The Other Mullett by Mark Usyk
When I’m in the Jeep, chances are the volume knob on the radio is turned up kind of loud. I know, I know. I’m 41 now. I should be acting my age. I should be settling down and looking like a responsible adult with a mortgage, car payments, kids, and all the other stuff that a responsible adult is responsible for. But even at 41, or maybe it’s even still at 41, I’m clinging on to what little yet I can of my youth. And that’s where the AC/DC cassette tape in the tape deck comes in.
I’m not big on crowds. They’re loud, there’s always at least one obnoxious drunk who wants to be everyone’s friend, and there’s no room to swing a fly rod. I was never big on concerts or bars, and it’s not an age thing. I’ve just never been big on the whole scene. Which is why Holly never asked me if I wanted to go out and see a cover band on Halloween weekend. She just bought the tickets and let me know I was going. It’s your kind of music she said. I could’ve told her to find another person to take my ticket, but I caved in and accepted my fate. A couple secrets to a successful marriage that really shouldn’t be secrets would be that sometimes you’ve got to make compromises and do what your significant other wants to do for a change, and sometimes you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone to make that happen. I just figured to balance it out I’d get up the next day and hit the creek for a couple hours. Which leads me to another one of the secrets to a happy marriage… Never let them know exactly how much money you’ve really spent on fly gear.
To my wife’s credit, she was right about the band. A cover band called Mullett, named after the confused ‘80s hair style that didn’t know whether it wanted to be long or short, not after the fish, cranked out one hell of a show. She was right, it was my kind of music, even if I did feel uncomfortable and out of place in the crowd, and even though the obnoxious drunk guy was there trying to be everyone’s friend. It was also Halloween weekend, which meant most of the crowd was dressed as their favorite ‘80s rock icons. We were surrounded by the likes of Slash, Ozzy, and Paul Stanley to name a few. Even Wayne and Garth worked their way through the crowd. And Crocodile Dundee wanted to be the life of the party. My contribution to the sights was my East Rosebud Fly and Tackle T-shirt with Angus Young doing his famous stage trot, his guitar replaced by a huge rainbow trout. No one noticed it, or at least understood it, reinforcing that this simply wasn’t my crowd anymore. But the music, and those Mullett guys wailing on guitars and drums were second to none. Probably better than some of the bands they were covering at this stage in the game. On the ride home with my ears ringing I wondered if I’d really drag myself out of bed in less than a few hours and struggle into my waders or just sleep in.
The next morning as the sun reached the top of the trees I was on the creek with a pounding headache, but I was there. Now normally I jump in the Jeep and cruise to whatever water I’m going to fish with a cassette in the tape deck blasting anything from the Dire Straits to Iron Maiden. I play it loud, I feel a little younger, I get strange looks from the next generation. As if a guy in waders with flies stuck in the dash blaring music is the weird guy, not the kids with everything from their noses to their eyebrows and who knows what else pierced and their big stretched out earlobes and neck tattoos. In some of their defenses, I know a couple kids with the whole current punk look that are die hard fly fisherman, and probably better than me. I guess it’s just a normal part of getting older to look on the next generation as a bunch of kids losing direction and purpose, and it’s also a part of being the younger ones who feel they need to push the envelope further than the last to make their own statement. But I still hold fast that my music is better, and it sounds better played in a tape deck.
But back to my point. I usually drive to the water with the music cranked, drumming on the steering wheel, belting out the words with confidence only because the volume is turned up loud enough that I can’t hear how bad I actually sound. But once I’m standing in the water, the fly rod bending forward and back, and the loops rolling through the air like something that could hardly be compared to anything else in this life, the music is silenced. I could hear half of one song on my way into work and have that song stuck in my head for the rest of the day, but when I’m fly fishing, something so different from anything else is going on in my head that it manages to block everything else out. Except for this morning.
I didn’t even realize it was happening until the song had started over the first time, because when the song started over, I found myself watching the old music video in my head like it was just yesterday, not thirty years ago. I was casting a decent sized streamer to a deep hole in a bend, and I almost didn’t see the dark shape trailing because I was listening to Twisted Sister in my head, watching the video in my mind play out. At first I tried to fight it. Get it out of my head. Like the fourth grader sitting on my Grandmother’s floor in her living room hoping no one came into the room to find that I’d flipped the TV knob to MTV, I felt like I shouldn’t be out here, on the water, a place that took the rest of the world away from me, thinking about Twisted Sister music videos. But for whatever reason, I’ll blame it on Mullett, the band not the fish, I had Dee Snider stuck in my head in all his over the top in your face ‘80s obnoxiousness. And I liked it.
The video started out with a drill sergeant of a teacher reading his class the riot act, screaming that summer was over, that he owned them, that they were all slobs and disgraces. There’s that generation thing again. He singles out one student and makes him stand up. Screaming in the poor long haired hooligan’s face he demands an answer….What do you want to do with your life!? His answer, as if you didn’t see it coming, I wanna rock.
So there I was, casting a brightly, almost obnoxiously colored streamer that would’ve matched the clashing colors of any ‘80s hair band wardrobe, or likewise looked right at home dangling from the ear of some big haired, eye shadow wearing millionaire rocker in an MTV video. I only managed a couple fish that morning, nothing to write home about, all the while suffering a good headache with ears still ringing and rocking out to Twisted Sister in my head while catching a couple big minnows and a couple small bass. I also thought back on last March when I fished in the Florida salt and got skunked, caught nothing while mullet jumped all around me…The fish, not the band.
It’s funny how things change but remain the same as you get older. Acid washed jeans are coming back into style, and high top sneakers are on the shelves again. Holly won’t let me buy a pair of high tops because she says I’m too old to try and look cool like the young kids. She’s probably right, but I’m not giving up my cassettes, and I still don’t throw out a pair of jeans just because they’re ripped. But these days I’m just not looking for the same things as that kid I once was. I’m looking for the next hidden waters around the next bend in the river. I’m looking for the next brook trout creek that no one thought would be worth fishing. I’m working to protect Adirondack brook trout with a small group of like-minded friends, and I’m looking forward to the next drive north to find fish with the windows down and AC/DC cranked up, the volume knob turned to eleven. Looking down at the red stamp on the back of my hand from the night before as I stripped line, I chuckled at the irony. If that one stamp was meant to show my age being over 21, then to be honest they should’ve given me two. The meaning may have slightly changed, but I guess when it comes down to it, when pressed for an answer as to what I want to do with my life, with a fly rod raised over my head, my answer would still be I wanna rock.