The Mad Fisherman
I'm Gonna Get My Own TV Show ... . No. Really. I Am.
Here I am in Beverly, Massachusetts, twenty-four years old, two kids, another one on the way, and it's time to cut bait. Time to walk away from a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt at opening my own tackle store. I am, by any measure, an absolute failure. A flop. A bust. On the bright side, I've got nowhere to go but up. At least that's what I tell myself. Because if I don't go up, my friends, I'll go belly up.
But who am I, exactly, and why did I ever think I could possibly make a living selling lures and bait? To really understand me and my success, you've got to accept that some things can't be taught at any university. My theory? You're just born and bred knowing them. At least that's how it was for me.
Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself ...
First off, my name's Charlie Moore. But you already know that because it's in big letters on the cover of this book, along with my picture. And if you didn't know who I was before youbought this book, you will now. Trust me.
My mom and dad were Southerners. My dad is from Virginia and my mom is from Washington, D.C., where they met. My dad worked in the banking industry in the Treasury building where my mom was a secretary.
My mother's family is from Albania. They are Greek, so we grew up in the Greek Orthodox church. My father's father, who was born and raised in Virginia, was a very tough guy who didn't show his emotions. My dad used to tell me how much my grandfather loved freshwater fishing. He regaled me with stories about my grandfather fishing off a bridge on the Chesapeake. And my grandfather on my mother's side, Papoo, used to tell stories about how he dove for sponges and speared fish for his family. So, it doesn't take a genius to figure out why I've always loved the water and the outdoors.
By the time I showed up on the scene, my family had moved to Lynnfield, Massachusetts. I was the fourth child, and fourth boy (my parents would try it one more time and finally get it right: a girl.) There's Danny, David, Christopher, me, and Juliana. My father was a successful businessman who owned a smoke shop and convenience store. We lived pretty well: a beautiful house, a couple of cars, the whole nine yards.
My father was always intrigued by the Civil War, so much so that growing up I didn't know if my father was Dan Moore or Robert E. Lee. During show-and-tell at school I'd be afraid that the door would smash open and Dad would ride in on a horse, dressed as a confederate general. And I'd be scarred for life. That's the reason I never asked him to come in for show-and-tell. If you think I'm kidding, think again.
Take the vacations we took when I was a kid. We'd jump in the Griswold family station wagon and, without exception, we'd end up at yet another Civil War battlefield. "For the love of God, Dad, can't we go somewhere else for a change? Like Disney World?"
The first time I saw my dad out on one of those battlefields I got out of the station wagon and asked, "Gee, Dad, when does the war start?"
"Oh, no, son, the war was over more than a hundred years ago."
"I don't see any troops coming over the ridge. Should I fire the cannons?"
"I said it already happened, a long time ago."
"Maybe if you'd stopped and asked for directions like Mom said, we'd have gotten here in time."
So those were our family vacations. Going to Pennsylvania. Going to Virginia. Going to the battlefield. Any battlefield.
My dad was like a Southern field general and to understand me and my success, you've got to understand the mind-set of the field general. He doesn't lose. He does everything, at any and every cost, to win. That's how I grew up. When you played football, you played to win, whether it was a pickup game, Pop Warner, or high school.
My father didn't talk much. Didn't have to. His eyes said it all. You'd look over at him and he'd peer right through you as if you weren't there, as if he was only thinking about the upcoming battle and what part you'd play in it. He was a powerful man who could manipulate anybody into doing whatever he wanted you to do. As with any general, if you weren't going to help win the war, you weren't going to be part of the battle. You didn't get anywhere near the front. You were sent back home. No Purple Heart. No nothing. Either you fought his way or you didn't fight at all. That's the way I grew up. Everything was done by my dad's rules. And if you didn't do it his way, he wouldn't even talk to you.
My dad would not accept failure and, in fact, he wouldn't even discuss it. He didn't scream and smack you around. He didn't have to. You just knew what was expected of you. And you did it.You went to a football game, you played football. And that's where you were supposed to leave the game, on the field. A lot of my success can be traced directly to my dad's personality. One of the reasons my father and I have argued so much over the years is because we're very similar.
In contrast to my father, my mom is bubbly, friendly, outgoing, and very talkative. I share several traits with my mom, one of which is, we both lie about our age. She's always telling the story about how when she went to the doctor he said, "I cannot believe your age." Only trouble is, she's been telling that same story for ten years now. I've lied so much about my age, sometimes I don't even know how old I really am.
The bottom line is, I do business like my dad, while in personality, I'm more like my mom.
As if we in the Moore family needed any more proof, my dad solidified his position as Field General Moore one Christmas Eve not long ago when his current wife, Mrs. MillerI call her Minnieofficially certified his position. I walked into the living room of their house and came face-to-face with a painting of my dad dressed as General Lee, sitting on a horse. I shook my head, turned to Angela, and said, "That just about sums up my childhood."
