The following recollection may or may not have happened during the 2017 Princeton University Reunions weekend
‘Yo, numbnuts don’t do that by yourself, you’re 60 now, not 59. You’re going to tear that stupid rotator cuff again. Put that puppy down and I’ll be there straightaway. This is a two geezer operation, not a one-off.”
Tom glanced back at Rick in mildly amused disdain. He picked up the almost-new, 10.5 foot Diablo Chupacabra Kayak over his head to place it on top of the boxy but kayak-accommodating Scion. As beautiful and formidable is The Diablo Chupacabra, Tom ruminated, it was a pathetic small-hands version of the 12.5 large-footed Diablo Adios, just as seaworthy as its smaller cousin.
Deep in his angling lizard brain he could feel the memorized promo copy percolating up… “One of the greatest features of the Chupacabra is the ability of it to get into shallower water than most kayaks, thanks to the Tri-Hull design, so you can fish those out-of-the-way places your buddies can only talk about.”
No, Tom thought, one of its greatest features was the indescribable aural pleasure of the words Diablo Chupacabra. Truth be told, it was the difference maker in the 4-figure purchase last Fall. It was with that in mind that he joyfully, against all good sense, again lifted over his head the Diablo Chupacabra…. ahhhhhhheeeee! Yes, it was the rotator oh so delicately tearing, paired with an oh so indelicate primal scream. Tom’s nimble 250 pounds would not be maneuvering the… Diablo Chupacabra(!) along the tranquil east shoreline of Carnegie Lake this day.
“Good God, why do you do this to yourself,” said Rick. “Look I’m sorry man but Cripes…I’ll get you to emergency or to your family doc, your choice.”
“Dr. Boyle,” Tom croaked out. “Have Anika call ahead…ahhh crap, oh pain, shi….”
Anika came out of the house at that moment… “Tom, what was that horrible sound? Oh ok I see. Easy honey, maybe that’s your rotator but you could’ve torn a biceps muscle. I’ll call now and I’ll take you, I’m off today.”
She did her standard, veteran RN instant appraisal and concluded that he wasn’t going into shock.
“Go inside, use the facilities, grab your iPod and I’ll help Rick wrestle these kayaks up onto his rack. No sense in his losing an afternoon of fishing because of this, and I know he can find an emergency replacement down at the lake for the other kayak.”
“Diablo…” Rick started to say.
“Don’t even,” said Anika.
Anika, warmly empathetic yet coolly practical, had seen everything from her equally fearless and foolish husband. If they had the medical equivalent of frequent flyer miles, Tom could now have the most complex and expensive surgery of all fully paid for: Permanent Head Removal from Ass.
Rick did the brotherly Presidential Wave as his pain-addled fishing partner pulled out of the driveway with Anika. Not as fully assured as Anika was that he’d find a viable fishing partner replacement, he nonetheless carefully double-checked and secured both kayaks to his roof rack. He then headed up Route 27 for the 15-minute drive from South Brunswick to Carnegie Lake’s main parking lot.
As he arrived, he realized with some annoyance that the lot was nearly full, an unusual state of busy for a Friday afternoon, even on a warm early June day. There was actually a moderate line of boats queued up at the boat ramp, as if it was an Ivy League version of a bass tournament. Others with kayaks and inflatables were both heading out or coming back in, and still others with over-sized plastic PU cups had parked themselves with folding chairs at water’s edge or on the dock. What was this about, he puzzled, then realized that it was PU Reunions Weekend. No spot within a mile of Nassau Street (hell, this was the direct extension of Nassau Street) was safe from the Orange and Black Alum Invasion.
He saw a familiar ex-PR client face out of the corner of his eye heading in his direction. Stewart Robey, minor venture capitalist Class of ‘91, spent most of his discretionary time and income flyfishing in nearby and distant locales for trout and would never stoop to lower evolutionary classes of angling.
“Hey, Rick! Dern you, what are you doing here fishing huh. Are there really fish in this lake? Ok I know there are fish in here, but are there trout in here?”
“Good to see you man. No trout, Stew, but you’ve got largemouths, crappie, channel cats, etcetera. You would not believe the size of the carp in here…leaping 3-4 feet out of the water too. Coupla hambones actually fly fish for them.”
