Friday, August 7, 2009

Trying to think how to describe Jake flinging the cast net

By Jim Parks

A few years after I left the 'Glades, I was at the jazz festival in Atlanta one hot summer Sunday afternoon wearing khakis and a Yankees cap when the Deputy Mayor turned to someone and said, "He stands in the Earth."

He was talking about me. Someone had just introduced us and a cat was blowing one of those high, reedy series of arpeggios that introduce a fusion piece over bass and percussion wild and free and splitting the muggy atmosphere amongst the ellums and oaks out there where the cicadas chatter the evenings away.

Yes. I do. I do declare, I do.

Anyway, when I saw the snapshot of Jake flinging that cast net in black and white against the evening summer sun out on the dock at his place at Doctor's Pass on the Cocohatchee, I said that was what I was looking to say about all that down south hocus pocus and hush puppie shut yo' mouth ways of getting along with folks.


If I was Solomon, I would write Selah! at the end of each verse, but I'm just a dude who lived on smoked mullet and grapefruit stolen off the trees and trucks, a little garlic and a lot of red wine in those days of the afternoon haze, the morning mist and wild hogs running through the palmetto and circling around the banyans and Spanish palms.


We did some business and Jake showed me how to take ready made mesh and cut it on the bias, then sew it together in a big circle and put a pursing rope on the lead line and sew the narrow ends to a brass ring and hold the narrow end in my mouth and gather the leads in one hand and hold the pursing rope in the other and fling it in a perfect circle out over the water and drag in a mess of mullet where you see them jumping.


He showed me how you have to let the bib of your overalls down after you unhook the galluses so the mesh don't catch on the the big old brass buttons and all. Yes. And all. Folks say that down in there. Me too. I still say "And all," though I'm back safe and sound up in here in the mountains.


I look over at the old rolling block black muzzleloader I scored down in there. It's leaning up in the corner behind the door. Shoots a .45 soft lead hollow point through a .50 cal. sabot, fires smoke and flames four foot out the muzzle, kicks like a mule and drops a two-hundred pound wild hog dead in his tracks.

Oh, yeah.

Some say they won't eat that. Others say they won't eat that mullet. But, then, some folks ain't never been all that hungry.

Anyway, I didn't sign up for those folks. Every year that goes by shows me how time works against a man. Every time I ram a bullet down that muzzle with the old bullet starter and then fight that ramrod down those lands and grooves, then clean it with two passes of a patch and load it again with some black powder - every time - I know how time works against a man.

That's when you're getting to know something, you know. You get to where you're knowing that, you're getting to where you know some things that are worth knowing. That's right.

Anyway, back to the muzzleloader and the cast net. We were out in the 'Glades the other side of Immokalee - bunch of us - on the owl hoot and running drunk. We got into a nest of eastern diamond back rattlers. Durndest thing you ever saw, all balled up together and mad as hell that some fool woke them up during their winter nap. One-eyed Bobby, old half breed Indian boy, showed us what to do about all that. He cut a switch and whipped them across the back right behind the head. Paralyzes them. They can't coil and they can't strike. Then he got himself a tow sack out of the pickup he stole from Jodie, his second to last old lady, a wild little Yankee chick who always went barefoot and kept her haircut like a man's, ran around in cutoffs all the time. He just reached down and picked them rattlers up and throwed them in the tow sack.


He said we ought to drive to Bonita and sell them to the old man who owned the Wonder Gardens. It's a private zoo with big old 'gators and vultures and swamp panthers and a little cafe and all such as that. Ain't ever been in there. Costs too much, I guess.

Anyway, when we got down there the old man was sitting out front in his overalls and long-sleeved plaid work shirt, wearing his slouch hat and had his feet stuffed in rubber boots - smoking his pipe through that dirty gray brush pile of a beard. One-eyed Bobby jumped out of the pickup with the tow sack full of snakes and hollered that he had more than a dozen rattlers in the bag. Would he like to buy them? Old man said, "Hell, yeah." Then he looked in the top of the sack and named a price. We all agreed. Then he did the damnedest thing I think I ever saw. He just reached in and grabbed one of them behind the head and held him up, his mouth open, spittin' mad and rattlers going like crazy. The rest of them in the bag got going on it, too. I said, "Man, you ought not just reach in there like that."

It scared me. It surely did. He said, "Can't coil to strike if'n they're in the bag, now, can they? Ain't never been bit like that. Been bit a many a time, but not like that." Then he handed the bag of snakes to one of his young'uns and peeled some twenties off a roll he had in the bib of those overalls and snorted. "Anything else I can help y'all with?" Everybody thanked him and they took out for the liquor store across the street.

I stayed behind because I owed the old boy money over there and I didn't want to show myself. I asked the old man what it was like before there was a road from Fort Myers to Bonita and a road to Miami across the 'Glades.

"T'was just like this but no cars. Mules and wagons. Horses and buggies. You ought to know. You ain't that goofy. Everybody taken the mailboat to get somewhere." I said I heard he was a professional 'gator hunter back in those days. "Yeah."

I said I didn't reckon they had much fish and game regulation or anything like that back then.

"They didn't have nothin' and didn't even know it," he said. He spit tobacco. Said, "Folks just didn't know no better and liked it fine."

I said, "You come in here from somewhere else. What year was that?"


"Come from somewhere else. Where?"

"I don't reckon that's none of yo' bidness."

"Thank you, sir. I'm mighty sorry I asked you."

"Ain't nothin. Just none of yo' bidness, that's all."

He got up and went inside the little store they had at the zoo. A month later I said something to one of the girls who worked in the cafe next door - that I would like to get me a rifle and start to shooting wild hogs. I had learned all about where they are and how to ambush them. We had spent some quality time together at her trailer.

I got drunker than a waltzing pissant that night and when I woke up in the bed of that old Chevy pickup I was driving back then, there was that muzzle loader laying next to me.

I deduced it was time to leave her trailer. Just take the muzzleloader and go. I don't know where the hell it came from. Never asked. I just got to asking where to get bullets, powder, primers, how to shoot it. All that.

Where did it come from? I don't reckon that's none of yo' bidness, is it? I did buy the Colt .45 six shooter at the pawn shop. It just ain't safe trying to hunt hogs with a muzzleloader. Nothing meaner than a wounded hog and no hog dogs to help out. Nice to have a friend along.


No hogs up here in these mountains. Plenty of deer, though. They say they are going to come for the rifles and pistols.

I'm gonna tell them what they told the Mexicans in Texas when they came to take their arms and the cannon they had at Gonzales.

Come and take it. I'll be right here waiting on you if you want it that bad.

Yes, sir.

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