Blackmailing Jim Bias

The other day my daughter asked me what it meant to blackmail somebody. I was surprised. I hadn’t expected to her to bring up blackmailing with me until her teenage years. I lead a pretty boring life so she’s not going to get any real good stuff on me. I was happy that she got the word right. This is the same little girl who just last week was overheard telling her friend that one of her other friends goes to a Chinese Emergency school.

So I explained the concept of blackmailing to her. She got it. Good. Wait. Wait for the follow-up questions. No follow-up questions. Well, ok then. Some days this parenting thing is just way too easy. Oh, oh. she’s coming back. “Can we get a dog?” I think for a moment and tell her to go feed her fish (The fish that hasn’t eaten in three days). As she walks away I try to think about who I could blackmail. Not only do I lead a boring life, I mostly surround myself with people who do not lead blackmailable lives. Actually, that may not be true. It’s probably just that I don’t have any dirt on anyone. Wait. That’s not true. Wait. Isn’t it annoying when someone thinks the word wait and actually writes it too.

Many of us United Staters have at least one friend or acquaintance named Jim. One of the Jims I know is a fellow named Jim Bias and I think I can blackmail him. Jim has been a friend for over 25 years. We met in college as bank janitors. I cleaned the top floor and he cleaned the basement. It was a friendship with the odds stacked against it. He was a basement janitor and I was cleaning the executive floor. But, we made it work. He’s always listened to my stories and challenged me to try to be funnier. He’s one of the funniest people I know and I think I could blackmail him.

Jim is an art teacher and a very good painter. He’s also an avid fly fisherman and duck hunter. I’ve tried to fly fish – probably not long after “A River Runs Through It” came out. I wanted to be a fly fisherman. I wanted to connect with the nature in the way it appeared Brad Pitt did on the big screen. I wanted to get all the gear that I Jim wears. I wanted the Polaroid sunglasses that help you see into the water but make you look like you should be in a shuffle board game in Miami. I tried to learn to cast. This is all to Jim’s advantage. Then he has someone to go on trips with and share the fun of the fishing. His wife Jodie did go fishing with him for a little while when they were first married, but those things don’t last. I think statistics are that most wives that begin fishing upon meeting their husbands do not fishing after marrying their husband. But, alas, I was not planning on marrying Jim, so I didn’t even last one trip. I tried to be a part of the experience in the only way I knew how. I brought a video camera along and made a short video of the trip. I didn’t dislike the fishing, but it made me sleepy. And once a fish got on the line and I had a little fight – did I enjoy that you ask? Yeah, it was ok. But once the fish was off the hook the sleepy feeling came back. I know he tried to teach me to fish but I think he’s the only person I could blackmail.

He also got me to go duck hunting with him. I’ve done this twice. The second time was a couple of years after the first time and I had forgotten how much I disliked it. My friend Jim doesn’t follow sports at all and I don’t follow baseball at all. I’m really not even sure why that sport is still being played. It’s always hard for me to fake it around other guys when they start talking about baseball. Now, duck hunting is in that same spot for me. It may sadden Jim to know this (he would not be able to understand someone putting duck hunting at the same disinterest level as baseball). I originally went duck hunting because I’d gone a couple of times as a kid and didn’t think that horribly of it. But I know now why it wasn’t horrible – probably the same reason I never saw any ducks when I went duck hunting. In the past, I only went duck hunting on sunny, pleasant afternoons. Ducks don’t so readily come out under those circumstances. Apparently, the ideal time to see ducks is the exact opposite time that I like to be seen. When I agreed to go hunting I thought it would be a lot of fun and jokes while hanging out with one of my best friends – the kind of person I’d never want to blackmail. Here’s what I forgot or blocked or…I don’t really have any explanation – Getting up at 4:30-5 am and going to a cold swampy area. The bonus for the hunter is if there’s cloud coverage and miserable misting rain. Once we have our pretend ducks set out randomly – but not too random – we sit in a boat or on land without moving. The last couple times I’ve gone have been on land. Of course, the land can’t be reached by walking from a house or cabin. The land must be conquered by water via the duck boat. Since it’s dark (and cold) we need to sit patiently until the sun comes up – without moving. When I say “sit” patiently I’m exaggerating a little since that seems to infer that we have chairs or a place to sit. Jim likes to be old school. Actually, I’m surprised that we’re using guns and not just throwing rocks at the ducks as they pass overhead.

