The Headlock Manifesto

The Headlock Manifesto

From what I had read. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, humbly concedes that suffering is a part of life. So simple, so matter of fact-just like his clothes,

  • By: Lyman Yee
From what I had read. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, humbly concedes that suffering is a part of life. So simple, so matter of fact-just like his clothes, his haircut and his black, thick-framed glasses. No Sunday circus acts with mascara-stained tears of revelation and gaudy blonde wigs. Just honesty, and I could just feel it pouring out of him, not so much as an aura but more like a beautiful understanding of the hearts of people. Granted, his picture was of professional quality, transposed onto the ultra-glossy jacket of a coffee table book.But even the pictures inside of the Tibetan people, with their impoverished and wind-blown faces, all radiated a happiness and charm as colorful as their dyed-wool garments. And he was looking straight at me from the sale rack. Right then, when I saw his face, I swear I felt something and I thought, this man will teach me things. I stepped outside the bookstore with an already brighter outlook, armed with the wisdom of the Dalai Lama himself, his smiling face on the cover, so full of compassion and gentleness. I Had bought a fly-fishing book too, full of wisdom and brilliant colors of its own. As I walked to my car I thought I heard birds singing, and the air smelled faintly sweet blowing across the strip-mall parking lot. I sensed the approach of spring. Perhaps I'll go home and tie some flies, or maybe even meditate, I thought. I approached my car to find a red plastic shopping cart resting against the rear bumper. There are some lazy inconsiderate jerks in this world and one of them apparently shops at Target. I pushed the cart behind the truck in the next space. I took care to keep it off the truck, which sported a faded 'How's My Driving? Dial 1-800-EAT-SHIT' bumper sticker. I unlocked my door. Someone yelled, "Hey, Dick!" Dick is not my name but I turned anyway. He came from the pet store with a clear plastic bag in hand full of water and goldfish. He was a muscular fellow and even the curls of his mullet seemed chiseled and oiled. "I saw that," he said. "Why don't you put your cart back where you got it, dickweed." "It's not my cart," I said. "Someone left it here. If you want, just push it into my spot when I leave." He grabbed the cart and sent it rattling across the lot with a kick of his boot, then he knelt and examined his bumper. "You scratched my bumper, man," he said with sadness. "I never touched your bumper. Besides, the cart's plastic. Are you kidding?" "No," he said coolly and stepped closer. I opened my door. He pushed it shut. Suddenly everything felt like a dream. Half smiling I said, "Look, this whole thing is really silly. I see you've got some goldfish. I love fish too, man." "I hate fish," he said. "This is food for my turtles." "I'm sorry, did you just say turtles?" I asked. My pants had split open through the seat. I felt cool air blowing through my boxers. One side of my face was pressed into the asphalt. I smelled pungent body odor. The turtle man's armpit cupped my ear. We were both on the ground and he applied a classic headlock. I grabbed the cuff of his free arm to keep him from punching me. This angered him, so he tightened the headlock and drove his body weight against my head, against the ground. With one eye open I glanced upon the gentle face of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his colorful smile and flowing robes framed by the black parking lot pavement. I could also see, next to him, a little goldfish gasping in air, flopping rhythmically on the dirty, wet ground. I thought the turtle man was resting when he eased up a bit but it was only to reposition himself. He was trying to choke me. When his sweaty, smelly forearm pushed against the side of my neck I lost it for a moment. I'm done, I thought, and I couldn't help but cry a little bit. The turtle man was talking to me through clenched teeth, spraying saliva into my hair. My ears rang. I couldn't make out his words. Desperate, I kicked and flailed and looked around for anything that might help me but all I found were those eyes. Like deep black pools, those eyes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and it became his soothing voice I heard inside my head saying so sweetly, "…Just breathe…just breathe, baby… think good thoughts… " I closed my eyes and listened to his voice. The throbbing in my ears and head gradually subsided. The smell of body odor and halitosis transformed to the scent of dried desert sage. The drone of tires on the distant freeway became the rolling silvery slickness that is the Deschutes River. My heavy eyelids absorbed the orange glow of that high lonesome country. My face felt warm and I rested. When I opened my eyes I looked out across the river, then downstream at the long slick I was about to fish. I stood and snapped my fly box closed and stuffed it into my vest. I examined the black Egg-Sucking Leech I had just tied to my line. It was my own design with a few borrowed ideas; for one thing, I had added