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Fish Fry
by Thom Bowie



One of the reasons we bought our house was the property included a two acre lake just a few steps from the back door. As this aquatic body is too big to be a pond and too small to be a lake we aptly call it a “plake” as in pond/lake. I share this plake with my next door neighbor. Approximately half the lake, or one acre, is on my property. This is important because the lake with a pier, dock, nearby gazebo and the house occupy most of my 1.75 acre lot leaving me only a small yard to take care of, cut grass, etc. But the main reason I wanted the plake was the previous owner assured me it is full of bream, large catfish and trophy bass. He had pictures to prove his boast.

Even though I’ve had some personal problems with the plake like falling in regularly, getting stuck in the muck trying to wade across the plake and turning myself blue when trying to dye the water, I’ve enjoyed catching a lot of big fish. A camera wasn’t always available to capture these big catches. So about six years ago I came up with a way to prove my fish stories. I designed a fish log. The log was essentially sheets of paper with headings for recording the date, type and size fish caught, where it was caught and the type of lure or bait.

These ‘forms’ were placed in a green vinyl 3-ring binder and kept in a supposedly water proof plastic bag in the gazebo. I instructed relatives, friends and neighbors who fish in my plake to make a record of all fish caught weighing over 4 lbs. For six years this log was a source of pride. I couldn’t wait for new visitors to ask, “Are there any fish in your lake?” At such time I would whip out the fish log and while impressing the ‘newbies’ with fishing records I would retrieve a poster board with pictures of the big catches.to further amaze my guests.

My next door neighbor’s grandson, Hunter, from Nashville comes to visit for a week each summer. At 16 Hunter is one of the better fishermen to fish my plake and he knows the routine about filling out the fish log. Several days ago he told me about catching a 10 pound catfish and an 8 lb. bass with hotdogs -- he had digital pictures to prove his claim. Thus another source of pride for my plake.

Not to be outdone by this young Nashvillian, yesterday morning at 6 a.m. I grabbed three fishing rods, each already rigged with a different type of lure and, determined to outdo this kid, I began aggressively casting and reeling. After an hour without a single bite, my arms and hands ached from a thousand casts and retrievals, complete with backlashes, snags and lost lures. #*&^#@!

As I put my tackle back in the gazebo, I spied the fish log and decided to see how many other big fish Hunter had landed in the last few days. Taking the vinyl binder out of its protective plastic bag I found the pages wet. They were so damp they tore when I turned them. Carefully leafing to the last page I noticed Hunter had not recorded his spectacular catches of the 10 lb catfish and 8 lb bass. I couldn’t let this oversight remain. After all, I needed this extra proof when I boasted about my plake. But the forms were too wet for me to write in his recent big fish data. I opened the binder to the middle and laid it on the deck, wondering how long it would take to air dry, but then remembered rain was forecast.

Not to be thwarted by the weather, I went to the kitchen and turned the oven on to a low 200 degrees, carefully placed the open binder on the middle oven rack and set the timer for 10 minutes. Then I sat down at the kitchen table to do some meaningless work and await the timer.

Again, GOD had other plans for my day. A phone call that interrupted my vigil required me to go to my office in the back of the house to get information from a file. About 15 minutes into my phone conversation my eyes started stinging. Tearfully I gazed away from the computer into a smoke filled living room. Not taking time to say goodbye, I hung up the phone and rushed into the kitchen to see smoke rolling from a fiery oven. I turned off the oven and opened the oven door only to be hit in the face by a toxic cloud of burning vinyl. Although the fish log was still blazing, I ran through the house opening all the doors and then scrambled outside, blindly coughing.

After drying my eyes and gulping fresh air into my stinging lungs, I went back into the kitchen, intent on extinguishing the fire. Fortunately I was distracted by my miniature schnauzer, Skipper, who was in the kitchen walking around in the smoke sneezing his snout off. After fetching Skipper and flinging him out the back door I put a pot holder over my mouth and began to attack the fire. Using oven mitts I pulled the rack out of the oven and dropped it, and what had been my fish log, into the sink. Before I could douse the fire, my lungs became inflamed and my teary eyes again blinded my vision so I retreated to the garage.

Waiting until my eyes and lungs cleared I finally re-entered the kitchen and turned the faucet on the burning fish records. Guess what happens when you put water on a fire……. MORE SMOKE, more burning eyes and more stinging lungs and another trip to the garage.

But the toxic flame was gone even though the house was enveloped in a cloud of nauseating smoke. At this point I began feeling proud that I had saved the house from destruction, but my elation was short lived. As I began thinking about how I was going to clean up the mess, the “fear of Polly” struck. How was I going to get rid of the evidence of my mishap before the wife got home from work? YIKES ! ! !

I sprang into action. I turned on all the ceiling fans, opened windows, used two cans of spray deodorizer, threw the burned oven rack and debris into the outside garbage, moved the good oven racks from the bottom oven to the top furnace and washed out the sinks.

Then I had a brain storm.

Under the sink I found a can of oven cleaner. From my youth I remembered the foul smell of a kitchen when the oven had been doused with oven cleaner -- an odor so foul it could probably disguise the smell of burned vinyl. SOooo, as instructed, I donned long rubber gloves and face mask and applied the cleaner to the furnace that had incinerated six years of fish facts. Then I put a sticky note on the oven that said, “Oven Being Cleaned – Do Not Open Door.”

It was then only about 10:30 a.m. Polly was going to her parents' house after work, and I had a meeting to attend from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Surely the smoke and smell would be gone by the time she got home. She would arrive before me, see the note and assume whatever stink remained was from the oven cleaner – BRILLIANT.

Convinced my tracks were well covered, I took another shower, changed clothes and went to my afternoon appointments. BEST OF ALL, when I got home Polly was watching TV in the living room and didn’t mention the oven, smell or anything. I had escaped her scorn and her demeaning ridicule about what a dunce I had been. I went to bed confident in my ruse!

As I read this morning’s paper and peered across the table at my adorable wife who was chowing down on a bowl of cereal I had lovingly made for her, she smiled and said, “Why are you cleaning the oven?”

I explained that the oven was being cleaned because it was dirty. Unrelenting, she asked, “Why was the oven dirty, and why were there ashes in the sink, on the countertop and all over the floor? What is that awful smell, and why did I wake up coughing during the night?”

Like the big fish whose memories I had tried to preserve, I WAS CAUGHT -- no need lying. I told her the whole story and, as expected, she told me I was an idiot. Then she made an odd request, “Why don’t you write about this and send it to all our friends like you have some of your less dangerous escapades?”

When I inquired about the intent of this request, Polly promised she would tell me if I'd write about my blunder and send it to at least several of our friends. Not being in a position to refuse, I agreed, and she explained my Tommy Tunes were being saved for documentation when she has me committed. Sounded cute but I know she’s serious.

Trying to delay my internment, I’ll keep doing all the cooking and I'll meet her other demands. As promised to my betrothed, here is the documentation -- Polly may be requesting your testimony soon.

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Thom Bowie is a mid-fifty-ish, very nice looking man with greying hair, beady blue eyes and a boyish nature. Self-described as "untall" in stature, he is now a small business and real estate investor who spent his professional career as a marketing executive with various international and national companies. Writing ad copy and press releases stimulated his interest in composing stories, mostly about his own personal mishaps (of which there continue to be many)!

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