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Black Cloud

water spouts

I fished for the first time in my life six years ago, which may seem strange since I was born on an island (Manhattan) and grew up on another island (Long).

But my father wasn't a sportsman, and he never ate fish in his life, so I suppose that's why I never got to hold a rod and turn a reel as a lad. And beyond that, being a city kid, I have always had a healthy fear of nature. We have no wolves, bears or soaring bald eagles on Long Island. And in NYC, they're all locked safely behind bars in zoos, which is fine by me. I find nature to be very unnatural.

But the guys who plan this trip to the wilds of Northern Ontario each year are great friends and they convinced me that I'd have the time of my life if I went along, so I gulped, packed a bag, borrowed a rod and reel, and then did my best to stand in a rocking boat for three days. It rained, of course. Sideways.

I whined about the weather and shivered in my soaking-wet running shoes and not-waterproof windbreaker until my fishing buddies explained one of life's great truths to me: There is no such thing as bad weather. There is only inappropriate clothing.


So here's what happened that first year. I caught very few fish, but the guy with me in the boat caught lots. We switched up the next day - different buddy, different fishing guide - and the same thing happened. The fish kept giving me the fin, while the other guy caught monsters.

When this happened again on the third day (different buddy, different guide) we all began to realize that I was something special - a squeezable good-luck sponge.  Whomever I was with benefited from the luck that gushed from my miserable old body and entered their rods and reels. I became a dripping-wet charm and got invited back again and again as the years rolled by. And I'm okay with all of this because I bring absolutely no ego to the sport of fishing, and most everything else in my life. I'm just happy to be on this side of the lawn at my age.

And besides, there's a delicious connection between fishing guides and heating technicians, as you shall see.

I religiously mimicked all the moves my buddies and dozens of professional fishing guides were making (cast like this, jig like that, set the hook!), with so-so results, and that's when one of the guides bestowed upon me my new Indian name, that being Black Cloud. I looked up and we all agreed that the name was appropriate.

"Do you have an Indian name?" I asked the guide.

"Yeah," he said.

"And what is it?"

"Dances With Cougars," he said.


Anyway,  one of my fishing buddies, in an attempt to change my luck  on a rare sunny day, filled my reel with a special sort of very strong line. He did this because he's very experienced and knows the ways of fish. The two of us met that day's guide. I handed my rod and reel to him as I tried not to fall between the dock and the boat. He looked at the line, sniggered, shook his head, and told me it was all wrong. "You can't catch anything with that crap" he said. "Don't you know that?"

I just smiled at my buddy. Neither of us said anything. 

We rode the lake for nearly an hour and stopped at a spot that the guide said couldn't miss. To me, it looked like every other spot on the lake. He handed me his gear because, as he had noted, I wouldn't be able to catch any fish with that stupid line I had put on my reel. I smiled at my buddy again, thanked the guide, and proceeded to catch a few fish that were slightly larger than the minnow on my hook. "See what I mean?" The guide said. "That's good line." I smiled.

Later that day, I was catching some larger fish with my own rod and reel and the line that wouldn't work in the morning because the guide had said so. I smiled at him. "I bring you to the best spots," he said. "That's why you're catching them now, Black Cloud." Not a word from him about the inappropriate line.

At noon, we meet up with the rest of the gang on a tiny island for a shore lunch and delicious fish stories. Our guide tells my buddy and me that he's going to take us to some secret spots that afternoon to catch some of the biggest fish in the lake. We all smile.

We go to the secret places, spend four hours casting, only to catch a total of two small fish. The guide says, "I can't believe your lousy luck, Black Cloud. The fish were here yesterday. It's not me; it's you and your bad juju.

I smile because this guy is never wrong. If I catch fish it's because he knows the lake. If I don't catch fish,  it's because my line is wrong, or I brought a banana on the boat, or I'm wearing the wrong hat, or because I'm just cursed.

Heads he wins; tails I lose. He's a professional who is better than everyone else and never wrong.

When The Lovely Marianne and I were young, filled with hope, and quite wet behind the ears, we bought this little house that had oil-fired hydronic heat. I signed us up with an oil company that was right here in town. They would make automatic deliveries and take care of all needed service. The next day, they sent a serviceman to tune-up the burner. He arrived, did his job, and left. The next morning, TLM got into the shower, only to find that we had no hot water. She yelled at me. My fault.

So I call the oil company. A few hours later, a new serviceman arrives. He spends some time working on the burner that the other guy worked on yesterday. When he's done, he tells me that the other guy is the worst mechanic in the world and dumber than a box of rocks. He doesn't know why the company keeps him on, but then, he's seen the company hire some world-class idiots in his time. Oh, and if I ever have another problem, I should ask for him by name because he's the best. The rest are losers.

The burner runs fine for two days, but then TLM gets another cold shower and yells at me. I call the oil company. They send us a different guy. He tells me the other two guys are complete morons and that I should ask for him in the future.

This goes on for a while until a salesman from the oil company shows up. He tells us that the problem isn't with their mechanics; it's with our boiler. Every part on that boiler is serviceable, sure, but since their mechanics can't seem to service those parts, the boiler must be unserviceable. So there.

And young as I was, I looked up over my head for the black cloud, and I smiled. "Your guys told me that your company hires idiots," I said. "They each said that about the guy who was there before they arrived. What do you think about that?"

He shrugged "I don't know anything about that. I'm in sales, not service."

So we moved on to another company and just kept smiling because if you catch fish, that's the guide's skills. And if you don't catch fish it's never the guide's fault. Even though he drove the boat to that spot and told you to cast that shoreline over there. It's not him; it's you. It's the line you're using, or that stupid lure you brought. "Here, try this one. That doesn't work either? Well, that's because of your bad juju."

I just smile.

Human nature is a glorious thing, as is ego, and whether it shows up on a lake or in a boiler room, both human nature and ego always make me smile. Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan, and I've got this black cloud over my head that always sends the good luck to the other guy, even though the guide will explain that all success is a result of his skills. But none of the failures.

That's on me.

So keep smiling. And try to be kind to that guy who was on the job before you. Your customers are paying attention, too. 


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