by Jess Thompson Esq.
CHARACTERS: St. Peter, John, Joe, Jerry, Jill, Jess, Jeanne, Jim,
Herbert Hoover, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy, Lyndon
Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jesus, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Will Rogers,
Calvin Coolidge, Mama, Ecclesiastes, hangers-on
In heaven, down near the bank of The River
The curtain opens on several isolated, scattered groups.
JOE. (Newly arrived). Who are those guys over by the cottonwood tree?
JESS. Oh, that's a bunch of purists. The PBF. Pure Bait Fishermen.
They think they're the only ones up here.
JOE. That other bunch? Over by the magnolia?
JESS. Another batch of purists. DFO. Dry Fly Only. They also think
they're the only ones up here.
JOE. How about them? Over there.
JESS. C and E. The Catch and Eaters. And away off, away from them, the C
and R, the Catch and Releasers.
JOE. What about them? Who's them?
JESS. Who's them? Rich guys. HCRO--High Class Rods Only. Or poor guys
who cashed in their insurance. You've got all kinds of groups. Over by
the oil drum, you got Big 4 X 4 Drivers. Down by the picnic table,
BRO--Bamboo Rods Only. Just beyond, you see the Right-Hand-Winders, and
past them, that group--
JOE. Those pricks on the hill?
Jess (Nods). On the hill. The Tree-Roots bunch. The Morons. No fishing at
all. They hate all fishermen, hate anybody who eats anything that swims,
walks, or crawls, anything that ever did walk or crawl. You're supposed to
live on tree roots and sea weed. Eat tree bark for dessert. They REALLY
think they're holy.
JOE. Ass-wholey, if you ask me.
JESS. They ignore the fact that everything alive eats something else that
once was alive, even if they eat only cabbage. And if you don't, if you
don't eat, you yourself just that much sooner turn into a sort of cabbage
for worms. You ring the worm's dinner bell.
JESS. They want to do the same thing up here that they did on earth, when
they'd go put up a show some place--
JOE. Run around half-ass naked.
JESS. Yeah. Put up a protest, throw eggs at fishermen or people who wear
JOE. Dumb pricks.
JESS. In The Garden? What did God do in The Garden? First thing he did
when Adam and Eve wanted some cover, He dressed 'em in skins. Skins.
JOE. The dumb prick Morons ignor that.
JESS. Yeah. They put up their show, then go home and live in a wood house
and maybe put on leather shoes or wear a leather belt, and no matter what
they eat, it was once alive--
JOE. Even cabbage, like you said. Anyhow, everybody's still all split up.
Still fighting. That's great.
JESS. That's good?
JOE. Sure that's good. What's life without a fight? Who's that guy, all
alone? With that big heavy rod?
JESS. That's Shylock. He uses a pound of flesh for bait.
JOE. And THAT bunch. Those, that, those--those are presidents! And
those with crowns. Kings? How'd they get up here?
JESS. Same as anybody, everybody.
(Enter St. Peter and Shakespeare)
SHAKESPEARE. How now, fair friends? What news is't?
St. PETER. Explaining things, Jess?
JESS. Aye, sir. This is Joe.
SHAKESPEARE. How now, good Joe. What smell'st thou from? Hast eaten
JESS. Joe can't understand how the presidents and kings got up here.
SHAKESPEARE. The quality of mercy is not strained. And know this, 't has
been given them to grope for fish and play at golf, and weddings, and so
save them from what they grind their nations through, and at the odd time,
the grinders their nations put them through. Them, and their good wifeses.
JESS. Joe thinks it's great that everybody's still all split up, off in
their own bunches.
St. PETER. And still full of fight. Well, I've hatched a scheme to send
you all back down below to Your Very Own River, for one more shot at
togetherness. Everybody deserves another chance.
JOE. Oh, yeah? Who needs another chance?
St. PETER. All groups. Everybody. You all have to go back, all groups,
and fish together, seven days solid. Seven days, and seven nights.
Together. And Jess, you must take these sealed orders.
JESS. Me? Why me?
St. PETER. Because of your great weakness. You try to get along. You try
to please everybody.
JESS. That's not good?
St. PETER. That's not good. And now you must go.
JESS. How you plan to do that, make us go?
St. PETER. You just watch-----ZZZZZaaaaaaPP!
(Great flash of light.)
