Category Archives: Cracker Culture

You think this is fun?

If my kids were writing this blog, it would probably go something like this:

Dad is so nuts.  Every Saturday, I’m talking about every one, he’s all like “we’ve got to get up
at the butt crack of dawn and go do something.  It’s like he’s got this crazy lens for looking at “fun” and it’s all about hunting and fishing and Bass Pro shops and taking boat rides.  He’s out of his mind.

Yeah.  I mean, he’s always pointing things out to us, like the whistle that a wood duck makes, or how to tell when a snook strikes, that distinct “pop” sound . . .

How to tell which way a gobbler is going, and whether he’s already on hens.  The right time to take the ducks as they’re dropping into the decoys.  How to set the decoys out so that the ducks will want to land inside them, not outside.  How to let a shrimp drift just right, so it doesn’t appear to be hooked at all, but still be able to detect the bite . . .

I’m saying, he’s so bananas that he holds classes on the boat to teach us how to tie a knot, or bait a hook, or how to get more distance out of a cast.  I mean, who does that?

What high school freshman girl needs to know the difference between a full choke and improved cylinder?  What 8 year old boy needs to be able to identify every shark indigenous to Florida?

He’s even gotten us hooked on bird dogs!  Do you know how awful a wet Brittany Spaniel smells?  Like soured fertilizer baked on oysters . . . but my room doesn’t feel the same without that faint odor . . .

His latest thing is the smell of rubber boots – like some tire factory has captured their essence into a perfume . . . we get to the snipe field and he’s like “smell that – the dew? And the grass? The dogs and those boots?  Doesn’t it smell magical?”

He thinks this is fun?!?!?!?

We’re seriously thinking about having him committed . . . we just can’t find the time to do it . . . maybe after turkey season . . . no, then it’s tarpon time . . . then redfish . . . then dove . . . then ducks . . . deer . . . small game . . . oh well, maybe it is kinda fun . . .

At least, I hope that’s what they’re thinking . . .

 

on bird dogs . . .

I’m not exactly sure how or when my infatuation with bird dogs began.

I came by this naturally, by the way.  My maternal grandfather was a quail hunting tour-de-force, almost always with a pointer or 3 leading the way.

My dad raised beagles when we were very young, so gun dogs were abundant.  There were always 2 or 3 in the kennels, until a litter came along.  Toby and Max and Dutchess and Bear wandered through my adolescence with their tri-colored saddles and soulful howls.

But somewhere, and I don’t remember the switch exactly, we ended up with a Brittany.  Abracadabra was her name, which we shortened to Magic.

Magic was an appropriate name for her, as she promptly disappeared anytime there was gunfire.  She had those piercing green eyes that come standard issue on Brits, and I was determined to cure her of gunshyness.  My plan was two fold – I took my portable electronic drum sticks, complete with belt attached speaker; I would crank the lawnmower up, and have it idle in the background so my parents would think I was mowing, plus it added to the noise.  Then I’d stand over poor Magic, that speaker precariously close to her ears, and bang on those imaginary drums.

It didn’t work.

Copper was a natural, another Brittany who pointed a covey of quail his first time out.  He was dad’s dog, really, orange dappled with style on his points.  A freak kidney stone accident took him from us before his time . . .

Daisy was an English setter – a Llewellyn, to be exact, with blonde feathering beneath the silky white.  Daisy was another born natural, minus a couple of quirks . . . She covered so much ground that she’d be on point in the next county before you’d get near her; also, she hated me.  This one is still baffling, as when she was small she slept in my room, my hand in her crate all night.  But, for some weird reason, she would not come near me.  My sister, who never spent any time with the dogs, Daisy would lick her in the face; me, begging to show her affection, nada.  She would run in circles, just outside of arms reach the whole time I was in the yard.  In hindsight, Daisy was like a prep course for my first marriage.

Ozzie, the gigantic liver and white Brittany who towered over my mother but had no interest in hunting.  Swish, the ill named and incestuously bred Brit that yelped every 4 seconds for 7 straight days.

