In the Northwest, we have a thing called “real winter” as coined by my dear friend Eggleston. Which is easy enough to deal with, until it isn’t. It’s winters’ impending doom, I suppose, that makes a guy reflect a bit. Summer is gone, elk season is over, everyone who’s married is busy raking leaves and watching kids and trying to get out of the red with their wives before steelhead season. So you stay at the bar later than you should, more often than you should. Maybe you come off the rails a bit, go outside the lines. Like it’s 2009. Like you’re 25. Like you’re 20-anything.
You get overwhelmed that you’ve not come nearly as far as you’d planned on by now and that the only place left for you to go is everywhere. The hard-reset button is broken off, your guitar is out of tune and your fly rod is broken. The speedball joke isn’t that far off anymore. The Mountain House you had for dinner-in-bed wasn’t bad, so you had 8 beers for dessert.
Luckily, there’s such things as warranties and friends with short memories… at least to your face. You meet a kind stranger when you least expect it. You burn 20 bridges, but make an amends long overdue. And in the grand scheme of things, you’re better off than most people you see every day. There, but for the grace of God, go I. So even when it’s the last day of summer and you’re about to be left out in the cold. Even though the pain of watching the first girl you ever loved walking away from you in a town that was too small and a world that’s too big seemed like it would hurt forever, in high school… You got over it. Because even at the darkest hour, September is never more than 11 months away and steelhead camp is always there to get you through the winter.

The Remix to Ignition

Life is a lot like drinking. The present only a hangover from the past and the future a head pounding nauseation of things we swear we’ll never do again. Miscalculations. Embarrassing moments. Bad haircuts. Love, drugs and other bad decisions. A hundred other things we swear off forever, again.
As time passes, however, you get thirsty. You get sad. You get horny or bored or just want a brief distraction from your own thoughts.
Then -just because the universe loves to spite you- the terribly sad or the wonderfully joyous occasion occurs and you find yourself back at the bar saying to yourself, “Just one.” Then, “Just one more.”
Then The Remix to Ignition comes on the jukebox and you’re out on the dance floor with one in each hand doing your best impression of a break-dancing werewolf. That’s how it happens. Life is a constant cat and mouse with the completely unexpected situation. You puke and you hurt and you hide. Then you throw on some shades and try to face the world. Hoping nobody else can smell you and wondering how much you’ll have to pretend to fight back if someone tries to throw you in front of a bus. Eventually, inevitably, though, we all get thirsty. We pull up our favorite stool and order a double of whatever it was we swore off for good the last time…. And in the morning the only one who’s surprised is you.

Please God, Let This Be On Purpose

And this, my friends, is why grownup bearded Jesus intended us all to be married by 30. Fuck is with this soap? Is it a $40 bar that just came this way with hella twigs and berries and such as? Is this a post-purchase growth pattern on a regular old chunk of Irish Spring? There’s 27 bottles of shit in this shower, not one of them say shampoo and I’m not positive the grapefruit extracts are getting along with my nethers.
I think I’m gonna follow Lebron’s lead and just play a couple more seasons in LA for max contract and then retire my jersey. Seriously considering hanging it up ya’ll, the game is passing me by and my pull up J isn’t what it used to be.

