Uncle Jed, The Tweaker and a Steelhead

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by wadin' boot, Jan 28, 2007.

  1. wadin' boot

    wadin' boot Donny, you're out of your element...

    Jun 3, 2006
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    Wallingford, WA
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    Uncle Jed, now departed, told me this story and it seems a fitting time to pass it on to you all. He told it only after his lips were loosened by long pulls from a flask I snuck past Nurse Sculpin and her lazy nightime ilk. Jed was dying, and between the bourbon and the opiates, and a bed that could arch like a skinny girl from Fort Lewis, he was delivered from the hell of his hospice into a kind of delirious candor, the likes of which were uncharacteristic. He rambled on, his cancer talking, and I am all the wiser for it.

    Jed was a man who held his secrets close, a genetic strand preserved with the rest of the Boot family. (Why then, am I spilling the beans on Jed’s deathbed confessional? Well it reflects certain topics that you all have written and commented about. I do so reluctantly, but the story needs telling.) I had a notion that he always knew his lot, knew that some evil would eat up his brain and screw with his mind, just like it did to his Momma and he knew his time was short and carried and filled a gunny-sack of bitterness about it all.

    Some background on Jed- he vanished not long after high school was done and emerged, cicada-like, years later, as one of the finest fishermen in all of Cascadia. Word trickled down like meth from God’s country, pretty soon everyone had a tale and they made their way like moths from the mountains, all whispers and half-truths, back to Gramma Boot. She always did resolve to find that missing boy of hers.

    Though truth be told, she didn’t look hard and Jed wasn’t invisible. You’d find him in the yellow pages. In the Boot family, you break away, you become a ghost, and your ghosts are left to haunt, not to find. The only way you don’t become a ghost is walk right back into the family, right where you left off. It’s a curse of sorts, because no-one ever walks back the same.

    Here’s the boiled down condensed version of who Jed was:

    Loner? Yes.
    Single? Absolutely.
    Presentable? In certain circles, in others you would describe him as crude and uncouth.
    Fisherman? Among the very finest that ever waded these waters. A well-known guide to boot.
    Vehicle? Ex-cop LTD Crown Vic, with the sidelight and multiple antenna, beaded seat cover, Eddie Santiago tapes left by a client (with post-it still on it “To Jed- thank’s for the fishing, thought you’d like these tunes”) and a dog-eared Washington State Fishing rules and regs the only thing remotely close to literature …

    Most other guides saw fit to keep some degree of gentle persuasion and approachability towards their clients, in the hopes that it might kindle some word-of-mouth goodness that translated to more business. Jed, on the other hand, was rabid-dog mean. He’d kick every one of you assholes into the mess halls of Concrete Mother, Walla Walla state pen, nude, with a sign reading “Butt Slut” if he could, just to see what would happen.

    It didn’t matter who you were, black, white, disabled, female, male, he was an egalitarian hater. He wasn’t stupid though, he knew the money of a transvestite lawyer with one leg, a lefty rig and a passion for nymphing was just as good as a goofball dry-fly purist in a tweed coat with an Orvis tag dangling off a virgin knotless-net of finest Malay rubber.

    The hucksters and wannabe’s saw his mean side, his mirthless ridiculing, as an authenticity, and paid more for it. In a weird way he was a fishing dominatrix, and catered to an odd and devoted clientele that had never grown up to be comfortable with their solitude. There were/are a lot of them out there. Of course the fishing wasn’t half-bad either. Jed’s well was deep and black, and like parade gloss, it had a simple class measured in tangible results.

    Anyway, enough background. Jed leaned up close, smelling like my booze and his food. It dripped down from a pouch above his head, down through a tube that eventually snuck up his nose and bent, he told me, like a sink-tip tapeworm deep into the gut where the real ones lie. He smelled like a girl drink, all vanilla and creamy. How could anyone see him as mean now? Brain tumor moving on into his left and right hemispheres, a “butterfly glioma” he called it.

    He slurred too, asking me if I knew about the Steelhead as big as a bus? I shook my head. Had I heard him right? We had been talking about Gramma boot and her whiskers and how they sensed food like a catfish, and how over time as her mind began to slip, food would get stuck there, little carrot pieces impaled fast to her mumbling, demented chin. “Where’s Jed at?” She’d ask again and again. He laughed at that, so I guess he was still sorta mean, making jokes on his old demented dead momma.

