I caught something big.
The tug on my line pulls me out of my chair. I hunch forward and attempt to reel in whatever beast had lassoed its tongue on my hook. I watch the rod bend into a semicircle, about to snap. The handle slides from my palm to my fingertips. A day of fishing had momentarily turned into war.
Just as I’m about to surrender, the fish speaks to me.
I look around, trying to see if anyone else heard what I heard. There’s a paddle boat nearby. A girl lies out, teal bikini top and jean shorts – the jean shorts with the butt showing in the back that have become acceptable to wear in Whole Foods. Her relaxed demeanor suggests she didn’t hear the talking fish.
“Buddy! Over here! Our lines are crossed!”
I look down the pier. There’s a guy in a blue bathing suit, white polo, army green bucket hat. He holds a fishing rod in one hand and waves to me with the other.
“Sorry!” I yell back.
“No, no. It’s my fault! Hold on!” He drops the rod, takes off his hat and polo. He’s got a thick mane of chest hair, the kind they stopped making after 1980. He stands on the edge of the pier, puts the hat back on, and dives into the water. Well, it’s not so much a dive as it is a freeform jump – his arms and legs flail in every direction. Imagine a kid jumping into a pool for the first time.
His body smacks the water, then he starts backstroking – an interesting choice given the tactical mission. He reaches our lines and starts unraveling. The breeze blows his hat off and the ripples carry it away.
I get a clear look at his face – 50s, mustache, slight curls. Wait a second. Is that–
“Unwind!” he calls out. I unwind my line.
The lofty voice, the charitable personality, the Boy Scout skill set. It’s definitely, without a doubt, Tom Hanks.
I watch Tom’s head drop underwater. He pops up a moment later, face red and gasping. The lines had wrapped around his neck. He’s choking.
I look towards the girl in jean shorts, hoping she’s filming this viral moment on her iPhone, then jump into the water with slightly more dexterity than Tom. I hit the water and swim. I peek my head up to make sure I’m moving in the right direction, and there he is — laughing uncontrollably, an untangled line in each hand.
“Sorry, couldn’t resist,” he says through laughs.
I bob up and down, annoyed with Tom’s prank, but more annoyed I didn’t have a chance to save his life.
“You catch anything?” he asks.
“Not yet. You?”
“Just myself.” Tom pretends to choke himself with the lines again, then breaks the act.
He swims over, hands me my line. I start swimming towards the pier.
“Hey,” he calls out. I turn around.
“You got any bait left?”
A few minutes later, Tom sits next to me on the pier. He’s got his shirt back on and a towel wrapped around his waist. The armrest of his chair is embroidered “Hanx.” He sees me looking, leans in and extends a hand.
“Yeah. I’m Alex.” We shake hands.
Tom squints into the distance, sees the girl in jean shorts.
“You know her?”
“I don’t know.”
“There’s always a new friend to be made.”
I open my tackle box. Tom scans it. There are hooks, bobbers, bread and worms. I pinch some bread and put it on my hook.
“No, no.” Tom clears his throat.
“You gotta make a cocktail. A wiener cocktail.”
Tom takes a small piece of bread, wraps it around a worm like a burrito, then puts the entire wiener cocktail on my hook.
I cast. Tom squints and looks out at my bobber.
“Alright, you see, there it goes.”
The bobber quivers, then wobbles. I start reeling in. The wheel of my rod jams up. I try unjamming before the fish escapes. I glance at Tom. He gives me a look as if to say, “Do not fuck this up.” Finally, the wheel loosens. I reel in the fish and lay it on the pier.
“White seabass. Nice looking fella, huh?”
I unhook the fish, preparing to throw it back in.
“Whoa, now wait just a minute.”
I stop, turn to Tom.
“You like fish tacos?” he asks.
“I’ve got a grill in my backyard.”
“Tom, I’m a stranger and you’re…Tom Hanks.”
“Race you to the car!” He grabs his rod and starts sprinting down the pier.
Tom wins the race to his car. I get in my car and follow behind his steady 30 MPH pace, drive through three gated communities, and then arrive at his compound. It resembles a small country club – lots of white paint, tennis courts, pool. Had it been fifty years earlier, they may have not let Jews in.
