Aug 13 2013 8:23 pm
1. I fished next to him several times before he grunted at me in salutation one random weekday evening. He wasn’t very friendly. He had the wiper fishing dialed in pretty good and I don’t think he liked seeing all the college town transients fishing his water.
I like to think he approved of my struggling in the wind with a fly rod every day and not catching anything when a lot of other guys were throwing gear. He usually had a fly rod and a hard plastic stripping basket and he was a very good caster. He would make three false casts and shoot all his line. Then he’d tuck his rod under his arm, and with one hand after the other, strip small lengths of line into the stripping basket. The way he did it kind of reminded me of a crab feeding itself slowly.
He was a media coordinator or something like that for NASCAR. He traveled a lot for the races and I suppose it made sense to be based in southern Indiana: Crossroads of America and all that. He had a long, Greek last name. He had dark hair and a serious face. He was maybe in his forties. There were only a couple places to fly fish for wiper without a boat. Whenever I was fishing where he was fishing I thought I did a good job even if I didn’t catch anything.
I saw him using a spinning rod a few times. He was always throwing a Zara Spook. He could huck that thing at least two hundred feet and he’d walk it back slowly and patiently. I never actually saw him hook a fish on it, but just the way the Zara Spook walked was enough to stick in my mind as worthwhile.
I was in Walmart the other day and they had some small white Zara Spooks in the discount bin, $1.50 each. I bought all nine of them. I’m thinking of giving up the fly rod to fish Zara Spooks exclusively.
2. This town in north central Pennsylvania was mainly poor people. Not the working poor, but the actual poor, the Social Security Disability Insurance poor, the extremely skinny and the extremely fat, the people that grocery shop at gas stations. The people that stare unabashedly into your vehicle as you drive down their street and have lots of dogs and cats usually.
The one guy was a clean cut, well built Asian man about forty years old in a new white baseball cap and white golf shirt and khaki shorts putting gas in a clean, white, late model Dodge four-door pick up. A white guy with bad acne scars on his face, a patchy five day gray and black beard, torn up discount white high top sneakers, dirty jeans, dirty shirt, dirty baseball hat stepped out of the gas station, put a cigarette in his mouth, threw his right foot up on the bumper of the truck and retied his shoe lace. And he wasn’t dirty because he had been working all day. He was just dirty.
These two men knew each other and obviously arrived together in the truck and were going to leave together in the truck. The white dude put his foot back on the ground and lit the cigarette and got about two drags in before a tall, skinny, mid-twenties, brown complexioned clerk in a tight blue polo shirt, tight jeans, and European sneakers came out of the station and said in a thick accent seriously, “Hey boss, no smoking, OK? No smoking around the pumps, boss. Thanks, boss.” The clerk had a mustache and a truly majestic pompadour of thick, jet black hair.
3. Hippyman Jeff was a craps dealer in Atlantic City for a while. Every Wednesday night I used to go over to his house and roll dice so he could practice his payouts. We’d sit around his little rinky-dink kitchen table with aluminum legs and those tiny pink and yellow boomerangs all over the top of it and drink cheap wine out of small water glasses and talk about the girls that worked at the diner and wax pseudo-philosophical about random psychological and historical facts.
One night we were sitting there and Jeff said, “Did you know that the cardinal directions were once referred to by color, black for north and red for south? In the northern hemisphere, I’m assuming.”
“I did not know that,” I replied, as I scooped up the dice and shook them in my hand slowly and rhythmically, squinting through the cigaret smoke and privately marveling at how we’re all so good and truly fucked.
Jul 24 2013 6:09 pm
Pulp Fly Volume Two was released last month. It's an ebook and you can buy it for Amazon Kindle here or for Barnes and Noble Nook here. Maybe some other places too. You can learn about Pulp Fly Volume One here.
