This Ain’t Fiction–Y’all Know I NEVER Write Fiction. This Shit Really Happened: Exactly As I Have Re-Counted It.

“Shonnie The Biker’s Wife Part IX:

Counting Down the Deck or

“How Do I Love Thee?

But Let Me Count Down The Double-Deck First”

Early the next morning, I ordered coffee and then waited outside to catch the room service dude/dudette before they could knock on the door and awaken Sleeping Beauty.

(Yes, we had that coffee maker in our room but I wanted ‘real-brewed, bona-fide coffee’ for us and not some Taster’s Choice shit.)

Presently the coffee arrived and I laced mine with Jim Beam, poured lots of sugar and lots of cream into hers.

Very gently, I woke her.

“Ahhh, what time is it?” She said while yawning and reaching for the ceiling, stretching her slightly freckled arms, splaying her fingers, undulating her hips and moving her head round and round as if she were performing some exotic aboriginal dance to summon up a God or maybe a lessor Daemon.

I sat down on the bed close to her, preparing my aim to land a kiss on her lips.

“I smell ‘real’ coffee. You got us some real coffee!” she said, quickly sitting up as my aimed kiss landed on the pillow where her head had been just a moment before.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“I was hoping to get at the very least, a kiss out of the deal.”

“I need to pee. Be right back,” she said, jumping up from the bed. “And while you wait, lots of cream, lots of sugar, ‘Sugar,’” laughing at her own joke all the way to the head.

“I Already Did That!” But she didn’t hear as she entered the bathroom and slammed the door shut.

Shonnie, in case you haven’t noticed by now, never, ever does anything delicately, daintily, half-way, or without lusto-gusto.

After what seemed at least an hour, but was more like six minutes, she marched out of the head. The sleepy look had vanished from her eyes, her body language was all energy now. She planted herself in the chair by the bed next to the night stand.

“Here ya go Darlin’,” I said as I handed her, carefully prepared by me, the cup of real, bona-fide coffee.

“Thanks Lover. Now, if you’d be so…”

“Yes yes, I know,” I said, as I lit two ‘Cowboy Killers,’ passing one to her.

“Much obliged,” she giggled, laying it on really thick.

Nervous apprehension descended upon me as I got up and dropped some already queued up, soft and low music into ‘lil boom box’:

The first few notes of Kris and Rita‘s ‘Help me make it through the night’ began. Satisfied it was still queued properly, I immediately shut it off.

“Name that tune Shonnie Girl.”

She took a sip of java, a slow, deliberate drag off her Marlboro, levelled her eyes at me, and said while exhaling, “Uh… ‘Goodtime Charley’s Rag-Tag Band with Tacos and Tamales on the horns section’. Song is called ‘He’s just another dead fish goin’ with the flow’.”

“That’s not even a ‘real’ song. You just pulled that outta your ass,” I protested.

“Of course I did. You wanna a ‘real’ woman in your life or you want one who wastes her time getting ready to be on lame-ass TV game shows?”

“Perfect Segway into something we need to discuss.”


My so well-rehearsed plan was coming apart at the seams. I had not meant to push the Red Shonnie Button. I had meant to push the Blue Shonnie Button.

Obviously, I had missed.

Trying to recover lost ground, aiming at some humility and some seriousness, I broached,

“Shonnie, I’m sorry. But I want you to indulge me for a few minutes. Can we shelve our little ‘word trysts’… sorry, our little ‘romantic word battles’ for a moment. I want to talk to you serious. Have a seat on the bed please.”

Suspiciously, she moved her props (ashtray and coffee cup) to the side of the night stand closer to the bed. Then she lay down stretching out and crossing her legs, seductively opening her bath robe as she did so.

“Ok, you have my attention. Do I have yours?”

*This Woman! ¡Ay, caramba!!*

“Shonnie, Baby, I want you to listen to this entire song without saying one word. It is a song I am sure you have heard many, many times, even several times while with me. Pretty certain you know it by heart, but this time, try to listen as if this is the very first time you have ever heard it. And then allow me to say something before you say anything. Will you do this for me?”

With a raised eyebrow, she said, “Uh, sure. Light it up.”

I got up from the other chair in the room, walked over to lil boom box and pressed ‘play’. Then I got into bed, lying close to Shonnie, reached out and grabbed her left hand, entwining my fingers with hers.

The beginning piano chords… as I lay there, using my fingers to tenderly stroke hers.

Kris began the duet:

Take that ribbon from your hair

Shake it loose and let it fall

Layin’ soft against my skin

Like the shadows on the wall…

As the ‘duet’ part of the duet began I stole a glance at her eyes…

 I don’t care what’s right or wrong

I won’t try to understand

Let the devil take tomorrow

But tonight I need a friend

And discerned some tears welling up in them.

Shonnie knew where this ship was sailing.

Sailing headlong into dangerous unchartered waters.

And it’s sad to be alone

Help me make it through the night

I don’t want to be alone

Help me make it through the night

The song ended. Shonnie was weeping.

And so was I.