Even today, my house is alive with the clatter of nails on hardwood as two French Brittanys clown their way through life.

I’d love to romanticize the idea – a cold, rainy, winter’s night; the hunter sits in his chair, in front of the fire, reading a Ruark novel, the Brittany asleep at his feet, worn out from the morning’s hunt.  In reality, though, I’m probably watching a rerun of the Office, one dog chewing on my shoes while the other does lay in front of the fire, but not too close in case he farts and ignites the entire scene.  Having just taken them out to pee in the rain, the smell of wet gun dog mingles with the smell of the fire, some mystical humidifier from hell permeating the room.  My wife, like a million wives before, will come in to chastise the pups for some trash can they’ve overturned, or bed they’ve unmade, or chew toy they’ve created, and I’ll watch as they cock their head and look at her, trying to understand, and I’ll smile, and I’ll think . . . there’s just something about bird dogs . . .

Mailboxes and catalogs . . .

When I was little, getting the mail was a big deal.  And I’m a little sad that that’s coming to an end.

This is probably a foreign concept to my kids, but, back in those days, you rushed to the mailbox.  The mailbox was a Pandora’s box of dreams come true.  You never knew when you’d receive a letter, or a postcard from a more adventurous relative.  Maybe birthday money.  Or the hopes that were contained inside the Publisher’s Clearinghouse envelope, the one promising you 6 million dollars.

Magazines were big for me, too.  Field and Stream and Florida Wildlife and Sports Illustrated* and Florida Sportsman all showed up on some sort of interval, bringing a sort of mini-Christmas with them.

*It was very important, come February, to beat your Southern Baptist mother to the mailbox for your date with Kathy Ireland, otherwise the swimsuit issue would land in the garbage.

But, for me, the highlight of the mail run was the catalogs.  Remember, this is 10 plus years before Amazon would become a mainstream word.  There was just something so thrilling about opening the mailbox and seeing the latest from JC Penney, or Sears.  Or, the greatest of all, the outdoor companies . . .

Cabela’s and Gander Mountain were standard affairs . . . I’d circle and fold all of the things I knew a 13 year old Florida boy needed – an 8 person tent, a sleeping bag that would warm to -60 below, knee high snake boots.  Canada goose decoys and pronghorn antelope calls and snow colored camo and bear repellant.  Dog training aids and lamps with bobwhites mounted under glass and pheasant pelts were must haves.

Clicking it into a higher gear were Orvis, and LL Bean, and Dunn’s.  Only a true gentleman would hunt woodcock with a side by side Greener, while wearing a wool vest over a houndstooth shirt.  Sure, that Browning Citori would cost more than my college degree, but the knowing looks from the gentlemen I hunted with would surely be worth more in social currency.  A Billy Pate fly reel would surely catch handsomer fish . . .

I’d sing from the heaven’s, if, come Christmas morning I unwrapped a watch with a greenhead on it, or a vintage ammo sign, or a plaid shirt color matched to a grouse . . . anything that came from those tattered pages . . .

I only think about this now, in this age of 24/7 online availability.  In fact, I can buy 3 or 4 Greener’s right now on Gunbroker, and have them before the end of quail season.  I debate about whether I need a different shade of camoflauge on my jacket, or whether or not the 7 1/2’s pattern better in one of my guns than the 8’s do . . . about which hats to wear duck hunting vs dove hunting vs turkey hunting . . . about sealed bearing drags vs traditional drag systems . . . lures that walk in circles vs hooks sharpened by moon rocks and lasers . . . I can guarantee, that at this very moment, I have carts with items waiting to be bought at Bass Pro, and Cabelas, and Mack’s Prairie Wings, just begging for the “checkout” button to be clicked.

And it makes me think about the simplicity of a boy that just wanted to be outside, circling dreams in a catalog as place holders for ducks he’d one day shoot, and fish he’d one day chase . . .

Kenchan

I don’t even know if that’s how it’s spelled.

