Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Friday, November 30, 2018
Log jam
Thursday, December 20, 2018
A Christmas Story

I chose to write about fishing. There were other options but I couldn’t see myself covering city council meetings, foreign wars or politics. None of it interested me then, nor does it now. This is how I wanted to spend my time. So, I decided to approach my calling, however out of the norm, with the same intensity and vigor that I assumed other writers embraced theirs – with passion and professionalism.

President George Herbert Walker Bush

Early on, it soon became apparent that not everyone could fully understand my choice. Perhaps it was merely youthful insecurity, but when someone asked what I did for a living and I told them I was a writer, I began to dread the next question.

“What do you write about?” they would say expectantly.

From the looks in their eyes, it always seemed they were hoping the answer would be “best-selling novelist” or “New York Times columnist.” Whether real or imagined, the answer almost always seemed to disappoint them.

“Outdoor writer.”

I’m not sure if they thought I wrote about lawn furniture or landscaping, but their furrowed brows always demanded an explanation.

“I write about the outdoors, you know, nature. Mostly fishing.”

They always responded politely, nodding with pursed lips in that uncomfortable conversational mode when no one really knows what to say next. If they were parents, I’m relatively sure I provided some small public service in making them more appreciative of what their children had chosen as career paths. Suddenly, the money they had spent to produce a philosophy major didn’t seem so crazy after all.

You shrug, you move on, reveling in those rare moments when someone actually understands what you do for a living. Still, you hope for a day when you don’t have to explain. Or explain as much. For me, that day came on January 20, 1989. It was the day when President George Herbert Walker Bush was sworn in.

Politics and party didn’t matter for my interest was one of naked self-interest. In that moment, my less-than-noble values were probably not far removed from those of a lobbyist with one glaring exception: I didn’t want any political favors, only the admission from my president that he was a fisherman.

Of course, I couldn’t be sure if what I had seen or read about this self-effacing Yale first baseman turned Texas oilman was true. Lots of famous people do and say things merely for the publicity, of which politicians are the most serial of offenders. Like most dedicated fishermen, I can tell by how someone holds a rod and reel, even casually, if they have any real experience. You just know. So it was from that suspicious perspective that I began to observe 41.

From the very start, President Bush passed the eye test. Certainly, he was no professional but with a career that included combat in World War II, the oil business, the U.S. House of Representatives, Ambassador to the United Nations, the Central Intelligence Agency and Vice-President of the United States, I cut him some slack when it came to free time. For my own peace of mind, I set the bar low. If the leader of the free world could somehow so much as mention fishing in a casual aside, I would consider that a win. What I received from my commander in chief was totally unexpected.

Not only was he a fisherman, he wasn’t shy in saying so. It was right there for all to see and hear on the nightly news — his house on a rocky point in Kennebunkport, a center console boat and the straightforward admission that his preferred reading material was a fishing magazine. Not just any magazine, mind you, but the very one I worked for.

Overnight, conversations changed. When I said “BassMaster,” people seemed to know. And, if they didn’t, there was at least a tacit acknowledgment that fishing could be taken seriously, even by a president. There were also photographs of him with his favored periodical in hand. It was proof to me that the man in the oval office had actually read something I had written… for fun. It was perhaps the first time I had ever viewed a president as being a somewhat normal guy, someone with whom you could share a boat, maybe talk politics, agree to disagree and still end the day looking forward to the next time.

In the military, there is an understanding about respect. Even if you don’t particularly care for someone, your duty is to salute the rank, if not the person. With our forty-first president, I had no reservation doing either, not because I agreed with all his policies but simply because I didn’t have to. There was a human being in the White House who I’m guessing would have thought little of politics if there were fish to catch. Maybe I’m being naïve, but I think not. I sensed a real person in there and one that made me proud to be both an American and a fellow angler. Rest well, Mr. President…

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