More Random Memories from the Middle East

Driving from Eilat to Ras Mohammed (Sinai) with the first wife.

Don't stay here

Okay, we were not married at that time. (At least not in ‘her’ God’s eyes.) We were both working at SFM and had coordinated our R&R schedule so that we could spend that week together. ‘Bliss’ Promised, promise of same…

We arrived in Tel Aviv and immediately went off to rent a car for our ‘camping’ trip. Our itinerary required us to first make the rather long and somewhat treacherous drive to Elait (‘treacherous’ because of the roads) where I hoped to get in a few more dives toward qualifying me as a bona-fide PADI deep-sea-diver. Then we were to head further south all the way to Ras Mohammad, on the southernmost tip of the Sinai, perhaps stopping or staying at Sharm El Sheik along the way. (Sharm back then was all about nothingness, still Israeli-Occupied Egypt and not the tourist trap it is today.)

We had loaded up our tiny rental car with way too much camping stuff, ‘checked out’ from the rec center we had at Sinai Field Mission Base camp. We had a tent, (such as it was), cooking utensils, sleeping bags, lanterns, coolers, and et cetera, ‘et cetera’  mostly being booze, of course) And of course we had schlepped along my boom box, extra batteries, and about five dozen cassette tapes. My life needed musical accompaniment back then. Always.

We left Elait and proceeded south. The road hugged the Gulf of Aqaba. The contrast was stunning. I mean, every once in a while I would stop the car, grab a snorkel and, well, go snorkeling. The colors under the sea were so vibrant, as opposed to the desolation of the desert behind me. Now, do not mistake: I love the Sinai. It is perhaps the most beautiful desert in the world. But. But! The coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba! As I did say:  color contrast.

We got about half-way to Sharm and Ras Mohammad, and as it was getting late, I decided ‘time to camp’. We parked the car on a very small ‘break-down’ lane and as Janet watched, I schlepped all the ‘gear’ down a ravine, or rather a ‘clif’ to the beach and the camping site I had proclaimed, ‘perfect.”

Set up the camp. Opened a bottle of ‘fine’ Israeli wine. Turned up the boom box. Cooked some chicken bits over a make-shit campfire. Ate. Then… had to shit. (I had been drinking apple juice all day—ran through me—needed to evacuate—embarrassed—

“Uh Janet, I need to leave you here for a min or two…”

“Why?”

“Just do. I’ll be back… soon. Okay?”

“Sure.”

So, I grabbed a roll of T-paper and headed off into the darkness, looking for a place to take a righteous shit, diarrhea shit. Found one. Did the deed. Happy and sated. Went back to our camp site. Found Janet laughing her ass off.

“What’s so fuckin’ funny?” I asked.

“Your toilet paper preceded you!” She said.

“Huh?”

“Yeah! The wind blew it all over here!”

“Damn!”

We made love in the ‘tent.’ and fell asleep. The next early morning, we were awakened by the sounds of someone yelling at us in Hebrew:

I will translate:

“Hey! American! You cannot be here!”

“Why not?”

“This is IDF Zone!”

“And? I have diplomatic immunity!”

“What?!”

“We have diplomatic i-mun-it-ty!”

“What!?”

“Fuck off!”

“Wait! I am coming there..”

“Fine.” (asshole)

Will be continued… Here

Ras Mo

Ras Mohammad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vid Credit Here:

Country Boy At Its Best

“I’ve run my share of grass…”

Here

Throwback Thursday: Shark Fishing

Confession: I lost a day somewhere, probably my clothes dryer ate it. (along with my sock) All day long I have been happily thinking it Wednesday. Just now realized, it’s Thursday… Well, I guess shit happens.

This little saga of a post should’ve been broken down into ‘chapters’. Alas, I never got to it. Oh well, if you have twenty or so minutes to invest, you might just like it. (And someday, I just may finish it.)

The original title was: “Not Like Going Down The Pond Chasing Blue Gills Or Tommy Cats”–Quint

A quote from the movie, Jaws

****

“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.”

― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

Galveston! Oh Galveston!

Many times during my life Galveston has been my ‘stomping grounds’ and remains to this day one of my most favored places on Earth, even though it has been “cleaned up” and my favorite sleazy bar now just an empty spot on the beach and a vacant void in my heart.

LH_1

My step-father took me to Galveston in late summer 1969 on a fishing trip, and I have loved Galveston ever since. Mike was a good stepfather who loved fishing and some of my happiest memories of him are the many times just the two of us would spend the day fishing in Santa Cruz, California or in this case, Galveston.

Leaving Houston, we rambled down Interstate 45 coming upon more and more water, (canals), as we approached Galveston. Seeing houses built over water without garages, but with little piers and small boats tied up in lieu of cars, I said to Mike, “That’s how I would like to live.”

Crossing the big bridge over to Galveston Island afforded a magnificent view. It was a beautiful bright clear day and I could see the fishing boats and sailboats in Galveston Bay. Over the bridge and driving through Galveston City we intersected Seawall Boulevard and the Gulf of Mexico appeared abruptly as if from nowhere and that overpowering first sight of it absolutely blew me away.

We went to the fishing pier which was connected to The Flagship Hotel and even though I caught nothing noteworthy, I had one of the best times of my young life. The smells of the sea, the fresh cut bait, the salt spray were all things familiar to me from so many trips to Santa Cruz. I love the sea, to be sure.

Many years later, after having read Peter Benchley’s Jaws and becoming obsessed with the idea of fishing for something that held the very real possibility of turning the tables and making me the “bait,” I decided Galveston was the place to explore the potential of this heady new-found avocation.

After high school graduation and a couple of semesters attending college in Commerce I moved to La Porte, which is about an hour from Galveston and there developed a plan for my first shark-fishing expedition. Since sharks, big sharks, the kind I was after, could not generally be found by fishing from the beach or even from the many fishing piers which run out from Seawall Boulevard, and since I had no boat, the South Jetty which runs almost two miles out into the Gulf from the eastern tip of Galveston Isle would be my causeway to deep water, no boat required. All it would take is a little forethought, some equipment, and some brass balls. I had all three available to me.

I spent the better part of my first paycheck (I was working for Gulf States Asphalt Company in Pasadena.) on a six-aught saltwater fishing reel and a very large study rod to mount it on. Now this rig was designed to be used from a fishing boat, i.e., could not ‘cast’ the bait with it. Therefore the biggest problem I faced was getting the bait out far enough away from the jetty to be clear of the huge blocks of granite of which the jetty was constructed (begun in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century) and closer to where I presumed the sharks would congregate. Not relishing the idea of swimming the bait out (I had also seen the movie Jaws) I decided a small inflatable boat would be the ideal and affordable and safe way for me to deliver the bait. I purchased a small orange ‘boat’ just large enough for one ‘sharker’ and his rig. I spent several hours one Friday night preparing all my gear for the initial test run.

Peanut was with me during this time and we both worked the same shift at the asphalt factory. He and I were living there in La Porte with the parents of three of our old high school buddies. The father had decided they move to La Porte after his children graduated as the job situation was quite a lot better in the Houston area than in Honey Grove. Go figure.

Peanut did not share my new-found passion for shark fishing and flatly vetoed my suggestion that he accompany me on my first foray into this brave new endeavor.

“I ain’t fixin’ to be studyin’ ‘bout no damn sharks.” I believe that to be an accurate quote.

No problem. Actually I was relieved, so that in the off-chance my plan failed and I remained ‘shark-less’ there would be no witnesses to any folly I might become the star of.

Part of the gear I had purchased was one very large hook. I’m talking large. Amazing to me now how stupid I was back then. (Still stupid today, but in different arenas) This hook was probably a good twelve inches long, made of steel over a quarter of an inch in diameter and the gap, the distance between the point and the shank, was five or six inches The damn thing probably weighed a pound and a half. As I believe was mentioned, I was after one big mo’ fo’ of a shark. I found out later that one does NOT use such a hook for shark fishing, much smaller actually. Anyway, I felt so proud of myself for even finding such a prize. (I’m quite certain the salesman at the bait store had a great deal of fun at my expense, telling all his co-workers of the stupid kid he had sold what was better suited as a gag gift, a ‘big-ass hook’ for the purpose of catching JAWS.)

On the question of what to use for bait, I was stumped. I needed something large enough to cover the entire hook, and juicy enough to attract my quarry. This much I knew instinctively. Now in Jaws, they used an unborn baby porpoise to lure the Great White from the depths. I had no way to procure such a treasure. Therefore I settled on a whole roaster chicken, (a rump roast probably would have been somewhat better, but I was on a budget) purchased from the local Winn-Dixie. I only bought one. I figured, one chicken, one shark: simple mathematics. I surmised that after fighting for hours one very large shark to the edge of the jetty I would be spent of energy and besides, one set of shark jaws, cut out right there on the jetty, and worn around my neck like Caesar returning from Gaul, would be all I needed to flaunt before my Doubting Thomas back home: Mr. Peanut Piland. He would be begging me to take him on the next sharking expedition.

Jetty Beginning

The Beginning of the Jetty from the beach, about one hundred yards before the granite part begins.

I arrived at the jetty mid-morning and set about my trek seaward (Ok, Gulf-ward) full of adrenalin and anticipation. After humping the boat, the rig, and all the other gear I could carry what seemed like ten miles (in reality, about one-half mile) over precariously slippery granite boulders which became more ‘un-navigate-able’ the further I got away from the beach. I picked my spot and started readying my rig. This I took great pains with: inflating the boat, rigging my line, sharpening the barb of the hook on the granite, and finally baiting her up, all with the calm, cool, steely-eyed, rock-steady demeanor of “The Serious Shark Hunter” I had become. Wedging the pole securely between two boulders, playing out the line, and placing the hook avec dead chicken ever so carefully inside the boat, I got in and shoved off. As I was paddling out I could just barely see the lighthouse that was at the end of the jetty. Looked miles away, but actually it lies about two miles out, about three hundred yards from the very end of the jetty. “Someday,” I said, “Someday.”

After I had paddled out about fifty or sixty yards, I slipped the package overboard and made my way back to the jetty. Once there, nothing to do but wait for Jaws to grab the bait and the surprise concealed inside.

And wait

And wait

And wait

About three hours later, and now sporting a pretty good sunburn, I grew weary and decided to check my line. Reeling it in, I noticed it felt rather light; no drag for what should have been a four–pound chicken, uneaten, at the end of it. The reason became quite evident when I brought in the end of the line and discovered, to my horror that nothing was left of my shark bait but the picked clean skeleton of my chicken. Shit! I sat there staring at this mockery, pondering where I had gone wrong. After surveying my surroundings and knitting my brow I decided that crabs had been the only thing interested in my fresh chicken. Obviously the sharks had been unstirred by my sumptuous offering.