    But he cast his attention straight back to the Greyhound Steelhead. Big like an Airstream, pugnacious and learned, sides rainbow metallic, mint and copper-shiny as a 737 shat out off the line at Paine Field. Eyes as big as fish moons, jaw like some mixture of a steam shovel and prehistoric shark. Set down low in the deepest darkest dog-legged log-jammed misery hole in all the river. A winter run, he traveled up or downstream only on moonless nights, and overland if the water was low and if there was ice or snow on the ground. Flossed his teeth with alders, wiped his ass with beavers, bears and bucktails, snatched eagles from their perches atop old-growth dough firs. Tailwalked and triggered avalanches all the way up and down the Cascade crest. He stretched on like that and it was pure magic.

    He had my attention now. He said the pool’s tucked up far in one of the rivers most of us have fished and none of us fully know in a stretch where boats aren’t supposed to go. An old beat-up last-of-the-line Indian showed the hole to Jed in exchange for, you got it, straight-up abuse and ridicule. Nothing new for that old man, he wanted the familiar. And in the familiar he saw Jed, angry and bitter and fundamentally with a good heart towards things other than human.

    The Indian told him that no-one ever could catch this Steelhead, that men had tried for years, and that every winter, the boys in his tribe, when there still were boys, would be sent by the elders, up through the snow, with fish spears and deer-gut handlines and elk-horn jigs. They’d be told to go up to the hole, to kiss the fish, catch it if they could and come back as men.

    Of course the real catch was different, one of the elders would come also, and with a stone adze smashed onto a lightning-snapped cedar stump stained all bright with ceremonial paints, red and black ochres and rusted boy blood, they’d get a circumcision the likes of which they’d never forget. Not much fishing really occurred on these walkabout vision quests.

    Anyways, after the Indian showed Jed the place, he told me he staked out the hole for nearly a month watching for this thing. He’d gone half mad, thinking the Indian pulled one over on him. All alone in the gray and green and brown staring at the black pool, he’d gone feral and grown hair and beard to match. Jed admitted that he started to go mad. Breathing frost onto his hands, conversing with himself, his dead father, with imaginary girls he once knew in grade school.

    “Do you still think about me?”
    “Of course I do, how couldn’t I?”

    He went on a little like this and it was going nowhere so I shook him some and reminded him of the fishing story. He projected how fascinated they would be to know that he, Jed Boot, was sitting in two inches of slush on a cedar stump surrounded by generations of compost enriched by the foreskins and pain of tribe X, staring down at an inkwell under which a fish the size of a bus lurked.

    But then, in a moment of clarity, Jed Boot described how he realized that only the moss growing on his forearms was his true friend, and that cedar bark was awful to eat, and that he was starting to go mad, and that his fears were becoming reality, and that something was eating away at his brain and that he could no longer fight it. But worst of all, he never saw the fish.

    (I have taken some liberties with the rest of this story, in part because as Jed and I drank, I have forgotton chunks of exactly what he said and substituted some editorial for what he was telling me, so from here on truth and reality diverge only slightly and for that I apologize.)

    Jed went on, and told how something fantastic happened. Out of the hills stumbled a tweaker nearly as mad and crazy as Jed was becoming. Both were probably as nutty as one another and although the tweaker was twenty years his junior, he and Jed it turns out, had one other thing in common, both had sat in Jed’s ’95 crown Victoria, though at different times and for different reasons.

    The tweaker was dumbstruck when he saw Jed. The meth had melted certain parts of his lobes that connected vision to memory, memory to insight, insight to judgement, judgement to action. In short the tweaker had less mental capacity than Jed. All he could compute was that he was staring at Sasquatch, and that Sasquatch was skinny, appeared to eat cedar bark, was hard to see with all that moss and hair and did not appear to be carrying a catalytic converter, a wallet, a weapon or anything else. But Sasquatch in a fishing vest? Sasquatch a fly-fisherman? As dopey as he was, He was well nigh on concluding that Sasquatch was no doubt a pussy (because flyfishermen =pussies) and that Sasquatch could be nailed to a plank and hung on a wall.

    The tweaker was carrying an arsenal consisting of a cordless Sawzall, a variety of plastic bags, and a fanny pack full of Sudafed and ammonia, and a shitload of C-batteries. A heavy load for so far up in the hills, he was lost, and fucked-up and a million other things. But he didn’t feel threatened, in fact he was emboldened. He saw the opportunity here, if he could capture Sasquatch he would be rewarded in ways he had never dreamed of. Fame, fortune, and so on. He would fix his teeth for one, ugly little blackened candy-corn excuses that they were. He resolved right then and there to quit Meth.

    He raised the sawzall and pumped it in the air, gunning the trigger and making the reciprocal blade pump in and out with a flatulent hiss. It was the first unnatural sound Jed had heard since his Dead father had told him to use Pappy’s bird gun on this asshole.

