Re: Fly whores?
Post reminded me of a short story I wrote a few years ago. Sorry for the length.
The Epiphany by John Dorsey
To the utter amazement of anyone who knows me, I am a pet owner. It wasn’t my idea, you may be assured of that. At a younger age, the idea of marriage was enough to induce nightmares. As a married man, the thought of becoming a father was enough to give me cold sweats. Once I became a father, I assumed it would only be a matter of time before I was a pet owner, as I have the ability to see a pattern developing. So it came as no great surprise when my wife cornered me and demanded, on our son’s behalf, this dreaded addition to our family. Yes, I caved like a sandcastle at high tide, but with the provisos that it be a small creature, virtually self-sufficient, and that, under no circumstances, was I responsible for cleaning any cages.
The very next morning, we were off to the pet store. Upon our arrival, my son, who apparently doesn’t possess a sense of smell, went through the entranceway without pause, while his mother and I staggered a bit before regaining our senses, and began to breathe without using our noses. Almost immediately, our little one pulled us to a low-walled enclosure in the middle of the floor containing various models of long-eared rodentia.
As I stood there gazing apprehensively at the assembled collection of potential headaches, I experienced what could only be described as an epiphany! To the profound astonishment of my wife, I bent down and picked up a rabbit, ran my fingers through its fur. An idea began to take shape. Quickly glancing around, I spotted the guinea pigs and, thrusting the rabbit into my wife’s arms, rushed over to ascertain the qualities, er, cuddliness of the speci… um, adorable creatures. I found it difficult to mask my excitement, for everywhere I looked in that store I saw more examples of hair and fur in assorted lengths, textures, and colors! I was seeing, for the first time, the forest and the trees! And then I spotted the birds! Trance-like, I approached their glass enclosure. Like a kid longing for the electric train in a toy store window, I stared at the vast assortment of feathers fluttering before me, my face and hands pressed against the glass, as I thought of all the possibilities!
A gentle tug at my shirtsleeve brought me back to the moment. I gazed down into the cherubic face of my only child.
“Can we get a mouse, Daddy?!”
A MOUSE?!!, I thought. How the hell am I gonna trim any hair off a damn mouse? And even if I could, it’s only gonna be suitable for tying midges!
“Wouldn’t you rather have a bunny?” I asked hopefully, excitedly! Behind me, I heard my wife’s chin hit the floor. “Let’s go back and look at the cute bunnies!” I said, gently taking his precious hand in mine and leading him back to the rabbit pit.
“Slow down, John, he can’t keep up, he can’t even get his feet under him!” my wife droned. “What’s gotten into you?” she asked as she dusted off the knees of my son’s pants. “We practically had to force you to come here and now you’re acting like a kid in a candy store!”
“It’s just that they’re all so… cute!” I lied.
“What about our conversation last night; what about a small pet, one that wouldn’t require a lot of space, or care?”
“I’m thinking about our child, not our convenience! I’m trying to be a good parent!” I said indignantly. “Look at how interested he is in the bunnies!” I demanded, pointing down to the now unoccupied space at my feet. After a short but frantic search, we found him sitting beside a wire pen containing seven kittens, one of which was licking his fingers as he tried to squeeze his hand between the bars.
“Can we get a kitty, Daddy?!”
My first impulse was to say no, but I caught myself. I studied the fur… should be good for at least nymphs and wets up to size 12 or so… possibly even streamers when it’s full-grown! It may even provide a variety of fur and feathers if it’s a good hunter - mice, rabbits, songbirds, maybe even small squirrels… cool! My heart melted.
“Yes, you can have a kitty!”
It was obvious by the look of incredulity my wife fixed upon my person that she didn’t see my logic in choosing a cat as the family pet… which was probably just as well. I’m pretty sure the fact that her mother, a frequent visitor to our home, is allergic to cat hair probably made the logic seem a little fuzzy, even. Ah, but love is not ruled by logic, my friend.
After a brief discourse on the independent nature of cats, I had my wife convinced, which she telegraphed to me by a heavy sigh and a slumping of her shoulders. (Those of you who’ve been married awhile can attest to a couple’s ability to accurately interpret each other’s body language.) After another brief discussion and, annoyingly, a little whining, we decided on a calico, a male. As unnerving as it was, those of you who recognize the benefits of a multi-colored pelt will applaud my successful use of the whine technique.
It was a full week after bringing the kitten home before I got the opportunity to test the merits of my perceived flash of genius. It seemed either my son was playing with him or my wife was caring for him every free moment and, frankly, I was getting a little miffed. Thankfully, my son was invited to a birthday party for a neighbor kid I’ll call Einstein, due to my appreciation for the ironic, and my wife was going along to help in the celebration. No sooner had the door closed behind them than I had the little bundle of fly material cradled in my arm and was headed for the tying bench. The difficulty in trying to trim hair from a hyperactive furball whose apparent sole purpose in life is to chase and attempt to pounce on any colorful or moving object (and on a tying bench, there are plenty) cannot be overstated. As a matter of fact, I was later able to tie a few streamers from the hair I pulled from my own scalp in my exasperation… but that’s another story. A saucer of milk solved the problem.
