The monkeys were on the roof! I could hear them running on the corrugated steel overhead. I left my vise mid-Chubby and dashed outside, hoping to get my first look. The ladies all murmured in quiet tones, pointing and giggling. They seemed to get more entertainment from watching me than I did from chasing the monkeys around. Outside, a procession of eight or ten gray macaques scampered to the peak of the building. I tried for a picture, and they moved away. The manager scolded me as nicely as he could. “Ah, you see? You scared them! They think you are aiming a gun or something.” He laughed, and they were gone, over the crest and into the dense jungle.
It was one of those lessons in life that bears repeating: Relax and dwell in the moment. My urge to record and show off the experience on my facebook page nearly stole the moment from me. “Sometimes,” I thought, “it pays to leave the camera on the bedstand.”
The night before, Zach and I checked into a new hotel in the heart of our small mountain village. The hotel was so brand-spanking new, there hadn’t been time to make the beds or wash the towels. Strong smells of fresh paint, grout and cleaning products combined with a residual layer of dry-wall dust to assault my sinuses. I opened the balcony doors at the back of my room, and the moist equatorial air brought relief, along with tantalizing smells. Somewhere nearby papadums and onions were frying, and fish sizzled on a grill. I looked at my watch–it was beer-thirty…
As we were the only guests in this hollow five-story palace, the entire staff hung on us like sorority girls on Hickmanimal. They took turns asking us if we were okay, if we needed anything, if we liked Sri Lanka. “We love Sri Lanka just fine. Where’s the beer?” Our tone, with a dash of nervous laughter, made the point. The entire posse ran off in search of cold Lions. These guys were hilarious.
After some wrestling of bottles between the staff, we raised cold mugs and gulped the golden goodness. Cheer followed. Then came the dinner menus. As much as I had reveled in a week and a half of hot curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we both needed some simple grilled fish. The chef explained that he had a very fresh “seer fish,” just in from Colombo. “Sounds great. We’ll take that, and a pile of fresh veggies!” There had been a lot of talk about seer fish since we had arrived, and we’d had it deviled and curried plenty. But it wasn’t until the freshly grilled fillets arrived (skin-on, thank you!), that I realized seer fish tasted exactly like Hamachi, or yellowtail—the finest fish in the sea. Thank the fish gods, we were saved! Wolves would have been proud. We devoured every peppered slab, dividing the last with dueling forks and a tinge of boozy jealousy. The effect of that fresh fish on our bodies and minds was immediate and euphoric.
It was during this pleasant state of mind that Zach started preparing me for the big day to follow. I would be training a set of new tyers on Idylwilde’s iconic Chubby Chernobyl. Or as the locals called it, “Chubby Chernoblee” (apply a light Indian lilt when saying it, and it will bring an instant smile to your face).
Zach warned me of the pitfalls. He explained that I must be strong and steadfast to our required techniques, no matter how slow and painful the work might get. “They will resist change, but you have to hold them to it. It may take a couple of days to break through, but you’ve gotta trudge through the mud, and stick to your guns.”
A couple of hours into the next day’s training, Zach’s words proved to be prophetic. After a short introductory speech, we prepared materials and started lashing dubbing, foam, legs and polypro. Immediately there was pressure to bend, from the manager, and from the tyers. Their experience as tyers made them fight new techniques, and my innate desire to make them happy compromised the need to be firm. In spite of resulting inefficiencies, Chubbies started to flow. Little tweaks here and there, and the specimens neared perfection. Then Zach came out to check on our progress. Where I had bent, he reset the bar. He went from desk to desk, speaking kindly and demonstrating his required methods. In a few short minutes, the manager was nodding, the crew was moving faster, and the flies were improving. I had to hand it to him—the guy knew what he was doing.
After that, I joined the tyers and started cranking out #10s in gold. It took me back to my first commercial tying job when I was 9 years old. The entire path of my life clicked into place. I never felt so at home with a vise and bobbin. We were all smiling and pointing out fine points to each other as we tied. The time flew by and the Chubbies multiplied. Somewhere in the middle of that memorable day I came up for air and realized that Idylwilde’s Chubby production was officially underway! The whole experience was incredibly gratifying, and a hell of a lot of fun.
As we wound down to another beer-thirty that evening, a long awaited toast hung in the air around us. We poured out our lagers, clinked our glasses and cheered the new Chubby Chernobyl, made in Sri Lanka! There was still a mountain of work ahead. A catalog full of Idylwilde patterns still to be transferred. But we had come to a momentous vista on our climb. And the view was fine, indeed.