2009 Blogs

12/2/2009     Christmas light strings are a scam and the manufacturers should be lined up and flogged with cat-o-nine tails on public television.

I could pro’ly stop right there and my point would be well illuminated. But we all know that is not going to happen. Why in the name of the Thomas Edison can’t strings of Christmas lights work, work properly, work properly from one year to the next and keep working (at least three seasons)?

Planned obsolescence, that’s why. They are made cheap so that they will fail and you will have to scurry out to Walmart to buy more. And scurry you will, because you have already invested at least 2 hours or more of time and energy getting the lights out of the attic, untangling them (Aaarrrrgggg!), testing them, not once, but twice, and sorting through the strands that don’t work.

You will begin your annual festooning of the landscaping, hoping to take advantage of the sunny weather. Your archaic electrical architecture, untangling (aaarrrrgggg!), alterations and mental stretching while looking for the proper adapter will leave you frustrated, anxious, fed up, destested, pissed off, short with family members and thoroughly angst filled, like a teenager.

Then you see it.  A strand that is only partially lit.

It taunts you, daring you to try to locate the offending bulb. And look you will, because you have been told that only one bulb can make the difference between a strand working and not.

One bulb, my friends. One bulb somewhere in the 500 light string is causing a malfunction. Maybe it is the first bulb that is not lit. You search for the beginning of the dark bulbs, spruce needles poking you in the arms and face, some even getting under your fingernails like some kind of yuletide torture session.

Nope, that’s not it. Next you go to the end of the string, because the lights are wired in series and thus the last bulb can cause malfunction (or so you have heard). Again, you are wasting your time, effort and what precious little patience you have left.

By now you are not even sure if the three bulbs in your hand that you cannibalized from the working string are good or duds. Pine sap is preventing your fingers from moving freely, you’ve scratched the back of your hand on tree bark and you have to pee. The sun is going down, a chill sets in and you are contemplating a trip to Walmart (after the bathroom, and a cleansing with rubbing alcohol).

And that is where the line must be drawn. Bad enough that the lights don’t work from one year to the next… sheesh, from one testing to the next. But the torture you have to endure. It’s not right. Even the old guy in front of me at Walmart paused as I made my purchase. He eyed me and my purchases, breathing rank old guy breath about my person.

“Christmas lights, eh?” He gargled at me.
“Or somethin’ like that…” I replied, contemplating purchasing some mints to offer him.
“If they don’t work, just throw them out! Just throw them out…” He leveled a shaky, liver spotted hand at me.
“Won’t get no argument from me, pops. Fark these things.” I said, trying to move towards an exit, any exit.
“They’re not worth it, boy. Not worth it, I tell ya’…” He continued, blood pressure obviously on the rise. “They only cost two bucks. Just throw them out if they don’t work.” He reached for his nitro pills, tossed one in and munched on it like a Tic-tac.
“Read my next blog item, gramps.” I said as I made for the door.

Now, if Christmas lights and the hanging of such can drive an old codger to point of bursting a pipe, something is wrong. Why the fark can’t they make lights that work, reliably? How friggin’ hard can it be?

There is sort of a tongue-in-cheek joke about hanging one’s self with the Christmas lights, clearly underscoring the difficulty in their deployment. I say we find the douche_bags who make these malfunctioning pieces of shiate and hang their asses – with the lights.

1/11/2009     Tomato Gravy

It’s gravy.  Tomato sauce is what you pour into chili or onto pizza.

Gravy.  That’s what it was called in the Pagano household and the two preceding households that the Pagano household was derived from. So that’s what it is in the new Pagano household. (follow me on that? Both Grandparents, my parents and my household).

Call it sauce if you want.  Just don’t tell me what to call it, because I’m not listening.

Gravy, and the liking or disliking, is more a part of what you were brought up on. That flavor is ingrained in the psyche. Your taste can change if you have different for a long period of time, but you will always remember Mom’s or Grandma’s gravy and judge against that measure. I am reminded of Sunday afternoons when I was young, which was when Mom was making gravy for the week. The house was filled with wonderful aromas; garlic frying in olive oil, the tomatoes cooking down, sausage frying. The smells of home. I have come to find out that this was by no means unique to my upbringing.

A gravy, like a lot of things, is family specific. You learn how to from a higher source. So taste is passed down. Even so, my Grandmother’s tastes different from my Mom’s, which is different from my Aunt’s. But amongst us Pagano’s (including Lisa, my wife) you will taste a distinct similarity.

Here is the bottom line:  You will judge your gravy against that which you know. As for me, only my Mother and Sister can do better. The closer mine comes to tasting like theirs is how I gauge how well it came out.

I would put my gravy down next to anyone’s, so confident am I that it is the best. Although I am sure that mine is the best, I feel this way because it comes closest to what my mother’s tastes like.

Too many chefs (replete with I-can-do-no-wrong opinions of themselves) claim to make a great lasagna, baked ziti or manicotti. But they all topple for lack of a good gravy.

The color, texture and aroma will tell you immediately if a gravy is done right. Gravy embodies the essence of tomatoes with undertones of sausage and accompaniments of choice spices- garlic and basil. Hold off on the oregano. That is for pizza sauce. Notice the word ‘sauce’ after ‘pizza’.

Back to the nature/nurture point made earlier; all gravies have the same basics- tomatoes (fresh, canned, whole, peeled, pureed), olive oil, garlic, basil, salt and pepper. There after, other spices are incorporated that will make a gravy unique; fennel seed, wine, onion, green pepper, parsley, oregano.  But all in all, the building blocks are the same.

So how much different can one gravy be from another?  That answer lies in the spice formulation particular to the individual or family.  I am reminded of the offensiveness (defensiveness?) I often encounter when I ask someone the secret ingredient to their gravy.

No carrots, onions or peppers. Not ever. This isn’t a salad we are making here. I will concede on one point and one only; onion. (and this only out of respect for my friends Marco Piazza and Sue Braun). It has come to my attention that the onion removes the acidity the tomatoes impart unto the gravy. And here is where the tree begins to branch. I prefer a more acidic gravy, probably comes from my partial Sicilian heritage. The addition of onion in one form or another removes the acid. This sweetens the gravy somewhat. Depending on your preference, the onion can make quite a difference.

Fresh or dried spices? I don’t care. What is important here is the outcome. In the summer months I will pluck herbs from the garden fresh. I have noticed that you need a good deal more fresh than you would use dried and it does affect the outcome. However, the ingredients are the same.

Chunky, smooth or any of that nonsense not withstanding, a good gravy needs to be thick. Not so thick that it doesn’t flow well, it must coat the pasta thoroughly, but not so thin that when you fork up some ziti all you are left with is a red film reminiscent of grease. Diner gravy. This you may call sauce.

Cooking time is critical. No matter what, a longer, slower cooked gravy will always taste better than a hastily prepared one. And remember what my Bro says, “You have to make a mess to make a good gravy.”

Gravy is cooked in a large pot- no lid, slowly. It takes me 4 hours to spin off a pot of gravy. The water must be cooked out of it and the tomatoes cooked to perfection. And herein lies the reasoning behind the long cooking time. The tomatoes need to be cooked for a long time.

The incorporation of meat in some way pushes gravy production over the top. My Sys tells me that pork in some form does it for her. This I remember from Grandma’s. I prefer Italian sausage, browned in the same pot as the gravy is being made. And brown them bitches good. Slightly burned on the outside is optimum. Then begin your gravy production in the same pot – unwashed!. Add the meat to the gravy for the duration of the cooking process.

And that should settle the ‘is it gravy or is it sauce’ debate. Gravy, by definition, is made with meat stock and my gravy is made with meat stock, even if it is the burnt remains and oils after a high fire frying.

You cannot have a good pasta dish if you don’t have good gravy. Great pasta dishes have extraordinary gravy (like mine). Its pasta we’re talking about eating here. Not fish, pork, chicken or beans, although all of those could use a good gravy also.

Pasta. When the gravy is good that is all you need, with maybe the addition of a small salad. If the gravy is great you won’t be able to stop at 2 helpings. To conclude this thought I will speak of my Grampa Sam, who could eat pasta every day of the week. No man can eat pasta every day of the week if it the gravy is not good.