We kneel or crouch quietly. Jim turns into another person. A person that is very much less fun. A hunter that doesn’t like jokes. A very serious little red-faced man with a gun. I whisper questions and jokes to Jim as the cold mist starts to make my fingers numb and silently go away. Is it worth shooting myself in the foot to get out of here? That seems extreme. Nonetheless, is it worth shooting myself in the foot to get out of here? I looked over at Jim as the daylight hesitantly came into this misty day. He sat still like a machine looking for ducks, occasionally telling his dog to sit. I thought about “Blade Runner” and started to wonder if it’s possible that Jim’s not a human. I tried to trick him into exposing himself as a cyborg or clone or robot or hunterbot. I mentioned that my hands were freezing. I noticed he never took his hands off the steel of his gun. Steel is known to be cold. That’s probably why heavy metal bands like “Cold Steel” used that name. I asked if his hands were cold. He said, “Oh, cold. Ah, yeah sure I guess they’re a little bit coldish. I mean sure, it’s cold out here – right.” I was shocked. He was a robot. He answered that question like a robot who didn’t even understand what cold was. He was just agreeing that he was cold so I wouldn’t ask him any more questions that could be more revealing of his robotism. I waited a little longer and asked if he was hungry. He said, “No,” then quickly calculated a better answer. “Actually, I would like to put a little of a food substance into my mouth to give my stomach parts a good sensation – and I could use the energy fuel to…ah…stay warm.” Just then a duck flew over and he quickly raised his gun and shot twice, scaring the duck in another direction. Hmmm. Maybe he wasn’t a robot. Unless that was a ruse to get me off the scent.

As the duck flew back across the lake to tell his friends that it’s a bit noisy over on the other side, but very safe, I started to calculate my costs. Is this duck hunting worth it? Let me see, I’ve purchased a hunting license and I bought some new long underwear for the trip. I think my total cost was about $45.00. I wondered how many chicken breasts I could buy at the store for $45.00. It didn’t look like I was going to have any ducks, unless the robot got one when I went in to get warm.

So, I decided to blackmail Jim Bias. After all, I suspect him to be a robot. Although he’s a robot he’s been a good friend for over twenty-five years. I decide to call him and run it by him. He never answers his phone. I leave the message, “Hey, Jim. I’m thinkin’ about maybe blackmailing you and I’d like to, you know, run it by you first.” I’m not sure if that’s how blackmailing starts but I guess it’ll have to work. Now for the dirt. Ten years ago when I was starting a company and had little work, Jim and I used to talk on the phone a lot. Jim would always call and be a different character. Sometimes I would be a character. Totally productive activity for fellows who were in their late 30’s. I decided to get microphones and record all the conversations and not tell Jim. I currently have 4 or 5 two-hour analog tapes of these conversations. Potentially embarrassing stuff that he would pay dearly to keep out of the public eye.

After a few days he called me back. I explained my blackmail material and he said he didn’t care who I had listen to it. He was actually happy and would like to listen to them himself and see if there’s anything funny on them. This didn’t work out the way I’d expected. But I had an idea. I said that I would let him listen if he promises to never ask me if I’d like to go duck hunting again. He said too quickly, almost like a robot, “Done.”

The only comfort from the whole ordeal is that even though my daughter said she understood the concept of the blackmail, I think she’s genetically predisposed to not really being capable of understanding how to make a proper blackmail. This bodes well for me when she’s a teenager.

Sadly Yours,

Jason Spafford

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