    In fact, the very words that Jed heard when he saw the Tweaker sliding and stumbling his way towards him was from Pappy Boot hisself, out of the grave, his raspy Tobacco-stained voice like an ice skate on a frozen pool floating off a small ghost wind:

    “Use my blunderbuss on this worthless piece of shit”

    Jed spoke: “Meth head. I know you”

    The tweaker stopped pulling the sawzall trigger, his arm was trembling. (You try holding a sawzall above your head high on Meth for thirty seconds without a hint of shakes.) He saw the bubbles come out of Sasquatch’s mouth, the bubbles became sounds, and the sounds words, like some kind of anthropomorphized Disney fantasy, Sasquatch was talking to him, calling him “Meth head” of all things. Sasquatch had language, and insight. And for some reason this sharpened the Meth-head’s sensibilities to the point he realized that Sasquatch was worth more alive.

    Meanwhile Jed had reached to the very back pocket of his fly vest, in a manner that only a contortionist, Marfanoid or fishing guide could do, and pulled the copper contraption known as Pappy’s Blunderbuss out of his Chairman Mao fly vest.

    We had heard of this thing, (the Blunderbuss, not the Chairman Mao) passed down through Boot lore, as one of the many firearms that Pappy boot had made when he took apart the stills he’d set in the holler and decided all the beautifully curved metals were better suited to the construction of firearms. Prohibition had scared him out of his wicked ways, straight to the manufacturing of firearms. A smart move financially. (Come to think of it, in this day and age, Pappy Boot might have started out as a tweaker).

    His prototypes firearms were awkward ridiculous things, the earliest firing chambers prone to explosions and shards of copper flying into just about everything around them, including Pappy’s Larynx. But the blunderbuss was the favorite. It looked a little like an old-school ear trumpet and down the base was connected to a apple-burl handle stained with smoke and blood from all the birds it helped kill. It was a crude and enjoyable gun to stuff with a plug of powder and shot, and made for a good, mean-streak prank firing rock salt at children who could stand to lose one eye. (Such pranking no doubt lead to Jed’s early absence from the Boot family and his continued, obsessive, somewhat pathetic and one-sided conversations with his dead father along the lines of “I think you’d like to see what I’ve done with myself Pappy.”) The handle of the blunderbuss was particularly unique, it a cavitated two-inch molar Great Granpappy Boot drunkenly had pulled from his jaw just prior to fighting in the battle of Manassas…

    The tweaker was momentarily blinded by the obsessively polished copper device that Sasquatch pulled from his vest with an arm that had properties like an octopus. (Note to self: Sasquatch is an ugly, but flexible, motherfucker). He could see no hand as the moss was covering Jed’s fingers. Why was Sasquatch carrying a old-time car horn? What was that line sticking out the middle of it? And how did he hold it, without opposable thumbs? The tweaker further wondered if the metals in the horn might be worth more than a catalytic converter. This string of thoughts was taxing his entire dopamine circuitry to its capacity. A little excess surge of neurotransmitters, or maybe it was a tiny seizure, went right into his motor cortex controlling his trigger finger and the sawzall farted out a JIGIGIGIGIG noise again.

    The shock of which promted Uncle Jed to pull the ungainly ivory trigger that led to the latch and hammer that struck down on the flint and launched a small spark into the chamber where the tampon of shot and powder lay, igniting that package and in a fantastic whoosh of smoke and flame shot out a collected experiment Jed had conceived of long ago, but never executed.

    See Jed had come full circle from a bait-chucking knuckleheaded fish-killer, to an enlightened catch-and-release man, swapped out all his lead shot for aluminum, encouraged conservation in the infantile boneheads who paid him for his knowledge and insults. But all this left him with a lot of lead split shot. So he decided to see if he could use it in some way to fire a fly to deep or distant waters in situations where a roll cast, or a steeple throw, or current itself wouldn’t bring him to target. He had packed Pappy’s blunderbuss with a 4-0 chartreuse egg-sucking leech. A big-bastard fly that never came in handy and made for a terrible cast anyways. Attached to that fly was some twenty pound monofilament that ultimately had its other end wound around a four-spoke pulley-wheel from Pappy’s now defunct “domino’n’donut” shed.

    That shot flew right over the field of foreskins, over the cedar stump, and slammed into the tweaker’s face, further mangling his few remaining teeth and shooting the rude fluorescent-bright egg part of the egg-sucking leech into the back of the tweakers mouth; in a fast and practiced move, Sasquatch, or Jed, or the primevil beast he became, pulled the line tight, and the massive unflattened barb of the 4-0 sank right into the abscess-softened tweaker’s jawbone. The force of the strike pulled the methhead off his feet, and with the sawzall firing and the tweaker screaming, he began to slip and slide down the slush covered slope, right past Jed, who leaped over him like the feral man-ape he was, while the tweaker continued to pick up awkward speed like a Jamaican bobsled and headed straight towards that obsidian-black hole Jed had come to know so well.