Stewart made a face like he had stumbled onto a piece of bad sushi at one of the hospitality tents. “Ok, knock yourself out Sport. Bye.”
Rick looked balefully at both of the kayaks on his car rack, thought that taking just one out on the lake would be hazardous to his retaining the other one while he plied the waters for a couple of hours. Why did he accept Anika’s blind faith in his finding a fishing bud in the Carnegie Lake parking lot rabble.
After a half a minute of dully gazing at the amazing Diablo Chupacabras, he felt a tap on his shoulder. “You look like you could use a hand with those.”
“Well yeah,” said a slightly startled Rick. The slim man in Tom Ford Aviators, wearing a Washington Nationals baseball cap, navy blue tennis shorts, docksiders and a burgundy Sweet Home Chicago t-shirt, was sufficiently buff that Rick had no worries about his lifting abilities. The man slightly nodded at one of the two men 10 feet behind him, said evenly don’t worry, we got this. And very quickly they did.
“You want the other one down too, not a problem if so,” the man asked. Rick nodded yes and just as quickly he had both in the grass ready to go.
“Many thanks, I had some spills and chills with my friend earlier getting these up on the rack. I kind of jumped the gun…do you have time and interest in coming out with me? By the way, I’m Rick.”
“Nice to meet you Rick. I’m Barry. No false drama here. Yeah, it’s me. Michelle’s back on campus doing her thing, I’m the wingman for the next couple of days. We’re staying at the Nassau Inn, nice place. The girls are staying with Shel’s Mom.
“”Sorry, you asked me about fishing with you. Absolutely, are you kidding me. I know you got extra gear there, but can you take care of my guys Chuck and Ahmad? This Secret Service thing’s a double-edged sword, but this is a nice departure for me and for them. We drove by the canoe and kayak rentals on the canal not far from here. We gotta get out on the lake real soon, we’re starting to get noticed and we need to just fish, ya know. ”
Chuck heard the exchange and was already on the phone to the place. Within 10 minutes a Jeep Cherokee pulled up with a garish orange, but functional, 2-seater kayak.
“I have to ask you, Mr. Pres…
“Hey, it’s Barry, or it’s Barack, but not that. Ok?” he quickly interrupted. Oh yeah, let’s keep the politics talk in the No-Fly Zone”.
Rick smiled in agreement, finishing his question, “So am I going to need to help you get rigged up, give a little tutorial on everything before we hit the water?”
“Seriously Rick, no worries there. I’ve been out for smallmouths on Lake Michigan more than a few times, even went flyfishing for the truly big ones on the Grand Traverse Bay flats up north. We all know what we’re doing. Since you just have the ultralight outfits for them, give the boys a few spinners and smaller plugs for the panfish. You can give me larger plugs, stickbaits, and jerkbaits. I’m dopin’ this place out as a largemouth bass haven, especially later in the Magic Hour.”
Which dopin’ reference got Rick to pondering… if A. The Ex-POTus would be open to sparkin’ up a J when they got across the lake away from the crowds or B. If he wasn’t (in this setting at least) whether the agents in the trailing kayak would have a problem with it. Time would tell, maybe.
As the four accidental anglers (3 of them at least) glided across the lake, Rick decided they’d silently focus on slipping into a steady rhythm, the better to get down to the goal of catching bass with the recent leader of the Free World.
As they settled in about 25 feet from shore (and the towpath that separated the lake from the D&R Canal), Barry tied a Rapala stickbait on and began skillfully casting as close as a House Trumpcare vote to the shoreline. Rick caught himself just watching for a minute or two, impressed not only with his precision casting, but the subtle actions he imparted on his retrieves.
“Hey, Barry — that’s ok to say, right — so it’s 4:30 now, think a good plan is to slowly work our way up the shoreline to the Mapleton aqueduct a half-mile south of here. We can swing around and fish our way back during the magic hour…7 till 8-something. Just for ships and giggles, I’m going with a Wacky Worm now. We’ll see what works and what doesn’t or maybe who’s better at working it.”
For the first hour Chuck and Ahmad were the class of the quartet. They each picked up a half dozen or so decent-sized crappie (sometimes known as Calico Bass), while Chuck fooled a 3 pound bass and Ahmad brought in a 20 inch plus pickerel, both achievements based on their ultralights outfitted with 4 lb test line.