Thankfully, he didn't have that painting done until we grew up; otherwise, you can be damn sure we would have lugged that sucker into school for show-and-tell.
Overall, I had a pretty normal childhood, considering who my father was. I liked sports. I loved football.
My older brother Chris was a terrific football player and went on to play in college. He was also captain of the football team. I would have followed in his footsteps, but it didn't work out. I was always in Chris's shadow, working tirelessly just to catch up. But he would always be five years older, so I would always be the tortoise to his hare. That just drove me harder, though.
In many ways, we were polar opposites. Chris is quiet, laid-back. I'm in your face. I'm the one talking smack in between plays. Truth is, if we could have taken the best parts of him and the best parts of me, we would have made a Super Moore, the greatest football player ever. At least that's my version of the story.
So instead, of becoming an All-American quarterback at Boston College, I wound up working with my father in his store, selling cigars and lottery tickets. I'd worked in that store ever since I was a little kid. I'd even set up my own store-within-the-store where I would sell bubble gum and baseball cards, until I graduated to cigars and lotteryI was always a salesman at heart.
By the time I turned eighteen, I was already a successful entrepreneur, the personification of the American Dream. I drove a nice car, ate at nice restaurants, wore nice clothes. My goals were loftier than anyone I knew. I was driven to succeed, just like my father. I've always believed that people are born that way. I don't think you have to go to college to learn how to be an entrepreneur.Don't get me wrong, there are obviously lots of things you can learn in college. There are certainly things you can learn about being a success in business. But that drive, that ambition, doesn't come from learning about profit-and-loss statements and returns on investment. Self-made people just have that fire inside them, and I always knew I was going to develop into something special. If I worked hard enough at it.
The Day My Life Changed Forever
It was June 27, 1988, the year I turned eighteen. I'd decided to take a day off to relax and chill out, fishing in the ocean with my friends. But at the last minute, and I thank dumb luck for this, I changed my mind and decided that, instead of going with them, I'd rent a favoriteThe Godfather. So, I headed out to the video store. On the way, I passed a CVS and figured I'd stop in for some Twizzlers to eat while I watched the movie.
I went in and, whoa, there she was behind the counter. The minute I saw her, I forgot all about Twizzlers. All I cared about was this gorgeous girl working the cash register behind the counter. I would have bought something, but in that case I'd have no excuse to hang around. And, believe me, I wanted to hang around that store as long as I possibly could. So, I just stood there, staring at the candy display, sneaking glances at this beautiful girl, looking like a complete idiot.
Finally, she looked at me and said, "It's a tough decision, isn't it?"
"Yeah," I said, mustering my confidence. "But what I really want is behind the counter. What time do you get off?"
"Around six," she said.
So I came back later, and took Angela Latini down to the beach. We just talked and got to know each other. It didn't take long before I knew she was something special.
Angela and I never partied. Instead, I took her to nice restaurants, or we just hung out. We became good friends, and that wasvery cool. I remember driving up to New Hampshire, where we live now, and we'd cruise through all the nice neighborhoods and look at all the expensive houses that lined the street.
I'd say, "I want that one."
And Angela would say, "I want that one."
And then we'd talk about what our house would be like.
But our courtship wasn't all wine and roses. I have a great relationship with my in-laws now, but in the beginning my mother-in-law and I would go at it. It was pretty bad there for a while.
At one point, I wasn't even allowed in the house.
I don't think Angela's mom, Bonnie, had anything against me personally; she was just frightened about losing her daughter and didn't want to let her go. The funny thing was, we weren't even out drinking or partying. I never did drugs, either. Maybe her mother was scared by how driven I was. Even at that age. Hell, at eighteen I was driving around in a brand-new Corvettebesides working for my father, I had a second job selling Corvettes. Her daughter was coming home with Gucci bags, we were going to fancy restaurants for dinner. It must have looked like all I cared about was making a lot of money.
That's the funny part, looking back on it. Usually, guys get in trouble with a girl's parents because they do drugs, or because they take their daughter to wild parties. Not me. I just wanted to be president of the United States.
It all came to a head the day Angela graduated from North Shore Community College, in the spring of 1991. Not only wasn't I allowed in the house, I was forbidden to attend the graduation ceremony.
But we were in love with each other, so that wasn't going to stop me. I would be at graduation whether her parents wanted me there or not. Of course, I couldn't sit with the family, so I found a place up in the rafters and sat there, all by myself, watching Angela get her degree. It was hard, but what the hell was I going todo? I wasn't going to miss Angela graduating, that's for sure. I remember watching her family all around her, supporting her, and here I was up in the rafters. It was tough on me. Very tough.
Here's how Angela saw the situation (yes, I do, on occasion, let someone else do the talking. Not often, but sometimes. Usually, so I can light up a cigar):
In the beginning, my mother didn't like Charlie at all. But that all changed at my college graduation. Charlie was there, but he wasn't sitting with the family because of their little tiff. He was up in the rafters by himself. At that point, my mom said, "For him to come and be here for you means something to me."