Back on earth, down by the bank of Your Very Own River. All
groups, all members, gather. Churchill sets up an easel and stares at a
blank canvas. Suddenly, the group sniffs the air, gasps, and scatters.
Slowly they reassemble.
JILL. Who did that? Who let that go? (Everybody gives Joe dirty looks)
JOE. Oh, yeah? I'm proud of it. Wish I could do it in church.
JESS. Mr. Prime Minister, please light up a cigar and give us a decent
aroma, would you?
CHURCHILL. Most gladly.
JERRY. (Opens the top of his waders, poofs out the air, everybody
scatters again). Me and Joe, boys, me and Joe.
WILL ROGERS. I always said I never met a man I didn't like, but any more,
I don't know. Some of the honyockers in this bunch make me wonder.
JOE. Oh, yeah?
JESS. Yeah. Will, I agree. I try to love everybody too, and this is a
pretty good group, looks to me like. Mostly. All kinds of different
clothes, different rods, different cars--
JOE. Oh, yeah? You're gonna catch it. St. Peter said so.
JESS. What'd I do wrong?
SHAKESPEARE. Groping for trouts in a peculiar river. Methinks.
JESS. No kiddin'?
JIMMIE CARTER. Anybody want some peanuts?
WILL ROGERS (To Coolidge). Say something, Calvin.
LYNDON JOHNSON. I want ever'body to love me. We're all good people.
HERBERT HOOVER. The glory and honor of a nation depends on the character
of her fishermen. And women. People. Fisherpeople. Let's go fish the
Brule. Why can't we go fish the Brule?
JIMMIE CARTER. I'd rather go fish the Umpqua. The North Umpqua.
DWIGHT EISENHOWER. Where are the golf courses? I want the golf courses.
JACK KENNEDY. Have you quit fishing, General? And Winston, won't you go
CHURCHILL. No, no. No. I'm painting. I shall stay and paint. Nothing
like painting to calm the soul.
HUBERT HUMPHREY. Let's all be happy. I want everybody to feel happy.
LYNDON JOHNSON. I want to find some people and give 'em some fishpoles.
RICHARD NIXON. I say we're here. We're here, and here we stay. The
only way we can fish with honor is to stay right here. Right here.
Right here and fish it out. And don't anybody mess with my dog.
LYNDON JOHNSON. I say we're in for a collision here, a real wreck, if we
don't watch out. Makes me think of the guy I knew down in Texas--
JEANNE: What guy?
LYNDON JOHNSON. He wanted a job as a Traffic Patrolman on The River. In
the test they asked him what he'd do if he saw two big high-powered boats
racing toward each other at 60 miles an hour on a narrow stretch of water.
"I'd run quick and get my Uncle Bill," he answered.
"What's your Uncle Bill got to do with it?" they asked.
"Well, Uncle Bill, he's never seen a wreck like this'n's gonna be."
MAMA. Be nice, children. Don't fight.
LYNDON JOHNSON. I ought to go get Uncle Bill. He's never seen arguments
like this bunch gets into.
JEANNE. Jess is right. We should like everybody.
JOE. Oh, yeah?
LYNDON JOHNSON. And ever'body love us.
JOE. Oh, yeah? Why? Tell me why.
JESUS. Blessed are the peacemakers.
JOE. Oh, yeah? Who says so? Who wants to get along? You can't please
JIM. Biologically, we're all the same
WILL ROGERS. Say something, Calvin.
MAMA. Be nice!
WILL ROGERS. Calvin, say something. I told all these folks I went to
Eegyp' and never even went to see the Spink--I'd already seen you.
MARK TWAIN (Smiles in appreciation). Don't forget, Will, it's better to
keep silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all
JESS. Let's go catch some fish. (Opens sealed orders, reads.) Okay. . .
Catch-and-Eaters go upstream, Catch-and-Releasers go downstream. I'll
stand here in the middle, until I know better. Anyhow, I'm weakest, and
shouldn't oughtta have to walk so far, and got a bad leg.
MARK TWAIN. Jess, we're all ignorant, but on different subjects.
JOE. Oh, yeah? I've got the fryin' pan.
MAMA. Children! Be nice--
JILL. Quiet! Quiet! Let's go fishin'. Listen!
