Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Cure for Cynical Asshole Syndrome

I finally found out what is wrong with me. Last Wednesday night while watching South Park (yes… I watch South Park), the cartoon doctor on my TV diagnosed Stan with Cynical Asshole Syndrome (CAS). I laughed so hard I woke up the dog! I thought Hey… I’ve got that! And all this time I thought I was just a realist. Apparently, CAS gets worse with age and there is no known cure… until today.

I left the house a little before 6AM with a cup of coffee and navigated the short 15 minute drive through the early morning fog. The turnout by the stream was deserted, as it usually is this time of year and I sat on the back bumper of the truck to slip on my waders. The air was cool and damp and the mosquitoes began their attack immediately. A quick shot of bug spray would keep them from biting for a while. The black flies would be out later in the day, and while the spray keeps them from feeding on my flesh, it does nothing to prevent them from crawling under my glasses and leaping into my eyes. It’s just one of the hazards of a summer day afield.

I walked alone (as sufferers of CAS often do) along the footpath toward the sound of rushing water. At the stream's edge, I stopped by a large pool to string up my fly rod. The sun was up enough for me to see a few trout feeding lazily in the current, but the fog kept any more light than that from filtering through the tall pines. Most of the pool was guarded by the hulk of a fallen tree, in the water for so long only the largest branches were still attached. It was all but unfishable as I’d so clumsily learned the week before. A trout slashed at a tiny mayfly along the far bank, taunting me from the absolute safety of its woody cover. Still, I waded slowly into the pool within a rod length of several fish. Rather than cast, I dipped a tiny nymph as far upstream as I could reach and let it drift back into the tangle of limbs. I small split-shot dragged the fly to the bottom and I watched a trout confidently swim over and eat it. I set the hook and tried to horse the fish (as much as possible with a 3-pound test leader tippet) away from the sunken tree limbs. The fish would have none of it and the hook pulled loose almost as quickly as the fight began. Not a big deal. I was happy to have actually hooked a fish in that spot and knew from the beginning the chances of landing one here were slim at best. I waded out of the pool with a smile and moved on.

The fishing wasn’t exactly easy, but it wasn’t tough either. Most of the morning was spent casting nymphs to visible fish in the deeper shaded pockets of the creek. An 18” rainbow took honors as “big fish” for the day and an even bigger fish shook off shortly after being hooked, but the smallest trout was the one that made me smile the most.

Western Pennsylvania isn’t exactly known for water quality and habitat management. Let’s face it… mining, logging, industry, and urbanization have all taken their toll on a landscape that 150 years ago would’ve made Aldo Leopold gasp with admiration. When I was a boy, many of these local streams still had a fair population wild brook trout and an occasional wild brown too. We’d crawl on our hands and knees through the underbrush and plop a minnow into the water anyplace we could find room. The fish were tiny, but made up for the lack of size with their shear colorful brilliance. The wild innocence with which these fish would fight over our offerings did not go unnoticed, so even in my bloodthirsty youth, I let all but a few of the fish go.

More than a quarter century has past since my days of minnow-plunking exuberance. Surely these tiny aquatic jewels have passed by the wayside. Ah, but not so fast my friend. This day, as I gently unhooked a perfect 5” wild brook trout, the world around me looked its absolute brightest… and so was the grin on my face.

The outing was full of similar personal highlights. A great-horned owl watched me intently from a streamside pine before silently winging off down the creek. A young whitetail buck sporting small velvet-covered antlers stepped into the shallows 30 yards below me and drank from the stream. Once he noticed me standing there, he cautiously made his way around the bend and out of sight. As I was unhooking a nice trout and slipping it back into the water, I was overcome with the sweet smell of Mojitos. Mojitos?! It must’ve been a sensory blast from my bartending past and I soon realized I was standing in a small patch of wild mint. A glorious day, indeed!

It dawned on my as I picked my way through the briars walking back to the truck… my CAS is triggered by American popular culture and those loud, outrageous, idiotic things most others (so I'm told) seem to find entertaining (excluding of course, South Park). The further removed I am from all that mind-numbing noise, the better I feel.

Now, take two Mojitos and call me in the morning J


Peter Brown said...

Greetings from a fellow sufferer. My fly rods are gathering dust which could explain why my CAS seems particularly bad at present!

Jim Bortz said...

Get out there and fish, Peter! Some days it's the only thing between me and the loonie bin :)

Anonymous said...

...Well,I need to go on a fishing trip soon!I might have CAS,but think I'm alright,everyone else is just ignorant,and can't see the truth.(obvious CAS comment)

Anonymous said...

I thought I was just a cynical asshole then I found out my engaged-to-be-engaged girlfriend was trying to set up a little sex weekend with a professional acquaintance. I guess I wasn't just cynical after all.

Anonymous said...

Typed "is there a cure for being a cynical asshole?" into google after watching that episode of Southpark, this is where I ended up. Nice to hear that you've found something to help you cope. Still in search of something myself. Thanks for the insight. Nice to know I'm not the only one other than Stan suffering from this terrible affliction.

Anonymous said...

Fishing probably isn't my thing (only been once as a kid) but you have a good point to make. I think the more broad solution for people is to find a hobby.
Find something that puts you at peace, takes your mind off things, and go enjoy it.

I don't know what that is for me now, but you've got me thinking. Thanks for this blog post. I recently came to the realization that I am a cynical asshole and don't have faith in anyone anymore.

I don't think I'll be able to change that feeling, but taking it away by escaping to a hobby isn't such a bad idea.


Renfreaux said...

Amazing...I too googled Cynical Asshole and was directed here. I am a musician and avid fly fisherman, and I picked up a guitar because of SRV and laughed myself purple at the Southpark episode. I have been diagnosed repeatedly with CAS, and I now feel there may be something to the idea of creating a haven for us, a CAS leper colony if you will, that has a perfect trout/Salmon/Steelhead watershed running through it.I am trying to attach a pic of my very first Bull Trout caught in Eastern Oregon last week, that sent my CAS into full remission. But alas, a visit to Foxwoods Casino to see a a musical colleague who has been exiled as a house musician there bout it all roaring back...Thanks for a brilliant reminder of the rare and beautiful things still out there!...

Cynically sane said...

Wow.. I didn't know until today that I was cynical. I am a single mother of three and I find the world completely different from anyone until now.. :) thanks for the great insight. At least I know what I have and can face the fact that I will never get my deserted island. Lol

Anonymous said...

My CAS is so severe I can't even tolerate the comment I was going to write.