It sometimes amazes me how little we know about the people around us. We pass people on the way to work, we buy a coffee from someone, we live upstairs from a guy and we can go through life never knowing any of their millions and billions of stories.
When I was a small-town reporter, I lived upstairs from Jim.
Jim grew up in a picturesque little village, whose charming harbour and quiet, pristine beach drew tourists and cottagers, sailors and amateur fishermen from across the country.
From the time school wrapped up for the summer until it reared its ugly head again come fall, Jim was a fisherman too. He and his friends knew the harbour, the lake and the nearby river like they knew their own front doors and would hop on their 10-speeds and make for one or all of them at the slightest provocation.
And they were no amateurs. They would summon fish from the river like fish-magicians, leaving the tourists with their expensive rods and spangly lures by turns amazed and enraged as perch, bass, whitefish, and the occasional snapping turtle (Jim’s mom made soup) flashed from the water and filled the local boys’ bucket while the out-of-towners remained clean and upright, with not a splash to show for their gadgetry.
Even more infuriating; while they ignored the hooks entirely, the wee fishies and the reeds that covered the riverbed were amassing quite the collection of shiny, pricey lures. Uncharitable though it might have been, the boys couldn’t help but cackle at the would-be fishermen while the lake practically laid fish after fish in their skinny arms with each gentle wave.
One day, mid-cackle, inspiration struck.
“Hey. How many lures do you suppose are down there?” Jim inquired of his cronies, as they watched yet another bejewelled lure wink its way lazily down through the water to nestle in the mud. Minds raced. Piggybanks bulged with imagined loot. After three minutes, the boys decided they had almost certainly stumbled across a once-in-a-12-year-old’s-lifetime business opportunity.
If there was one thing fishing tourists loved, it was a fancy trinket to dangle in the water and unwittingly scare the bejesus out of nearby fish. If there was one thing they had, it was money. So it was that the boys stopped fishing for fish, and started fishing for lures.
However, skillful fisherboys though they were, the lures proved stubbornly resistant to their charms.
They had all but given up when Jim spotted their metal fish pail floating away upside-down in the water. Ingenuity, powered by greed and made reckless by youth, took hold.
That night, he took the pail home to the garage and made a few adjustments. When he was finished he triumphantly held something that resembled a cross between a knight’s helm, an astronaut’s bubble, and, well, a fish pail.
In the morning, when his friends arrived by the river, he was waiting patiently under the trees. The fruits of his labour were now affixed to the garden hose, was in turn was hooked up to a bike pump. They greeted him with some trepidation as he grinned maniacally at them from under what was still, essentially, a bucket.
But despite it’s bizarre and rickety appearance, the miniature diving bell did what it was meant to and while the other two took turns pumping air into the bell, Jim strolled through the reeds along the bottom of the river with ease, collecting lures to his heart’s content and grinning and wiggling his fingers hello to the understandably perturbed underwater creatures.
The boys spent a couple of glorious days taking turns with their invention. Bounding along the riverbed unchecked like damp spacemen, they were happy and immortal and particularly clever.
They grew bold and a little greedy. They strolled further afield and concocted traps for the lures the unwitting tourists would lose and then presumably buy back from them. They started to turn a profit.
One afternoon, Jim had taken the bell out as far as it could stretch, when a rowboat carrying a couple of dapper young men and their dapper young girlfriends, rounded the bend and made a beeline for the garden hose connecting Jim to his air supply.
The boys on the shore started hollering for the boat to turn around, but it was too late. The little boat had already run clean over the garden hose, and the boys’ stomachs sank as they watched their friend’s lifeline go slack.
And then, just as they were sure they’d seen the last of their bottom-feeding companion, a noisy sputtering splash arose from right beside the rowboat as a creature with a giant, misshapen, seaweed-covered head broke through the surface with a heaving gasp.
The woman closest to the creature fainted immediately.
Things started to …unravel after that.
The young men in the boat first rescued and then hauled Jim off to explain himself to local law enforcement where he was given a stern chastisement, and worse, a note to take home to his mother.
While the note went mysteriously missing somewhere on his bike ride home, Jim did retire the diving bell that day. The boys decided they liked being fishermen better than entrepreneurs anyway.