A hallway connected to the entrance takes us to the kitchen. Think of your richest friend’s kitchen. It’s like that, but bigger and with more stainless steel appliances.
I sit on a stool at the kitchen island. There’s a small box of chocolates near the sink. I decide not to go for the easy joke.
“Iced tea with extra ice?” he asks.
“Normal ice is fine.”
Tom wraps the fish in foil and puts it in the fridge, then pours two glasses of iced tea. He puts the jug of iced tea back in the fridge, and takes out what looks like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He walks over and pushes a glass of iced tea in front of me. While holding eye contact, he slides the box of chocolates under a dish rag while talking quickly about the Lakers.
I need something else to think about, so I look around. Next to the refrigerator, I spot a “Hanksy” print. It looks like a Banksy, but features Tom’s face on the head of a rat.
“Banksy give that to you?” I cough as some iced tea goes down the wrong pipe.
“You know who he is?”
“He’s Banksy.” Tom takes a bite of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Some jelly gets on the corner of his lip. He wipes it with his knuckles, looks down, then licks it off.
I nod as if I now know who Banksy is, because in a way, I do: He’s a man who only reveals himself to Tom Hanks.
“I’m gonna change. Help yourself to what’s in the fridge.” Tom turns to leave, then yells back, “Except the peanut butter and jellies.” Tom walks out of the kitchen, wiping crumbs off his hands.
You hear Tom Hanks is a class act, but can’t understand it until you spend time with him. I assumed people this famous had to be a conniving on their way to the top – you know, blackmail a few casting agents, strangle a few interns, blow a few executives – but not Tom. Here I am, a complete stranger, relaxing in his kitchen, enjoying a glass of iced tea after fishing. If Tom Hanks has a dark side, maybe its his protectiveness over his peanut butter and jellies.
Tom walks back into the kitchen wearing blue jeans and a white polo. He’s holding a matching outfit.
“Brought you a change.” Tom puts the jeans and polo in front of me. “They’re Colin’s.”
“Oh, thanks. Big fan. Love Orange County.”
Tom opens a drawer near where I’m sitting. Inside are stacks of mixtapes with homemade laser printer covers. All the mixtapes have two things in common: they’re all by the artist Chet Haze, and Chet is making a gang sign in all of them. Anyone who spends time on the internet knows that Chet Haze is the rap moniker of Tom’s son Chester.
“You like his music?” I ask, only realizing after that this sounded rude.
“There are two things I will always like: PB&Js and anything my kids do. Love surpasses taste, okay?”
Tom takes an iPhone from his pocket and puts it in a dock. He taps it.
“This one’s called ‘Do It Better.’”
Tom nods his head to the beat. I follow his lead, looking away every time our eye contact holds too long. It’s one of those songs where you keep thinking someone’s going to rap, but no one does. After ten seconds, Tom rips the iPhone out of the dock.
“How about some basketball?”
Tom and I step out to his basketball court in matching white polos and blue jeans. The hoop is low, maybe seven or eight feet high. My initial thought is that it’s lowered for Tom’s kids, but then I remember – Tom’s kids are adults. Why does Tom have such a low net?
That’s when it hits me. Like, the ball hits me in the face.
I adjust my jaw. Tom picks up the ball when it rolls back to him.
“One-on-one to twenty-one. Street rules.”
“How about we just play Horse?”
“What! Come on! Think I can’t handle it? Have you seen Philadelphia? I fought AIDS.”
Tom Hanks has a unique style of shit talk that can only be described as “Talkin’ Hanks.”
Tom dribbles hard and high like the tall, lanky kid in gym class. He rams his shoulder into my chest and backs me down the court. I get a whiff of his deodorant. It smells like a stallion or a log cabin. I’m not sure. He senses my comfort in his musk – he spins around and nails a jumper. Swish. A perfect shot.
“One-zero. Your ball.” Tom throws the ball hard at my chest.
Tom keeps a steady two to three point lead throughout the game. He’s taller than me, and occasionally holds the ball over my head, waving it back and forth. The taunts have their benefit, because that’s when I discover Tom Hanks’ dark side. No, not because of the teasing, but because each time he raises his arms, I can see the tattoo on his tricep. Yes, Tom hanks has a tricep tattoo. No, it’s not the Chinese symbol for “loyalty” or the name “Rita” with a heart around it – it’s a picture of Barack Obama.