a bit of crystal flash into the tail. If I were a steelhead I would kill this thing, I thought. I started my progression. Fished the water close in before wading into it. Got the rhythm going. Easy cast…slight mend…dead drift…slow swing…pause…twitch…pause…a step or two downstream…cast…I don't usually think about much while steelhead fishing. At the end of the day, even on the slowest of days, I never leave with anything brilliant. While at work or while driving in the car often I will have thoughts of places I'd like to visit, or foods I would like to eat, or rivers I would like to fish. But when I'm fishing, I'm just fishing. I fail to recognize hunger and sunburn and only wonder about things like presentation. The speed of the swing. Depth. It can sound boring when I analyze it because things really slow down-all thoughts and movements, even my breathing. But at the same time, the days on the river always fly right by. Halfway through the run I lost my concentration when a beer can floated down the middle of the river. I imagined some rafters upstream, hollering and splashing cold water into each other's faces, reddened with sun and alcohol. Drunken idiots, I thought. I resented their invasion of my paradise. I stopped for a minute and let my fly hang down at the end of the swing. I wet my hand and wiped my face. My head and neck ached then. My tongue was dry and thick. I kept feeling like something wasn't quite right. I heard cars driving by and muted voices in the breeze. I wish they'd shut up, I thought. I turned and looked but didn't see a boat. I did see my fishing partner though, about 50 yards upstream, but he hadn't said anything. I splashed my neck and face again but the water did not refresh. An odor lingered. Something familiar yet grotesque. I felt nauseous. Looking out above the canyon, the skyline suddenly swirled and darkened and suffocated like a fever dream. I could hear the drone of the earth spinning and churning into itself. "What the hell?" I said. And through the momentary chaos a simple voice said, "stay with me now…just breathe." Then my rod nearly flew out of my hand. With two hard tugs followed by the beautiful sound of drag engaging, my fly line vibrated like a tight bowstring. I picked the rod tip up and anticipated a screaming run, but there was nothing. I was hung up. My heart was fluttering. My hands shook and I let out some slack to work the snag. Then I stopped and took a deep breath. I felt good. The chaos, like the take, had vanished as quickly as it appeared. Well, they're in here, I thought. I worked on the snag. It was stubborn. I pulled from different angles and the line went limp. I reeled up a flyless leader. "Bummer," I heard someone say. He floated by in a pontoon boat with a pair of casting rods pointing straight up in rod holders, spinners on each reflecting the sun. The man's head was enormous. A foam baseball cap sat much too high atop his head. A salt ring of sweat soaked through it. That hat defies physics, I thought. It cannot possibly stay on. As he floated by I noticed a big red cooler strapped behind his seat and I thought I saw a fish tail pinched under the lid. I tied on a new pattern and cast again. I worked the fly on the hang down again and could see through tree branches at river's edge the pontoon boat pulsed ashore. I saw a monofilament arc sail out over the water and even thought I heard it end with a plunk. He was fishing just above the tail out of my run-my favorite section. I looked upstream to my fishing partner to see if he too had noticed the trespasser. D.L. was in the middle of a glorious roll cast. With effortless motion, two hands on his Spey rod, it must have gone a hundred feet. The lower lengths of his robes were pulled up and he tucked them under his waist. The water was just below his white knees. He saw me and smiled and flipped up his polarized clip-ons and his eyes sparkled behind his thick-rimmed glasses. "Just missed one!" he shouted. I gestured downstream. "You see that?" I asked. He nodded and gave a shrug. He flipped down his lenses and kept fishing. I made two poor casts and stumbled over a large rock. I couldn't resist watching the intruder, cussing him under my breath. "May as well throw a gill net out there with all those treble hooks he's swinging," I muttered. I imagined him chugging a beer, clumsily urinating on an angry rattlesnake. I laughed out loud. Then I witnessed something I never could have imagined. His rod bent over so fiercely that the tip and butt pointed in the same direction. His reel paid out line for what seemed like a minute straight and then a turbulence erupted in the middle of the river as if Godzilla himself were about to surface. I couldn't stand it. I stepped out onto the bank, unwilling to give the man any satisfaction of seeing me watching him. D.L. stopped fishing too and sat next to me on a log. "That's a big mother," he said. "I expect it is," I said. We gawked as the giant steelhead went completely airborne three times in succession. "That just makes me sick," I said. "It obvious we were fishing downstream." "Maybe he didn't know," D.L. said. "He knew. But even if he didn't, there's only about a million miles of water here, and