I opened the gift wrapped box with urgency. It was my seventh birthday and I was hoping to get the Chicago Blackhawk jersey that I had asked for. Quickly dispatching the wrapping paper, I peered down into the box and found a brand new pair of Levi jeans. (Bummer!) Trying to hide my disappointment, I said “Gee thanks, Mom─Can I go out and play now?”
“Wouldn’t you like some birthday cake first?”
“Naw, I”ll eat some later; the guys want to play baseball.”
“Well, get home before dark and don’t wear your new jeans─I don’t want you getting them dirty.”
“Sure thing,” I said as I grabbed my baseball glove and headed out the back door mumbling muffled explicatives.
Approaching the baseball diamond, I found the gang already assembled. “Hey, where is your Blackhawk jersey?” Jeff asked.
“Didn’t get it.”
“What did you get?”
“A pair of new Levi jeans.”
“Why aren’t you wearing them?”
“My mother didn’t want me to get them dirty; besides, have you ever tried to run in a new pair of Levi jeans?─It’s like running with a cardboard box on your legs.”
“Oh well, there is always next year.”
“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah… Let’s play ball and quit the chitter-chatter.”
After the game, I trudged back home, opened the door, and was greeted by my mother, “Your friend John called and asked me if you would like to go fishing tomorrow with him and his mother.”
I had a sudden mood swing. “What did you say?”
“I said that you can go but I want you to stay away from the water.”
“Stay away from the water? I’m going fishing─the fish are in the water.”
“Just be careful. A lot of people drown in the water.”
“What else would they drown in? I’m not going deep-sea fishing searching for the deadliest catch─I’m going bank fishing with a cane pole in the Cook County forest preserve.”
“Just be careful.”
The morning sunlight streamed through a crack in the drapes and landed on my face. Jumping out of bed, I washed my face, brushed my teeth, dressed, and came down for breakfast. My mother gave me a look over, like a witness does at a criminal line-up. “Why aren’t you wearing your new jeans?” she asked.
“Because I’m going fishing and I don’t want to get them dirty.”
“Good try. Go upstairs and put them on; I want you to look nice when John’s mother gets here.”
“Mom, those are dress jeans─not fishing jeans.”
“I don’t care. Go upstairs and put them on.”
Climbing the stairs, with my back to my mother, I uttered few more choice explicatives.
“What was that?” my mother asked.
“Nothing─I was just wondering out loud why the Cubs always have finish in last place every year.”
“Forget about that. Go and get ready: they will be here any minute.”
I went into the bedroom and put on the crispy-critters, one leg at a time. The blue denims felt like leg straight-jackets. How am I going to fish with these things on? Putting on my Chicago Cubs baseball cap, I left my room and tried to descend the stairs with my stiff-legged birthday jeans. Putting one leg in front of the other, I did my best Frankenstein imitation.
“Why are you walking like that?” my mother asked.
“These pants are so stiff, I bet I could tie a line to them and fly them like a kite.”
“You watch your mouth─There are kids in Africa that don’t have any clothes at all.”
“Good. You can put these in a package and send them there.”
Before my mother could get her belt out, the door bell rang.
Saved by the bell!
“Good morning Mrs. Waldo, how are you today?” my mother asked.
“Very well, and yourself?”
“Is Gary ready?”
“He is raring to go.”
“Well then let’s hit the road boys,” Mrs. Waldo said.
“You boys behave yourselves,” my mother advised as I side-stepped to the car.
Mrs. Waldo started the car and John turned around from the front seat and looked at me. “What’s with the retarded silly walk? Do you have to take a pee or somethin’?”
“It’s my birthday pants, ding-dong─they’re stiffer than my cane pole.”
“Well, then why did you wear them?”
“Because I was going to take a beating if I didn’t wear them.”
“If you think it’s so funny, why don’t you wear them?”
We entered the forest preserve, parked the car, and made our way down to the lake. After a brief reconnaissance of the park, Mrs. Waldo picked out a nice grassy area close to the water and laid out her blanket.”You boys could put your lines in the water and begin fishing. Don’t be horsing around by the water.”
“Sure thing, Mrs. W,” I said as we took the cane poles and ran down to the lake.
Taking a night crawler from a paper carton, I split it in two, and gave a piece to John. We put our bait on the hook, tied a small bobber on, and flipped our lines out into the lake. After an hour without a bite, John suggested that we move to another spot. We walked around the lake until we found a large concrete drainage pipe that extended about ten yards into the water. “Let’s go out on the end of the pipe and fish,” John said, “I’m sure the water is deeper out there.”
“Do you think it is safe?”
Walking like timber cutters balancing on a log in the water, we began to make our way to the end of the pipe. My stiff-legged Levi’s made it difficult to straddle the pipe, so I took each step with a little extra caution. When we reached the end of the discharge, we flipped our lines in the water and began watching our floats bob up and down. No sooner had I tossed in my float, than it suddenly disappeared. “Got one!” I shouted. Pulling up on the cane pole, I felt the fish put a hard tug on me. I pulled with more force using my back to try and pull him out. Suddenly the line went slack and I flew backwards off the pipe and into the water. The horror!
All the people sitting at their picnic tables witnessing the spectacle began roaring with laughter as I swam to safety like “Aquaman” with rigamortis. I began crying as Mrs. Waldo came running up, “Gary are you okay?”
“I have ruined my new jeans,” I cried.
“Don’t worry about that; as long as you haven’t hurt yourself everything will be all right. Let’s get you dried off and I’ll get you home.”
Seated on a blanket in the back of the car, I began to think of the consequences of my head plant into the deep blue. The wet Levi’s had begun to bake in the summer sun and now felt as if they had been shellacked on my legs with a hard resin. Mrs. Waldo pulled in front of the house, beeped the horn, and my mother came out.
“We had a little mishap but everything is okay,” Mrs. W said.
I tried to get out of the car but my legs were so stiff I just fell off the seat like a slug. I will never place a turtle on his back again. My mother pulled me to my feet and I walked monster-like to the front door. What’s with the goofy walk─do you have to go to the bathroom?”
I shot her a dirty look: “Just don’t forget the Blackhawk jersey next year!”