I sat up and pulled her into an upright posture. I faced her and took both of her hands in mine, looked straight into those intensely blue eyes,

“My Darling, I don’t want you to help me make it through a night. I want you to help me make it through a life. Our life. Together.”

“I love you Shonnie.”

Through blinked back tears she said, “Yes yes, I know. Have known. Just did not know how you were gonna deal with it. Were you gonna run away scared? Or were you gonna stay not scared?” She tried to produce a laugh as she said, “I gave the ‘stay part’ forty-sixty.”

I drew her close and kissed her very lightly on her neck, then deeply on her mouth.

She continued as I kept her locked in my embrace, “Lance, you know I love you too. Have loved you ever since…”

“Ever since our first night?” I interrupted. “Me too. I loved you from that night.”


Joni was well into the next song on my homemade cassette,

Help me, I think I’m fallin’ in love too fast

It’s got me hopin’ for the future and worryin’ about the past

‘Cause I’ve seen some hot, hot blazes come down to smoke and ash

We love our lovin’ (lovin’)

But not like we love our freedom

Neither Shonnie nor I suffered fools lightly, but we knew we were both fools whenever we were together.

How could we even dare to hope for a happy ending to our story? Both of us so headstrong and so independent. She of course not quite as subtle in showing her traits as was I with mine.

And not to mention the two other salient realities:

  1. We were both married, but not to each other.
  2. I was a sailor, and would be compelled to leave her for recurring lengthy deployments at sea.

Liberally and loosely stealing from Shakespeare, we were ‘Star-Struck’, ‘Love-Struck’, ‘Star-Crossed Lovers’ living in a stolen season.

But at that moment, we didn’t care.

We made the most tender, yet passionate, slow passionate, if there is such a thing, love we ever had.

It was, to tritely yet accurately describe it, ‘Heaven on Earth.’


We lay there in the warmth of each other, knowing full well our relationship had been forever changed. And I am certain she, as did I, hoped it had changed for the better.

It was already perfect, but now it had the potential to become ever ‘more’ perfect, which I suppose is impossible grammatically, kind of like being ‘more unique’ or some such nonsense, but damn it all!

If we could form a ‘More Perfect Union’ then by God we would! Come Hell or Rapture!

Just hoping we hadn’t fucked up what we already had.


After lying there for half an hour, wrapped around each other and not saying even one word, just listening to Joni, we got up silently and sat down in our respective chairs.

Shonnie lit a cigarette and took a big sip of what had to be by now, horrible-tasting cold coffee.

I took a sip of mine, but it had been perma-warmed with Beam.

We exchanged loving, lustful, provocative looks.


Not being able to stand the silence or the exchanged and corny goo-goo eyes any longer, she blurted out, “You gonna teach me that Goddamn card-counting shit or what?!” Then she laughed loudly and hysterically.

And so did I.

Our previous rapport had been spared from our love confessional and thankfully remained fully in-tact.

“Drag your ass and your chair over here while I drag the coffee table between us,” I said.

“Fix me a drink while you’re at it will ya? This coffee tastes like shit which hasn’t even been warmed over.”

“You got it, Darlin.’”

“And stop callin’ me ‘Darlin’ all the damn time. Come up with something new, will ya? You’re wearing me out with that Texas Darlin’ shit!

I had to laugh. See why I loved her so? What the Hell is not to love about a woman such as she?

However. I think she was trying just a little too hard to make sure that I knew and she knew that our previous tête-à-tête way of banging our respective relationship heads together remained firmly grounded and fully preserved. In other words, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”


I began teaching her how to count down the deck.

“Shonnie,” I said. “Aces count as zero. Two through nine count as plus one. Tens and the rest (face cards) count as minus one.”

You’re gonna sit there and keep a running count in your head while you place two-dollar bets. Don’t get fancy. Just use the basic strategy I taught you.”

“When the count goes hot, I mean, when the count goes real positive, anything over plus five, you light a cig in your left hand. I’ll be at the bar and come on over, playing a drunk with a lot of money. Should just be a bit-part for me. No acting required. I can do ‘drunk’ slicker than owl shit.”

“Wait a minute!” She said. “You’re gonna ‘play’ a drunk?”

“Yeah. So what?”

“Never mind. But you probably might need to ‘rehearse’ a little bit.”

“Funny. Anyhow, we’ll go to the El Cortez this evening and you’ll go in first. Take a seat at the blackjack table closest to the bar. I’ll come a few minutes later and park my butt, watching you from the bar.”

When you signal, I’ll stumble on over and start throwing black chips around. You hand off the count to me by stacking some chips to your right. Five six, seven… Whatever it is. I’ll pretend not to know you while I pick up your count.”

If all works well, I’ll score a grand or two or three, then feign needing to move on, color my chips and bug. You stay for another twenty minutes or so and then meet me back at The Plaza. Got it?”

“Got it.”

“Great Girl,” I said.

“Oh Yeah? Fuck you! If we get into trouble, it’s on your ass.

