I have a cold. And I got it the only way I know how to do things -- the hard way. On Christmas Eve, I decided I'd give myself a present. I had this bright idea to get a head start on the new year by testing the strength of the Equal Rights Amendment -- you know, the ERA -- the free pass that enterprising women have used for years to back stubborn men into corners...
My friend Bernie is always bragging about what a success he is at snagging bass. He says it's too bad the Bass Club is men-only, and he lords it over me that bass fishing is a "man's" thing -- not for wussies. Not for women. Not for me.
Well, I don't like to brag, but I've caught my share of fish over the years, and I can spin a tale with the best of them. I decided it was time to shut Bernie up and crash the "men only" bunch of happy hookers. So, when I approached the president of our local bassin' club, I was armed not only with the ERA, but with a myriad of rebuttals for his excuses, arguments or evasions.
"Sure you can join," he said, his eyes sparkling good-naturedly. "All you have to do is fish in two tournaments. If you pass muster, you're automatically voted into the club."
"Really...just like that?" I asked suspiciously. "Okay, then. When fishing weather rolls around --"
"Oh, no!" he countered, the sparkle now a glint. "Be out here at 3 in the morning. It's always fishin' weather, and we're having a tourney tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? But tomorrow is Christmas!"
"Three-ay-em. Unless, of course..."
"I'll be here!" I exclaimed hurriedly, determined not to be dispensed with so easily. "I'll be here. But -- don't the tournaments usually start at six?"
"Yeah," he grunted. "But you're gonna be fishing with the best -- good ol' Luther, and he likes to get out early and get the lay of the lake."
Thus, I became a willing and unsuspecting pawn in the hands of good ol' Luther. I was even buoyed by a feeling of camaraderie as, excited and shivering, I approached the icy, pre-dawn waters on Christmas morning.
"Where have you been?" An angry voice shattered the stillness. Peering into the darkness, I saw the lean, impatient Luther, gandy-dancing on the dock. He confronted me, blood in his eye, rod and reel poised like a lion-tamer's whip. His coveralls, zipped to the lip, were blazoned with a lightening bolt and the words, "Idi Amin Dada -- Conqueror of the British Empire!"
" Bu--but it's only 3 o'clock..."
"We leave at three," he snapped as he leapt lithely into the shallow bassing rig, leaving me to clamber unsteadily aboard and slink into the "tower seat" high in the sleek boat.
"...life jacket!" Luther mouthed as he started the engine -- a sudden explosion that sounded like a reverberating howitzer. While I groped in the darkness for the jacket, Luther blasted out of the cove. If he noticed I was smashed into the seat; if he heard the snap of my neck -- the castanet rattle of my spine -- he gave no indication. I still get grim satisfaction out of knowing that there are irreparable "chin gouges" in the back of the padded seat in Luther's flat-out racing bass boat.
I could tell right off that "fun tournament" was beyond Luther's comprehension as he tried to get the jump on the rest of the club members who were beginning to show up. He held full throttle; we were aboard a devil craft, rocketing into the eerie pre-dawn fog. Whimpering, I clung to the side of the boat, where I'd fallen upon take-off. Luther ignored my groans when my thermos of steaming coffee went spinning into the lake. He glared at me menacingly when my plastic worm slipped from stiff fingers -- and warned me wickedly that bass fishin' was serious business.
Each time the wind shifted, we were off again; the tip of the boat standing at haughty attention. There's nothing more invigorating on a Christmas morn than icy spray rattling on teeth set against lips frozen into a permanent snarl...
I tried to get Luther's attention, but I didn't have a gun. I prayed for deliverance. I prayed for Luther to get snagged by one of the dead, witch-like trees that grasped and clawed as we soared by. Then -- I just prayed.
Finally, mercifully, it was 5:30 and time to head back to shore and "rev up" for the fun tourney. From my position in the bottom of the boat, I could hear light "men only" banter as the rest of the gang jockeyed for position.
I struggled to give good ol' Luther a scathing look, but my eyes were frozen shut. "HELP!" I whispered as we nosed against the dock.
They all pitched in to get me out of the boat, and it didn't take but a few minutes to chip away the two inches of ice around my feet. They didn't even break anything when they folded my stiff body into the seat of my car.
"Be back out here tomorrow at the same time for the final phase of your initiation," Luther said, patting me on the head ever so gently so as not to break my hair. "That's the fun part -- going after the big ones. All you gotta do is catch yourself a bass, and then you'll be one of us."
ME? One of THEM? I stared at Luther with wild eyes -- now frozen open. "When donkeys fly!" I attempted to shriek, but my frozen lips could only muster a plaintive, "Aaaaarrrhhh..."
So, here I am, still shivering and nursing a cold, and coming to grips with the fact the ERA isn't all it's cracked up to be. But on the other hand, why would I want to be out there with Luther, baitin' bass -- when I can be here with you, bashin' Bush?
Happy New Year!