Only one remedy can relieve a scorching summer day in Arkansas: A float fishing trip with a friend on an Arkansas stream.
My companion last week was Kat Anderson of San Francisco, one of my closest friends since 1977. We met in Mrs. Workman's eighth-grade homeroom at Forest Heights Junior High. Mrs. Workman's son Charles is a world-renowned operatic tenor who graduated from Juilliard, but back then he was Chuck Workman, first-chair trumpet and one of about 30 kids in Mrs. Jennings' English class.
Another member of Mrs. Jennings' English class was George Newbern, who became an actor of some repute. He and Nathan Gay, who still lives in Little Rock, occasionally performed improvisational skits for the class.
I sat behind George. The first time we spoke was on a day when he had a massive pile of books stacked on the deck of his little "aircraft carrier" desk. It was extremely front heavy. I bumped the desk, knocking it over and spilling all the books onto the floor. George thought I did it intentionally and a fight ensued. Fighting in class was a major offense, but George was marked for greatness even then. The teacher couldn't send me alone to the principal's office, so she had to let it slide.
As a sophomore at Central High School, George borrowed my Beatles songbook to learn "Michelle" for the school talent show. We briefly considered doing "Michelle" as a duo, but George performed James Taylor's, "Country Road," as a solo, instead. He owned the song and the show, and I consider George's performance superior to Taylor's original. He was very pleased when I recently told him this. Actually, I suspect that the person handling George's social media was pleased. I doubt George even saw the message.
George still has my Beatles songbook. It's his now, I guess.
Central High alums from the early 80s might remember Kat Anderson as Kathleen Harvey. I alone am permitted to call her Kathleen, and I do, except when I introduce her to friends. After graduating from Central in 1982, she earned a political science degree from Stanford and a law degree from the University of California-Hastings. She married David Anderson, a super-successful attorney appointed by President Trump as U.S. attorney for the northern district of California. Dave is an adventurer, mountain climber and all-around outdoors enthusiast.
Kathleen, a long-time Democratic Party activist, has long been active in Bay Area politics. She serves on the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission. After an unsuccessful campaign for a Bay Area office in 2016, she opened a bistro called word.A CAFE along with her business partner Carl T. Hall, a former employee of the Arkansas Gazette. "Word" was gaining momentum when the pandemic struck, dealing her the same devastation it dealt to every small business owner.
Kathleen visits Arkansas every year around the Fourth of July, and we always spend a day fishing, almost always on the Caddo River. Kathleen is intensely competitive, but she can't bear the thought of hurting a fish, so she never sets the hook. If she catches one, it's the fish's fault.
I always give her first cast to all the best spots.
"See where that water gets dark right behind that rock? Throw into the lighter colored water and gently drag it into the dark."
Or, "Throw into that swirling water downstream of that rootwad."
She almost always hits the target. Her rod tip dances.
"You've got a fish on!" Kat dawdles, giving the fish time to spit the bait. She counts a bite as a catch, but she insists that I bring all my fish to hand.
Frankly, fishing is just the canvas for conversation. No subject is off limits and unadorned honesty is required. We know each other too well and for too long to abide false fronts. To even attempt to put one up invites ridicule and derision.
Always, these float fishing trips end too quickly. The fish counts are usually low, although I won this last one 8-0. Kathleen was quick to point out that all of my fish were small.
"Still bigger than yours!" I retorted.
"We don't know that because we didn't see any of mine, because somebody didn't tell me when to set the hook," she said.
"Because somebody won't follow instructions!" I replied.
And so we go, bickering the way lifelong fishing buddies do. As far as catching goes, the annual "Kathleen Trip" is always the least productive of the year, but for me, it's my unofficial start to summer.