“Honey, nothing illegal ‘bout countin’, but they do frown on it. We’ll be fine. Just lay off the sauce a bit.”

“Double Fuck You!” she said.

“There’s that Girl I love.”

Love? I thought we had already settled that issue.”


For the rest of the morning and slightly into the afternoon we practiced her ‘counting.’ She was surprisingly adept and dare I admit, picked it up much quicker than I had back when I was floating around in the Northern Indian Ocean trying to teach myself.

I pronounced her ‘Ready for Prime Time.’

“Ready? I was ‘ready’ two fuckin’ hours ago. I’ve just been humoring you. Can we have some food now?”

Love is a Many-‘Splintered’ Thing… and a Double-Edged Sword of Damocles.

And absolutely extraordinarily exhilarating with Shonnie.



Part X: “Shonnie The Biker’s Wife, Chapter X: Dalliance (and loyalty in Las Vegas)”

Coming Very Soon

Update: Part X is UP


If you are new here, or a long-lost returning Pilgrim, you may want to begin your Shonnie Journey Below

And then simply “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” i.e., The Lancelot Links:


Below You Will Find Most Of The Original Posts. Once / If You Arrive At Thirteen There Are Links To The Final Few Chapters. Please keep in mind however, that each and every one of them is in the process of being rewritten: first to last. This will probably take at least two or three weeks.

But if you can’t wait… Here ya go!

Parts One  Two  Three  Four  Five  Six  Seven  Eight  Nine  Ten  Eleven  Twelve  Thirteen


Commentary Section from Original Post.

For continuity, please read from the bottom up.


LAMarcom July 18, 2014 at 10:05 Edit

Pretty sure you could. Just takes practice.

Thanks for reading Teela!

Teela Hart July 18, 2014 at 09:59 Edit

I couldn’t count cards if I wanted to.

Looking forward to reading the rest.


LAMarcom July 1, 2014 at 21:01 Edit

Problem with me being ‘Lance Corporal’ is that I am a Sailor, not a Marine. 😉

There are many different levels of skill in card counting. I had honed my skills on a six month Western Pacific deployment. I also read Thorpe’s book and Kenny Uston’s.

(This book must be a later edition. The one I worn out reading, I purchased from a book store in Hong Kong. Same title, but published in the late Seventies if memory serves. Was not aware of any later editions. Might be the same book, just a reprint.)

I taught Shonnie just the basic count. Not as powerful as the more sophisticated ones (for example keeping a side count on Aces). The thing I learned from Uston was the concept of the ‘Big Player.’

The easiest way to get spotted as a card counter is to be betting small, then suddenly when the deck goes ‘hot’, start betting large. Sure tip off. Having someone else counting, then walking up and immediately placing big bets is safer. Usually.

Thanks for your comments and for the visit. You are correct. I need to finish this up. I aim to.



Exile on Pain Street July 1, 2014 at 06:24 Edit

You make counting sound so easy! If you don’t have a brain for numbers or, like myself, a functioning brain at all, you get pretty tripped-up in the pluses and minuses. But that’s a pretty concise explanation.

I know my way around a craps table but don’t know nuthin’ ’bout no stinkin’ cards. I’ve sat at black jack tables and fucked it up for everyone. Boy, do they give you dirty looks!

I think it’d be cool if your last name was Corporal. You’d be Lance Corporal. See what I did there? Finish this up. Did you get busted?

LAMarcom June 30, 2014 at 18:22 Edit

It’s a grind if ya do it right Sadie. More and more difficult these days. Most of the Joints deal from a six-deck shoe and reshuffle halfway into it. Tough to get a real advantage.

Thanks very much for reading and commenting.



LAMarcom June 30, 2014 at 18:21 Edit

Laughing my ass off!

Thanks Annie.


LAMarcom June 30, 2014 at 18:20 Edit

You could be right Mark.

Thanks for the read and your comment. I appreciate it.


LAMarcom June 30, 2014 at 18:19 Edit

Yeah, I think I know that guy.


Thanks My Friend.


happierheathen June 29, 2014 at 22:26 Edit

One of my cousins is a nice guy who dresses well and speaks softly, and if you aren’t careful about counting cards in certain Vegas “properties” he’ll drop by and invite you to take a walk with him. Good thing you didn’t get to meet him.

markbialczak June 29, 2014 at 19:14 Edit

Somebody’s gonna end up either beat to a pulp in the back room of the casino or bloody face down on the pavement in front of the joint, and I sure hope it ain’t Shonnie. You know how to build the tension, Lance-a-rooney.

Mad Annie, Bronwyn, Ann June 29, 2014 at 19:12 Edit

“There’s that Girl I love.”


Methinks the cat just landed amidst the pigeons!


~ Sadie ~ June 29, 2014 at 18:42 EditDamn – you can get an education anywhere 😉 I want to try that card counting shit, now!!! Thanks Lance for teaching me something new & the continued saga . . . great writing & storytelling!!

OKAY! LAST ONE! Then I will MOVE ON! To Something NOT So Depressing! “Pap, Huck, Peanut, Delirium tremens, and Lance”

Oh Man!