The experiment proved successful, and with the passage of time and the growth of the cat, the number of fly patterns I could tie using this renewable resource increased to a very satisfying level. I determined, though, that the cat needed to spend more time outdoors, particularly as colder weather approached, to stimulate growth of a thicker underfur more suitable to tying dubbed bodies, as well as to increase my material inventory by way of any successful hunting forays.
From the outset, I was very careful in trimming material from our family pet, always taking just a little and from different locations to minimize the risk of someone noticing. Occasionally, I would screw up and leave an obvious gap in his coat but was always able to pass it off as the result of a disagreement with another cat. But this was during fishing season when most of my fly tying was done just to replace lost or worn out flies.
As winter set in, the tying resumed in earnest. The cat was now full-grown and a saucer of milk was no longer sufficient in keeping him immobile throughout the tying sessions. So I began lacing his milk with a little bourbon. He didn’t seem to mind the taste. In fact, he seemed to prefer it, and I soon discovered it was unwise to mess with him during or immediately after his imbibing. He was a mean drunk! Pretty soon, though, he’d be sound asleep and then you could’ve tied a stick to his tail and mopped the floor with him without waking him.
It was during an early winter tying session that I committed a major blunder. Listening to some tunes and in my own little world, I was tying with intensity, tying on a level I seldom achieve; I was in a groove! I paused to stretch and happened to glance at the cat passed out on my bench top, and did a quick double-take. I looked down at the pile of flies I’d just whipped out – there must’ve been sixty, maybe seventy flies! I looked back at the cat. This couldn’t be blamed on a catfight… this couldn’t be blamed on a life-and-death struggle with an electric hedge trimmer! I decided the cat needed to spend some quality time outdoors, so I quietly opened the window and gently lowered him to the ground.
With the luck that only clean living can provide, I kept him out of sight of my wife for a few days. But I knew my good fortune wouldn’t hold out forever, or even until his coat filled in, and I was right. When she finally saw him, she became almost hysterical, thinking he’d contracted some kind of disease, quite possibly mange. She rushed to pick him up and I shouted, ”Wait, he might be rabid!” but she only paused for a second before scooping him up in her arms. As she caressed his disheveled coat, I noticed her demeanor change from that of a worried, motherly family member to that of a crime lab forensics expert, and I began to search for any and all possible escape routes.
“His hair isn’t falling out”, she exclaimed, “it’s been cut!”
“Nnooo!” I gushed, “Who would do such a …?” I paused, trying to look thoughtful, not to mention innocent. “You know, now that I think about it, I remember seeing little Einstein outside the other day and he was holding what looked like a pair of scissors in his hand!” That was only the second time since I’d met little Einstein that I found him to be of any practical use.
“Well, I’m going down to have a talk with his mother!”
“You’re wasting your time”, I said. “You remember when you thought I put that dent in your car door, but I saw little Einstein run into it with his bike? He lied his way out of that one, he’ll lie his way out of this one, trust me.” It worked, but now she keeps such a close eye on him whenever he’s around, it’s going to be damn near impossible for me to find him useful a third time.
Now, in light of my success regarding fly tying and family pets, I feel the need to caution anyone wishing to emulate my actions. Bear in mind that the animals you keep are deserving of care and love, and sometimes the cost of either is no small price. And occasionally, there will be unanticipated expenses. I call this “The Rule of Unforeseen Expenditures”, and I’ll give you just one example.
The cat had just finished his Hairball Highball and was dozing off on my tying bench. In a hurry to get started, I gathered a tuft of hair between my fingers and, as I attempted to cut the tuft, accidentally nicked him with the scissors. The cat was no longer asleep. With a snarl, he launched himself straight up, all four paws whirring, claws extended! In an instant, the materials on the top of my desk were covered with spatters of blood, the vast majority of which were from me, and the cat was nowhere to be found. So, added to the list of pet care expenses were a bottle of iodine, gauze bandages, and a trip to the vet to get the cat de-clawed. Furthermore, if he sees someone brandishing a pair of scissors, you won’t see him again for a couple of days – assuming he was sober at the time. If he was intoxicated, well, just remember he’s a mean drunk, and he may not have claws but he still has teeth!
In spite of the few misadventures, though, I must say that I am quite satisfied with the way things are going. We now have two cats, three dogs, a guinea pig, two parakeets, two love birds, and an unknown number of hamsters (the long-haired variety), not to mention access to any of our neighbors’ pets I can coax within scissor-range under the cover of darkness. My wife and son are both happy as they are enthusiastic animal lovers, and they think I am, as well. They’re always ready to add another pet to the menagerie. In fact, I think we’ll be getting a parrot soon and I can’t wait! You see, I have a tarpon trip coming up!