I once alluded to the fact that I had the worst lawn mowing job in the history of the world.  A little backstory.

If you live in Florida, chances are, at some point in your career development, you work as a lawn guy (or girl).  As an adult, my yard gets mowed from early March until late November, with an occasional touch up before Christmas and again in February.

During the rainy season it’s way worse.  I could mow my yard on Sunday, and, by Thursday, you could lose a 3 year old out there.

So I’m working at the Christian bookstore 4 days a week, and my dad is like “hey, you should put in an application over at Coscia & Sons mowing for the other days”

Being a good son, I did exactly what my dad suggested.  Much to my chagrin, I was hired. And I was immediately placed on a team with Kenchan.

I have no idea whatsoever how Kenchan spelled his name.  I do know that I’ve got it nailed phonetically.

Kenchan was a little Vietnamese man.  Based solely on my memory, he was about 4′ 11″ and he spoke 2-3 languages, none of them well and none of them English.

He called me “Trason” which, looking back, may have been the coolest nickname I’ve ever had* – only it was less “treySON” a la the Karate Kid type nickname, and more “TRAHson” like he was mis-pronouncing “trash”

*There was a period of time, in the 10th grade, where I tried to get people to start calling me “Silk” as a nickname, because I was so smooth.  It didn’t stick, mostly because I was a 6’3″ bundle of disjointed elbows and knees who always looked like he was in a bull fight with gravity.  But it didn’t stop me from trying.

Kenchan had the strongest work ethic I’ve ever encountered in an individual.  Dude literally never stopped.  He would be in the shop by 6 in the morning, have all the mower blades sharpened, the weedeaters loaded with string, gas tanks full, all while I was still trying to get the sleep out of my eyes.

Coscia and Sons mowing seemed to have “teams” that mowed, and they descended in an order based on a number of criteria, skill, professionalism, quality of work, and proximity to the owner’s sons being chief among them.  Kenchan being from Ho Chi Minh and his lack of a native tongue placed us as roughly the 8th team out of 6 spots.  Meanwhile, my best friend Tony is on crew number 2, with son number 2.  They frequently would drive by a job site, say something like “looks good to me” and proceed to the movies.  Or they’d park in the shade on a 50 acre lot and take naps.  They were hard to pin down.

One of the things about working with Kenchan was that we only took lunch breaks, or any breaks, at one particular client, on one particular day.  It was an industrial park in Avon Park.  Normally, I learned, if you didn’t have your lunch with you on the mower, Kenchan wouldn’t stop.  All day.  From daylight until dark, 12+ hours in the July Florida heat, we would be mowing or pushing or whacking.  After my first day, I was certain I was being hazed.

So we’re in Avon Park, and, much to my joy, Kenchan waves me down and through a series of signs and signals and noises, indicates he wants to stop and eat lunch.  I almost mowed over his foot in shock.

So I get out my ice chest and sandwiches and Mountain Dew, and we sit down next to this retention pond looking thing.  And I notice Kenchan sits on his water cooler, but doesn’t seem to have any food.  And he’s wrapping what looks like fishing line around his hand.

So help me, this crazy little guy catches a pleco, one of those sucker fish from an aquarium, right out of that pond in Avon Park on a line wrapped around his hand.  And, I can see this as plain as if it were this morning, he pulls out his knife, cuts on that sucker for a minute, and EATS IT!?!?!?!?!?

Ya’ll, I have seen some things in my life.  Crazy things.  But that little Vietnamese dude eating plecos out of a retention pond, RAW, in the 104 degree Florida heat may always hold the top spot.

He repeated the process 6-8 times, got up, fired up his mower, and went back to cutting grass.

I was dumbfounded.  I mean – I mowed the rest of the afternoon in a kind of daze.  What had just happened?  Had that really just happened?  Is Kenchan going to die of food poisoning out here riding his Toro around Avon Park?

It was dusky when we loaded up the van to head home that evening.  Mowers secured on the trailer, tired and covered in dirt and dust and grass.