The only gravy recipe I know:

2 small cans tomato paste
2 cans tomato puree
fresh garlic
olive oil
salt, pepper, basil
enough water to fill the two puree cans.

Cook until done.

What? You thought I was going to include detailed instructions on how to make my gravy?

And remember what the ol` man taught me: When we cook, we drink.

Salute!

11/12/2009    Jean Rogers Rymon

From the first time you met Jean you knew she had something. She embodied country hospitality, warmth, kindness, and…

Jean could make you feel welcome in her home without saying anything more than hello. There wasn’t an impolite bone in her body. She was instantly likeable. She had that quality, that…

I can’t remember ever crying upon hearing the news of someone passing. I blame it on not processing the news correctly in my mind. But I cried over Jean, a few times. Why? Because the sense of loss is so tangible, so real. Because Jean was…

She fought cancer for 18 years. I’ve known her for about 10 years and I think she was stage 4 all that time. Stage 4 for 10 years.

Pain? I cannot justify writing anything about pain. I don’t know about that kind of pain.

And the thing that is tearing me up even as I write this sentence is when you would see her at a holiday gathering or a wedding – she was always so glad to see you. Even with the disease destroying her body and the drugs doing so much harm just trying to do some good; there was always that smile, the warmth in her voice, the gladness to see you, that …

I believe you are put here for a reason, a purpose. There is a book of days that pre-ordains the sequence of events of our lives. When we fulfill our purpose, we are called home. Mostly we don’t, or can’t, know what our purpose is. But sometimes you can see it in some people. I can’t, won’t, try to state what the Lord’s plan was for Jean. But she touched a lot of lives. She is an example for a lot of people, myself included. She was iron. She was rock. She was …

I will pray for the strength that this woman had. And her grace. And her tenacity. And her…

Whatever that disease is, wherever it comes from, it cannot feel that it won this time. Jean beat it at every turn, at every assault. She stared it in the eye and did not flinch. It pulled every dirt rotten trick it had, and that woman stood fast and hard. Like rock.

Jean went on her terms. She showed us all what tough is and she did it with grace, dignity, humility and…

… I cannot put my finger on what it was that Jean had. I don’t want to try to define it. You know what it is. You know it if you have known her. You know it defies words.

I will miss you greatly, Jean. But I will never, ever forget you.
11/3/2009     The Rock

The first place that we took over as our own was a rock outcropping in the old iron mining hills of Hibernia, NJ. I had been in and around this area for most of my young life and when we became vehicularly mobile (began to drive) this was where we would go for weekends of fun.

Dollar and I scoured the area looking for a cave because this surely was cave country and eventually found a reasonable facsimily thereof. It needed a roof, but once that was constructed, we had us a dry, hidden, semi-comfortable place to dwell. It was on the very edge of something like a 40 ft. rock outcropping. Thus, The Rock.

Getting to this place was a challenge in itself, and that is exactly what we wanted. You would not willing hike up the rock face, as it was easier to go around. You would not go down the rock face either, because it was treacherous. In this way our hidey hole was was well hidden and escaped detection for years.

Problem with this area was that there was a huge Hewlett-Packard plant across the street, and being that they were working on top secret government projects and all, (like laser printers and all-in-one fax machines) and despite the fact that the entire facility was fenced in, with constant security and survailence, they didn’t like us parking overnight on the short dirt road that led into the woods. So they would call the police. The police would come and, depending on their mood, either ticket the vehicle or flatten the tires. (yes, both have happened).

We would drop off our canned food and lesser equipment prior to our trip, in the daytime, then employ my Sys to covertly drop us off after dark, where we would hike up our perishiables and gear. Fully camoflaged. Because we were stealthy like that.

Now Dollar, he has a sixth sense when it comes to direction. At least when he’s sober. More on that later. But when it came to getting to The Rock, he could lead us in full dark right to the escarpment. Then we would separate (to avoid falling rocks) and climb up.

It was a campsite on a slope. You slept in the cave, but only had a narrow ledge to move out along for maybe 5 feet. Then you either climbed up or down. Up to the fire, down to go home. If you lost your grip on your beer, it rolled away. Sometimes off the edge of the escarpment. If you fumbled your breakfast, it splattered down three feet of barren rock. If you lost your lunch, same. If you lost your balance while taking a piss in the middle of the night, the safety rope we strung up might hold you, but I wouldn’t have counted on it.

There is probably a hundred ways to die or get seriously injured up there. Everything from the obvious, like falling off of a cliff, to the not so obvious, like falling into an abandoned mine shaft. Then, of course, there are all the usual camp hazards, like getting cut with an ax or your boot knife, slicing your hand open on a damned can of tuna, getting stung multiple times by the wasps that lived in the crevice or even getting shot by some turkey hunter. And all the more hazardous by the constant 30 degree slope we existed on.

But we were young then, and tough. And stupid. Ignorance is bliss, so they say.

What we did know was that the Rock was ours and ours alone. We liked it so much we began to hatch a scheme that would bring us family-wide notoriety for a long time to come. And that scheme was:
Thanks-giv-o-fest.

10/18/2009     A mother with cubs

For whatever reason, despite spending a great deal of time in the woods, I did not see a black bear until somewhere around 1998 or 99. Sure, plenty of other folks saw them, out their kitchen windows, raiding the bird feeder, crossing the backyard, turning over the trash can, but I could not seem to have an encounter.

Around this time, I acquired a new cell phone. Now, before I have to listen to a chorus of crap from any Gen X or Y folks, who grew up with a cell phone attached to their ear, before the turn of the century, these things were fairly new. Not only that, but reception was spotty, at best.

So, it should not be too far of a stretch to understand that I thought it quite novel that I could call my wife from the Appalachian Trail, where I was Ruffed Grouse seeking on Winter’s day.

As I put the phone away, feeling quite smug in my usage of technology, I heard a rustling coming from the other side of the laural thicket I was in.  Pro’ly those damned kids and their mangy hound, I thought, refering to the people I had seen prior. But…just in case…

I reached down for my shotgun (double barrel 20 gauge). Before I could touch it, however, out popped two black bear cubs, closely followed by momma. I had sat my ass squarely on their bear trail and they were about 30 yards away and closing fast, oblivious to my presence.

My mind screamed ‘A mother with cubs! A mother with cubs!’ It was probably the worst of situations to be in, as far as black bear are concerned. Except maybe being tied to a tree, smeared with honey and having a donut hanging off of each finger.

For those who don’t know: A 20 gauge shotgun is not a bear killer. It might do the job, if the bear is close enough, but by then you and bear are in pretty tight quarters.

I snatched up my gun, stood tall, raised my arms and yelled. I don’t think the sound that came out of my mouth sounded very intimidating, but it was a yell nonetheless, positively identifying me as human.

I thought: If she doesn’t stop you are going to have to wait until she is almost on top of you, put two in her face, reload, WITHOUT DROPPING ANY SHELLS, and put two more into her, post haste. By then she will be on top of you, but you cannot hesitate, you must function! (I might have said, ‘Don’t fark up!’, because that phrase seems to creep into my mind in tense situations).

And all of that in the last two paragraphs happened in something less than a second. Behold, the power of the human mind jacked on adrenaline.

The bear family stopped. In about another second the two cubs turned and ran off back the way they came.

But not momma. She stood her ground and looked at me like maybe she needed to open a can of whoop-ass.

Bad!, Bad!, Bad!, I thought.

Following everything I have ever read about what to do in a bear encounter, I yelled again, and brought my shotgun to shoulder and put the bead square on her menacing face. Again I went over the sequence of events that I would need to save my ass.  Wait till she is close enough, shoot twice, reload, DO NOT DROP ANY SHELLS, shoot two more times.

We faced off for a few more (very tense) seconds, then she slowly turned, almost like she saying, ‘ehh, I’ll let you go, this time’, and trotted off after her cubs.

At first I thought I had wet my pants, until I realized it was sweat coursing off my body. I walked a few yards to my right, off of the bear trail, and changed my underwear.

(actually, yes, I do carry extra undersquares with me. Socks, too. Ruffed Grouse seeking is damned hard work).

10/12/2009     The Jersey Devil

As I have stated in previous blogs, I don’t go into the Pine Barrens of South New Jersey without being well armed. To some of you, this comes as no surprise. You know me as a hunter, competive shooter and woods-wise person. To others, this may seem somewhat, er, strange. So I will enlighten.