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This Side or The Other

Once, when I was in my twenties, I spent a summer framing houses in northern Colorado. We’d get paid on Fridays after work and spend all weekend chasing ass and picking fights in the only bar in town. The judge was an old rancher who held court early on Monday mornings to give us enough time to bail out, take a shower and show up to work again broke, but on time. And though we all proclaimed our mutual disdain for the law, we always felt kindred and thankful  to the old judge as he sat up on his perch smoking a cigar and drinking coffee while he handed down his “Boys will be boys” rulings.
By the time September rolled around I’d burned just about every bridge in that county, except for the one that led out of town. So I packed everything I owned into an old Army duffel -surprised at how much room I had left- and stopped for one last drink before I split for good.
I threw a hundred dollar bill into a backroom card game and ended up with the pink slip to an 85 Chevy pickup with 4 on the floor and a half a pack of Lucky’s on the dash. I drank three more whiskeys and talked a little too much shit and from the look on the faces of the locals I could tell that it was time to go. So I paid my tab and asked the previous owner where my new rig was parked. He didn’t answer and I stepped away slowly, hoping I made it through the back door before I ran out of luck or the aces fell out of my sleeve.
Once outside I dropped the keys as I stuffed a wad of cash into my sock. When I looked up again a round-eyed girl was leaning against my new wheels with a cig in her lips and a gunney sack slung over her shoulder. I said “Now what the hell do you want?” She took one more drag and crushed the butt beneath her heel, “If you take me away from here, Cowboy, I’ll do any damn thing you want… You see, my people are from here and I love them with all my heart, but I feel like I’m dying fast. And if you wait around for those boys inside to drink themselves any braver, you’ll be just as dead.” I looked her up and down, from her bleached blonde hair to her dirty painted toes and said, “I don’t believe in fate or love or any other silly thing like that.” More trying to convince myself than her, I think. She wasn’t softest girl I ever met, but she knew just as well as I did that she was the only one around and we both figured that was good enough. So I said  “Well… throw your shit in the back.” And as we peeled out of the gravel lot she punched at radio until she landed on a station playing Johnny Cash. She rolled down the windows down and hollered “Come on, Cowboy, haul ass!”
We blasted through the desert, singing along to grainy country stations all the way through Cheyenne and it wasn’t until we crossed the Montana border that I worked up the nerve to ask her name. She just looked over at me with her big blue eyes and said “Honey, you can call me anything.” Then she kicked her feet up on the dashboard and closed her eyes.
A few miles before Jackson Hole the sky burst open with rain. She leaned out the window letting the rain pour over her and I promised myself I wasn’t gonna fall in love. But I guess part of being a man is getting to decide which promises, even the ones to yourself, are noble enough to betray.
Around midnight we rolled into Kalispell and I told Anything that I had a plan. When she just said “OK” and didn’t ask what it was I knew she was just as cold as me. So 10 minutes later we pulled into an old fill station as I pulled a pistol from my bag. She gave me a wink and jumped out to pump the gas while I ran inside. A minute later I came running out with a case of beer and jumped in the cab as she started grinding gears. I tossed a sack full of cash on the seat just as a bullet blew out the back window. She just howled and punched the gas pedal to the floor. “Keep your head down, Cowboy, cuz I might need you later and this old pickup ain’t gonna do me any good!”
After 96 miles we pulled out under a railroad bridge somewhere along the Bitterroot and sat down on a horse blanket that looked like the American flag, sharing beers from the bottle under a sky dripping with stars. Without a word Anything jumped up and walked down to the water humming the tune to American Pie, leaving a trail of clothes in her path. All I could do was watch as she stood naked, drenched in moonlight and a farmer girl tan. Before she walked back up to put me out of my misery she threw her arms out and fell backwards into the water. Though we’ve never talked about it I think that was her own babtismal and when she came up again she was somebody new. Somebody else. Someone better than she thought she’d been before. And before the lust overcame me for good, I felt jealous. I’d been wishing I was somebody new for as long as I could remember.
