As mentioned yesterday, I spent the better part of this past weekend and the first half of this week in Philadelphia with Chris, wrapping up the first round of editing our book and finessing another project we've got in the works. We got a lot of good work done, but we also got in our first fight. That's right, we fought. But like, for realizes fought. Don't get me wrong, it's not like Chris and I get along all of the time; we actually fight a lot. We fight about everything from the pronunciation of the word "cashew" to whether or not we're even friends, but it's always done in a cheeky "HA HA, YOU," kind of way. Monday night, however, was a different story. It was the first time we fought about something and actually meant it. So, what was it about? Was it a disagreement about editing the book? No. Was it about the direction of our new project? No. Was it even related to our writing at all? No. It was about catfish noodling. After five years of knowing each other, Chris and I got in our first real-live fight about catfish noodling.
Looking back, I'm not even entirely sure how it all started. I think I wrote a joke about crawfish that Chris rejected because it quote, "sounded too delicious." This opened up a whole can of worms about Chris' southern roots and their culture of eating all sorts of disgusting river creatures for pleasure, and I believe that led to an anecdote about how during the Great Depression, Chris' grandfather's brothers would go down to the crick and catfish noodle.
"Uh, excuse me, but what exactly is catfish noodling?"
"You don't know what catfish noodling is?!"
"Well, you know how catfish are bottom-dwellers who swim with their mouths open?"
"a.) You just said 'bottom-dwellers' and b.) Yes, I do. Proceed."
"Well when you catfish noodle, a spotter finds a catfish hole, and the noodler reaches in and either shoves his hand into the catfish's mouth and through the gills, then pulls him out, or uses himself as bait by letting the catfish clamp down on him, and then pulls him out."
Not to sound like a big city Yankee, walking around a-snappin' my suspenders and calling the shots, but I was horrified. Catfish are some straight-up voodoo shit:
Look at that. Horrifying. The only thing more horrifying than catfish is the concept of shoving my fist down one's throat, letting it sink all of its teeth into me, and pulling it out and into my boat. And yet, noodling is a real thing! A real thing done by real people other than Chris' backwoods southern relatives during lean times! At present, noodling is legal in 11 out of 50 states (all in the South—shocking, I know), and the biggest catfish ever noodled (Christ...) weighed 60 pounds. Apparently the worst a catfish can really do to you is give you some superficial cuts and minor wounds, but OH, watch out for the alligators, snakes, beavers, muskrats, and snapping turtles who adopt abandoned catfish holes as their new homes.
Here's the thing: for being such a absurdly attractive woman, I'm actually not that much of a girly-girl. I'm not saying I walk around in a sports bra and mesh basketball shorts all day, but, you know, I like to camp. I spent the majority of the summers in my youth at a lake in Western Maryland redneck country. If you've been to my apartment, you know from some key pieces of artwork that I have a thing for rats; I had a pet chameleon in Elementary School—basically, I'm not constantly concerned that your newfangled motorcar is going to splash my perfectly pressed petticoats. That being said, I have to draw the line somewhere. And that line is square down the middle of catfish noodling. The very concept makes my skin crawl, which is exactly what I told Chris.
"You'd make a horrible poor person," Chris said. But he didn't just say it. He obnoxiously scoffed at me first, and then said it in a tone that was unbelievably patronizing and dripping in judgement. Oozing, really. And I love Chris dearly, but you know what? Fuck you, buddy. Because who are you to tell me that I'd make a horrible poor person? While I fully acknowledge that the concept of two middle-class white kids sitting around talking about who'd make the better poor person is so obnoxious the world might explode, it still pissed me off. Because although I'm not exactly living in a cardboard box on the steps of the post office, I'm also not walking around town with grillz on my teeth that spell "AWK-WARD" in diamonds, with a couple of high-class hookers on each arm. I make a small amount of money each month, but I make it work. And again, I know that's an obnoxious statement because if I'm ever out of money and literally starving, I can always call up my sister and she'll take me out for fajitas and I can dump two bowls of tortilla chips into my purse and put a spare flan in my pocket, but still! I consolidate three meals a day into one super meal I call "Breaklinner" because it's cheaper than eating thrice a day, and have recently adopted a Robin Hood-like approach to acquiring things like toilet paper and coffee. While I'm not saying that qualifies me as ghetto superstar, I am saying that I'm not a total princess.
"Excuse you, why would I be a horrible poor person?" I asked him.
"Because you're not willing to do what it takes to survive."
"Yes I am! I'm just not willing to catfish noodle!"
"Well, I think that proves that you don't have the skills it would take to survive a depression."
"There are other means of surviving a depression besides catfish noodling."
And that's when Chris literally pushed the computer off his lap, whipped around, and bellowed at me, "NAME SIX!"
