Friday, October 31, 2008

Hollow Happyween

Here is about the extent of my participation in the tradition of Hallow'een as we celebrated since I was a little guy. Some of the memories, I try to remember to forget, but most of them were good, running around the neighborhood with a Weingarten's bag gathering loot from nice people. We never got any cyanide or razor blades, as far as I know, like some other communities.

Part of the reason for my limited membership in this activity is that I have come to the OLD AGE phase of my life, and I have lost interest. The other part is that I am fairly uncomfortable celebrating the darkest traditions of such upstanding folks as the ancient Druids. Not good role models, that's all I'll say.

But since my girls picked out this ORANGE shirt for my birthday, I decided to reserve it for today. When I got to work, I wished out loud for some of the old black photographer's tape that all artists used to be required to carry with them at all times.

Well, my friend and colleague Nancy had a full roll of it in her desk drawer, and at that very moment I asked her to cut some triangles and decorate me. She did, and I am the belle of the ball. Or at least I feel like it.

All without glitter! Imagine that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Planning is Overrated

Part the Second: The Voyage

Paul jumped into his truck and had it hitched to the boat trailer in nothing flat; Andrew would ride with him, RJ drove his truck with me in it. With some simple instructions and directions, RJ took off to the bait camp with Paul were right behind. A quart of live shrimp, two pounds fresh dead. Then to Buccee’s for ice, then to the ramp for launch.

In no time, we were on the water with our gimme caps turned backward to avoid losing them in the mighty Brazos. Cap’n Paul navigated us to the Dow Chemical plant’s intake/discharge channel for our first attempt. The narrow strait was clogged with large rafts of wood debris floating in and out with the surge of the waves. The skipper placed us up against a tree trunk at the water’s edge, and I, being the bow man, tied us off.

By the time I got my rod rigged up for fishing live bait (I usually use soft plastic jigs and the new configuration was, well, new to me), RJ had dropped his shrimp in from the stern of the boat, and had pulled in a speckled trout in the 19 inch range! Indignity! Then Andrew pulled in a redfish and the race was on.

Well, Andrew and RJ raced, since I hung up on some submerged something-or-other after a croaker stole my shrimp. In the mean time, RJ pulled in what Paul identified as a Mangrove Snapper. They are related to Red Snapper that is found offshore, and are dang fine eating. This was a beautiful fish, with the body of a snapper, except with a deep maroon kind of color.
Undeterred, I kept working the crustaceans and eventually pulled up a small Mangrove of my own, but since it was under 10 inches long, we tossed it back to bite again later. No worries, it was a cool fish, and I was glad to set him free.

The action turned off after a little while, and Cap’n Paul was eager to get us on some fish. We cast off the main line and headed into the drift, which our leader skillfully guided us through with no damage to boat, motor or image. He ran us back down the river to a spot rumored to hold sand trout where we plied our best efforts to entice our quarry to bite our bait. It was not to be, so we weighed anchor and ran on down to the mouth of the river.

I want to pause in the play-by-play to describe the kind of conditions we were operating in. The sun was bright, the wind was light and a bit cool, and there were only twelve clouds in the entire sky the whole day. And they weren’t very big, I’ll tell ya. The normally chocolate brown Brazos even had an emerald tint to it as we ran down the stream, watching shoals of small mullet and other baitfish working the surface, making the water appear nervous. One of the most beautiful sights was when we ran under a power line that stretched across the river at about 50 feet of altitude, upon which were a row of birds. There were cormorants and seagulls and several large brown pelicans. As we passed under, the birds took flight in the same direction as us, and we watched them glide over us in formation for a few seconds until we outran them. The sun’s angle on the great birds made me wish for a camera. But I have it up here between my eyes!

We ran, as I said, down to within a few hundred yards of the mouth of the Brazos where the river meets the Gulf of Mexico. There was a long stretch of beach on both sides of the watercourse, and on the Freeport side, there was a long line of trucks and vans and SUVs among other types of vehicles stretching as far as you could see. Some had flags and mini-camps set up. Each of the means of transportation had a contingent of fishermen with their arsenal of rods bristling out of the sand. Some throwing cast nets, others cutting bait, some just sitting waiting for action.