Armed usually means at least one knife, a firearm and a Cross. The knife for it’s myriand of uses and as a defensive weapon, if needed. The firearms for those situations where firepower is warranted and the Cross for things not of the flesh. I have a jade Cross that is reserved for the Pines. I don’t believe the Jersey Devil is in the same class of demon as, say, werewolves or vampires, so I’m not all that concerned about needing a silver cross. Although, it might not be a bad idear. You know, just in case.

The New Jersey Pine Barrens are not a place where one wanders around aimlessly, happy-go-lucky until you decide to call it a day. There are all manner of threats to one’s health out there, not the least of which is the Jersey Devil. I am not 100% sure if the Jersey Devil would consider me a natural part of the Pines (as I do) or if it would look upon me as a mere appetweezer prior to another sumptous repast. But I’m not taking any chances, either. Anything that has ‘devil’ in it’s name is not something to fark with. Nor is anything that has ‘winged demon with tail’ in it’s description.

Believe? It is not quite that cut and dry. When I surf, do I ‘believe’ that I can get shark bit? I accept that the possibility exists. I don’t want to ‘believe’ that I will get bit, but I know it could happen. Likewise, do I believe that the Jersey Devil is out there? I accept that it is. And surely it is well aware of my wanderings.

My relationship with the Pines began at a very early age, when my Grandmother lived in Waretown. These days, Waretown is fairly well built up and not all that woodsy. But back in the early 70’s, it was a ghost town. And the forest was right across the street. It was in those woods that I was baptised to the Pines.

I first learned about the Jersey Devil on a family trip to Smithtown. I was frightened, as any youngster would be. Back then, there wasn’t much more than stories handed down by parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. The nights were full of strange, unidentifiable noises. Darkness turned the woods into a sinister trap, waiting to gorge on young lads who were not wise enough to stay on the front porch.

Daytime adventures into the woods turned up all sorts of unexplainable things. Bones, skulls, old shacks, ruins of houses, hulks of burned out cars, discarded bicycles, abandoned boats. A youngster could easily conjure up all sorts of horrifying tales to go along with each find.

With each trip to the woods my range of exploration was expanded. As I grew older and more woods-wise, these trips turned into all day afairs. More things made sense, less unexplainable. And as long as I made it out to the paved road before dark, I was cool.

Around the time the Bird crew turned 20, plus or minus, we moved our area of operations from the hills of Hibernia (The Rock) to the Pines. Here we could spend extended periods of time, upwards of 4 days at times, without seeing another person. We could walk around armed, because we were always hunting and we could camp. Because we were camping. Oh, and we could drink, too. And drink we did.

But you cannot sit at the edge of a huge cedar swamp at dusk, watching the fog roll across the black water, feeling the cold air rise up from below and not be aware that something else exists. You can’t walk the sand roads or through miles of pine/oak scrub for hours, relying soley on dead reckoning to get you back to a main road and not feel that…somehow… you are not alone.

10/08/2009  The Enchanted Forest

There was (is still, I hope) a place deep in the Pines – an old growth cedar swamp (if you can call anything in NJ truly ‘old growth’. By some estimates the entire Pine Barrens have been cut over 3 times).

But this place somehow escaped one or two clear cuts. It is a dark place, so much so that ice lasts well into the Spring. The waters are deep, clean and pure. Atlantic White Cedar trees are the only thing that grows except for sphagnum moss. They are tall, straight, with no branches until the very top, maybe 50 or 60 feet up – the only place where sunlight reaches. Packed so tightly together that it is difficult to pass between them.

In the dry, baking heat of summer, when menacing pine flies and greenheads are as much as a threat as heat stroke or dehydration, this is one place where you can find respite. But you would not enter this place easily. It is as foreboding as it is intriguing. A single entry point, hidden from the sand road that skirts by on the high ground, is the beginning of a long trail of scrap sticks and cedar waste that barely floats above the dark waters and shuddering moss.

This place not only looks, but feels like a place of legend. This is the lair of the Jersey Devil itself. Of this, I am sure.

My entry into this other world was filled with trepidation. You don’t just waltz into the Jersey Devil’s den, flop your sodden ass on the sofa, put your filthy boots up on the coffee table and light up a smoke. No sir.

I entered into a world where perception was so altered that it was as difficult to discern material things from sinister shadow at high noon as it would be on a moonlit night. When the wind moves the trees, the creaks and moans are easily confused with other…sounds. That same wind will raise an unseen wisp of chilled air across your back, chilling your already chilly spine. I found myself fingering my jade Cross as much as my sidearm.

When you could get a look across and area wider than a few yards, the air had a greenish/black tint. As the sun would get lower that tint became more pronounced until it engulfed you. And just in case you are thinking that was just my imagination, I would emerge from this forest streaked in green, brown and black – from the mold, lichen, slime, mud and rot.

My first trip in was into the heart of the forest. I stopped in an area with wide, tea colored pools of unknown depth, ringed with floating sponges of sphagnum. I remember thinking that there was enough down and dead wood to build a decent cabin, complete with wrap around decking. Certainly enough firewood to last a long time. But how long could you last in this place, for it was not a place where man lingered.

On my second trip I was determined to make it all the way across the swamp or to whatever realm it leads to. And when I finally did emerge, it was nearly like the entrance, hidden, sudden into a huge field of Indian grass interrupted with impenetrable breaks of bayberry scrub. Single haggard black pines fingered up out of the grass like macabre sculptures, the sparse green needles on them seemingly not able to support life. The few cones were like warts. The light, though welcome and reassuring, was almost too bright. Like when you spend too much time in a basement during the day. It bathed the area in a sepia tone.

I was reasonably sure where I was, but I could not test that theory by walking out to a road, as I still had work to do. I had to make it back.

You know that feeling when you are coming up from the basement, at night, after retrieving a roll of paper towels? How your pace quickens with each step up, until you firmly close the door? Yeah, well that needed to be kept under tight control for over a couple of hours as I retraced my steps through Jersey Devil land. You can only spin around so many times before you begin to doubt your own sanity. After the tenth or eleventh time you feel a finger of cold air probing your neckline, you start to ignore it. If the Jersey Devil was going to light down on my fool ass, he was going to have to do so in front of me. Because if I had to spin around to check my back one more time, or look off to either side at that fleeting glimpse of whatever, or stop and listen intently to whatever that unidentifiable sound was, I was never going to emerge from this place.

But emerge I did. It confirmed for me the vastness of the swamp that I had driven around for years. More than that, it confirmed me. I began to realize that whoever, whatever was out there, I was out there, too. I was as much a part of the Pines as any other animal or beast. It was the area I always chose to go – to hunt, fish, hike or just be out in the woods.
You can’t do those things if you are afraid.

How does one conquer their fears?
By facing them.
You walk through the Enchanted Forest…and back out again.

10/1/2009   The Whip-poor-wills

This is a recanting of a trip I made back in the early 90’s.

I was bent on canoeing Papoose Creek in the NJ Pine Barrens from the edge of the cranberry bogs, across Oswego lake, down to the Wading River, to pull out somewhere on Chatsworth Road. I threw my mountain bike, gear and rations into the back of the truck, mounted my 13 foot canoe on top and lit off.

My plan was to drive down to Chatsworth Road, dump my bike, drive back to Warren Grove, hide the truck deep in the pines and set off. When I made it to Chatsworth Road, I would stash the boat and ride my bike back to the truck.
Sounded good, in theory.
I can’t remember exactly why, but things didn’t work out that way. I didn’t get to the drop off point until close to dark so I set up a spike camp, cooked vittles and drank beer.

Thing about camping alone and keeping a low profile is that you don’t have the luxury of a big fire, companionship or someone to watch your back. Due to these mitigating factors, and as always in the Pines, I was well armed.

As Christian Slater stated in True Romance, ‘I’d rather have a gun and not need it, then to need one and not have it.’
Amen to that, brother. Especially deep in the Pines, where someone could cap your ass and your body could never, ever, be found.

The cloak of darkness fell and I settled in to drink beer and write. After a couple of hours I grew tired and began to doze off.

