There’s a difference between book smart and bar smart. You may not be book smart, but this series can make you seem educated and interesting from a barstool. So, belly up, pour yourself a glass of something good, and get lost in a dark world of fishing superstition, alternate realities, and tighty whities.
It’s a long-standing superstition among anglers that bananas are bad luck on boats. What’s also long-standing is the debate about how the fruit became a catalyst for skunking, engine trouble, faulty drain plugs, and countless other maritime maladies. Some sources say it’s rooted in the propensity of banana-laden cargo ships in the 1700s to sink. Others claim—in Looney Tunes fashion—old timey sailors would frequently slip on banana peels and get injured. Frankly, I’m far less intrigued by how the superstition started. I get a much bigger kick out of where it went.
Some anglers completely laugh this whole thing off, even taunting the fish gods by hooking tuna and snapper on makeshift banana peel lures just to mock the superstitious. Some (like me) take their wariness only as far as not allowing the actual fruit onboard. Then there is the elite group of fearful zealots that push it to extremes. I was once fishing in South Texas with a pale-complected girl who looked like a smoked brisket by day’s end because the captain chucked her can of Banana Boat sunscreen into the Gulf first thing in the morning. Harsh? Perhaps, but he’s not the only skipper I’ve fished with that had a strict ban on Banana Boat products. I once watched another captain pick out and discard all the bananas from a bag of Runts candy before departure. I’ve also heard a few growl at anglers because there was banana digesting in their guts post breakfast. But there’s one storied account of extreme banana hatred that blows all the rest out of the water, and to uncover the truth about it, we must dig into our underwear—and subsequently, the deep recesses of our minds.
Here’s the way I first heard it from my buddy Capt. Mike Weinhofer over beers in Key West: Many years ago, a Florida captain on a big, fancy sportfishing boat was having a tough day. No matter what he trolled, no matter where he trolled it, he simply couldn’t raise a fish despite perfect conditions. A believer in banana-fueled dark clouds, he asked his clients if they’d brought any of the devil’s fruit in their coolers.
They had not. Nor had any of them consumed a banana that morning. At the end of his rope, desperate to turn the tide on the action, the captain blurted out, “Then somebody’s gotta be wearing Fruit of the Loom underwear!”
What the captain didn’t know was that his clients were all top brass at Fruit of the Loom corporate. Upon learning this, he insisted they rip the banana-emblazoned tags out of their drawers and throw them overboard. They obliged, and within minutes, reels started screaming. So taken aback were these angling executives by the quick change of luck that not long after the trip it was decided the cursed banana would be forever removed from Fruit of the Loom’s logo.
No way, right? Actually, while the story I got was embellished, it turned out to be derived from a claim made by famed, jovial, and fun-loving Miami captain, Bouncer Smith. A fervent bananaphobe (and plantainphobe), Smith once told Men’s Journal he was the guy that persuaded Fruit of the Loom to alter the logo. He also said that prior to the banana being removed, he’d routinely check clients’ knickers for the bad juju tags and snip them off. I called Smith for some clarification.
“Snipping the labels is putting it mildly,” he told me. “We used to keep this long, curved Forschner steak knife on the boat. It was more like a machete. If you were wearing Fruit of the Loom, you’d get a serious wedgie and we’d whack off the entire back of your underwear. With the elastic cut, they’d be falling down on you all day.”
I appreciate the savagery in that, but what about his influence over the changing of the logo?
“It’s the God’s honest truth,” Smith said. “This was probably around 1992. I was fishing with my old friend Don and his friend Jack, and we could not catch a fish. I said, ‘somebody must be wearing Fruit of the Loom.’ Jack says, ‘and so what if they were?’ I didn’t know he was the VP of sales for the company.”
According to Smith, he and Jack (who’s last name he couldn’t recall) had a “six-hour discussion about how bananas are bad luck,” which he swears led to the ousting of the fruit.
My reaction to the story the first time I heard it (possibly like yours now) was, “Holy shit, there isn’t a banana on the label anymore, is there?” The idea that angling superstition had the power to change the branding of one of the oldest clothiers in the country was captivating, no doubt. There’s just one big problem: Never in Fruit of the Loom’s 169-year history has there ever been a banana in its logo or on its labels. All you have to do to figure this out is visit the company’s website and look at the historical timeline of their logo changes. Google “Fruit of the Loom banana logo” or “vintage Fruit of the Loom logo” all you want, you’ll come up empty. Now, here’s where things get really trippy.
Some of you can picture that bananer in your skivvies, can’t you? I could. When this story was first laid out to me, never did I question the existence of the yellow fruit resting at the pinnacle of my ass crack. But nay. All that’s ever been on the label since 1851 is a red apple, green and purple grapes, and currants—whatever the hell they are. Now you’re thinking back to those Fruit of the Loom commercials from the early 2000s featuring grown men dressed as fruit. Surely one was a banana, wasn’t he? Nope. Let’s go down the rabbit hole further.
What your mind is likely recalling is the mildly banana-shaped cornucopia basket Fruit of the Loom’s copious produce was spilling out of on the label. That explains the mix up. Case closed. Except guess what? That cornucopia basket didn’t exist either. Debate about the Fruit of the Loom logo far transcends the angling community. In fact, it’s a serious pop culture mystery and considered a star example of a phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect, which is the sharing of false memories among large groups of people. Many in the angling world think there was a banana, but a lot more people in the general populous insist there was a basket. They’re both wrong. You can read all about the Mandela Effect in this article covering the Fruit of the Loom logo on Ruinmyweek.com. Some folks even suggest that the Mandela Effect is proof of alternate dimensions; you did see that basket and banana, just not in the dimension in which you currently exist.
Thanks to seeds that appear to have been sown by Bouncer Smith, Fruit of the Loom undies have been categorized as unlucky by many anglers. It’s become a part of fishing folklore and many times during rough trips from Florida to the Great Lakes to the Great Plains, I’ve been asked if Fruits happened to be my brand of choice. But what nagged me most is while that pesky Mandela Effect explains why so many people think there is—or used to be—a banana on the label, what about Smith? He couldn’t have hacked off years worth of tags without looking at them. How could he goad a company into removing something that didn’t exist in the first place? His answer only deepened this psychological thriller.
“I don’t understand why it is you can’t find any bananas [on the Internet],” Smith rebuked. “I’ve seen so many Fruit of the Loom labels it’s not even funny. The banana was absolutely there, curving up on the right side.”
Curving up on the right side. The same direction as that non-existent cornucopia basket (cue “X-Files” theme music).
If, like me, your belief in us living in the Matrix has suddenly been bolstered, I’ll leave you with some good news before you choose the strawberry-banana Starburst or the blueberry-banana Starburst. According to Smith, whether a banana ends up on your boat via a lunch bag or boxer-briefs, you don’t have to fall victim to its black magic.
“First, get it off the boat. Anything banana related, exorcise it from the vessel,” he said. “Then eat some pineapple. The dried candied kind works, but fresh is best. You eat some pineapple and you’ll have so much good luck, you’ll forget all about the bad luck.”
Featured image by Joe Cermele