The Amateur Actors of Orange County

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The first rehearsal of Little Women.

Chapter 4 (v.1) - The Smartest Fish

Submitted: August 09, 2016

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Submitted: August 09, 2016



The first rehearsal of Little Women:

It was now Monday night next and Darla Lankershim could not believe her luck.  She had in Abby Shields a major television star, working for free mind you, fully on board and ready and willing to take the Drama Time Playhouse’s revival of “Little Women, the Musical”, inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s novel, onto the heights of brilliance; a potential tour de force in the making.  And on top of that, George “Off Book” Rook had not said a single weird, out from left field, remark during the entire first read through from the libretto, i.e. the subject of Halibut fishing had never once surfaced during the entire rehearsal.  Making it completely unnecessary for her to explain George to any of the other/newer members in the cast, especially to Abby. 

In fact, if you didn’t know any better, seeing George for the first time that night, he might even pass for being “normal”, well almost.  Abby thought he seemed to be a nice enough elderly gentleman in his early 60s.  She also noticed that he seemed to be perfectly cast as the crusty old curmudgeon, Mr. Laurence.  Before the read through commenced, she couldn’t help but notice that he seemed quite indifferent towards her celebrity, unlike the rest of the cast and crew; many stating that they were thrilled to be working with her, and some of those to the point of fawning over her.  George, on the other hand, just stared at her with a look of indifference that one might mistake for suspicion, were it not for the fact that he gave everyone else in the cast that same look of indifference when it was their turn to be looked at. This made her glad she was not being singled out. Evidently George Rook was an equal opportunity proponent when it came to staring at people with indifference. 

Later, as the reading progressed, well into first act of the libretto, she did think it rather odd that he already knew both his dialogue and the lyrics from the song he was to sing with her in the first act, i.e. being completely “off book” already and this only being the first rehearsal. 

“You must have been in this show before George, correct?” she asked him during a break.

“No”, was his single one word response, with no further explanation offered.

“How is it that you already know your part?”

“I memorized it”.

Abby then waited for several moments for some elaborate explanation as to why, but that explanation never came from out of this strange little man’s mouth.  Now, if she were to ask him something about fishing, specifically Halibut fishing, but then again why would she?  Never mind.  

“Time to get back to the rest of the read through!” declared Darla, sensing potential trouble and thus distracting Abby’s sudden awareness of George Rook’s uncanny and unexplained book preparedness.

And so, as with the first act, the cast read and sang through the rest of the libretto and George Rook was just as letter perfect and off book on the second act, as he had been on the first.  And still no mention of fishing, Halibut or otherwise.  Darla Lankershim was so relieved and grateful that she invited the entire cast and crew assembled to celebrate this momentous occasion, by accompanying her across the way to the very eclectic coffee house, “Mc Lanes”, which was located, just one hundred yards away, on the other side of Harbor Boulevard, near the center of Fullerton.  And it would all be her treat too; at least for the first round of coffees anyway.  This was after all only community theatre.

When they all settled in around the metal tables and sitting in the plastic chairs, on the very wide sidewalk in front of Mc Lane’s; electing to stay outside, since the night was so balmy and pleasant; Abby couldn’t help but notice George’s continued indifference towards her and everyone else around him.  And although a celebrity, who was used to being fawned over, she was not in any way offended by such indifference.  No, she was actually intrigued by it.  She kept trying to draw him out in conversation by asking him questions about himself.  But again, instead of giving her any kind of elaboration, all she got from him were mostly single word responses to her questions,  i.e. “Yes”, “No”, “Maybe”, “Perhaps”.  Actually, they weren’t all just single word replies.  There was the occasional, “I don’t know”.

“You’re not a big talker are you George?” she eventually asked him.

“Not usually”, he quietly answered.

“Do my eyes deceive me, or is that the lovely and talented Abby Shields”, asked a very deep, male voice in a West Texas accent.

Abby looked up from her latte and immediately recognized one of her favorite actors on the entire planet, as well as one of her best friends, Sam Witherspoon.

“SAM!!” she shouted, as she jumped up from her chair, then running over to give him a big hug.

“Look Arthur”, said a woman to her husband a few tables over, “Its Sam Witherspoon, and that actress from ‘Fortress’, what’s her name?

“The man, she is hugging, said her name is Abby Shields”, now answered her husband. 

“That’s right”, agreed the woman.

Darla Lankershim was now even more excited to see how this wonderful evening was progressing, now that they were all in the presence of not just one, but two famous luminaries.  The evening couldn’t be more perfect.

“Why do my eyes deceive me again?” asked Sam Witherspoon once more, “but is that old son Georgie Rook sitting down there with you folks?  Can’t be!!”

“Do you know George?” asked Abby, now holding onto Sam at arms length.

“With a very certain certainty I do, this old son taught me how to surf fish back in the day”. 

Oh God please no, pleaded Darla Lankershim, silently within her the depths of her soul; as her worst fears were suddenly about to be realized.

“HOW’S THE HALIBUT FISHING OLD SON!!!” shouted Sam Witherspoon, before laughing in that quintessential West Texan way that he has of,…. well you just had to be there to appreciate it. 

Ten very long minutes later, at least for Darla Lankershim they were very long; seemingly an eternity.

“I’ve caught lots of Halibut this summer Sam.  It’s the truth!  I’m not making it up” volunteered George, as if he feared that he wasn’t going to be believed. “Darla saw me on the Balboa Pier.  She saw me catch some of them.  At least, one night she did.  The Halibut weren’t running the other two nights she took me to the pier.  She didn’t see me catch the other Halibuts this summer.  Nobody did.  I was at the pier by myself then.  But it’s the truth.  I caught them, I’ve caught more Halibut with artificial lures off the Balboa Pier than probably any other human being in Balboa Peninsula history”. 