I have a piece in Pulp Fly Volume Two. I don't think it's the best thing I've ever writte, but it's OK. I was reading a lot of Raymond Chandler when I wrote it and wanted to spell 'cigarette' the way he does, 'cigaret', but apparently that didn't survive the editorial process. Not that this is the reason my piece isn't the greatest thing I've ever written, but I feel compelled to mention it.
And to give you a better idea about what Pulp Fly Volume Two is like, I've taken the liberty of excerpting my favorite quotes from each piece in the volume, in order of their appearance in said volume. The number or length of quotes excerpted does not necessarily represent my opinion of a piece, but probably rather something like their quotability. And if I found one quote really striking, that's the only one I grabbed. Though I should say that Sarah H. Grigg's "Eddy Speaks" and Pete McDonald's "Taxidermy" are definitely my favorites.
Erin Block: "I walk to the far end of the lake towards the inlet, where a stream flows down from the smaller lake in the next cirque up like a magnified series of pocket water plunge pools. As I rig, greenback cutthroats cruise around sipping caddis emergers, and I worry it will all be gone before I’m ready. Poof. Before I can get in the game."
Tom Reed: "He thought it was a shame to leave a good animal like her standing in a pasture, pot-bellied, rank —a baby factory. No, she was too good for that. So he rode her, rode her often, enjoying her ground-eat-way-of-go."
Matt Smythe: "Looking down he could see blood soaking through both his pant-legs at mid-shin. Both were at odd angles. Compound. He knew a friend in high school who busted both of his legs just above his ski boots one winter break. The thought came and went."
Michael Gracie: "'Explicitly voice your curiosity. Don’t hold back.'"
Matt Dunn: "There was a cardinal that threw itself against the east facing window until Frank shot it with his snake gun."
Sarah Griggs: "But always the optimistic mythbuilder, I interpreted the exchange as an Omen, the Universe guiding me along my Path through the vessel of this corsair."
"He thought I was an angel on a pedestal. I knew that I was as wretchedly human as the next person; I knew I’d rather be honest than pleasant. Besides, I was just passing through. But once people make up their minds about a person, when they hear the intoxicating Siren choir chant, the Projection often trumps the Truth."
"Here we found a mass of kokanee, tangerine backs lashing through the water like the neural refractors of a concussion. We squealed like Mennonites on a Ferris wheel and rigged up a combination invented by Erik the Red, “The Battle Axe,” ready to ambush the unsuspecting bacchanalia. Before we could launch the goods, a fish bounded across the surface. Compared to the arabesque whip of a trout, the kokanee’s leap resembled a blood orange pontoon plane coming in hot for a landing, flopping into the tourmaline water with a quasi-ridiculous, but joyous kerplop."
"The display triggered a searing instinct, in the same way the sight of a mewing, gangly-legged elk calf running for its life prods a grizzly to truck down the dainty, spotted ass and devour it."
Tosh Brown: "'No. I'll give you that one, and the others you caught before lunch. That's when I got sick of watching you catch fish, right about noon.'"
Chris Hunt: "He hadn’t seen any sign of the bear since it shoplifted his salmon, and with a bellyful of fresh coho himself, he didn’t much mind that his first catch went to feed one of his new neighbors."
Will Rice: "The bottle of Sunny Caribbee Yellow Hot Sauce was jammed between the Marie Sharp’s Habanero Pepper Sauce (Ingredients: select red habanero peppers, fresh carrots, onions, key lime juice, vinegar, garlic and salt) and D’VANYA’S Original Hot Pepper Sauce (Ingredients: Water, Hot Peppers, Approved Starch, Spices, Diluted Acetic Acid, Citric Acid and Sodium Benzoate - straight from the Island of Nassau in The Bahamas)."
Pete McDonald: "For some reason when he killed the fish he recalled this place. He had gone to Lake Placid with Laura once and he’d driven past it and wanted to stop there but she said no. That was it and it shouldn’t have been a thing that even mattered."
