Cameron, Bruce W.
Updated: January 5, 2012 8:14AM
My dad asks me if I’d like to go ice fishing in his shanty with him. “Why don’t we both just crawl into the freezer? It’s bigger, warmer, and there are more fish in there,” I suggest.
“Very funny,” he says to me. This is what my father has said to me after every joke I have ever told him. His lips say it; his face never does.
An ice-fishing shanty is basically a tin outhouse out on a frozen lake, except that in an outhouse the hole has a purpose. In ice fishing, the hole is what you stare at for hours, hoping that at some point you’ll break the monotony by falling in.
Outside, the wind whipping the snow around, it feels a hundred degrees below zero. Inside the ice shanty, protected from the elements, it’s much colder.
People who love to ice fish usually say the same thing all day long: “Pass the vodka.” If they don’t like to ice fish, they usually sit around and tell jokes to my father. At least, that’s my experience.
Anyway, my father lives in the part of the United States where they consider Canadians to be warmer and more stylish. The lake has already frozen over and is thick enough to support us as we wander out onto what looks like winter in Kansas without cows — at least, we hope it is thick enough to support us. If it’s not, instead of feeding on fish we’ll be doing the opposite.
My father has placed his shanty in a very secret fishing spot on the ice — so secret the fish have never heard of it. “I have a new auger,” he says to me.
“That augurs well,” I say gamely. His look says I’ll have to improve the level of my jokes if I expect to win the coveted “very funny” award.
The auger is basically a huge drill bit with a wicked point on one end and a retired gynecologist at the other. My father’s new toy also has a small engine: He starts it with a few pulls, so that now our ears can be as miserable as the rest of us.
“Wouldn’t it be quieter if you just held the auger steady and I spun the lake?” I shout at him.
“What?” he shouts back, meaning “yes.”
He braces himself, holding on to what look like bicycle handles on either side of the motor, and hits the throttle. With a roar, the point of the drill bit bites down into the ice and immediately begins spinning my father in circles.
It turns out to be impossible to help a whirling gynecologist when you are laughing so hard you fall down. I lie helpless on the ice as he eventually decides to get off the merry-go-round and kills the motor. Dizzy, he staggers against the metal walls of the shanty and then he, too, is lying on the ice.
Most men have to spend several hours ice fishing and drinking their favorite beverage before they fall down, but my father has deployed new technology.
“Works pretty well,” I finally tell him.
“Very funny,” he says.
We then discuss the merits of our individual plans of attack. My father thinks we should both grab the auger. I think we should both buy some fish.
Once we’ve fired that baby up and are holding onto it and are being vibrated by what sounds like a rocket launch inside a steel drum, we grimly brace ourselves on the ice, which gives us very little purchase because — guess what? — it’s ice. (Chunks of the stuff come out of the steadily deepening hole as my father and I, gripping each other, circle like sumo wrestlers. The deeper we go, the faster we seem to be circling.
Finally, with a gush, we hit black water — or rather, the water hits us, bathing our legs. My father hits the kill switch, and we stand, panting, our feet soaking and our bodies vibrating. I’m pretty sure I could throw up if I wanted and maybe even if I didn’t.
“You think any fish heard that racket?” my dad asks.
To which I reply, of course: “Very funny.”
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