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The One About Fishing and Cars

Careful! Cut away from yourself.” 

My seven childhood trips to the ER make me stress this rule more than most.

Levon ripped open the cardboard. He was ready to get started. The box was no bigger than a desk dictionary.

Working like a surgeon, he cut efficiently, and then, there it was – a double-sided, neodymium magnet fishing kit with the pulling force of a thousand pounds and an orange, 65-foot long durable rope. Forget hooks and night crawlers, or even a well-tied clinch knot. This sort of fishing device only needs the wizardry of opposing electrons and the alchemy of atoms. The magic lives in the science.

To test the real power of the new device, I lassoed the orange rope in the air, made a quick snap of the wrist, and unleashed the snare onto our refrigerator. The metal-on-metal slap brought excitement. We had our first catch, a stainless steel whale.

“Dad, I can’t get it off.”

“I know. But imagine what this thing can find in the water.”

“Seriously, Dad, you try.”

Ten minutes later, I managed to slide the magnetized metal off the door. Using two hands and a wobbling, to-and-fro technique, the fridge gave up its fight.

Together, we thought about what else we would catch. The neighborhood pond is often kind to us, producing baby sunfish and small trout, but what kind of metal goods might we find beneath the lily pads and under the dock? A beat-up Rolex, James Bond’s Walther PPK, a fallen soldier’s battle sword, the keys to some Civil War-era safe?

But when Levon wasn’t looking, big brother Atticus took the gizmo up to the nearby pond alone, trying his own luck at casting to find
the riches.

There is constant competition between our boys. Being second means losing. On any given day, the first boy to the dinner table or to the car flexes his muscles. Second place doesn’t mean very much when you have to take a cold shower or sit in the back seat and listen to your brother’s terrible music. 

When Atticus returned a few hours later with a balled-up wad of fishing string on a rusted hook, the side panel from an old outboard boat motor, and a piece of roofing metal, he dropped his trophies onto the garage floor with huge delight, like he’d found Chester Copperpot’s stash.

“Look what I got! How much is this worth? Can I sell it on eBay? Dad, is this real?”

As much as I like finding hidden treasure, after Atticus’s cache of finds stayed in the same place for twenty-four hours, I tossed the junk into the trash.

For our boys, anything uncovered in the woods, by the creek, or at the curb turns into something to cherish. The Sears pocket knife Levon found in the mud and the batting cage Atticus saved from the garbage evolved into gold. 

They might be setting off for a neighbor’s house or going to shoot hoops down the street, but their eyes follow the worn path, scanning the ground, seeking riches. Like two loose hound dogs, they don’t even know what they are looking for, but it’s out there on some dusty road. Dawn says their love of trash collecting comes from me, and she’s right. But I hope they also learn to appreciate the switchbacks and the river crossings. Any adventure comes from the mystery of going down the road.

Before a recent family road trip, this truth revealed itself to the four of us. Like the boys’ path in the backyard and neodymium fishing, you never know what surprise might pop up when you are clicking through four states on the highway. With the cruise control on, our mission wasn’t to catch a big fish, but rather, to make great time. Out of good measure, I prepared a small tool bag for an emergency. Even with roadside assistance and a charged cell phone, there’s more peace of mind with some duct tape, zip ties, and an adjustable wrench nearby. Years of working on a 1969 Jeep have taught me this.

So when our version of the Griswold Family Truckster started jumping through gears and accelerating at random, I pulled over and opened up the hood. Everything looked okay, but to be safe, I tightened a few hose clamps and gave the hood a ceremonial pat. Like Atticus, sitting at the dock with his magnet in the water, I couldn’t see what I’d caught. The engine bay and its innards were just black water. However, my imagination told me whatever lurked down there was bad.

Unbeknownst to me, the transmission’s oil pump had blown. Tiny metal shavings were wrecking all the gears, making the wagon hesitate, and the RPMs soar. We limped another half-mile down the road with our hazards on before stopping at a family dealership with a service center.

“You need a new transmission. It’ll take about a month.”

With little choice, we squeezed into a rented roller skate and fought over what would get repacked. There were the necessities: the tablets, Dawn’s running shoes, and what we meant (my running shoes) and didn’t mean (the toothbrushes) to leave behind. Then, off we went, a little more cramped, with suitcases at our feet, and the cooler serving as an armrest.

Somewhere on that new road back home, I thought about that fishing magnet and pictured myself miraculously dropping it into that transmission tunnel and saving our car from its wound. Of course, my daydream was far-fetched; I couldn’t have fixed our car. But I was reminded of what I told Levon the last time we went to the neighborhood pond.

Some guys go fishing their entire lives without realizing that it isn’t a fish they are looking for.  

Married for eighteen years, John Morgan is the father of two boys, ages twelve and ten. He teaches creative writing and British Literature at St. Catherine’s School. Other than words, he loves vintage drums, cars, and Ringo Starr’s backbeat. Follow him on Twitter @johnlmorganiv.
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