Harry was diabetic, and on account of his poor health, they’d amputated both his legs, first one and then the other. He looked like a wizard, what with his flowing white mane and white beard, his skeletal frame, and the silk robes that he wore in an effort to hide his stumps. My father and I used to fish every weekend with Harry, but after his second leg was amputated, he refused to go out anymore. He’d sit in his wheelchair at his kitchen table, consulting the I-Ching. If his wife, a kind lady named Virginia, disturbed him in any way, Harry would throw a fork at her from a bucket he kept by his side. I have never seen a man with so many forks, nor a person as quiet as Virginia, but Harry was always throwing forks at her. Then Virginia got cancer and died, and Harry couldn’t afford their house on his own. He asked my father if he could move into our garage and my father said no. So Harry took out a bed at the Salvation Army and sometimes we visited him. We’d drink burnt coffee and talk about all the fish we used to catch together, but the truth was, Harry never caught many fish. He was a lousy fisherman, mostly because he spent more time puking than fishing. Diabetics shouldn’t eat a half dozen doughnuts for breakfast every Saturday. Hell, nobody should. Still, I always liked Harry. He wasn’t a bad man even if he was unkind. The last time we visited him at the Salvation Army, he gave my father a present, a black and white illustration of a beautiful trout rising to nab a Green Drake floating down Beaverkill Creek. The picture was signed To the best fisherman and best man I ever knew. Thank you. “You always were a lousy fisherman, Harry,” my father said, but there were tears in his eyes and I could tell he was just trying to lighten the mood. When we left that day, we went straight out to buy a bed and a couch and some other things to convert the garage into a room for Harry. I guess my father figured that if he wasn’t good enough to rescue his old friend from a flea-ridden bed and bad meals at the Salvation Army, then he wasn’t much of a good man at all. We worked day and night for three days to clean out the garage and make it suitable for occupancy. My father wanted everything to be just right. Harry didn’t have long to live. That was obvious. My father wanted him to be comfortable in his waning days. The garage complete, we drove to the Salvation Army to take Harry home with us. It was supposed to be a big surprise. But when we showed up and asked to see Harry Sandini, they told us he wasn’t with them anymore. We asked for his new address and they told us he’d died. Later on, when I was in high school, I began utilizing the garage to drink whiskey with my friends and make out with girls, but I don’t believe my father ever set foot in there again.
Bob’s favorite thing in the world was his own shit. Like, you’d be out fishing with Bob at the aqueduct and Bob would return after having been gone for a while, and he’d say, “Come here, I want to show you something.” And you knew Bob was about to show you the dump he just took. But Bob didn’t stop there. No, he liked to tell you what animals’ crap his dump most resembled.
“Look at that snake shit,” he might say, and then he’d fall to the dusty ground and writhe like a maniac, shouting, “It’s like I got scales or somethin’!”
Or he’d say, “That’s got the girth of a polar bear log, but the color’s off. Definitely grizzly. A big-ass grizzly bear.” Then Bob would raise his hands above his head like they were paws and he’d growl and smack you upside the head and you’d say, “Bob, what the fuck?”
Now one thing you should know about Bob is that his shit only ever resembled land mammals. Never birds. Never fish. Never amphibians. Never insects. Never humans, either, if you were wondering.
One time, during the peak of striper season, Bob returned from his routine shit, but he didn’t beg me to come take a look at his dump. He just stood there, solemn.
Finally I said, “What is it, Bob?”
“I’d like you to come look at this,” he said.
“Screw your shit, Bob. The bite’s red hot,” I said, and a fish struck my bait that very moment.
Bob waited for me to reel in the striper, which was a little too small to keep, and after I tossed the fish back into the aqueduct, he was still standing there.
“Fine,” I said. “Show me what you gotta show me.”
So he marched me over the ridge to his favorite shitting hole at the edge of the farmland, and he slowed as we approached a fist-sized mound of something red.
“Alright, what is it this time?” I asked, impatient to return to fishing.
Bob looked at me as if I should know.
“Come on, man,” I said. “I came out here to do some fishing, not stare at your weird craps.”
A hurt expression crossed his face. “They’re salmon eggs,” he said. “I’m gonna have babies.”
I scoffed. “You crazy motherfucker. Go to the doctor. Eat healthier. Stop obsessing about your shit. Do anything but what you’re doing.”
“I’m gonna have me some babies,” he said.
And the look in his eyes told me he was serious. He believed he was gonna have some babies. Bob was single and believed in the whole Christian ‘wait until you’re married’ bullshit, so I was pretty sure he hadn’t knocked up some girl and this was his way of telling me.
I stood there, not sure what to believe, wondering how to help my friend out.