“Trason – you . . . (he makes a motion like steering a car)”

“Sure Kenchan, I’ll drive”

It was an hour back to the shop.  I talked to Kenchan like I would anyone else.  I had no clue if he understood me or not.

“Kenchan . . . man, I just can not believe you ate those fish for lunch.  Like, I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.  I mean, they were still wriggling when you swallowed them, and you ate a bunch of them, and you went right back to work . . . how is that even possible?”

A couple of moments of silence went by.  He looked at me, grinned his snaggle toothed smile from ear to ear . . . and in perfect English, he said:

“Taste like chicken, that how!”

38 lessons for 38 years . . .

38 Things I’ve learned as I passed 38 late last year:

  1. Never make the first or third out at third base.
  2. Girls LOVE getting flowers.  No matter what they say.  “Don’t waste money on flowers” is the “do I look fat in this” of gifts . . .
  3. Dogs are important.  Pet them.  Spend time with them.  Their only true fault is they don’t live very long.
  4. No matter if it’s week 42, and she’s wearing an “it’s a girl” t-shirt, and an OB is following her around, do not, under any circumstances, ask if she’s pregnant . . .
  5. Make time to write.  Or run.  Or read.  Or whatever makes you tick.
  6. Sometime, within the next 18 years, your kids won’t be here every day.  So turn the TV off and spend time with them.  Read to them.  Build a fort or bake a cake or ride a bike.
  7. Intentionally add value to people.  Every day.  Got that from John Maxwell.  Should tattoo it to my forearm.
  8. Choose trust over suspicion.  It’ll get everyone further.
  9. Try to watch as many sunsets or sunrises as you can.
  10. Be nice.  It’s honestly easier.  Ask people, as often as you can, “Can I do anything for you?” . . . mean it . . .
  11. The person on the other end of the line is someone’s husband/mother/daughter/brother.  They got up this morning, just like you did.  It’s not their fault that Dell outsourced support to India.  Yelling at them won’t make Dell rethink it.  It won’t make you feel better.
  12. Listen to “All I Want for Christmas” in July.  Or September.  Bonus points if you crank it up with the kids and belt it at the top of your lungs.  Double bonus points if you roll the windows down and belt it out as your middle-schooler walks into the school.
  13. When you roll your eyes, and you’re on the phone, people can hear it in your voice.
  14. Catching the fish again is better than eating the fish.
  15. Never tap a white tiger on the nose with a microphone.
  16. Clarification on number 11.  It may actually feel better while you’re doing it, but you won’t after you hang up.
  17. Remember who you are.  Don’t try to be someone you’re not.
  18. “the Art of Possibility” is one of the best books of all time.  Pick it up again from time to time.
  19. ALWAYS thank veteran’s for their service.  And hold the door open for the person behind you.
  20. Don’t shoot the ducks after they’ve landed.  It’s not sporting.
  21. They will remember that you made time for them, took them hunting, took them fishing, rode bikes; the time you were PRESENT.  Yeah, that’s kinda the same as number 6, but it bears repeating, don’t you think?
  22. Take care of your back
  23. If you feel it in your gut, you should probably follow that feeling.
  24. Red Sox, Ohio St. and Gator fans are the WORST.  Try to avoid mixing with these fanbases, and, under all circumstances, don’t date them . . . .
  25. Dressing nice and dressing inexpensively are not mutually exclusive.
  26. The Cubs don’t win in the end.  Ever.
  27. Close doesn’t count.  Wait – that’s not entirely true – sometimes close does count.
  28. Black and white is a hard way to live; gray is way easier
  29. Do NOT judge others.  You cannot possibly know all of the factors surrounding their situation.
  30. At 30, your body stops being resilient to cheeseburgers for breakfast.
  31. It’s impossible to listen to the opening of “Sweet Home Alabama” and not feel happy or sing along with the chorus.
  32. Kiss your wife. Every.  Day.  It’s easy, and fun.  Make it required.
  33. Snook always bite better on an outgoing tide.
  34. Make time for grandparents.  They can be gone very quickly . . .
  35. Don’t be resistant to change.  Change is your opportunity to change, too
  36. Spend money on good shoes and a good coat
  37. Watch “White Christmas” with your family at least once a year.
  38. Say “I love you” – but think about the fact that you mean it, don’t just tag it onto the end of phone calls and visits.