Tom’s up 21-20. Street rules, so win by two. At this point, Tom isn’t the Academy Award winning actor, humanitarian or relative of Abraham Lincoln – he is my enemy.
It’s Tom’s ball. I bend my knees and get in a defensive stance. Tom dribbles right. I shuffle, blocking his lane. He backs up, eyes the court, then dribbles hard left. I take the bait. As my feet shift left, Tom crosses the ball right. My lower body misaligns with my upper body and I stumble. Tom Hanks breaks my ankles like Iverson broke Jordan’s ankles in ‘97.
Tom laughs and waits for me to get up. When I stand, he charges the basket. I pace backwards, trying to keep up. At the foul line, Tom grips the ball in one hand, bends his knees, and soars into the air. I watch him fly over me – blue jeans, white polo, Hankstache, Kennedy smile, Air Hanks – only now realizing why he keeps his net low.
Tom Hanks slam dunks on my ass.
I lie on the ground, sweaty, beaten, but mostly hungry since we never made fish tacos. I open my eyes, and of course, Tom’s hand is extended, ready to help me up. It’s then, when I’m at my lowest moment, lying on Tom Hank’s basketball court that my back sweat has undoubtedly stained in what I can only hope resembles Wilson in Cast Away, that I realize who Tom Hanks is.
Tom Hanks is an amalgamation of every nice thing ever said at a eulogy. Tom Hanks doesn’t complain – not because he doesn’t need to or want to, but because he doesn’t know how. Tom Hanks is a living, breathing box of Honey Nut Cheerios. He’s always been good, always will be good, and probably tastes great with milk. “World’s #1 Dad” coffee mugs are all referring to Tom Hanks. Men are envious of Tom Hanks’ receding hairline, and so are women. If Ben Franklin were alive, he and Tom Hanks would be BFFs.
I reach out and grab Tom’s hand. He pulls me up, and I say the first thing that comes to mind.
“Can you be my dad?”
Tom thinks about it for a moment while trying to spin the basketball on his finger.
“Hey, watch this.”
Tom turns around and tries to shoot the ball over his head and behind his back.
Wow. It’s the worst airball I’ve ever seen. Way over the net, into the grass, almost over his neighbor’s fence. Really, just an atrocious display of athleticism.
Unphased, Tom sprints towards the ball, picks it up, and keeps on playing.
Having gotten the only goodbye I need, I walk to my car.
I want to wind down from the big game, so I drive back to the pier to catch the sunset. I park. In the water, I spot the girl in the jean shorts. She’s fishing from her paddle boat. Tom had made a good point – why don’t I know her? Tom didn’t know me but went out of his way to change that, to make me his new friend, and then to make me his new son. I reach to my back seat to grab my fishing rod, and under my rod is the box of chocolates from Tom’s kitchen. There’s a note on the box. It reads, “Sorry about the fish tacos. – Hanx.”
I grab the box of chocolates, fishing rod and tackle box, and walk out to the pier in my white polo and blue jeans. His bucket hat has washed ashore. I walk to the hat, which is now muddy and wet and mine, and plop it onto my head. Tom’s chair is still there. I sit in it, putting my arm on the part of the armrest that says “Hanx.” I look out at the sunset, and wonder if I should get a tattoo – maybe Obama, or maybe just a picture of Air Hanks.
I look out at the girl in the jean shorts. I take out my rod and hook a wiener cocktail. I’m about to cast my line straight out, but then shift my body so I cast my line over her line. Swish. A perfect shot.
I tug my line so it tangles with hers. She looks my way.
“Hey, our lines crossed!” I call out.
“No, no. It’s my fault! Hold on!”
I take off my shirt and reveal my post-1980 chest hair. With Tom’s bucket hat on, I jump into the water, flailing my arms and legs like I’ve never jumped into water before. I backstroke to the tangled lines and realize I didn’t need Tom to be my dad. What I needed was to be more like Tom. In fact, we can all stand to be a little bit more like Tom.
As I wade out into the water and pretend to choke myself with the lines, grabbing the girl’s attention like Tom had caught mine, watching her dive into the water in her jean shorts with the butt showing, it occurs to me that I don’t care if I ever catch another fish again. I had already caught Tom Hanks.