Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Thanks Dad (post from 2013)

Preparing for childbirth has been an educational experience, to say the least. It has also been a time of quiet reflection…frequently interrupted by grizzly bear sounds emanating from a mound of pillows on the port side of the bed.

Too often men slide through life failing to reflect on how far they’ve come and what it took to get there. Not me - I know. I guess I've made it quite a long way, but I also know I definitely didn't do it on purpose. I just kind of wandered around in the desert for forever then, "Hey, look! There’s a water fountain!" And I’ve been standing here ever since.

Despite lately finding myself married to a complete stranger (one who has been desperately smuggling a full aquarium around under her skin for 8 months); I number among the fortunate few who rarely, if ever, come under substantial spousal flack regarding my strenuous schedule of outdoor pursuits. I always assumed that was just part of life and the time and ability to do these things came with the territory.

I now know upon reflection: that is a terrible lie.

When I consider the time I spent as a child traveling around the country hunting and fishing and whatnot - I am amazed. I did something terribly fun and dangerous nearly every weekend, generally with Dad, and if not – then with an infinitely less responsible Uncle. I also realize now that those Uncles genuinely were not the least bit worried about me, my safety, or possibly dying. At the time I assumed all adults were bound to keep their nephews safe as a matter of course. In retrospect: I actually had that thought as a 6-yr-old while riding through the woods perched on the hood of a tractor like a chubby hood ornament with Uncle Buster’s admonition “Don’t grab that exhaust pipe – it is 800 degrees” ringing in my ears.

Mom was right to worry.

At the same time all that was going on, Dad raised two other kids, stayed married, kept a job, paid for a house and cars and got us all through expensive private universities that we probably didn’t deserve.

Now, with the impending specter of fatherhood looming over me; it all makes sense: I didn’t get to hunt, fish, and act like a Wild Boy on the weekends because I was born with it; I got to act like a Wild Boy because Dad was born with the ability to stay efficient during the week. If the water heater had still been out of commission at 5PM on Friday – nobody would have been going deer hunting. If Mom couldn’t wash her hair – everything stopped.

Last week I considered my list of mandatory to-do’s for the week and this thought went through my brain: “I could just stay here and deck the attic on Saturday instead of going fishing” and in my mind, in that instant, that option actually sounded plausible.

It was a terrifying moment, so I immediately went down into my workshop to sulk.

As I sat there at my Fishing Stuff Bench, sulking, it hit me that now, finally, I realize what it means to be a Dad; mostly because: I’ve turned into mine.

So, instead, of decking the attic and painting the hallway on the weekend, I wore myself out all week doing it at night, then I went hunting on Saturday at 4AM. I got my truck stuck, found a deer skull in the woods, got covered in ticks even though I know about Lyme disease, heard 5 turkeys gobble, got soaking wet, got covered in mud, then came home feeling very pleased with myself.

So, maybe it’s not 100% innate; but I can tell you one thing: it is definitely hereditary.

Thanks Dad.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Being Right

I don't know how to sing. In church I kind of sway and warble, but no stranger ever accosts me later and says "we sure would like for you to sing at our wedding".  I don't dance much if I can help it. I'll never go to the moon.

I'm not likely to ever become a woman. I won't invent a new kind of asphalt shingle that engages in photosynthesis to combat global warming. I haven't even thought of a better way to collect rainwater than "barrel" or "mouth".

There are many things I've missed out on, I guess. But you know what I can do? Read a speed limit sign. I can do that.

I have some latent confusion regarding my relationship to the number painted on those signs, so to help me understand more clearly what the police think about that number and my relationship with it, I bought a "Valentine One" radar detector. Then, I bought a special mount for it. Then I bought a special bluetooth module. Then I bought a little thing to plug it into my mirror. Then I bought an entire cell phone that does nothing but help manage the beeps and beeboops that emanate from the detector itself that needed the bluetooth module to work. Then, I bought two special magnetic mounts (one for both my phones) and I got so excited about them I bought 5 more to give as gifts. Then, I accidentally left them in a cardboard box and Tyler threw them away. She never throws HER stuff away by accident. Only mine. It's how she rolls.

To make all that detector stuff work I then discovered that I had to learn something about radar detectors themselves or nothing really made sense. On top of THAT I had to read up on radar itself. Did you know "Ka" band is superwide? Yeah. I know all about that.

Finally. I was ready to roll. And roll I did: right through a laser speed trap, which radar detectors don't help with. When your radar detector says "LASER!" it's really just saying "Hey. You got a ticket just now! How did it feel?"