I have been here/there

Do NOT wanna go back there.

Dealing with the DT’s

Shamefully Yes.

:Been There, DoneThis…

Exhibited This

Cred for Vid: Beeston Media


I post a lot of shit. I post a lot of off the wall shit. If you have read my ‘By Way of Introduction’ page you will know this. But, OK,  most of you have not (read that). Therefore, I will be brief here (“More matter and less art,” Yeah yeah yeah…) More matter below:

And here is some ref: Peanut, stuff, more stuff, and even more stuff.

I stole this from Sam Clemens. I hope you like it a lot. (I do)

I don’t know how long I was asleep, but all of a sudden there was an awful scream and I was up. There was pap looking wild, and skipping around every which way and yelling about snakes. He said they was crawling up his legs; and then he would give a jump and scream, and say one had bit him on the cheek–but I couldn’t see no snakes. He started and run round and round the cabin, hollering “Take him off! take him off! he’s biting me on the neck!” I never see a man look so wild in the eyes. Pretty soon he was all fagged out, and fell down panting; then he rolled over and over wonderful fast, kicking things every which way, and striking and grabbing at the air with his hands, and screaming and saying there was devils a-hold of him. He wore out by and by, and laid still a while, moaning.

Then he laid stiller, and didn’t make a sound. I could hear the owls and the wolves away off in the woods, and it seemed terrible still. He was laying over by the corner. By and by he raised up part way and listened, with his head to one side. He says, very low:

“Tramp–tramp–tramp; that’s the dead; tramp–tramp–tramp; they’re coming after me; but I won’t go. Oh, they’re here! don’t touch me –don’t! hands off–they’re cold; let go. Oh, let a poor devil alone!”

Then he went down on all fours and crawled off, begging them to let him alone, and he rolled himself up in his blanket and wallowed in under the old pine table, still a-begging; and then he went to crying. I could hear him through the blanket.

By and by he rolled out and jumped up on his feet looking wild, and he see me and went for me. He chased me round and round the place with a clasp-knife, calling me the Angel of Death, and saying he would kill me, and then I couldn’t come for him no more.

I begged, and told him I was only Huck; but he laughed SUCH a screechy laugh, and roared and cussed, and kept on chasing me up. Once when I turned short and dodged under his arm he made a grab and got me by the jacket between my shoulders, and I thought I was gone; but I slid out of the jacket quick as lightning, and saved myself. Pretty soon he was all tired out, and dropped down with his back against the door, and said he would rest a minute and then kill me. He put his knife under him, and said he would sleep and get strong, and then he would see who was who.

So he dozed off pretty soon. By and by I got the old split-bottom chair and clumb up as easy as I could, not to make any noise, and got down the gun. I slipped the ramrod down it to make sure it was loaded, then I laid it across the turnip barrel, pointing towards pap, and set down behind it to wait for him to stir. And how slow and still the time did drag along.

Shoot at me you son of a bitch!

“Lately I been thinkin’, I just might quit drinkin’…

Now I don’t know, all in all…”


Jerry Jeff Walker – I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight/Morning Song To Sally

Vid Cred: Jan Hammer





Love You!

Good Gawd Damn! Make it STOP! “Yet Just Another Silly Re-Boot. “Hamsterdam”

(With Apologies to ‘The Wire’- Wonderful TV Series Show)”

And so Sorry Toni

And is

And Joe Biden is an Idiot.

I rest my case.

Case Rested.


Astute viewers Will note note That n kid who got shot later appeared in “Creed” The movie.

Omar Comin’ Yo!

Muskrat / Hamster Love

Captain & Tennille

Obviously She is ‘Lip sync-ing’ This–

I Don’t Care.

I’d Follow Her Any Where.

And Her Fake Teeth Are Too Bright White.

No Matter:

I Still Lover Her

She Was The Real Deal!

Toni Tennille



For Real

G’Damn Saint!

Way back in the day when I was a wee child and living in Kansas City with My Daddy and my Evil Step-Mom DJ, I had a pet hamster.

He was a tiny baby hamster, so I had to feed him from a very tiny baby milk bottle. I loved feeding him so much in this way.

Well I kinda ‘over-did’ it and one day he just exploded.

It was, needless to say, a shocking mess.

Hamster abuse!


But I was guilty!

Imagine my remorse.

This was my first personal tragedy.

First time I ever felt sorrow.

I tried to hold on to memories of happier times:

But I kept having this recurring dream:

I was not an evil child.

But I grew up to be an evil man.

It’s a Darwinian thing:


Survival of the fittest

What goes around comes around I guess.


Good Karma?

I’ve accumulated none.

(And probably too late to rack up any)

Oh wait!

John and Yoko can hook me up!