To tell you I was embarrassed and feeling as the complete fool and idiot would be over-stating the obvious, but I was feeling that way and cursed myself roundly for my stupidity.

Since it was getting late in the afternoon and since I was fresh out of chickens, and since I felt so utterly defeated, I decided to head home, puzzle things out, and try to come up with a new plan. Just did not know what I was going to tell Peanut when I arrived sans shark jaws…

*********

“I don’t see no Jaws,” were the first words out of his mouth as soon as I got out of my orange Chevy Monza and began unloading my gear.

“He escaped,” was all I said and all I wanted to say.

“Escaped? Ha! You never did see no Jaws, did ya?”

“Peanut, fuck off and die.”

“C’mon man! What happened?”

“Gimme one of those beers and maybe I’ll tell you.”

I acquiesced and told him everything and naturally he burst out laughing—continuously and annoyingly.

“You one dumb sumbitch, ain’t ya?”

“Once again, Peanut, I invite you to fuck off. What’s for supper?”

“Crow. And humble pie for dessert.”

“You so damn smart.”

“Guess I might have to come with you next time and show you how to fish.”

“Listen Asshole, I have a plan for ‘next time’ if you care to join me.”

“And what’s your ‘lame-ass plan’?” he asked.

“You know that lighthouse at the end of the jetty?”

“Yep. Do.”

“Well, I’m gonna hike out there and spend the weekend. Deep water out there. Lots of sharks.”

“You go out there looking for shark; you prolly just gonna drown, or knowing you, get lost.”

I just glared at him.

“Must be two mile to that lighthouse,” he continued. “How you gonna get all your shit out there?”

“You’ll be with me.”

“Fuck you!”

“You will come… and you will help.”

Early the next Saturday morning Peanut and I were loading up the Monza with all the gear and bound for Galveston.

“Beer.”

“What?” I said.

“We need beer.”

“What for?” I asked.

“For bait.”

“Goddamn it Peanut, we got enough shit to tote out there. We can’t be carrying beers as well.”

“No beer. No Peanut.”

“Okay. We can grab some Coors on the way, but you have to carry it.”

“Since I am ‘much man’ no problem,” he said.

“Fine. Cans or bottles?”

“Coors in the botella” (Peanut had learned the important Spanish: ‘Cerveza pour some more’—‘Buenas crotches’, et cetera.)

Since Galveston was at least an hour from La Porte, Peanut and I had time enough to fight and argue along the way. This was always our wont while on road trips, however long or short. We could get into an argument over anything and everything, and naturally we would feel compelled to slap the shit out of each other to punctuate our disparate viewpoints. This trip was no exception. At least twice during our journey I had to remove my hands from the steering wheel to slap the shit out of him and he reciprocated. Traveling down Interstate 45 at seventy miles per hour is not a good venue to have a slap fight, but we did it. It was our custom, you see…

Arriving at Galveston somewhat unscathed, we set out toward the lighthouse, which, in fact, was no less than two miles away over precariously placed Texas granite—took us about two hours to arrive at our weekend home.

jetty

The South Jetty, with the Lighthouse near to the end.

We dropped our backpacks and the rods and reels and decided to explore the lighthouse before beginning our “sharkin’.” There was a rusty ladder to the first deck and yet another to the second. We ascended to the second deck. There was an old generator and some other derelict machinery. This deck is actually the platform upon which the lighthouse proper was constructed. There was a narrow bridge, for lack of a term, to a small building mounted on another platform next to the main lighthouse one. It looked as if it had been added some years after the first. We entered the first floor of the lighthouse and found more old machinery and not much else.

LH_4

The Lighthouse during more prosperous times.

Up one more floor were the living quarters of the ghosts of the men who actually lived in the lighthouse back in the Thirties and Forties, and I think maybe into the Fifties. There was one ‘stateroom’, a galley, and a head. In one corner there was a spot where a boxing speed bag had once hung. This is where we would bring our ‘comfort’ items, as this was also where we would sleep. Strewn about everywhere was trash, some of it quite old, some more recent. A small amount of graffiti adorned the walls, but nothing I would call poetic, or even original, so I took out the Marks-A-Lot I had brought along, having anticipated just such an opportunity, and added my own contribution:

Here lies the body of Mary McGee. Died at the age of a hundred and three. For fifteen years, she kept her virginity. Not a bad record for this here vicinity–Cap’n Quint of The Orca

“Kinda has that homey lived-in look about it, don’t it?” Peanut observed as he slowly walked around the place.

“Yeah, and I think the maid is off on vacation.” I responded.

Peanut flashed an old “Hustler” magazine he found in the shitter. He said, “Just in case the sharks don’t show…”

“Just great. If the sharks don’t show, I can fall asleep listening to you jerk off. Perfect.”

Moving up to the third floor, we discovered two more bedrooms similar to the other one below. We couldn’t easily discern what the fourth story was for, but there was a very cool spiral stairway to the fifth (and last) level. This was where we found the raison d’être for all that was below us: The Light. We wondered aloud how long it had been since it had been lit up.

“Probably been about fifty year,” Peanut ventured.

galvestonlens_2007

Fresnel Lens from Galveston Jetty Lighthouse
Galveston County Historical Museum

“Naw, I think maybe only fifteen or twenty,” I said.

We must have been at least one hundred feet over the Gulf. The view was absolutely fantastic! We could see (just barely) the Monza parked on the beach and all the ships navigating the Ship Channel.

“Damn waste is what it is,” Peanut said after a few moments.

“Waste of what?”

“Damn waste of this here beautiful sight, as I should be sharin’ it with some luscious cowgirl and not your smelly ass.”

“Aw shucks, Peanut,” I said in my best faux hurt voice, “Why ya wanna go an’ hurt my feelin’s that-a-way?”

“Many-Feet, if’n you got any feelin’s worth hurtin’, I sure ain’t never seen ‘em.”

“Ya got me there, ‘Nut,” I said, slapping him on the back, “Ya sure got me there.”

Having finished our tour, it was time to ‘git on wid it’ to use the Peanut vernacular. We returned to the foundation, sorted out our stuff and schlepped the food, some of the beer, and some other sundry items to the second floor of the lighthouse. After consuming a few of the “Coors-in-the-botella”, we proceeded to ‘git on wid it’ in earnest.

We had brought some light rigs (Zebco 33 reels and light rods) for the purpose of catching “trash fish” croakers and the like, for bait. They were easy to catch using the freshly dead bait shrimp we had picked up at a bait shop just before arriving at the jetty. We caught a few and put them on a stringer. After that I inflated the orange dingy; rigged everything up and proceeded to bait my hook, instructing Peanut on how this was all going to work. (According to my new plan.)

“I’ll get in the boat and you play out the line as I make my way out clear of the rocks. Once I get far enough out, I’ll signal you to brake the reel, and I’ll pull myself back in to the jetty along the line. All you gotta do is hang on to the rod.”

Simple.

Should have been.

Wasn’t.

I got into the little boat and cast off. I did not realize that the tide was going out strong along the ship channel and was immediately caught up in it. Didn’t take long to discover I was in deep shit (and deep water). The lighthouse is about three hundred yards from the end of the jetty where the real Gulf of Mexico begins. As I was approaching same, I signaled Peanut to “throw on the brakes” so I could begin pulling myself back to the lighthouse. Tried this. Didn’t work. I actually broke the 110 pound test line and was now adrift, heading out to sea. The sky was blue and cloudless. The waves were knocking me seriously about. Life was a gift and precious. I did not want to die. Not one prone to panic, I quickly explored my options. (There weren’t many) I could see the end of the jetty. A wave hurled me out of my little rubber boat and took her away.

Serious situation now.

The tip of the jetty was now in my rear-view “mirror” and I had horrible thoughts of being swept out into the gulf, never being seen nor heard from again. Trying to tread water and all the while keeping my eyes on the jetty, I tried to swim. The swells and the waves were thrashing me roundly. I decided that if I didn’t do something in earnest, I would drown.

So I did something in earnest:

I swam. For my life.

Like I had never swum before—hit a troop of jellyfish—strung repeatedly and badly, fighting through them and the waves and tide and swells, I managed to finally make the end of the jetty and started navigating, staggering, (and somewhat swaggering) back toward the lighthouse and my best friend, Peanut Piland.

Exhausted, I found him there packing up (mostly the beers) and seemingly nonchalant.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Well, sheeeit! I figgered you for drown’d. So, I was gonna go home and to Gilley’s this eve’n.”

“You son-of-a-bitch!”

“Well, weren’t nothin’ I could do for ya anyhow.”

“I lost the boat.”

“Yeah, I can see you ain’t got no boat. ‘less it’s in your pocket.”

“We’ll continue this expedition without that boat. Gimme a beer. I’m parched.”

“How the fuck we gonna do that? You lost the damn boat.”

“Swim.”

“What?”

“Swim the bait out.”

“Swim it out where?”

“Away from the jetty.”

“Swim the bloody bait out? To shark-land? Where the bull sharks live?”

“Yep. To ‘shark-land’”

“You one crazy sumbitch.”

“Yep.”

“Who gonna swim it out there?”

“Me.”

“Yeah. Goddamn right ‘you’.”

“Unpack your shit. I need to rig up some more line for this rig.”

New Plan: I would swim the ‘package’ out to the sharks, drop it and swim like hell back to the lighthouse. “Trepidation” is just a scare word, invented by the brave to intimidate the not-brave.

Who cares? I was a bona fide “sharker” now. Wasn’t I?

Fortunately, I had only lost about twenty feet of my 110 pound test line from the break. The bad news was I had lost my 10 feet of steel leader-line and one of my hooks. (I was no longer using the gag-gift big-ass hook from my initial foray into sharkin’, having learned that sharks will not approach such a ludicrous offering—I now had “proper shark hooks” much smaller, but more lethal) An old fisherman had told me that the steel leader needed to be longer than the shark because once hooked, a shark will thrash about and inevitably cut the monofilament line with its rough hide. Now I didn’t expect to hook a ten-footer, but one never knows when fishing in the ocean. The magic of this kind of fishing is that you never know what you may hook into and how large it might be. Fishing for bass, or crappie, or bluegill (called “brim” or “goggle-eye” in Texas) you could pretty much bet anything you hooked would not be 10 feet long: eight or ten inches was usually more the case.

Dealing with the ‘re-rigging’ of my rig proved to be tedious and time-consuming, (I was impatient to get a line back in the water), but dealing with Peanut proved to be irritating and infuriating.

“Man! What the hell happened out there?”

“You saw it. I got caught in the outgoing tide. I didn’t figure on that. The damn boat was a bad idea. It just sits on top of the water and it’s like you’re on a white-water river.”

“Yeah, you didn’t figure on a lotta things. I’m done with this business. I wanna go honky-tonkin’ at Gilley’s.”