I am emotionally invested in my radar detector setup. I can't help it, but its true. So, when the cop clomped his way up to my window, leaned in and said "I see you have a radar detector in there son" with a little chuckle - I found myself feeling very betrayed and vulnerable.

He continued: "I guess I definitely have to write you a ticket now. On account of seeing that there radar detector".

This was a bit much. I mean, you can insult me, sure. But not my radar setup. That's private.

So, I said "Here's the thing officer. The way I figure it - if there's a state patrolman standing in my window by the side of the highway with his hand on his sidearm and he's asking me pointed questions about a radar detector. I'm already getting a ticket. Don't you figure?"

He thought about it for a minute and said "I reckon so." and just like that: he handed me a ticket.

I do love being right.

Friday, June 10, 2016

I'm Back

I’m quite a bit older since we last spoke. I have a bunch of new gray hair that looks terrible and won’t lay down well at all. BUT I’m already married! Hah! Take that, universe!

Since I don’t have to attract a mate anymore with my fancy hair - bring on the grays. I'm ready.

I want to catch you up on the last year or so, but I don’t want to go overboard. I’ll hit the highlights, such as they are. 

I blew up a truck motor this year. That was pretty satisfying. Not just anyone can break a whole motor from inside the cab using nothing but his right foot and his mind, but I did it! It made a really big noise that was some “gnashing” but also a “rending” coupled with a “clatter” and a “knock, knock bang” followed by at least one hard “crash” sound and long slow “grinding” noise right there at the end.

I quit writing a year or so ago. I don’t know why. I am a little bit sad about it, because I had some really funny thoughts that I didn’t write down and now I’m not sure I can get them back.

I’ll blame children, but it’s probably not their fault. My fallback is to blame Emily Jones for anything in general, but it’s probably not 100% her fault either. 

Funny story about Emily – she’s allergic to seafood so I always try to sneak shellfish into her meals. One night I convinced her that “crab roll” was definitely not the same thing as “seafood” (“it’s a crustacean” I said, with a winning smile) and I suggested that she should have a teeny tiny bite. I really pulled out all the stops and, by god, she went for it. Watching that tiny piece of crab roll disappear down her gullet was the moment wherein I realized I needed to be in sales. So, the aftermath was worth it (for me) if you consider the broader implications. I consider securing that first sales job a real accomplishment. Fortunately, it turns out Emily was fine and doesn't really have a true anaphylactic response to shellfish. Who knew? She's totally fine. Don’t worry.

Mostly fine. 

By “fine” what I really mean is “not dead”. She is absolutely not at all dead. She is alive, I can confirm that. She did, however, call me later that evening every half hour from 2AM to 7AM from the floor of her bathroom where she was thrashing about in the throes of totally unhinged projectile vomiting. So, to be clear: after all THAT, she was totally fine.

The voicemails were hysterical. It was a lot of broken sentences punctuated by “heaving” and "splatter". And the swearing! Good Lord! 

Heh. I know that’s not funny. I know. Practical jokes aren’t funny at all and I should be ashamed of myself. I know it.

I mean, it is a tiny bit funny though, right?

Anyway, deductive reasoning being what it is – I believe my failure to write is my wife’s fault, but it may also be my propensity for introspection, my failure to own a diesel pickup, finding out about the zika virus, or having had stitches in my foot during a beach vacation last summer, which was infuriating. Regardless, I’ve been absent. So much so - that people don’t ask me about writing anymore, which only makes me want to sulk. So I’ve done some of that too. Then, lo and behold a new computer and some space for writing shows up under the Christmas tree compliments of the wife I blame (now entirely) on my lack of writing and I find I’ve been encouraged to proceed with writing once again in a way that only a Real American could appreciate – a retail purchase!

So I’m back.  I couldn’t just let this fancy retail purchase sit there unused. If it’s not called “material guilt” it is now.

I would catch you up on more details from the last year or so, but it would read terribly average and middle-class. Here’s the highlight: I got a fancy travel bag for Christmas so I filled it up with stuff I don’t need and I spent almost all of my money trying to shoot a huge bull elk, which I was able to do only for the following reason: I went to college and he didn’t.


It was every bit as satisfying as you might guess.

What else? There is something else I wanted to tell you.

Ah yes. I have an extra kid! Brand new! I made this kid myself and I feel like I may have gotten this one just right. The first one is turning out to be super aggressive and powerfully outdoorsy and perhaps a tiny bit too much like me to be what you might call “perfectly centered”, so I am glad for a second chance at the goal.