Instant Karma

Added Bonus Value: HAMSTERDAM

“It’s Baltimore Gentlemen–The Gods Will Not Save You”

More Poignant Today Than Yesterday

“The Wire”

“The Gods Will NOT Save You”

Video Compilation Credit: hartzilladesign

Aw Shit! Re-Visit This–I Did. X2 (That Means Twice) Double Vision–Ain’t No Fun–One of Me is Enuff! “The Trouble With Lance And Beer Cans (And Tribbles)

I’m Apologize for the U-Boob links— I may fix this later…. or not. Probably Not. I’ve Lost My Mind.”

Just Got Paid Today

P.S., Drummer,  Frank Beard,

Never Got Enough Credit!



The major problem with being an alcoholic (semi-functioning one with a brain) is that you are smart enough to talk yourself out of necessary tasks that need to be tasked and stupid enough to not realize you are deluding yourself into thinking that nothing else matters, ‘cept maintenance drinking.

This is a delicate tight-wire you have precariously put yourself upon for no real good reason.


You Sailor on.

Precariously perched

Trying to maintain some semblance of ‘balance.’

It is a delicate dance.

And you are smart enough to know how the story must end.

Yet you hurdle fast on into the dark void of your massive madness.

Casting all caution to the wind.

Rinse and Repeat Every Day.

Same Bat Time.

Same Bat Channel.

But somehow Life Staggers On

“Hold my beer and watch this”

Vid Cred: MsAnne5

This Boat Is Sinking. Ladies & Gents… When Will I Ever Learn To Keep My Big Mouth Shut? Never Ever? OK; I’m Good With That…

“No One Ever Speaks About The Monster…

Why Not?

He Resides In Every Room.

There is no thumbnail below.

I cannot fix it.

Just trust me.

It is Annie.

(OK, I ‘fixed’ it)

No More “I Love Yous”

And Fuck You If You Are Stupid Enough To Send Me an

“I Love You”

Just Don’t Do It

My Respond Will Hurt Your Feelings

Please Take My Word On This

“You don’t know what I fear.”

(How could you???)

MY “Hood:”

Immediately after I was delivered to my front porch from UBH, I boarded my little Chariot and went to the Beer Store.

I did NOT fall off the wagon.

I jumped.

Then,  Just for fun,  I called in an air-strike to finish her off.



No more wagon!

Flash Forward to present day:

I am struggling.

The Rehab did not ‘rehabilitate’ me.

It just allowed me to ‘dry out’ for a week.

(I needed the break)

But now, I find me back in that same old familiar place.

Dodging the DT Monster.

Dodging me.

Making excuses.

Telling the two-and-a-half friends I have left:

“I am sorry.”

Perhaps I will die soon.


There is an Election Coming  Up!

And I would not miss that for all the Rum In Jamaica.


There are too many women.

Too many women I am currently in love … with

Annie Lennox Being Very Close to The Very Top of My “Lust-After” Hit Parade:

“So many monsters”


Lance Loves Women!

All women.

All kinds of women


Yes. I Know. I Recently Re-Poster’d This, But WordPress Is Acting Stupid—Once Again… “Awright: Here (Hopefully) Is The ‘De-Scrw’d Version’

–Why Is My Life So Difficult? “Sometimes There Just Aren’t Enuff Crud Eaters” Redux–Major Expanded–New & Improved! The Text is WAY Too Big, But I dare Not Try To Fix That. WP Has It In For Me! You See.”

“Hey Baby, Wanna Go To Ben Franklin’

And Buy Some Guppies?”

No Darlin’ I wanna go to that new fish store and buy me a coupla crud-eaters for my ‘quarium.”

After having accumulated a little money during my three years’ working in the Sinai Desert

(Sinai Field Mission)

I decided to come home to Texas.

My wife (the first one) and I settled in Nacogdoches resolved to open a tropical fish store. A dream I’d had since I was a kid.

I had never been to Nacogdoches, but according to U.S. News & World Report, it was one of “The Ten Best Places to Live in the United States” and the city fathers had even erected a billboard on the main road into town proclaiming this quote from the magazine, just in case some folks missed reading that issue.

Nacogdoches, for any non-Texans who may be reading this, is Ass-Deep in the heart of the Deep East Texas Piney Woods—gorgeous country, simply breathtaking. ‘Paradise On Texas’.

We leased a small building on South Street, which was the southern part of the main drag through town, just off the square.

Wanting everything to be perfect, I spent the better part of the summer of 1980 fitting out the inside of my shop. I built all the fixtures, assembled all the equipment, and even built the office desk my wife would be using to ‘Cook the Books’.

I built floor-to-ceiling rustic cabinets to display the sixty aquariums which would hold our retail stock. All that could be seen were the fronts of the tanks; no filters, hoses, wires or anything to wreck the ambiance.

The overhead lights were dimmed, keeping the atmosphere what one would expect in a fine Public Aquarium, most of the light coming only from the aquariums themselves.

At the very back of the store, I built a nine-foot by three-foot display tank, roughly 600 gallons—it was built into the wall, again so as not to ruin the effect.

This was my dream aquarium, showcasing all the skills I had honed over a lifetime of fish-keeping. It was decorated with huge driftwood, rocky multi-leveled terraces, and no less than two dozen different varieties of live plants.

