Saturday, May 19, 2012
No fish were harmed in the making of this story, unless they overate and were a little uncomfortable after that. (Life, With Unicorns)
We hadn't planned on going fishing. Initially, we were just going to go to Spider Park, which is the horrifying name Mr Bunches has bestowed on what, technically, is known as Lakeview Park, but Mr Bunches doesn't know that, just as he doesn't know that the name he has bestowed on that park gives his dad the heebie-jeebies whenever he says it, because I picture a park filled with spiders, which is not unexpected when someone says Spider Park.
Mr Bunches calls Spider Park by that name not because the park is filled with spiders, which, although I don't like to think about it, is true: the park is filled with spiders. As I mentioned once, there's always a spider within 3 feet of you, no matter what you're doing. So, sitting and reading this with you is a spider. When you napped on the couch last Saturday, a spider napped with you. And when you woke up late last night at 2 a.m. and snuck downstairs for a middle-of-the-night Reese's Peanut Butter Cup snack, there was a spider sitting smack dab in the middle of the kitchen floor and you had to get a paper towel and smash it, and then you could feel it still moving -- you swear you could feel it still moving, even in the paper towel -- and so you had to quickly hurry to the bathroom where you threw the paper towel into the toilet and flushed it and slammed down the lid and were about to leave when you thought to yourself:
I should have watched the spider go down? What if it escaped somehow and is mad and coming after me?
And you looked fearfully at the toilet, but you were kind of worried about there being an angry wet undead spider in the bathroom and so you closed the door and went back up to bed without the peanut butter cup at all, which may have helped you in the diet you announced you were on two weeks ago but which isn't really the way you wanted to lose weight. Plus, that spider's still out there.
I mentioned that statistic the other day to The Boy, that there's always a spider within 3 feet of you, and he immediately began trying to prove me wrong.
"Right now?" he asked, pointing to our living room. "There's one within three feet of me right now?"
"Yes," I said, shuddering a little. (Now, I know it was probably that one that was waiting to kill me last night.)
"What about when I'm swimming?" he said. "What if I'm in the middle of the pool and I'm more than three feet from the walls?"
"There could be spiders under the pool, in the ground," I said, hating my brain for having thought that up. Then it got worse: "Or they could be above you." I can't prove that there's flying spiders but would you put it past them? I wouldn't.
We left off at that and last night after the near-death-experience with that spider that's probably somewhere sharpening it's toilet-y fangs right now, I thought to myself: "I bet the only people who ever avoided being within 3 feet of a spider for at least a short time were the astronauts walking on the moon."
Then, as I drifted off, I thought "Unless there were moon spiders" and I didn't sleep very well after that.
Anyway, there are spiders in the park and they are hardy spiders, too -- one was on the slide the other day and Mr Bunches wanted me to kill it, and so I did, taking off my shoe and whack!ing it about 7 times until I was sure it was dead.
"It's okay, now," I told him and he started to go into the slide and then hesitated and pointed and the spider had unfolded its legs and started walking around again, which is the international signal for time to go home and we left that day.
The prevalence of spiders in the park isn't, though, why Mr Bunches calls it Spider Park. He calls it that because of this:
That's a rope-ish jungle gym that looks exactly like a giant, three-dimensional spider web. It's about 10 feet tall and looks like it would be lots of fun to climb on if you had the sort of body which would let you climb on things (I don't) and if you had the sort of brain that lets you climb on things that look like a giant spider web without imagining that somewhere is a giant spider (I don't.) It's that jungle gym that earned Spider Park it's present appelation, a kind of sad denouement for a park that, as I said, has an official name (Lakeview is misnomered -- you can't see the lake from the park, at all) and had an unofficial name between Sweetie and I: Wedding park, we called it, and we'd gone there for a picnic dinner on some of our anniversaries.
