Wednesday, December 3, 2008


The year was 1997. The place was San Diego, California. The man was our crew coach, Mark. The bird was a frozen Hillshire Farms turkey, on special for about 98 cents per pound. In this this place...a chemical meltdown of catastrophic proportions threatened civilization, if only briefly. To the great benefit of mankind, man and fowl united to waylay this near disaster.

This is their story.

We should have been concerned when Coach Mark ended the morning practice session with an announcement that he would be attending our party later that evening. To my knowledge, we had all given false addresses at team registration to prevent this very eventuality. But he knew where we lived and that the team was meeting for one of its semi-monthly parties, and he was coming. With a turkey frier. With that last bit of information in mind, the best course of action would have been to go home, pack, and move back to campus that afternoon. But I simply did not appreciate then the power of this awesome contraption.

In 1997, turkey friers were not yet standard hardware in the American kitchen. They were demonstrated on late night television by men wearing white lab coats and protective eye wear. They were complicated, innovative and intimidating. They were large and unwieldy, and they seemed to threaten sudden incineration of anyone or anything that should set foot within ten feet. Yes, in those days, everyone was aware, at least peripherally, of this fundamental truth: Turkey friers are not to be trifled with, and should only be operated with professional supervision and/or guidance from some sort of cleric.

But Coach Mark was the kind of guy that did not believe in fundamental truths. It's not as if he detested them, or even doubted their existence; he just didn't like them. He liked the world his way. From Mark's perspective, fundamentals of any kind--be they of truth, science, or what-have-you--were annoyances that someone had carelessly left in his path, where they would surely get in the way a good time. Besides, what was more fundamental than one man cooking a 12 lb. turkey HIS way, goddammit?

Unfortunately for those of us on the Varsity team, 1997, "his way" was in our backyard, with five gallons of pure peanut oil and a match. And so it came to pass that, at 5:30 p.m. (D-Day -1:30), Coach Mark arrived at our house, toting the following apparatus:

1. A 7-gallon capacity steel vat (with legs to prop it up), thermometer attached

2. A large Bunsen burner (with 2-gallon-capacity fuel tank on the side)

3. A 5-gallon jug of peanut oil (Kirkland brand, from Coscto)

4. A 12 lb. frozen turkey

5. A match

In anticipation of Coach Mark's arrival, and as a precautionary measure, my team members and I had commenced drinking exercises at approximately 3:00 that afternoon. This meant that Coach Mark and his apparatus gained entry into our house with little resistance. He ordered the bird into our freezer, then proceeded to the backyard, where he went about assembling the components of the turkey frier.

The instructions said to pour all of the peanut oil into the vat, install the thermometer at the top of the vat, light the burner, then wait for the thermometer to reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit. It seemed simple enough, and to our collective surprise, the vat was up and running within a few minutes of Coach Mark's arrival, seemingly without incident.

An hour passed.

At the end of the hour, I noticed that the thermometer had reached 500 degrees. I also noted that the thermometer's element was not actually submerged in even an ounce of the five gallons of peanut oil below. Instead, it was measuring the temperature of the air ABOVE the oil. When I placed the element in the oil, the temperature spiked to approximately 650 degrees Fahrenheit. Sensing a change in plans, I called to Coach Mark. "No problem," he said, as he emerged from our house carrying a full glass of water.

Mark was a gifted rower, a skilled coach, and a great friend to his team. But he was challenged in the ways of kitchen science, and deaf to our warnings. Those of us in attendance ran for cover as Mark dropped eight ounces of water into five gallons of scalding peanut oil. The exact science of water, oil and heat is unimportant at this point--it suffices to say that people pay good money every Fourth of July to attend firework shows that pale in comparison to Mark's next 1.2 seconds of glory. Mark was dispatched to the hedges against the fence as a mushroom cloud of oil and steam erupted in our very own backyard. After we retrieved Mark from the hedge, he hurried back to Ground Zero to see what had become of the turkey frier. To our horror, it was intact, and the temperature of the oil had "cooled" to just over 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

This was Mark's moment to shine. He ordered the turkey out of the freezer, unwrapped same, and made for the turkey frier. We considered warning him that his bird was carrying another eight ounces of frozen water, and that he may experience similar results, but we were afraid to taint his experiment with rational thought. He clamped a make-shift "claw" device to the bird, and with no significant amount of caution, began to lower it into the peanut oil.

What followed was a thermodynamic event that would befuddle and frustrate CalTech professors for years. ("Why didn't WE think of that?!") As Coach Mark lowered his turkey into the Cauldron of Death, the turkey frier roared like a Saturn V rocket on its first moonshot. Coach Mark was thrown backward into the bushes for the second time that evening as the Rocketbird whirred and swooshed into the atmosphere atop two-thousand pounds of sheer thrust. If that turkey accomplished nothing in life, may it at least be remembered as the first dead turkey to hug the edge of the sound barrier.

The insurance people told me I was not allowed to discuss or write about what became of Mark, the turkey frier, or the bird. Just know this: Blackened raw turkey is not a delicacy in ANY culture. It is neither "Cajun" nor "seared." Don't let anyone convince you otherwise--unless they're on late night T.V., in which case they are probably right, and you should buy two.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How About a Nice Cup of Ole' Gran (You Cheeky Little Bastard)?

