THE PUDDING MASTER OF
Tree, snow and rock beginnings, the mountain in back of the
lake promised us eternity, but the lake itself was filled with
thousands of silly minnows, swimming close to the shore
and busy putting in hours of Mack Sennett time.
The minnows were an Idaho tourist attraction. They
should have been made into a National Monument. Swimming
close to shore, like children they believed in their own im-
A third-year student in engineering at the University of
Montana attempted to catch some of the minnows but he went
about it all wrong. So did the children who came on the
Fourth of July weekend.
The children waded out into the lake and tried to catch the
minnows with their hands. They also used milk cartons and
plastic bags. They presented the lake with hours of human
effort. Their total catch was one minnow. It jumped out of a
can full of water on their table and died under the table, gasp-
ing for watery breath while their mother fried eggs on the
The mother apologized. She was supposed to be watching
the fish –THIS IS MY EARTHLY FAILURE– holding the
dead fish by the tail, the fish taking all the bows like a young
Jewish comedian talking about Adlai Stevenson.
The third-year student in engineering at the University of
Montana took a tin can and punched an elaborate design of
holes in the can, the design running around and around in
circles, like a dog with a fire hydrant in its mouth. Then he
attached some string to the can and put a huge salmon egg
and a piece of Swiss cheese in the can. After two hours of
intimate and universal failure he went back to Missoula,
The woman who travels with me discovered the best way
to catch the minnows. She used a large pan that had in its
bottom the dregs of a distant vanilla pudding. She put the
pan in the shallow water along the shore and instantly, hun-
dreds of minnows gathered around. Then, mesmerized by
the vanilla pudding, they swam like a children’s crusade
into the pan. She caught twenty fish with one dip. She put
the pan full of fish on the shore and the baby played with
the fish for an hour.
We watched the baby to make sure she was just leaning
on them a little. We didn’t want her to kill any of them be-
cause she was too young.
Instead of making her furry sound, she adapted rapidly
to the difference between animals and fish, and was soon
making a silver sound.
She caught one of the fish with her hand and looked at it
for a while. We took the fish out of her hand and put it back
into the pan. After a while she was putting the fish back by
Then she grew tired of this. She tipped the pan over and
a dozen fish flopped out onto the shore. The children’s game
and the banker’s game, she picked up those silver things,
one at a time, and put them back in the pan. There was still
a little water in it. The fish liked this. You could tell.
When she got tired of the fish, we put them back in the
lake, and they were all quite alive, but nervous. I doubt if
they will ever want vanilla pudding again.