them.  You know I’m good for it.”
            Dickie was right, he didn’t lose it to a snag, in the traditional sense.  He looped his first cast around a tree limb, behind us on shore.
            We both sat there staring at the lure pendulating like a pendulum on a grandfather clock until it ceased swinging.  I was about to give him a borrowed look that could turn most guys to stone, but he said, “Don’t worry, Bobby, I got out of worse snags before.  I’ll bet you five dollars I won’t lose this lure.”
            He yanked and yanked on the line, whipping the rod his body length, the 25-pound-test line testing its limits.  Then Dickie jerked and came the nearest to sweating and overstraining himself in fifty years.  That lure broke free, all right, as the line snapped and directly toward Singing Dick flew the tree limb.
            For a guy whose fastest pace was usually in line of a free luncheon, he reacted quickly enough to fend the branch off with his borrowed rod, splintering the rod upon impact.  The lure fell harmlessly into the boat, right at Dickie’s feet.
            He held the lure up, glistening in the sun, with one hand, the other hand, palm open, extended toward me.
            I have been pushed into rage before, though never so much I reached the point of hysteria.  I remember reaching mechanically into my pocket, pulling out my wallet and handing Dickie a five.  Then I snapped out of my stupor.  He was crowin’ more Motown, a lit cigarette jutting from the corner of his mouth.   “I think I’ll have one of those smokes now,”
I said.
            “Sorry, Bobby, it’s my last one.”
            I started the motor and slammed the throttle hard, nearly thrusting Dickie from his seat.  After a ten-minute ride, I coasted the Skadaddy to Market Street Wharf.  He hopped out.
            “Hey, Dickie, I’ll pick you up this time next week.  You know I’m good for it.”
            “And I’ll be waiting with two new rods for you.”
            Singing Dick turned around and trudged up the embankment, lighting up another smoke along the way.
            There was plenty of daylight remaining, one rod and my favorite Dutake Special.  Or was it?
            I searched everywhere in the boat for that lure—everywhere.  I had a good idea where it went.  I looked toward Dickie again.  He was already past the trees, beyond my view.  But I could hear him.  He sure was crowin’.