Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash Vol XXIII: Khaki-suited bum fighting, limp-wristed fly casting, and how to make a sandwich

Matt Labash Columnist

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Do you ever fight bums in downtown DC? If so, what technique do you use?  – Clay Fruit

Summer in Washington DC usually means two things: wearing light khaki suits, and bum fighting. Of course, if you bum fight in your light khaki suit, you’re going to rack up one whale of a dry cleaning bill. A crisp two-button poplin, say, shows up every smudge, and if you get blood stains on your jacket, unless you’re bum fighting in a public park with a fountain, chances are good that your bum opponent is not going to have cold running water near his cardboard lean-to that can help you dissolve the stain before it sets permanently. So the cardinal rule of bum fight club: always bum fight before work, then change into your khaki suit before heading to the office.

I have to confess, however, that I’ve gotten lazy and don’t bum fight nearly as much as I used to. It’s a shame, because bum fighting reaps sustained cardiovascular benefits, and can also provide excellent resistance training, depending on how big the bum is that you’re fighting. (For me, the latter’s not much of a factor, since I prefer fighting child bums or midget bums, as it’s much easier to land roundhouse kicks to the head due to their stature.)

Mind you, I don’t videotape bum fights like those Internet exploitainment parasites who’ve given the sport a bad name. No, in my bum fights, it’s an athletic contest of wills and skills, with mutually remunerative stakes. If I win, I walk away with their shopping cart, back issues of the City Paper, or whatever other of their valuables I can make off with before they regain consciousness. If they win, I buy them drugs, as I don’t just want to carelessly hand money over to some bum. What if he uses it to buy trans-fats larded fast food? Over the long haul, such unhealthy choices could cut short his bum-fighting career. Not to be a fuddy-duddy moralist. We can all have a good time, but it is important to bum fight responsibly.
I’m throwing a loose loop. I’ve tried everything. I even put a pillow under my casting arm. I asked Lefty, and he told me that I’m breaking my wrist. But even when I wear my rollerblading wrist guard, it’s still loose like a Manhattan debutante. Do you have any tips for me? Peter Burns

I should point out, for non-fly fisherpersons, that you’re speaking of fly casting. And that this Lefty you refer to is fly fishing legend Lefty Kreh (unless you’re getting fishing advice from country music great Lefty Frizzell, in which case, you are a very disturbed young man, since he’s been dead since 1975).

It also seems to me that if you’ve talked to Lefty, then you already know what you’re doing wrong, because Lefty is a deity, and like most deities worth their salt, he is omniscient. The only way I can put his accomplishments into perspective for those in the non-Lefty know is that Lefty Kreh is to fly fishing what Matt Labash is to fake advice columnists. He’s been fly fishing since 1947, and has fished with everyone from Hemingway to Castro (Fidel, not Bernadette). He used to knock cigarettes out of women’s mouths with a fly line from 50 feet away, not just because smoking kills, but because he could.

If you’ll permit a brief sidebar indulgence, and even if you won’t, the two of us legends had occasion to meet earlier this year at a fly tying show on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I was star struck enough to bring along a copy of his autobiography, My Life Was This Big, and Other True Fishing Tales, which Lefty actually signed, “To Matt, keep showing me the way.” Of course, I asked him to sign it that way. But I would’ve generously inscribed my book, Fly Fishing With Darth Vader, the same way to him, if only he’d brought a copy of my book. Or if he’d had any idea who I am.

But back to your limp-wristed problem: it’s important to remember that in fly casting, unlike in love making, it is not all in the wrist. Instead, think of your wrist as an extension of your rod: ramrod stiff, with the rod tip pointing up, to frame it in the suggestive PG-13 language that my female readers so enjoy. (You know who you are. Now tweet me until my eyes cross, you saucy minxes.) When you cast, as Lefty will tell you, the angle of your rod doesn’t matter so much as long as your elbow slides on a straight imaginary rail — Lefty often casts nearly side-armed. Nor does your arm need to stop and start at the fabled “10 and 2” clock-face positions, as you’ve probably been instructed innumerable times (wrongly). Fly casting is art as much as science. And every artist puts his own variations on the theme.

What is non-negotiable is that you stop the motion of your cast fast and hard, as though your arm is a hammer driving a nail into a board, and that you don’t break your wrist, which will cause your rod tip to travel in a parabolic motion rather than in a straight plane, thus losing all the velocity of your cast, which causes you to throw a wide loop.

But as you indicated, you already know this. You know you’re wrong. But you’re too undisciplined to make it right. So maybe you should start thinking of fly casting as love making, to shame yourself into throwing a tight loop. If a man can’t handle his rod, his rod will handle him, if you catch my meaning. (If you do catch my meaning, incidentally, please explain it to me. Because that’s one sloppy double entendre with no clear applicability. But my editors told me sex sells, so to use it whenever possible.)
Would you rather make love to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley or Solicitor General Elena Kagan? – Forbes Buckingham

Why choose? My favorite sandwich: the Dagwood.

Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” was published this spring by Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.