It might have been more awkward had we been mormons, or baptists, crossing paths in the liquor store, but I doubt it.
I’d timed my visit to avoid the regulars and the old hands. Conditions were near perfect at the town run. No way the seasoned vets wouldn’t have pawned their shifts off on the newbies. A quick eyeball inventory of the shop parking lot was encouraging. Not a recognizable rig in sight. This was my chance.
The counter was empty when I walked in, a good sign. I nodded to a lost looking tourist milling about among the waders and strode toward the tying materials. I looked over my shoulder one last time, surveying the showroom floor as nonchalantly as I could, then shuffled to the dimly lit corner. I crouched and quickly snatched what I’d come for: red chenille, red micro-tubing, red ultra-wire, red streamer thread and big, long, curvy hooks.
“Hey John, can you help the gentleman try on some waders?” came a voice from the backroom as I reached the register. “I’ll ring Matt up.”
The grey old angler and I locked eyes as he emerged from the office: Bob’s warm and cordial, mine wide and staring.
“Let me guess,” he said extending his hand, “Spinning up some BWOs?”
“Oh, uh, I…. uh.”
“Nope, must be more midges,” he continued enroute to the counter. “Or… let me see.” With a glance he took in my little pile of pouches and spools and trailed off with a faint “Ah”
I think we’d have both been more comfortable if I’d plunked down a value-pack of condoms, a dirty magazine and a bottle of personal lubricant instead.
To Bob’s credit, he maintained, in his capacity as resident river sage and vise guru, the professional reserve and nonjudgemental demeanor of a practiced physician. He kept his hands and eyes on his work and withheld further comment.
I’d made it to the door before he finally broke the silence.
“You know,” he called after me. “It’s none of my business, but, if you call them annelids it doesn’t feel so shameful.”
“Thanks,” I tossed back over my shoulder, accelerating toward the truck.
I can’t be certain, but think I heard him mumble something about night-crawlers and the gas station across the street just before the door swung closed.