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Brick’s Fish

Balmy, humid storms drop Gulf of Mexico moisture on the Ohio valley. Last Wednesday evening I considered engaging my son's friends to help drape the new roll of plastic over our newly-completed spruce greenhouse frame, as a moment of high barometric pressure had caused the breezes to subside. I spend a lot of time considering, these days. The job seemed daunting, and the window of time before dark had grown narrow thanks partially to a phone call earlier in the afternoon from my youngest son, Moses, who lives in Bodega Bay, California.

"Hey, Prescott Fond Blanc!" he said.

When I answered the call, I had just pulled into the parking lot of Home Depot in the city of Seymour, Indiana, where I planned to pick up a bunch of 1 X 2 eight footers to use as clamps for the greenhouse plastic. "Hey!"

"You know what Prescott Fond Blanc is, don't you?"

"Yeah. It's an heirloom cantaloupe that has all these ugly warts on the outside. We grew them one summer, before you were born."

"We grew some last year," he said.

"They're pretty good."


We ended up talking on the phone for more than an hour, mostly about fishing and various cantaloupe and watermelon varieties, so by the time I made it back to the farm I wasn't sure if we should try stretching the plastic and clamping it to the frame before dark. In farming there are always so many variables to consider. I think the real reason Amish men shave their mustaches but let their beards grow is so they can scratch their chins in contemplation, in imitation of Rodin's statue, "The Thinker."

An old buddy telephoned just as I'd pulled the truck up to the greenhouse frame. Ever since we were kids everybody's called him "Brick." He's not really an old buddy, as we were never friends or enemies or even associates growing up. Prior to running into Brick at the local bar several months ago, we hadn't interacted since 1985 in junior high football. Brick at the time was the running back for the eighth grade team, probably about six foot and more than 160 pounds, whereas I was only 12 years old, on the 7th grade team, weighing in at barely 90 pounds. Before practice all the running backs and wide receivers and tight ends and what have you would line up to do pass pattern drills, with the eighth graders on the left, the seventh on the right, their quarterbacks standing maybe twenty feet apart. I guess what happened that day might be attributed to Fate, but basically both quarterbacks simultaneously--synchronistically, you might say, chose symmetrically opposite patterns that converged. The pass intended for me was about shoulder height. The ball intended for Brick came in about gut high, and he inadvertently speared my ribs with his helmet and shoulder pads.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up to a blue sky overhead and a ring of inquisitive faces in football helmets, somebody remarking, "Looks like Night of the Living Dead."

For months after the incident, laughter tortured me with agonizing chest pain, thanks to a broken rib.

After that we never really interacted much. I guess Brick ended up going to Vincennes University on a football scholarship where he earned fame as a partying maniac, and people there still talk about him 20 years later. According to local gossip, Brick did too much LSD while in college and hasn't been the same since returning home. For two decades he's led somewhat of a hermit's lifestyle at his cabin on some family land out in the hills, doing odd jobs for under-the-table cash and otherwise raising a few pigs, laying hens, gardening, raising flowers, and spending most of his time hunting and fishing.  "I got me a mess a bluegill and crappie. A couple red-ear, too," he said over the phone. "I bring them over, you guys want any?"


A bunch of my son's buddies showed up in their 4-wheel-drive trucks, and I continued scratching my chin, contemplating whether to rally the troops to get the plastic over the greenhouse frame before dark. My contemplation got interrupted some when I stepped into our shop to grab the cordless drill and literally slipped on a banana peel, busting my ass. The concrete floor's surface is pretty smooth. I guess one of my son's buddies had discarded the peel there, rather than the compost bucket. Now my elbow was throbbing.

Brick showed up with the gal, Crystal, who had been cleaning our house. She's sort of his chauffeur. He had a five gallon bucket filled with about fifty good-sized bluegill and crappie. I know as a writer I'm prone to exaggeration, and as a fisherman you might think Brick would have exaggerated, but he had at least fifty fish to clean. I knew then why he'd come out to our farm--even though we were never friends back in the day, we have a bunch in common, and Brick was gonna be damned if he was gonna fillet fifty fish all by himself. At our farm he had an audience, a bunch of folks maybe passing a joint or something as we listened to a local radio station that warned about "damaging winds and hail, possible tornadoes" in the morning. With so many fish to fillet, and my elbow throbbing, I decided to wait on stretching the greenhouse plastic. About sundown, with still 25 fish to go, I chipped in on the fillet project, and we barely got them cut up before it was too dark to see. After that we put some Old Crow Medicine Show on the speaker system and had us a good old-fashioned fish fry, a "humdinger," as they say.

The next day we got about eight inches of rain, and frogs were croaking and mating in the fields, almost a deafening chorus.

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