My mom figured, if Charlie cared enough about me to sneak into my graduation ceremony like that, he couldn't be all that bad. She respected him for that.
When Angela's mother looked up and saw me sitting there, just chilling in the rafters, I could see from her expression that she regretted her attitude toward me. After the ceremony ended, I went home to my apartment on the beach at Beverly Farms. Yeah, I was only twenty years old but, man, I was living like a king. As soon as I walked in the door, the phone rang. It was Angela.
"Charlie," she said, "my mom feels terrible. She wants you to come over and celebrate with us."
"Are you kidding?" I replied. "There's no way in hell I'm coming over! Did you see me sitting up there in the rafters? I can't believe she would treat me like that. After all I've been through ... should I bring some dip?"
We had a great time. You'd think it would be uncomfortable for me, but it wasn't. In case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a people person. So I was there doing my thing and trying to forget about what happened. Hey, I'm Greek! Okay? Blame Zeus. He could never let anything go.
When the party was over, I took Angela down to the beach and, when we got there, I asked her to marry me. Yup. That'sright. That night. That's when I asked her. She said yes. When we got back home and told her mother, she replied, "I invited him over for cocktails, not to propose."
That was the spring of 1991. We planned to get married in September, which gave me six months to scrounge together enough money for the wedding.
The ceremony would take place at the Marriott, in Danvers. The hotel had three banquet rooms, with two other weddings in the other two rooms. I brought my mother-in-law down there with Angela so we could go over the details. When we got there, we found out that one of the other wedding parties wanted the room I had chosen, because they had too many guests for the one they were in.
I saw this as the perfect opportunity to get something for nothing. I turned to Angela and my mother-in-law.
"We're in a prize fight," I said. "It's the tenth round. I got him up against the ropes. Pretend we're having a big fight. Throw up your arms and start yelling at me. You can even swear if you want to. Just make it look like you hate my guts."
We put on quite a show, and then I went over to the manager.
"Jeez, this is horrible," I said. "We really had our eyes set on that middle hall. I'm afraid this might be a deal killer. I'm doing my best over there, but to tell you the truth, bro, they didn't like this place much to begin with. And they're going to really hate you for this. But I'll go over there and see what I can do."
After "arguing" with Angela and her mother some more, I went back to the manager and said, "Listen, I tried my best, but as you can see they're not very happy. The only thing I can think of, I guess, would be to have the wedding at the golf club at no additional charge ..."
And that's exactly what they did.
My mother-in-law was upset because the staff became so scared of herwhich had been exactly what I'd wanted. But, understand, she is anything but scary. Angela's entire family is completely different from mine. I used to call my mother-in-law Carol Brady after the irrepressibly gracious matron of The Brady Bunch.
My family was more like the Bundy family from Married ... with Children. My brother and I would fight over the last piece of chicken. Literally, a fistfight. And Mom would get a wooden spoon and start smacking our heads. Everything was a confrontation in the Moore household. My brother would get off the couch to call his girlfriend or to get a bowl of cereal, and he'd say, "I'm savin' the whole couch." As soon as he walked away, I'd stretch right out.
When he returned, he'd demand his seat back.
"Go fyourself," I'd say. "It's my friggin' seat now."
Then there'd be a big blowout.
Another typical night in the Moore household involved one of our traditional seafood dinners. My brother Danny, who's a lawyer now, was always a genius. He graduated at the top of his class. But, in some ways, he's dumb as a rock, if you know what I mean.
It came down to the last littleneck clam. There it was, sitting all alone on the plate. Not a word was said. We all looked around at each other. And then back at the clam. It was just like a Clint Eastwood western. You could almost hear the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Each of us wondered who would make the first move for that clam.
It was Danny. But just as he reached in, Chris grabbed his hand. The clam went sailing up into the air and seemed to hang there for a moment. In slow motion, it started to fall. We watched it sail to the ground. Thwunk! It hit the floor and, as soon as it did, our dog Chopper went for it. But before he could get it, Danny took a nosedive off his seat, grabbed the clam, and threw it in his mouth.
That, my friends, summarizes the Moore family. Perfectly. We are not too classy to fight over the last clam.
Anyway, I was in complete culture shock for years after I met Angela and her family. I'm still trying to get over it.
Thanks for Giving Me Your Daughter ... Now I Just Need a Place to Live
I turned twenty-one a few months after our wedding. Angela was pregnant with our son Anthony. At that point, I decided it would be a good move, politically, to get to know my in-laws better and to put the past behind us. Way behind us. What better way to do that than to live together?
I know what you're thinking: Charlie, bro, less than a year ago they wouldn't even let you in the house, and now you want to live with them? Are you crazy?
Crazy like a fox.