We pulled up on the beach opposite the army of anglers and began to toss our offerings to the unseen schools of fish that were no doubt rushing past in the current. The other guys were throwing different baits; fresh dead shrimp, live mullet, and I was trying out my artificial baits. I had one strike that chomped my fake minnow in three pieces, but the clever fish missed the hook. Good for him, not for me. Andrew hooked a good speckled trout and that was about it. I did see a couple of guys paddling kayaks back to the river from a slough they had followed back to a small lake. They each had a limit of redfish, so they must have been doing something right.

Since the fish weren’t obliging us the same way they had flocked to the kayak boys, we figured we might oughta try a new location. Paul had been catching bait with the cast net (he really took care of us) and asked if we were ready for a change of venue. A unanimous “aye” was sounded and we shoved off the sand and headed back upstream to the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway, to the uninitiated). We took a right and headed to some oyster reefs that had produced fish a few days before.
We stayed there for an hour or so, there is only so much fun you can have losing terminal tackle on oyster reefs while only occasionally pulling in small black drum and undersized redfish. Cap’n Paul put us on the move again.

The destination this time was at the intersection of the Brazos and the ICW. Here, the likelihood of fish was very, uh, likely. We baited up, and brought in a sand trout or two, but the main excitement was the Captain hooking what appeared to be a small submarine. RJ and Andrew spoke as one in the question, “What do you think it is?” Paul is cagey, and he said between grunts of exertion, “Well I don’t know what it is, we’ll have to wait till it comes to the surface…” The excitement on deck was palpable.
I knew what it was. In fact, so confident was I in my prediction, I spoke up, “It’s an oversize redfish, that’s what it is, and I’ll even wager a cracker!” High stakes, I realize, but by the way it was fighting and running and pushing the limits of the rod and reel and pilot of said equipment, there were few other things it could be. Yeah, it could be a stingray, but those take off and don’t stop till you’re spooled or you just cut the line. Same for amberjack and them like ‘em. Nope. This was a big scienops ocellatus, red drum.

Paul ended up having to walk nearly clear around the boat to fight this beast, and when it surfaced, we all saw it was the bull red that I predicted. I yelled out “30 inches”, though likely nobody heard me. As he wore the big fish out, Paul was ready for the net-man, which I’m, and I picked the leviathan from the water and plunked him down in the boat. Everybody was wow-ing and gosh-ing and generally admiring Paul’s finesse and skill at landing this beast, especially when I went to remove the hook, and it was just caught in the corner of his mouth, rather than buried in the jaw. Had the Cap’n given any slack or played the fish carelessly, it would have been gone.

I hoisted the scaled marvel for everyone to see, and the oohs and ahhs repeated with renewed vigor. After Andrew snapped a pic of it with his Razr phone, I put the fish down on the ruler to get an official verdict on the overall length. 31.5 inches. For the non-fishermen in the audience, that’s eleven and a half inches longer than the minimum size for the species. What a great catch.

Since the big red probably frightened all the fish in a 200 yard diameter, we decided to weigh anchor again and head to a new spot. This time, we went down the ICW and parked just outside the main channel. We threw out our bait and almost immediately began to crank in sand trout. If you know anything about sandies (we hard-core fishermen like to call ‘em “sandies”), you’ll know that most of these little guys were in the 10.5 to 12 inch range. Not a lot of fish, but a lot of fight.
Andrew started bringing them in, then RJ, then me. Paul started cutting bait because that is what they were responding to. Andy caught one without the benefit of a hook at one point; a loop in the leader lassoed one of the unfortunate fishes. His dad topped even that; he caught two fish on the same hook. Paul was beside himself, and we required Andrew to snap a picture of the catch, because no one would believe the telling.

After pulling in sandies one after another, along about 5:30 we’d all had about enough. Once again, we raised the anchor and hoisted the sails (figuratively, of course; Paul just started the 90 hp Mercury) and headed to the ramp.

The sun was heading toward that low angle that produces such a golden, beautiful glow, and it bathed the Brazos riverbank with that liquid gold light that makes everything look so nostalgic. We were all sunburnt in spite of applying girly sunscreen (thanks Sis), tired and happy. We kept a total of 31 fish, and after the short drive back to the house, Paul graciously set up his cleaning table, brought out his knives and even his electric fillet knife. We washed and scaled the fish and he filleted them quickly and efficiently. Then we rinsed and bagged the meat. The assembly line method really has my “one man show” approach to fish cleaning beaten, hands down. We had all 31 fish done in less than 30 minutes.
When all was done, we thanked the generous and wise Cap’n Paul for his generosity and wisdom, and went inside to eat some of the redfish we had harvested.