“’Nut, all you ever wanna do is go honky-tonkin’.”

“Yeah, so what?” All you ever wanna do is fill my head with shark-fishin’ or some other lame-ass shit.”

“Listen, we made a deal, remember?”

“Nope, I don’t.”

“We agreed that every other weekend we would come here and chase sharks and every other weekend we would go and honky-tonk and chase women. Ring any bells?”

“Uh, maybe.”

“Good. Now go in that tackle box; I need a new hook. I ‘bout got this new leader on. Oh, and hand me a couple of those two-ounce weights. And shut up about Gilley’s. As I recall, last time we were there we got thrown out ‘cause of your getting into a fight with some dude. Over what? ‘He was tryin’ to steal my woman’…Let me dial you in Peanut: she weren’t your woman and in fact, as I remember, she wouldn’t even dance with you. At least out here there is no one to fight with ‘cept me, and we can’t get thrown out of here unless we get caught by the Coast Guard which, if we’re stealthy, is unlikely.”

“What do you mean, ‘Coast Guard’?”

“Sorry. Forgot to tell you. The Coast Guard patrols the jetty at night looking for boats or ships run into it or for idiots stupid enough to ‘trespass’ here. Didn’t you see the sign nailed up on the second deck?  The one that says ‘Government Property—Condemned—Stay Out’.”

“Didn’t see it.”

“Well, if we get caught, we’re gonna have a bad day.”

“Why do you s’pose it’s condemned?”

“Look up. You see that big-ass fuel tank up there, the one bigger than a whale looks like it could fall on us with any wind blown its way? The one hanging at a forty-five and only one remaining metal hoop to hold it?”

“Jeezus! Didn’t notice,” he said as he moved over and out from underneath it.

“Peanut, you miss a lot.”

“Oh yeah? Well I didn’t miss the fact that you fucked up and almost drown, and the fact that we’re out here two mile offshore, all beat up and bleedin’ from navigatin’ and totin’ all this shit over all that granite, and we ain’t got nothin’ to show for our troubles ‘cept some dead croakers, warm beer, and some Spam and Vi-enner sausages. Oh and one lost boat. I could be drunk and dancin’ at Gilley’s in a few hours wearin’ my new boots, my new shirt, my new Stetson, and talkin’ to the cowgirls. That, I noticed.”

“We’re stayin’ the weekend. We gonna continue this fight physically, or are you gonna help me?”

“Here,” he said, handing me the hook and the weights. “What did you mean by ‘stealthy’?”

“When night falls, we just hide all our gear, don’t light no cigs where they can see the light, and move up into the second floor of the lighthouse and wait ‘em out.”

“How do you know they patrol the lighthouse?”

“Just know.”

“You don’t know shit from tuna fish and I ain’t studyin’ ‘bout no Coast Guard.”

I finished my rigging and was preparing to swim the bait out. Peanut gave me his ‘Peanut stare,’ which was similar to looking into a black kettle of black-eyed peas: lots of eyes all staring at you, while they swirled around.

“You really fixin’ to swim that bloody bait out from the jetty?”

“Yep. That’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”

“I saw some jelly fish floating around out there. Lots of ‘em.”

“Yeah, we’ve met already.”

“Well, you might think about how you gonna navigate through them. Oh, and maybe there’s a bull shark out there what hasn’t had lunch yet. Ever think ‘bout that?”

“I’m countin’ on it. You just hold the rig and as soon as I drop the bait, you set the brake and I will swim back. I’m only going out about 50 yards. Don’t worry.”

“Sheeit! I ain’t worried. You go right on ahead with yer bad self. I’ll wait for you right here.”

I lowered myself into the water and holding the dead and bleeding croakers over my head (I had strung up two on my hook) and swimming with the other arm I proceeded to backstroke away from the lighthouse. The waves weren’t bad and I discovered that since I was actually ‘in’ the water and not ‘on top’ of it, the tide was not really a factor anymore. I was making good progress when I felt a sharp sting on my leg. It hurt. Then another and another and it hurt some more. Must be the damn jelly fish Peanut had warned me of. Sure enough I was caught up in a herd of them. Again. They were the softball-size ones, with that pulsating propulsion method of travel. Well, I had swerved into a whole cattle trail of them. They were just minding their own business, I’m sure, and I was in their way. They stung me mercilessly. The only thing to do was swim out of them. I was now about thirty yards from the light house, not far enough out to clear the base of the jetty which I estimated was about forty yards from its dry apex.

I swam on.

Finally I got shed of the jelly fish herd and at about 50 yards out, dropped the bait. I felt something rough and unseen brush against my leg. Could have been a bull shark. Could have been driftwood. Could have been a mermaid. Could have been my imagination. I don’t know, but it did unnerve me. A little.

I swam like hell back to the lighthouse, feeling right proud of myself for at least getting the package out to where the sharks must roam. I was concerned about swimming through the jelly fish again, but they (thankfully) had drifted on by…

Once I got back ‘on board’ the lighthouse and drawn a warm Coors from one of the back packs, I sat down with my rig and waited for…for a while.

Peanut was getting bored.

I said, “’Nut, why don’t you grab that Zebco and try to catch us up some more croakers?”

“I ain’t studyin’ ‘bout no croakers.”

“You ain’t ‘studyin’ ‘bout much today, are ya? Why don’t you explore some more of the lighthouse; it will be dark soon and we need to know if there be any demons here tonight. Find us a spot we can sleep out of view of the Coast Guard, but be able to keep an eye on ‘em. How much beer we got left?”

“Ok. I’ll do that, and we got ‘bout a six or eight.”

“Any pot?”

“Didn’t bring no pot.”

“You insisted on totin’ pounds of beer and didn’t bring no ounce of pot?”

“Didn’t have none.”

“Just as well.”

Peanut proceeded to mount the ladders into the lighthouse and finally I had some peace. I sat there, watching some of the small boats bobbing up and down in the ship channel for their weekend outing, and waited for my line to go taut with some leviathan on the other end, wagging its tail.

After about an hour or so of this wonderful solitude Peanut came bounding down the ladders and was about to say something I’m sure would have been piercingly eloquent when the line started flying off my reel. With a six-aught salt-water rig, you set the ‘clicker’ on to alert you of line being taken out. My ‘clicker’ had suddenly come alive! And vociferously.

“Peanut! I got one!” I yelled.

“No shit! Let it feed out then slam it!”

“I know! I know!”

I let it take about thirty feet of line and then I set the brake and slammed into it, setting the hook. There was a slight hesitation and then I had the rod nearly jerked out of my hands.

“Whoa! We got us something here now!” I yelled over my shoulder to Peanut.

I had set the ‘drag’ on the reel to ‘medium’ not wanting to have my line broken. This fish or whatever it was, was not impressed. It continued on taking line as if I had never set the brake at all.

“’Nut! This one big sumbitch!”

“Fight it!” he yelled.

“What the hell do you think I’m doin’!?”

I fought it for about five minutes when suddenly it stopped. Stopped? I tried to retrieve some line. No luck. Wouldn’t budge. At first I thought the line had been snagged on some jetty rock. But then I felt some slight movement, ever so slowly it took more line out to sea, and then it stopped again.

Frustrated, I sat there like a spring wound too tight and about to violently uncoil when a small boat of weekend fishermen noticed me holding earnestly and fervently onto my rig.

They brought their small boat close to the lighthouse and an old gray geezer yelled at me:

“Hey Boy! You got sumthin’ on that line?”

“Yessir. I believe I do, but it’s stalled.”

“You need to get over the top of it.”

“How am I’m gonna do that?” I asked.

“We’ll come in close as we can and you swim out here with your rig and we’ll get on over it.”

Since my fish was obviously taking a break and not making  one, I agreed.

“Peanut, I’m gonna get in this boat and get over this thing and bring her in.”

“Go ahead on ‘Feet. I’ll hold down this fort.”

I waited for them to get their boat within about twenty feet of the light house and then I slid into the water and managed to swim one-handed over to them while holding onto my rig. They pulled me on-board and we proceeded to the spot where my fish was certainly underneath. The fish woke up and began swimming in circles, pulling the small boat with it as it did so.

Then it stopped.

“Manta.” One guy on the boat said.

“Manta?” I asked.

“You got yerself hooked into a manta ray—they common here. This one probably a ten or twelve-footer.”

“What do I do?”

“Nothin’ you can do; they use them wings they got and suck to the bottom and won’t budge. If they move, you can wear ‘m out and haul ‘em in. But the only way to get ‘em to move is to attach a blue crab to the line and snake it on down to ‘em. That’ll make him move. We got no blue crabs here at this moment.”

“So, I’m screwed?”

“Yep. You have to gig ‘em up with a crab. Otherwise, forget it. This fish weighs ‘bout six hundred pounds. You cain’t horse ‘im up. Impossible. Ya got to get him swimmin’ Might as well cut your line and give up Son.”

“Nope. I’ll force him up.”

And then I proceeded to try. I gigged, I swerved, I pulled, I cajoled… Nothing seemed to work. Finally after all the gigging, swerving, pulling, and cajoling, I broke my line and in so doing fell backward into their Styrofoam beer cooler, shattering it and scattering their beer and ice all over the deck.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” I said.

“No worries Son; ain’t ever’day one hooks a big manta.”

They took me back to the vicinity of the lighthouse; I slid over the side and swam back.

“What was it?” Peanut asked, now deadpan, since the excitement was over.

“Manta.”

“What?”

“A manta ray.”

“Oh. No shark?”

“Nope.”

“Lost another leader and some more line…”

“Seems to be a pattern here ‘Feet.”

“Shut up and hand me the tackle box.”

“What for?”

“’Cause I’m going again.”

“What for?”

“For sharks, for fuck’s sake, you asshole.”

“Oh yeah, guess I dun forgot what the fuck we be doin’ out here.”

The sun was setting as were my hopes for a shark that day. Little did I realize, sharks are mainly nocturnal. I would soon discover this fact. I was not anxious to swim into the gulf after dark, so I hurried along, rigging up a new line. I took the biggest croaker off our stringer, and this time, drawing on my bass fishing experience, hooked him up through the lips—like a big minnow—“See what that does,” I muttered under my breath.

With Peanut’s assistance, I lowered myself into the water and got smacked around by the swells before I got shed of the jetty. Once away from the rocks, I calmed a bit. But I must say, swimming bait, any kind of bait, out into the gulf, made me apprehensive at best and damn scared at worst.

I swam on into the pre-dusk Gulf of Mexico.

Happily, there were no jelly-fish to contend with. I swam about fifty yards out and dropped the croaker. Swimming back using an improvised side-stoke, I thought about my folly and wondered too much what possessed me to be doing this. It would have been pleasant to be warm and dry at Gilley’s, sippin’ a cold one and Cowgirl-Watchin’. Maybe Peanut was right. Maybe, (Oh horror!) I was wrong! Maybe, there was more to life than sharkin’. Jaws was just a movie, after all, or was it?

