Thursday, January 27, 2011

T*ts Up on the Tailgate, With No Apologies.

Late season. The endless driving down rutted, washed-out, half-assed roads. The endless walking through section after section of worn-out prairie. The rancid burgsville cafe lunches washed down with iced tea that tastes of catfish. The constant wind moaning over empty plains devoid of any warmth or softness. The stinging dust, the freeze-drying cold. The two-track section line that keeps going on the map but in the real world ends at a locked gate. The bleary-eyed, windblown, horizon-spanning quest for land not grazed, beaten, grubbed, trampled, disced, cultivated, plowed, posted, drilled or center-pivoted into a choking, talcum-fine, anhydrous-soaked oblivion.

And when you finally find it, that one promising spot not littered with the tire tracks, empty hulls, potato chip bags, beer cans, feather piles and other detritus of  asshole slobs gone before, there's the plan: The carefully-orchestrated truckside tactical plan, one conceived in the optimism of roadside dust, then falling completely to shit the moment boots and dogs start kicking through the stubble and grass and the birds, those devious friggin' bastard-birds, find where you aren't and then fly and run and cackle out of range. Always out of range. Screw your plan, screw your silly shotguns and screw your stupid, slobbering dogs, too. Looosers...

You hurl invective and rage at their ass ends and keep walking, stewing in humiliation and dreaming of payback. It's a beat-down, and you know it. Back to the truck, defeated, to start the whole damn thing over again. And again. And again. And again. Why? Who the hell knows why? I sure don't. Because you're a masochist, maybe? Beat me harder, may I have another...

Until finally, in a little patch of cover on some anonymous piece of ground you'll never share the location of and hope like hell will still be there next year, one of them does something wrong; commits a tiny little bird-brained mental error. Perhaps zigging where he should have zagged, or maybe hesitating for just a moment where he should have run like hell. And suddenly he hears the crackling of the boots, the hot, eager panting of the dogs and he's in the air. Close enough.

There's no contemplation, no naval-gazing, no tears other than those of the joy kind, no quick pang of angst or question about how this devil bird's death might affect your inner man-child, no solemn prayer of thanks for his sacrifice, no imagined communication with the bird's recently departed soul, other than perhaps a heartfelt "Gotcha, bastard!"

Nope, there's none of that shit. Just a deep, personal satisfaction at having finally outwitted one of the taunting little bastards. Gratuitous tailgate shot? Hell, yes. Gloating? Fer sure, dude. Will you be back next January to be humiliated yet again? Absolutely. Because you're a masochist.  Beat me harder. May I have another...  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Auf Wiedersehen, baby...

I'm sending you on down the road. It's not you, it's me. Well, OK, that's a lie. It is you. You're a killer, and a damn good one, and I'm sure you'll make some leftie out there very happy. But when I hold you in my arms, you just feel cold and artificial, without any feeling, warmth or soul. I dunno, maybe it's that aluminum riser...

I know, I know, it's a shock, but it's for the best, really...

Don't cry, damn it. And stop yelling. What do you mean "Is there another bow?" Hey babe, you knew this was an open relationship from the beginning. I told you straight up I wasn't the kind of man to pull back just one string.

I didn't want it to come to this, wanted to spare your feelings, but the truth is yes, I'm leaving you for the stickbow and I'm leaving you for good this time. No more releases, no more sights, no more stabilizers, no more carbon arrows, no more cams or idler wheels or marketing babble about the wonders of parallel limbs, carbon matrix fibers and offsetting harmonic convergences.

I just felt all that extraneous stuff was coming between us, baby. Every time I brought you to draw it was like going through a pre-flight checklist or something. Don't get me wrong: there's a helluva lot about you I'll miss. The speed. Damn, the speed. And that eighty percent let-off? Yeah, I'll miss that, too.

But no matter how many times I shot you, no matter how many arrows you sent whizzing into those tight little groups, I never felt like you were a part of me, never felt like I was part of you. Let's face it: Once I got you dialed in and your pins set, I was pretty much just along for the ride. I could put you down, leave you for a month, two months, hell, a year even, then pick you up and start hitting the ten-ring.

Performance-wise, you ask for nothing and give everything where the stickbow demands everything and returns precious little compared to you. Sounds crazy and ass-backwards, I know, but then again who can predict love, emotion, the mysterious wanderings of  a soul's desires? I sure can't, so by way of example I'll just leave you with this story...

I was recently shooting you and the stickbow (Hey! She's not a bitch!) together on a sunny day, and as I held you at full draw I happened to look down at my shadow on the grass. What I saw was a machine. I then picked up the stickbow, drew it and what I saw projected on the grass was a cave painting from another time, something drawn on rock by the flickering light of a fire, a vestigal remnant of some primitive inner aesthetic reaching back into the dim lizard-brain recesses of my hunter-gatherer past. It was groovy, man.