Spider Park it is, and our plan last night was simply to go to Spider Park and hang out until we were done hanging out and had to go home, but after an hour or so, Mr F was getting bored at the playground and Mr F was getting annoyed with the Higher Climbing Little Boy, who was constantly trying to top Mr Bunches on the Spider Web. Mr Bunches would climb up to the top, and say:
"Daddy! Look at me!"
and I'd go over and say:
"Wow! You are really high up!"
and Higher Climbing Little Boy, who looked to be about 8 and whose mom sat bored-looking on a nearby bench, clearly not encouraging her kids and taking an active role in their lives the way I, SuperDad, was, Higher Climbing Little Boy would immediately climb up one notch higher than Mr Bunches and announce:
And Mr Bunches would look at me in distress while Higher Climbing Little Boy called to his bored-looking mom to look at him (she didn't appear to ever do so) and I would assure Mr Bunches that he was doing great.
That went on for about 15 minutes, during which Mr F gave up on his sporadic attempts to climb higher on the slide-contraption. He doesn't like slides, or heights, or danger, and most of what he sees on a playground involves some combination of those things, and so he's very leery of playgrounds. One day, through a sort of 12-step program, we'd gotten him to go on a slide, about which, I will say: I'm perfectly okay if he doesn't want to go on slides. I'm not going to try to force him onto it because if he doesn't like sliding, well, who cares? It's not like being good at playground-y stuff is all that important in the long run.
(Hear me, Higher Climbing Little Boy?)
But Mr F wants to go on slides: he looks at them longingly, and watches other kids go up and down them, and tries to himself, going up 1, maybe 2 stairs before giving up and heading back down.
So the 12-step program worked like this: I helped Mr F up the stairs of a medium-height-slide, by wrapping my arms around him and letting him hang on to my arms and walk on my feet as we went up the stairs, and then we maneuvered into a sitting position with him on my lap and I'd say "Ride!" and he'd say "go!" and we'd slide down.
We did that 2 or 3 times and then I loosened up my grip a little as we went up the stairs, and he did okay, and then we had him climb the stairs by himself and he did okay, and then he went down the slide by himself and he did okay, until he was sliding! and it was remarkable and would have probably earned a standing ovation but it was only me and Mr Bunches there in the park with him at that point, and Mr Bunches doesn't applaud Mr F's accomplishments because he gets jealous.
Last night, at Spider Park, Mr F wanted to climb up higher on the slides and tried a few times by himself, only to give up midway through. I tried the 12-step program with him, but he didn't want that -- he wanted to try by himself. And he did, for about a half-hour, before giving up to go swing.
So after a while, Mr F was dejectedly swinging and Mr Bunches was trying to figure out how he could stay higher than Higher Climbing Little Boy and win, and I decided that we'd quit the playground and go over to the little pond where there's always a bunch of fish swimming near the pier. Mr Bunches likes to look at the fish, and Mr F likes to act like he's just about to fall in the water and give me a heart attack, so it's a fun time all around.
We headed over to the pier, Mr Bunches racing ahead and playing what I think of as The Stop Game: when he gets a certain amount of space ahead, I yell:
"Stop!" and he slows down.
"STOP!" I say louder, and he walks.
"STOP RIGHT NOW!" I say, and he stops dead in his tracks.
We then, Mr F and I, go to walk to catch up with him, but that's made more difficult because he starts going again, but does so in a sneaky way that he figures I won't catch.
First, he leans in the direction he wants to go.
Then, he puts one foot forward... but technically has not moved because the other foot hasn't moved.
Then, he moves the other foot to the side, so while he's moving, he hasn't moved forward.
And if I say nothing during all of that, he'll take a small step forward, while looking back at me. If I still say nothing, he'll take a longer step, and then he'll take a series of comical steps: small-large-small-tiptoes- and-sometimes-hop, and then he starts going again.
The only way to stop him completely is to threaten him with movie watching -- but a movie that he doesn't want to see. So if you are at Spider Park, or any other public location around Madison, and you see a little boy in a SpongeBob shirt taking a giant step followed by three pogo hops and then a skip, you are likely to hear almost immediately afterwards someone yelling:
"If you don't stop RIGHT NOW you are going to have to watch Kung Fu Panda 2 tonight!"
(Kung Fu Panda 2, despite being a very good movie which Sweetie and I saw in the theaters for one anniversary celebration, is not a favorite of Mr Bunches, and he hates watching it. I don't know why. But it's a very effective system for keeping him in line. "Get ready for your bath," we'll say "Or you have to watch Kung Fu Panda 2" and if he still resists, we'll put in the DVD and he gets with the program pretty quick.)
