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My good friend Foster. The trouble he has gotten me into over the years. One adventure started innocently enough, with a postcard: "I am in my favorite city," he wrote, "riding the ferry across the harbor (6� first class, the only bargain left in Hong Kong); hence my uneven hand. I regretfully must report that I'm up to my same old tricks, frequenting the Dragon Boat bar to ogle the Chinese ladies, closing down the Captain's bar because of failure to adjust to local time and squandering my HK dollars to fast-talking Chinese merchants. Tomorrow this decadence ends and I go to work in austere caution." (Foster imports textiles.) He signed it "Foreign Devil" and added a postscript: "Jane has left me. Surrogate wife needed (you will do) for salmon trip to Iceland, July 31-Aug. 7."
Nine years earlier I had been best man at their wedding. I'd been present when he proposed, in fact. We were playing miniature golf on Grand Bahama Island, even up after 16 holes. On the 17th mat, a par-two, Foster said, "Janey, if I sink this shot, will you marry me?" He was chock-full of rum.
"All right," she agreed.
He called on me as a witness. Then he calmly rapped it in. It was a difficult putt, too, through a windmill. I congratulated them and, noting the expectant look on my date's face, conceded the hole and the match.
I had never fished for salmon before. When Foster returned to the States, he called and we worked out the details. The river, the Laxa i Adaldal, was reputed to have the largest Atlantic salmon in Iceland, and despite the expense, it was simply too good an offer to pass up. The only hangup was a regulation I found in a travel pamphlet, in a section entitled "Icelandic Government Regulations Concerning Fishing Tackle," designed to keep out something called "swirling disease" (properly known, I later learned, as whirling disease), which afflicts salmon and trout.
The regulation read: "...all fishing gear that will have contact with the water (including flies, line, reels, waders, etc.) should be immersed in a solution of 4% formaldehyde by a veterinarian for a period of 10 minutes, then washed in clean water. The tackle should then be placed in sealed plastic bags for shipment, accompanied by a certificate from the veterinarian to the effect that this has been done. The certificate should then be authenticated by a Public Health Officer."
This seemed a bit complicated. I hadn't been aware that Connecticut, where I live, had any public health officers at my disposal; I knew no vets; and my only previous experience with formaldehyde came in the seventh grade, when a jar of it sat in the corner of the science room preserving the eyeball of a calf. The alternative to these sterilization procedures, according to the pamphlet, was to buy all new fishing equipment and bring the receipts. This, I soon learned, was what Foster was doing. Not me. I checked the Yellow Pages and called the nearest vet.
"You want to sterilize a fishing rod?" came the giggly response of the receptionist. "With formaldehyde?" This was funny stuff.
"I don't want to, I must." I read her the regulation, and she put me on hold to consult with the vet. In a moment she was back. "I'm sorry. We don't do that sort of thing."
"Do you know of anyone who does?"