by Ryan Ritchie
My twin brother Daniel called to tell me he was dumping off his 12-year-old son Andrew with me for the weekend. Just like him, calling only when he needs something. Similar to when we were kids, Daniel didnâ€™t ask how I felt about this situation. He never does.
â€œIâ€™ve got a conference in San Diego and mom and dad are in Hawaii,â€ he explained, but it didnâ€™t matter. Andrew, a kid I see once a year at Christmas, was coming to stay with me and saying no was not an option.
â€œDanny,â€ I said, knowing damn well he hates being called that, â€œa little more notice woulda been nice. Itâ€™s Tuesday. Youâ€™re coming when?â€
â€œLeaving Santa Barbara Thursday night and staying at mom and dadâ€™s. Weâ€™ll be at your place by 8 Friday morning and will be back by noon Monday.â€
I spent Thursday evening cleaning my apartment, washing my back-up blanket and pillowcase and making sure my Playboys were stashed in the closet because God forbid Andrew see one and later tattle on me. My brother has been the clean-cut conservative son since day one and the last thing I needed was a lecture on what type of hedonistic host I was to his perfect angel. Heâ€™s Mr. Corporate America, business major at UCLA, two-story home in Santa Barbara with a closet full of designer suits. Iâ€™m the exact opposite: No wife, no kids, no real job. I spent six years on a film that was never produced and my parents never missed an opportunity to remind me of how my table-waiting skills had developed. It took a decade, but my mom and dad stopped worrying about me when I got a writing gig on an NBC sitcom that was cancelled after the first season.
Daniel called at 7 a.m. to tell me they were leaving our parentsâ€™ home in Torrance and headed toward Long Beach. Great, I said, and went back to bed. Forty minutes later there was a knock on the door. I threw on sweatpants and answered it to find Andrew â€“ luggage in hand â€“ waiting while his father and gap-toothed mother idled in their hybrid SUV hoping to avoid contact with me. I let the kid in and ran out to see my brother before he could escape.
â€œWhat do I do with him?â€ I asked leaning against the hood.
â€œTake him fishing. He likes that.â€ Iâ€™da cracked his arrogant skull if we hadnâ€™t been separated by a windshield. Iâ€™m a vegan, have been since I was 19. I donâ€™t fish.
I went inside and made a pot of coffee, drank it and brewed another. The sweet scent of java wafted through the air as I dove headfirst into the typical howyabeendoinâ€™ questions, but Andrew just sat there quietly with his arms and legs folded like he was afraid of me. Little did he know I was much more frightened of him than he was of me.
We watched â€œTodayâ€ over bagels and orange juice and I asked if what his dad said about fishing was true. He nodded yes, so I changed into boots and we hoofed the mile walk to the Long Beach pier.
For seven years Iâ€™ve lived five minutes away from the Pacific Ocean and Iâ€™ve been in the water all of two times. The first was the day I moved to Long Beach. The second was about a year later. It was summer and I hadnâ€™t been laid for a while, so I strolled to the beach hoping to meet a girl tanning herself. I got down there, rolled up my cut-off Dickies and went waist-deep into the water. Two days later I had a killer headache and these oblong blue and red bruises on my leg, the kind I used to get from banging my shins into the frame of my BMX bike as a kid. Without health insurance, there was no way to be 100 percent positive these came from the water, but my neighbor at the time worked as a veterinary technician and she said it was definitely attributed to my foolish trek into the filthy ocean. Her words were good enough for me and my flirtation with swimming from Long Beach to China was swept away like a Doritos bag onto the shore.
Andrew and I rented poles and bought fish food. No way was I spending money on worms. I explained to my nephew that I hadnâ€™t been fishing since I was six years old. He showed me how to bait my hook and we positioned ourselves between two old men with white plastic buckets whose leathery skin hinted at familiarity with pulling three-eyed fish from the heavily-polluted sea. With no idea what to say to a pre-teen, I told Andrew how, sixty years prior, Long Beach built a wall out of rocks to prevent waves from hitting the sand. The brilliant minds believed waves would hurt the then-burgeoning economy and endanger the top-dollar homes that sit across from the water. The wall accomplished its goal, but in doing so kept out oceanic wildlife while keeping in bacteria and trash run-off from the Los Angeles River, making this portion of the Pacific Ocean the most uninhabitable water mass on the west coast. Andrew didnâ€™t seem to care and I didnâ€™t blame him. At his age, I wasnâ€™t all that interested in what my crazy uncle Mel had to say either.
The fish must have been on vacation because neither Andrew nor I caught a damn thing. Two hours we sat there, baking in the warm California summer sun, and not one fish. I was glad because I didnâ€™t want to kill anything, but I was also disappointed that I didnâ€™t get to witness my introverted nephewâ€™s face light up after reeling in a big one.
Lunchtime hit and without one catch, it was time to bail on our failed fishing expedition. Walking home, I apologized to Andrew for my cityâ€™s barren waters.
â€œItâ€™s ok,â€ he said looking toward his shoelaces. â€œI donâ€™t really like fishing. My dad makes me go with him.â€
Once again my brother was being a selfish jerk who couldnâ€™t give two shits about the world around him, even if that world consisted of his own son. I told Andrew how I didnâ€™t like fishing either and that we went to the pier because thatâ€™s what his father told me to do. It turned out that Andrew is a lot like me and nothing like his boring dad. Heâ€™s got the creative bug, but his is drawing. To compensate for our total lack of fun at the pier, I suggested we pick up Mexican food at Coco Renoâ€™s and go back to my place to collaborate on a comic strip about a kid with a self-centered brother and aloof parents. Andrew cracked his first smile of the day through his braces-laden mouth and we forgot all about our pathetic attempts at becoming Long Beach fishermen.