This new creature is a tiny girl person and she’s probably going to be reaaaallll fancy and expensive. Before you ask: No, I’m not saving for a wedding. I don’t need to, and I know that already because I know this: she is going to have a lot of first dates that bring her home riiight on time, walk her nervously up to the front door AND NEVER COME BACK OR I’LL KILL YOU.

Her love life will be very sad, I'm sure, but not for MEEEEEE!

Maybe one day I’ll get to write about it. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Final Comments on Fishing

Lately, I have had logjam of things to say lodged prominently in the front part of my brain which makes it nearly impossible to effectively communicate anything clever, should the opportunity arise.

I thought of something clever the other day and when I opened my mouth to speak, something else came out. It's been going about like that lately.

A number of things may be contributing to my medical condition. I'm incredibly busy and I find myself consumed with the things I have to do in order to keep my job, which I enjoy and depend upon for buying fishing equipment and Vitamin D milk and neckties and diapers and strollers and expensive city water to pour out on my front yard three days a week.

I have also reached the deeply satisfied point in an outdoorsman's life attributable to owning a glittery, carpeted, red-and-white-and-gray fishing boat. I have located Outdoorsman Zen, or my inner Ice Cave, or finally released the 12-year-old that's been pent-up inside my chest for the last 20 years. I don't know exactly how it's changed me emotionally, but it's good.

I shot sporting clays recently with my buddy Fred, who is fantastic, and another friend - an older, successful, and entertaining local businessman. Fred, who is nearly always around when something very interesting happens, made a comment about my fishing boat and the man immediately perked up. 

A boat, eh? he said
Yes Sir. 
Is it one of the sparkly kind? A sparkle boat? 
Yes Sir. I said, with pride. It is a Sparkle Boat.

....One of those boats with the rednecks in them and the glitter in the paint that you might use to fish on "The Red Man Trail" with? He snickered into his Peter Millar sleeve.

Yes Sir, I said, sensing a trap. I did not forge ahead eagerly into explaining that the "Red Man Trail" is now defunct and has since been replaced by "The Fishing League Worldwide", nor did I provide any brilliant insight on the internal politics that precipitated that great upheaval.

I knew there was something not quite right about you.
Yes sir. Would you like to ride in my sparkly boat? It goes super fast. 
You know - I think I would!

Everybody loves a sparkly boat. Unfortunately, the sparkles have done little to bolster my fishing skills and I have continued to build an incredibly mediocre name for myself on the amateur bass fishing circuit. I do, however, manage to get from one terribly unproductive fishing spot to the next with great speed and precision - which allows me to fish at least twice as much unproductive water as before. So, I consider the sparkly boat a huge success. If I am going to be a pretty bad fisherman, I at least want to get there quick!

I made my way to the front of the tournament weigh-in line at a recent event with my pitiful sack of skinny fish just as Uncle Buster sidled up with a positively frightening collection of enormous watery predators.

You get a limit? he queried, swaying and struggling to keep his plastic bag full of great green behemoths from escaping and endangering spectators.

Yeeesh! Look at that, Buster! That one just burped a live catfish!

Yeah. I did alright. He rumbled, mustache quivering as he strained to keep the mouth of his fish sack closed against the obviously dangerous animals inside.

You got 5? Tell me you at least got 5. He insisted.

Ah. Errhhhh. I got 4.....I think they might be guppies.

He looked at me hard for a second, slumped his shoulders and stalked off.

BUT THE BOAT RAN GREAT!!! I shouted after him.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Legend of the Co-Angler Part II: Managing Expectations

Recently, Buster drew a Co-Angler that I have personally hosted in the past. He asked me in advance "is this guy a retard?" which loosely translated meant "What do I need to be aware of with this Co-Angler?"

I said, "No, he's ok. His English is so-so, but he stays out of the way for the most part. He can't back a trailer so you'll have to handle the launch yourself unless you want to watch something really special happen at the boat ramp at daylight. Trust me, I've seen it."

Buster cut his eyes at me across the tops of his sunglasses, said "O K" like that (with quotations) and drove off.

At the end of the tournament Buster pulled up in a hazy cloud of diesel emissions and said (by way of greeting) "Hey that guy is A Idiot just so you know" (sic).

I have learned to ask very vague questions instead of making statements, so I responded with "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Well, he is A Idiot. We got done fishing and you know how your Co-Angler is supposed to give you gas money for driving his butt around all day? $40 is the basic minimum. Most anybody will give you $40. Now, I don't care - don't get me wrong, but it's just the principal of the thing. You want somebody to at least offer up some cash - especially if you catch fish."