"It didn’t feel like a fish anymore. He had ruined it in death and he tried to think about what it all was even supposed to mean and he couldn’t."
Alex Landeen: "The pleasantness was almost embarrassing."
Bob White: "An hour or two further on they came upon the berry pickers, made their camp with them, and spent the night." [I have to use this quote because Hemingway and Traver were effectively and charmingly berry picked by Bob White.]
May 23 2013 6:54 pm
She’s way out of my league as a sexual object and I’m way out of her league as an emotional one. This fact oozes from our weird conversations like a thick paste convincingly. These are real father issues and real mammalian reproductive instincts. We are real low animals. These are definitely not the delusions of a fat, sensitive man. Probably.
I’m not talking about you, at least not in this part, just to be clear.
What I need to do is get that girl from the bar to come back to my house. The one with the short hair that keeps the little bag of coke in her blue panties.
Wake up, alarm, out of bed, bathroom light, pee, shower, towel, deodorant, bathroom light, bedroom light, clothing, bedroom light, stairs, desk light, computer, kitchen light, coffee, cereal, email, computer, shoes, stairs, bathroom light, toothbrush, toothpaste, bathroom light, desk light, kitchen light, door lock, every day.
I’d like to make a map of all the lights in my life and have a big section of it labeled: “Here Be Dragons.”
Parts bucket, clamp, gasket, sample cock, iodophor, brush. Ladder, ethanol, torch. Sterile tube. Beer in a fermenter. Double check the jumpers to packaging. Taste one off the line every time just to make sure we’re not running caustic into those bottles.
Reel and line and flies and leader and forceps and camera and boat and trailer and oars and anchor and fish and river and rod.
At least ten years of perspective. A generally upbeat personality. A good night’s sleep. Alternating absolutely overwhelming enchantment and disgust with the world. An acute, terrifying awareness of the sublime. A good narrative you can tell yourself, a story about how the world works and your place in it. An identity, maybe.
Hemispheres and magnetic poles. A planet and a sun.
Metaphor and allegory, meaning and emotion. Words and concepts. Brains. Bodies. Matter. The theater of existence. Space and time.
I used to see beautiful things every day and watch the sun rise all the time and I had bad hands from rowing and pulling anchor and I’d bang my shin on the trailer tongue and swear a lot. These days I participate in a really old industry sharpened to a fine point with stainless steel, microbiology, and electricity. Maybe they’re not too different when you put it like that.
I need these new rivers with these new river banks and new trees and new rocks and new fish where the Chautauqua moraine splits the headwaters of the Mississippi off from Lake Erie by just a few miles. Radically different destinies for the rain that falls in Mayville, though I guess it’s Atlantic all the same.
Maybe I need the grind of midsummer baseball. The stamping of cleats, the rubbing of pine tar on wooden bats over and over again, stepping in, stepping out, the Velcro on batting gloves, shaking off the sign.
I need to get in the lineup at Bear Creek in September again early in the morning and dump the drift boat into the river like I know what I’m doing and mix it up with all the jet sleds in the dark. As soon as you stop doing that you get soft.
I need to be careful. Narratives are all fine and good but sometimes they fail traumatically. In fact, these days, I find that merely thinking about consuming hallucinogenic drugs is enough to break that last skinny strand, the one that does all the heavy lifting. It breaks and shrivels up and the naked world rushes in and it’s not coherent and it’s not a world at all it’s just my sensory inputs on fire and how all the systems threaten to shut down.
A big curvy doe, a slug gun, a shoulder thump.
It didn’t work out with the foot fetish model. I picked her up in New York City in line for the bathroom while she was on a date with some other guy. Things seemed so promising. But when I went back to visit her it turns out she’s just a fucking weirdo with super low self esteem. I think I flew too close to the sun with that one.
I need to always remember the time this past fall when we took turns yelling into the copper heat reflectors behind my wood stove to hear the echoes. You laughed so hard and I was so happy I thought nothing would ever go wrong.
