Tales From Mephitis. Chapter 20: Going Fishing

Updated on March 15, 2018
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Mr. Vanek is an Observer of the Human Condition and a Writer.

That next Saturday he was back at Mephitis and began to teach himself how to drive the GMC ‘White Truck’, a 31,420-pound diesel truck that stood eleven feet high and was thirty-foot long. He arrived before anyone else and climbed up into the cab.

“No sense in waiting for Ray or the drivers to step up and offer to help. I’m going to have to teach myself. I’ll be lacking expressway experience, but otherwise I can practice all other skills and maneuvers right here at Mephitis. Let’s see.”

Settling into the seat he perused the controls and layout once again. A strange feeling came over him.

“I can’t believe I had that dream; what was it? Four years or so ago? In it I had a chance to learn to drive a white truck, and I think it was called a ‘MLK Truck’, but it was a truck EXACTLY like this one.

I didn’t realize it until I got in here. I remember the cab precisely from the dream. This IS it.

In the dream I decided to learn to drive it while I was waiting for a train to come in with something I was expecting. I’ll be damned.”

He shook his head sternly.

“Enough of that bullshit: Back to reality. Never mind dreams. Never mind the past. Never mind my memories. Memories at some point must be transcended. They hold us to the past.

Can’t see where any good has come of remembering. Never could find any proof of what I remember, except all these scars I carry.

Just made a fool of myself in believing my grandfather did have something for me when that asshole, my ‘so-called father’, dies. Who knows; maybe I am delusional.”

Looking out the windshield, his gaze was eight feet off the ground.

Don’t all of us, so sane in so many ways, have one or more irrational delusions? I haven’t met anyone yet that didn’t harbor at least one beaut. Well, maybe this is mine now.

I was delusional for fifty years in thinking I had a family and normal parents. Lost that delusion in a heap.

Maybe I just replaced it with something else, that my grandfather bypassed his son and made me his heir because of what they did to me.”

During lulls in the work he got to spend about an hour and a half in the truck in two goes. He started to familiarize himself with going through the pre-trip inspection, actually operating the air brake system, getting the feel of the clutch, the shift pattern, and maneuvering the bulky vehicle.

This is do-able.” He thought. He turned and gazed at Farmer’s semi tractor trailer where it’d sat unused, parked since the driver had retired five months ago.

“You’re next.”

He was on the schedule to go back to Genoa for one more day. When he arrived, he saw he’d be working with Timmer, an alternative sentencing kid, and Curt O’Hara.

Curt normally worked at the Milan Station unless, like today, he was needed to cover Dougie’s absence. He was forty-five, short, with a thick chest and shoulders, and gone to seed. When he was in the army as a kid, the sergeant used to call him “No Neck”. He was widely viewed as being as strong as an ox.

Having no real chin, his head merged seamlessly from his wide mouth filled with yellowing gapped teeth right into that bull neck. Under his cap, his balding, ragged brown hair was cut short. His hoarse voice still carried a strong “Down East” Maine accent.

He supposedly came from money near Kennebunkport, though how the hell he ever wound here was never explained. He told Frank he and his wife had bought some land in Arkansas and intended to build there. They didn’t have any kids. She was a little petite thing, only a hundred pounds and worked as a cashier in a grocery store. They’d started on the home site already, putting in the septic system, and the well was in too. He’d worked for the county nine years now and hoped they didn’t shut these places down before he had ten in so he’d be vested for a pension.

To Frank, that didn’t sound like a fellow expecting to come into money.

“Maybe that’s his delusion.”

Curt’s idea of being foreman seemed to consist of sitting in the office and ‘studying’ stacks of Playboy’s and Penthouse’s. He had a reputation as being lazy, and from what Frank saw, he earned it.

He had begun to understand that what these men who worked for the County were all looking for was a safe haven; a secure job that demanded nothing from them, where they could just vegetate till they retired and died.

Unfortunately for them, a boulder had been thrown into the still waters of their complacency by the Board’s increasingly strident vocalizations of their intent of either finding a buyer or shutting the Recycling Transfer Stations down for good.

“You guys keep an eye on things for me, okay?” Curt growled amiably. “I’m gonna shoot over ta ‘Cumbie’s’ and grab a sub.” He looked over his shoulder as he went out the door. “If the phone rings while I’m gone: Don’t answer it. I’ll be back in five.”