What do you mean "what have you been smoking?" I'll tell you what I've been smoking: clarity. And let me tell you; pure, uncut clarity is a helluva nice high. The fact is I'm just not that into you. Never really was.

Auf wiedersehen, baby..

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sea Monkeys and Casinos: The Shocking Link...

Yes, we've got them. Sitting on the windowsill above our kitchen sink, happily swimming around their little Sea Monkey tank, while a mere six inches away on the other side of that window it's seven degrees outside. I don't think the briny little bastards know how lucky they've got it...

So what's the link between Sea Monkeys and casinos? Well, several years ago our state magazine assigned me to write a feature story on the meteoric rise of high-stakes Indian gaming in the state of Oklahoma. And as part of that story they told me to visit a number of casinos across the state and write about what I observed.

So without further ado, enter the Sea Monkeys... (From the May/June 2006 Oklahoma Today)

Although the card games are popular, it’s obvious the machines are what draw the most people. There are a dizzying variety of them. There are games that take the standard slot machine motif with names like Liberty 7s, Royal Reels, Press-it-Up-Poker, Mount Cashmore, Jacks or Better, Mr. Money Bags, and then there are the games with themes so seemingly incongruous with gambling it frankly makes you wonder what their designers were smoking.

I sit down at one such game based on - I’m not kidding - the movie Alien. Now, I love HR Giger’s big-headed palooka as much as the next guy, but intergalactic terror is not exactly an image that makes me want to part with my money. Give me a dancing leprechaun or something. There must be some deep industrial psychology at work, however, because I slip in a dollar anyway. And lose it immediately.

I walk on and find myself along a row of machines that anyone over the age of 30 who ever picked up a comic book would recognize. Sea Monkeys. Someone actually designed a slot machine based on the cruelest hoax ever foisted upon the youth of America.

Now this was a game behind which I could understand the logic. The Sea Monkey ad seduced us, promised us amazing and wondrous things. I bought into it. Didn’t we all? Hoarding our paper-route or allowance money. Sending it off. The anxious waiting, the anticipation and the certainty that soon you will have the coolest thing known to man. When the prize finally arrives you rush to your room, tear open the package and discover you’ve just paid $1.95 plus shipping and handling for a cheap plastic aquarium and a packet of brine shrimp eggs.

You could argue that Sea Monkeys were, for many of us, the first game of chance we ever played. And lost. And now some brilliant designer had gone and made a game out of it. This more than made up for the Alien. I can’t wait to play.

Two hours later, I still can’t wait to play. The Sea Monkeys are easily the most popular games in the casino. No one ever gets up from them, and on the rare occasion someone does, there is a mad rush to grab their seat. I almost make it once, but get shoved aside by a frail-looking elderly man clutching a portable oxygen bottle. He looks a little old to have been screwed by the Sea Monkeys and I briefly consider knocking him aside. I have a good hundred pounds on him and I badly want those Sea Monkeys, but filiopiety wins out in the end and I grudgingly give way.

Discouraged, I go back to my room, set my alarm for 4 a.m. and immediately fall asleep. Gambling’s hard work, especially when you don’t know how. When I awake and stumble back down, bleary-eyed, to the casino a little after four a.m., it’s still surprisingly busy and I recognize many of the same people I had seen the night before, still going strong. I can hear the soft plastic clink of poker chips hitting the tables, velvet surface worm smooth and shiny, the soft technicolored symphony of the machines.

I make my way back to the Sea Monkeys, but there’s a body in front of every machine and none of them act like they’re going anywhere anytime soon. Whatever the motivation; nostalgia, revenge or optimism, it’s obvious these people are here to stay. Too groggy to wait it out, I give up for good this time. I shuffle back to my room and fall asleep dreaming of cheerful underwater kingdoms.

So there you go. Sea Monkeys: Harmless coming-of-age rip-off or insidious gateway to a life of gambling addiction? You be the judge... 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

If I Only Had a Voice (like that)

True story: When I first moved to my present location, I took a job as the "news director" for the area's largest radio station. You know the old saw about having a face for radio? Well, I had the face for radio and the voice for print. I hated it.

I hated it because I worked for a guy who, while he wasn't the absolute biggest asshole I'd ever met to that point, he was certainly vying for the crown.

I also hated it because well, I wasn't very good at it. I've never liked reading aloud, and I discovered that I had a tendency when reading on-air, to mix up names and stories. Inadvertently transposing the name of a local high school baseball coach with the name of a local man just charged with rape? Yeah, I did that...