Jan 27 2013 11:14 am
Soros was late and Frank was nervous. He had parked facing the street and held the steering wheel with his thumb and his four fingers reached across and tapped the dashboard. He kept ducking his head slightly and widening his eyes and looking left and right and then he’d slouch down into his seat and sigh and look at his knees and drum on the bottom of the steering wheel with both hands.
Across the street large airplanes took off and landed with loud roaring noises behind a high chain link fence. The low sun shone through the fence and made intricate warped shadows on the heaps of dirty snow. It was warm for Buffalo in January and the melting snow had concentrated gravel and dirt on top and made everything seem grittier.
There wasn't a patch of unbroken asphalt in the parking lot bigger than a dinner plate. Cracks ran over the whole thing. Frank registered this as something he'd seen before and semi-consciously explained it as a combination of cheap asphalt and tough winters. He had no idea if this was true but it seemed plausible enough and explaining it to himself this way allowed him to leave it behind.
Then finally Soros pulled into the lot and parked next to Frank and got out of his car with a leather shoulder bag and his derby cap, which Frank thought was stupid. He got in Frank’s car and said “Hello, Frank. How are you?”
“I’m fine. I wish you would show up on time though. It makes me fucking nervous.”
“You know how it works, Frank. I have people watch for a while.”
“Well, it makes me fucking nervous. Let’s do this already.”
“You need to relax. I bet your blood pressure is through the roof my friend. I think we should go to get a drink. I want to check in on Black James.” Soros then opened his bag and dug around in it and produced a derby cap identical to the one he was wearing. “I have something for him. He always says he likes my hat.”
Frank drove west toward the city. From his bag, Soros took a shoebox shaped package wrapped in loud birthday themed wrapping paper with a card and a bow taped to the top. He looked into the backseat and then placed the box there. “Money in the glove box?”
Frank nodded and said, “Yep. Just like always, Soros.”
James lit up when he saw Soros. He thanked him profusely for the hat and bought a round of drinks. He said, “I was going to go ice fishing today but I’m glad I didn’t. Glad I stopped in here. Good timing, huh? How’d you know I was going to be here? Ice is too thin anyway.”
“Does the fish taste better from under the ice, James?” Soros asked, genuinely interested.
“Oh it does. Yes it does. A lot better. Firmer too. Only way to eat fish, really, in my opinion.”
Soros sipped his drink and sat quietly for a minute. Frank sat next to him staring straight ahead. He had finished his drink immediately and wanted to get moving. Soros turned to him and said, “Frank, what do you think about the gun control issue in this country? I mean, clearly if there were no guns, there would be no gun violence, right?”
Frank took a long deep breath and turned to him and said, “Yes. I guess so.” Soros was fond of making arguments that established some extreme position as obvious and then worked back to the claim in question by showing that each step was of arbitrary significance.
“Suppose that it were possible, of course, ignoring practical concerns, of course.”
“Of course,” said Frank.
“And clearly, also, if there were only one thousand guns, in private hands, of course, then there would be less gun violence then at the present moment in this country, correct?”
“How about ten thousand guns? Surely, yes?”
“How about one million? Ten million? Surely there are more than ten million guns at the current time owned by private citizens of this country, yes?”
“I have no idea.”
“The actual numbers don’t matter here, my friend, I’m merely trying to make a point.”
Frank shook his head. “OK. I don’t think any of it matters. Not the facts. Not the points. I think I should probably just get going.”
“You think you should probably get going.” Soros said this quietly almost under his breath. “He thinks he should probably get going.” Soros said this more loudly and turned to James as he said it. “Fine. Get yourself going. I find my own way back.”
