It was a dark and stormy night. Some say my friend, Eugene, was riding a door strapped to a couple of compressed gas cylinders; others say it was some kind of jet-propelled ironing board. What he was riding is not important now but all accounts agree that at about the time the river was cresting Eugene shot downstream in a long, horizontal spiral like a bottle rocket.
Over dams and under bridges — in some cases over bridges — Eugene rode the raging floodwaters of Irene through the night and into the next day. And the next and the next, eventually drifting into Long Island Sound, where he was sighted aboard what appeared to be a horse trough, using his trousers for a sail. Plucked from the water by a passing pleasure craft, Eugene was then taken ashore, where he was tended to by a group of lovely women who, it turns out, were the stars of a television show about themselves. It also turns out they were drinking quite a lot and things became, as Eugene put it, “a tad competitive.”
The general consensus, once everyone was sober and Eugene found his trousers, was that it would be best if no one ever spoke again about what had just taken place, so the next time you happen to find yourself searching the internet for the truth behind this September’s firings among the cast of Real Housewives of New York, read those articles twice. Notice how carefully all parties avoid any mention whatsoever of my friend Eugene.
(This was not Eugene’s first encounter with famous reality TV stars. He once met Chef Gordon Ramsay.)
When the call came for someone, anyone, to please retrieve Eugene before the Real Husbands got to him I was happy to oblige. After all, I felt like I owed him, especially remembering the look on his face when I suggested, right after Opening Day, that he make himself scarce for the rest of the season. Not everyone understands Eugene and after a while I just get tired of explaining.
Eugene likes to help prepare for the season here at Fish in a Barrel Pond, but I generally insist he be elsewhere once the first anglers arrive. I knew something was up this spring when the clerks at the State Liquor Outlet told me Eugene had been in, buying scotch in the big jugs and paying with C-notes; only one guy I know spends money and drinks scotch that way, and if Eugene was working for my old friend, Dr. Marcus Feely, trouble was brewing.
Doc Feely and his cronies had reserved our oldest camp, the Parmachene Belle, for Opening weekend even though everyone knows Milt Audette has spent the first few days of the season in that camp for the last 49 years. Milt was not happy about it, especially when Doc’s crew found the weather not to their liking and spent the day inside, not fishing. I heard the insults hurled by Milt and his buddies as they trolled by every fifteen minutes or so, and all I could do was hope they got it out of their systems before the annual Opening Night Dinner in the lodge that evening.
Groups of happy anglers gathered around the grand stone hearth, swapping stories and renewing friendships in the warm glow of a roaring fire. Milt, Wally Gibb, Leonard “Stinky” Taft and I were on the back porch, passing around a Mason jar, when Doc Feely and his friends arrived. They looked more ready for a pheasant hunt than Opening Night at a fishing camp — except for their shoes, which were supple, had tassels, and looked ready for nothing more strenuous than a stroll down a carpeted hall.
“What’s up, Fudd?” asked Wally.
Doc Feely ignored (or was unaware of) the insult and said, “Gentlemen, I would like to present to you the newest member of our little fraternity.” Gesturing toward the man on his right, he continued, “I have known this man for years and he has been here with me many times. I hope you will join me in welcoming my friend, Dr. Calvin Butz.”
“Call me Cal,” said Dr. Butz, extending his hand.
“What happened to your eyebrows, Calvin?” said Milt, taking Dr. Butz’s hand and squeezing it as hard as he could.
“It’s Gil’s fault,” whimpered Dr. Butz, nodding in my direction.
I wanted to hear the reactions of Milt, Wally and Stinky to Dr. Butz’s use of liquid accelerants in wood stoves but Doc Feely was pulling on my sleeve so I stepped to the side and let him bend my ear.
“Quill, it’s about your friend, Eugene. Can he be trusted?”
“Mostly, yes,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, you see, he’s been running errands for us this weekend, picking up vital supplies and such, and he’s done a great job so far. I want to give everyone a little show tonight — some special entertainment if you know what I mean — and I put Eugene in charge. Do you think he’ll come through?”
“Um, what kind of ‘special entertainment’ are we talking about here?” I inquired.
“Come on, Quill, you know. Exotic dancing,” he whispered loudly.
“A stripper?” I yelled quietly.
“Yeah, a stripper. I asked Eugene to line up some sexy dancing for us tonight. My treat. I gave him $300, plus another hundred so my buddy Cal could have a little special show of his own. A nice lap dance to welcome him into the fold. What do you think?”
“It’s unprecedented in the history of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society and it’s not going to fly with the other members is what I think.”
“Oh, let me worry about that, Quill. Do you think Eugene will find us a dancer?”
“Were you very specific with him? Did you leave anything, anything at all, open to interpretation?”
“No, Quill. I said, ‘Here’s $400, Eugene. We’d like to see a little sexy dancing tonight, maybe even a special dance for my friend.’ He said we’d have as much sexy dancing as we could handle, here at 7:30. It’s almost 7:00 now and I’m a little nervous.”