"Ok." I said, cautiously (without quotations) mentally adding up the number of times I'd fished with Buster and paid him approximately zero dollars.

"Well, we got done fishing and he rooted around in his elastic fishing pants and came out with 4 sweaty dollar bills and some change. Four dollars! I gave it right back to him, sprinkled the change all across his shoes and said "Enricardo" (which is definitely not his name) "that ain't enough".

I can only imagine 8 hours of being called "Enricardo" may have slowly eaten away at Buster's $40 Co-Angler donation, but I can only speculate.

Buster went on: "Enricardo (again, not his name) said 'Well, I have three children out of wedlock and my girlfriend and I are separated and I am having to pay $1,200 a month in child support and so..... and SO...Ah...I Am......Poor.'

I said, "HAH! Everybody is P O O R! Tough petunias! Sounds like a personal problem to me! If you think you can't afford your children you should try some of mine! You need to be at a worky-job right now, Enricardo - not out fishing in rural Alabama like an irresponsible butthole".

He produced a roast beef sammich from somewhere on his person and took an angry pull, giving me time to gather my thoughts. In my opinion, anytime you get to look someone directly in the eye, call him a "butthole" and offer him "life advice" in the same breath - you, sir, Have Become A Man. That's about as "Alpha" a move as I know of.

Out of the blue this had really gotten interesting so, I said "go ahead" which means "please continue" over a walkie-talkie.

Buster obliged:....."So I asked him "Enricardo: are you a Christian" and he said. . .  . . 'No'! How about THAT, huh? In all my life of asking people that question I have literally never, not ever, I mean NEVER had somebody just say 'No.' like that. I've had people say 'Well, I am a CATHOLIC' or 'I am a Baptist' or 'My Momma luved me and she was a Presbyterian' or whatever - which suggests they don't know what in the hell they are, but never have I had somebody say 'No'. I didn't even know what to say back! There ain't a good starting place there, you know?

So I said, 'look here, Enricardo, take your $4 and your grubby change and go home and get one more job in addition to the one you got now. If you insist on fishing 'on the cheap' - just hitch-hike and don't eat anything for two days if you have to, but make sure you pay your boater for gas or word will get out that you're a damn cheapskate. If that happens nobody will help you when you're fishing and you'll find yourself in the back of a boat pointed directly away from anything worth fishing and completely unable to do anything about it. And also - learn to operate a damn dip net properly. Watching you net fish today was like watching a guy with no hands try to fix a television set.'"

And with that, he left.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Legend of the Co-Angler: A Sociological Study In Two Parts

As I have explained before, the fishing tournaments Buster and I attend require each "boater" to draw a random "Co-Angler" to sit in the stern and fish and also to make sure we don't cheat during the tournament - which I absolutely would do at this point.

Most people begin their fishing lives as a "Co-Angler" in order to learn the ropes. I did that once and the great, lumpy, velcro-shoed, beard-eater I was paired with absolutely traumatized me with his two-speed bass boat. It was either "off" or "WIDE OPEN" and my highly-developed sense of personal safety just won't allow for it. After our first long run of the day, Velcro-Shoes looked over at me kind of hard and said "Son there is no sense in all that hollering". Apparently, he didn't care for "wordless screams of anguish" before 7:00AM.  At the time I didn't realize that sound was coming out of me. So, I skipped over the Co-Angler stage, went home and bought my own boat. The result is - I don't know "the" ropes, or "any" ropes, or even "where they at" (to borrow a phrase from Mr. Velcro Shoes) and, as a result, nearly everything I do is wrong.

At the most recent "pre-tournament meeting" we were assigned Co-Anglers and Buster and I each placed a phone call to co-ordinate a meeting time. I dialed the number given me and, when a woman's voice answered, I said "Hello, I'm calling for Aaron".

"Hello. Yes. This is E-r-i-n" the female voice clearly enunciated.

I stood there in a rural Wal-Mart parking lot surrounded by enormous, ruddy-faced men from all walks of life, with not a single woman in sight, and I was dumbfounded - rooted to the spot; mind straining against the bounds of reason and The Universe to accept what had just befallen me.

At no point in my entire one-and-a-half years of amateur tournament fishing have I even contemplated the existence of a lady co-angler. It never occurred to me that a woman would intentionally put herself at the mercy of a strange man in a 75mph aquatic death machine. My experience with women suggests they are far too intuitive a breed to make such an egregious error in judgment.

Just then, Buster appeared out of the crowd.