First of all, I figured we were so young that it would be the best thing for Angela and for her mother to get to know me better. What better way to know someone than to live under the sameroof? And, of course, we'd have our own personal babysitter that we wouldn't have to pay.
Angela's parents lived in a nice, two-family, three-story house in a modest neighborhood in Beverly, Massachusetts, a few blocks up from the ocean. Downstairs, where we would live, there were three small bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a dining room. Very comfortable and cozy.
On the other hand, it was an older house. You couldn't play jacks on the kitchen floor because the ball would roll down twenty feet. Fortunately, my father-in-law was a step up from Tim Allen. He could fix anything with a screwdriver and enough duct tape. Me? I supplied as much duct tape as necessary. That was about as much as I could manage.
My mother-in-law is phenomenal with money. She puts away a peanut here and a peanut there and next thing you know she has a peanut farm. Me, I'd eat the peanuts as soon as I cracked open the shell. Or maybe try to sell them for twice what I paid. The fact that Angela's parents weren't constantly concerned about bigger and better really impressed me.
In my family's house, it was the complete opposite. It was always, "We got a new Cadillac, and in two years, we'll get the newer Cadillac, and then a couple years later, the newest Cadillac." My dad would walk around saying, "I'm going to put a pool there, and then when I get done with the pool, I'm going to put in a tennis court."
"Do you play tennis, Dad?"
"Hell, no. But I'm going to put in a tennis court anyway, because I want a tennis court. And, if I keep it up, I might even put in a racquetball court."
He didn't play racquetball either.
My family was always about moving up to the next level. (More evidence for the What-Makes-Charlie-Moore-Run file.) So I was blown away by how content my father-in-law was. Not to mention the fact that Angela's whole family had a great relationship.They loved each other. Sure, I had a lot of love, but the Moores expressed it in a very different way. Neither way is wrong. It's just what I was used to.
Early on, the adjustment to living together in one house was tough, even though Angela's parents were cool, down-to-earth people. But, looking back, I feel that some of my best years were spent there. It was a phenomenal time. Angela thought so, too:
I loved living at home. I went to a local college. Once Anthony came, I didn't want to leave. I'd been living there since I was two years old, and I didn't have any problem staying put. Luckily, my parents never stepped on our toes. They never came down and bothered us. They never said, "Oh, I hear you guys bickering, you shouldn't do that." They left us alone, let us be a couple, and let us raise our own kids. At the beginning, I though we might find ourselves with that in-law syndrome, but they were awesome. And they would always invite us up for dinner. If it weren't for them, I don't know if we'd be where we are today.
My Meeting with "the Don"I Mean, Dan
Meanwhile, I was running my father's business ... into the ground. Chris came back from college and started to work at the store, too. In the meantime, I had another child, Nikolas. So, now you've got my brother, myself, and my father running one business. Try making that work.
One day my father brought me in and sat me downChris was there, too.
"Charlie," he said, "this store isn't big enough for the three of us."
I was in shock. I grew up running this business and thinking it would be mine. You could interpret it any way you wanted, youcould say it nice, you could say it with a rose or a whole FTD bouquet, but the bottom line was, I was out the door.
What made it worse was that Chris was staying. It didn't seem fair. I had a family with two kids to support. Chris had no kids at the time. Chris had an MBA. The only degree I had was from the school of life, selling myself to people. In my mind, it would have been a lot easier for Chris to get a good job than it would have been for me. But he was staying and I was history. Yeah, that made it tougher.
At the time I wasn't much for reasoning, but looking back I think my dad really believed I was meant for better things and he knew I would only flourish outside of that store. And he probably figured that, the way the store was going, there was no way it could support me, Angela, and two kids (with another on the way).
So it was time to go. Adios. But before I left my dad gave me some money to get me headed in the right direction. This money was all I had to invest in the future. So my next decision ... well, I knew it had better be a good one.
What was I going to do now? Selling cigars didn't hold much of a future for me, so my father's not-so-gentle push into the cold, cruel world should have opened up a whole bunch of opportunities for me. The trouble was, I had no other real career path in front of me. I knew I wanted to do my own thing. I just didn't know exactly what my "thing" was.
I felt frustrated. I felt angry. And I had a wife and two children to support. At one point, things got so bad I called up my old friend, Larry Saggese, late one night, and I started to get very emotional. I felt like I was left out in the dark, which I was, because not only did I get bumped from the store, but I was given virtually no guidance as to what I should do next.
In my father's defense, the store probably wouldn't have lasted if I'd stayed on. There was no way it could support three families. Times had changed. Cigarettes weren't selling like they did in 1974, when we were moving two hundred cartons a day, and youcould never make much money selling lottery tickets. I felt mistreated at the time, but now that I have some perspective, I'm okay with it. And, let's face it, if my father hadn't done what he did, would I be where I am today?
You don't have to answer. That's what they call a rhetorical question.