The effect was that of looking into a cross section of the Amazon River. Beautiful Blue Discus, shoals of Cardinal Tetras, various South American catfish, and many other exotic South American species were all stocked in this display. It was the perfect closed ecosystem.

(Not My Tank, but very similar)


The retail stock tanks were also painstakingly decorated to provide examples of how fish should be kept in a home aquarium. No burping clams, no rotating ship’s wheels, no deep sea divers with bubbles coming out of their butt, no ‘Creatures from the Black Lagoon’, no ‘No Fishin’ signs—none of this dime-store shit in MY Shoppe. Oh Hell No. Every display reflected my fundamental conviction that tropical fish deserved to be represented in natural surroundings. Period.

Our store was beautiful. I set up a large octagon display tank in the entrance area, so that the first thing our customers would see was an aquarium as it should be: All Natural: Live plants, Real Driftwood, wonderfully terraced natural gravel substrate, and of course exotic tropical fish.

No goldfish, no guppies, no ‘trash fish’—for those they could go to Wal*Mart or Ben Franklin’s.

My stock tanks were filled with all the species I had always sought when I was in the hobby. There were knife fish, freshwater fire eels, black veil angelfish, gold veil angelfish, marble veil angelfish, discus, Clown Loaches, many colorful varieties of Tetras, Barbs, Gourami’s, African leaf fish…

I had about a dozen different species of African Cichlids. There were Oscars, Arawanas, freshwater crustaceans, rare amphibians, and on and on. I even had a freshwater stingray from the Amazon River and an electric catfish from Africa, both truly rare specimens, and I was sure they would be snatched up within a week of my grand opening.

Everything a hobbyist would need to set up a perfectly natural and beautiful aquarium was available for purchase: Driftwood, live plants, natural gravel, a variety of river rocks, and of course all the hardware, to include all sizes of aquariums; all manner of pumps, filters, heaters, lights, etc. I even had Books! Hardbound Full-Color Aquarium Books for sale. Can you imagine? Books!

Aquarium World

Eagerly, I counted the minutes until we opened the doors to ‘The Public’ for the first time. I was twenty-two years old and In Business! The Tropical Fish Business! I knew my shit. There was nothing anyone could possibly tell ME about Tropical Fish. No Ma’am. No Sir.

A few minutes before opening, Janet came over to me and said with not a little trepidation in her voice, “Uh, Lance, the parking lot is full.” (We had done quite a lot of advertising)

“Well great! Let’s let ‘em in.”

As she went to open up I was very excited. I would be talking to My People, The True Hobbyists. People who loved Tropical Fish Keeping as did I.

Door opened and here they came.

I greeted my first customer, a fortyish lady with big hair and perhaps a little too much make-up, “Good morning Ma’am and welcome to Aquarium World. How may I help you?”

“I need a crud-eater for my tank.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah, I need a crud-eater to clean up that crud that gets all over the bottom.”

“You mean ‘detritus’?

“Ditra…who? I mean the fish poop. I want a crud eater to clean that up. In fac’ I’ll take two of ‘em.”

(I felt my hobbyist heart sinking with every word out of this woman’s mouth)

“Ma’am, there is not a fish on Earth that eats excrement.”

“Son, I didn’t say…er’cra…wha’d you say? I want a crud eater to eat all that fish crud off’n the bottom of my tank.”

“Ma’am, I can sell you a Plecostomus. They are very adept at cleaning up the algae and will also clean up any uneaten food that your other fish allow to fall to the substrate.

Plecostomus AKA: Crud-Eater

“You ain’t from aroun’ here, are ya Son? I don’t want no plebotta-musk damnit. I want a crud eater.

“Ma’am, there is no such fish as the one you are describing. I am very sorry.”

“You mean they don’t make crud eaters no more?”

“No Ma’am; I am sorry to say, ‘they’ don’t.”

“Well, I’m gonna go down ta Walmart; my cousin said that’s where she done got hers.”


Hoping that my first customer was some kind of anomaly, I approached my next, a fiftyish woman with chubby red cheeks and a pleasant look about her.

“Good morning Ma’am and welcome to Aquarium World. How may I help you?”

“I’m lookin’ for the guppies, but I ain’t seein’ none.”


“I’m sorry Ma’am, but we don’t sell guppies. We have some lovely Neon Tetras over here and some very colorful Cardinal Tetras as well: Very beautiful and rather low-maintenance.”

“They have babies?” she asked.

“Well, uh… yes; they can be bred in captivity, but it is rather involved and labor intensive on the part of the hobbyist. You will need an extra aquarium and some infusoria to feed the fry. I have a wonderfully well-illustrated book in the front room which describes how to breed many species of egg layers. I would be happy to show it to …”

“They don’t have no babies?”

“No ma’am, they are not live-bearers like your guppies, platys, mollies and the like. They lay eggs, and if you provide the proper…”

“My Gran-baby, she likes to see them babies pop outta the mama.”

“I’m sorry Ma’am, I just don’t sell those species here. Are you sure I can’t interest you in some more interesting varieties of tropical fish?”

