THE SECRET TO SURFCASTING

Today, I bring you another guest post from Peter Cammann.  He knows a thing or two about fishing as his articles in in magazines like Field & Stream, Fly Fisherman Magazine, On the Water, Outdoor Life, and Vermont Life Magazine can attest. 

Peter’s post is a work of nonfiction about his own Dad, Fred Cammann.  Like me, Peter is from his Dad’s second marriage.

This story is of the Father-Son category.  I’ll be featuring more of these from an assortment of guest authors in the weeks to come.  Interspersed, naturally, with a few of my own as well.

Copyright 2008, 2013 by Peter Cammann

I did not grow up in a family that fished together. It’s true that my mother taught me the basics of the double haul cast during the summer I turned 12 (she handed me a seven and a half foot, five weight fly rod and bade me cast it into the heavily chlorinated waters of my grandfather’s backyard swimming pool, until I could do so without injuring myself or anyone within a thirty foot radius). In spite of this, “my people” were not of fishing stock. My two uncles were quite different stories. My father’s brother, George and I fished together quite a bit in the summer of 1969, when our family and his visited Montana, which was a real pleasure, although strangely enough, I have only fished with him one other time. My mother’s brother, Albie and I did a little surfcasting and hunting together when I was a kid as well, but again, infrequently.

My father, Fred had no real interest in the fishing, although he always encouraged me, in his own way. I remember something he once told me. “The secret to surfcasting,” he said when I was about 10 years old, “is that no one ever catches anything.”

PATENTS, MANAGEMENT, AND PROJECTS

(Not necessarily in that order.)

One day in 1993, my Dad came downstairs to the “computer department” at Olcott International somewhat agitated. He was upset that a function called “Prior Art” was not included in the patent management software. There were plenty of blank looks all around. “Prior Art? What’s that?” and “Why didn’t we know about this before?” were suddenly questions that hung in the air like old party balloons.

“You dumb bastards!” Dad shouted at the programmers. “You don’t know anything about patents!” At least not like him; after all, he was a high priest, a “made” patent attorney.

Bob Gerhardt took a shot at resolving the problem. “Bern,” he grunted as he worked that wad of gum in his mouth, “We can add Prior Art information in the header text field.” Reasonable, that.

Dad shot back, “Is it labelled ‘Prior Art’?” Although his knowledge of software was surprisingly spotty, he knew full well the answer to that question.

Bob grunted again, softer this time, “no.” He was beaten, again.

CUTTING EDGE AND TOTALLY COOL

Astute readers may recall my post, “A MAN OF LETTERS,” from August 2015. One of the points of the story was to explain my Dad’s preferred method of marketing Olcott International in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It wasn’t by way of a sophisticated advertising mix. After all, this wasn’t a service you could promote via highway billboards (not that that qualifies, but never mind).

The market for patent renewal servicing worldwide in countries from Nicaragua to North Korea (yes, there are a handful of foreign companies that register patents in North Korea!) was and still is not so big. It mainly consists of a tiny cadre of people working in large corporate legal (or more specifically, patent) departments. And the person calling the shots in such rarefied zones is none other than a pooh-bah called a “Chief Patent Counsel.”

That preferred marketing methodology referred to above was – wait for it – by direct snail US mail to every pooh-bah you could shake a stick at. He or she received a personally addressed letter through the miracle of mail merges via MS Word. Windows version, natch!

WHAT’S IN A BORDER?

Today, folks I run my first repeat.  Forget USA vs. Russia!  This post concerns the ongoing war between New York and New Jersey and is the all-time favorite among my readers (more than 1,000 views!).  Please share among your nutty friends who have a stake in this idiotic war!

North of the Rio Grande River is a huge expanse of North America divided up into 49 states, 10 provinces, 3 territories, and 1 district.  Just about everywhere, the dividing lines are sleepy affairs.  No fences to block your way.  With a flashlight, you might find a surveyor’s marker under a bush assuming you knew where to look.  Typically, a sign is erected on the “border” welcoming you to the new jurisdiction.  Some places have signs to serve the opposite purpose, that is to say farewell to the hapless traveler.  In the Southern United States, it is possible to see a sign with the information “You are now leaving Bucksnort, Hurry Back!”

Technically, the most severe crossing is the one between the United States and Canada.  When Mrs. Findlay F. Traveler from the US drives over that line, she can expect to be interrogated by overly inquisitive Canadian custom agents eager to ascertain just exactly how many bottles of liquor and cartons of cigarettes are stashed in the trunk.  Any kind of vague answer will trigger an immediate request to pop that puppy open.  A precise inventory will be taken and the requisite CDN $38.50 levy lifted from the traveler’s credit card.  This interrogation is also offered in French as a sucker ploy.  If Mrs. Traveler chooses (poorly) to respond to any question using her middle school French, the agent’s eyes will harden with suspicion and the customs’ duty tagged with a 12% nuisance surcharge.  It has nothing to do with us in the US; it’s related to some kind of internal trauma up there.  It’s best to answer everything in English taking care to ask if the border station has a gift shop where you can buy the moose tee shirt.  Knowing the system thusly, you can be waved through in under 60 seconds.

Driving back into the US on the other hand is a quick passport sniff to insure that you are really from one of the 63 entities mentioned above (or Hawaii and a few other scattered islands).

All of this is relevant to The Bernard Olcott Story because of one peculiar exception to this peaceful patchwork littering the landscape from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  One border where the crossing is associated with profundity from a logistical, emotional, and psychic (perhaps even psychotic) point of view.

MA CHIGNY SITUATIONS

Battered and shattered, I fell to the canvas floor of my psychic boxing ring.  I had just been fired by my boss for sending a fax on the wrong stationery.  But this wasn’t just any boss.  This one was also my Father!  A total knock out!

The bow-tied referee, with either a halo over his head, or horns — I couldn’t tell which through the fog of broken dreams — stood over me counting to 15.  I couldn’t really hear him through the swirl of emotions pulsating through my head, body, or tendrils.  How exactly was I going to get a new job?  I had already made the supreme effort, by previously leaving this place of temporary employment.  Small businesses are the job creators of America, so the politicians always say.  Gee, I wish they could have created one for me.

Dazed, I made my way back home in the strangeness of an early afternoon.  What do you do when you get home after being fired for faxing a document with the wrong return address?  As a fan of film noir, I knew immediately.  I pulled out the Scotch bottle and poured a finger into a tumbler.  I sat on the couch and took a sip.  It tasted horrible.  I hate Scotch; I only keep this shit around for guests who like to drink it.

Film Noir au Pissoir

Film Noir au Pissoir.  Photograph by Robert Frank.

I sat there, immobile, until my wife got home.  It must have been a surprise for her to find me on the couch, drinking.  “Uh oh,” she said when she walked in, dropping her arms, “what’s wrong?”  She doesn’t miss a trick.

“I had a really bad day at work.”  I have always been fond of understatement.