So there I was, with a whole lot of years in front of me, but very little idea of what to do with them. I didn't have any formal traininghave I mentioned the fact that I'd failed miserably at getting a little thing called a college degree? Which meant that the only diploma on my wall was signed by my high school principal. And yeah, and there was one other little detailand this is the last one, I promise. Money. I didn't have any. In fact, not only didn't I have any, but I owed a lot of what I didn't have to, oh, what are those people called? Oh, yeah, credit card companies.
I had to move on. But where was I going? How was I going to get there? In short, what did I want to do with the rest of my life? I decided to take the scientific route and make an inventory of what I knew, what I did best, and what I liked. Believe me, the list wasn't all that long.
1. I knew how to sell things. Cigars. Lottery tickets. Comic books. Cars. Myself.
2. I liked to fish.
3. I liked to make people laugh.
Dan Moore, the Field General, might as well get a word in here:
Charlie was born on a Saturday at approximately two o'clock in the afternoon. We had three boys and didn't know whether to expect a girl or another boy. I was home taking care of the kids when I got a call from the hospital, just about kick-off time, saying I'd had another boy. I lay down on the bed and couldn't stop laughing. Oh, my God, I thought. Four boys in a row. I laughedand laughed and maybe that's why Charlie's always been such a laughing kind of guy.
It was my turn to choose, so I named him after a great-uncle of mine that I'd always liked. I gave him Joseph as a middle name after the doctor who called me from the delivery room, who happened to be a good friend of mine. Charles Joseph Moore, but I used to call him Charlie Joe. I was the only one who did that, though.
Charlie was different from the other boys. He was always a self-starter. Never had to worry about him. If he wanted to do something he would go out and learn how to do it on his own. Take ice skating, for example. All the boys were ice skaters but one day I look outside and there's Charlie, four or five years old, tying on a pair of his brother's skates, which were much too big for him. He's goes out there by himself trying to learn how to ice skate. The next thing I know, he's doing it.
Charlie was always very close with his sister, who came two years after him. They used to play together and organize all kinds of events. They had their own little band. They'd play records and he would sing or he would play the drums while she sang. He was actually pretty good. Charlie was always the showman. He was always on stage.
I used to take Charlie out fishing with me. We had a good-sized boat that I kept at Boston Harbor, and we'd take the kids down there on weekends. I had fishing rods and reels for all of them, but the only one who ever used them was Charlie. He was the guy who liked to fish. He'd be out there fishing all the time, or he'd be swimming, which he loved to do. He just loved jumping in the water and splashing around. He was a real water baby.
When you have children, you'll often hear a knock on the door and when you go to answer it there's a bunch of kids there and they say, "Can so-and-so come out and play?" With Charlie, there'd be a bunch of men standing around the marina andthey'd come up to me and say, "Can Charlie come out and fish?" At the time, Charlie was only about seven or eight years old!
Around ten o'clock at night, Charlie's mother would call me on the boat and ask, "Is Charlie okay?"
"He's fine," I'd say.
"Is he sleeping?"
"Let me check." I'd take a look, come back, and pick up the phone. "Yeah, he's sleeping." But he was actually fishing for smelt with the guys. He just loved to fish, and he was very good at it.
One day, my friend Norman asked me to go fishing with him. I took Charlie, who was about nine at the time, and Julie, who was seven. We all went fishing off Plymouth. I've had kids on boats before and they invariably get their lines tangled up and it's an unbearable mess trying to untangle them. So I said to Julie, "You stay over on that side and do your fishing over there, and Charlie, you stay over on this side and you do your fishing here."
Meanwhile, I was talking to Norman and his girlfriend and, suddenly, I look over and Charlie and Julie are on the same side of the boat and having big trouble.
"I thought I told you guys to stay separate."
"There's something wrong with the line," Charlie said. So I grab one line and it was heavy. Then I grab the other line and it was heavy, too. I pull both lines up and there are two ten-pound cods on one line, and another ten-pound cod on the other line. They caught thirty pounds of cod in no time flat. That was a great day. We caught so damn many cod I didn't know what to do with them.
Eventually, I gave Charlie a boat of his owna Boston Whaler. His mother was very concerned about ithe was only a childso to appease her I had a smaller, twenty-horsepower engine installed. Charlie went all over Boston Harbor in that thing.
Charlie had a lot of friends, but none of them had the interest in fishing that he had. Charlie was the fisherman, and I don't know where he got that from because I wasn't a great fisherman either, though my father was.
Charlie was also very active in sports. He was a very good athlete, and particularly good at baseball. He was a terrific pitcher and it was amazing what he could do with that ball. He played football, tooif he didn't, I probably would have thrown him out of the house.
Charlie wasn't a great student. He wasn't disobedient, but the problem with him was he couldn't stop talking. That was his nature. He could talk the legs off a chair.
Charlie was able to put those two qualities togethertalking and fishingand found a way to make it work for him.