No matter. I approached the lighthouse.

“Many-Feet, I might-ah have said this before, but you one crazy son of a bitch.”

“’Nut, you need some new material,” I said, as I accepted his help, helping me out of the water.

To get out of the wind and salt spray, Peanut and I retired to the living quarters in the lighthouse. Sipping on Coors and munching on Vienna sausages, I kept my ear tuned to below decks for the sound of my reel’s clicker. There was nothing much for us to do now but wait.

“Kinda remote out here, ain’t it?” Peanut said.

“Yep. Kinda,” I said back.

“Listen to that wind,” he said. “Spooky.”

“Kinda,” I agreed.

“Wonder who’s playin’ at Gilley’s tonight?”

“’Nut, I don’t care who’s playin’ at Gilley’s tonight,” I said, digging another sausage out of the can.

“Well, next week, gonna be Ronnie Milsap, and we goin’. Milsap draws the women, ya know?”

“Yep. He sure does. Too bad he can’t see ‘em.”

“’Feet,” he said, “Don’t be talkin’ no shit ‘bout Milsap. The man is a fuckin’ legend.”

“Sorry ‘Nut. I suppose you’re right. A ‘Legend’.”

Even though it was summertime, there was a bit of a wet chill in the air. Peanut and I were both exhausted and were soon curled up on the deck fast asleep.

******************

I awoke with a start, and sensed something was amiss. I had not meant to fall asleep, and still in that groggy just awake state, I heard something which didn’t seem to go with the endemic noise of the environment.

Then I realized what I was hearing.

“Peanut! Wake up!” I yelled at him as I shot to my feet.

“Whaaa?”

“Somethin’s on the line! Listen!”

I could hear the six-aught reel clicking its ass off down below and I dashed down the stairs and the two ladders to the main deck.

I had laid the rig down pointing straight out to sea, and had tied the butt end of the rod to one of the stanchions for insurance. The reel was singing. I picked up the rig and slammed into whatever was out there stealing my line. It was as if I had set the hook into an oak: solid–a slight pause–then the thing violently lurched forward almost pulling my arms out of their sockets.

“Goddamn it Peanut! Get down here!” I yelled.

I heard Peanut’s boots clanging down the ladders, but did not look around. I was certain I had a bull shark by the horns this time, no manta ray this. He was taking line fast and I became afraid he would just run it all out and snap it once he emptied my reel. I had to wear him down somehow.

I grabbed the star shaped drag and tightened it a half-turn. The fish lurched again and kept taking line. I wanted to get closer to the edge of the deck but the rod was still tied to the stanchion, not allowing me to maneuver.  Not wanting to risk taking one hand off the rod to untie it, I yelled over my shoulder,

“’Nut! Cut that rope!”

“What rope?!” he yelled back.

“The one tied to this rod!”

He cut it and I carefully made my way to the edge of the lighthouse foundation. The concrete was slick and I didn’t want to have myself pulled down, (or in) but felt I needed to be closer to the edge and away from the cables that crisscrossed between the stanchions.

With more room now to work the rod, I began trying to regain some of my line. The fish did seem to be slowing. I heaved back, pulling hard and managed to horse in about three feet, lowering the rod as I reeled in.

‘This just might work’, I remember thinking at the time.

Although it was now about ten o’clock, there was enough light from a half-moon and the lights from Galveston to see some of what was going on. I could make out where my line entered the water and I could plainly see the swells around the rocks of the jetty. We had not brought along a lantern, but we had a flashlight—somewhere.

Peanut was yelling at me, “You gotta get back some of your line! He’s takin’ too much!”

“I know!” I yelled back, as I tried to horse in another three feet.

I pulled back on the rod, managed to regain a few more feet of line, then the fish took off again in earnest.

Peanut was beside me now, yelling in my ear over the complaining sound of the reel as more line spun off. “You ain’t got much line left! Tighten that drag some more! He gonna break the line anyway! GO FOR IT!”

He was right. I had been too cautious and had squandered too much line that the fish didn’t earn. I tightened the drag some more and heaved back on the rod, expecting the line to go limp with a snap somewhere along the length of it.

It did go limp, but not like I’d expected. It wasn’t the sudden, quick limp one gets when the line snaps, but more of a ‘slow limp’ if that makes any sense. Greedily I began recovering lost line, still unsure if I had lost the fish or not.

“You lost him!” Peanut yelled in my ear.

“Dunno yet…wait a sec… He’s still there! I can feel him. He musta changed direction.”

“Maybe he just gonna surrender and come in all peace-able an’ shit.” Peanut mocked.

“I think he’s swimming this way,” I said as I struggled to take up the slack that was still coming to me.

The fish did appear to have ‘surrendered’ but appearances and assumptions have always been problematical for me. If he were spent, and I was certain he was not. And if, by some miracle I got him to the edge of the lighthouse, the dangerous task would become getting him on-board. I had read somewhere that the best thing to do with a shark in these situations was to throw a noose around his tail (Tiger Shark by the tail?) and hang on until he drowns. Since I had no real experience at any of this, I had relied upon literature to guide me and had brought along a broom handle with a wire noose attached…just in case. Well this just in: I think my case was next on the docket.

“’Nut! I think he’s comin’ in! Grab that noose I rigged up!”

“What?!”

“I told you about it yesterday! Go get it! Now!”

“Oh, you mean that broom handl’ with the bailin’ wire?”

“Yeah! That! Get it!”

Looking down at my reel, I estimated I had recovered most of the line, meaning the shark (at least I hoped it was a shark) must be very close now. I studied the point where my line entered the water, but couldn’t discern any clue. While watching, it began to trail left and right and I saw the shark break the surface.

“Peanut!! Get over here with that noose!” I yelled.

He came scurrying over, ‘noose’ in hand.

“Look there!” I screamed and pointed. “He’s just about ten feet out!”

“I don’t see nothin’.”

“Just wait!”

And the shark was suddenly within spitting distance.

“Holy Shit!” Peanut yelled.

I couldn’t tell, but the thing (now definitely a bull shark) looked to be about six foot at least. Realizing it was no longer freely in the depths; it came alive with new found determination and was not going to be easily subdued. Holding the rod with every bit of strength and courage I could muster, I attempted to wear it down to the point where Peanut could attempt to slip the ‘noose’ over that tail. I do believe it would have been easier to pin the tail on the donkey at this point—a real, really pissed off donkey.

To Be Continued…

This Never Got Any Play: The Snapping Turtles Part Probably Killed It…

And Probably ‘Cause it’s Eight Miles High

(And almost as long as the video)

So skip the vid; pour yourself a breakfast beer and please read the story.

(You will rack up mega-karma if you do)

Camping with Gene, Peanut, and the Signifying Monkey. Running the Trotline. And of the Sisters I Brought to the Soirée

Continuation of The Bow Fishing post…

One Saturday afternoon much later that spring, Peanut and Gene flushed me out of the old Pool Hall which was located on Sixth Street in a rundown building just off the square in Honey Grove.pool-hall

“We’re goin’ camping out to The Lake,” Peanut announced. “You gonna come, or what?”

“Kinda short notice,” I said. “I don’t know. It’s Saturday afternoon, and soon it’ll be Saturday Night, and I was gonna get dressed up and go ‘Dear’ Hunting.”

“Okay, fine then,” Peanut said gruffly. “You go chasin’ tail, but I doubt you’ll catch any. If you change your mind, we’ll be at the old boat ramp. Just don’t show up empty-handed. Me and Gene got all the gear and food an’ shit, but you gotta bring something if you wanna join us. Them what works, and brings, eats.”

A word about Gene here: He was also a sophomore, like Peanut, but to look at him, you’d think him more a junior, or maybe even a senior on a rough day. He stood about six-three and weighed probably two-ten; a big guy. He had slightly long (in the style of The Seventies) red hair and a rugged looking, yet somewhat boyish face, rolled into one. His speech was slow and deliberate. And rare. But he was not ‘slow.’ He had an intelligence and a manner I found most admirable. Not really what one would call a ‘gentle giant,’ but close. He was never boastful, as Peanut and I were often wont to be. I never saw anyone cross Gene, save for a few idiots from out of town, and much to their misfortune.

“Okay, fair enough,” I said and went back in to my game of Nine-Ball.

The Pool Hall (Euphemistically, it was “The Honey Grove Gaming Center”) was not an establishment that most parents allowed their kids to frequent. It was seedy & sleazy and much gambling went on there. Of course I loved it. I didn’t consider hustling pool as gambling per se. To me it was just a way to supplement my other sources of income: working for a local rancher, building fences, or hauling hay. A vocation, if you will, but also a very pleasing avocation as well.

The building was a ramshackle place, and that is kind. Upon entering one’s eyes had to take a minute to adjust. The majority of the light came from the fixtures which hung closely over the four pool tables, giving the place an almost cave-like ambiance, or perhaps, more accurately, an opium den. The tables were antique: Not the coin operated kid’s toy tables one usually finds in bars these days. These were regulation-size, with three-quarter inch slate: good solid tables, level and with good, reliable banks for those who could make a decent bank or rail shot.

Cigarette smoke would hang in the air, swirled about slightly by a couple of lethargic ceiling fans. There was a juke box; seems like most of the time it was on the fritz. Just as well, for on a Saturday night when the joint was hopping, no one could have heard the music anyway. The place would get rowdy and much (usually) good-natured shit would be talked and wolf-tickets sold and bought and bartered without pause.

There were two pinball machines in a little cubical-like area just to the left side of the entrance, but of course these weren’t the main attraction and rarely got any play. There was a counter of sorts where one could ‘settle up’ for the cost of playing pool (Ninety-nine percent of the activity was nine-ball, a ‘money game.’) Rarely did anyone play eight-ball—took too long to finish and too long for money to change hands. The charge for a game of Nine-Ball was ten cents. In Nine-Ball, the nine and the five are the ‘money’ balls and one must pocket all the balls in rotation, or if opportunity presented, the skillful player could make a combination shot of, for example, striking the next ball in numbered succession into the money ball, pocketing it and winning the money. The usual bet was one dollar on the five and two or three on the nine. If I were able to clear ten or fifteen dollars on a Saturday night, I was happy and sated. Rarely did I lose, but the competition was brutal (there were many very adept pool players in HG back then), and more than once I lost more money than I wish to recount here.

The owner/proprietor of the joint was a one-armed man who was not ‘from’ Honey Grove. No one seemed to know exactly where he came from, and I really don’t recall anyone else ever running the pool hall, but certainly it had been there for some years. This gentleman was a true hustler and a true gambler. (He would bet on which of two cockroaches crossing the floor would make it out of sight first, or on anything else which had an outcome not clearly discernible. And the SOB always won.) But his passion was not hustling pool, betting on roaches, nor even running his pool hall:

He could play golf.