Then the Whip-poor-will started calling.
Oh, did I say Whip-poor-will in the singular form? No, I meant three of the loud mouthed bitches started in. One to the right, one to the left and one in front. Did I mention loud mouthed? These things must have had bullhorns with them. They must have been real close and I was caught in their triangle of communication. I couldn’t sleep.

Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL Whip-poor-WILL

Shut the fark up already you noisy bastards! I threw whatever sticks I could find, ice from my cooler, a handful of pennies, anything I could spare, but they were undaunted. See, rocks are very had to come by in the Pines – it’s mostly sand. I contemplated firing off a clip or two of ammo, but that would be irresponsible (possibly dangerous to any other woods dwelling knuckle-heads and/or draw attention to my location).

Somewhere in the late evening, they concluded their meeting and moved onward. I didn’t realize it was quiet again until I was awakened by the sound of a revving engine and headlights bouncing down the sparse track that I had driven in on.

I will tell you, it takes a little reminding one’s self that, chances are, nothing is going to happen to you when you are far out in the woods. All that movie bunk about killers roaming the woods, preying upon solo campers and the like is just that, movie bunk (because why would a psychopath waste his time wandering around in the woods looking for a victim when there are so many more targets of opportunity in the city?) And that was all it took to get me out there in the first place.

But now, all bets were off. It was around 3 am. Surely no good would come out of this chance meeting, whether or not this vehicle contained a lost psychopath seeking a victim or just a carload of drunkards who didn’t know any better than to stay on the main road. I can’t describe exactly what I was feeling – certainly nervous, but not freaking out. I had went through this scenario several times, both in preparation for this trip and at other times with the Bird Crew.

As I said, my truck was fairly well hidden behind some dense scrub and my camp was small, no fire. I crouched low beside a fat old pine tree and trained my weapon on the approaching headlights. If Michael Myers, Freddie Kruger, Norman Bates, Pumpkinhead or whoever the hell it was in that car rolled into camp intent on doing me harm, they would have to dodge bullets, Matrix-like, to get my ass. And I’m a way better shot than any of those Mr. Smith characters.

The lights approached to the point where discovery was imminent…then stopped. After a few tense seconds I heard the gears shift. A few seconds later, it did a series of K turns and sped off down the road. I stood for a long while watching and listening.

Across the river, on the other side of the swamp, a single Whip-poor-will called out. It was a familiar sound. I would say almost calming.

 

9/16/2009 I realize that the election is long over, but I needed to post this before it became irrelevant…

Bruce Springsteen has come out publicly in support of Barack Obama and if I am going to listen to anyone tell me who to vote for, it’s going to be Springsteen.

As most of you know, I hold nearly all politicians in disdain, party loyalty not withstanding.  But, as a loyal, patriotic American, one must vote and when it is time to vote, who better to listen to than a wildly successful rock star?  I mean, you could listen to Chuck Norris, Tom Cruise, Oprah or any one of a number of other celebrity mouthpieces instruct you in the proper way to cast your vote, because you, as an educated, working, middle class, taxed to f-ing death commoner couldn’t possibly make up your own mind.

Of course not.  But Springsteen, the Boss, well, shiate.  How can you argue with him?  After all, who better to have a finger on the pulse of the hard working, blue collar, middle class than one who writes and warbles about such things in a down to earth, gravely voice?  Ignore the fact that he has raked in so much money that he can afford to buy up every house, farm and plot of land around his home in Colts Neck, NJ, where real estate prices rival that of any other you can think of, including Beverly Hills, CA.

And that, my friends, constitutes political savvy in my book.

Who among us has the time or stomach to navigate the pile of spin-doctored bullshiate being thrown at us continuously?  We are too busy, strung out on the wire, getting our backs burned, facts learned, in the darkness on the edge of town, or some rattlesnake speedway, looking for two tickets on that ghost city bus, all the while dodging the skeletons of burned out Chevrolet’s ‘neath Abram’s bridge.

It’s the working life, I tell you, just the working life, for us born in America, in our home town, while we wait on the rising.

Ok, enough.  Now, Bruce ( I feel I can address you common after the amount of $$ me, my sister and friends have tossed carelessly your way over the years) I appreciate your wanting to stand up and lead us towards the promised land and all, thanks, but no thanks.  I feel that after 40+ years of listening to the same rhetoric spouting from the same pundit about the same issues and watching absolutely nothing change for the better, that I am fully qualified to make up my own mind.  And you could do us all a favor by conveying this message to your celebe-friends.  Save us all some time and yourselves some breath.

To be fair, should you, yourself, decide to run for office, you would have my vote. This is more due to my disgust with the ruling elite than it is with your political posture.  By the same token, I feel that I could do a better job than any of those idiots running at the mouth on the nightly news, but that’s just me.

In conclusion, I would say that, when the night’s quiet, and you don’t care anymore, and your eyes are tired, and there’s someone at your door
(let them in, for pete’s sake)
and you realize you wanna to let gooooooo-ooooooooooooo.  And the weak lies, and cold walls you embrace eat at your insides, and leave you face to face with streets of fiiiiiiirrrrre.

You know, that’s not what I thought you were saying, all these years.  It must be that south Jersey accent thing, or a north Jersey hearing issue.  Thankfully the Internet and your website have set my @ss straight.

(man, I could use a cold beer right about now)

BWL
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Salt, in all of its various occurrences, formulations and incantations has been a staple of the human (and animal) gastrointestinal kit bag since the beginning of time.  A quick spinning of the rolodex could bring up all manner of salt-inferred references; worth his salt, salty dog, old salt, pass the salt, go pound salt, you get the picture.

One notable exception would be the exclusion of salt from the phrase ‘Piss and vinegar.’  Given the caustic nature of both piss and vinegar, I’m moving to add salt to the list.

Say it with me: ‘Salt, Piss and Vinegar.’
Or ‘Piss, Vinegar and Salt.’
Salt, Piss and Vinegar has a certain ring to it.
Examplia Gratia:
“He was full o’ salted piss and vinegar, arrrgh.  (Pirate speak).

“…to be soaked, for no less than three days, in Salt, Piss and Vinegar.  Foreman, gather your men and procure a keg of beer from the church basement.  Pissing will commence at once.”  A sentence handed down by a Puritan Judge in colonial Virginia.

“Soak the carcass in a brine of salt, piss and vinegar for 4 hours.”  Excerpt from chapter 2 of the Rough Foods Cookbook, dog preparation.

But that is not the treatise for today.
No.  Today’s mouthing off is about Kosher Salt.  Arguably the King of Salt.

Salt is salt.  It’s all the same NaCl – Sodium Chloride.  Road salt, Kosher salt, table salt, Sea salt, salt licks, salt blocks, salt pills, salt air, salt water, red salt, black salt, pink salt, salt pork, salted pretzels, salt scrub, salt water taffy, Lott’s wife…it’s all the same stuff.  The difference is in the purity (table salt) or the lack of such (rock salt).

But kosher salt, or ‘the Kosh’, as it is know to us Bird folk, occupies an elevated plane.

My introduction to the Kosh was from the ol’ man.  As a lad, I walked into the house with a freshly skinned squirrel hide and asked how one would go about turning this limp rag of fur into a comfortable pair of moccasins.  Squirrel slippers, if you will.  His brief reply mentioned that first; the hide had to be cured with kosher salt.  Well, we didn’t have any Kosh in the house at the time, but we did have an ample supply of table salt.  I applied liberally and left to dry.  It worked well enough.  On occasion I still am forced to use table salt, but it is not as good a desiccant as the Kosh.  It works, soaking up water, blood, fat, juices and other liquid crap just fine, but it tends to melt and soak into the fur, degrading the pelt.  As it turns out, the answer lies in the size of the grains.  The Kosh is larger grained.  This leaves it on the skin longer, so it can suck out more juices.  And juice sucking is what hide preparation is all about.

I have even used Ksalt to clear a path to my Sysheem y Bro’s house over snow dumped flagstones.  After shoveling what could be shoveled, a liberal blessing of the Kosh absolved any remainder.  It wasn’t as kind to the surrounding turf, but that was not an issue until the Spring and fell to the landlord’s obligations anyway.