JESS. All right. Listen. Morons, half of you, got to go stand downwind
of that skillet with the onions frying in it, with the fried potatoes. The
other half must go stand downwind of the skillet with the bacon and the
fried trout in it.
JOE. Hah, hah! And hagghhh!
JESS. Anybody with High Class Rods got to wade across and go half upstream
and half downstream. Bait Fishermen find the deep holes. I just have an
old piece of bamboo I fixed up, so that's another reason I should get to
and oughtta stay here close. Everybody watch out for lactic acid, if you
see any. And don't anybody use WD 40, unless you want to.
JOE. Don't tell me what to do.
JESS. One more thing--when you wade, don't anybody shuffle your feet along
the bottom. Don't scuffle the bottom and kick up rocks. Don't stand in
one place and kick bait down below you.
JOE. Who says so?
JOHN. St. Peter says so.
JESS. Gee, John, I hope my guides are on right, and my leader's okay.
JOHN. They look fine.
JESS. Is my pole okay? My rod, I mean? My rod. Is my rod okay?
JOE. Who needs to be right? Nobody's correct. Don't tell me who's
correct. I'll put my guides where I want 'em. I hate correctness.
JESS. Good for you, Joe.
JIM. Well, the guides ought to go on the rod in the right place.
JESS. Good for you, Jim. What you said. Right. That's what I
JESUS. As a man thinketh in his heart...wait, no--as a man or woman
thinketh in his or her heart, so is he. She, I mean. So is him, or he.
He or she. Him or her. Or them. So are them.
JESS. Good for you, Jesus. What you said.
JOE. Don't tell me. I know better.
JESS. Good for you, Joe.
JIM. The man who's positive is just shouting his own ignorance.
JESS. Good for you, Jim.
SHAKESPEARE. Thou art most right, Jim. What thou said'st. We are most
ignorant of what we are most assured.
JESS. Good for you, Shakespeare. What you said'st't't.
JIMMIE CARTER. Come now, let us reason together, and find the middle of
JESUS. Verily, I say unto thee, don't be lukewarm--
JOE. Good for you, Jesus. You'll spew them out of your mouth, won't
you, like you said. I'll help. Hear that, Jess?
JESUS. The rain falls alike on the just and the unjust. Blessed are the
JOE. Oh, yeah? Says who?
JESUS. Says me.
ECCLESIASTES. Go fish. Go fish. There is a time to fish. So go fish.
JESS. And everybody come back in seven days. Don't forget. Show up back
here in seven days. Right here.
(Individuals, groups, move off, some upstream, some downstream, some
across, all either false casting their fly lines or thumbing their
bait-casting reels. )
All are back in heaven. Scattered, mixed individuals, at
different pleasures along The River. Mark Twain sits at center of a group
under a shade tree; kittens play around his feet.
St. PETER. What about it, Mark? Do you still say that man is the only
animal that blushes?
MARK TWAIN. Or needs to. The only animal that blushes--or needs to.
Things look better. Look at that High-Class-Only-Dry-Fly-Purist guy
down there with his buddy in overalls.
WILL ROGERS. And look at Joe, down there frying fish. But yesterday I
saw him release a couple.
MARK TWAIN. And those two by him, those two Wild-Fish-Only-Releasers,
with their mouths watering.
SHAKESPEARE. And those with them that once hated all fishermen and all
eaters of flesh. 'Tis so. 'Tis so. 'Tis even so. Their mouths water, and
their jaws gape.
MARK TWAIN. I somewhat miss the old days. This lacks flavor, somehow.
All this togetherness.
SHAKESPEARE. Too true. Too true. 'Tis flat. Flat. Like Monday's
St. PETER. Well, I've fixed that, and just passed the word. On Tuesdays
and Thursdays, they revert.
SHAKESPEARE. Revert? How would'st'tt't revert?
St. PETER. Tuesdays and Thursdays. They all revert. All go back to
their old days and old ways. Their old arguments. Purists, C & E, C &
R, Baiters, Left-Hand-Winders. All have at it, all fight, as much as they
want. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
SHAKESPEARE. Much ado about nothing.
MARK TWAIN. I'll sit up and watch. Nothing gets up a crowd like a good
St. PETER. But the rest of the time, they're all one. All one.
SHAKESPEARE. Much ado about nothing. As you like it. Measure for
measure. Is't not so? But all's well that ends well.