Hard to believe I know, but this guy, using his one arm, could beat the socks off most two-armed golfers, as so many discovered to their amazement and to the lightening of their wallets.

This particular Saturday afternoon, the hall was mostly empty and I was, in fact, just killing time. I started thinking about the camping trip and considered joining Gene and Peanut right then, but changed my mind. Saturday nights in HG back then, were often laden with opportunity for fun, mischief, girls, and Sin. At the risk of sounding somewhat prejudicial, I will state that my town had the best looking girls in Fannin County. The main venue for activity was Main Street, cruising up and down (American Graffiti? Not exactly, but a similar, if slightly scaled down, low-budget version…) or parking on the town square, drinking beer. (And such)

Having grown bored with the inactivity, read ‘lack of action’ in the pool hall; I got into my ’68 Plymouth station wagon and drove the half-mile to my house. I suppose it was about five in the afternoon. As usual, I was almost late for supper. My step-mother was standing over a skillet stirring something that smelled almost good enough to eat, as she alternately took drags off a Benson & Hedges and swigs from a can of Coors. Daddy was sitting at our little dinette table half-watching TV and half-reading a book.

Madelyn appeared and said, “You set and I’ll clear.”

So I set the table and presently we all sat down for our Norman Rockwell.

Happy to have done the setting duties, freeing me to leave as soon as the meal was over, I ate quickly, then showered, dressed and bounded down the stairs from the third floor. But just before I left, I told Gloria not to expect me home that night, as I was going camping out at The Lake. (There are several lakes in Fannin County, Texas, but if you have been kind enough to read my Post ‘Bow Fishing,’ you will no doubt know that My Crowd only considered Lake Coffeemill worth ‘dipping a toe in’, metaphorically, of course.)

“You don’t look dressed for camping,” she said. “You look more like dressed for carousing.”

“Gonna camp at the ‘Proper’ Camping Grounds: High Class Crowd there.” I smart-assed as I hit the back door and split before she could say anything else.

(And I wonder now why she and I never got along…)

Happy and proud of myself for having escaped so blithely, I quickly reviewed what little plans I had for the evening. First of all, I needed to procure some beverage. The legal drinking age had been lowered in Texas from twenty-one to eighteen. (Mainly, I think, because of Viet Nam and the draft age). I wasn’t eighteen, but I had a fake ID that said I was. It was a pretty good fake too. Good enough to get me into the bars in Commerce, and more important for this particular night, good enough to allow me to purchase some beverage from a package store in Ladonia. As wonderful as HG could be on any given Saturday Night, beverage or herb (or both) was always required. (I was hoping Gene & Peanut at least had some herb. The beverage at least, I could provide).

I headed south.

The Mission to Ladonia and back took about thirty-five minutes. I purchased a bottle of Jim Beam, a case and a half of Coors (“In the Bottle”), four bags of ice, and several packs of Marlboros for Peanut. (He loved his ‘Cowboy Killers’ but never seemed to have the foresight to fetch enough along to sustain him. As I recall, Gene loved them too. I didn’t smoke—cigarettes—back then.)

At this point, I wasn’t entirely certain I was actually going to meet them at the Lake, but in case I did decide to, I didn’t want to show up not bearing ‘gifts.’ Besides, the ‘gifts’ would keep for later, if I chose not to go.

I arrived back in HG and things did seem promising: Lots of folks on the square, and a reasonable amount of traffic up and down Main Street.

I parked on The Square.

There were some of the usual suspects parked there already. Across the street, The Grove Theater (The Last Picture Show…) seemed to be popular as well. I opened a beer and turned up KLIF on the car radio. Chicago was singing Colour My World. I always hated that song, so I switched the station, and got Crimson & Clover. Gag! So I just turned the damn thing off.

hayhook

I saw ‘Nubbin Kileen’ the world-famous hay-hauler, pull up in his Forties’ era flat-bed hay-truck. He climbed out, wearin’ chaps, Holy blue jeans, a beat up old straw hat and holding a hay hook in his right hand, as if it were an extension of his arm, permanently affixed. He looked about spent (or drunk)—or both. He also sported long, filthy hair (still bits of hay stuck in it); he reminded me of perhaps a cheap imitation of Bob Dylan in later years. I sauntered over to talk to him, as he was a legend, and I was hoping to haul hay with him as soon as school was out in a few weeks.

hay truck

“Hey Nubbin, how’s it going?” I asked cheerfully.

“Mainly just goin’. How yew?”

“Good enough, I guess. You gonna need a good hay-hand in a few weeks?” I asked expectantly.

“Might. One I got now ain’t worth a cup of spit, to tell you the truth.”

“Just so happens I’m available.”

“Yeah Kid, you done told me before. You a good hay hand?” He didn’t seem too enthusiastic.

“Yeah, I am.”

“Ok. Come find me when yer school’s out. We’ll see.”

Well Hot Damn! At least he didn’t say ‘no.’

I wandered about the various cars parked on the square and shot-the-shit with the local color. There was Calvin, Crabby, Jackie, Donna, Gina, (all older, but ‘old’ friends of mine). There were of course, several high school representatives there as well. I think Kim, Byron, Sheila, Bob, and quite a few others for certain, but memories fade and there were much comings and goings and ‘doings’.

Some were drinking; some were smoking; some were ‘doing’.

Just your typical Saturday Night, HG, Texas.

After spending some time on The Square and catching up on the Counter Culture, I fired up my chariot and made a few circuits up and down Main, which meant east to the DQ, then back west to the ‘Two-Mile Turn.’

Rinse & Repeat.

During one leg of my journey, I saw a couple of cars parked at Jack Self’s service station (It was no longer Jack’s at that time, but it somehow managed to retain the name.)

I pulled in to discover Beverly and Linda in one car talking through rolled down windows to a couple of guys from out of town in the other. (Bonham, I judged from the smell.) Beverly was about my age, Linda, a bit younger. Beverly was a slightly slim and petite red-head who was working on a faint moustache. Linda was, shall we say, slightly ‘chunky’ but very cute. She was a brunette with dark eyes and a permanent pouty look. Peanut was a sometime interest of Bev’s and the feeling was mutual.

Sometimes.

Linda… well, as I said, she was cute, although she never said much. Beverly often said too much. Hard to believe these two were sisters, but there you go. Maybe they had different daddies, or different mothers, or maybe they were adopted from different orphanages. I really didn’t know much about them, other than they went to school at Fannindel High in Ladonia even though I believe they lived closer to Honey Grove. They could not usually be found hanging out with the crowd I usually hung out with, but they were known about town and I liked them both. Honey Grove did not necessarily have classes, or castes, but there definitely was some prejudice, which boiled up in our little melting pot from time to time. I’d like to say I was guiltless of this myself, but that would be an untruth, although generally I was more immune to the tendency than a lot of folks.

I got out of my car and walked over to the girls.

“Hey Y’all! I said in a mustered up authoritative voice, “Daddy told me to come find y’all and fetch you on home. He says you’d better get your butts back right now, or he’s coming to town to find you hisself.” Then I added ominously, “An’ he been drinkin’ a little bit.”

The two Bonham-ites took that as their cue to exit stage left and promptly did just that.

“Hiya Lance! You’re a funny guy.” Bev laughed after Bonham sped off in a cloud of dust and gravel, heading west.

“What’re y’all up to this evening?” I asked, in my ‘normal’ voice, ever so cool.

“Aw Hell! Ya know ain’t nothin’ to be up to in this town,” Bev answered for them both.

“Yeah, not much to do in this one horse, one-traffic-light town, eh?”

“You said it.” Bev concurred.

“Listen Y’all; there’s a party out at Lake Coffeemill. (Medium white lie—there would be a party once we got there) I am heading there now. Wanna come along?”

Now, I know most good girls in HG would beg off, protesting they could not stay out all night, but I knew for a fact that these two could (and would), if the idea were presented in the right manner.

Bev said, “Uh, I don’t know… Who’s gonna be there?”

“Well, so far just us… and a few other folks, but there should be a good many more by the time we get there. I’ve been riding around town all evening letting everyone know about it. (Yes, another lie) Nothing fancy mind you; just camping out and stuff like that.”

She looked skeptical. “Who is ‘some other’ folks and what kinda stuff?” she asked.

“Well, Peanut and Gene, and I think Bob and some others… You know. Just stuff. Kid-Stuff,” I said, rather over-proud of my ‘eloquence.’

“Peanut is there?”

Suddenly I had her interest.

“Uh yeah, most definitely. He and Gene went out this afternoon to get everything ready.”

“You got anything to drink?”

“Bev, who do you think you’re talking to?”

“Ok,” she said to me. Then to Linda, “Get your stuff and lock up the car; we’re goin’ camping.”

Linda, quiet up to this point (as I intimated: the girl was shy) said, “Ya sure Bev?”

“Hell yes, I’m sure. Come on now.”

The three of us piled into the front seat of my station wagon, Linda seated next to me, and we pulled out of the gas station. I always had the back seat of my station wagon folded down and kept an 84-quart red & white Igloo cooler directly behind the front seat, thus limiting my passenger capacity to two. Bev reached back and opened the Pandora’s Box (I didn’t mind her not asking; they were both my guests after all). She perused the contents, saw the whiskey and the beer, then frowned.

“Hey! Didn’t you get no coke to mix with this Jim Beam?”

“Hell Bev!” I said. “That would never have occurred to me.”

“No good. Get to the DQ before they close so we can get some cokes to mix with this.”

texdq

“Yes Ma’am,” As I turned the car around and headed in the opposite direction we needed to be heading.

Got to keep the Ladies satisfied.

While at the DQ, I bought a big bag-full of tacos and burgers along with the cokes (Just in case Peanut and Gene had forgotten to fetch along any meat in the likely event they didn’t manage to catch any fish or shoot any squirrels for supper.)

Prudently, I had decided to take the easy route to Coffeemill this time, so after the DQ we headed back west to the Two-Mile Turn and took FM 1396 north past Allen Chapel & then FM 2029 towards Telephone. This meant we wouldn’t have to cross the Bois d’Arc Bridge in darkness. A bridge who’s benevolence (or lack thereof) I was never anxious to tempt, day or night.

