Excerpted from Welcome to Chelm's Pond
One day, after she had to rearrange the tables because everyone wanted to sit close by to hear his story, Bloomie heard someone ask, “Did you ever compete in one of those contests like they have at the Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s Days?” Part of her wanted to listen to his story, but she was still angry. Everyone else sat expectantly, eyes and ears fixed on the woodsman, poised on their chairs. In spite of her feel¬ings, Bloomie felt the need to understand this adventurer and listened intently, disguising her attention by cleaning tables.
“Oh yes, I used to enter contests all the time,” he began, “but then I stopped. It wasn’t fair, me winning all the time, so after I won the fly fishing contest, I gave them up so others could have a chance.”
“The fly fishing contest,” they all said. “Tell us about that one.”
“There was a rich fellow from New York City who wanted to hire an Adirondack guide to take him fly fishing, and he wanted the very best fly fisherman there was, so he sponsored a contest. The winner would receive a cash prize and a lucrative year-long contract to take him fly fishing. The rich man advertised and sent out mailings to all the Adirondack guides and even published a set of contest rules. When the guides read those rules, they realized this New York City man had a funny idea of what ‘fly fishing’ meant.
“On the appointed day all the Adirondack guides turned out to compete in the contest. The crowds of spectators were so great that the sheriff had to call in deputies from the five surrounding counties just to direct traffic, order three dozen Porta Potties dropped in by helicopter so as to avoid a health and sanitation crisis, and establish an emergency hospital tent in the event that the severity of mosquito bites should make mass blood transfusions necessary.
“The first Adirondack guide came up to the platform.” The young woodsman paused as he stood up tall and folded his arms over his chest. “His voice boomed over the excited throng. ‘I am here to enter the fly fishing contest and my name is Mountain Manny.’ The crowd went wild with clapping and cheering and whistling. Mountain Manny was well-known throughout the region and famous for his skills as an angler. He was big, too, over six feet tall and he weighed more than 200 pounds – before he ate breakfast. He took out his fly rod and laid it on the ground. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a matchbox. He opened the matchbox and revealed a stonefly.
Now, you know trout love those stoneflies. They make a pretty good meal for a fish, and they can be more than an inch long, maybe two. Mountain Manny released the stonefly into the still summer air and everyone lifted up their binoculars to follow it as it flew higher and higher. Mountain Manny picked up his fly rod and flicked it back and forth in careful, measured motions, let out nearly all of the line, and hooked that stonefly mid-air in a matter of just seconds. He reeled it in and proudly displayed it to the crowd, a smile from ear to ear and back around again.
“Well you never heard a crowd of people go so wild like they did that day. They wouldn’t have believed it, except that they saw it through their own binoculars. Shaking their heads in disbelief, many of the other Adirondack guides just packed up and went home. Mountain Manny was getting ready to collect his prize and sign the fly fishing contract when another guide stepped up to the platform.” At this, the young woodsman stood on top of his chair, causing all of the Chelmites to lean back in their chairs and crane their necks so they could see him. “He announced in a voice so loud it made the air shake, ‘I am here to enter the fly fishing contest and my name is Giant Jim.’ He stood there so tall he made Mountain Manny look like you were seeing him through the wrong end of your binoculars. That Giant Jim must have stood six foot ten inches tall and weighed 300 pounds. He really was a giant.”
The Chelmites at The Broiled Beet pulled their chairs closer so they wouldn’t miss a word, their eyes fixed on the young woodsman.
“He reached into his pocket, took out a matchbox, and released a mayfly. Now there isn’t an insect the trout like more than a mayfly, even though they’re only about a half-inch long. Everyone lifted their binoculars and followed that mayfly as it took off on a light summer breeze. Giant Jim took his time and looked through his fly fishing rods, carefully deciding which one to use, as the mayfly drifted further and further away. Finally, he selected a rod, picked it up, and gracefully flicked his wrist, letting out the line in long arcs – it was beautiful just to watch him, big as he was, gently working that rod and that big curving loop of line. Then, with a perfectly-timed flick of his wrist, the rod arced back, the line followed, and he hooked that mayfly. He reeled in the line and held that tiny hook between his fingers, showing off that tiny mayfly he had caught on the wing. The crowd erupted in applause accompanied by hootin’ and hollerin’ louder than a family of long-tailed cats in a room full of rockin’ chairs.
“At this point the few remaining would-be competitors somberly packed up their fly fishing equipment and tried to look like they had never been there. The judge was about to award the prize to Giant Jim and have him sign the contract when I stepped up to the platform.” Now the young woodsman stepped down from his chair and took his no-more-than-average-height stance in front of the crowd. “I said, in as big a voice as I could muster, ‘I am here to enter the fly fishing contest and my name is Adirondack Mendel.’”
The Chelmites perched on the edges of their chairs, leaning forward so far that three of them fell over on their faces, but they were so entranced by the story that they didn’t even feel embarrassed. Immediately they resumed their postures, listening keenly to every word.
“Mountain Manny and Giant Jim looked around trying to find me, seeing as I am much shorter than they and not so imposing a figure, until finally they looked down and saw me and – gracious gentlemen as they were – gave me some elbow room so I could enter the competition. I reached into my pocket, pulled out a matchbox, opened it slowly, and out flew a noseeum.
Now, of course, you know that a noseeum is so-called because these blood-sucking, flying piranhas are so tiny you ‘can’t see them,’ so everyone immediately raised their binoculars, turned the knobs to maximum magnification, and whipped their heads around to keep the little noseeum in view as it was buffeted around by the gusty summer wind. Meanwhile, I calmly picked up my fly fishing rod and in a few swift motions had the full length of line swooping back and forth from one end of the crowd to the other. Then, with one seamless movement of my arm and wrist, I was done, confident that I had displayed the greatest skill and won the contest. I reeled in my line, leaned my rod in the corner, and stood there proudly, my arms folded over my chest, ready to receive my prize and sign the contract.
“The crowd continued to watch the noseeum flit around in the wind and the judge seemed puzzled. He pointed to the wind and said to me, ‘You made a great show of it, but the noseeum is still flying.’
“In reply, I declared, ‘My dear judge, circumcision is not meant to kill.’
“And that’s how I won the fly fishing contest.”
The Chelmites, honored to be in the presence of this famous Adirondack guide, slapped him on the back, shook his hand, and wished him mazel tov. He acknowledged each of them by name and, to those he didn’t know already, made a brief introduction. He was pleased to attract such a grateful crowd. But in the midst of all these admirers, Adirondack Mendel’s eyes searched for the one person whose attention he most desired. Across the café he spied Bloomie as she cleaned a table, a charmed smile lingering on her face. But in the next moment, she caught him looking at her, and her expression turned to stone. I’d better stick to my own business, he thought, and bide my time with Bloomie.