Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Great Fish Conspiracy

The fishing pier on the lake where we took our vacation was accessible so Maria and I went fishing. I bought a cheap pole at the local Kmart and some fake bait which, when we took it out of the package, looked like gummy squid.

We got no bites. The fish in this lake aren’t as dumb as they look. They know gummy squid aren’t indigenous to these waters. They were down there laughing at our fake bait.

Maria asked if I’d ever caught a fish. Indeed I did, I said. It was at cripple summer day camp and they took us to some human-made pond and we fished off of foot bridges, using cubes of cheese as bait. Just before it was time to leave, I caught a fish. Every cripple on our field trip caught a fish that day (and had to throw it back). We all went home happy.

But now, as I recounted my fish story for the first time in about 45 years, there was something disturbingly incongruous about it. How was it that every last cripple just happened to catch a fish that day? Did I really catch that fish or was it all a big set-up? Did someone pull a Special Olympics number on me? Suddenly, the whole thing reeked of conspiracy.

Now I wondered if the reason they took us to that particular pond was because it was also stocked with secret scuba divers, each with a bucket of dead fish and a special, waterproof walkie-talkie. And when it became clear that a certain cripple wasn’t going to catch a fish by natural means within the allotted time, central control radioed the nearest diver. The diver then hung a fish on the cripple’s barren hook like a Christmas ornament and gave the line a hearty tug. Is that how I really caught my fish? Is that why they threw it back so quick, so I wouldn’t notice it was dead?

Was the whole fishing trip rigged to assure there would be no losers? I wouldn’t put it past some do-gooders. They do that kind of stuff to cripples all the time. They go to great lengths. At Jerry Lewis summer camp, they always had cripple talent shows. And no matter what a crippled camper got up on stage and did, the ovation was thunderous. You could sing a song and sound like a hyena having a tooth pulled, but everybody acted like you were Pavarotti. There was a young woman (she wasn’t a kid) who believed she was a ballerina. She wore a tutu and tights. She played a cassette on a tinny boom box as she stumbled and spun. Well, one time it almost got way out of hand. They let her dance at one of the ceremonial campfires and she almost spun her way right into the fire. After that, they finally put some limits on her dancing.

Maybe I really and truly caught that fish. But maybe I didn’t. That’s the problem. Those are the scars left on cripples by the hard core do-gooders, the ones who will stop at nothing. When you get wise to them, you feel like a sucker. You never know what and whom to believe any more. You question the legitimacy of all your trophies.

They should have let me go fishless that day. I could have learned the valuable adult coping skill of rationalizing away failure. I could have done like I did today and blamed it all on the crappy bait.


  1. Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
    Healthy, free, the world before me,
    The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
    Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
    Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
    Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
    Strong and content I travel the open road....

    Allons! through struggles and wars!
    The goal that was named cannot be countermanded.

    1. Since most roads in Whitman's day were rutted dirt, I doubt someone in a wheelchair could have traveled very far on their own. Self reliance is all well and good, as long as someone else paves the way for you.

    2. In any period, worst is having no self to rely on. So long one does, life is an adventure, and a short one to boot. The world, as a rule, is not a nice guy. To be alive, that too in human form, at least for the time being,is a cause to celebrate, and that's what Whitman is talking about.Your Lincoln was a clinical depressive.

  2. Smart-ass cripple does it again. This time you helped me explain my paranoia to my non-disabled friends. Thanks -AH

  3. They're doing something similar with UK postal stamps and the Olympic Games.

    The Post Office is making commemorative stamps for each TeamGB gold medal winner. Last count, TeamGB has 22 golds, therefore 22 special-issue stamps.

    But for the Paralympics... there will be six stamps. Fifty cripples could win gold and there would be six stamps. Zero cripples could win gold and there would be six stamps.

    It's a token gesture, a "reward for achievement" that is fixed beforehand and will not be affected by how much is, or is not, achieved! How pointless is that?

  4. Or they starved the fish, and they would have bitten on anything, including cigar stubs, bottle caps, and slow-moving swimmers.

    On the other hand, cheese as a bait is pretty good. I love cheese. I'd probably lunge for a chunk moving across the table or dangling above my head right now ....

    1. In places where fish are fed regularly by humans, they will come right up to the surface and bite on anything thrown their way. There's a place, in Pennsylvania IIRC, where tourists toss day old bread to fish that crowd together so close it is almost possible to walk across them.

  5. Summer-camp fishing ponds tend to have really dumb fish. I once caught one with no bait at all. They might be stocked, I don't know about that, but they wouldn't take kids to them if they didn't expect the kids to get some fish. No fish means a bunch of rowdy, frustrated kiddos with hooks flying around. Someone's going to end up wet and someone else is going to end up bleeding.

    1. Which is not to minimize paranoia of well-meaning 'success'. Just that the fish are probably legitimate rather than contrived.

  6. This is great from two angles. The first, obviously, is the suspicion of good things that comes along with too much "do gooderness." But the second is the annoyance of those damned overstocked lakes. Crippled or not, I promise you, everyone who visits a lake like the one you described comes away feeling disappointed and somehow cheated. Easy victory is no victory at all, it turns out.

  7. After a few similar experiences I decided I'd get my validation from standardized tests and contests where no one would ever know I was disabled. But when people find out you got a genuinely good grade on something you get overpraised even more.

  8. They probably did the trick I used at Lion's Camp - Cast the pole, get a bite, set the hook, then hand them the pole.