(For longer trips, I have a Kung Fu Panda 2 trailer on Youtube on my phone.)
We made it to the pier, where a small group of people was already fishing, using sticks to which they'd attached string and some sort of hook, and they were using stale bread to bait the hooks. Mr F and Mr Bunches watched with amazment as these people dropped the hooks in the water and the fish crowded around them, dozens of fish around one hook, all eating the bread in a feeding frenzy.
As we stood there, the guy with the stick caught three fish, something that amazed Mr Bunches, who looked on in awe as the guy would pull a small fish up, wriggling, and de-hook it and throw it back.
"Can I fish?" he asked, looking at me.
"Um. Sure," I said, trying to decide how I would make that happen, and deciding that STEP ONE would be to get a fishing pole, which I currently do not own.
We used to have fishing poles, because every few years I would make an effort to be a "traditional" dad and take the older kids fishing, trips that usually ended up being really boring and comically inept, in that I really have no idea how to fish, and even less of an idea how to fish well, and I have passed that complete lack of fishing expertise onto the older kids, in spades.
The first time we were going to take the older kids fishing, we went the night before to a store and bought some fishing rods. This was about 15 years ago, when I knew even less about fishing than I do now. Nowadays, I know that fishing not only involves a rod and reel and hook of some kind, but also that fishing is entirely pointless and will never work, so I don't get my hopes (or anyone else's hopes) up about whether or not we will catch a fish. But back then, I still believed that people caught fish and that I could be one of those people, and so I instilled in the kids, if not fishing knowledge, or skill, at least fishing optimism.
We bought the fishing rods and lures and bobbers and sinkers and whatever else I vaguely remembered from when my dad took me fishing decades before, and brought them home, and promised Oldest, Middle, and The Boy that we'd take them fishing the next day after work.
We didn't, that time.
But it wasn't my fault.
We lived, then as now, pretty near what is now Spider Park, and there was still a pond with all those fish in it, and during the day, the kids were home while we were at work, and so they called Sweetie and asked if they couldn't go fishing on their own, first, until we got home.
"You should wait until we teach you," Sweetie told them.
"We know how to fish!" the older kids protested, and so, Sweetie gave them permission. She mentioned that to me when we ate lunch together, that the kids were going fishing that afternoon and we might not need to take them that night.
(Fishing, remember, wasn't really a thing we wanted to do: taking your kids fishing is something parents must do to be at least average parents, the way they also have to tell their kids that they can be anything they want to be if they put their minds to it and the way they have to tell their kids not to eat pizza for breakfast even though there's no earthly reason that should be a rule.)
When I picked Sweetie up that night from work to head home, she said:
"I don't think we'll be able to go fishing."
"Why not?" I asked, secretly relieved but pretending to be annoyed.
"The fishing poles are gone," Sweetie said.
"Gone?" I asked, picturing the kids dropping the poles into the water. Wouldn't they float? I wondered.
"Well, not all of them," Sweetie said. "Oldest still has hers, but the line is tangled." It was: when we got home, the line had somehow become tangled so that only about 2 feet of line was available, and we couldn't figure out how it had gotten tangled in the reel.
"I don't know?" Oldest had shrugged when we asked her what had happened.
Middle had, indeed, dropped her pole in the water and while it did float, none of the kids (hearty folk that they were) had wanted to reach into the water to get it, and so it had drifted away, a floating horrordrome for the fish in that pond to speak of in whispers at night.
The Boy, though, had topped them all. His pole was caught in a tree.
Not even in the park: his pole was caught in a tree near the swimming pool of the apartment complex we lived in at the time, and though he never admitted it we all secretly suspect that he was trying to cast his line into the pool as they walked by.
More than that: the pole was about 15 feet up, out of my reach, and we still don't know how that happened. When questioned, The Boy just shrugged and said he didn't know, and Oldest and Middle's defense was that they were ahead of him and hadn't been watching The Boy, and hadn't even noticed that he no longer had his pole until they'd reached the park.
