HILLSBORO -- If a census taker were to arrive at my doorstep, the questions on cars, boats, mortgages, dogs and children all could be answered: two of each.
The cars, boats and dogs all are a little worse for the wear, but the children, Conan and The Barbarian, are as obdurate as granite.
Conan, a 9-year-old, left-handed second baseman, has an affection for pocket knives and campfire soot.
The Barbarian, a 7-year-old shooting guard without a shot, is partial to Nintendo games, televised pro wrestling and needling Conan.
Last Wednesday, with schools closed for a professional workday, The Barbarian and Conan were led off to Tuckahoe State Park, ostensibly for a great day in the outdoors.
The leader of this expedition blithely loaded the car with rods and the Zebco 33s Santa had brought the hardheads for Christmas, the tackle box, binoculars, a small cooler and a minnow bucket.
Had the leader of this expedition had any sense, he might have packed a brace of Gameboys instead.
The first indication that the outdoors might be considered greater in proportion to the amount of money spent came at Sportsman's Service Center in Grasonville, where we stopped to buy bloodworms -- and ended up with bloodworms, 10 pounds of ice, about a dozen quarter-ounce, lead-headed jigs, a very large bag of Doritos and a slew of assorted sodas. (We did manage to leave behind a handful of hammered Hopkins spoons that intrigued the Barbarian and a neon yellow hat that captured Conan's fancy.)
The second indication should have come at a small sandwich shop on Route 404, where we stopped for snacks and left with enough food to feed the men of Desert Storm for a day, including a very large bag of cheese curls.
To this point, the young animals had not been too disruptive -- the half-dozen arguments in an hour of drive time had been limited to the more important issues of our time, such as who should ride up front, who had crossed the Bay Bridge more times and whether Conan did or did not talk to girls on the school playground. Two body slams had been attempted; one punch had been thrown.
The expedition leader had selected Tuckahoe because even a shooting guard without a shot can cast without catching a tree or a bush, and almost always there are fish in the pool below the dam.
Not on this day. So off we went on the trails into the woods along the creek below the dam -- Conan, the Barbarian, the cooler, the groceries, the slew of sodas, the Doritos and cheese curls and, of course, the tackle box and rods and reels.
Within minutes, Conan and The Barbarian had selected a section of shoreline where the creek rejoined halves after passing an island and
had initiated a casting competition between handfuls of cheese curls and Doritos and slugs of soda.
The Barbarian, saying repeatedly that what he really wanted was one of those big, hammered spoons, had settled for a silver flatfish with an inch of bloodworm threaded on the hook.
Conan opted for a white jig with a "cool" red eye and a tail of bloodworm.
Together, they caught every tree and bush within 20 yards, and the expedition leader, becoming increasingly vocal, was gaining invaluable experience in the fine art of freeing monofilament from briers and limbs.
But then the first white perch was brought in, followed quickly by another, and Conan began to become interested. Perhaps, he said, this could be as easy as catching spot off Tolly Point.
The Barbarian, meanwhile, was learning to take out his own tangles and developing a sidearm cast that kept his line below the branches.
After studying the creek, Conan settled for working a submerged log, casting accurately to either side and slowing working the bait along its edges.
The Barbarian settled for casting across the creek to an eddy and then adjusting the speed of the retrieve to get the proper wobble of the lure against the current.
Among us, in an hour and a half, we caught only a half-dozen perch and released them all before thunderstorms closed in and sent us scurrying for the car.
But, in those 90 minutes, not a body slam had been attempted and not a punch had been thrown.
Heck, take a kid fishing.
The aggravation is only temporary.
Better yet, take mine.