Accounting for Fishermen

“Babe – we could leave at 6 am Saturday morning; we’ll be home by 3, 3:30.  All it’ll cost is gas to and from the boat ramp . . . maybe $40, and that’s high . . . ”

What follows is a map to get you to the point where your Saturday adventures really only cost you $40.  Think of this as a helpful guide.  Please note that numbers are approximate, to be used only for reference . . .

To go fishing, you really need a boat.  Not just any boat, either mind you.  I mean, you only get to go so often, so, when you do, it makes sense for it to be on a vessel that you enjoy.  Think names like Maverick/Hell’s Bay/Pathfinder.  Let’s say you can find a really nice one, used, for $20k

Now – no self respecting angler is going to roll out his new boat with a bunch of pickle poles from the bargain bin at K-mart, am I right?  No sir – you’ll need the latest Shimano creation with 84 ball bearings and liquid filled nitrogen drag washers.  Of course, it’ll need to be spooled with a space age polymer line that is used to hold the doors closed on the shuttle, and mounted on a rod made with a special carbonite/kryptonite/kevlar blend, and invisible guides.  This combo will run you about $500.

But wait – you can’t just have one combo – what if some googan fishing partner steps on it or drops it overboard.  Safest bet is to have 3 or 4, exactly the same, just in case.  Plus, that allows you to have them rigged differently – top water, live bait, soft plastic . . . your arsenal is ready . . . $1500 (call it 2k, and add in the original combo, too)

Wait a second – you only get to fish, maybe, what, two weekends a month?  What if a tarpon crashes the party?  Are you supposed to miss out on the fish of a lifetime because you limited your combos to only those targeting inshore species?  That, boys, is what we’ll call a “rookie move” – go ahead and get a couple of combos, both larger and smaller than the ones above.  Keep them top of the line, though.  $2k

What are you going to catch these fish with?  Mirrolures?  Zara Spooks? Live Targets? Gulps?  Honestly, you need 10-12 of everything – hard baits, topwaters, divers, soft baits, suspenders, plastic shrimp, plastic fish, plastic eels, plastic crabs, plastic octopi – plus, and this is key, you need at least a duplicate of every one.  Lord knows that if a snook breaks off your only bone colored spook, you can’t very well leave the water and go buy another one.  Gotta have a spare.  $500

Plus you need a tackle bag to keep these things in – $100

I shudder a little, when I think what happens when that tarpon leaps, you fight him for 20 minutes or so, then he throws the hook.  You were going to release him anyway, but you didn’t get the picture.  Enter the GoPro, complete with all the mounts.  That’s an easy $750.  You should also look into a drone, because those pictures will definitely trump your buddy’s.  $3k

Also, you should get a water proof submersible case for your phone.  $80

Have any of you thought “but wait – fishing isn’t fishing without beer?”  Not to worry – pick up a Yeti (must be tan) – Yeti’s are space age engineered bear proof roto-moulded boxes of magic that will keep a 6 pack of Ultra cold for up to 7 years without any ice.  $300 +$30 for beer

Throw a few sandwiches in the Yeti ($30) and you’re good to go for the day.  But what if the fishing is really hard.  Sometimes, it’s best to get off the water for a little while, regroup, strategize, and figure out the rest of the day.  This should be done in a dive bar/restaurant over a frosty beverage and grouper sandwich.  Also a slice of Key Lime Pie.  You can do the same thing if you’re slaying the fish, as a celebration of your awesomeness.  $50

Push Pole – $400.  Power Poles (dual – duh) – $2500.  Remote controlled trolling motor with GPS and Xbox attachment – $1500.  New batteries that weigh less than a ham sandwich – $800.  Fly rods – $75,000*.  Fish finder (even though you’re in 5 inches of water) – $800.  GPS (even though you can see the Skyway bridge) – $800.  Non ethanol fuel for the boat – $160.  Bait (not that you’d ever use bait, but just in case) $40.