We rode along in the night listening to WLS Chicago on the radio, a station one could usually only pick up late at night. They played pretty decent music then. Not much Bee Gees or similar crap, at least not late at night anyway. Mostly Led Zeppelin, CCR, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, some of the ‘good’ Chicago—mostly stuff that didn’t make me nauseous. Bev played bartender and poured up a couple of bourbon and cokes for her and Linda. I stuck with Coors. The night was pitch-black and I didn’t want to screw up and miss any of the several turns we would have to make. There is nothing darker than a country road in Texas on a moonless night and my navigation skills were never worth a damn. I successfully found the road leading toward Coffeemill. Late at night, it is an eerie drive. The road is narrow with solid trees on both sides, some hanging over the road. It was as if we were entering a tunnel or a cave even. We bounced along this road and eventually came to the turn-off down to The Lake, where I expected to find Gene and Peanut decently and properly camped. As the trees thinned and we neared the boat ramp, I could make out their camp fire. I pulled up and parked beside Peanut’s ‘Jalopy du Jour.’ There was an empty boat trailer hitched to it. Occasionally, Peanut could talk his daddy out of permission to take the old Jon Boat out to the lake.

I saw the glow of two faces in the campfire and could make out two small pup tents in the shadows behind them. They had lit up a Coleman lantern and on the other side of the fire it was hanging from the skinny limb of a small tree—precariously—but adequately illuminating the rest of the ‘camp.’ There were cooking utensils piled up by the tree: pots and pans, a cutting board and some knives on top of a beer cooler, a couple of plastic buckets, some rods and reels, another beer cooler (this one Styrofoam), an axe protruding from another small tree nearby, a rifle (probably a .22), a shotgun, and various and other sundry items strewn about.

“Welcome to ‘Camp Grenada’,” I said to the girls as we piled out of the car.

Peanut and Gene got up to greet us.

“Hey Many-Feet! You done made it after all!” Peanut shouted.

“Who’s that you got with ya?” Gene added.

“Well, y’all told me to bring something, so I brought along these two; figured you boys done had supper, so here I am with dessert.”

Beverly snapped, “That ain’t funny Lance!”

“Hey! That’s Bev and looks like that there’s Linda! Hiya Ladies!” Peanut said with an earnest exuberance as he walked over toward us.

Gene ambled on over as well. “Ya fetch along anything else?”

“Of course,” I said as I pitched the bag of Marlboros to Peanut. “Grab my igloo outta the car there. Oh and grab that DQ bag while you’re at it, would ya?”

It generally took two men to get my cooler out of the car when full of ice and beer, but I knew Gene didn’t need any help, so Peanut, the girls, and I walked over to the campfire and sat down around it. The nights still had some chill in them and the fire was welcoming. Presently Gene stumbled on over with my giant igloo and the DQ bag with the tacos and burgers clinched between his teeth. He set the cooler down with a loud ‘thump!’ and I could hear the beer and ice sloshing around inside accompanied by that tinkling sound bottles make when colliding into each other.

“Hey! Easy there Big Fella; don’t want you bruisin’ the booze,” I said.

He set the bag of food on the ground and said, “Damn ‘Feet, what all ya got in there?”

“Just your basic Beam & Beer,” I said, as he opened the cooler, peering inside.

“Well, I guess now we can stay ‘til Monday, if we’re a-mind to; we’re stocked up real good,” he said in his usual deadpan.

Gene had an appetite that was famous. I have personally witnessed him go through two DQ Dudes, a half-dozen tacos, two orders of fries, and wash it all down with two chocolate milkshakes at the Dairy Queen and then ask me if I were going to finish the onion rings I had left neglected on my plate. I also knew that he was permanently banned from the ‘Wednesday All-You-Can-Eat Catfish Nights’ at the other local greasy-spoon in Honey Grove.

His eyes lit up as he opened the DQ bag.

We passed around the tacos and burgers and beers, laughing and joking as we ate and drank. At that moment, sitting around that fire, there was no place on Earth I’d have rather been.

Immediately after the food was finished, four cigarettes were simultaneously (spontaneously?) ignited around me.

“Hey, am I the only one here who cares about his health?”

Beverly reached into her jacket and handed me a joint.

“Here Darlin’. This won’t hurt ya none.”

I lit the joint, took a drag and passed it to Linda, and watched as it made its way around to the rest of my ‘two-fisted smoker’ friends.

Growing mellow, yet still energetic, we laughed and joked some more around the campfire.

“So tell me Guys,” I broached. “What’ve you done all day, besides set up this camp and drink beer?” (Peanut had provided what beer they had, but they were desperately ‘low’ when I arrived with the Girls, in the nick of time, so to speak; not unlike the cavalry, or more accurately, and properly, The Texas Rangers)

Gene chimed in, “We set a good trotline, ‘bout a hundred foot. We been catching some brim and used them for bait. Probably should run that line tonight, but I suppose it’ll keep ‘til morning, if it has to.”

Gene gravitated toward ‘serious’ when it came to campin’, fishin’, and huntin’. Not that Peanut and I didn’t; we were just a bit more ‘lazy-faire’ and casual in the execution of same.

“Still got any of those brim left?” I asked. “You know, for re-baiting the trot line tomorrow.” Trying to show Gene I could occasionally be somewhat serious when ‘talkin’ ‘bout fishin’ and such.

“Yeah, we got some in a brim basket, tied to the boat over yonder,” he answered, pointing into the darkness in the general direction of the boat ramp.

“We used the basket instead of a stringer.” Peanut elaborated. “Don’t want no moccasins eatin’ up our bait.”

“Yeah, lots O’ moccasin ‘round here,” I said. And Peanut and I laughed, sharing our private ‘Moccasin Memories.’

snake

Linda and Bev said almost in unison, “I don’t like snakes!”

Gene, Peanut, and I laughed, also in unison.

I put my arm around Linda, who had actually become somewhat glued to me since we first got into my car, and said, “Don’t worry Honey, Peanut will protect you; he ain’t scared of snakes.”

More laughter from Peanut.

Gene rolled his eyes.

I had noticed a VW van parked a ways down when the Girls and I had driven in, but had forgotten to ask about it.

“Boys,” I said, “Anybody else camping here right now?”

“Two guys and two gals, probably college preppies,” Peanut spat. “They tried to set up close to us here, but we ‘discouraged’ ‘em off. Now they are down the end of the camp grounds over yonder,” as he pointed into the night, in the opposite direction Gene had pointed to about the brim basket.

We smoked another joint and drank a few more beers and we were all getting sleepy.

So I said, “We’re turning in. ‘G’night, Y’all.”

I wasn’t really sure about the other sleeping arrangements, and I really didn’t want to be the one sorting that out, so I just took Linda by the hand and led her to my station wagon. With the back seat down and the Igloo cooler removed, there was plenty of room in the back for us to sleep out of the chill. I always kept a quilt rolled up in my car for just such an occasion. We situated ourselves in the back of my car. I assumed Bev and Peanut would crash in one tent, and Gene, well, looked like he was gonna be ‘Odd Man Out’ in the other tent.

Sorry ‘bout that Gene…

***************

I was awakened by the sound of an ax repeatedly and incessantly striking hard wood: “Thunk! Thunk! Twap!”

Bleary-eyed, I gazed out of the car. There was Gene, vigorously going at it. Beside me Linda stirred, moaned, opened her eyes slightly, and then pulled the quilt over her head. I crawled out of the car and stood barefoot beside it, shivering in the early morning air. The sun was up, but not by much. I judged it to be about six o’clock.

Damn! But it was a fine morning! The air was clean and fresh with not a cloud in the sky. I searched about and found my socks and boots. I saw Peanut’s head poke out from inside his tent and I’m pretty certain he looked worse than I felt. But youth quickly mends bleary-eyed, hung over young souls.  He squinted in my general direction and disappeared back into the tent.

Gene continued his travail and I walked over to what was left of the previous night’s campfire, squatted down and poked about absent-mindedly in the remaining embers with a small stick. Gene walked over and dumped on some wood, scattering ash and creating a small cloud of ‘fire flies’ attacking my face, saying nothing.

I stood up, walked over to the Igloo and fished out a bottle of Coors. The icy cold water shocked my hands. I sat down on the cooler, opened the beer (The hair of some dog), and began trying to wash the cotton out of my mouth. I looked over and saw Peanut standing one-legged in front of his tent, now struggling with his boots. He fell backwards on his ass and cussed under his breath. He continued with his boots whilst seated there ignominiously.  There was no sign of his ‘Pocahontas’.

After successfully donning his footwear, he ambled over to the now smoldering fire.

“Move your butt; I lost somethin’ in that cooler last night,” he said as I stood up, opened the cooler and handed him a beer.

“This what you’re looking for?” I asked.

“Yup. Gracias,” he said and sat down on the other cooler by the fire.

We continued sipping our beer while watching Gene chop still more firewood. He brought several arm loads over, dropping them beside us, and with each load, glared at us more intently.

“Guess we need to feed that boy, ‘fore he gets testy,” Peanut said as he tossed aside his now empty beer bottle.

Peanut was what one might call a ‘Gourmet Camp Cook.’ He proceeded to busy himself with a frying pan, bacon, some potatoes, and finally some eggs. The bacon and potatoes, he skillfully cooked together, then poured the mixture onto a plate and made quick work of scrambling three or four eggs in the grease which remained. He added these to the plate and yelled to Gene who had gone off to check (I suppose) on the brim they had left in the basket the day before.

“Yo, Gene! Come… an’… get it!” Peanut yelled over his shoulder, somewhat mockingly.

Gene appeared, and after handing the plate to him, he returned to his cooking duties, but slightly less hurried and slightly less harrowed now.

As he was cooking up more breakfasts, I went to rouse the girls. Linda was still out of it, but I managed to get her out of the car. Sleepy-eyed, she joined Peanut in the ‘kitchen’ as I went to check on Bev. Beverly was stirring, but still not fully conscious, but eventually she came to join us, sitting down by the fire and lighting a cigarette.

After we all had a bit of breakfast, Peanut served up some coffee he had been boiling on the edge of the fire. We laced it with bourbon and sugar and it wasn’t half-bad. In fact it was, as Gran’ma used to say, ‘Larapin.’

Gene announced with some authority that it was time to run the trotline.

We all walked toward where the Jon Boat was ‘moored’ on the bank, half in, and half out of the water. Peanut grabbed the .22 rifle, Gene grabbed one of the buckets, and I grabbed a beer.

Trotlines in Texas are for catching catfish—nothing else. This is their purpose; however they also and with too much regularity, catch snapping turtles, water moccasins, and fishing boat outboard motors.

trotline

Peanut boarded first and sat down astern; Beverly followed and sat beside him. I got in next and sat down amidships. Gene shoved us off and jumped into the bow as the boat slid into the lake.

Linda said, “No thanks. I can’t swim,” and walked back toward our camp.

Just as well, the boat was probably overloaded enough as it was.

Gene got us turned around using the paddle and we eased out toward a dead tree about fifteen yards offshore where the trotline was tied.  He snagged it and we began running the line. Clorox bottles were attached and floated at intervals ending at another dead tree about thirty yards from the first. It would not be necessary to paddle anymore, since we could just pull the boat along the line, checking and re-baiting (and hopefully unhooking… fish) as we went along toward the other tree.