This was as much an unvarying routine for Curt as Dougie’s 8 a.m. bowel movement, despite the fact that he often got sick on the cheap meat subs he was so fond of.

He was an unaffected man of simple tastes. Like all the workers at Milan he loved to get stoned; on the job and off it. He loved to ski and longed desperately to get laid. For such males, to have constantly available, and be so constantly bombarded with, sexual stimuli from magazines, movies, and the internet, works these perpetual adolescents up into a fever pitch of frustrated titillation.

Sex sells, so it’s used everywhere, and that all serves to frustrate them all the more. He was merely another in a legion of desperately sexually unfulfilled males. So desperate, he told Frank he was sorely tempted to link up with his old girlfriend again. He had found her on-line.

“She was a psycho; but at least she was also a nympho.”

The alternative sentencing kid was a pleasant lad of about twenty, on his third wife and fourth child, he couldn't recall. He was unemployed at the time, and doing his sentence of a month at the station for a drug charge. He was short, lean and muscular like a gymnast, with blonde hair shaved close into an arrowhead shape.

After lunch he came up to Frank excitedly.

“Check this out!” he exclaimed delightedly, waving a twenty-dollar bill. “That old geezer gave me this for helping him unload that bunch of crap on his truck. He tells me he says; ’Here ya go, kid. That’s for you. Don’t share it with that fat-ass lazy bastard!’ He was talking about him.”

He jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of Timmer who was holding up a wall heroically while he yakked away with someone.

Meanwhile, customers flowed past him throwing their trash in the hopper. Frank saw no stickers on any bags.

During the day, he mined their Gaylords of books as had become his custom. He found a couple of interesting ones; a collection of Binet’s French cartoons, Les Bidochon, and several VCR tapes; “Hamlet” directed by Kenneth Branaugh, “Cirque du Soleil: Saltimbanco”, and “Heartbreak House” by George Bernard Shaw, with Amy Irving and Rex Harrison. All still in their shrink wraps.

Then he picked up a thick tome of 100 Years of News, 1900-2000, published by DK. It was a day by day record of the 20th century’s news stories. He hefted it in his hand, debating whether to take it or not. He decided it could prove useful for reference and an interesting browse. He carried them to his van.

Timmer approached him conspiratorially near the end of the day. He had that gleam in his eye.

Seems Frank hadn’t had the chance yet to be dazzled by the brilliance of his new idea. It was time to take him into his confidence.

Seems the State had recently passed a new regulation concerning the sale of baitfish: They had to be certified not to contain invasive or harmful species and could only come from a seller authorized by the State. Each sale of bait fish now came with a ticket stating that it had been so certified, otherwise it was illegal. There was to be no gathering up of your own bait anymore.

Now, that didn’t set well with Timmer, that paragon of rugged American Pioneer Individualism.

“No sir! I fish a lot, and I go through a lot of bait. I’m not one a these once a year fishermen, no sir! I’m a trout fisherman. I don’t wanna have ta buy a five dollar bucket a bait every goldurned day! No sir! I’m no rich bastard!”

He looked around slyly.

“Me an Jim, see, we got this idea. See? There’s a lot of guys like us, don’t like this State messin with us, trampling our rights. Ya know what I’m tryin ta say?”

Frank didn’t have a clue what he was trying to say, but figured he would eventually.

“We know where there’s this little quarry. Had a few pits dug that’ve filled with water. So I says ta Jim ‘Perfect. Me an you, Jim, we‘re goin inta the bait business!’”

Frank looked around, hoping someone would come in and rescue him from this. The place was like a tomb. The wind whipped up the dust in sullen clouds, making him squint.

“So we went an netted a bunch of small fry; all kinds, an dumped em in the pools. Yessir! Feed em dry dog food, ya know, just toss it in. They love it. Yessir!”

He moved closer to Frank, his eyes gleaming brighter. He dropped his voice.

“We got us a couple of them tags that says the fish is certified, see? Any time we need bait, why we just drive up ta the quarry, and dip us out a bucket or so.”

He stopped and looked around again.

“See, we know a lot of fisherman. It’s a gold mine! Ya know what I’m tryin ta say? Me an Jim, we figure we can sell them minnows for a dollar apiece!”

He leaned back confidently, smiling smugly, giving Frank a chance to let the significance sink in. Then he quickly leaned forward.