My father was the one who introduced me to saltwater fishing, but it was my father-in-law, Dick, who got me into freshwater fishing. Angela and I would go out with him and I'd sit there on the lake, smoking a cigar and casting a line. At first,I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but since I'm pretty athletic it wasn't long before I got a clue. And when I did, I began to like it.
It's True: There Is No Off Position on the Genius Switch
So, what was I going to do with myself? Let's check back to that list, specifically items #1 and #2.
Sales. Fishing. Fishing. Sales. Even without a college education, I knew that my skill at fishing combined with my natural salesmanship made opening a tackle store a natural decision. It made perfect sense ... at the time.
Of course, you need money to open a store and I didn't have anything but the money my dad gave me, which we were using to live on. But I did have a credit cardthey mail those things to anyone with an addressso, to start the ball rolling, I bought a 170-Nitro fishing boat.
Then it was time for Step 2: actually opening up that tackle store. On credit, of course. Thank you very much, Visa and MasterCard. I called it Bass Country, and it was on Cabot Street in Beverly, Massachusetts.
I was pretty excited about itfor the first time in my life, I had a store that wasn't within another store. But it didn't take long for things to go sour.
I opened Bass Country in the late fall, in the dead of what was a particularly bleak New England winter, which, looking back on it, wasn't the ideal time to start a business dedicated to the celebration of the great outdoors.
In the beginning, because we were the new store on the block, people were curious and came in to look around. They weren't actually buying anything, but at least there was the illusion of something going on. But once winter settled in, nothing. I mean, nothing. No one came into the storewhy should they? I spent most of thetime dreaming about a sudden run on fishing equipment, despite the remote chances of ice fishing going mainstream in my neck of the woods. Although that's not to say that there weren't a few ice fisherman who showed up wanting to buy my shiners.
Most of the day, I sat around with nothing to do and no one to talk to. So, partly to pass the time and partly to motivate anyone who might wander in to actually buy something, I brought a TV down to the store and tuned it to outdoor shows. A great idea, right? Someone walks in, sees someone fishing on screen, says to themselves, "You know, come to think of it, I could use a couple of lures." Only problem was, there was no one there for it to motivate except me. And for some reason it had the opposite effect: I just got depressed because (a) it reminded me of the business I wasn't doing, and (b) the shows sucked.
Since I wasn't doing any business, I thought I might as well make myself useful by giving Angela a much needed break. So, I brought the kids and their toys down to the store, which quickly turned Bass Country into Mad Fisherman Daycare. Though I seriously doubt that most daycare centers have fishing hooks hanging from the wall.
My kids, Anthony and Nikolas, were having a great time watching the movie The Little Rascals and running around with their toys, riding their bikes and stuff, which wasn't really a problem, since there was little chance of hitting anyone except me, while I contemplated whether I should hang myself with fishing line or jump off a bridge.
It didn't seem like things could get any worse, but they did. First, Angela's brother Rick got an infection in his lungs, which was a total surprise for someone as young, healthy, and full of life as he was. He was really sick and it was touch and go there for a while.
So let's take stock: no money, one beat-up truck, I'm selling maybe three shiners a day, and now Angela is dealing with her sick brother. Pretty grim, huh? But wait, it gets worse.
About a week and a half later, Chris, his wife Colleen, Angela, and I are called in to have a sit-down with my mom and dad. They told us that my brother Dave, with whom I'm the closestwe're like two peas in a podwas extremely sick. Once the shock wore offbut, trust me, it never wears completely offwe knew that someone needed to go out to California to be with him and to figure out exactly what the situation was. Chris and my brother, Danny, and I decided to go.
Immediately, my father-in-law, Dickie, and his brother, Bob Latini, and my brother-in-law, Bobby Latini, who was seventeen, offered to run the store while I was away. Of course, there was nothing much going on there anyway, but that wasn't the point. The offer was incredible. And even more incredible was that Colleen had a bunch of frequent-flyer miles and offered to pay for my ticket, which I wouldn't have been able to pay for myself.
So, Chris and Danny and I get on the planeI'm laughing and joking, trying to keep the situation lightand Chris turns to me and says, "Hey, bro, how much money did you bring with you for the trip?"
"Yeah, forty dollars. That's all I've got to my name."
So, Chris wound up paying for the whole trip.
When we landed, I found a phone and called Angela, just to let her know that we'd landed safely. It turned out to be a more important call than that, because that's when she told me we were having a baby girl.
As it turned out, both Rick and Dave made great recoveries, Dave against all odds. And what that proved to me is that there must be a strong determination gene in the Moore family.
By the time I got back from California, the handwriting was on the wall. And what it said was: "It's over." The time I spent with Dave kind of opened my eyes to the fact that you don't have much time on this earth, so you'd better use it well.
Get the picture? It was bad. Real bad. And being back at the store didn't help. I remember people coming into the store while I was in the back changing diapers. "Hey, can I get a couple of shiners?"