“Feel anything tugging on the line?” Peanut asked Gene.

“Yeah.”

He pulled up a decent sized catfish on the first hook in the series and so it looked to be a promising run from the start.

Gene de-hooked the catfish, carefully avoiding the needle sharp pectoral spines which can cause much misery to the neophyte or careless trotline runner. Peanut reached over the side into the brim basket retrieving one of the palm-sized still wiggling fish. He pitched it to me.

“Cut that in half so Gene can re-bait the hook,” he said.

“Be happy to; hand me the knife,” I replied.

“You didn’t bring no knife?”

“No,” I said. “I thought you, being ‘James Bowie’ ‘an all, always kept a knife on ya.”

“Well shit!” He shot back. “Do I have ta do ever’thang? Gene, you got a knife on ya?”

“Nope, got no knife neither,” Gene said in monotone.

“Well I’ll be Goddamn-go-to-hell!” Peanut said. “Now we gotta paddle all the way back to camp and get a God-damn knife.”

“No need,” I said, and proceeded to bite the head off the brim and hand the headless thing, still wiggling in its dying throes, to Gene. “There ya go Podner, cut bait or fish; your choice.”

I thought Beverly was going to lose her breakfast and Gene and Peanut were going to laugh themselves overboard.

“Many-Feet,” Peanut managed to choke out between his laughter, “You are-one-crazy-son-of-a-bitch!”

Historically, when the three of us got together, whether it be in a honkytonk ‘Cross the River’ in Oklahoma, or in a bar in Commerce, or camping here at Coffeemill, things always tended to turn a little bit ‘crazed and demented’.

Anti-social, unacceptable behavior that we would not exhibit individually became de rigueur when we three were together. We had recently been ‘perma-banned’ from two bars in Commerce for some of our antics, but as Commerce had many bars (no less than a baker’s dozen at any given time), we really didn’t care much. Bars came and went with regularity in Commerce during The Seventies, with only a few (The Showdown, Bar G, Electric Circus, The Mug, and The Icehouse) ever sustaining any longevity. The two we were thrown out of actually didn’t last long after we could no longer frequent them. Looking back, I’d have to say these bars may have made it, if they hadn’t banished some of their best customers.

We continued running the trotline and I continued to ‘cut’ bait. The run was going along swimmingly and we had about ten pounds of channel cat on our stringer when Gene said,

“Uh, I think this line’s snagged.” Then added quickly, “Nope. It’s movin’ now; somethin’ big an’ heavy.”

“Well, pull it up then!” Peanut yelled.

Cowboy-Snapping-turtle

Gene stood up, tipping the boat dangerously to starboard, and put his back into it. The business end of the biggest snapping turtle I had ever seen broke the surface and Gene, full of adrenalin and obviously not thinking, hoisted it into our little boat.

This turtle was pissed off.

Severely.

It started thrashing about and managed to unhook itself.

Now we had a situation.

I don’t know if there are many animals more dangerous to have on-board a small Jon Boat than a pissed off snapper; possibly perhaps a cotton mouth, or a bull-shark, or a Tasmanian Devil, but none else come immediately to mind.

Peanut grabbed the rifle and was about to shoot the damn thing when Gene and I both yelled,

“Don’t shoot it!” (Neither I nor Gene trusted his aim in the rocking & rolling Whirling Dervish the boat had suddenly become).

Beverly stood up and started screaming. I kept my eyes on the turtle since he was facing me, snapping at my ankles. I kicked him with the heel of my boot, but that just pissed him off more. I grabbed the paddle and tried to push him away. He locked onto it with a crunch. I pulled back but as snapping turtles are prone to do, he held it fast. I succeeded only in pulling his head out a ways from his shell, exposing his neck.

“Why doncha just bite his head off Many-Feet?” Peanut snapped from behind me.

snapper

“Very funny asshole!” I shot back, earnestly preoccupied with my tug-of-war with the turtle.

At least he was now engrossed with the paddle and not my leg. It was a bit of a Mexican Standoff.

“Gene, grab this thing and throw him back!” I yelled.

“Don’t think so.” he said.

“C’mon! Do it before he figures out this paddle ain’t what he wants for lunch.”

Gene stood back up, grabbed the rear part of the shell and heaved the turtle over the side, almost capsizing the boat, and all of us with it. The paddle sailed off with the turtle and both quickly disappeared.

“Sheeit!” Gene said, sitting back down. “That’s the biggest damn snapper I ever seen.”

Bev had stopped her shrieking and we all just sat there a second, catching our breath.

Presently Peanut said, “Well, that’s the only paddle I brought. Gonna be fun trying to get back to shore.”

“Tell ya what ‘Nut,” I said, “you jump in and tow us. You’re a good swimmer ain’t ya?”

“That paddle cost me ten bucks,” he lamented, only about half-serious.

“Might as well finish up running this line while we’re out here,” Gene offered.

We did indeed finish running and re-baiting the trotline and claimed a few more channel cats and a couple of mud cats (which we threw back—for the turtles). That sorted out, Gene pulled us back along the line toward the shore. Once we got to the tree and the ‘end of the line’, Peanut slid over the side without preamble and while holding the bowline with one hand and backstroking with the other managed to get us the rest of the way to the shore.

We beached the Jon Boat and unloaded ourselves and a few of the larger catfish, which Gene took over to a picnic table and began to gut and clean. Probably that would have been frowned upon by the park service…

Peanut and I headed for the cooler and some refreshment. Beverly went to find her sister and did–fast asleep in one of the tents. She hustled her out and led her over to me and Peanut, yammering on all the while about the damn ‘turtle encounter’ and how we all could have drown or worse.

“Hey Bev!” Peanut said. “Don’t tell her ‘bout how Many-Feet here bit the heads off’n them brim. She won’t never kiss him agin.”

“What’s a ‘brim’? Linda asked me, as they sat down next to the now dead campfire.

“Never mind Honey,” I said, glaring at Peanut.

I busied myself with building another fire while Peanut poked about, gathering what he would need to cook us all a fine channel-cat dinner. Gene came over with one of the plastic buckets full of catfish fillets, still somewhat bloody. He took them down to the shore and rinsed them off. When he returned he set the bucket down in front of Peanut, grabbed a beer, and announced that he was done ‘a-workin’ and that he was hungry:  Starvin’ like Marvin, in fact.

Now, this was a rather large surprise.

cookingoveracampfireonthemiddleforkofthefeatherriver

Peanut had accumulated all his camp-fire-catfish-cooking necessities and staged same next to the ‘not-yet-ready fire’.

“Need to let her burn down a bit,” He said.

Seated there around the fire with a little time to kill, Bev fished another joint out of her pocket, lit it, passed it around as we all sat there developing a major case of the munchies. Gene grabbed the Jim Beam and some left-over coke-a-cola out of the cooler. Chivalrously he prepared two drinks for the girls. He sat down and took a swig from the bottle; then handed it to Peanut, who after taking a swig, passed it to me.

“Ya know,” Peanut reflected, “We shoulda kept that turtle. Coulda sold it for about ten bucks, or at least gotten our names in the paper for catching a world record snapper.”

“’Nut,” Gene said, “You’re crazier than Many-Feet. Why don’t you go on back out there and capture it? Maybe you can get your paddle back while you’re at it. No way was we keeping that thing.”

“Jes sayin’” Was all he said as we all stared into the fire.

With the fire now burned sufficiently down into some cooking coals, Peanut began working his magic. He assembled all the items for the meal on top of the beer coolers and began cooking. We were to feast upon fried potatoes, skillet-baked biscuits, some re-heated pinto beans he had brought along, (with Jap-a-lean-O’s, naturally), some apples baked in foil, and of course, fried fresh catfish coated with yellow cornmeal, too much Lowery’s seasoned salt and not a little black pepper.

We left him to it.

*******************

Jimmy ‘Peanut’ Piland was a character like none other: Possessing a smallish frame, medium blond hair always askew and asunder, Paul Newman blue eyes, a perpetual boyish ‘possum’ grin, and a wiry build replete with a hard-wired energy. Yet looks can be somewhat deceiving: he was tough as nails and feared nothing, or no one. There was no Brahma bull he wouldn’t attempt to ride, no man he wouldn’t attempt to fight (if provoked—him usually doing the ‘provokin’—“That sonuvabitch done pissed me off…”), no tractor, truck, nor heavy machinery he wouldn’t attempt to operate, instructed or not. Good that he never had access to an airplane, for he would have, no doubt, tried to fly it.

And actually, he did fly, by and by.

He flew through life in a manner most men would never, could never, understand.

Everything about Jimmy was over the top. He embraced life with a lustful, youthful exuberance. If there were a ‘Webster’s God of Definition,’ you would find under ‘Joie de vivre’ a photo of Peanut and the definition would read simply,

“Nuff Said.”

Or maybe,

“Now Run tell that!”

From the early Seventies until the late Nineties, I called Peanut my ‘Best Friend’ even though there were many years during those years when our paths did not cross, and sometimes when they did, ‘colliding’ would be a better-served word.

I fell slave to my wanderlust and left Honey Grove for many far-off places and adventures. Peanut never once to my knowledge, left HG, save for those three summer months we lived together in La Porte Texas working together in an asphalt factory.

He was the original at ‘Home-Boy’. He loved living in Honey Grove, or in later years, at the end of about eight miles of bad Texas road, safely (for the residents) outside of the town.

Every time I found myself back in HG I felt compelled to look him up. Sometimes he was doing well, sometimes not. We had a talent (mostly thanks to him) of finding adventure in even the most mundane of circumstance. Just the simple act of driving to Ladonia for beer one day in ’93 turned into adventure, as we had to take the back roads because, he simply said, “The laws are out for me.” We crossed many ‘Bois d’Arc’ bridges during that trip and got stuck in the mud more than once, and actually got shot at as well, well…another story…

One Saturday night in The Seventies, I was parked at Jack Self’s service station, talking to some high-school friends when we saw a cop car slowly driving past, lights flashing, and hard following,  there was Peanut in one of his ‘La Bomba’ vehicles, with another cop car bringing up the rear, lights also flashing—quite a ‘parade’.

As he slowly passed by, doing about ten miles per hour, Peanut yelled out the window to the assembled group,

“They’re fixin’ to hang my ass!”

Apparently he had some minors with him and some beers and…

That was classic ‘Peanut’. He did not say that with any malice, nor did he say it with any sorrow. He announced the fact just as it was: “They’re fixin’ to hang my ass…”

That was how he lived his life:

“You pay your money and you take your chances, an’ if you don’t, well then, forget you!”