We made love all night and when the 7 o’clock train whistled somewhere in the distance we sat naked still, sharing a Lucky and watching the trout rise slowly up to sip their breakfast. We got dressed with the sun and headed off in search of pancakes in the next town. Before the sun went down again we hit two more banks and took a dark blue Caddy off of a government man with a stain on his tie.
For the next three months we ate room service on the coast, taking money from small town banks when we ran out and wearing clothes only when we had to. The day after Christmas we sold the Cadillac to a Mexican in San Diego who gave us a thousand bucks and a phone number to a “realtor” in Oaxaca. He gave us a ride to the border and we walked across in dark sun glasses to a cab on the other side. We made out in the backseat most of the way to Tia Juana and phoned the realtor from a bar with the best shrimp cocktails either of us have ever had.
Three days later we met a fat, dark skinned fellow in Armadillo boots who looked more Aztec than Mexican. He showed us a small villa in a fishing village near the beach and when I haggled on the price, Anything pulled me aside for a word. “I’ll tell you what, Cowboy, let’s worry about the money later. Cuz I think I’m carrying your child and we’re both pretty tired and it’s about time that we take a rest.” I pulled a stupid face and thought about protesting, but in the end all I could do was peck her lips and nod my head.
I handed the fat Aztec a bag full of cash, he handed me the keys and that, as they say, was that. I kept her barefoot and pregnant for the next six years and she grew more beautiful everyday. I spent most of our cash on a 60 foot boat from a drug dealer named Lefty and painted “Anything” in cursive letters on the side. With the rest of our money I bribed the Secretariat de Turismo and took an ad in the paper that read “Four Sons Fishing Charters”.
We catered to rich Americans, supplying them with great fishing and great tequila and senoritas with great tits. One boat turned into two and two into five. These days our oldest runs his own boat and last January that old judge from Colorado came down for a week. He didn’t remember me, I’m little fatter and a lot grayer than I was in those days, but Anything looks just as she did on the day I met her as a 20 year old girl which is to say, unforgettable.
On the night before the judge left he called me outside for a cigar on the beach. He said “I know who you are and don’t worry, I’m not going to say a word. Her daddy died last year and he missed her right up until he took his last breath. So you treat her good, Son. I might be old, but I’ve got one more good fight left in me and I’d hate to have to waste it kicking your ass.” He took a long drag off of his cigar and tossed it out into the sand. Then he patted me on the back and winked at me before heading back to his room. As he walked into the dark I thought I heard him chuckle and say, “Boys will be boys.”
The next morning his group left early for the airport and I found a note under my door that said simply “You’re a good man, don’t ever let anyone tell you different. See you next year. -Judge Owens” Anything walked out with a cup of coffee and I crumpled the note into my pocket. I hugged her for a long time and wiped my eyes on the shoulder of her robe. I never told her about the note or who he was.
He never did make it back, I still think of the judge every time I start feeling bad about the things I’ve done. And although most of the boys I ran with in those days are now dead or in prison, and despite how I got to where I am now, I finally made good on the second and third and fourth chances he gave me.
Now I’m an old man, fat and gray and still wanted by the law. But when I sit on my back porch in the evenings watching my sons play catch or tie flies or wrestle in the sand, I can’t imagine doing it any different. When Anything drags me out of the house, looking just as she did as the girl I met so many years ago, to go go for a drive in the rain with the windows down,  I don’t regret any of it.
I don’t anymore remember who I was back then. I don’t remember what I was so angry about to fight all those fights or why I had to be so stubborn, but I hope that after all this I’ve been absolved of my sins. If those fights were worth fighting or those words were ever worth saying, I can’t say. But I met a nice girl once, saw the sunrise over Cheyenne, met a great friend from Kalispell and smoked a cigar on the South Fork with the greatest man I’ve ever known. So I’d like to think I came out on top. And I know that I’ll see them all again, this side or the other.