While a camping trip would have been nice, in retrospect, being surprised by a fantastic day of fishing guided by an old hand has a slight edge over sleeping on the ground and eating while standing up for a day and a half, even if only by a little.

And I think we are going to “plan” another camping trip.

Maybe. We’ll see how it goes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Planning is Overrated

Part the First: The Original Plan

This past weekend I had planned to go camping with my nephew Andrew and his dad RJ. It was going to be a quiet guys only weekend. Pedernales Falls State Park. That was our destination. The weather guys said the climate was in the zone; we’d have a great time.

Couldn’t go, turns out. There were no available spaces to camp. Dang. We were disappointed, but undeterred. I called RJ to make sure that since we were already free that weekend, and it was in stone, we should take advantage of the schedule. Even if we didn’t get the venue of first choice, we should at least pick an alternative. You don’t often get second chances, since the system for weekends out is not based on credit.

Our standby was going to be a fishing trip. One day, or part of a day, but we were going to commit to doing whatever we wanted to, and there would be an attempt to capture fish involved. Spontenacity was our watchword!

After the decision was made to fish, we quickly assessed what we would need for this day-jaunt. I volunteered a case of water so we wouldn’t dehydrate. Nothing spoils a day like turning into a raisin and then fainting. I asked if we needed food, and RJ replied that we likely as not would just run into Freeport or even Lake Jackson to eat in the event that we began to waste away. Settled. It was clear that fish were only secondary players in this production.

The plan was hatched and solidified on our cell phones and it was determined that I would meet Andrew at my sister’s house (since he was coming in from San Marcos) at about seven a.m. and we would get to RJ’s, then blast off to the mouth of the Brazos river.

Saturday morning was almost dawning when I piled my gear into the car and headed to meet Andy. The transfer to his truck was made, and my sister came out in her robe to deliver the care package bag of Slim Jims, cheese crackers and Oreos.

As we sped along 288 to Lake Jackson, Andrew and I had a nice conversation, and we also anticipated a great day of fishing. Remember, a BAD day fishing is better than a GOOD day working, so our definition of “great day fishing” was fairly loose and the bar was set fairly low.

When we arrived at RJ’s house, he was standing in the yard, talking to his neighbor, an older man who seemed to be very nice and who also happened to be standing next to what appeared to be a boat of some kind.

We got out of the truck and ambled over to meet the neighbor, and RJ introduced us to him. This was the legendary Paul, of whom RJ had spoken before. Renowned as a great neighbor, he was offering some suggestions and even the use of some of his very own equipment to us. He had been fishing at least twice that week already, and was imparting some information to us that would likely be useful. He asked where we were going, and we told him that the Brazos beach would be our destination to throw out some lines and see what was going to happen. He offered some equipment again, and I indicated that we could probably use a couple of rod holders.

Paul said, more than once, “I wish I could take you guys…” to which our polite reply came back, “Oh, well, that’s cool, we’re just gonna see what happens…”

In his heart, Paul knew that we were destined to get skunked that day, and we could see the regret in his eyes at letting us go out unguided. Once again, he said, “Yeah, if I could, I’d take you guys, but I have something I gotta do this morning…” and as he trailed off, the inner smart aleck in me could no longer be stifled and I said, without thinking, “What, you ain’t got a phone?”

I immediately wanted to clamp my hands over my big mouth and recapture the words that floated on the cool early morning air. Fortunately, Paul laughed and went to go get the rod holders. As he rounded the gate of his house, holding the items, he paused and said, “Wait a minute guys,” and skipped into the house.

We figured that he was going to get some other vital equipment, but instead, emerged a minute or two later, clapping his hands like a coach, saying, “OK guys, I’m taking you, let’s load up!”

We were shocked and a little embarrassed, at least I was embarrassed for spouting off the “What, you ain’t go no fone…” comment. But Paul was serious, as he hopped up on his boat and started loading my ice chest and slapping rods in the on-board rod holders!