Nov 27 2012 12:56 pm
I’m going to miss a lot of things in Michigan, but mainly my wood burning stove. I realize there are wood burning stoves in New York too, but I like this one because it’s next to my desk. I like this one because it’s in my small house out in the woods a little bit, close to the lake and the rivers that I was just starting to figure out a little bit, the house with a tamarack in the back yard and big aspens too in the background which you can hear and see in the wind in the summer. They are definitely aspens. The ones right next to the house I think are white birch.
The soil and the sand and the rocks were pushed around here all over the place. They rode giant ice conveyor belts and piled up into big hills over thousands of years. These weird Midwestern mountains are a little surprising when you round the bend and they rise up into the sky over the otherwise flat landscape.
Coming north out of Kaleva, when you make that last hitch around Healy Lake and are headed due north again, that view of the backside of Crystal Mountain is surprising. But the most surprising view is when you’re driving southeast on 115 and crest the last hill past Copemish before you start the descent into Mesick. Here you can get a look at a really big moraine, one that stands every bit of eight hundred feet above the Manistee River valley floor. That’s a lot of relief for around here.
The perched dunes and big bays of the Lake Michigan shoreline in Benzie and Leelanau counties are like a miniature, flat topped fjordland made up of sand and gravel. The Valders ice went north and left these more or less sturdy aspects of the landscape as we find them now. Lake Michigan continued to drop and some of the big bays turned into big lakes like Crystal (9,854 acres), Platte (2,550 acres), Glen (4,871 acrea), Leelanau (8,608 acres), Torch (18,770 acres), and Charlevoix (17,200 acres). If the lakes keep dropping, Grand Traverse Bay (168,320 acres) will soon be a very large inland lake.
The Platte Lake Embayment, the one closest to me, actually has nine total lakes in it. During the Algonquin stage, it was a large bay with several islands made from the tip-top bits of the Platte interlobate moraine.
Once captured entirely by a giant channel of meandering glacial melt water running south from Glen Lake to Manistee, the outwash plains washed out and the Betsie River finally ran north. Now it dumps out near the town of Elberta, where you can find the Cabbage Shed, by far my favorite bar in Benzie County. The Platte River was also partially captured by the Glen Lake Channel, but now it runs northwest too and dumps into Lake Michigan at the southern most point of Platte Bay. There are great views of Sleeping Bear Dunes and South Manitou Island here, and very good silver salmon fishing.
If you want to get in touch with the last ice age you can go to Otter Lake, to the east side of the lake, and look down into the spring hole. That is apparently water welling up from the old Glen Lake Channel. Hugh told me once that he doesn’t like running a boat over that spring hole because he feels like he might get sucked in. Hugh was really nice to me. Hugh is a good guy.
The salmon and steelhead here are a blip on the geological radar. They don’t really even measure on the human radar. Even the so-called ancient native char are recent invaders from their Mississippian, Atlantic, and Beringian refugia, small lakes where they hunkered down against a wall of ice, literally a wall of ice, pumping glacial flour through their gills, waiting to disperse over thousands of miles and establish themselves in every kettle lake and slough from here to the Yukon.
And yet all these fish seem of a piece with this landscape. A cold river is a cold river and gravel is gravel is gravel.
I have a poker that I can use from here, right from my desk. I’m here at the computer and I can grab the poker, hook open the stove door, poke around in the fire for a few seconds, push the door closed, go back to the computer, and take a sip of bourbon. I shit you not. It’s very gratifying, particularly when there’s snow on the ground, which there is right now.
My stove is like Descartes’ stove. I don’t ever crawl inside, but it has made me doubt everything. It has made me doubt self-employment and the luxury of making my own schedule. It has made me doubt my lack of routine and the psychological turmoil that it produces. It has made me doubt picking up a part time job to make ends meet. It has made me doubt our political system.
I guess the grass is always greener. But from a few clear and distinct certain principles I am moving forward into said green grass. My stove has been a crucible for radical new ideas like 401k’s, health insurance, and a brand new Ray Nagin, one that’s 200 pounds heavier, a lot whiter, with a different accent, and with a very different relationship to his President.