"Yeah, sure. I'll be right with you after I finish with the Pampers."
Basically, the store had become a great place for me to go and lose money. Money I didn't even have, by the way. The only ones who actually came in, besides my kids, were a few friends of mine, and they sure as hell didn't buy anything. Customers would buy a reel, then they'd come back to friggin' exchange it, and all I'm making is five bucks. In that first month, I realized that I'd be sitting there nickel-and-diming myself for the next thirty years. That's not what I had in mind when I made that list.
But something good did come out of those tough times: I discovered the loyalty of my in-laws. They were the ones who came in and worked that store, even helping to build the walls. My mother-in-law gave me money; my father-in-law gave me timeand his toolsbut I did hold up my end by supplying the duct tape.
I put in this big lure order for crank baits, which was the stupidest thing I ever did. Suddenly, I owed $565 for crank baits.And those damn crank baits sat on the wall for weeks. Not one person bought one. Every time my mother-in-law came into the store, I'd see her glance over at those crank baitsbecause she'd had to pay for them; otherwise, I couldn't have afforded them. After a couple weeks of those crank baits just sitting there, before my mother-in-law would come in, I'd run over and take four or five off of them off the rack and stash them in a drawer, just to give the illusion that someone was buying them. As soon as she'd leave, I'd put them back up on the wall.
After a month or two, pretty much everybody realized that it wasn't going to happen for me. Even now, it's very emotional for me to talk about those times, the times when I was really down on my luck. My father-in-law, Dickie, would work the store to give me a break, which meant a lot to me. I'd come in after he'd worked for three or four hours and he would say, "We sold some cigars and a couple of lures and some spare baits. We made $42.50."
"That's great," I'd say.
After a couple of days of us doing well, or rather Dickie doing well, I happened to be upstairs in his bedroom. I opened up this bag and found all the "sold" lures and cigars. I just started to cry. I never told Dickie about that because, quite frankly, I needed the $42.50.
"It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn" ... What a Load of Crap That Is
If I thought things couldn't get any worse, I was wrong. One day, I was sitting there alone, of course, except for Anthony and Nikolas. While they were playing in the background, I was contemplating suicide. Yes, it was that grim. If somebody came in at that moment to rob me, I would have said, "Shoot me before you leave and why don't you take the crank baits with you, because it'll help my mother-in-law. Just take the crank baits and shoot me!"
While I'm in the midst of all these exit strategies, the door opens and in walks this guy dressed in a suit and tie. Not my typical customer profile.
"How ya doin'?" he says.
"I'm doin' fine," I say, lying through my teeth.
"I work for the mayor's office. What's your name?"
"Well, Mr. Moore, we've got a problem."
Now I've got lots of problems, most of which I know all too well, so I don't need this guy to list them for me. Nor do I need him to give me any new ones, although I have a sneaking suspicion that that's exactly what's going to happen.
"Oh yeah, what's that?"
"Well, I see that you've got a truck parked in front of your store and in the back of that truck there's a sign that says CIGARS. First of all, the truck is parked illegally, so you've got to get it out of there, and second of all, you can't keep that sign there."
Now remember, I'm on death's door. I got no money. I can't pay for anything. In fact, things had gotten so bad that I'd started selling individual cigars to bring in some cash, which explains the sign. And, to be quite honest, the cigars were the only thing that was keeping the door open. And now this guy, from the mayor's office, no less, is coming into my store telling me I've got to take down my sign.
Did he just happen to be passing by, see the truck and the sign, and think, "Well, what we've got here is a violation of City Code 273?" Nope. I'm pretty sure the city was called by the liquor store owner next door. That guy was always busting my chops because he didn't want my truck parked there, either because he thought it was an eyesore or because he wanted the spot for himself.
Talk about kicking a dog when he's down. Here's this guy, one of the mayor's henchmen, coming in to bully just because the guy next door was complaining. Of course, later, the guy in the liquor store acted as if he had no idea what I was talking about.
They say shit always runs downhill and, unfortunately for me,I was at the bottom of that hill. What would I do? True, I could beat the crap out of the liquor store owner. Or I could hire a lawyer with the money from all those crank baits I was selling. Or maybe I could bribe the guy from the mayor's office with two or three crank baits to leave me alone. Or I could just move my truck and take the sign down.
No truck parked in front of the store, no sign on the street, no cigar sales, equaled total disaster, making it impossible to stay in business.
The Cigar Sign That Broke the Camel's Back
To make matters even worse, in the middle of this argument between me and the guy from the mayor's office, Nikolas started crying. He needed to have his diaper changed. Only there were no more diapers. Meanwhile, Anthony says to me, "Dad, I'm hungry."
But I got no food. And I got no diapers. All I got is cigars, lures, and bait. So, I put Nikolas in the carriage and I say to Anthony, "Let's go home."