Peanut could ‘talk shit’ with the skill a thespian who after years of training might bring to Hamlet, if lucky. With Peanut, luck had nothing to do with it; he was natural. There was no better ‘shit-talker’ in the world. He could reduce you to laughing jelly with one phrase or even just a goofy look.  In our small-town world, talking shit was one of our primary forms of entertainment, and perhaps could even be considered an art. Though most would discount the art form.

Not I. Most of my best ‘shit-talking’ I have stolen from him.

Peanut could be incredibly childish at times. Once during high school, the two of us drove to Houston to attend the FTA (Future Teachers of America) convention. We were members—believe it or not—but only for the chick opportunities…

Since he had never been to Galveston (or Houston for that matter), I decided that I needed to show him around my once and future stomping grounds. We arrived in Galveston the night before the convention in Houston was to begin and I took him down to the beach in front of Seawall Boulevard. Peanut had never seen the ocean (Not even The Gulf—hell—no salt water at all). It was winter-time and not much going on. We got out of my station wagon and started walking down the beach, combing. We came upon some jelly-fish washed upon the shore. Peanut pulled out a knife and proceeded to repeatedly stab the dead creatures, exclaiming as he did, “Da! Da! Da! There ya go! Now what?!”

He was greatly amused.

I wasn’t.

But then, that was ‘Peanut’.

Other times, he showed a great deal of maturity and worldly wisdom.

Some years later and after a particularly rough night of us drinking and cussing and fighting each other (And me, getting into a bona-fide fist fight with one of his kin), he said to me,

“Many-Feet, you need to get that poison outta your system. Not sure I can help you. Sometimes the old bulls, they just cain’t run in the same pasture no more…”

**********************

Peanut proudly served up the catfish dinner, and let me bear witness: it was the best. We sat around the campfire over our hard-won repast and complimented our chef (in our ‘way’) between mouthfuls.

Bev said, “Damn it, Peanut! Where’s the turtle soup?”

“Hey Bev!” he said, “I got something I been meanin’ to give you..” as he stood up, reached deep into his jean’s pocket, and pulled out with grand flourish,  his middle finger, aiming it squarely at her nose.

Beverly, not to be outdone, turned her back to Peanut and, over her shoulder, announced, “Hey, ‘Nut! I have somethin’ I been savin’ for you too, Darlin’” And then deftly dropped her pants and mooned him, and a full moon it was…shining there in the daytime.

We carried on in this fashion for about an hour or so, finished our feast, lit some Marlboros and joints, and drank some more beer and whiskey. Along about four o’clock, we decided it was time to think about going home. ‘Home’ to our respective hearths. Back to ‘Civilization’. Back to our Main Mundane. The very thought of it depressed us all, though we did not verbalize that depression. Clearly, we had, the five of us, been born too late. Being well-suited to ‘Lake Life’ as we had become, we had somehow developed intro kindred spirits during our brief adventure, even given the fact that, as adventures rate, this one was about average on ‘The Peanut Meter.’ Yet… we’d had a great time; had ourselves a little adventure, but mainly had gotten somewhat far away from the madding crowd, if just for a night and a day. One must take one’s adventure whenever, wherever, and in whatever quantity one finds it.

Peanut, Gene, and I decided…since camping is a ‘man’s game’, to do up the fire-burned dishes and pots and pans, while the Girls were tasked with loading up the cars. (Getting the boat on the trailer was not yet on our event horizon…but by and by, we’d get around to it…)

We gathered up all the dirty pots, pans, skillets, plates, greasy knives, forks, spoons, and whatever else looked like needed ‘warshin’, and schlepped them to the shore.

We sat there in ankle-deep water, our chores stacked up around us, and not unlike what I can only imagine the black slaves did in the early 1800’s, commenced to sing while we washed and worked.

(Having no proper soap, we were seated in the water, using lake sand to scrub clean the dishes et al)

Peanut began with his famous rendition of…well, guess it wasn’t so famous, as I cannot remember it now.

I tried something approaching Brother Dave Gardner.

The duo beside me was not impressed.

Gene however, was somewhat semi-famous for having ably memorized, and more ‘significant’, become competently competent in reciting ‘The Signifying Monkey’.

monkey

Peanut and I begged for a command performance.

Gene gave us an ‘aw shucks’ look, said ‘Okay’ and thus he began:

Way down in the jungle deep

The lion stepped on the monkey’s feet

Ever’ evenin’ ‘fore the sun go down

The lion kicked the little monkey’s ass

lion

All through the jungle town.

One day, the little monkey gathered his wits;

Said ‘I’m tired of this ole ass-kickin’ shit.’

 

(Note: From The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism by Henry Louis Gates Jr. 1988. The origins of this sometimes toast, sometimes poem, I do not know; probably no one does, although some scholars suggest from Yorùbá Mythology.)

And on and on…Gene had it goin’ on.

Peanut and I (sophomorically) loved to hear Gene recite that. Where he learned it, I don’t know, and it never occurred to me or to Peanut ever to ask. Some things one just don’t ask (or tell). Nonetheless, it was uncharacteristic of Gene to ‘perform’ for anyone, so when he could be persuaded to recite ‘Signifyin’ Monkey’ for us, it was just one more example of that kind of signifyin’, significant, and appreciated bond the three of us had.

We finished our chores and met up with the girls as they just finished theirs. Two last things to sort: bring in the trotline and trailer the boat.

Of course bringing in the trotline also meant running it again, and we still had the problem of having no paddle. Gene solved this quite elegantly: Using brute strength, he liberated a plank from one of the picnic tables, and then using the axe, shaped it quickly into something that would pass for a crude paddle.

Back to sea…

We ran the trotline without major incident; harvested another ten pounds of channel cat, and thusly satisfied, headed back to camp. We got the boat trailered and were ready to head back to HG. Peanut and I had no interest in the catfish, so we bequeathed our share to Gene, who had a momma ‘could cook catfish like nobody’s business.’

“Sure Gene; ‘vite us on over when they done…”

The Girls and I loaded ourselves back into my Chariot. Gene and Peanut boarded theirs. We passed by the lame-ass camp of the college campers. I do believe I heard one of the women remark, “Thank God!”

“Yeah, ‘Thank God’. Thank Your God we didn’t have time nor inclination to steal your store-bought camp food.” I thought to myself as we drove past them. Maybe next time…

Drove the girls back to their car and deposited them there. I kissed Linda goodbye and could tell she was not happy.

“What’s the matter, Darlin’?” I asked.

“Nuttin’” she answered.

“Must be something.” I said.

“Nope. Nuttin’.”

“Okay. See ya around.”

I went on home. Late for supper again. Gloria said something about my appearance, but I wasn’t listening. I went up to the third floor, took a shower, went to bed and slept.

Devoid of Dreams.

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“Not Like Going Down The Pond Chasing Blue Gills Or Tommy Cats”–Quint

“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.”

― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

Galveston! Oh Galveston!

Many times during my life Galveston has been my ‘stomping grounds’ and remains to this day one of my most favored places on Earth, even though it has been “cleaned up” and my favorite sleazy bar now just an empty spot on the beach and a vacant void in my heart.

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My step-father took me to Galveston in late summer 1969 on a fishing trip, and I have loved Galveston ever since. Mike was a good stepfather who loved fishing and some of my happiest memories of him are the many times just the two of us would spend the day fishing in Santa Cruz, California or in this case, Galveston.

Leaving Houston, we rambled down Interstate 45 coming upon more and more water, (canals), as we approached Galveston. Seeing houses built over water without garages, but with little piers and small boats tied up in lieu of cars, I said to Mike, “That’s how I would like to live.”

Crossing the big bridge over to Galveston Island afforded a magnificent view. It was a beautiful bright clear day and I could see the fishing boats and sailboats in Galveston Bay. Over the bridge and driving through Galveston City we intersected Seawall Boulevard and the Gulf of Mexico appeared abruptly as if from nowhere and that overpowering first sight of it absolutely blew me away.

We went to the fishing pier which was connected to The Flagship Hotel and even though I caught nothing noteworthy, I had one of the best times of my young life. The smells of the sea, the fresh cut bait, the salt spray were all things familiar to me from so many trips to Santa Cruz. I love the sea, to be sure.

Many years later, after having read Peter Benchley’s Jaws and becoming obsessed with the idea of fishing for something that held the very real possibility of turning the tables and making me the “bait,” I decided Galveston was the place to explore the potential of this heady new-found avocation.

After high school graduation and a couple of semesters attending college in Commerce I moved to La Porte, which is about an hour from Galveston and there developed a plan for my first shark-fishing expedition. Since sharks, big sharks, the kind I was after, could not generally be found by fishing from the beach or even from the many fishing piers which run out from Seawall Boulevard, and since I had no boat, the South Jetty which runs almost two miles out into the Gulf from the eastern tip of Galveston Isle would be my causeway to deep water, no boat required. All it would take is a little forethought, some equipment, and some brass balls. I had all three available to me.

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Camping with Gene, Peanut, and the Signifying Monkey. Running the Trotline. And of the Sisters I Brought to the Soirée

Continuation of The Bow Fishing post…

 One Saturday afternoon much later that spring, Peanut and Gene flushed me out of the old Pool Hall which was located on Sixth Street in a rundown building just off the square in Honey Grove.pool-hall

“We’re goin’ camping out to The Lake,” Peanut announced. “You gonna come, or what?”

“Kinda short notice,” I said. “I don’t know. It’s Saturday afternoon, and soon it’ll be Saturday Night, and I was gonna get dressed up and go ‘Dear’ Hunting.”

“Okay, fine then,” Peanut said gruffly. “You go chasin’ tail, but I doubt you’ll catch any. If you change your mind, we’ll be at the old boat ramp. Just don’t show up empty-handed. Me and Gene got all the gear and food an’ shit, but you gotta bring something if you wanna join us. Them what works, and brings, eats.”

A word about Gene here: He was also a sophomore, like Peanut, but to look at him, you’d think him more a junior, or maybe even a senior on a rough day. He stood about six-three and weighed probably two-ten; a big guy. He had slightly long (in the style of The Seventies) red hair and a rugged looking, yet somewhat boyish face, rolled into one. His speech was slow and deliberate. And rare. But he was not ‘slow.’ He had an intelligence and a manner I found most admirable. Not really what one would call a ‘gentle giant,’ but close. He was never boastful, as Peanut and I were often wont to be. I never saw anyone cross Gene, save for a few idiots from out of town, and much to their misfortune.

“Okay, fair enough,” I said and went back in to my game of Nine-Ball.

The Pool Hall (Euphemistically, it was “The Honey Grove Gaming Center”) was not an establishment that most parents allowed their kids to frequent. It was seedy & sleazy and much gambling went on there. Of course I loved it. I didn’t consider hustling pool as gambling per se. To me it was just a way to supplement my other sources of income: working for a local rancher, building fences, or hauling hay. A vocation, if you will, but also a very pleasing avocation as well.

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