“Gone Fishin’: A Stable Genius at Work,” by Ali Kashkouli

Jul 14th, 2021 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

The sheer amount of electricity required to power the volume of television I consumed as a child could have caused rolling blackouts in the average third world nation.

While in middle school a math teacher once asked the class to estimate how much television each student watched in the typical week. Most answers would range around a nightly mean of a couple hours with a fairly limited standard deviation. I recall doing about as much math as I had done all year when asked that question. “Well, let’s see,” I thought to myself. “I get home at about 3pm every day and I watch TV until I go to sleep…so…I don’t know…carry the one…a hundred?”

We didn’t actually have a remote control until I was about 8 so changing the channel ended up being quite the workout.  Television may have rotted my brain, but that was a small price to pay for my rock-hard glutes.

I was a sucker for after-school game shows. “Press Your Luck.” “High Rollers.” “The Newlywed Game.” I loved them all. My impressionable mind imbibed nothing but whammies and sexual innuendo like sweet media nectar for hours on end. I was like a bipedal sponge for garbage television.

However, when Peter Tomarken or Wink Martindale weren’t available, I was more than happy to throw my blank gaze over to Fran Tarkenton, John Davidson, and Cathy Lee Crosby as they blew away their studio audience on “That’s Incredible.”

I may be the last living person to have any recollection of this show, but it was truly a glory to behold. The browns and yellows that defined a generation. Neckties that looked so heavy they could slip a disc in your spine just by looking at them. And three hosts that acted as circus masters for an audience across the ever-expanding television universe. And there I was. Barely 7 years old with a grasp of pop culture on par with the average houseplant.

I recall having heard of someone named Elvis Presley. I knew someone named John F. Kennedy had existed. I understood that Moses Malone was a human.  But I only knew of these people in the most abstract sense.

Elvis? Was he the guy I saw last week with the sideburns singing on the street corner when we visited my uncle in Los Angeles?

Kennedy? I think he was a president maybe? But how long ago? Well, let’s see. I was born in 1978. That was a long time ago and he was before that…so, the year 0?

Moses Malone? Ok. Now there’s one I can handle. There’s only one Moses I know. And that’s the Moses from that Ten Commandments story my mom keeps telling me about. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to pull one over on 7-year-old Ali Kashkouli…

Yes, apparently in my mind it was completely reasonable to think that this modern-day basketball star spent his days pulling down rebounds and blocking shots while also being a 3,000-year-old Hebrew prophet as a side hustle.

Someone needs to have a talk with the people in the school district who looked at me and said “This kid is going places – we need to get him in the gifted program”…


Stevie Wonder was at the height of him fame. Every would-be schoolyard chanteur out there was trying to belt out high-pitched renditions of “I Just Called to Say I Love You” with an earnestness that can only be mustered by someone who knows 12% of the lyrics. I played along like any reasonable kid. I legitimately knew the song solely from children who couldn’t tie their own shoes pretending to be blind while confabulating any word that wasn’t specifically in the chorus. It was a telephone game of cultural ineptitude.

In the first grade the teacher asked the class if we knew who Stevie Wonder was.

There were so many times as a child where I felt left out because I was an outsider. Having immigrated from Iran in early 80s it only occurs to be now how socially insensitive our primary education could be. So many of our little projects were Eurocentric one would think I grew up in a Nebraska cornfield wearing “I Like Ike” stickers all day. Writing a poem about Christmas. Bringing in your family’s coat of arms. Interviewing your mom about how she makes a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I was nary a generation outside of riding a donkey with pots clanging on the sides, so school was just an exercise in exclusion for me.

But Stevie Wonder? I was all over this one.

I had watched an episode of “That’s Incredible” about a week before. Fran had something special in store for us. He introduced a performer that simply went by Stevie. What was this Stevie’s talent? As one could infer from the title of the show, it was incredible. Stevie swallowed goldfish and then regurgitated them back into their little bowls unharmed. The whole process went, well, swimmingly.

So, of course, when the teacher asked if anyone knew Stevie Wonder I raised my hand with the irrational confidence of someone who had only recently learned how to use a zipper.

The teacher began to extoll the brilliance of this iconic genius.

I couldn’t have agreed more.

“Yeah, it IS amazing…but my only question is how does he bring the goldfish back up after he swallows it??”

Now, when people use the phrase the silence was deafening, I know this isn’t exactly what they have in mind…but it should be.  Honestly I’m just lucky I wasn’t put on a “Future Serial Killers of America” watch list.


defenestration-ali-kashkouliAli was raised in suburban San Diego and, over time, realized that he had no discernible skills outside of memorizing lists and thumb wrestling so clearly the pursuit of medicine was the obvious choice. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and is a physician by day and a 90’s alt rock connoisseur by night (he’s never met a Weezer song he didn’t like). He writes in his spare time would like to thank his parents since, without them, he would be far too well adjusted to write anything remotely interesting. He currently lives with an undersized cat named Stevens and a fish named Sugar who live together in an increasingly shaky truce.

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