“What the hell could be more int’restin’ than God’s miracle of life happenin’ in front of my gran’baby’s eyes right there in my own fish bowl? You ain’t from aroun’ here, are ya Boy? You one of them ath’ists or sumthin’?”

“Ma’am, perhaps you should try Walmart.”

I looked at Janet, standing behind the counter waiting to ring up our first sale. She just gave me that “Don’t look at me,” look.

There were seven or eight other customers in the shop perusing all the aquariums. None seemed to require my assistance. Looking around for someone who might be needing my expertise, I spied an elderly man, tall and lean and rough-looking and right out of a Marlboro ad.

He was standing in front of my fish food display, which could be compared to the colorful displays of herbal tea one might find at some high-end New York tea house. I was very proud of that display, but the choices were myriad and probably for him, I surmised, somewhat overwhelming.

“Good Morning Sir. Welcome to Aquarium World. May I help you with the fish food selection?”

“Mornin’ back atcha, Young Man. I’m lookin’ for some fish food for my pet catfish. Been feedin’ ‘im cornbread and bits of fried chicken, but he don’t seem to like that much.”

“Uh…yes. I suppose he wouldn’t. May I ask what kind of catfish you have? Pimelodella pictus, Corydoras, Plecostomus?”


“Oh, I see… I have some pellets here specially formulated for bottom feeders. These should do nicely and they won’t cloud up your aquarium as I’m certain the cornbread is.

“Aquarium? Hell Son. I keep him in a big ole mason jar. Don’t need no ‘quarium.”

“Did you need anything else today Sir?”

“Nope. This here’ll do me. Much obliged.”


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mb-man.jpg

Marlboro-Mudcat Man

I Suspect This Was Mudcat Before He Was ‘Adopted’:

Street Cred: joecartoondotcom

“Very well. My wife can ring you up over at the counter. Thank you for shopping at Aquarium World.”

Why was I suddenly feeling as if I had died and gone to Dante’s Hell and was stuck in the movie ‘Deliverance‘?

I walked around a bit, observing my exotic fish and eavesdropping on my customers.

“Hey Marlene! Come looky here at this one!”

“What is’t Nathan?”

This fish is NOT to be sold to minors, idiots, alcoholics or Yankees

“Says ‘Lectric Catfish’ right there. You ever heard a such?”

“It looks so real! Caint even see where the batteries go.”

Input Output: Electricity

Video Credit: JoniJourney


I moved on.

There was a young couple giggling in front of my Fire Newt tank. They looked like college students, probably from Stephen F. Austin, the local university. I eased closer to eavesdrop. I was curious as to what was so damn funny about my Fire Newts.

“Hey Mark,” the girl whispered to her boyfriend, “Those two are doing ‘sixty-nine.’’

More quiet giggling. Then ‘Mark’ said, “She turn’d me into a newt… I got bettah.” More giggling.

I had to smile.

“Hey Honey.” Janet was calling to me. “Could you come here for a sec?”

She was still with The Marlboro Man.

“Is there a problem Sir?” I asked.

“Son, I just got one question.”

“Yes Sir?”

“What is so Goddamn special ‘bout this here rock that it costs nine dollars?”

“Well, you see Sir, this rock is perfect for use in closed aquarium systems, as it has no iron ore, unlike most of the rocks you may pick up around here in east Texas. It will not rust in your aquarium and kill your fish. It is imported from Colorado. It is a river rock, washed clean by nature.”

“Bullshit! I guess I’m in the wrong business. I s’pose I should just sell all my cattle and go to harvestin’ rocks off my ranch. Hell. I got plenty rocks, I could retire in a year. By th’ way, y’all ain’t from ‘round here, are y’all?”

Things did not improve much from there. As soon as we closed I called my wholesale sales rep in Bossier City and told him to rush me some guppies, platys, mollies and a few score crud eaters. Oh, and throw in some burping clams and some neon-colored plastic plants. And yes, I will pay the extra charge for next-day delivery.


I probably forgot to mention this, but we were so poor at first that we had to live in the shop, (Which was against a City Ordinance Local Law) no longer able to afford the apartment we lived in after spending all of our savings on getting the shop ready to open. We slept on army cots procured from my

maternal grandfather


And That Was Just My First Day.

Where were the True Hobbyists?


Continuation of this Old Fish Tale:

Approximately six or seven months after our “Illustrious Grand Opening” we had built up some decent clientele who appreciated exotic (read “expensive”) specimens, hence we were turning tidy profits.

I decided to expand into the flip-side of the coin that is the ‘Tropical Fish Business’:

‘Salt Water Exotics’—even more expensive and greater profit margin to boot.

“My Dream” That Kept Me Up Most Nights

Once I Had Made My Decision


There was a calculated risk in this, as keeping reef fish in closed systems during the Eighties was not nearly as sophisticated nor as easy as it is today.

The equipment was just freshwater still, but clever manufacturers started packaging and labeling the same equipment “For Salt Water Aquariums” and jacked the price about ten percent.