The Fight

       Some days, you feel like you’re in hell. Some days you even feel like hell would be a welcome vacation from where you’re at. And as cliche as it might sound, you really only have two choices: You can stay there, getting your ass kicked from here to breakfast or you can stand up and fight. At least that way, even if you lose, you went down swinging.
      I wish I could do it for you. Just like some of you have wished you could do it for me, but I’m too old and too broken and it just doesn’t work that way. I’m nobody’s picture of a role model. I’ve made just about every mistake that a man can make. I’ve pissed away almost every opportunity that’s ever been given to me. Anyone who’s ever tried to love me or help me I’ve chased off and although I’ve come a long way, there are still days I can’t stand the person looking back at me in the mirror.
      You know you’ve been blessed with some wonderful things in life when you can look back and feel great pain over some of them that you’ve lost. And that’s just life. You win some and you lose some and if you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you won a few more times than you lost. Sometimes it’s your fault -the winning or the losing- and sometimes you just get dragged by your hair through it despite your damndest effort and deepest wishes.
       When you get a little older you start to realize this. You look back at all of the chapters that comprise your life story and at some of them you cringe and some of them you smile. Some of them you just sit with for a while, quiet and alone with your eyes closed remembering the tastes and the smells and how the light hit her tan shoulders just right and regardless of how it turned out you wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. Not for a million dollars. Not for all the fame and fortune. Not even to erase all of the hurt and ugly you’ve ever known. The only thing you’d really change is that it lasted a little longer. That you’d said it then, instead of now. That you could just remember what she looked like when she turned to look at you from the middle seat of your dirty pickup truck.
       And so we go on, sometimes smiling and sometimes crying, but I hope you can at least take solace in knowing that had you walked into that bar a minute later or never answered that Craigslist ad or quit after the first argument that your life would be irreparably changed. One second earlier or later and your whole life would be different. And now, though you’ve torn yourself apart and near drank yourself to death trying to get just one of those seconds back, I hope you’ve been as fortunate as me to at least have had a few moments so incredible that you’ll always be able to smile about them.
       Some days, you feel like you’re in hell. Some days you even feel like hell would be a welcome vacation from where you’re at. And as cliche as it might sound, you really only have two choices: You can stay there, getting your ass kicked from here to breakfast or you can stand up a fight. At least that way, even if you lose, you went down swinging.
      So if I do go down a bit before my time, I hope that my friends will be able to look my father in the eye and tell him, “All the bones in his hand were broken.” And if my father asks “Which hand?” I hope you can tell him “Both hands.” And that you’ll smile at each other as he throws a big arm around your neck and invites you inside.

Another PSA

And now, another Public Service Announcement from your friendly neighborhood pop-off….

-There are 133 loooong days left until elk season.
-The average person spends $5,400 at McDonald’s in their lifetime. The rest of us will spend about 13 times that much paying for your diabetes meds and foot amputation surgery.
-If you bang a married person, you’re a homewrecker (no, the hypocrisy is not lost on me), but if you bang somebody married a serviceman or woman you’re a terrorist and if get drone striked don’t say I didn’t warn you.
-Speaking of terrorism… If you send Candy Crush invites, say “The struggle is real” or can’t differentiate between “you’re” and “your” I hope your next post includes #thefoodatGITMOsucks
-If you meet a gal with both nipples pierced she’s a certifiable freak. Each of us is only allowed 3 or 4 bona-fide freaks in our lifetime and if you’re not a black belt in freakanomics PUHLEASE don’t crawl into the ring with this girl. She’ll ruin your life. Swipe left and leave her for the rest of us. If you meet a gal with only one nipple pierced it means 1 of 5 things, text me and I’ll explain to you what you might be dealing with.
-I would beat the brakes off that Australian girl from Focus.
-I got the Braves to win the NL East at 30-1 and I’m not mad at that decision.
-If your an Astros fan, I genuinely empathize with you. They haven’t been good since Jesus left Chicago. God bless you for staying loyal. #thestruggleisreal. Hit me up on Candy Crush for my full MLB rankings.