On the water, Rick had had a delayed reaction to the reality of Fishing with the Prez and completely clammed up, which when fishing with a new, or old, pal isn’t the most tragic thing in the world. In a moment, just a few minutes before 6 pm on June 8th the reticence fever broke. His moment was a look that Barry shot him, paired with a “Thanks Rick, this is great to be out here with you, fish or no fish.” Something in his smile and demeanor warmed and relaxed him. So much so that, with the agents a dozen yards or so away, Rick felt free to ask him from the heart, “So Chief, you up for chiefin’ it?”
Barry laughed out loud, wagged his finger Dikembe style and replied, “So you want to know if I’ll blaze a bone with you, huh? Damn, a lot of people can’t name any of my policy achievements, but they know that back in high school in Hawaii I loved that Maui Wowie.”:
They were quiet for a few seconds, their craft drifted closer, eventually side by side, then Barry continued, “I’m not ashamed of that time in my life but I just realized I had bigger things to do then just get goofy and hang out and eat Drake’s cakes, so I finally stopped. But let me tell you something, I can still throw down some marijuana terminology. That high school experience will lay down some roots in your memory.
“Let me tell you something else. You got a second hand on that Sport Watch? I’ll give you a guaranteed 20 weed terms in 30 seconds.”
“Yeah, I’ve got a second hand on this, but I’m guessing this isn’t the first time you’ve done this.”
“Fair enough, Rick, I’ll make it 25 terms in 30 seconds….and then after 30 I’ll give you a bonus phrase that will rock your world. You ready, in 4,3,2, 1….. Rockin the Ganj, Pray to Budda, flammicate, blitz, wake n’bake, smizzle a bizzle, shabooby, weed snob, doube nouche, rip a bird, rip a bowl, chifumator, toki toki, Scooby Doo, smoke bud, zooted, weediculous, da funk, rip a fat chub, duckweed, blow trolls, blow tree, cousin eddie, clambake, stizzer. Whew!”
“Okay, that was actually 34 seconds but you definitely have my admiration. And I’m pretty sure you had some words of more recent vintage in there. I mean, smizzle a bizzle? Now can give me that bonus phrase?”
“Damn, I’m losing my touch. Here goes, Paradigm Shifting Epiphany of Botanical Knowledge.”
Everyone laughed, including Chuck and Ahmad, though maybe not as hard as they would with some bizzle augmentation.
At this point they turned back to ply the territory they’d just fished but, edging closer to the 90 minutes preceding dusk, they had high hopes (from a fishing success standpoint). Rick and Barry had, with the exception of a perch and a very small bass, been skunked. Barry switched over to an explosively disruptive Rebel plug and hooked a large bass that leaped several times and ended the fight by wrapping the line around a brush pile and snapping the line.
“Oh, Mii-itch,” he yelled out.
Rick also loved the highly visible strikes of surface plugs and tied on a Balsawood Bagley. Casting close to fallen tree, he was lit up by a 2 1/2 pound bass that he was able to bring to the kayak and then release.
He thought to himself, alright no politics discussion, but would love an update on what Barry’s got on his Ipod. So what are you listening to nowadays?”
“You know, it’s a lot of the same artists you’ve read about on those Obama Internet playlists; Wales, Kendrick Lamar, Esperanza Spalding, D’Angelo, Solange and I defy you not to openly groove to Janelle Monae’s Tightrope. If we heard it now we’d stand up and dance and capsize these — hey what kind of kayaks are these anyway — these are completely awesome.”
“Okay, you asked for it, Barry…It’s the Diablo Chupacabra.”
Barry sat stone-faced for a moment, then a huge smile spread across his face. “That could be the greatest name for anything I’ve ever heard. Wow, for a language lover like me, I almost have to go smoke a cigarette after hearing that word combination. Just beautiful. And you and your friend each have one of these…that’s amazing.”
For the next 10 yards or so of fishing, he spoke it quietly to himself, Diablo Chupacabra, punctuated with an Ex Leader of the Free World/Ex-Stoner’s chuckle.