Then when I came up with nothing, he said, “Don’t judge me,” and he knelt down and sucked the salmon eggs into his mouth.
He climbed the ridge up and away from his shitting hole and I followed him. He went back to the aqueduct. He descended the steep concrete bank to the water’s edge, where the striper we’d caught and kept drifted dead on a stringer in the current. And what Bob did next was totally insane. He crept down to the slick algae line on the concrete lip and he plopped down on his butt and scooted into the cold, fast-moving water. He went under.
“Bob!” I shouted, but I wasn’t about to jump in after him. That water moved fast. It’d drown us both.
I cried to the Filipino folks who were fishing up-shore from us and they ran over to see what was the matter. I was muttering about salmon eggs and Bob and those stupid shits he always took. The Filipinos had a cellphone and I didn’t so they called 911 and the police came and an ambulance came and a rescue team came, but there was nothing to be done. The aqueduct moved fast. Bob was most likely miles downstream. He was certainly dead.
A year passed and I felt not at all better about losing my best buddy in the whole wide world, but I fished twice as hard that year as ever before in my life. And I kid you not, when the striper season got into full swing on the aqueduct, I started catching salmon. Slender, hard-bodied, silver salmon. Nobody else caught them. None of the regulars who were as dedicated to fishing as me. I was the only one who could catch ’em. And as I pulled up salmon after salmon, all these guys and all these girls who were fishing that stretch of the aqueduct, they’d reel in their poles and lay them on the bank and they’d come crowd around me, to watch how it was done. I told them how to do it. I showed them my technique. I gave them my bait. But no matter what, nobody could pull a salmon out of the aqueduct but me. They soon came to calling me The Legend, and soon as I’d set foot out of my truck, I could hear them murmur, “Here comes The Legend,” and “It’s the guy who catches all those salmon.” The local paper even wrote a story about me. The Department of Fish and Wildlife got a warrant and searched my house. I guess they thought I’d taken to bucket biology and planted the salmon there myself. Nobody could figure it out. But that didn’t prevent me from catching salmon, the first and only to ever be caught in that stretch of the aqueduct.
Only I know how the salmon came to be there. Only I remember my friend Bob.
Jerry Tibbs. Better known as Mr. Tibbs’ Ribbs in our community for his barbecue joint of the same name. I can still taste his ribs and the best goddamn cornbread in California, baked fresh every day by his wife, Patty Tibbs, who owned a real estate business. My daddy and I fished with Jerry on some small freshwater lakes when I was a youngster. We caught smallmouth bass together on several occasions. But fishing for smallmouth bass with my daddy and I is not what killed Mr. Tibbs. No, Mr. Tibbs was killed by a whale. It is one of those terrible fortunes of life, to go out fishing on the Pacific in the boat you own because you are successful, and after a good day’s fishing, the next thing you know, a whale breaches on your boat and you’re knocked overboard and swept out to sea in the dead of night and you’re screaming for help and you see the lights of the boat but you are hundreds of yards away, cold and wet and drowning fast and drifting further and nobody can find you nobody will ever find you. That was Mr. Tibbs’ fate. He died on the ocean. They never found his body. Friends say he caught a big halibut that day. They filleted it and served the meat at his wake the following week. My daddy and I were present and we enjoyed that halibut, but it didn’t hold a candle to Mr. Tibbs’ ribs. His wife and oldest son took to running Mr. Tibbs’ ribs after his death, but the ribs just weren’t the same. There was a special way Mr. Tibbs’ secret sauce made you smack your lips. And oh boy these were still real good, but they weren’t lip-smacking good. The death weighed heavily on Patty Tibbs, too. She no longer cooked the cornbread fresh every day. You were lucky to get a piece fresher than two days old. It’s kind of funny because my daddy and I had been invited to go out on the ocean with Mr. Tibbs many times before, but my daddy thought I’d get seasick. So we’d always just gone out fishing for bass on local lakes with Mr. Tibbs. Kind of funny to think of Mr. Tibbs now. I can’t remember a word he ever spoke, only his barbecue. He was a kind man, I know. He must’ve had kind eyes and a kind voice and a kind smile, considering how often he invited my daddy and I out fishing, but I remember none of that. Only his barbecue and the yellow tables in his shop and for some reason a flier for his wife’s real estate company, showing you houses that were for sale in the neighborhood. Naïve as I was, I always expected my daddy to say, after ordering our barbecue, “And I’ll take that house too,” pointing to a house on one of the real estate fliers, as if you could buy ribs and cornbread and a house all from the same joint. But my daddy didn’t have the money for that, and that’s not how the world works. How the world works is that whales kill people. Lip-smacking. That’s how I’d describe it.