Novak’s Rock

In those days, when the moon was long and the sun was short, we fished hard and we laughed harder and not a man among us wished he was anywhere else. There is something about the Pacific Northwest this time of year that makes a man feel a bit restless. Both homesick and belonging all at the same time. Each of us our own worries and heartache, but all watching the clock tick down to that hour when we’ll be free again to load the dogs and the coolers into the pickup and drive west as fast we dare. Back to the wild fish and the wild nights and running from the local smokey after a fist fight on the beach.
          Stalking the banks of a great steelhead river with a few new flies and a few good buddies and the only thing you have to worry about is running out of beer. Stepping finally into that first perfect run, the one that has been discussed and dissected and fantasized about all week. And as you trudge further into the deep emerald green, over the moss covered boulders and the crunching gravel beneath your feet, something heavy lifts from your shoulders. You stop for a moment, eyes clenched shut and you breathe deep and you feel your sins being washed away. Then you breathe deep again and as you let it out you can’t help but smile.
          In those days, when the fishing was good and the beer stayed cold, we watched secretly out of the corners of our eyes at our brothers. Silently -and sometimes not so- correcting their drifts or their tactics, but always hoping that at any second their rod would bend and their reel would scream and all hell would break loose. And in those days when the fishing was not so good you still wished the same and saved the last warm beer and the last chew to share back at the truck.
          In those nights, after the small town grocery store was bought out of beer and the moose steaks sizzled to perfection on the grill, we huddled around a warm fire discussing plans for the next day and slapped each other on the back in earnest respect and appreciation. And after the outsiders have all gone to bed and the cork from the whiskey bottle has been tossed into the fire, a few good friends remain. Some vying for the gold medal, some waiting for the tenth time of Plush on the guitar, some screeching rapidly from 100 MPH to 0 in their chair. And when a silent agreement is reached not to throw another log on the fire, each stands quietly staring into the last stubborn blue flames. Some thinking of the woman they have, others of us the one we’ve lost, but eventually all thoughts drifting back to those waters that brought us all together and to which we’ll someday return.
           There are better writers out there who could appropriately articulate all of those sentiments and descriptions and memories, but I cannot. So for those of you who weren’t there I hope you can simply imagine these things that I am trying to impart and appreciate them. For those of you who were there I only hope you feel that I’ve done it justice and know what it all means this sorry California boy. Because although I’ve been a lot of places I’ve very rarely ever felt at home and although I’ve known a lot of people, hardly any I have been so grateful to call my friend.
        Someday I will be able to write this all as it should be written and I hope one day I’ll be better than I am. And I hope that before my time here has drawn to a close I’ll make it once more back to that place. I hope to at least once more sit around a campfire with my brothers, a guitar, a cheap bottle and a couple more howling belly laughs that none of us can remember.
          Until that day comes, I’ll be dreaming of one more cast on Novak’s Rock.

I quit my job and I dumped my chick and if haul ass I’ll be on the water by Six. Yeah, that’s steelheadin’.

Another Public Service Announcement

And now another public service announcement from your friendly neighborhood pop-off:

Any dude over the age of 25 who tells you he doesn’t sing “I got a vag diseeaaase…” as the opening line to Soul to Squeeze by RHCP is lying straight to your face.
The level of how bad you need to shit is inversely proportionate to the cleanliness of the bathroom that will be available to you. If your contractions are still minutes apart, the bathroom will be sparkling clean with decorative soaps and lavender scented quad-ply TP. If you’re about to poop your panties the bathroom you run into will look like you’re at a truck stop in Tiajuana. That’s why I haven’t shit in public since ’97.
A recent Huffington Post article states that a 2014 poll of 100 guys suggests that single men only change their sheets once every 8 months. I change my sheets every time I change girlfriends, beating the national by over 7 months.
Coffee tastes infinity times better with a hangover and a whispy ass 3-day beard.
Sometimes it’s worth sacrificing one of your favorite boots in order to make a stealthy escape in the morning.
There are only 175 more days until elk season.
If people knew the thoughts that go through my head, they’d arrest me just for thinking them.
Jesus was a fly fisherman.

Until next time boys and girls, keep your pecker hard and your powder dry. And remember, Uncle Hickory loves ya.

