The first time (only time) I’ve been fishing I was eight. My dad and I went out to a lake near our place—Roosevelt Park for those of you who know it. Mom read a trashy novel by the water and let us have our fantasy where we would bring home meat like impressive providers, catching something with our bare hands to give to the female who would cook it. And though we had glorious goals of eating dinner from our catch, a few hours in, dad and I began to realize fishing takes a basic amount of skill.
And we did not have that.
However, this skill seemed to be within the grasp of a Chinese grandfather near us and a white father and son on the other side of the lake. The grandfather had two buckets, one for the fish he was catching and the other for his live bait. I couldn’t really see what kind of bait the duo had across the lake but the dad had a floppy taupe fishing hat with bait stuck to it. Our bait, however, was purchased at “The Rag Shop,” an arts and crafts…and a decidedly not-fishing…store.
Note to reader: The Rag Shop would file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy ten years later. The foldup sent shockwaves through the fifth grade diorama community and amateur anglers, too, have yet to make a full recovery.
“Son, get the bait.”
I looked down at my hands. Our bait was a red and white plastic ball with colorful neon feathers haphazardly stuck all over it. As our hopes were cast out onto the lake, I realized our fate rested upon the whims of a plastic and pregnant clown. And refusing to even sink below the water, luring fish seemed to be an act far too pedestrian for the buoyed diva.
Hours passed and no fish. I sighed. Our national pride (only 4 years in the US at the time) and our apparent inability to naturally provide food for our family (something even sparrows can do) began to eat away at us.
That’s when we saw a dead fish floating near the lake’s shore. We poked this yellowish flounder (the real one not the Little Mermaid variety) with a stick. It was definitely dead.
My dad and I looked at each other. We thought about our journey to America and how this fishing trip represented a dream that our relatives back home would never do–at least not the wealthy ones. We looked across the lake and found the white father and his son bonding over their fishing successes. We thought of how mom would look at our empty-handed hands and say something droll like “did you two have fun on your fishing…experiment?” emphasizing and drawing out the last word as long as she could, then returning to her torrid romance. We looked to our right and saw the old Chinese man catch yet another fish.
It became clear what we had to do.
We grabbed the biggest stick we could find and began to drag the dead fish to the shore. Our talented counterparts watched with horror as we led the dead fish with our stick and rolled it onto a newspaper.
“We got one,” dad and I said bursting with joy.
And, looking back on it now, we did get one.
For males. For India. For dad. For me.