Here For Nothing

When we get to Canyon Ferry, the ice looks like it’s only an inch thick, so we drill a hole to check it and it’s four inches—maybe. There are already several groups sitting around out there, so we figure what the hell and take baby steps over the hairy stuff near the edge that’s been broken and refrozen. When a crack shoots out from under Ron, we both lie down and a guy in the closest group says it’s at least an inch thicker about ten yards beyond us, so we crawl that far then stand up and walk out a couple of hundred yards. It hasn’t snowed yet this year and the ice is really slick so when I drill our holes, I slip in a circle around the auger.

“Are we having fun yet?” says Ron, sitting down on his plastic bucket and twisting the lid off of his flask.

“You’ll see,” I say, “all these guys aren’t out here for nothing.”

“You sound like you’re back in Vietnam,” says Ron.

“No,” I say, “I knew I was out there for nothing.”

After about an hour we only have three perch. They’re all pretty decent, but we should have a dozen or more; then the wind picks up and Ron says, “Great idea, Thompson. Next time you decide to do this, remind me to hit you over the head with a shovel.”

I tell him to just keep drinking and everything will be all right, so he shoots me the finger. Pretty soon a lawn chair from one of the other groups goes scooting along the ice near us with a beefy guy in Carhartts running and sliding behind it. When our tip-ups start to blow off of our holes I say, “OK., let’s get the hell out of here.”

Since we’ve driven all the way over from Bozeman and still have most of the day left, we try our luck in the open water behind Toston dam where there’s some shelter from the wind, but nothing doing, so we sit in the car and finish off Ron’s flask then start on mine.

“So when did you figure out that you were there for nothing,” says Ron.


“You know, Vietnam.”

“I don’t know,” I say, “I’ve seen so many movies about it since then, I forget the difference between how it was and how I’ve been told it was.”

“You mean like Platoon?” says Ron.”

“No, more like Apocalypse Now.”

“But that was such extreme stuff—like it was just flat made up.”

“That’s right,” I say.

“Did you have to like, you know, kill anybody?”

“No,” I say, “I didn’t have to.”

About now I’m wishing I’d never told him I’d been there because anything he could ask me would be a cliché and anything I’d tell him would be even more of a cliché, so I say, “Let’s go into Townsend and get us some lunch.”

“OK,” he says. “I understand if you don’t want to talk about it.”

So then I don’t say anything and that’s the worst cliché of all.

When we get to the cafe, all of the booths are taken so we sit up at the counter with a couple of old-timers to Ron’s right and a younger guy, maybe in his late thirties, to my left. While we’re looking at the menu, the old-timer nearest to Ron says, “Can’t you say nothin’ nice about nobody?” Then the guy to my left says “I don’t remember asking for your opinion.”

“Never mind these boys,” says the waitress. "They got blown off the lake today and have decided to blame each other. Coffee?"

“So did we,” says Ron. “Regular for me,” and he scoots his cup where she can get a clear shot at it. “But before we get started blaming each other, I’ll have the short stack with sausage and scrambled eggs.”

“Same here,” I say.

“Was you boys the ones who come down to the lake in that Hummer this morning?” says the guy on my left.

“No,” I say, “I didn’t even see one out there.” Then Ron says, “I wouldn't be caught dead in one of those things.”

“Neither would I,” says the guy. “But just tell that to Duane over there. He’s fixing to get him one.”

“The hell he is,” says Ron. Then he turns to the old-timer next to him and says “What are you going to do with it once you’ve got it?”

“Why don’t you ask Rollo,” says Duane. "He seems to have all the answers whether you want ‘em or not.”

“I had to drive the real thing in Desert Storm,” says Rollo. “Them Hummers is just a Chevy Tahoe with a fake Humvee stuck on the chassis. Any asshole who drives one might as well be saying ‘Hi, I’m a pussy driving a pussymobile that runs on oil that soldiers driving the real thing fought and died for.’”

Then the old-timer on the other side of Duane says, “No need to talk like that, son, especially in front of Darla here.”

“It’s all right, Daddy,” says Rollo, “Darla don’t mind, do you Darla?”

“Not if you buy me a Hummer,” says the waitress.

Then Ron says, “Nick, what did you guys drive in Vietnam?”

There’s a long silence when I don’t answer, so Ron finally says, “Jeeps, right?”

And I say, “Did you guys catch anything before the wind came up?”

“Rollo there, he caught three real nice rainbows and two decent ling,” says Duane.

“Do you guys fish out here a lot?” says Ron.

Whenever we can,” says Rollo. “We live here in town.”

“And you eat them?”

“Sure we do,” says Rollo, “them warnings don’t mean nothing. What were you doing out there if you weren’t going to eat ‘em?”

“We’re from Bozeman,” says Ron, “and this is my first time ice fishing. The regulations say you can eat a few every once in a while, so I guess we’ll eat the three perch we caught, but what with the mercury, the wind and the thin ice, I’m not sure why I was out there. How about you Nick?

“To be honest,” I say, “I don’t think any of us had any business being out there.”