Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Fishing for Cash: A Fable

Originally published in the New York Mills Herald on 3/6/08 and credited to my alternate identity, Elisa Korentayer.

Two Minnesota fishermen traveled to a Caribbean island to fish far away from the cold Minnesota winter. Not expecting to find a cash machine on the island, each of the fishermen brought along the cash he needed for the week. When the fishermen reached their motel rooms, each faced a dilemma. Should a person take all his cash with him and risk it getting lost or stolen? Or should he leave the cash in the room and risk it getting stolen? The first fisherman decided to leave his cash in his room, but, as he was a clever fisherman, he hid the American bills in places where troublemakers were unlikely to find them. He took a couple of hundred-dollar bills and put them inside socks in his drawer. He took a couple of hundred-dollar bills and put them under the mattress. He took the final couple of hundred-dollar bills and put them in the hiding place he was most proud of: a few inches deep in his fishing rod case.

First, the fisherman spent the cash on top of the closet. Then, because food and fishing guides were expensive, he reached for the cash hidden in his socks. Finally, the fisherman needed the cash in his fishing rod case. He peered in amongst the folds of fabric that made up the lining. He saw two one-hundred dollar bills peaking up at him from a few inches down, just past where his fingers could reach them. He took the top two-foot-long section of his fishing rod and pushed it into the case to pull up the cash. The fishing rod came up. The cash didn’t. When the fisherman peered into the case again, he saw that the fishing rod had pushed the bills to the bottom of the case.

The Minnesota fisherman sat on his unmade bed in eighty-five degree heat and ninety percent humidity. He had already been sweating. Now he was sweating more. He needed to focus. He pushed his fishing rod into the case again. He peered in with a flashlight, aimed the fishing rod into the section where the cash was curled up, and started to scrape upward from the bottom of the case. He heard the crunch of paper as the wood of the fishing rod scraped the bills. He managed to pull the bills up a millimeter. He repeated this process. This time the bills didn’t budge. He scraped and he scraped. He peered and he peered. No cash. Three days of eating and fishing and a trip to the airport left to pay for. He was in a foreign country with no access to money. He tried to pull the bottom off the rod case. It was glued tight. He tried to pull the fabric covering off of the case, it went down about an inch. He figured that maybe his friend might have a tool that could reach down into his case, grab the bills, and pull them back up. He went to his friend’s room.

The first fisherman came back from the second fisherman’s room with a hemostat, a scissorlike instrument with a foot-long beak that ended in a tweezer-like grabber. He pushed the hemostat into the case, and tried to reach the bills, only to find that the bills were now too far into the case for the hemostat reach. If only he’d had this instrument when he first reached into the case! The second fisherman came by and asked whether the first fisherman had gotten his cash. No luck, said the first fisherman. Let me try, said the second fisherman.

The second fisherman peered into the case. He was a strategist. He hypothesized that, if one could pull the lining up and out of the case, the cash would come with it. He used the hemostat to grab the top of the lining, and pulled upward with all his strength. The sound of seams ripping could be heard, but the lining remained stuck to the case. Ah hah, the second fisherman said. It must be attached at the bottom as well as the top. Let’s cut the lining off of the top of the tube, and then pull it again. The lining is sure to come out of the case, bringing the cash with it. Where’s your scissors? The first fisherman looked slightly sick at the incipient destruction of his new fishing rod case, but he handed the second fisherman his scissors anyway. The second fisherman started cutting. Pretty soon, the lining had been shredded away from the top of the tube, but it was still stuck to the case. The second fisherman pulled and pulled. He passed the case over. The first fisherman pulled and pulled. The lining wouldn’t budge. Twist!, said the second fisherman. The first fisherman twisted. And he twisted. And he twisted. The nylon stayed securely attached to the bottom of the case. The second fisherman shrugged. I was sure this would work. The second fisherman went back to his room to check that he had enough money to feed himself till the end of his vacation.

The first fisherman looked at the frayed insides of his new fishing rod case. He saw the white PVC plastic through the wounds in the fabric that once lined his case. He went back to his original plan. He reached into the case with the tip of the fishing rod. He peered into the case again and learned that the attempt to remove the lining had only succeeded in trapping the cash underneath the fabric that separated the compartments. Without a two-foot long tweezers the bills were unreachable. The case was now a shambles, and the fisherman was still broke.

Upon asking around, the first fisherman learned that there was one lone cash machine on the island. Hallelujah!, he thought. I’ll be able to eat! He found his credit card. He walked to the other end of the island under the boiling sun. He saw a bank with a door marked with the universal symbols for ATM. He quickened his pace and came closer. Next to the ATM symbols was a handwritten sign that said: Out of Order.

The first fisherman trudged back through the hot sand to his motel room. He picked up his fishing rod case, which—though its insides were a shambles—would still be able to protect his new fishing rod from breaking during the trip back—if he could make it back. He imagined the two one-hundred dollar bills, so close to where his hand clutched the bottom of the case, but as yet unreachable. His stomach rumbled. He looked at his precious fishing rod, which still needed to be protected on the trip home. He stared longingly at the bottom of the rod case where two one-hundred-dollar bills rested in all their American green glory. His stomach rumbled again. He went out and asked the motel owner for a hacksaw. Ten minutes and one fishing rod case later, the first Minnesota fisherman went out to dinner.

Moral of the story: Don’t put your cash in a fishing rod case when in a foreign country until you’re sure that the local cash machine is working. Or bring along a two-foot long tweezers.

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