Rick had to ask the burning question, despite his new fishing partner’s earlier gentle but firm prohibition against the politics discussion topic. He took a deep breath and hoped he wouldn’t get the verbal smackdown. “I mean we’re coming on five months into the new administration and it’s like the Republic is imploding. Let’s forget that 60 percent of all of us would love to have you back, like tomorrow… can you give me one observation about where we are now— are we doomed by our current leader, what it means politically, culturally…
“Hey, Chris Matthews, calm down will you,” Barry said in a low, measured voice. “Right now I have to ask you to chill, because I need to focus. I have a deep diving Rattletrap on and I’m either hooked up to an immovable snag or to a truly monster fish.”
Very quickly it was apparent that it was a truly monster fish. His drag whined, and line peeled off at a stunning rate. He kept his rod tip up and decided to use the relatively stiff rod to exert steady pressure and slowly bring the fish in. In a phenomenon common to kayak fisherman who’ve tied into striped bass or brown sharks in the ocean surf, Barry’s fish was literally towing his Diablo Chupacabra. Not far and not fast but his mysterious fish was moving the elegantly named craft.
Finally, the fish was in view and notwithstanding a couple of more brief but powerful surges, Barry brought he or she to submission. Rick had less of a clear view of the roughly 3 foot long (20 pounds) fish.
“Well, will you look at that…it’s a flathead catfish,” said a wide-eyed Barry. “I had no idea you had these here, but I guess no surprise, right? These guys made their way from the Mississippi River system east to the Delaware River and now I guess here. They’re considered an invasive species — if you catch them you’re supposed to kill them or fertilize your garden to keep them from decimating the existing sportfish population.”
Rick was awestruck. “How the hell do you know all this. I live here and fish the Delaware and all around the Tri-State here and I was totally ignorant of what you just described.”
Barry looked at him in amiable incredulity. “Dude, c’mon, I read.” As he said this, the catfish had a final burst of energy, and in a merciful distance release, snapped the line and very slowly swam away.
A chastened Rick had to admit that it wasn’t more complex than that, dude. With that, they decided, in a Costanza-like flash of wisdom, to end on a high note. As they returned to their departure point, Rick struggled with re-stating his question, figuratively shrugged and concluded that securing the kayaks and gear trumped all. And maybe ending a memorable trip (Thank you, Testosterone Tom), with a fraternal fist bump or a brotherly Bro Hug.
Chuck and Ahmad had called ahead and the Cherokee was waiting to pick up their rental.
Rick fist-bumped Barry, who responded with an A-list Bro Hug. They turned to head back to their cars with the agents a respectful 10 feet away. Barry turned back once more, called out, “Hey Rick!”
Rick wondered what else it could be. Beer and pool at the Ivy Inn? Late dinner with him and Michelle at the Peacock Inn? Burn one down by the dock?
“Alright,” began Barry, “this may not be the Message from the Mount you’re looking for, but let me tell me you about a trip I took last year in Southern Ontario. We were fishing this trout stream and we were doing ok with modest-sized rainbows but our little group was getting bored.
“We made our way up to a small bridge and looked down into a pool. One of our guys saw an immense trout — we assumed brown trout — in the slightly turbid water. We figured just one of us should make their way down and fling a salmon egg into the pool, not wanting to spook him.
“Since Joe made the discovery, we elected him to do it. It didn’t take long, but he hooked into that trout, which took him 25 yards downstream. He fought that beauty for what had to be 20 minutes, and I was fortunate to net him when he was finally spent. We got him up on land and all of us were there to see this trophy. Now mind you, we’re all very experienced fisherman who know their trout, and salmon for matter.
“I had my iPhone ready to take a photo of this fish, we removed it from the net and we discovered it wasn’t a brown trout but a huge sucker, pitiful anal-imitating mouth and those ugly sucker whiskers. We were so primed to catch this beauty of a trout that none of us considered that it might be a common stream sucker.
“Damn, a sucker. Who’d a thunk it, Rick? You take care, my friend.”
Rick felt the tears welling up and the words uncomfortably pouring out…
“I love you Mr. President.”
Randall Kirkpatrick, a resident of South Brunswick, is senior account director of Highlander Consulting, a public relations firm headquartered in Califon, NJ. He is also founder and director of Music for All Seasons, a quarterly concert series that benefits nonprofit organizations in Central Jersey.