That put that first fishing trip squarely in line with all the other fishing trips I've had in my life -- the one where my brother Matt fell in the water almost tipping over the boat, the one where I got stuck on the banks of the Missouri River and couldn't turn around, and the one where I actually caught a fish, a 10-pound catfish, only to learn that my aunt and uncle expected to cook and eat it later, thereby further wrecking an already-crappy vacation that had previously been marred by our not going to see Grant's Tomb.
This trip, at Spider Park, I decided, would be better, if only because the expectations were so low, so we went over to the hardware store a few blocks away to see what kinds of fishing poles they had, and it turns out they had the right kind -- the kind that is on sale for $9.99.
"Is that the one you want?" I asked Mr Bunches.
"Yeaahhhh," he said, in an awestruck voice as he held it up and swished it around like a thin, reel-topped version of Excalibur, prompting the first of many "Watch out!" comments from me.
We bought the rod, which came set up, and a couple of tiny lures that looked to me like the kind of thing that fish would want to eat, and Mr F, who didn't want a fishing pole at all, settled for a chocolate bar and some french fries. We then made a quick trip home to grab some pieces of bread to use as bait, and made it back to the fishing pier in about 30 minutes total, armed with everything you need for a complete night of fishing, including the french fries Mr F was hoarding.
Once we got to the pier, I had to attach a hook to the line, something that took me about 10 minutes to do because I don't know knots, and so I had to try to thread this tiny line through the eyehole of the tiny lure and then decide how best to hold the hook on the line. I decided that the best way was to wrap the string around the hook about a million times and then tie it a couple of times to hold it on.
While I did that, a girl there using a stick and a piece of string caught a fish and a frog. I didn't even know you could catch frogs on a line but she did, so I was very optimistic that we'd catch something.
I showed Mr Bunches how to put bread on the hook and warned him to be careful because the hook is very sharp and handed him the pole, which he immediately began whipping around like he was an extra in A River Runs Through It, and I watched as the hook almost hit the girl, then whizzed over Mr F's head, and then finally wrapped around my shoulders, the hook lodging in my shirt.
"Watch out!" I said, and Mr Bunches said "Sorry!" and we got untangled.
(Mr F paid no attention to his brush with near-death.)
We got the hook in the water and the fish immediately crowded around it, twenty or more grabbing at the bread and not a single one of them being bothered at all by the presence of a hook. Mr Bunches didn't mind.
"Look! I'm fishing!" he would say. He added other commentary as we continued, including:
"The fish are happy!" (and they were; they were getting bread handed to them on a hook that apparently anyone could get on and off of)
"They like the bread, huh?" (to which I'd say "Sure looks like it.")
"My turn for french fries," at which point he dropped the pole and sat down to eat some french fries. So I took Mr F and showed him how to bait the hook and put the line in the water, and showed him the fish eating the bread, and he seemed pretty interested in that, until a fish came up a little out of the water and Mr F realized that these were real fish, and since Mr F does not like animals -- not any animals, anywhere -- that was the end of his fishing: he tried to throw the pole in the water, dumped all the bread in and backed away from the edge of the pier.
It was getting dark by then, anyway, so we decided to call it a night, but Mr Bunches wanted to try fishing from other locations on the pond, so we walked around the edge of the pond, with Mr Bunches occasionally stopping to put his lure in the water to try to catch a fish there, with what fishermen would describe as "no luck" but which I would describe as "lots of luck."
It was a beautiful evening, after all: the temperature was in the 70s, the sun was just setting and we were walking around a quiet pond with frogs croaking in the twilight, watching the water ripple as Mr Bunches cast his line, holding hands with Mr F and swinging him around while Mr Bunches fished. At one point, a crane flew low over the water, spreading its wings and flapping to a rest across the pond from us.
As the darkness grew deeper, I convinced Mr Bunches that we'd try again another day, and he and Mr F held my hands as we walked back to our car and headed home.
"Sometimes, you don't catch any fish," I told Mr Bunches, as we walked the path away from the pond.
"Yeah," he said, and then began singing a song quietly to himself, waving his fishing pole around and looking at the tip of it, way up in the air.
Who wants to catch a fish, anyway?