Alone With the Universe

Sometimes when you wake up early in the morning -old man early, before the coffee is made or your dog wants to get up- you are allowed a brief, quiet moment with the universe. The last stubborn embers still glowing in the fireplace as you stand on the bank of the great Clearwater river staring at your spey rod, coated in frost and leaning against a tree. In that grey-fog light the whole world comes into view and for a moment you can see the truth of it all. You notice the jagged mountains stretching out above you in every direction and suddenly you feel small. The inexorable cold drives right down into your bones and the remaining bit of darkness makes its last futile retreat into the deepest depths of the canyon as the devil dogs of daylight take chase. In an instant, standing there in the sand and the fog, you are sucked headlong into the blind, crushing vacuum of the universe. Like a riptide carrying you out to sea you first fight and clutch and writhe, but soon your lungs fail and your muscles burn and eventually you surrender the last of your will; hoping only to be spit out onto shore before the lights go out for good. And then, just as quickly as it all began, the sun hits the water just right and explodes into a million shades of red and blue and yellow and find yourself standing in the exact same spot still staring like a damned fool. A breeze picks up and you watch it roll toward you from the bottom of the canyon carrying with it the heavy secret that you are on borrowed time, in a borrowed world and borrowed sleepy eyes with which to view it.
          When you turn around again everything has changed and the moment is gone, but the world is just as it should be. Eggs is fully wader’d up, rod in hand, eyes bright like a school boy under his wide-brimmed hat as he eyes a seam that only he knows and you believe beyond all doubt there is a big ornery steelhead there waiting for him. Whitefish Burke is dumping 3 square yards of huckleberries into a bowl of pancake batter, mumbling about Stacey and the 6-digit bounty if anybody can “get under” his chin. And finally ol’ Novak emerges from the tent -still a bit Rumple’d- hollering with a toothbrush stuck in his face “HEYYY!!! Has anyone caught a steelhead yet?!” In no time the camp is filled with kindling smoke and curse words and a can of chew being passed around. And the new guy walks crookedly over to warm himself by the fire; thankful for a few good drifts and a few good friends and a quiet moment alone with the universe on the banks of one of the last great steelhead rivers.
        My candle burns at both ends and I think we all know that it will not last the night, but ahh my friends and ahh my foes, it sure gives a beautiful light.
         I quit my job and I dumped my chick and if I haul ass I can be on the water by Six. And that, my friends, THAT is steelheadin’.

Telling Stories

Every time I tell a story, my story, I rid myself tiniest bit of pain. I write not to dull the pain however, I write to feel it. To experience a moment long gone except in the in flowing scratches of ink across a piece of paper and to drink mightily from the sweet nectar of nostalgia and glory and ghosts and demons.
      It’s easy once you get yourself started. All there is to it is sitting down with a bottle and a pack of smokes and you puke and you bleed and you laugh and then throw most of it in the trash when you’re done. It’s quite a bit like sex, to steal an idea: first you do it alone in secret. Then you try it out on someone you really trust and care about. Then you chickenhawk all over town trying to get anyone who’ll take it and then finally, if you’re good enough, you figure out how to get paid for it. It’ll only cost you one soul, a few addictions and a whole shitload of swallowed pride. Some won’t like it, but what the hell do they know, anyway?
    Some folks write because they can’t believe in heaven, but also can’t stand the thought of dying. What a spiteful, narcissistic bunch of broken fools we are. We don’t believe in life everlasting, but we sure as hell don’t want anyone else to forget we were here. The thought that one day we’ll be gone and somebody else will be living in your house, banging your girlfriend and throwing all of your shit in the trash is almost too much to bear. We hope  to achieve in death what we could not in life and that is love and respect and envy; shallow as it may be.
     The best stories are told because someone had a story that needed telling. It doesn’t have to be for the betterment of society or revealing some tragic atrocity to the world. In fact, most of the time it’s a story that needed to be told in order to get on with the business of living; or dying, as it were. Either because we’ve seen something that we cannot move on from or live with until we’ve done our best to tell the world about it. Or perhaps because we’ve lived something that can only be made sense of and pacified, if at at all, by putting it down on paper.
     I suppose I fall mostly into the latter. For me, writing is the great cleansing of the soul and the only way to stave of the insanity of great loss and great regret. It doesn’t come all at once like eternal salvation at a Sunday baptismal, it comes slow and messy like a slit wrist in a bathtub. Like an orgasm or learning to appreciate Nirvana. For a select, talented few, the story they need to tell will be well received by the masses and praised by the critics, but for most of us it’s just something you do to stave off the demons and then begrudgingly discarded like a dead hooker in a wood chipper.
     If nothing else, writing is the Clark Kent to the Superman you portray to the world. Sometimes you wear a mask for so long that you forget who you are -or were- underneath. It allows you to tell the truth at least somewhere and provides a convenient disguise for the gawking yuppies at Starbucks. When you’re a writer, or at least playing at one, folks discount your oddness and your eccentricity, your mood swings and flakiness, because you’re an “artiste”. Otherwise you’re just the strange ginger wearing full rimmed glasses and drinking whiskey at nine o’clock in the morning