Friday, May 22, 2009

Catfish Hunting


May 1992. Might have been during Memorial Day weekend. I was closing in on the last weeks of my undergraduate education, and I had a bad case of "senioritis." Not that I had classes to blow off, even if it had been a weekday; spring of my senior year, I had only my thesis to work on, and it (translation of a novel from French into English) had already been submitted to my advisor. I was pretty much home free. On the May day in question, the sun shone over the Hudson Valley. It was a perfect day to be out on the wide river, part of a flotilla of small rowboats rustled up from who knows where, catfish hunting. I don't know who was responsible for this annual tradition—in fact, there are more things I don't remember about this event than things I do, but it comes to mind from time to time, like tonight, so I guess there's a reason. I was invited by a local guy, some years older but not many, who had connections to people at my college. The connections involved alumni who had stayed in the area, and also involved the college softball teams (one of which, I now recall, was named the "Cunning Linguists"). Ours was a small campus, with small towns on all sides, so the overlap in communities made sense. We set out in the early afternoon, a dozen or more of us—mostly locals, mostly men. My host, with whom I had for some time shared a mutual but unacknowledged attraction, rowed us away from shore. He was at one end of the tiny boat, I at the other, and a couple of six-packs sat between us. I never imagined we'd be out on the water that long. Never stopped to think that we had no food, only beer—well, and some worms we used as bait, purchased at a run-down house with a sign, "hubcaps and worms," facing Route 9-G—and that the triple-threat of alcohol and sunshine and gently rocking boat would be all I needed to create a humiliating emergency. Still trying to make a catch (some others in our hunting party had dredged up some prize-winning bottom feeders already), I figured it was just not possible to row back to shore and try to find a bathroom. I couldn't imagine asking, not wanting to be the buzzkill girl on board. And also I thought I could just hold it. Big mistake. Next I remember this really horrible, secretive squatting in the bottom of the boat—I have no idea what excuse I found to be down there, rather than on the narrow seat I'd been perched on right along. I remember sitting on a water-wet aluminum boat floor, thankful for the puddle there that would, I hoped, mask any other suspicious damp spots on my pants. I peed slowly (and lightly, thank god; my jeans absorbed it all) then drank another beer. Unbelievably, no one was the wiser. I was just privately mortified, promising myself that I would not ever let pride come between me and a proper bathroom (or at least a bush on land) again. The outcome of the afternoon, for which I sacrificed my comfort and sense of good hygiene? No catfish. We didn't catch a thing, but we did have a darn good time, especially later that evening, at the fish fry that followed—after I went home to change my clothes.

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