“This song's for you…”
“Who am I that I have to sing under an umbrella? These people are my fans, and if they can stand in the rain to hear me sing, I can stand in the rain.”
There is nothing as rare on Earth than that of the story of the common man.
History records volume.
History records those who shout the loudest.
History records the bombs and the bullets, the screaming and the shouting, the movers and the movements.
Not so much the whispers of the common man.
We know of basically every note Mozart ever wrote down and played yet we know nothing of the person who tuned the piano he played on.
I’m okay with history telling us about Wolfgang, me though I want to know who was the dude who got the notes to sound right.
Seems kind of important to me you know.
Trust me, if Mr. Watson was standing next to Mr. Bell, we would never of known he was there. Alex, yep, Watson, who?
And yet we are a nation built on the belief, the values, of the common man and woman.
We are here because in 1776 a cobbler put down the shoes being worked on and picked up a musket.
You should know that we in the biz of bringing you history as it happens get lazy and we basically just follow the noise.
We are moths to the floodlights. Our job is pre-light before we even get there.
I believe though that the story of the common man is worth more than the weight of the common man in gold.
Least to me, we owe what we do to you, the common man, the fan.
There is no future for us if all the stadiums we play in, are empty.
And how hard is it to find the common man, to find and talk with the fan? Not so much.
You just have to do what I did the other day, show up at the launch dock, walk down to the end of it, stand in the middle of the pavilion amongst a bunch of regular Joes and Marys fishing and say exactly this…
And the first one who turns and says “Hello,” back…there’s your story.
…Ellery and Ashley.
“…you know who you are…”
“At the end of the day it's the fans who make you who you are.”
“Hello, how are you sir.”
He had perfect teeth under a perfectly seated hat, a face chiseled in the gift given only to the young.
“Hey man, what’s your name?”
And in a voice that allows for every word to breathe and take hold in you comes, “Ellery sir, Ellery.”
A perfect name for a dialect that gives you the whole symphony of sound instead of the short clipped crisp notes of just the first violin.
And for the first time in a long while, maybe ever, I didn’t need to ask the person where they were from because Ellery made a slight turn and I saw this on his back…
…I’m guessing he is a local boy from Louisiana.
“Ellery do you know the Bassmaster Elites are fishing a tournament here this week.”
“Yes sir, I do, we won’t be in the way…”
“That’s not a problem, do you fish for bass?”
“Yes sir I do, big fan of bass fishing, that’s not what we are fishing for today though.”
“Who is we?”
“Ashley, me and my girlfriend…”
And from behind the man with his home state on his back I hear this: “We fishing for white perch sir, hey Ellery I need help here.”
“That would be Crappie sir.” For all my friends who don’t fish that fish is not spoken like it reads, it is said like this “Crop-eee.”
…she turns the fishing rod and reel around backwards and rests it up against her shoulder as Ellery rigs it all the while speaking very softly and encouraging…
Both Ashley and Ellery tell me they fish off this dock basically every day, catch mainly the white perch/crappie but sometimes catfish, “I caught one back some that when I lifted it up it was as tall as Ashley there.”
Ashley just smiles, looks at me with a raise of the eyebrows and then…
…hooks both her feet around the railing pole and goes back to fishing.
“She loves to fish, sir.”
I just look at Ellery and smile, the smile of a dad who knows from experience that the young girl in front of me loves more than the fish that is caught off this dock.
“Me too I love fishing too.”
Behind me and to my left came that announcement and when I turn around this is who I see smiling at me…
…meet Forrest, “…with two r’s.”
As he leans against the dock railing I see that he switched his rod and reel from his right hand to his left…another friendly guy so I go up and shake his empty right hand.
“…I’ve been fishing this water since almost the time they put the water in it, come down here with my Pappy what I did and fished it.”
“What do you fish for?”
“Bass but I won’t get in your way neither. I know of them Bass guys coming here to fish a tournament, I fish tournaments on this lake as well but them guys you have, they way better than me.”
“It’s not a problem you fishing here,” I say to Forrest and loud enough that everyone fishing off the dock can hear me, “not a problem.”
“You know I caught me a 12-6 once here?”
I say, “oh nice,” in the kind of tone that says that what was just said went right over my head.
“12 pounds, 6 ounces, bass I caught…”
That registered, “A what…”
Now, I’ve been in this gig a decade or so, I room on the road with two anglers, I’m fully up to speed by this time knowing how much a 12-pound, 6-ounce fish really weighs, “Really 12 pounds huh…”
“And 6 ounces, yep.”
“Swear by that.” Like I said one man’s 12 is another man’s, um, 8 or so.
And then I do this, I notice that Forrest with two r’s is wearing an LSU baseball cap, all yellow and blue up top so I say, “Do you swear on that logo up there that if you are lying LSU will crash and burn in the SEC next year in football?”
I may be somewhat new to fishing, ain’t so in other sports though. I’ve just proposed what would be basically a double dog dare secret oath to Forrest about his “giant.”
Fo’rr’est looks at me, gives me a quick up and down fish weighing in handicapper look-see, I don’t move a none, not a muscle, not the camera from my eye, “Well Forrest, Southeast Conference pinky swear or not…12-pound bass…”
“…and 6 ounces.”
“…and 6 ounces."
And at that moment I took the photo that you see when you scroll back up to see his portrait.
I believe him but on the one to 10 truth fish weight scale I gotta go with a solid nine.
A solid old nine because you know…he’s a fisherman.
“…we're up on this stage but you're the star…”
"You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
He walked by me with just a quick sideward glance.
But I saw the glance nonetheless though my mirrored sunglasses, that’s why the glasses are mirrored, I see you, you don’t see where I see.
In his right hand was a bucket, couldn’t see if the left held anything or not, could see though as he walked down the pier his eyes only moved once from looking at the water…and that was to shoot me…question eyes.