Falling backward into a guided fishing trip was the last thing our little troop had expected, but here we were, on the way to the Brazos River with our very own skipper!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Missed by "That Much"...

Well, my superior sense of balance coupled with my cat-like reflexes kept me from falling in H.E.B. this morning after slipping on a wayward, semi-escaped red seedless grape.

Unfortunately, as he was cleaning up my evidence, the produce guy told me that they just paid someone $5000 for slipping on a grape in that store.

Dangit. Had I let my prodigious weight carry me to the floor, (in front of several witnesses) I may have limped out with a cool five grand!

Instead, I will bear the lingering soreness that older fellas carry when they move too quickly without proper notice.

Hanging by a Thread

I have a certain pair of teeth that catch every piece of chicken, beef, celery, apple peel and pork that passes by them. The teeth are together up on my left side. I have a crown up there and I am beginning to think that my dentist created a little hook or something to catch passing food particles to force me to floss after every meal.

It works.

The use of the word “particle” may be a little misleading. When I use the waxed floss to remove part of my meal, I realize why I am often still hungry when I finish eating. Truth is, a good percentage of what I eat does not go into my stomach. Plenty of food gets stuck between my teeth and I end up flossing it out.

The major offender is pork. Or at least it seems that way. Chicken is very persistent but when I bite into a pork chop of a rib or even a burrito with carnitas, the pork fibers head straight for that gap and crowd in like clowns in a tiny car.

Sunday night, I grilled pork chops. We all sat around chewing our chops with alacrity, and afterward while rubbing our contented bellies, started sucking our teeth like a bunch of old men playing dominoes and whittling. My wife finally gave up and went to get the dental floss, and passed it around. We ended up with enough liberated meat to feed both dogs that night.

I am beginning to think that when H.E.B (a grocery store here in Texas) has one of their Meal Deals, they need to include dental floss in the group of products. “Two liters of H.E.B. soda, pork ribs, barbeque sauce, potato salad and dental floss for $9.95…”

Friday, October 17, 2008


I am wearing a black shirt that was innocently hanging at least 20 feet from where I was sitting Sunday evening when i tried on the glittery headband.

I looked down this morning when I got to work, and lo and behold, I see constellations of beautiful golden stars across the expanse of my front "sky".

I tell ya, that stuff gets everywhere. It's insidious.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not Everything is Better With Glitter!

When my girls were little, they liked very pretty, shiny, golden glittery things. All the Barbies had glitter in their hair. They had glittery clothes and bathing suits. Shoes? Glittery.

As they grew up some more; my girls, not the Barbies, they would pick out shirts with glittery pictures or logos on the front. When the shirts got dirty, they would go in the wash. Usually with one of my shirts. Usually one (or more) of my office shirts. So when I would iron it the next day, the smooth pinpoint oxford shirt had a special look to it, even before it was ironed. As the wrinkles were soothed by the steam and starch, the beautiful glitter all over the shirt made the whole thing more lovely.

Lucky for me, all the people at work knew that I had three young daughters. They knew that it wasn’t just me getting “dolled up” for me. Although, sometimes a guy just needs to feel pretty.

After a few years, the glitter phase passes and almost all of my clothes are glitter-free.

This weekend, my high school senior went to a party for the swim team girls. They ate good stuff, gossiped and made spirit headbands. They took bandanas and rolled them up, painted “SENIORS ‘09” and a water polo ball on the front. Oh, and lest I forget, spray glitter. Gold.

As I type this, there is gold glitter on the keyboard. There is glitter on the screen. There is glitter all over my hands. There is even glitter on my face. I had tried on the headband to participate in the spirit of the moment. Did you know that glitter sticks very well to a greasy forehead? And nose?

With just a little more examination, I spy glitter across the broad expanse of orange shirt covering my belly, on my cargo shorts, the dog, the couch and the end table. My hands. Legs. The chair. My eye. The clean socks in the pile.

The old saying goes, “All that glitters is not gold” is quite true. Sometimes it’s a big, fat Geezer. And half of everything in the house.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Camp Coffee part II

Went down the hall to the coffee nook to grab a cup of joe. Not that I was craving it, you that know me are aware of the my policy on a "need to joe basis". An I need it today.

Poured up a tall mug of it and was ready to pour the very last of the dregs when I noticed the the dregs looked like ground coffee. Sure enough, checking the filter basket I saw that the paper filter had fainted and allowed the grounds to exit with the rest of the brew.

