Fishing

By Summer Block

Humor

In third grade, my schoolteacher told me that I was ugly, but that with any luck I’d look better when I grew up. When I tell that story now, people assume I am looking for sympathy, but in fact, even at the time, I appreciated her honesty. I knew I was a very weird-looking child and no number of sympathetic clucks from adults would have convinced me otherwise. What I wanted to hear were practical steps for improving my present appearance or barring that, at least hard-nosed realism coupled with hope for the future. And as an adult I am in fact much less weird-looking than I was as a child, so my teacher was right.

A culture of coddling is of little help to an eight-year-old who has to wait another eight years to grow into her nose, but this type of “oh no, I think you’re the pretty one!” back and forth would become only more of a fixture in junior high and high school, where “fishing,” as we called it, was the norm. “I look so fat today!” some slight preteen would moan, and it was the sworn duty of us all to insist that no, no, she was not at all fat, if anything we were the fat ones. And of course the prettier and bolder and more confident the fisherman, the more willing she was to throw that rod out there.

The problem with this expectation of “fishing” is that it makes it difficult to honestly discuss my many very real inadequacies. As soon as you say you are terrible at parallel parking or putting on eye shadow or cooking rice, someone wants to grab that bait, but seriously, I am not fishing. Nor would I ever. Because I am really, really terrible at fishing.

In fact, I am truly, uniquely bad at doing a host of things, including things that virtually everyone else I know can do readily. For example, I’m thirty-one years old and I don’t know how to ride a bike. I suppose technically I have managed at times to bike as far as a single city block, but slowly, unsteadily, and certainly neither calmly nor gracefully. I didn’t learn to swim until I was ten; I didn’t learn to drive until I was twenty-four, and in both cases it shows. At this rate, I had better live to be at least 120 if I ever want to be a normal, functioning person. I also can’t spit, whistle, or skip stones, making me something like the anti-Tom Sawyer. I am truly, colossally, show-stoppingly bad at sports of all kinds. The kind of bad that makes people want to pull out their iPhones and start uploading to Fail Blog. Schooled in the polite demurral, a friend may assure me that no, really, I certainly could learn to snowboard if I wanted to, but that person has likely never seen me hop madly off a ski lift face-first like a little broken sparrow on its last trip down to earth.

Nor are my failings limited to athletic ones. I am so bad at following the plots of movies that I will read plot summaries on IMDB while watching the film and still not understand what’s happening, even on repeat viewings. I can’t play chess, poker, or any card games. When someone begins to explain the rules of a card game to me, it’s like a part of my mind just turns off and all I hear is the dull, content-less drone of their voice. In college, no fewer than four people tried to teach me how to play bridge, but some people just cannot learn. My skills at estimation, of volume, duration, capacity, or extension, are bad enough to shake your belief in my fundamental neurological soundness. If there are two thousand jelly beans in that jar, I’m as likely to guess one hundred. Or a million. Or ten.

It is for this reason that I simply cannot imagine needing to be falsely modest. Who has time to make up additional failings? In fact, I am more than delighted to trumpet my humble accomplishments wherever I find them. I have very nice handwriting, I’m quite good at gluing broken ceramic objects back together, and I have an unmatched memory for song lyrics. Trust me: if I’m good at something, I’ll let you know. So when I tell you I can’t snowboard, there’s no need to shake your head and protest. I really can’t snowboard. Be like my third grade teacher and accept that I have some natural limitations and perhaps we can find a way to work around them. Considering watching “Inception” tonight? How about we just glue things together instead? Or, like my optimistic teacher, we can just hope that I grow out of it all, and I might, if I’m not killed falling off a ski lift first.


When someone asks you what you do for a living, do you begin your answer with, “I am…”? As in, “I am a lawyer,” or, “I am a sandwich artist?” Most of us do, even though I think we can all agree that as complex creatures we can’t be defined by a single, occupation-based label. A plumber is a person, as is a politician and a poet and a physician (except Dr. Teeth, who is made of fabric, and Dr. Phil, who is made of mistakes).