Shit. Got. Real. And I know just reading that, you're probably like, "HA HA, old Meg and Chris got into an argument about catfish noodling and think that constitutes a real fight! LOL!!" But the argument really was void of any joking tone whatsoever and was oddly serious.
"This is stupid and we have work to do, let's just forget it," I said. Mostly because I couldn't come up with six ways of surviving a depression other than catfish noodling, as my mind was too busy trying to wrap itself around the concept that catfish noodling was even an option to begin with.
We went back to work, but distracted, I started looking for noodling videos on YouTube and found this little gem:
Not only does this video offend me for obvious catfish-based reasons, I'm also enraged that these "fishermen" refer to the practice of noodling as "hand-grabbin'". I'm not saying Wordsworth would give a of tip his hat to whoever came up with the term "catfish noodling", but at least it's not the circle jerk of hillbilly redundancy that is "hand-grabbin'". Maybe if Mr. Mott did a little more brain-thinkin' he could have come up with something slightly more creative...
I went out to dinner with my parents tonight and asked them what my grandparents were doing during the Great Depression, thinking it would provide me a few concrete noodling-free depression alternatives. This turned out to be an extremely poor decision on my part. My great-grandfather was the buyer for Gimball's department store in New York, so apparently my grandmother "didn't even know there was a depression going on", and nobody really knows what my grandfather was doing for work at the time, just that he was in Chicago and then New York. I held out hope that my father's side—the scrappy Irish side—would give me a little more grit cred.
"So what did Grandpa Bern do during the Depression, Dad?"
"He worked on Wall Street."
"Oh man, he must have been pretty fucked after the market crashed, huh?"
"Hmm? Oh no, he was fine."
"What do you mean, he was fine?"
"I mean he was fine. He probably lived with his parents, if that helps?"
"[Sigh] What about Grandma Catherine?"
"Well, her family owned a pig farm outside the city in New Jersey, right around where Giant's stadium is today."
"Ooo! So she was a lowly pig farmer during the Depression?"
"No. She was a secretary in Manhattan."
"GOD DAMNIT! So what you're saying is, nobody in our family ever catfish noodled to get by?"
My parent's exchanged a sideways glance at each other, resulting in my father deciding to take this one. "Meghan, you come from a long line of hardened city people who wouldn't know a catfish if it crawled up the toilet and bit them on the ass. We know how to shop, drink, and go out to eat."
"This isn't helping my point in the slightest."
"I don't know why Chris is acting so high-and-mighty," my mom added, "He's the one with a hyphenated last name!"
So my relative theory was a bust and might actually make me sound more like an asshole, if that's even possible, but I still think I'd survive a depression just fine, thank you. I'm not saying that if you held a gun to my head and said, "Noodle this catfish or I'm going to shoot you," I'd say goodnight and that would be that—I'd noodle the god damn catfish, I'm just saying I'd prefer to explore other options first if given the opportunity. And I don't think that reflects negatively on my survival skills at all. In fact, I think in a Darwinian sense, that makes me even more likely to survive! Because when the chips are down and the well runs dry, I wouldn't be the one shoving my dick into a catfish or a beehive all willy-nilly; I'd probably be looking for some sort of berry alternative or something that doesn't involve sticking my extremeties directly into sharp. BUT, OOOOOO! Don't listen to me; I'm such an East-Coast Liberal Elitist! Run the other direction if you see me during an emergency because my Robert Frost anthology and menorah certainly aren't going to point us in the right direction!
Although we had decided to drop it, about an hour after our initial fight, I made the mistake of bringing it up again.
"I can't believe you don't think I have the survival skills it takes to survive a depression," I said to Chris.
"I definately did before tonight..." he replied, but with so much smugness and so much passive-aggression that afterwards, we both just kind of stared at each other in that distinct Mexican standoff where one person has just taken it slightly too far and the other can't decide if they should go deeper down the rabbit hole or just let it go entirely and you're both kind of shocked and confused how you got there, until Chris finally said, "I don't think either of us have the emotional energy to go where this conversation is gonna take us tonight."
"Wanna go to the sports bar around the corner and get burgers and beer?"
"Yes. Yes, I do."
And that was the end of that. I think every couple (romantic or otherwise) has that one dumb thing that they disagree on and decide to never talk about with each other for the sake of the relationship. For my sister and her husband, it's "The Daily Show"; for Chris and Ex-Co Blogger Eddie, it's Chloë Sevigny; and apparently for Chris and me, it's catfish noodling. To test that theory, I asked my parents if they have a That Thing they can't agree on and don't bring up around each other.
"You mean besides Bavarian sex acts?" my dad responded.
"Yeah! Like, you know, just something stupid that you both always...wait...I GET THAT. And that is disgusting."
Damn sassy, entitled East Coast brats...where's the humbling mouth of a trout when you need one?