*Attention wives – most fly rods didn’t actually cost $75k – nope – I bought all of mine at a garage sale to benefit homeless puppies.  I think I got them out the door for $40 bucks or so.  Amazing deal, right?

Which leaves us, I think, with the tow vehicle.  Lord knows you can’t roll up to the ramp with this rig behind the Windstar – you need a man’s truck.  Preferably one with mud tires and black rims.  Nothing too egregious, we’ll keep it under – $40k.

Hmmmm . . . $40k plus $40 plus $160 plus $800 plus $800 plus $75k . . . let’s see, carry the 2, carry the 3 . . .

So, since all the above money is accounted for, all the trip really costs is $40 or so.

Right?

Make sure to tune in soon – we’ll teach you how to duck hunt 3 times a week, all season, for a grand total of $75.00, including ammo and decoys.

Lawnmower stories . . .

My sister, who is awesome, said I should tell you guys about the time I set the lawnmower on fire.

That right there, folks, is called a tease.  Because what ensues are my greatest lawnmowing stories.  Enjoy.


Once, my dad bought a riding lawnmower,  It was a John Deere.  I was probably 14 or so.Kumquat tree

My mom had a kumquat tree that grew in the field between our house and the Swart’s.  That field has seen a lot of things over the years.

The tree was adult height, maybe 6 feet tall or so.  She loved it.  It was loaded in fruit.

Anyway – I’m mowing along, minding my own business, when the kumquat tree is gone.  Leaves and kumquats littered the field.  Also the mower made a loud noise.


The same thing happened to our gardenia bushes.  Yes.  Bushes, plural.  I mowed down three of them, each the size of a 5th grader, planted along the back of the house.  Each time I’d run over one, I was like “crap, now what do I do” and before I could solve the problem, I hit another one.  This chain was broken, ironically, by a chain link fence I ran into.  I hooked (ironically) a chain to the lawnmower and my truck to extract it.


Also, I did the same thing to our lamp post.  And maybe a dogwood tree.


I once forgot to change the oil, or check the oil, in the mower for, you know, a couple of years.  It caught on fire.  Pretty aggressively. While I was turning around in the cul-de-sac.  My mom was screaming at me, yelling for me to stop.  I waved back.  I thought she was just happy I was mowing the yard. Until I got really hot.  Then I stopped.  My shirt had caught on fire from the flames leaping off the engine.  Yes.


That also happened to the John Deere.  The fire catching part, not the part about my shirt or my mom.  Flames were creeping out of the little shifter thing where you raised and lowered the blade.  I shut it off and put the fire out with a water hose.  Then I finished mowing.  Crisis averted.


Once, I went through a phase of mowing in different patterns.  My history teacher at school had told me that, by mowing in different patterns, the grass would grow better.  So I tried all different sorts of patterns – diagonals, and straights and boxes and circles, and some weird herringbone thing.  It started raining during that one, so I left and went home.  The old lady from church had a perfect swastika in her yard.  It was unfortunate.


As a 30 year old adult, I pressed the clutch instead of the brake and dropped the front two tires into our pond.  Only the mowing deck, catching on a root, kept me from sinking it.


While in high school, I worked for a very large mowing company.  I was partnered up with a guy named Kenchan, who was nuts, but that’s a different story entirely.  Anyhow, one day, I hit the water main with a Toro and knocked out the water to the Pepperidge farms bakery in Lakeland.  I also flooded their parking lot.  The bad part was I really had to pee, but couldn’t, because they didn’t have any water.  I grabbed a complementary bag of goldfish, left and went to the 7-11 and then went home.  300 workers in hair nets and white aprons stood around in the parking lot wondering what had happened.


I think that’s everything.  The chamber is empty.  I now pay a guy to mow my yard.  It’s better for everyone.