Dang. Not only do I have to drink this coffee, I have to chew it, too!

Gabby Hayes would be proud. If only I'd had some eggshells to put in the pot to make the grounds settle out...

I DID say "Maybe"...

Yeah, well, we did have a good time @ the homestead and yes, we did discuss old stories.

I got elected to tell one of the stories on myself. Since I didn't have time to type in any of the other ones that were told, I will link to this one, which is just humiliating enough to me to make it interesting to you.

Some of you old-timers might have seen this when I first posted it, but judging from the reception of it on Saturday, this one apparently never gets old. Or never dies from my perspective.

Enjoy it and comment on this one. If you dare.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Yes, thanks to you, dear readers and clickers, I have surpassed 100 visits this week at 105! That's like getting a perfect score on a history test and then getting the bonus question right, too!

My gratitude goes to the regulars and the irregulars, uh, new folks. I know that there are still the odd Google searchers; the Headless Horseman has turned in a couple of hits from Germany and somewhere in Kentucky, I think. But overall, the sitemeter tells me that most of the visits are intentional! WOW, that's really starting to encourage me...though I don't know why. I guess it means that my friends and fiends are expecting me to have something interesting (or really stupid) to say here on this blog.

I intend not to let them down! We are going to my parents' house this evening to say "Yay, Andrew is home for a rare weekend, let's eat burgers!" I know there will be stories and memories bouncing off the walls, like things that bounce off the walls in a very energetic manner.

Of course some will likely put me in a bad light, which will of course be ignored by me, but there will be some good ones, I assure you. And almost certainly, probably, possibly may find their way into typed words on this blog before the weekend is over. Maybe.

Thanks again to all the people who read this who aren't college English professors trolling the interwebs for "how-NOT-to-write" examples for their classes.

To them I say, "No thanks".

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Beauty is NOT Goodness

Everyone is charmed and delighted by the delicate form, acrobatic flight and soft trilling song of the hummingbird. They are so tiny and cute, their wings beat so fast, they like pretty flowers…ad infinitum.

I must admit, I too was always partial to hummingbirds as a child and yes, as an adult. When we went camping, my Dad always put up a hummingbird feeder so we could watch them drink the pretty red sugar-water. As they would wheel and spin, dive and dart, the hum generated by their wings was surprising as they would buzz past your head to wait their turn in line for the nectar provided. At times it looked like the Moscow Ballet with all the tiny forms whizzing around the stage, hovering, pirouetting, following each other in strings of three or four off stage right or stage left, with a few prima donnas seeming to get all the open space and sweet stuff. I guess I never paid that much attention to the real action.

My folks have a hummingbird feeder at their house just outside the back window that overlooks the garden. When I go for a visit in the afternoons on Saturday or Sunday, we sit and talk, look at the garden, and watch the hummers.

From my observation, these are the most self-centered, belligerent, pushy, greedy and ill-tempered birds that ever took wing. Ounce for ounce (I’d venture to say that it usually takes two to make a full ounce) they are the most aggressive bird out there. If they were fish, I would give a great white shark a two-to-one weight advantage over the hummingbird/fish and still put my money on the hummer.

If they were as big as even a mockingbird, they would no doubt be deadly, and the government would likely put a bounty on them. Mean little things.

I have watched a single bird expend the energy equivalent to a gallon of gasoline guarding a free source of food. He will sit on a branch six feet from the feeder, and dare any other creature, be it fowl or insect, to sip even a molecule of the nectar. He buzzes down on them like he was shot from a gun, diving and chasing like his tail is on fire. He even bullied a bumblebee away from the sacred feeder one day. When another hummingbird even flies by, he launches from his perch like a Sidewinder missile. Once the interloper has been dispensed with, the foul little fowl has to come check the level in the glass vial containing the precious red sugar water, flying all the way around, eyeballing the quantity. He then takes a long drink, occasionally pulling back to scan the area for bogeys. Another sip, then back to his perch to continue his bitter little vigil.

When my oldest daughter was two or three, she would correct anyone using the proper terminology, “hummingbird”, by saying sternly, “HONEYbird”…

She was wrong on a couple of different levels. DEVILbird would be more accurate.