    Line spooled out of the back of the Chairman Mao and Jed admitted he was pretty surprised to see the tweaker slip all the down to the water’s edge, and then in, and then under. You could still hear the sawzall for a good twenty seconds or so before it petered out, a trail of bubbles like a scene out of a cartoon tracing where the tweaker went.

    Concentric ripples made there way to the walls of the pool, bounced back and sloshed around a little more and then flattened. The forest became quiet again. Jed looked at his handline, slack. And thought to himself, should I pull him in, or let him go? “Tightlines” being one of his mottos and all.

    His pappy’s voice “Let him go”.
    But his own: “Pull him in.”

    So hand over hand he did, and then when it got taut he felt a quivering that wasn’t any frequency similar to the frenetic sawzall, and then the thump-thump he knew well for a fish. He pulled hard, thinking he was setting the hook, and the line immediately cut him deep in the palm. The beast came up and towards the surface, and Jed now pulled as fast as he could, as though it was him bringing this thing up, and then in an enormous gush the leviathan broke, right in the middle of the pool, big as a bus just like the Indian had said, flew into the air, looked straight at Jed, and shook his massive jaws from side to side, flinging the tweaker out of the pool, out of the hole, and far up into a gnarled old cedar. And just as soon as he was there, that greyhound steelhead flipped, fell back to earth and vanished, with a hiss of bubbles like one of those Olympic divers, back into his pool.

    The tweaker was dead, no doubt, his spine snapped in a sharp L, Sudafed tablets raining down from the tree like tiny jewels to the ground below. And Jed was done too. He had come and seen and now, in some deep way, he knew he had seen the greatest and most horrible beauty combined.

    He showed me his scarred palm, where the handline had cut down to the tendon. And he rubbed the groove. And then he got to mumbling again, and as best I could, I never got him to speak sense again.

    Nurse Sculpin called me two days later to say that Jed had passed and that he had left me a small cedar bentwood box. And of course you know what’s in it. The vest smells like Jed before he got sick, and Pappy’s blunderbuss has tarnished some. I just can’t bring myself to shine it. Partly because I think deep down, that rubbing Pappy’s blunderbuss will bring out a mean-ass Jed Boot genie, full of hate and spittle, that without a lick of Jack Daniels and some opiates on would make me sad. A ghost of a man who died confused and alone, his mind wrecked by cancer. After all, ghosts in my family are left to haunt, not to find.

    Copyright 2007 Wadin’ Boot
  2. Jeremy Floyd

    Jeremy Floyd fly fishing my way through life

    Oct 13, 2006
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    RIP uncle Jed

    Great writing style. I love how you use words that paint brilliant pictures inside my head and that roll off my mental palate beautifully. I learned long ago with my own writings that some words just have texture that are severely lacking in most other words. George Carlin is a master at using words in that same style.

    Great read!
  3. Zen Piscator

    Zen Piscator Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.

    May 7, 2004
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    Missoula, MT
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    Wow! Beautifuly written!
  4. Stew McLeod

    Stew McLeod aka BigMac

    Aug 5, 2005
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    Renton, WA
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    Nice read.
  5. Dick Warnke

    Dick Warnke was Pram-Man

    Dec 16, 2004
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    Federal Way Wa
    I hope Uncle Jed's ghost or spirit wanders these North West woods. TWEAKERS BEWARE!!! :thumb:
  6. Charlie Erdman

    Charlie Erdman In search of steel

    Feb 29, 2004
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    K. Falls, OR
    damn. great story. I wish everything I had to read for classes was that entertaining.
  7. sportsman

    sportsman Active Member

    May 10, 2003
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    Kirkland, wa., 98034.
    Well Done!! The ability to use the English language to create such vivid images is truly a gift! I haven't enjoyed such an entertaining tale since Bob Lawless stopped sharing his wonderful storys. Looking forward to your next inspiration!
  8. hedburner

    hedburner Active Member

    Feb 26, 2003
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    Mount Vernon, we're the Sketch in the heart of Ska
    I liked this one, "tampon of shot and powder". :rofl: :thumb:
  9. Itchy Dog

    Itchy Dog Some call me Kirk Werner

    Aug 22, 2005
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    Greatness walks amongst us on this board, and we know him only by his writings and a stage name.

    Boot, who ARE you, man?
  10. Sloan Craven

    Sloan Craven Active Member

    Jun 3, 2005
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    YOu shold submit this somewhere.
  11. buford

    buford Member

    Dec 31, 2003
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    City, State
    Awesome story, Boot-you've got a gift.
    Looking forward to more.