And it was that fraction of a second look why I spun around and started walking down the pier in the first place.
In less than a heartbeat or so, I was sized up.
Even from behind the curved mirrors, I know, while he couldn’t see it, he too knew he was just sized up.
So I turned and followed the man who my gut told me…has a story to tell.
All of that before time took another small click off either of our clocks.
“…you're why we do what we do…”
"The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated."
He’s been here before and through the viewfinder I get the feeling this side of the dock, this railing, that’s his.
Not that he owns it, but that it is his spot.
I am out of sight now with the big lens on but as I watch I feel like I have somehow zoomed into days gone by. Every motion, easy, every motion, deliberate, every motion done with grace and respect.
200mm autofocus f-16 400-iso time travel. Every camera a time machine.
One by one he gently loads the line, one by one he inspects every bait removes off a piece of something only he can see and feel. I’m not watching a jazz band here, this is a symphony of harmonious movement.
Four rods are lined up, his right hand touches each and every one, he stands back for a moment, looks out at the vastness of T-Bend, then steps up to the railing, holds his hat and looks down, straight down.
One one thousand.
Two one thousand.
And at three one thousand of the time in your head clock, he steps back, picks up the third pole from his left, unhooks the line from the handle and with an almost invisible motion casts out for the treasure he has spotted 10 or so feet below the dock.
When he leans the fishing rod up against the railing, I still wait.
Then, and only when I see his eyes move up to the tip of the rod, linger for a couple of seconds then step half a step back, then I know it is okay to approach this man because he has now moved from his ritual to public space.
So I move.
“…we want you to know…”
"Silent gratitude isn't very much to anyone."
Meet Don from, “Missour-ah.”
I am about 3 feet away and he has turned and is smiling at me.
I have mirrored aviator style sunglasses on, scraggly hair blowing all over the place under a backwards baseball cap (if you have to take photos sometimes in a hurry you understand the need for having the hat bill face behind you) and I’m probably not smiling a smile a stranger would recognize.
If I was to be in his shoes, I would have reacted a whole different way.
His hand comes out towards me as mine does toward him.
“You fish here a lot?”
“Yep, been coming here since they turned the water on, drive down around this time of year most years, come down here this year with my wife and two brothers-in-law. They over there.”
Don points to the campground on the other side of the launch ramp.
“You here for the tournament?”
“Some yes, follow those boys some, here just to get away from the cold of Missour-ah but will mosey over to the weigh-in Thursday, got to pack and leave on Friday.”
No mention from him about not being in the way of “those boys,” don’t get the feeling he’s that kind of guy whether he says it or not.
We just stand some, him looking at the water and all the things he knows is there, me looking at the water, dumbfounded.
This interview I know from 100 years in the biz will be defined by the questionee not the questioner.
“I’m a farmer you know…"
I shake my head yes even though I just met the guy and have no idea what he is talking about. Old reporter’s trick to just keep the dude talking and me hoping for something.
“I used to be in television for years though…”
And there it comes, wait for it, wait for it.
“…was big in it for a long time, television.”
One word answer, death in this biz.
“But then they invented those transistors things…”
I turn quick to look at him rather than stare blankly at the blue water below.
“…yeah I was big in television, made a good living selling TV tubes you know, transistors and electronics ruined all that for me.”
And with that, the smile on his face got bigger.
As did mine.
"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."
William Arthur Ward
For the next 20 minutes I stood next to Don and laughed and smiled to the pronouncements of the evil of all things transistorized, or worse, “whatever tiny little things they use in electronics today.”
Heard some about a contested court battle over an aunt’s will back up “there,” about “her farm,” and a whole bunch of “crooked” occupations involved in it that if I printed would get me in court over just tossing out libel and slanderous quotes because they sound good.
I’m sure you can guess and I can’t be sued for your guess.
Heard this as well, “After those transistors got me my wife, well she did this damned thing, she went to a fortune teller who told her that her husband, me, would sell textbooks…”
I don’t know what is going to come next but I’m smiling already.
“…so when she comes home, my wife not the fortune teller mind you, when my wife comes home she tells me that the fortune teller saw in some sort of magic ball thing that I would have a career in fortune telling and wouldn’t you know…”
I don’t even have to write this down, I’ll remember whatever it is that comes next from Don for a long, long time.
“…I see me a job for a textbook salesman and I apply for it and get it, did that for 10 years or so, retired from being a text book salesman…”
Then he turns and looks directly at me…
“…all because of that fortune teller lady and her crystal ball.”
And then he breaks out into a wide semi-toothless grin.
“… for you…”
"Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude."
I let Don and the others be, they did not want to get in the way of the Elites here at Toledo Bend, and I had been in their way long enough.
Before I left I turned and took this shot of Don…a man at peace away from transistors, contested wills and fortune tellers with magic globes.
To the young out there and the perfectly dressed take this as a lesson, if we don’t know for sure who tuned Mozart’s piano…we will never hear about you.
The common man just delivers the history books, he or she ain’t in them unless we go out and search for them and their story.
To the kind folk of T-Bend.
To the kind folk of Texas and Louisiana.
This story is for you, the common man, our fans.
Never let our britches foreshadow your story.
There is room on our stage for you.
And that is as it should be.
It is my job to answer history’s question of who showed up to watch.
It was you.
Hey history, so you know, it was Ellery, it was Ashley, it was Forrest with two “r’s” and it was “big in television,” Don…
…them’s the names of just a few of the folks here at T-Bend…
…who tuned the piano, we call B.A.S.S.
Now you know.
“…you deserve so much more it's true.”
This Song Is For You
Joey & Rory and the Zac Brown Band
Just tell yourself, Duckie, you’re really quite lucky.”
– Dr. Seuss