Navigating ‘Ladies Night’ with finesse in all-boy club

When ‘boys night out’ includes women

Last ladies’ night at the Fish or Cut Bait Society, Tyro the new guy introduced his girlfriend Phoebe — a grim-faced woman with dark darting eyes that checked out the whole place in about a second.

“What’s your last name?” somebody asked Phoebe. She mumbled something that sounded like “special agent.”

“What do you do? Some kind of federal fuzz, right?” Phoebe didn’t answer.

“What’s that unnatural bulge under your loose-flowing shirt?”

I guessed we weren’t supposed to notice it. Phoebe, startled, looked around for an open window. She clamped both hands over the bulge, which I guessed was a Glock, at the hollow of her back.

“That’s not how a colostomy bag is worn, is it?” Tiller, the chairman of the steering committee, said.

Tyro turned red as a boiled lobster. Phoebe hid her face in her hands, making muffled noises, her body wobbling like a flat tire.

“OMG!” Tiller cried. “What did I say? What have I done? I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

Phoebe the Fed dropped her hands off her face and cut loose, laughing like a donkey. Then everyone cracked up.

Ice-breakers like that don’t happen all the time. Ladies’ night usually is quiet and often kind of awkward. You know how it goes: Somebody’s wife greets you by name and you can’t remember hers. You forget whose wife she is, or you think you know and you say his name but you’re wrong.

Once in a while a longtime member whose wife comes to all our events will introduce a much younger, prettier “friend” who we’re sure is not his daughter. Trickle the rich guy did that a few years ago. Some of us made scandalous assumptions and the others scolded us until it turned out we guessed right.

After that, Trickle did it every time. He has so many sweeties on the side that even he can’t recall all their names.

When I was a little boy my parents knew someone like him, a gent named DeWeese. I hope he wasn’t your ancestor because I don’t want to embarrass you.

In those ancient times, in our culture, a man’s sweety on the side was commonly described as his tomato. Perhaps in your culture she was called his onion or asparagus.

I’m pretty sure that every time DeWeese was mentioned in our house, so was his tomato, except for one time when I was told that someone named Mister DeWeese was coming over. I suppose I wasn’t supposed to know who that was.

“Is he bringing his tomato?” I asked. My parents’ reaction was as shocked as Phoebe the Fed’s when she was asked about the colostomy bag. I forget where they hid me. They did remember to free me after DeWeese left.

If you’re thinking all this has little to do with either fishing or cutting bait, I guess it doesn’t, not directly. Most of the Fish or Cut Bait mates, or maybe all of them, don’t fish, although a lot of them did before they were married. Then they lost interest immediately.

I think they followed advice they found in some magazine, where it said a good way to attract a man is to take an interest in his hobbies. I tried it once on a girl who made her own clothes.

I almost bought a sewing machine. Then a tailor in a menswear store caught me turning things inside out, figured out why and explained how complicated it is to make men’s suits. I lost interest. I can sew on a button, but that isn’t much of a courting skill, is it?

On a fishing date long ago, the young lady showed up wearing a brass-buttoned navy blue blazer, sharply creased white bell bottoms and a jaunty cap with gold braid on the bill. She seemed startled by the sight of my 15-foot yacht.

I almost forgot to mention the one who went totally to pieces after accidentally dropping a garment — no, not that one — overboard at a launch ramp’s dock on a Sunday. With a bunch of boats on trailers waiting in line behind us, I suggested casting off without the jetsam.

“No, no! It’s my favorite!” she wailed, so I grappled it off the bottom with a heavy jig. The lady was excessively grateful, but fury took over when she saw how my hook had snagged the fabric.

Maybe half or fewer of the ladies who come to Fish or Cut Bait Society ladies’ night can tell one fish from another. Enormé Barrigón, the beer drinking champion, has fun with the ones who can’t.

“What fish is that?” one of them might ask, pointing to a mounted tuna, and Enormé will say that’s a Ballantine. He can give every fish on the wall the name of an extinct beer brand.

I wonder if there’s a fishing poll that asks fishing-doers if they fish with their females. Once I asked a team of sailfish tournament guys who said, “What? You outta your mind or something? Why would anyone want to do that?”

It’s common knowledge that many women excel in sports like golf, tennis and even rough contact games such as soccer. It may not be so well known that fishing has terrific females like fly casting guru Joan Salvato Wulff and world record-setters like Roberta Arostegui.

It’s too bad people like that haven’t tried to integrate the Fish or Cut Bait Society. They might instigate demonstrations or even a minor riot, but the commotion would abate pretty quickly and we would all be better for it.

Until then, our more progressive men are proud to point out that all our FCBS wives and girlfriends are slick enough to fake incompetence at cleaning and filleting fish, which all their men do pretty well, if not willingly.

At the same time, some of us guys are expert fish cookers but we hide that from the women.

What, you thought the Battle of the Sexes was something else?