Monday, February 27, 2006
Tales of small town life 4
The Platte River runs below a highway bridge about a quarter of a mile northeast of my hometown. Sometimes the river gets low enough to wade in safely. When the river is low, an occasional carp gets stranded and dies. This handful of dead carp, much like the nearby prairie dog, becomes an exaggerated excuse for nihilistic carnage on the part of bored teenagers. The idea is simple, though false: some of the carp need to be killed so the rest of them can make their way down the river safely without crowding each other onto dry land. Carp aren't particularly good to eat, so trapping them or catching them with a fishing pole isn't really a whole lot of fun. They just need to be killed, and the only humane way to do it is to wade into the river with a baseball bat, wait for some to swim by, and pound the shit out of them until they are dead. This is called "carping." When I was in eighth grade, the river was very low and carping was popular among the boys in my class. My friends asked me to go carping with them almost daily, but I always turned them down. Then, as now, I liked to spend my free time listening to music and reading, and my cruelty to animals phase ended in sixth grade, when I would shoot birds in my backyard with my brother's BB gun. Clubbing fish to death seemed like a stupid thing to do (although listening to King's X seemed like a good idea to me at the time, so I wasn't exactly free of stupidity myself). One afternoon, however, after a particularly bad day at school, three of my friends again asked me to go carping. Somehow, my distaste for the activity was momentarily replaced with curiosity and desire. This would be something new. How many times did something new present itself in my tiny little hometown? I was ready to club some fucking fish. Stupid? More like gloriously stupid. As soon as school ended, we got on our bikes and rode to the most zealous carp-beater's home for supplies. He could only find two baseball bats, one of which I was lucky enough to snag, so the other two had to make do with a fence post and a golf club. We rode out to and under the bridge, laying our bikes down on a hill near the river, took off our shoes and socks, and waded into the water. I had been under the bridge a few times with friends, but had never waded in the river, so I spent about ten minutes walking around, looking at the rocks and fish in the water, watching cars drive past on the highway above my head. It was nice. Then I saw one of my friends whack the holy living fuck out of a carp. It was exciting. My other two friends joined in, killing several fish. I watched them for awhile, and then tried it myself. I've never been athletic, and fish killing is no exception. I kept missing. I finally hit one, but it kept swimming, unfazed, and the feel of the bat against the slimy back of the large fish freaked me out a little. After about thirty minutes of further carp-pummeling, I hadn't killed any, two of my friends had killed three or four, and the zealous carp-killer had a formidable mound of dead carp piled on a rock near his feet. We were about to head home when Shane rode up on his bike. Shane was three or four years older than us, and had either dropped out or been kicked out of two high schools in nearby towns before making his way to Bridgeport, where he was staying with a friend and his mother. Shane was in trouble constantly, and would later drop out of Bridgeport High School in the tenth grade, at the age of 19. He wasn't mean or intimidating, though, and we all liked him. He smoked a lot of pot, listened to heavy metal and gangsta rap, and was pretty clever. He was funny, not dumb at all, and had a burning need to fuck up. He had a great laugh, and you knew you had said something funny when you made him let it out. He once borrowed a Metallica tape from me, and though he kept it for seven months, he brought it back. I'm sure his life is probably not very good right now. Back to the carp. He looked at our pile of dead fish and laughed. He asked for one of the bats. He told my friend to throw the dead carp at him. My friend threw the dead carp. Shane hit the fish, hard, with the bat, and it split into two bloody chunks that sailed over the river bridge. We all laughed hysterically. He called out for more carp. My friend threw most of his pile of dead carp, Shane hit most of the carp thrown at him, most of the carp being hit split into bloody pieces, and most of the bloody pieces sailed over the river bridge. Unfortunately, one of the bloody pieces almost hit a state patrolman's moving vehicle. He turned around, eyeballed us from the bridge, and parked. Shane split the moment he saw the patrolman's car, so the four of us were left with bloody fish guts and the weapons in our hands. The patrolman didn't look angry or amused, just exasperated at the stupidity of the generation of American males we represented. I could very easily picture him saying "I'm too old for this shit," while a white-hot guitar lick played quietly in the background. He lectured us briefly, then let us off with a warning. I don't remember much of what he said, but I distinctly remember his closing words: "Guys, I know it's kind of sporting, but clubbing fish to death with a fence post and a golf club is just not what you're supposed to do."