You call your co-angler? He growled.
Yeah. I called that woman about fishing. I burbled mindlessly.
What in the world are you talking about? He said, beginning to generate what I have come know as his "patient face."
What? What are you talking about? He insisted again, sensing my distress. You mean you DREW A WOMAN CO-ANGLER? He cackled, gleefully.
Yes. That.
Ha!! You have to let her pee in your livewell!!!! Hahahahahahaa!!! He cackled, drawing a crowd. Jimmy drew a WOMAN Co-angler and she's going to pee in his livewell!!

In retrospect, getting from "drew a woman co-angler" to "livewell urination" was an incredibly rapid escalation, even for an Uncle, but he seemed so pleased that I didn't attempt to argue. Slowly, the earth came back into focus and what had immediately occurred to him began to dawn on me: nobody goes 9 hours without urinating unless something really big is happening like - The President is asleep across your legs, or your arm is in a lion's mouth - that kind of thing.


Then, he abruptly left, leaving me at the center of a growing circle of burly, outdoorsmen intent on offering completely unhelpful advice regarding the possibilities inherent in a strange woman spending the day in your boat.

Suddenly, the reverse hit me - what happens when a man has to pee and there sits a strange female - not 8 feet away on the open water?

I am a problem solver. I resolved to "hold it."

The following morning dawned clear and I met my lady co-angler. She was wonderful. I began to mentally prepare for an epic day of fishing with a delightful partner instead of the general run of crusty, disgruntled, middle-aged men I've been saddled with in the past. Suddenly, roughly 6 minutes into our day - I had to pee. It was 5:14AM and we were still at the ramp, but I had to go - bad. Three cups of coffee and a gallon of Gatorade did not put me on the pathway to "holding it".

Err. E-r-i-n. Eh. I, you know.
You ok? Forget something?
Ah. No. I mean ah. Well. I got to go.
Yeah, lets go! We're gonna catch em! YEAH!
No. I mean I got to ah... Eh. "Go."
Ohhhhhh. Oh. Ok. Yeah. Ok. Ah. Well....I just won't look then.
....Eh. Ok.

It got awkward.

I stood perched on the bow of the boat and, for the first time in my life, I got nervous. I don't generally urinate in front of strange women. It's not really my thing. I can't get into it.

I just couldn't do it. It got weirder. I stood on the front of the boat waving and bobbing for three of the longest minutes of my life thinking about watefalls, urinals, the ocean....Nothing.

Don't worry about me! Just take your time. She whispered encouragingly from the stern.

I cringed and broke a sweat.

Eh. I don't normally have this problem! I whispered back. (I don't know why we were whispering, but it seemed appropriate).

A few more moments passed. The silence grew oppressive.

Ah. Could you make some noise or sing a song or something? I whispered, to dispel the awkwardness.

What??! Ah. Ok!?!? Seriously? Ah. Ok. Eh. Ahmmmm Hummm mmm. Ammhmmm. Hmmm. Huummmmm. She began the first few bars of "Away in A Manger" for some reason which really threw me off.

No. No. No. No. Stop. Stop. Stop. I'm kidding. That was a joke. Heh heh. Heh.

More time passed.

I reached a point of complete focus and enlightenment as my tonsils began to float. I understood eternity. I contemplated cold fusion. I was SO close to the answers!

And finally, mercifully, success!

That may have been the ultimate "ice breaker" and we had a great day afield. I learned to manage "performance anxiety" and successfully relieved myself no less than 4 times throughout the day without a hitch. It became a point of pride.

Through all that - somehow, in 9 straight hours of fishing - she never once called for the livewell. I don't know how she did it.

So, thanks E-r-i-n. You're a great fisher-woman-person. And thanks for not peeing in my boat!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fishing Together!

As I mentioned before, I've been fishing in tournaments with my Uncle Buster. Not with him exactly - more like around him, or in his orbit, or generally nearby.  Basically, we attend the same tournaments and he is generally kind and helpful and tolerates my presence and woeful ignorance until it is time to go home, then he goes home. It's like that.

Actually, imagine a situation wherein you are confronted with the presence of a much younger, less advanced, perhaps "developmentally challenged" child of another ethnicity or nationality who is also a relative and also refuses to leave you alone. Our "fishing together" is maybe more like that.

Just so I am perfectly clear - imagine the child described above has always been around and probably will never leave and eventually you resign yourself to the idea that at nearly any point you may turn around and there he is - grinning and waving and thrilled to see you and hungry and needing help and lost and hallucinating and bleeding profusely on your best rug.

We've been having a blast!