The Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society has 100 members and 1 employee, which in itself could explain my desire for an occasional snootful. Sometimes, though, it seems the issue is not as much that I partake of volatile spirits from time to time but rather the company in which I do so. Why, just the other day, someone asked me, “Gil, why the heck do you hang out with that bunch of drunken ruffians?”
My interrogator was Dr. Calvin Butz, and the drunken ruffians in question were my friends Milt, Wally and Stinky, whose combined age is 274.
“Because I like old-timers, I guess. Why do you ask, Calvin?”
“Call me Cal. I think they are rude, offensive, and downright dangerous, that’s why.”
“They’re not so bad, Calvin. Come on, they’re old, give ‘em a break. Besides, Wally’s pretty upset.”
“That may be, but he doesn’t have to take it out on me! What’s he so upset about, anyway?”
“Well, for starters, some Nazi shot a tank out from under him once. Need more?”
I wasn’t sure where this conversation was going, but I was along for the ride, because Dr. Calvin “Call me Cal” Butz had wrapped 20 yards of sinking fly line around the shaft and propeller of his electric trolling motor. Admitting his lack of experience with this sort of “mechanical stuff”, he’d asked me to
do it for him help him, but since he wouldn’t let me use scissors I was going to be there a while.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Dr. Butz, “but why do they go after me? I mean, they served me moonshine in a martini glass and almost killed me with that swill!”
“Hey, they get some new guy with the fake martini gag every year. That was nothing personal. It’s just what they do, and that stuff’s not swill.”
“Whatever it is, it’s dangerous! I don’t understand how you can drink that stuff with those guys. How in the world did you get mixed up with them in the first place?”
I told Dr. Butz the story of my first drink with Milt, Wally, Stinky, and their friend, the dear departed Jim Davis, but for some reason he didn’t get it. Once I had his line and his motor separated he headed back to the water, but not before emphasizing the extent of his disbelief and administering some friendly advice about carefully choosing my associates.
I can not imagine why he would think my story to be anything but the unvarnished truth and, quite frankly, I don’t know why he would hold my associates in anything but the highest esteem.
Maybe it would be best to let you decide for yourself.
It seems ages ago that I first arrived at the shores of Fish in a Barrel Pond, and one of the first things I heard was that I should be very careful around Jim Davis, Milt Audette, Wally Gibb, and Leonard “Stinky” Taft. Some members of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society called them cantankerous old coots, others called them a menacing gang, while still others called them a dangerous element. Members expressing none of the above opinions said they were a great bunch of guys and a tremendous source of knowledge, having fished these waters since the late 1920s, missing only a couple of seasons in the ’40s when they were busy fighting in World War II.
When Milt suggested I stop by for a “little get acquainted celebration” I accepted without reservation. After all, how bad could they be?
Traditionalists all the way, the boys (who called themselves “The Sons of Piscator”) refused to turn on the electric lights in their camp, using a couple of old kerosene lanterns instead. One of those lanterns hung above the table as I sat down with them, casting weird shadows and adding its own distinct aroma to those already present of vitamins, Vitalis and pee. Except for the folded hands of my new friends on the blue and white checked table cloth, the table was bare.
“We’re glad you could join us, Quill. Have a seat,” said Milt.
I sat and we chatted a bit, getting to know each other better, and it wasn’t long before we had decided we could at least find each other mutually tolerable.
“This calls for a drink!” cried Jim, slapping me on the back. “Wally, get the hooch!”
Wally disappeared outside the circle of dim light, returning momentarily and placing what appeared to be an ordinary, household canning jar on the table before me. The shoulders of the jar seemed to glow from within and the liquid it held streaked menacingly down the sides as it settled from the sloshing of Wally’s shaky hand. When Jim removed the lid, vapors rippled upward, shimmering their way toward the low ceiling. When they reached the suspended lantern above our heads those vapors became a slowly roiling blue flame that curled in all directions before burning out with a whoosh like distant thunder.
“Go ahead, Quill. Take a drink,” said Wally.
“Aw, gee, fellas, I don’t know …”
“Drink it!” Wally hissed, so I picked up the jar and brought it slowly toward my face. Fumes washed across my eyeballs, and I could have sworn they contracted into their sockets but it turned out they were just momentarily shriveled by the volatility of the escaping gases. Still, I could not bring myself to drink.
“Hurry up before it evaporates!” Wally demanded.
I held the jar before me a moment more, while tears flowed and my sinuses went into convulsions. Painful cramps in my saliva glands made me want to swallow, but my body was in full “repulse” mode and my throat (and every other sphincter I own) had involuntarily closed so tight I didn’t think it would be possible to swallow (or perform any other bodily function) for a month.
“Naw,” I said, “I think I’d better pass, guys. Really. But thanks anyway.”
Four agitated codgers glared at me from around the table.
“I said drink it!” repeated Wally, emphasizing his order by producing a knife. A big knife. A really big knife, the kind one might need if one were going to skin a large pachyderm.
“Um,” I squeaked, “I don’t know, man. Maybe I ought to go now. You know, things to do and all …”
Before I could finish, that knife was at my throat and Wally’s mouth was at my ear. “You take a drink, you lanky, long-haired son of a bitch, or I’ll run you clean through and cut you up for chum, god dammit!”
With the keen edge of Wally’s Texas toothpick against my Adam’s apple and his chin stubble digging into my earlobe, I didn’t feel I had much choice, so I picked up the jar again and poured as much of its contents past my lips as I thought I could stand. Blinding flashes criss-crossed my vision and I felt as if I’d swallowed flames. A roar to rival Niagara Falls filled my head and the room began to spin. It even looked like the blue and white checked pattern of the table cloth was rushing toward my face, but this turned out to be an illusion, for the reality of it was the other way around; it was my face rushing toward the table cloth and I could have done real damage to my forehead if my nose hadn’t cushioned the blow first. Then, all was darkness.
When I came to, I saw the faces of Jim Davis, Milt Audette, Wally Gibb, and Leonard “Stinky” Taft as they helped me back into my chair. Slowly, I attempted to gather my wits about me, trying to remember who and where I was. Looking around the table in the dim kerosene glow, I could see the boys were smiling.
“You okay?” asked Wally.
“I guess so,” I replied.
“Good,” he said, handing me the knife, “Now you make me drink it.”