he has to fish right next to us?" "We are social animals really." I looked at him. "Sorry," he said, and smiled. "Does anything ever bother you?" I asked. "Sure it does. I am just a man, remember. I get angry or sad like any other man. My people live in oppression, remember? And I've been in exile for a long, long time. This," he said, looking out across the canyon, "this is all just sun and sky and hooks and water. We're just fishing, man. Just like he is. Just go with it." "I know," I said. "You read my book yet?" "The back cover. Table of contents," I said. "I just got it, remember?" "It's all in there, man." The steelhead was tiring and the man fought it well, steering it away from the rocky water below the tail out. The fish trudged steadily upstream and the man walked up with it. He stood in the water right before us. "This thing's strong,"he said. "You got him," I said. "Nice and easy." D.L. held a disposable camera. He nudged me with it. "How's this thing work?" he asked. He handed it to me and I got up and took some action shots of the man landing his steelhead. The fish came in close and the man finally tailed it and he knelt down and cradled the thing so gently and deliberately, like a father holding his newborn for the first time. "This is the biggest fish I've ever seen," he said. It was magnificent. A large buck nearing 20 pounds. And when the waves and sun caught his chromed sides just right, a magnificent streak of pink faded in and out, like he was blushing at his own beauty. "Big smile," I said and he obliged. I took the hook out for him. It just about fell out on its own-a single barbless hook at the end of a spoon. He held the fish in the shallows, reviving it, praising it, then let it go. "Not a keeper?" I baited. "I never keep them," he said. "Me neither." "I'm a vegetarian anyway." "Me too," said D.L. They smiled at each other and nodded in approval. "Well I better get me one of those," D.L. continued. "Nice job." He headed upstream and re-cinched his garments about his waist along the way. "Something to remember it by," I said and handed the man the camera. "Got some good ones I think." "Oh, wow. Thanks. I don't know what to say." "Don't worry about it." "Hey I'm sorry I walked him right up through your spot. I just didn't want him to take off on me downstream." "I would have done the same thing. You fought him really well. You're a good fisherman." "Oh, that's nothing compared to what you're doing. That looks impossible." We stopped and watched D.L. a while. The loops and rolls of his fly line were like something living, something synchronous, breathing with the soft shadows of his draped robes. "It's really not as hard as it looks," I said. "It looks beautiful," he said, "but I'm kind of lazy. It just seems like a lot of work." I thought about what I should say then. I wanted to say something sage-like, something heroic. I wanted to sound like D.L. With every cast the possibility of perfection arises. That brief moment when randomness ceases to exist and time and the universe stop to enjoy the beauty of your struggle. That pristine balance of love and loss, of hope and terror radiating from a single point at the end of a clear strand of line, up through your trembling hands and body and into your very heart, leaving it overflowing with God's best intentions. That's what I wanted to say but it didn't come to me just then. So I just told him that it's all worth it. The hours or days or even years of casting are worth a moment of life perfected. "I suppose it is," he said. "Well, I guess I'll hit the water again," I said. "Well, hey. Thanks for the pictures," he said. "You're not like most fly fishermen I've seen. They're usually a little uptight, you know. No offense." "It's all pretty much the same. We're all just fishermen." He gave me his hand to shake and when I took it he just stared at me for some time. Then he pulled me in slowly and hugged me. I patted his shoulder blade, awkwardly, then hugged him back. He squeezed me tighter and I felt his heartbeat. I smelled his sweat. "I can't breathe," I said and he let go and drew back and looked at me. "Are you okay?" he asked. I didn't answer. His round face and the sky around it faded white. I opened my eyes. I was lying down. The asphalt cooled my back. I could hear nothing beyond my ears ringing. A woman in a white collared shirt leaned over me. A paramedic. She spoke slowly with exaggerated gestures. I read her lips. "Can you hear me? Are you OK?" I looked around and saw things in a peculiar light, like props on a stage. I noticed a rusty exhaust pipe. A large truck bumper. A toddler in a red shopping cart. An elderly woman talking to a police officer. The officer nodding and scribbling notes. A small crowd of worried faces staring back at me. My hearing returned slowly. I could hear my breathing. Then the cars from the road, the Policeman's radio. "Can you hear me?" the woman said. "You were unconscious. Can you hear me? Sir? Do you understand what happened to you?" Yes, I thought, but could not speak. I felt a calmness right then and I didn't want anything to spoil it. I just needed to lie still, completely relaxed, as I enjoyed for a moment longer such good, good thoughts.