Lately I’ve been thinking about what I do, what I’ve done and how it relates to who I am. I’ve had over 35 jobs in the past two decades, starting at age 14 when I worked at an ice cream parlor in Palm Springs. (Sonny Bono came in once, and when I asked, “Mr. Bono, could I get your–” he obliged me with an autograph. I didn’t have the heart to finish my question: “–order?”)

In high school I babysat several children who miraculously escaped the gruesome murders I daydreamed for them during their Time-Outs. At 16, I worked at a pizza place until my 40+ boss decided it would be funny to withhold my paycheck until I agreed to go out with him. I spent my 18th summer at a telemarketing company, encouraging smokers to speak out against tax hikes. I didn’t even smoke.

Throughout college I worked at a mall, three truck stops, a bakery, a grocery store and a UPS warehouse. I spent a month working as a production assistant on an almost-porno directed by one of my professors. I volunteered to teach children how to read, which I was terrible at (not because of an aversion to reading, but because of an aversion to children) and then switched to teaching college students about safe sex (something I have no aversion to at all). I was a receptionist at an HIV testing clinic, where for two years I let the phlebotomist practice taking blood from me every week (if there was an award for Most Confidently Free From STDs, I would win it, hands down).

Since graduating, I’ve worked at a sports photo agency, produced feature films, sold underpants and written blog posts for a cable network. I’ve chauffeured friends’ bands on tour (which paid only in opportunities to meet rock heroes) and I filed papers in the back room of a bank (which paid in beer money and suicide fantasies). There was six months of selling concert tickets, two months watching NIKE videos and three days editing corporate films about airplanes for a really mean Chinese guy.

Taking all of this into consideration, you could conclude that I am versatile, or you might think that I am easily bored. It’s hard to know if this is the career history of a polymath, a drifter or a mental patient.

So I must continue this self-examination by determining which jobs I could never do. I mean, I know as a feminist and an optimist I’m supposed to believe anything’s possible, but even as an atheist, I’d pray for the poor soul of anyone who needed me to be his surgeon or contractor. And even though I’d like a career as a Certified Badass, I keep failing the test. Two for flinching, every time.

I think animals are cool, but I bet being a Zookeeper is actually depressing, and Park Rangering requires a lot of wandering around outside, which interferes with my love of staying pale and being lazy. (Also, I hate searching for pic-a-nic baskets–if you can’t hold onto your sandwiches, you don’t deserve to have sandwiches.)

I couldn’t be a call girl, either. I just don’t have the energy or enthusiasm to pretend to be someone else all the time, or to Scotchgard my fancy dresses, or to wear/own fancy dresses. I also don’t have the required drug addiction or an elastic asshole. I am grossly underqualified. But I would consider being a madam. I would drive a Ford Escort (because of irony) with a vanity plate that read HNKFHRNY.

So no power tools, no wandering outdoors. No kids, no animals, and no fucking by appointment (especially kids or animals). In fact, the less human interaction, the better. Forced socializing makes me ill. I’m the person who always uses the unmanned checkout lane at the grocery store — anything to avoid casual chit chat with strangers.

So what does that make me, a soulless machine?

I suppose it’s no coincidence that I currently work in advertising. If you want to draw some parallels between my character and my current profession, I would say that, like me, my job can be easy (like selling candy to a baby!) and fun (“thinkin’ up stuff” is one of my job responsibilities). And, like me, it can also be manipulative and a little sneaky. Also, it’s impossible to know whether professional me or personal me has worked harder at convincing people to eat hot dogs.

I might be a terrible person.

No. I think you can only know the real me by examining the job I would do, if given the opportunity. My dream job: President of Movies. As POM I will leverage my years of education, experience and undeniable kickassitude to improve Hollywood’s chief exports. The world will finally know true joy as I prove myself infallible in the selection of buddy cop duos. When I ask, “Who have we cast as the buddy cops?” and the response begins with either “Clancy Brown” or “a monkey”, I will hold up one hand to silence the room and make out a check for “the sky’s the limit!” THAT is the dream I make possible by my very existence!

That is who I am.

And I can live with that. I’m okay being that person. I hope to meet others like me — those who will support me in my quest to rid all films of talking babies and talking chihuahuas and Andie MacDowells. If you’re out there, please say hello.

Conversely, if you’re not ready to embrace a cinematic Clancy Brown/monkey police officer, please hand over your badge and gun.