When as a small boy roaming the high mesas behind San Diego, California I had to heed nature’s call I just squatted behind a clump of chaparral, did the deed and, when done, used a convenient cobblestone to wipe. A mite rough, I’ll agree, but nonetheless effective. Any grownup who has half a brain would go prepared for such eventualities, but ten year old boys are seldom so far sighted.

One grownup who was always wont to plan ahead was Allan, a fellow I met and grew to know much later in life when we were both in the midst of our respective careers and had families of our own. Allan was a large, powerfully built and handsome guy, what women would call a "man’s man" with a gentle and even-tempered disposition, always ready to listen to the other fellow and help where he could. To look at him you would never suspect that he had served with distinction in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.

At the time we met Allan and I were members of the Long Beach Casting Club in Southern California, involved in fishing — notably fly fishing and fly tying — and tournament casting, the pastime for which the club was originally formed. Allan was a supremely talented Class A caster. As for me well let’s just say I had a great deal of fun and once in awhile lucked out. One thing tournament casting did though was to help me to cast to fish that always seemed just out of reach. Shad, for example. Until I managed to learn to double haul my cast those hard fighting "hen" and "buck" American shad in the Yuba River above Marysville were just tantalizing phantoms.

And in those years of the late 60‘s early 70’s when the club would annually trek north for the long Memorial Day weekend the shad were thick in the river. Twenty to fifty fish days were not uncommon. I recall the first shad I hooked—it was 1969— as just the first of twenty-six that day. I quit only because my arms were too tired to continue. All twenty-six fish took the same shad fly, one I promptly retired to my hat brim.

It was a year or two later that Allan's foresightedness became for him an object lesson in frustration and a source of great merriment among those of his friends who had traveled north for some fun. We were camped in an abandoned gravel quarry off Walnut Avenue (since closed to access) on the north bank of the river. While the previous year the river level had been low and one could easily wade across to the south shore it became obvious that the river was running too high and fast. To try to wade across was to court disaster. Trouble was, the shad schools were running along the south shore, out of reach of even our best casters. After a confab we decided the only solution was to drive down to Marysville, a distance of about six miles, cross the bridge and take the Hammonton -Smartville Road east until we could—hopefully—obtain permission to cross private farmland to the river.

I can’t recall the name of the farmer or which farm it was who generously allowed our group of a half dozen shad fishermen access. But that farm, by ironic coincidence, abutted the river directly across from camp. The entire south shore was an expanse of cobblestones, the result of the extensive gold dredging in the Yuba Gold Fields immediately upstream. With the exception of some trees and a few scrub bushes several hundred yards south from the river there was no vegetation at all. Great for flycasting backcasts, terrible for protection from the hot sun and privacy during times of need.

Always prepared, Allan had brought a half-used roll of toilet tissue which he placed upon a dead tree stump which had a flat sawn surface. We all understood that it was there for the use of anyone who felt the need but must be returned after use. And for the next six hours that is where it reposed, in plain sight.

I don’t recall any of our group having to avail himself of the roll. Perhaps someone did. I can’t remember. I was too preoccupied to notice. Besides, like my buddies I kept moving up or downstream trying to find the shad.

Allan said later that several hours before we had to start back to camp he noticed a couple of strange fly fishermen walk in from the direction where our cars were parked. At that time he was about a hundred yards upriver from the stump with its roll of toilet tissue. Neither man was large, but the one leading was noticeably smaller than his companion. With seemingly no hesitation, the small man walked right up to the tree stump, picked up the roll of toilet tissue and put it in his vest. Allan said he assumed the fellow had developed a dire need, thought to himself ‘okay", and turned away to resume fishing.

It was a few minutes before each of us in turn began to straggle back to regroup and return to camp that Allan reeled in his fly, sauntered down to where the two men were fishing and greeted them. "Hi ya, fellas, how you two doin’?"

“Oh, not too bad," said the taller of the two. "It’s kinda slowed down but mebbe it’ll pick up later. You headin’ back?"

Allan allowed that as soon as all his buddies showed up we would indeed be heading back to camp, a mere fifty yards distant but inaccessible nonetheless. "That’s one reason I wanted to meet and talk to you guys. I wanted to find out how you’re doing and retrieve my roll of toilet paper."

The smaller man spoke up. "You mean, this?" Whereupon he pulled the roll out of his fishing vest. "Yeah, that looks like mine."

"Well, it aint." This ’uns mine!"

Now Allan has always been one to whom reasoning seems only normal behavior. Surely, this man could not be serious. "Look, fellow," he patiently explained, "I saw you pick up that roll where I placed it earlier, when our group first arrived. I had then—in fact have no objection now—to you or anyone else using what you need. But it’s understood by everyone that I brought it and put it there. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like my roll of toilet paper so I can leave."

"I don’t care what you say, big guy, this shit paper is mine. I brought it with me. Are you trying to say I stole it?"

"But I saw you pick it up where I left it." Allan said in mounting frustration.

"Well, you’re wrong, man." The fellow insisted, his jaw stubbornly out thrust.

Allan turned to the other man for support, thinking that he at least he would admit the truth. But it was obvious that whatever the man really thought he would not take sides against his friend.

And so there they stood as the first of us walked up, Allan and this little guy glaring at each other. They were obviously in some sort of "Mexican standoff." Uncharacteristically, Allan did not attempt to introduce us to the two men, just turned away and start walking toward the car. We hurried after him. What was wrong?

Allan kept walking then stopped and ruefully shook his head. "Aw, that little guy stole my toilet paper!"

And with that we all fell apart.

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Copyright 2000, John F. McKim