Oscar, whoever you are and wherever you are, Nathaniel Jordan would like to know how you are doing.
And he'd like to compare stories about a day when he caught the really, really big one -- meaning you.
On the chilly morning of Jan. 7, Jordan went fishing at O'Neill Forebay, where it supplies the California Aqueduct near Santa Nella.
The 26-year-old ex-Marine from Empire found a spot down the bank from another fisherman whose first name, he later learned, was Oscar. Oscar snoozed in the warmth of his car, a small bell attached to his pole to alert him if a fish took the bait. Sure enough, it began jingling -- and jingled for quite a while -- before Oscar
finally awoke, emerged from the car and reeled in a 24-incher.
Intrigued, Jordan moseyed on over to see Oscar's catch.
"I said, 'Hey, man, what'd you get?' " Jordan said. "He said, 'A striper (striped bass).' "
Jordan then asked what kind of bait Oscar had used. Oscar told him shad, then directed him to a bait shop a mile or so away where he could get some.
So off Jordan went. He returned with the right bait but decided to fish from the bank opposite Oscar's spot near the Highway 33 bridge.
About that same time, Oscar decided to reel in his lines and head out. Except that one of his hooks snagged, Jordan said. Black slime coated the walls of the canal, exposed because the water level was down about five feet. Oscar leaned over the edge of the canal as he tried to free the hook.
"I'm saying to myself, 'Dude, don't go get it,' " Jordan said.
Oscar's foot hit the slime and he tumbled into the water. There was no place he could climb out because the bank was too slick, Jordan said. Big trouble, compounded by clothing.
"He's wearing two or three or four layers," Jordan said. "He was really panicking and flailing. I dropped my pole, jumped 'round the fence and began running (across the Highway 33 bridge). I was trying to wave people down to help."
One trucker stopped and tossed Jordan a nylon cargo strap about six feet long. Someone else handed him a scarf and a fishing pole, none long enough to reach Oscar.
So Jordan began peeling off his own clothes, beginning with his boots, which he said he learned in water safety training while in the Marines. By that time, the trucker found a longer strap, this one about 12 feet in length. Two men on the bank held one end as Jordan slipped into the water, gripping the strap with one hand, leaving the other free to fetch Oscar.
"(Oscar) was about 15 feet out and facedown," he said. "I side-stroked to him and grabbed him and then told them to pull."
Getting them back to the bank was easy. Getting Oscar, unconscious and not breathing, out of the canal was not, Jordan said.
Jordan improvised by tying the strap around his own waist. He got a better grip on Oscar and yelled at the others to pull.
"I'm guessing he weighed about 210 pounds, but with the wet clothing he was about 250," Jordan said.
They pulled hard twice, the strap each time constricting painfully on Jordan's torso, and dragged both men out of the water. Jordan coached them on how to give CPR. After a few tries, Oscar coughed up water. He began to breathe on his own and talk, Jordan said.
Merced County sheriff's deputy Tom McKenzie confirmed the 911 call came in about 1 p.m. The dispatcher sent an ambulance and notified the California State Parks office at Santa Nella. Riggs Ambulance of Merced confirmed it took someone from the canal that day and that time, but could not release the patient's name or any other information about him.
Later that afternoon, Jordan returned to Modesto and went to visit his wife, Colleen, a nurse at Memorial Medical Center.
"I knew something wasn't quite right when I saw him," she said. "He said, 'I caught a big one.' I said, 'A fish?' He said, 'No, a body.' "
Normally, that would be a good place to end this. But history reminds us that every traumatic moment is shaped by circumstances and quirky aftermaths.
The circumstance: Jordan said he spent nearly two months in Camp Pendleton's jail in the fall after refusing to be recalled to active duty. He served four years in the Marines as a diesel mechanic stateside before being honorably discharged in 2007. He had since gotten married, and his commitment to his pacifist German Baptist faith had strengthened. The recall, however, would have sent him into combat in Afghanistan, he said.
"I can't take another man's life," said Jordan. So, he refused to go back and, in October, found himself in the brig. He was released Dec. 11 and is studying religion through Liberty University's online program.
"It's funny," Jordan said. "Two months ago, I was in prison because I didn't want to kill anybody and now I'm here doing this (saving Oscar). There's a real irony in the way God does things in your life."
The quirky aftermath: At the canal that day, Jordan set his cell phone and wallet aside before going in to rescue Oscar. He lost both.
The wallet disappeared. The cell phone, Jordan presumed, fell into the water. He finally replaced the phone Tuesday, keeping his same phone number.
Thirty minutes after activating his new phone, it buzzed. The caller said he'd found Jordan's old one -- hooked it, actually -- while fishing at the same spot where Oscar fell in. The water ruined the phone, but the computer card inside provided the information needed to locate Jordan.
Now, he would like another call.
Phone him, Oscar. He just wants to know you're OK.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or email@example.com.