“Take 20,000 minnows at a dollar apiece, and whattya got?” he asked Frank, leering knowingly.

” $20,000.” Frank answered slowly, wondering what the hell he was getting at.

Timmer stepped back, looking stunned...then confused. He came forward again, raising and lowering his paws like a bear praying, keeping cadence with his words.

“No, see?” He began again, assuming Frank just hadn’t really appreciated the subtlety; hadn’t gotten the brilliance of the scheme. “Ya take twenty thousand minnows at a dollar a piece and then: Whattya got?”

“$20,000.” Frank repeated.

Tim from Genoa’s eyes darted furtively and frantically from side to side and he looked sick.

He wandered off to ponder where his math had gone wrong.

Later, when Jim pulled in near quitting time, he and Timmer showed him a five gallon pail as proof that their scheme was indeed brilliant.

Frank walked over and gazed down into the bucket. The smell of dead fish wafted up to him.

The pail of milky looking water was crowded with little fish. Frank estimated that half were dead, floating belly-up, and the other half was not far behind.

“How many species you got in there?”

“Whattaya mean?”

“How many types of fish?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Lots. Whatever we could net. Whatever our buddies had left over at the end of that day we dumped in there too. Let’s see”

Timmer stuck his fat paw into the water and stirred it around. Multi-colored flecks of dog food floated to the surface along with the very sick and dead fish.

“They don’t look so good, you know.”

“Awh, hell! They’re fine. Lessee…”

“Hey, careful, Timmer! Ya gonna rile em!” Jim nagged.

“I know there’s a bullhead in here somewhere.” He scooped up handfuls of the little fish to peruse as they gasped or stared lifelessly at him.

“There ain’t no bullhead in there! Leave em alone!”

“I knows a bullhead when I see a bullhead, an I tell ya there’s a bullhead in here somewheres.”

“No there ain’t!”

“Look it here!” Timmer crowed. “I told ya there was a bullhead!”

“That ain’t no bullhead!”

Frank left them to debate the identity of their piscine goldmine nugget, though he agreed with Jim; that was no bullhead.

A truck laden with knocked-down cardboard boxes from a liquor store had pulled up. The occupants got out and began unloading the cardboard, tossing it up onto the tray. One of them was an old man with a big belly and slow feeble movements. Hard to guess his age: Might have been as young as Frank, might have been old enough to be his father. The other one was a pretty young woman with broad shoulders and large breasts in a tight top and jeans. She looked like she could have been his grand-daughter, but by her comments it was entirely possible that she was actually his very young wife.

Frank walked over to give them a hand. As he approached, he saw the old man slowly lift a load of boxes up to drop them on the tray, when suddenly his pants dropped clear to his ankles. He had nothing on under them, his skinny white shanks and withered ass looked like bleached bone in the daylight. He stared stupidly down at himself, not moving.

The girl turned to face him. Startled, she looked down at his groin and then burst out laughing.

“If you’re gonna drop em, at least have something worthwhile lookin at!”

After dinner that night, Frank picked up the “100 Years of News” and began flipping through it. For each day it had a table of events, as well as brief newspaper accounts of the more important stories.

Curious about what world events were happening when he was a boy in Astoria, he went to the 1950’s section.

He turned the pages idly: 195219531954… He froze, his universe centered solely on the photograph on page 764 that was leaping out at him.

March, 1955: There, seated between two men in suits in an office, sat a sad looking little boy wearing a Davy Crockett hat and outfit.

“My God…IT’S ME.” He looked up from the book, trying to get a grip on himself.

“No. No. I don’t believe this. This can’t be...Can it?

He sat back, deliberately not looking at the photo, weighing things.

“I do NOT want to start making mistakes again.

But…it hit me so hard I didn’t have time to think about it: INSTANTLY I knew it was me.

I’ve never had something like that happen to me before, where I instantly recognized myself; except of course when I see photos of myself now.

He looks three. The month and year coincide precisely with what I said I remembered of that long recovery in the hospital from that dam release ‘accident’ Crazy Stacey and the Creep set me up with.

I remember the cap and the jacket...though I can’t say I remember the toy rifle I’m holding or those two men.

What are the odds of THAT?

And Goddamn it, he looks just like me! It IS a picture of me.”

Melissa wasn’t sure Frank was right, though she had to admit it did look a lot like him.