“Of course you did old son, remember, you taught me how to catch Halibut in the surf.  You don’t have to convince me of your fishing prowess.  I know better”.

“I told a man on the 37 bus today about them, but he didn’t believe me.  He said I was lying.  He said all fisherman are big liars. But I wasn’t lying.  I was telling the truth!!”

“I wouldn’t listen to any of those clowns on the 37.  Does the 37 bus even go to the Balboa Pier?” Sam patiently asked his old friend and fellow fishing colleague.


“There ya go, old son.  Which bus does go to the pier?”

“The 71”.

“Well old son, I’m sure everyone on the 71 bus knows better than to say a stupid, rude thing like that to you.  Forget that dumb ass on the 37!!”

And then an unending fountain of even more verbosity gushed forth from out of the mouth of this strange and otherwise quiet old man of very few words; turning him suddenly into a human torrent of a thousand, or more, rapidly firing words pertaining only to Halibut.  The pent up flood gates were now open and the fishing tips and information they contained within, wanted out and came tumbling forth. For nearly ten solid minutes more they flowed. This was George Rook’s big chance to impart years of surf fishing technique to a small captive audience of otherwise disinterested actors, and he was not about to waste this opportunity, for who knew when there would be another.  For lonely old fisherman are very much like lonely old actors.  They all want an audience, even if that audience does not want them back. 

This un-asked for flood of unwanted fishing tips and advice would have continued unabated, had not Sam Witherspoon wisely chosen to distract the old fisherman with a fishing story of his own; one that even included a much younger George Rook in its telling.

“Not only did George teach me about the Halibut”, Sam now injected, “but he taught me how to catch another fish, a far more wily and clever fish than any mere Halibut could ever hope to be.  He taught me how to catch the illusive and mysterious California Corbina.  Shall I tell them the story George?”

“Oh please let him George”, now pleaded Abby with a conspiratorial smile casted in Sam’s direction. “Let him tell it”.

“Alright”, answered George, now reverting back to single word utterances.

“Years ago, a good twenty maybe”, continued Sam with a sly smile curling up under the edge of his big bushy mustache, “I got bored with living in Hollyweird and decided to buy a beach front house on the Balboa Peninsula; somewhere about halfway between the pier and the infamous Wedge.  You all must have heard of the Wedge, the place where a very young John Wayne broke his collar bone, while body surfing.  Of course, back then he went under the moniker of Marion Morrison, but I digress. 

“Any who, in the early mornings and/or in the late afternoons, when the sun would be going down on the West Horizon, I would often spy these fishermen, with their very long poles, sticking from out of the sand.  Me being from West Texas, I was none too familiar with this form of fishing.  I wondered what type of fish they might be trying to hook into with them 14 foot long poles.  I later found out that most were trying to catch certain types of sharks and rays.  I have never been interested much in sharks, or rays, so that type of fishing didn’t appeal to me much.  Besides, it looked kinda boring, them just sitting there on the sand, smoking their cigarettes, waiting for a shark, or a ray, to take a tug on their lines. 

But then I noticed this one old son, who didn’t seem interested in the sharks either.  He seemed to be after something else as he waded, knee deep, into the pounding surf, casting his lure with much smaller and lighter tackle than what those shark boys were using.  I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt him to find out what he was trying to catch, so I just watched him from afar.  And then, unlike all those long poled shark fisherman sitting on their buts on the dry beach, this old boy hooked into something right off.  And it wasn’t a puny fish either.  When he brought it back to dry ground to remove the hook, it looked to be a good five pounds; a full meal for two people if you baked it.  So I then thought to myself that looks like it might make for a good supper, so I went up to the old son and asked if I could buy from him?

“’No’, says he, for it was against the law for sport fishermen to sell their catch to the general public, but he was willing to give it to me for free and then graciously handed it to me.  So in payment for his kindness, I offered to bake it and share it with him, along with some steamed vegetables and a cold beer, or two, to help wash it all down.

“’By the way’, I now asked him, ‘what kind of fish is this?’  He then told me that it was called a California Corbina and it was one of the smartest fishes in the ocean.  Very difficult to catch, unless you studied them and discovered their weaknesses.

“’Well, you didn’t seem to have much difficulty catching this one’, I then told him”.

“’That’s because I know their weaknesses’, he then told me right back.

“That was our first conversation regarding the wily Corbina and for some reason I neglected to ask him what those weaknesses were.  And also, for some reason, when we ate our dinner, he never volunteered what they were neither.  Later on, I could have kicked myself for not asking, but I hadn’t been bitten by the surf fishing bug yet, so why would I?

“I tell you what folks, its getting kinda of late and this story is long from being finished, so why don’t we all adjourn for the evening and meet up again, tomorrow night at my beach house in Balboa and we’ll all have a fish fry right there on the beach and I’ll finish this long tale.  My treat, I’ll even supply the beer and the steamed vegetables”.

“Unfortunately, we have a rehearsal tomorrow night, we’ll need to be at the theatre then”, said a disappointed Abby Shields.

“Nonsense”, countered Darla Lankershim, “we can have our second rehearsal, right there on the beach, if that is all right with you Mr. Witherspoon”.

“Call me Sam, darlin'”, answered Sam Witherspoon, with that West Texas smile hiding behind his big, white, bushy mustache.

“California Corbina, it’s what’s for dinner”. 


© Copyright 2018 Jim Pack. All rights reserved.


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