I also hated it because it was, naturally, a top 40 country station and I had to listen to an endless loop of unspeakably horrible, brainless, vapid, willfully and proudly ignorant chicken-fried country pop-schlock. And no, I don't dislike country music. I love country music. Really. You're looking at a guy (figuratively speaking, of course) who owns and cherishes his Merle Haggard box set. I don't know what modern country has devolved into, but it's not music, it's auditory stupidity.

But mostly, mostly, I hated it because I had to hear my voice on-air; the tinny, weak, slightly nasally quality of it. I sounded, quite honestly, like a whiner, not unlike Martin Short's Ed Grimley character from SNL. I simply did not have a good radio voice.

But if I only had this voice, man if I'd only had this voice, then things may have been different...(via James Lileks' Pop Crush blog in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune

And speaking of Pop Crush, Lileks also has a good blog about the death of seventies pop star Gerry Rafferty

Now I will make no claim to be an authority on late seventies pop music. When "Baker Street" came out I was all of eight years old. But it was one of those ubiquitous songs that always seems to take me back to a certain place and time, and sometimes it's nice to be reminded that yes, you were once a child and didn't have a care in the world.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How Awesome A Blogger Would Gene Hill Have Been?

The reason I ask is that I was re-reading (for the umpteenth time) A Hunter's Fireside Book this evening, which I believe was Hill's first book and it struck me that it is, in essence, 160 pages of short, concise, beautifully-crafted blog posts. A total of 76 brief (most around 500 words) essays from Hill's time at Guns & Ammo, back in that long-ago time when even the  gun mags were extraordinarily literary.

I'd have to go back and dig through some of my old issues, but I believe when Hill started writing for Field & Stream his columns ran a little longer, and maybe a little deeper than the material that makes up A Hunter's Fireside Book. But since Hill was such a gifted writer those short little essays seem no less wonderful or evocative than his later work.

That, of course, got me to thinking about what older print writers might have done with the new mediums, and how their work might have adapted to them. I don't mean meaningless crap like Twitter or Facebook, but websites and blogs.

And the conclusion I reached is that I think Gene Hill would have made a helluva blogger. I'm not sure how many of the younger Gen-X and/or Gen Y (or whatever the hell the 18-to-34 demo is called these days) hunting and fishing crowd are familiar with Gene Hill (not even sure, to be honest, if any of them actually read) but surely even they could sit still and keep from updating their status or texting long enough to digest a pithy 500-word rumination on life, right? Surely. And if not, it goes without saying that we as a people are screwed.

But I'll be a rare optimist here and say I think even the instant stimulation-addicted, gleefully willing slaves to the purveyors of brand identity younger dudes I keep running into in the field and on the water might give their texting thumbs a long enough rest to read Hill, were he still here and writing.

At least I like to think so, because that would mean there's still a glimmer of appreciation out there for introspective and honest outdoors prose that isn't trying to sell you anything more than a good story and a few moments of thoughtful reflection, all in 500 words or less...

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Neither ducks nor quail on tap today, but big fish and weird musicians. Ween is one of those kinda-sorta well-known but mostly underground, out-of-the-mainstream groups that have been around forever, have a large and loyal following but are almost never heard on the radio. Think Primus, the Butthole Surfers or the Flaming Lips.

And like those groups, either you get them or you don't. How offbeat is Ween? One of their albums is entitled "Twelve Golden Country Greats" and it's an honest-to-gawd twangy traditional country album put together using real Nashville session musicians, and it sounds awesome. Of course, there are actually only ten tracks, and they have titles like "Piss up a Rope," "Japanese Cowboy" and "Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain." It's real country, it's just gone through a Ween-colored filter.

Want even more weirdness? Even though most of their albums come with an explicit lyrics warning (and with pretty good reason...) their music is good enough for Spongebob. Those of you with kids, remember this song at the end of the Spongebob movie?

Anyway, I've always been a Ween fan, and a couple years ago Joe Cermele, knowing I'm also a Butthole Surfers fan, sent me an e-mail and link to a website run by Ween's lead singer, Mickey Melchiondo. Turns out Melchiondo is a rabid angler. So rabid, in fact that he has a charter captain's license. You can actually book a fishing trip with the lead singer of Ween. How cool is that?

Not only that, but he tapes his own website-based fishing show, Brownie Troop F.S. when the band's not on tour. And if that wasn't delightfully weird enough, the episode Joe sent is of Melchiondo taking the Butthole Surfers on a Jersey striper fishing trip. The Butthole Surfers. Yeah, those guys. Striper fishing. Recreational pharmacology can't touch this level of weirdness.

And of course it's NSFW. Duh, they're rock stars...

My favorite part? This little gem of dialogue between Melchiondo and Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes as Haynes is trying to reel in a big striper:

"Walk towards the stern of the boat, walk towards the stern of the boat!"
"I dunno where the fuckin' stern is."

Priceless. And just for fun, admittedly not my favorite video, but one of my favorite Butthole Surfers tunes...