For once he himself had no doubts; which he found wryly ironic. He had been hideously tormented these past five years by doubts of whether what he had thought were recovered memories really were memories or not, while she had accepted them as the truth without blinking an eye. Especially the ones about his grandfather leaving him something that would mature around the Chinese Year of the Golden Pig.

After being cast deep into the pit by even only half-believing in such a Cinderella-ish fantasy as he had come to see it, he had sternly turned his face away from his putative past. Now here it was again, as if it were thrusting itself at him.

With a magnifying glass he saw what looked like scars on that boy’s face. They matched the same scars he had seen in the only photo he had of himself when he was three.

Once again, he felt the old urgent need to get some outside confirmation that what he was thinking was true.

He looked up the photo among the credits at the back of the book and found the company that owned the rights to it.

He and Melissa drove in to the library and got a terminal.

“Okay. We’re going to have to make this fast. We only get a half an hour on line.”

First, he did a search of the company. He found it was owned by Bill Gates and over the years had purchased numerous collections of photographs of all kinds until it had amassed the largest compilation in the world.

You could browse the collection and purchase the rights to use any photograph. He went to the website and fumbled his way by trial and error into the catalog’s search engine.

Trying different permutations around “Davy Crockett”, they scanned the images that came up. After a few tries they found it.

“There! That one. Click on that one.” Melissa pointed it out. A few seconds later the enlarged photo with a caption appeared.

“Three generations of Davy Crockett’s ancestors.” He read out loud. “Sh*t.”

“I’m sorry honey. It did look like you.”

“Wait a minute. How do we know that’s accurate? We’re assuming that was written by the one who actually took the photograph. Isn’t it possible that this photo was purchased along with many others and when it was cataloged someone guessed that it was of three generations of Crockett?”

“It’s possible. But how likely is that?”

Fess Parker as Davey Crockett
Fess Parker as Davey Crockett
Fess Parker as Daniel Boone
Fess Parker as Daniel Boone

“Hey. Wait. Look at this. See? It says ‘Fess Parker as Davy Crockett’. That was from the Walt Disney shows that started the Davy Crockett craze in 1955.


“Look at this other one above it. That one says ‘Fess Parker as Davy Crockett’ too.”

“What’s your point?”

“That is not Fess Parker as Davy Crockett. It’s Fess Parker as Daniel Boone, from the TV series he starred in the sixties. If they could make such an elementary mistake as that, whoever labeled it did so much later on. I’m going to look for something.”

He went back and got to Google and clicked on Images. He searched for photographs of Davy Crockett’s ancestors.

“Check it out.” He scrolled down the page, and then did the same on the next page and the next.

“See anybody that looks these other two guys sitting next to the kid I say is me? Do you see that photo that claimed to be ‘Three generations of Davy Crockett’s ancestors’? It should be here, right? But it is not.”

“You’re right. But it doesn’t prove that is you there either.”

“It doesn’t: But it keeps the ball in play. Just because my contention has not yet been proven true does not mean that it’s false. That would be to commit the fallacy of ‘Argumentum ad Ignorantum’.”

“Yes, but it does mean once again we wind up hitting a dead end.”

“Sucks, huh?”

That incident rekindled Frank’s desire to somehow achieve ‘completion’ or closure.

He dug out his hand typed manuscript of his experiences with the process of anamnesis and the chronicle of what happened to him as a boy. Half of it was almost illegible because the typewriter was missing the ‘e’ key and others were very worn, and all his ribbons one by one had faded to nothing. He had originally written it all down both to put everything in chronological order for him to study it easier and to preserve it for the future.

Now he had another goal.

“This needs extensive revision, besides being more legible, if I’m ever going to find someone who’ll publish it.

No way I’ll be able to rewrite this with that typewriter, I‘ve beaten the hell out of it. Can’t find any ribbons anywhere either.

No; I’m going to need a word processor. But how am I going to do that?

He had asked around about the price of computers and he didn’t feel justified in spending that much on what could be just an essentially fruitless, pointless exercise.

But: people dropped off their scrap computers and other electronics for free at Mephitis. Over the course of every week a Gaylord was filled with them.

A solution might be at hand.

“What am I now that I

Was then?

May memory restore again

and again

The smallest color of the

Smallest day.

Time is the school in which

We learn.

Time is then fire in which

We burn.”

“For Rhoda”

Delmore Scwhartz


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