On my way out, I grabbed a cigar and locked the door behind me. Frankly, I don't remember much of that afternoon, because it felt like I was walking down the center of Cabot Street, waiting for a bus to hit me. I moved through a cloud of anger, contemplating what to do with my life from that point forward. The truth of the matter is, I don't remember everything that happened on that walk, but I do remember the mind-set. That I remember well.
I'm walking home with my two kids, smoking a mild, five-dollar Macanudo cigar. It felt like it took five years to get home, but during those five years I do remember taking a deep puff on that Macanudo, letting the smoke out slowly, and saying to myself, "What the hell am I gonna do with the rest of my life? I have no college degree. I have no money. I have no food. I have no diapers.I have no cigar sign. But I do have plenty of crank baits, which nobody wants."
What the hell do I do?
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Go on Vacation
When we hit rock bottom it was rock bottom. Again, we didn't even have enough money to buy food for our kids. We couldn't buy diapers. It was that bad. I don't know if anyone in my family realized how bad it really was.
During that period, my in-laws would rent a cabin in Maine for the month of July. We didn't have enough money to rent our own cabin so sometimes we would stay with them. It got pretty tight in there, what with Angela, Anthony, Nikolas, and me, but we were outdoors most of the time, so it didn't really matter much.
Angela's sister, Christine, and her husband, Bill, and their family had their own cabin. Bill was doing pretty well at the time. He wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire, but to us his family seemed like the Rockefellers because they could do things that we couldn't. There was never any bitterness, but I have to admit that sometimes I thought, "It'd be nice to go to the grocery store and be able to get food." Or, "It'd be nice to have a vehicle that worked."
Maine offered phenomenal fishing. One day, about halfway into their vacation, my father-in-law called me and said, "The fish are biting, Charlie. Oh, my God, while I'm standing here talking to you I just caught a smallmouth."
"I'm coming up, Dickie. I swear to God I'm coming up."
When my father-in-law told me he'd caught that fish, my whole life changed. I hung up the phone, turned to Angela, and said, "Pack up the kids. We're going up to Maine to visit your parents. We're going on this camping trip if it kills us. Let's drag out the friggin' pickup truck. Daddy needs a vacation."
I had this big, green, four-speed F-250, a true redneck truck with raised tires and featuring an eight-foot bed. It was the only vehicle we had and it wasn't worth any money, other than the tires and rims, maybe. It wasn't anything to write home about, but I loved it. I put Nikolas in his car seat in the middle, and Angela sat on the outside with Anthony on her lap (Angela was almost nine months pregnant at this point with our third child, Kaitlin), and we were off.
Talk about a redneck vacationit was totally "blue light special," baby, because we were going camping. Sure, I've got the beat-up truck, but I've got no money. In fact, I'm counting change for gas.
We drove that son-of-a-gun all the way up to Maine. That thing was hitting every bump. I was listening to Alan Jackson on the tape player, my window was down, I was smoking a cigar, and the kids were all packed in the front with us. I looked over at Angela. She was a real trooper, man. She was so happy we were going and, even though she was worried about having the baby, she was still thrilled to go up there and spend time with her parents.
That was a great time and, to me, that is the definition of true love, right there. And the meaning of success. Because when you're up against the wall and you can still crack a smile and feel good about yourself, that's it. Most people can't feel good because they're not driving what they want. But although I didn't have the things that I wanted, I had my family, which is more important to me than anything, and we were going fishing. To me, that is the distinction between fishermen like myself and guys who, in a similar situation, would call it a day, sit back on the couch, and watch TV.
Yes, Mr. Coppola, I'm Ready for My Close-Up
Once I got back to the real world, I had to deal with my real life. And what I was going to do with it.
As a kid, I had always wanted to be the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins or the centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox and be, you know, famous. Well, the QB and centerfield things weren't looking too good, so that left just the "famous" thing, which really appealed to me since I had always craved attention, even as a kid. Big surprise, huh?
At that point, I knew the outdoor store was pretty much over, but one good thing about the experience was the TV on the counter which, when it wasn't tuned to The Little Rascals for my kids, would run those outdoor fishing shows that taped throughout the country.
Peoplenotice, I didn't say customerswould come in and ask me, "Don't you get bored?" and I'd say, "Yeah, but I keep myself as busy as I can." Then they'd reply, "No. I mean watching these shows."
Hell, yeah, I got bored. Why wouldn't I? Most of them were pretty damn bad. And that's why, after a while, I said to myself, "I can do better."
So, that day, while walking with my two kids, smoking that five-dollar cigar, and trying to figure out the meaning of life, my life, it hit me, right between Appleton Avenue and Prospect Street.
"Ya know what?" I thought. "I'm gonna get my own TV show. No, really. I am."
THE MAD FISHERMAN. Copyright © 2008 by Charlie Moore. All rights reserved. . No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.