I hear tell, but cannot confirm, that the Kosh is loaded into shotshells.  The legendary ‘Salt shot’ that stung many a young punk’s hind quarters.  I always thought that one used road salt for such a purpose.  The rock like pebbles and chunks certainly look like what one would shoot out of a shotgun.  Indeed they would function quite well.  Well, maybe too well.  Because you could easily kill a man with a 12 gauge shotshell loaded with rock salt.  It’s rocks, after all.  That is why they call it rock salt.

On a more benign note, I have used the Kosh to ice my champagne down to proper temps.  I prefer my champagne as cold as can be made.  After packing the bottle of bubbly in more ice cubes than can fit in the bucket, I bless the works with a few passes of the Kosh.  Just like when making ice cream, the addition of salt allows the temperature to drop below 32 degrees F.  No physics lesson today.  It works.

Cooking with Ksalt needs no further mention from me, except with the notable exception of brining.  To brine – as in to brine a turkey – is to soak the carcass in a solution of water mixed with Ksalt and additional herbs.  I use sage, rosemary and thyme (no parsley, Garfunkle).  Then I leave it to do the fowl swim for no less than 24 hours, I extract the sea bird, stuff the herbalessence into its gaping cavitation and smoke, yes, smoke that biatch with hickory and cherry chips.

Better than roast dog.

And about Lott’s wife, who, as we all know, was turned into a pillar of salt after doing what the Lord specifically told her not to do (namely, turning around and looking at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah).  Do you think He turned her into a pillar of just any old salt?  A pillar of iodized salt, maybe rock salt?  Doubtful.  I submit that she was turned into a pillar of the Kosh.  And if Lott had any sense, he would have enlisted the help of a few friends, hauled her non-complying, saline ass off poolside and spun off margaritas.

BWL
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We called it a ‘Heart Stopper’

There was a time, long ago, in a land far away, when woods existence was not only a badge of honor among the Bird crew, but a most enjoyable way to spend the weekend.

I remember it fondly.  Nestled in our lean-to, deep in the South Jersey Pine Barrens, armed to the teeth, well lubricated on alcohol and dressed in the latest paramilitary fashion.  Free from the toils of everyday life with its inquiring parent’s, task master Professors, overbearing bosses and totalitarian authority figures.

Sometimes we were hunting, other times gathering firewood and making repairs to our hooch.  Either way, partying long into the night.
When morning came it was time to make breakfast.  It is, after all, the most important meal of the day. As we most likely would not be having lunch (being out on the trail) it needed to fuel the boys proper.

My sister is fond of referring to a snapshot of a dozen eggs and a full pound of bacon a-sizzle on the griddle.  And that was common.  Pancakes were a failure and not utilized after the first attempt.  The griddle was too hot and our hands not steady enough to produce anything other than blackened crepe rolls – burned on the outside, oozing on the inside.

But bacon – the almighty PORK – not only was it proper fuel, but it produced a OPEC barrel of grease with which to cook anything else that we had.  After we rendered our pork, the griddle looked like the aftermath of a harpooned sperm whale.  Into that went the eggs, and, well, whatever else.  Which tended to build over time.

You see, Dollar, he was an eater.  He could eat and eat and then eat some more.  About the only time that I can remember him not being able to eat anymore was when we cooked two pounds of pasta, ½ pound of sausage and a loaf (or two?) of Italian bread.  After eating most of it (fools), Dollar declared, ‘I can’t eat another f-ing thing’.  Just like that Monty Python skit with the fat Tony mobster that explodes.

Me, being me, chimed in with, ‘not even one thin mint?’
‘No, gotta make room for beer.’  He grunted.
‘But zey are wafer thin…’

At that, he stationed himself over the piss trough (yes, we had a trough to carry liquid wastes out of camp.  It was a length of aluminum gutter that ran out into the bush.  Saved us time from walking out into the woods) and did the self purge a few times until he felt better.

Frankly, I was amazed.  Puking was always something to be avoided, at any cost, but not when it could make room for more beer.

But I digest.

As time went on, we perfected our breakfast making ritual by the notable addition of some key ingredients – cheese, butter, mushrooms, potatoes, pepperoni and loaves of bread.

We found that loaf bread traveled better than sliced and tasted better too.  If any was left over, it made good targets.  Butter, we were told, doesn’t burn in the pan, but neither did two inches of hot bacon grease either. A can of mushrooms we always seemed to have, they were as versatile as potatoes and pepperoni.

So one crispy morn, Dollar is at the helm spinning off the first meal.

At this point I need to interject that we had a mutual acquaintance, Jeff, who was an easy 300 pounds and recently hospitalized for a heart condition.

Back to breakfast.  I turned around to be presented with the specter of Dollar hoisting a full half loaf of Italian bread, toasted, stuffed to the gills with eggs, pepperoni, mushrooms and potatoes, oozing butter and melted cheese across his charcoal blackened mitt.

‘Holy Shiite’, I said.  ‘What, do we have to get you a bed next to Jeff, or what?’
Dollar laughed about as hard as I ever hear him.

“Here’s yours.”  He said, pushing the other half into my hand.

And thus the ‘Heart Stopper’ was birthed.

Classic Heart Stopper

1 loaf crusty Italian bread (or French bread if you must)
1 small can of mushrooms (caps, pieces, stems, seeds)
8 eggs
10 slices pepperoni
6 slices potato
6 slices cheese
1 stick of butter

Slice loaf lengthwise and then divide in half.  Slather with butter and set on griddle to toast.
Cook potatoes, pepperoni and mushrooms together with butter until soft and done, move to side.
Cook eggs to order, usually over easy.

Assembly:

Slather hot, toasted loaf with butter (yes, more butter)
Lay on eggs, top with pepperoni, mushrooms, cap off with potatoes and seal with cheese.
Top with other half of loaf
Divide in half and serve with flaming hot java.

Makes two servings.
Have defibulator handy.

And that is all I have to say about that.
BWL
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It’s all about the square bottle

…in part, at least. There is definitely something there, wrapping your mitt around a square bottle of booze as opposed to the atypical cylindrical type. For one thing, you can obtain and maintain a better grip on said vessel, thus reducing the chance of slippage and breakage. Lest we forget, the fourth rule of Bird: Break a bone, and you have two half bones, and consequently two roaches. Break a bottle and you have wet glass.

(so it is written)

Nextly would be the unavoidable factoid that your higher quality fuels usually reside in a square bottle – like Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch. Jose Cuervo also packages itself in a square bottle. Now, I would never, EVER, put tequila in the same caste as fine Scotch, but if you’re going to swill tequila, and at some point most of us will, Cuervo is a fair choice. You will notice that Mezcal shit come in a cylindrical container, as do other, lesser breeds.

Bombay Sapphire Gin comes in a square bottle also. Not a gin drinker myself, I hear tell it makes you crazy and I don’t need any assistance in that category. I will admit that the pretty blue bottle holds a certain mystique. Almost alluring.

Jack Daniels. JD, while not the cleanest burning fuel in the world, certainly is fuel. Even the casual observer will denote a square bottle. This may be more of a warning than a matter of good taste. Sort of like the poison dart frog of the Amazon, which blatantly advertises its toxicity through the thoughtful display of wild coloration. There was a time when the Birdwell was known for his JD consumption. Those days are past, as I have burned out both my stomach and my desire to consume it in excess. But there is nothing quite like a whiskey buzz, so I will revisit that realm on occasion, briefly.

And I won’t stand for any of that triangular shaped bottle crap, like Glenfiddich comes in. That is just poor taste in the effort to differentiate oneself. Try wrapping your mitt securely around a triangular bottle. It can’t be done. It doesn’t fit right, which could lead to slippage and violation of the fourth law o’ Bird.

Old Bushmills Irish Whiskey – ah, yes. Always reminds me of a canoe trip down the Mullica/up the Wading Rivers with Dollar. Nestled safely like two babies in a bassinette of ice our bottles traveled with us on that trip. And traveled well, I might add. In fact, traveled much better than two cases of beer.

Furthermore, a case of booze (12 bottles) comes in a box. A case of booze is square. Applying general physics will show that the contact point, despite being ‘protected’ by flimsy paperboard separators, puts quite a bit of pressure on a small area. We can see via application of the equation

P = F/A
Where P is pressure, F is force and A is area. As the value of A goes down, the other two values exert more influence. (Dr. Stryke, where are you now?)

