Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

May 23rd, 2003

Letters From Happy Lakes Home
By Roger Emile Stouff

Dear Reader:
I am writing this to you from my new residence here at Happy Lakes Home for Fishing Rehabilitation. After several days of close observation, I was allowed a crayon and paper to write this column.

My memory is not exactly clear on how I ended up at Happy Lakes, but they tell me that during the middle of the night a few days ago, the winter cabin fever finally got to me and I was found casting a No. 6 Clouser minnow at passing cars on Chitimacha Trail. I missed all of them but one, they tell me, and that one happened to be a police car. I was impressed to learn that I set the hook so firmly in the police car's bumper that they had to use the Jaws of Life to extract it. I was also told that I narrowly missed hooking a casino bus.

Anyway, the next few days are a dim blur of conversations with therapists and a little man in a white lab coat who would show me white cards with inkblots on them that all looked like largemouth bass. Well, there was one catfish in the bunch, I told him, and he then spent several minutes writing in his notebook before letting me go back to my room.

It's rather a boring room, really, just a bed, a television which doesn't seem to work mounted in the corner of the ceiling, and this padding stuff all over the walls. I can't reach the television, so I don't know if it works or not, and they say I have to look at a few more cards with inkblots on them before I can watch television, and then, it will only be tuned to a closed-circuit video feed of Gilligan's Island.

Every day at noon I get to go have lunch in the cafeteria, and all they serve is meatloaf. One day, all the doctors stood around with their notebooks watching us when they served fish sticks, hush puppies and tartar sauce. That's fine with me, except that I can't identify what kind of fish exactly the sticks are made out of. It tastes like I imagine carp would taste. The doctors took lots of notes, but they wouldn't let me see them. I wrote my own note for them on the plate with tarter sauce saying, "Get Stouffer's fish sticks next time, ya cheapskates."

Also once a day, we all get to go outside and recreate, which means walking around on a spot of grass inside a big fence. Outside the fence, there is a small lake, but we are not allowed to fish in it, talk about it, look at it, or even think about it. I think it's part of the therapy. Once I looked at the lake for just a split second, and was wrestled to the ground while sirens went off and red lights started flashing, and they made me go to my room. During the split second I looked, there appeared to be no signs of fish swirling the water or popping at bugs on the surface. I hear from the other guests that there is another lake on the other side of the property, which is so full of monster bass, trout, walleye and muskie, as well as the occasional chinook for a lucky angler, that there's no room left for the water.

When it's time for me to go to speak to the therapist, we have interesting conversations about fishing. I don't think the therapist has ever been fishing in his life, because he asks really dumb questions.

"When you are fishing, do you think about how much you hate the social, religious, governmental and moral institutions which dictate your life?" he asks me.

"No," I say, staring intently at the lava lamp in the corner. I decide that he will surely think I am mad if I confess to being a fly angler, so I say, "I am thinking how I am going to get the night crawler stuff out from under my fingernails so I can eat my oatmeal creme pies."

"Tell me about your childhood."

"My dad and I fished a lot," I answer. "We had lots of fun."

"And so, you are resentful of your father for taking you fishing rather than playing football with you?"

"No, I hate football. I much prefer fishing. That's why I'm always on the lake on Super Bowl Sunday."

"'Hate' is an interesting word," he says. "Do you hate football because your dad took you fishing when you were a kid, therefore you have repressed anger resulting in obsessive behavior?"

"What?" I ask, puzzled.

"Are you not acting out that hatred toward me by pretending you don't understand the question?"

"Do you have a cigar, doc?"

One day I had a conversation with one of the other guys, out in the recreation yard. We sat on a park bench with our backs to the lake, and I said, "How's it going?"

"Steelhead, trout, stripers, crappie, muskie, pike," he said to me with a big happy smile on his face, shaking my hand vigorously.

I said, "Food here is the pits, ain't it?"

"Garfish, bass, bream, bluegill, snapper, flounder, shark, tuna," he laughed, nodding enthusiastically.

Beginning to believe this fellow was of a one-track mind, I asked, "Does your television work?"

"Specs, reds, rainbow, browns, smallmouth, largemouth, catfish!" he cried out gleefully.

"Looks like rain," I noted, but this sent him running away in terror, yelling, "Martha Stewart stole my tackle box!"

One of the guys, who I'll call Charlie to protect his true identity, was brought in by his family for rehab when he sold his wife's BMW to buy a sparkly bass boat just like Hank Parker's. His reasoning, he told me, was that since they lived on the river, he could easily take his wife to work in her office that also was on the river every morning on his way fishing. The wife, it seems, took a dim view of this idea.

The other chap, who I'll call Chap, admitted himself for therapy. "I woke up one morning and there were tuna flopping around all over the bed," he said. "I must have been fishing in my sleep."

"That's not so bad," I said.

"Yes, it is. I live in Arizona."

Well, tomorrow, when they show me the cards with the inkblots, I think I'll tell them I see something else. Butterflies, ink pens, laptop computers or chocolate chip cookies. Perhaps that will help get me out sooner. And when I talk to the guy who thinks I'm obsessive and carrying around all this hatred, I'll tell him about how when I was five I saw a guy at the circus swallowing goldfish and have carried in my soul a secret desire to do the same but have been unable to carry it out because they remind me too much of those little cheesy crackers.

If none of that works, perhaps they'll give me more paper and a crayon to write you kind folks again next week. I just hope they don't give me a white crayon again. It makes it very hard to read, but Charlie thinks it's invisible ink, so we pass each other messages in white crayon on white paper, none of which either us can read, but mine says, "You shoulda seen the one I landed the night I came here," and I suspect his all say, "Where are they biting?"

Regards from Happy Lake. ~ Roger


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