Being the ‘Professional’ that I was; I spotted this ruse instantly.

There was one decent product that did come on the market and it definitely was ‘strictly’ for marine aquariums: ‘Instant Ocean.’

Just add water and you’re good to go.

The little front section of Aquarium World had one octagon display tank and a shelf with all those expensive books that nobody ever bought, so I had ample room to set up my marine tanks there.

I purchased a one hundred gallon aquarium and two fifties to go on either side.

The set-up satisfied me technically and pleased me aesthetically.


Over the course of a few weeks I accumulated all the equipment (and boxes of ‘Instant Ocean’) I needed.

Suitable substrate required some searching though. All the available literature recommended crushed coral.

“Hello? I live in The Piney Woods of East Texas.”

Not a lot of coral here, crushed or otherwise.

Then I discovered in one book that crushed oyster shell would work almost equally well, with the caveat that it can be hard on bottom feeders, due to the semi-sharp nature of it.

We all must make trade-offs in our lives, even bottom feeders. (I have known a few—mostly of the ’two-legged’ variety, but that is a ‘different’ post.

Turns out, I could purchase all the crushed oyster shell I would ever need right there in Nacogdoches. I did not know it at the time, but it is used in gardening. I guess it does something magical when mixed in with the soil.

Who knew?


So with that last little hurdle hurdled over, I assembled my Marine Aquariums.

Janet and I had driven to our primary wholesaler, Fritz Pet Products in Dallas the previous Saturday. They delivered every week, but I needed to purchase décor for my tanks and needed to pick it out myself, not trusting some buck-tooth stock puller to pick the most suitable (to me) pieces of coral, alkaline rocks, et cetera.

We did not have a car at the time, our last one having given up the ghost. But, happily one of the car dealerships had a side-business: “Rex’s Rent-A-Wreck.” For just ten bucks a day we could have vehicular transportation, with just one stipulation: “Do not take it out-of-town—local use only,”

Well, screw that!

We drove it to Dallas (And later to Houston and Galveston)

Guess Ol’ Rex never bothered to check the odometer.


After getting the tanks decorated to my satisfaction, filling them with Instantly made ocean, checking that the filters and other equipment was working properly, there was yet one thing to do before I could put reef fish in the aquariums.

‘Season’ the tanks.

Without getting too technical, this means getting the ‘nitrogen cycle’ started.

Since I am lazy, I stole this rather abbreviated explanation from the internet:

Nitrogen Cycle:

The natural Nitrogen Cycle is a full-cycle where Nitrogen goes from air to plant to animal to bacteria and back to air; such a system needs no human intervention. In an aquarium though, the Nitrogen process is less a cycle and more a biochemical cascade that involves the continual chemical degradation of nitrogenous compounds from ammonia to nitrite to nitrate. The final nitrates are then taken up by aquarium plants or removed from the water by other means.

“Le Cycle”


Now knowing that black mollies are naturally brackish water fish in the wild (But always marketed as ‘fresh-water’ and popular like guppies, because they are cheap and, like guppies, are live-bearers), I knew they could thrive in pure sea water as well.

I needed them in my marine tanks to jump-start the cycle, thus ‘seasoning’ the tanks.

So I threw a dozen each into my fifty gallons, and two dozen into my one hundred gallon.

They did just fine and were soon popping out baby black mollies like rabbits pop out baby rabbits.

Pretty soon I was up to my ass in black mollies (so I started selling the off-spring down the river, so to speak.

After a few weeks of this, and using my water testing kits, monitoring the ammonia and nitrite levels, I announced to Janet,

“It’s time to go to Houston via Galveston. Please call up Rex and tell him we need to rent his wreck for a few days.”

“Why do I always have to call him?” she demanded.

“Because he has a crush on you and he don’t much care for me. That’s why.”

“I know we are going to “Salt-Water Marine” wholesaler in Houston so you can buy some damn fish, but why Galveston?”

“Because you need a tan,” I said.

“Lance, you’re an asshole. Have I ever mentioned that?”

“Hermit crabs.”


“I need hermit crabs for my tanks and they come for free on the beach at Galveston. Just have to search ‘em out, pick ‘em up and and bag ‘em up.”

“I’ll be damned if I’m gonna even touch, let alone pick up a hermit crab,” she said.

“Don’t fret. You’ll be lying on a beach towel getting that tan you so desperately need while I am combing the beach, hermit hunting. When night falls, we’ll check into The Flagship Hotel, order room service with a bottle of wine and make love. You could use a little mini-vacation and some pampering. God knows you’ve earned it. And… we get to sleep in a real bed, instead of an army cot. Sound good?”

The Glorious Flagship

“What about the crabs? They gonna get room service too?”

“Naw, they’re gonna sleep in a bucket in the car. We’ll have the whole room to ourselves.”

Bright and early next morning, in high spirits and so happy to be getting out of Nacogdoches, we were south-bound and down, Destination: Galveston.

Video Credit: WarmerMusicVideos
It’s a great vid. Would not you concur?

To be continued...