Long and the short of all that silage is that when a pressure is applied to a small area, such as the points where two cylinders meet, breakage is more likely to occur. Expand that area, as in the case of a square bottle, and the breakage factor goes way down. Yet again, the need to point to the fourth law of Bird.

Let us now shift our focus to boating. As everyone is well aware, the general boating experience is enhanced by the inclusion and proper application of alcohol. As we also are well aware, the boating experience is rife with instability; the rocking back and forth of the vessel as it sits on a dynamic fluid. This creates a problem for the casual boater if he/she was to place their beverage down and a wave was to come along, knocks the container over. Due to the container’s inherent (and sinister) roundness, tends to roll away from the consumer producing angst, frustration, lost wages, lost libation and general discord amongst crew members and passengers alike. One can easily see how Captain Bligh found himself in hot water with the crew of the Bounty.

Which brings me right back to the square bottle, in a roundabout sort of way. Which also lends itself nicely to the fifth law of Bird, which emphatically states:  Drink and the World drinks with you.  Puke, and you puke alone.

pasta la bistro, gravy
(hasta la vista, baby)

BWL
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Rattus Draconus

One day, a Tuesday, Studogg and I were lazing around deciding on what fate might have in store for us. We decided to commandeer the I-dog and take our pellet pistols into the local woods to see what varmints we might flush out.

I can’t recall the exact events of the day, but eventually we found ourselves probing the ever narrowing strip of vegetation that lie between the Rt. 78 wall and the development where I lived. (These days it is termed a ‘Green Way) We were rapidly running out of room, when suddenly the I-dog dove into a pool of dead leaves and mud backed up behind the skeleton of a fallen bush. We groaned as she sank beneath the muck, knowing we would have to bathe her stinking, stagnant hide when we got home.

She emerged from the other side, a menacing swamp beast with… the biggest rat we had ever seen wriggling in her maw! The I-dog barely clambered to solid ground when she began shaking the rat so violently and for so long that both Studogg and I looked at each other in stoic amazement, back at the scene and then back at each other, before beginning a strange combination of laughing hard and trying to separate dog and rat. So incapacitated with laughter, excitement and disgust were we, that we couldn’t get the two animals separated to safely shoot the rat. We resigned ourselves to waiting out the scene.

After a period of, I don’t know, maybe an hour, the I-dog spat the rat out and pointedly watched it. There was no doubt in either of our minds that it was dead as its body slowly deflated. But to the I-dog that was movement and movement meant a job not quite complete. WHA-BAMM! She hits the rat again and goes for another round of, to quote the Studogger, the G-force swing. We could do little else than light up butts and kick back until she finished.

When she had enough of that, she presented us with a monstrous brown rat. Fully 24 inches from the tip of its pointy nose to the end of its pestilence carrying, scaly tail. We dubbed it Rattus Draconus or Dragon Rat. I had the good insight to capture the day on a photograph and one can easily see the look of conquest on the I-dog.

Such was the disposition of the I-dog. She hated animules in all forms and incarnations. And she was one hell of a good hunter. I can remember her following hand signals, looking to see where I was pointing my weapons and waiting for something to fall out of the sky and, when there was downtime, mole excavating.

I can only attribute this behavior to one or two things. Either she was, like me, entertained by the search, locate, persuit, capture and kill of rodents or she was just looking for a snack. I know that my Sys will lean towards the latter.

Once, during the very rare occasion when Sys was tasked with feeding the hounds, she was grudgingly bringing out bowls of food for the I-dog and the junior Val-puppy. We used to put the dogs into a fenced in berm area to run while we were mixing up the chow du juor. After Sys put down their yummy mixture of Ken-L Ration, kibble, vitamins, meds and whatever else the ol’ man mandated we sneak in, she went to the berm to retrieve the hounds. This was usually a touchy event, because the dogs always acted famished, jumping at the gate and nearly knocking you over to get to their food.

On this particular day, however, the hounds were not so eager to leave. Sys approached to prod them along and found both of them happily feasting on freshly dug moles. The I-dog was munching away, cracking bones and squirting juices and the Val-puppy had a tail hanging out of her mouth. Sys ran screaming from the area and has since always remembered the event with poignant disgust.
By Request, Dan-i-elle

So, it was sort of like a graduation present for Marc and me. We were fresh out of Chubb Computer School (back when coming out of Chubb was still prestigious) and not yet assimilated by the Borg. I suggested a canoe trip in the Pine Barrens, the upper reaches of the Wading River, I think. I assured Marc I knew enough about the Pines, canoeing and camping that it would be most enjoyable. Hell, I even had the 30 year old USGS maps that successfully guided Studogma and I down the Mullica River, geographically not far away and ultimately meeting with the very river we would be on.

And that was all true.

We did the whole park-one-car,-drive-the-other-upstream-and-unload thing and set off. We had two coolers. A small, for food and a larger one for beer. Packed full of Budweiser cans and iced down proper. No trip down a Pine river in the Summer would be complete without. Bud cans are the preferred camping brew. They get the job done, are reasonably priced and the can is well constructed to survive rugged transport and questionable handling practices. As if that isn’t enough, Bud cans are printed in good ol’ red, white and blue. Truly an all American beverage.

Along we flowed with the gentle tea water. Beauty, serenity and peacefulness surrounded us. Whenever we could, we would clean up after those knuckle heads before us who had left beer cans and bottles in the river.

After some time we flowed into what we found out was a state park. Actually, the entire river is a state park, but more on that later. We pulled up at the ruins of an old forge, which had a massive yellow jacket nest inside of it. Thousands of bees were boiling out of it every minute. Fortunately, too high up to mess with. (again Divine Intervention).

We may have eaten lunch there, I can’t recall, but either way it looked like a damned good place to have a beer, which I did. No sooner did I quaff down half my refreshing, icy cold brew when the familiar forest green Bronco of the Park Ranger crested the hill behind the old ironworks and beared down on us. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I spiked my can into the boat and hoped for the best.

Two Rangers came out and asked us how we were. We politely corresponded with them, ensuring them that the litany of beverage containers on the floor of the boat were other people’s trash (except for the one can spewing foam) and we were doing our civic duty to help keep the woods clean. All seemed to be going well until they asked me to open the cooler. I, of course, complied. See? Just ham, cheese and some granola bars, Ranger. Ok, he said. Now open the BIG cooler.

The big cooler. Indeed.

I flipped open the lid to reveal the most delicious array of frosty, translucent ice cubes with muted shades of red, white and blue bleeding through.

“How about moving some of that ice around?” quoth the Ranger.

Dutifully I reached into the cooler and flicked one or two cubes across the surface. Not good enough, rascalian, quoth the Ranger, who gleefully dumped the contents of our cooler into a plastic garbage bag, stashed into the back of his vehicle and wrote us a ticket for possessing alcoholic beverages in a state park. Fee due: $150. Thanks. Stay out of the Sun. Have a good rest of the trip. Bye now.

Have a good rest of the trip…without beer?!. What was that, some kind of bad Ranger joke or something? yuk yuk yuk.

Ok, so being just out of school and $8,000 in debt (tuition) and not yet employed, $150 was a little difficult to just roll over and regurgitate. I decided to plead insanity.

Fast forward a few weeks to 7am, a Wednesday, I think, Bass River Municipal Court.

{{queue the scary music}}

For the uninitiated, Bass River, NJ is a woodsy town. It has the Garden State Parkway running through it and little else besides state parks, vast stretches of Pine Barrens and tea colored rivers with names like…Bass River, the Mullica River and the Wading River. It’s damned hard enough to find without directions. I found myself, (Marc, it seems, had to work) shirt and tie, sitting in front of what looked like an unpainted wood-sided convenience store. Only they weren’t selling coffee or lottery tickets here. At first, I wasn’t even sure I was at the correct location. In short order, others began showing up. At first it was pricey cars like Beemers and Mercs. Then the locals rolled in.

As I said, it’s a woodsy town. And woodsy folk live there. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Just that I stuck out as much as a black 320i.

I went inside, did the registration waltz and took stock of the situation. If any one person was mid-road between the locals and the suits with their lawyers, it was me. I could tell right away this was going to be interesting.