The sound of breaking glass, followed by a loud gasp and convulsive laughter, drew my attention away from Doc Feely’s stripper worries and toward Calvin Butz, who had just fallen for the old moonshine-in-a-martini-glass gag. The glass lay shattered at his feet and the small puddle of hooch evaporated as I watched, but not before blistering the paint on the floor. Milt, Wally and Stinky were slapping their knees and hooting with delight. Dr. Butz, however, had turned green and was holding his nose.
“Gnork!” he said.
“Look,” I said to Doc Feely, “if Eugene says he’ll do something, he’ll do it. As long as you tell him exactly what you want, that’s what you’ll get, but you’d better get Calvin inside before those guys get him any drunker.”
“Oh, those old rascals! Thanks, Quill; I feel better about Eugene.”
“Good. And keep Calvin away from the fire until his shirt dries, okay?”
While Doc Feely escorted Dr. Butz inside, I stepped back over to the rail and the giggle fest.
Milt, Wally and Stinky love sneaking moonshine into a cocktail glass and telling some poor sucker with fancy shoes it’s a martini. They’ve been doing it for years but tonight even they were surprised, as it was the first time their victim had actually blown ‘shine through his nose, and I spent the next little while listening to them tell the story, over and over again, sipping from the jar when it came around and passing it along.
Headlights flashed just down the road, three times, then two, like a signal, and I saw Doc Feely scurry to the vehicle. He returned quickly, carrying a large, portable CD player and said as he climbed the porch steps, “Inside, everybody! I have a special surprise. Cost me a bundle but it’ll be worth it!”
Milt, Wally, Stinky and I took spots along the wall opposite the fireplace as the other anglers settled in, all eager to find out just what sort of special surprise was in store. Doc Feely stood on a chair up front and began a speech about comradery, an abiding love of nature, the brotherhood of the angle and other subjects, but those gathered before him knew he was pitifully unqualified to speak of these things and they harrumphed their disapproval, prompting him to move right along to the introduction of his good friend and colleague, Dr. Calvin Butz.
“Call me Cal,” slurred Dr. Butz, as he slid from his chair.
“Why are we here? Where’s the surprise? What are you up to this time?” asked the anglers.
“Well, gentlemen, it’s time for some changes around here and I would like to create some new traditions, starting tonight.” Raising his glass, he said, “A toast to the future of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society!”
I brought the Mason jar to my lips as he pushed “play” and the boom box roared to life. There was no way to tell what song started because at that very second the door burst open, in sprang Eugene, and the inside of the lodge became perfect pandemonium. The racket was deafening. Chairs crashed, anglers rushed for the exits, and while time may not have stood still it certainly did seem to slow down.
Eugene gyrated wildly in front of the fire, dressed in nothing but a bow tie and what appeared to be a codpiece. The bow tie was purple, with caddis-butt green dots, and the codpiece appeared to be made of fur, most likely muskrat. Spotting Dr. Butz, Eugene began bumping and grinding his way toward the poor man laying on the floor. Doc Feely leapt from his chair in an attempt to stop Eugene from doing whatever he was about to do, but his leather soles slipped as he landed and he fell, bringing the two of them down on Dr. Butz in a heap.
The CD player was knocked to the floor during the stampede. It lay silent among shattered bottles, cups, and plates of half-eaten food. The crackling of the fire mixed with the feeble grunts from the men on the floor, who were thoroughly tangled together. Milt, Wally and Stinky looked stunned, which is impressive when you consider how much the three of them have each seen in their nine-plus decades on this earth. Not even World War II had prepared them for this.
I looked down and saw Stinky take the jar from my hand. I looked up and saw my elderly friends grinning ear to ear and it struck me then that for only the second time in their lives — both on the same night — Milt, Wally and Stinky had just seen someone blow moonshine out his nose.
Electric blue flashes danced before my eyes and thunder boomed between my ears. I said “Gnork!” and sat down, gasping for air, and that’s how the evening ended for me.
It was one of the best Opening Nights ever, according to Milt and the boys the next day. Other anglers grumbled it was one of the worst as they said their good byes. I didn’t see his friend, Dr. Calvin “Call me Cal” Butz, that morning but Doc Feely wanted his money back from Eugene. He relented, though, after I reminded him he had not specifically requested “a pretty girl” to do the sexy dancing he had ordered.
“Quill,” he said as he prepared to drive away, “what happens here stays here, right? Not a word of this to my wife, okay?”
“Don’t worry, Doc, I won’t say a thing.”
Only two weeks remain in the 2011 season at Fish in a Barrel Pond. Feuds have been fought, fish have been caught,
lies tales have been told and we survived one of the greatest natural disaters to ever hit Vermont. I am ready to put this one to bed. The north wind has taken on a distinct chill, the leaves are down and Eugene has returned. Things should be back to normal any day now.