Then, a familiar face. It was the Park Ranger. (as fate would have it, his name is Guy). I may not have made it clear before, but these Rangers were nice guys. Polite, no attitude. I held no grudge. I struck up a conversation with him and he must have taken a liking to me because he gave me some advice. He said he writes a hundred alcohol-in-the-park related tix a week in the summer. We had been pleasant enough people to deal with, as opposed to others that they had requested be present that day. If I could present a good enough case, he wouldn’t argue against it.

Dude! Way to represent! (actually, we called it ‘coming through’ or ‘throwing me a solid’ or just plain ol’ being cool, but I am trying to update myself.)

And at this point I would like to point out, because I can, without any backtalk, rolling of the eyes or that ‘yes, Uncle Birdwell’ or ‘Oh no, Uncle Birdwell’ bullshiate, that Ranger Guy cut my ass a break (MY ass, not yours, Marc) due to the explicit fact that we treated them P-O-L-I-T-E-L-Y. Say it with me. POLITELY. More on you young punks and your aptitude problems in a future installment.

I sat down on the bench and got the wheels spinning as the room filled to capacity. Indeed, when it was my turn to plead, it was standing room only.

I pulled out my travel log and began taking notes.  No doubt this may not have sat well with some folks, as most of them cast more than one sideways glance my way, including the chick sitting next to me, who was in for drunk driving.  But she was kinda cute, so I ignored her as she subtlety leaned over and tried to read my scrawl.

Now, the suits, they were on their way to or from Atlantic City and got caught speeding and in possession of cocaine.  Bad news.  The State Police are quite fond of running down speeders, what with their imperial cruisers being faster and all, but when they catch wind of the a-hole drug, well, they get wood.

The locals had a litany of weapons charges, drunk driving, spousal abuse and there may have been one or two bestiality cases, can’t recall exactly.  I was, however, watching very closely the Judge and the Prosecutor.  Neither of which smiled, cut any slack or otherwise gave the impression that they were amused by any of this.  Case after case was meted out in full accordance with written law, or more, including court costs and additional fees.

Okay, I figured.  I can’t really complain.  Out of everyone, I had the least violation.  If I had to pay the $150 I would and shut up and make my way…carefully…out of this town.

I was called before the judge, read my charges and asked how I pleaded.

“Guilty… with an explanation, your Honor.”  Solid, middle of the road plea.
“Alright then,” the Judge said without looking up, “What’s your explanation?”

Here now I quote to the best of my memory the speech I presented on my behalf:

“Your Honor, this is the culmination of a series of bad decisions.  I have just recently graduated from technical school and followed a classmate of mine blindly into the woods.  We were supposed to go to another location, a private lake, but that fell through.  Attempting to save the weekend, my friend suggested that we canoe the river, someplace I had never even heard of, much less been to before.  I know full well that drinking is not allowed in a State Park. Surely if I had known that we were going to be traveling through a state park I would have known better than to bring beer.  I realize the error I have made and will be sure not to be so gullible in future.” (or something like that)

When I finished, I looked down at the Prosecutor, who was seated next to me, studying his case file, and said, (not quite politely enough, in retrospect) “How was that?”

He looked up at me with stern face, balding head and bi-focals and quoted me…”Followed him blindly into the woods…?” Not even a trace of a smile broke his maw.

I pursed my lips.  Once again I felt the yoke (yolk?) of idiocy falling about my shoulders.

The entire court room erupted in laughter.  Even the Judge was smiling.  I smirked, trying to keep humble and tucked my head into my shoulders a bit.  The Judge must have liked it because he said that, although the letter of the law states that he must charge the full fine, he would save me the $50 court costs.  He dismissed me with a smile and I got the hell out of there.

Thinking back, I may have given those folks the only laugh they had all day.  Maybe even all week.

(this story is not true.  It is a fabrication and Marc, Dan-i-elle and I can attest to that.  The names of all persons, locations and coordinates were changed to protect the insolent.  Though they may look like actual places in NJ., any similarities are purely coinkydental.  I do not mis-represent the truth to the authorities.  Ever.)

Oh, and the cute chick, I wound up giving her a ride home.  But that is a blog entry for another day.

Planting Dogs

I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I have cycled through 5 dogs in my lifetime. I fully expect to go through a couple more, God willing.

With dog ownership comes a certain expectation that, at some point, you will have to face the aspect of expiration and carcass disposal. You see, with lesser pets; fish, birds, hamsters, even cats, disposal is a simple matter of introducing said carcass to either the toilet (burial at sea) or the trash bin. No one is going to be the wiser nor give you any flack about offing your used pet into those receptacles. I have even disposed of butchered deer this way, head and all. If you’re one of these ‘my pet is a member of my family types’ {barf} you can have a service come and pick up your expired family member and do away with it for you (the ol’ Soilent Green method).

Me, I prefer the ‘back to the Earth from whence you came’ method. I figure, if the critter meant so much to me when it was breathing, the least I can be afforded is the right to plant it in the ground.

I haven’t had many an opportunity to do much sowing of dog. (notice that’s sowing, not sewing. I will sew, as in stitch up, my hounds as needed. Blood loss tends to slow down a dog. Not a good thing on a long day of Ruffed Grouse seeking).  But, to my credit, I have planted two.  The Val-mommy and my brother-in-law’s hound, Maggie.

Maggie was an older dog and fortunately for all involved, expired in the night. We planted her behind the raspbarb orchard on a rainy day in April. Most fitting. I slipped on the mud and fell on my ass when we put her in. That may not have been a good sign.

The Val-mommy expired under more uncertain conditions. Dad thinks she had a heart attack from being left out in the scorching August New Jersey Sun. I think she was snake bit. Doesn’t matter. One day I get a phone call from the ol’ man stating he came home and found the Val-mommy face down, black tongued and hardened in her kennel, with the Kell-hound gnawing on her back foot.  (OK, I made that part up).  Can I come over after work and help plant her ass?  What the hey, I need the exercise.

The next day is one of those baking hot, been dry for weeks, dustbowl, August, glaring Sun days. Yeah, exercise. The ol’ man prepared well for the occasion. He handed me a beer, a pickaxe and led me out to the spot in the yard he had picked out. I dug deep, occasionally probed with ‘do you think its deep enough?’ knowing full well I wouldn’t stop digging until it was deep enough.

About three beers later I began to scrape bedrock and that was where I called it quits. I helped carry the stiffened carcass to the hole and gently…gently…placed her in. Then I had to stand there while prayers were said and atonement made.  Then I plowed her under.  Despite the mound that formed, today you wouldn’t be the wiser that you were standing over the remains of hound past unless you were told so, as I often do the uninitiated.

The Val-mommy.  She was a good dog.

Now, hounds expiring on their own is one thing. But putting a hound down while it is still very much alive is quite another. Like Chuggs. Or Boof. They were tough. They were my first and second dogs, respectively and both fell victim to hip displaysia.  No fun and not funny.

Onward.

The I-dog, however, was quite another matter.  She lived to the ripe old age of damn near 17.  That’s 16,282 to you and me.

Anywho, as Ivy approached and surpassed the 15 year mark, she was a mere skeleton of her former self. As Lisa is fond of saying, you could run your finger up and down her ribs like a xylophone. Of course, by the time Lisa met Ivy, she was pretty much skin and bones, arthritic, mostly blind, almost totally deaf, didn’t eat much and took to standing in front of the kitchen cabinets for long periods of time staring at the woodwork. I used to call just to ask if she’d kicked off yet. The answer was invariably ‘no’. Lisa even saved Ivy from drowning once, when her legs went out from under her and she splashed head first into her water dish. Being that her legs didn’t work so good, she couldn’t regain. Almost lost her there. Almost.

Another thing about Ivy that drove my Mom bonkers was her incessant pacing in the middle of the night. She would be up all hours of the evening, pacing around the kitchen’s tile floor, her long, old, dog nails clackity-clacking the whole time. Eventually Mom would go down and throw her into the laundry room, which was small and had an linoleum floor.

Another peculiar activity she had was that she would go off on these long, drag ass walks around the property. My parents owned about 5 acres of lawn at the time and sometimes it seemed like Ivy would go off on an elliptical orbit so vast, her very existence was doubted. By me, at least. You could mark time by what part of the yard she was in. Seemed that she moved with the Sun. Somehow she always seemed to make it back.

I used to say to the ol’ man, ‘you ought to dig a hole out there and when she goes on one of her walks, sneak up behind her (it wouldn’t be hard, after all she’s deaf and blind) and when she walks past the hole, bust a cap in the back of her head. If you’re lucky, she’ll fall into the hole and then you won’t even have to pick her up.’ Sounded good in theory, at least.

Dad even revived Ivy once when she locked up in a life ending seizure. I think he did mouth-to-mouth. I still question the reasoning behind going to such lengths on a critter whose age rivaled that of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but such is the love a man has for his dog.

Dad finally had to send her off for roasting. He still has the ashes. I often tell him to add a little water and check to see if they set up, because I am not convinced that its not a can full of Portland cement.

The I-dog. She was a great dog.
~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~

I was driving a truck for a living and being at the height of my artifact collecting era, always had an eye out for new acquisitions. One day, I was driving along the Livingston Golf Course on what I called the Three Dead Animal road. So named because anyplace you stopped along that road you could easily spot at least 3 dead animals. I found out about this because it also was part of my bike circuit. It was a good location for demise. Woods on one side, golf course on the other and well used road down the middle. It reeked of decay.

Anywho, I noticed that there was a dead buck with a real nice rack on the side of the road. I decided that I would come back that night for his fucking head.

But my plans were altered. I had a dinner date with my girlfriend. Not to be deterred, I threw an ax into the bed of the pickup before going out to dinner. Through the whole meal, I kept thinking of how I would render the carcass. Poor girl, she never had a clue that the vacant stare in my eye had little to do with her droning on.

We left the restaurant and I suggested going for ride down the Three Dead Animal road. She had been there before and this raised no alarms. When I pulled over, she initially thought I was going to relieve myself. Until I pulled the ax out. At this point she screamed, at length, and locked the doors.

Note to self: next time, take keys.

I walked up the road and found my quarry in the ditch, still very much intact. I waited until no cars were going past, and in three well placed whacks, separated its fucking head from the undesirable bulk of the carcass. Of course, a car came past on the third whack and what a sight it must have been. Some crazed idiot, illuminated by the headlights of both truck and on-coming vehicle, swinging a two handed ax down into a roadside ditch. Sheesh.

Needless to say, I had quite a time convincing my girlfriend to a) not leave me roadside and b) unlock the doors. She didn’t seem to have as bad a problem with the severed head and bloody ax in the back of the pickup. By then, of course, the worse was past. The guy parked in front of my house waiting to ambush his girlfriend across the street was not so enlightened and hastily left with a screech of tires. Nice.

I buried the fucking head in the woods with the horns sticking out and let it sit over the winter. In Spring I dug it up and washed it off. I still have that skull. It’s one of my best.

As far as my girlfriend was concerned, she took well to the whole animal thing. She began hitting critters with her car, telling me where potential acquisitions were and even went pheasant hunting with me. (she shot a cockbird out of a tree with my 20 ga.; head shot, too.) I remember her asking me why I always looked out the window at road kill. I said, ‘because I need to see what it is, what it was or what it could have been…and what position its in.’

Acquisitioning occasionally backfired on me. Once, I cut the fucking head off of a deer and buried it in the backyard. But the Val-puppy found it during one of her exercise runs and dug it up. Parading past the ol’ man in all of its stinking glory had the result of a verbal dispute for me (how am I supposed to control what she excavates/exhumes) and a bath for the Val-puppy.

I still can’t decide what gave me more enjoyment; the gathering of a potential trophy, or the thought of the road crew standing around a headless deer carcass on the side of the highway musing who, (or more importantly, why) would do such a thing?

 

Dog Chow

I hate dogs. What, with their incessant barking at imaginary threats, slobbering, shedding, stench and constant need to defecate, it’s a wonder they got tagged with the man’s best friend label. Want to know what my best friend is? An icy cold can of BEER. After that, my stuffed armadillo runs a close second. The good thing about a stuffed armadillo is that it doesn’t eat, drink or defecate, doesn’t make any noise and pretty much stays where I put it. Now that is a pet I can live with.

I know, I know, those among you that know me for any length of time will be quick to say, ‘But Bird, you have owned/operated in excess of five hounds’.

To which I will reply, ‘Yeah, yeah. Whatever.’

The only dogs I have no problems with are hot dogs. Or the Studogg. Or dog stew.

Ha-ha. Dog stew, it’s the reverse of Studogg. That’s pretty good.

If you lay out the (+) and (-) of the lowly hound, one must consider:

  • Eating and sleeping all day is one hell of a way to make a living
  • Having some gullible biped brush, bathe and feed you is a soft life
  • Lisa, me, even the baby helps around the house, I don’t think its too much to ask the hound to pitch in
  • Harassing skonks in the backyard is not pitching in
  • Wet dog is a most unpleasant odor, might be a good deer repellent
  • Don’t get me started on the alien life form known as the cat (*!#+^&%!)

And to quote the sage, Homer Simpson, “Animals are crapping in our houses, and we are letting them!” That’s enough to piss anyone off.

I would sooner eat a dog than feed it. In fact, the desire to consume flesh eu de hound is one of the things that keeps various mutts in line when they are in my presence. The moment I detect anything other than outright submission from a beast, I use the Vulcan Mind Meld on them. I stare straight into their eyes and hit ‘play’ on the tape inside my head:

I envision said dog impaled on a stick, feet trussed, apple lodged in its mouth, slowly turning over a hot fire, dog fat and juices sizzling.
I am next to roasting hound, salivating and holding a bottle of Bullseye Barbeque sauce. Occasionally, I get up to baste the roasting pooch with some of my ice cold beer.
Mm-mmmh! Can you smell it?
No?
Ask your dog if it can.

I have encountered several people in my travels with menacing dogs. For the most part, punkasses get these dogs for the fear factor. Who wouldn’t fear a big Doberman, pitbull, or Rottenweiler? Someone whose culinary inventory includes all of the above, that’s who. I can provide sumptuous recipes for each.

Now, I have never actually eaten dog. Not yet. I have partaken in squirrel, rabbit, rattlesnake, crocodile, ostrich, kangaroo and buffalo, among other, more common North American fauna. But the way I figure it, most things are afraid of things that eat them. If I am willing to eat a dog, then the dog should be afraid of me. I might even be inclined to wear a dog pelt. Maybe a nice vest or light jacket.

Just so we are all on the same sheet of music here, let’s address the ‘little dog syndrome.’ Little dogs seem to have quite a bad attitude. Ostensibly to show a measure of toughness to things larger than themselves. I, however, don’t buy into that shit. They are, after all, no more than rats perched up on chicken bone legs. And if you notice, most of them have that suspicious nervous shake. Something obviously is wrong in the genetic code (a mis-placed comma, extraneous bracket or mal-directional slash).

When some shuddering little bastard chi-wow-wow starts with its spine grating yip-yap I am just overwhelmed with the desire to go for a field goal. I’d bet that would shut the rat-dog up post haste. What really would be good if it’s trajectory ended on top of a hot grill, followed up with a liberal blessing of Country Bob’s Steak, Wings and Grilled Dog Sauce.

Mmm-mmm. Toasty!

It could bite yer leg clean off…

Studogma and I were on one of our yearly SummFest camping trips, this time to Camp Mohican in upstate NJ. One day, a Saturday, we were canoeing around the lake, harassing animules, when we saw what looked like a car muffler floating a few hundred yards away. Even through the haze of alcohol, we knew that it was most unlikely that a car muffler would be in the lake (certified cleanest in NJ), much less floating. We decided to investigate.

As we closed in, it became apparent that it was a turtle and a large one at that. “Bounce a marble off of it.” Quoth the Studogg. I did as instructed, a few times, but the aqua-creature was undaunted. Cautiously we approached. Very cautiously, because judging from the size of that thing, it could have easily bitten a gaping hole in the canoe and eaten both of us as we floundered in the lake trying to rescue the beer.

What we found was a big, no, large, no, farking enormous snapping turtle in full floatation. We surmised that it was dead, but, just in case, we threw a rope around it and towed it to shore.

Once again, good thinking prevailed and I have a snapshot of the creature. Because surely no one would believe me if I was to tell them we found a snapping turtle so large that I held it up chest high and it touched the ground.

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