This past summer, my wife and I treated the family to a weekend in the woods. This was a particularly important vacation to me, as it was to take place in the national park that I enjoyed several times every summer, beginning at age 6. Now, we have had a number of short jaunts this year, mixed in between hearings, depositions, and garden variety ass-whuppins, but the vacation to the National Forest was my vacation. The vacation that I planned eight months in advance. The vacation that brought the promise of sanctuary, far away from the hustle-bustle that pollutes adult life, where my young family and I would be able to commune with the squirrels and bears and birds, whatever kind they may be. (I used to--and still do--ridicule serious bird watchers as a matter of course. In fact, my sister recently admitted to me that she enjoys identifying birds on hikes, the nerd.)

Anyway. In order to ensure that this trip would be as relaxing as possible, I was delighted that my father, his wife, and our new extended family would be coming along. To protect the innocent, the extended family's name has been changed to "the Brits." "The Brits" is not really their family name. It is a code name (see previous postings). The Brits and the Trouts became one unified family (under Cayman law) when their daughter decided that it was a good idea to marry my father ("These are for you!"). As their surname suggests, the Brits hail from Texas.

Before I proceed, I must express my sincere love and appreciation for the Brits; they bring a new warmth and vigor to my family (and our presence in theirs); we are always very happy to spend time with them, as they bring with them a kindness and curiosity that is refreshing and genuine. I am truly glad to know them, and pleased that they choose to spend any time hanging out with my family, even though they have had ample time to get to know us and should, by now, know better.

But they also bring a relentless--and unforgiving--sense of independence. So fierce is that conviction, that I am unable to withstand it without the assistance of a healthy round of gin & tonics (mixed by Mr. Brit). And so fierce is that conviction, that he is a fool who holds his life cheap that dares to attempt acts of unwarranted politeness. Which brings me to the subject of this entry: Frankie (real name not used, I SWEAR). The only way to preamble this entry is to state, simply, that you mustn't f**k with Frankie. Ever.

I learned this lesson for the first time from behind the bow of a kayak in the Lake, near our campsite. Frankie and her husband, Mr. Brit, had gone kayaking and left us with the River Folk (explained below). My father was enduring the torture of relaxing with the River Folk on a giant inflatable "party barge," his "Range Rover" licensed baseball cap firmly planted on his head. (Everyone liked the hat, even though they didn't say anything about it--it was a quiet reverence.) Dad's wife was along for the ride, sipping a Corona (extra lime) under duress. I stood on the beach wondering how long this would last.

The Brits, however, had departed--they had paddled off into the Forest aboard OPK ("Other Peoples' Kayaks"), leaving us to party like it was 1978. Now, the family's predicament at this point was not the Brits' fault. As I later learned, my own father and his wife were responsible for visiting these circumstances upon us. And they accomplished it literally within minutes of emerging from their car and finding themselves in the River Folks' camp. In a moment of diplomacy that would have killed President Carter with envy, my father not only embraced the River Folk, but--in a very substantial and almost legally-binding way--agreed to vacation with the group of forty-odd complete strangers this very trip, then repeat the untested experience next year. By the time the Trout family (me, my wife, and the youngster) arrived, we had gained another forty cousins. We were promptly invited to join their tribe at the Lake. In all of our years in the Forest, we had never been to "the Lake."

As it turns out, there's a good goddamned reason why not.

But I digress. Now that my parents were stuck on the Party Barge of Death, I was charged with commandeering another kayak (also not ours) to hunt down and retrieve Frankie and Mr. Brit so that we could surrender the kayaks, then graciously get the f**k away from the Lake and return to our cabin to drink whatever alcoholic beverages had not already been carried off by the bears. So, off I went. I charged. And when I found Frankie and Mr. Brit, about halfway across the Lake, they greeted me in the customary way: "We're doing just fine, thankyouverymuch, and we've kayaked more times than you've shit in your life, so don't feel compelled to 'rescue' us."

Thus welcomed, it appeared that the balance of my kayak experience could only improve. Indeed it would have, had a school of piranhas nibbled the bottom of my kayak out and eaten me alive. But the Lake offered no such rescue for me.

So, I paddled on, waiting for Frankie to whack me in the back of the head with her oar (or "paddle," as those who have kayaked more times than I have shit know to call them). When we reached the shore some minutes later, I made the mistake of attempting to help Frankie land and exit her kayak. It was suggested, again, that I go to Hell. So, I decided to retreat to Mr. Brit, who would, no doubt, soon pour me a gin and tonic. He did so, and to make the long story short, Frankie and I made up a short while thereafter. As it turns out, she had properly identified me as a patronizing boy scout, but decided to forgive me for it anyway.

The Epilogue.

The next morning, I made a fatal error. I brought Frankie a cup of tea. The tea was Earl Grey, in honor of her heritage. (You know: "Duke duke duke, duke of Earl, duke duke, duke of EARL duke duke, duke of EARL . . . .") When I approached Frankie with the cup, I extended it to her and cheerfully said "Here's your Earl Grey! :) ." Frankie paused in disbelief at the offensive beverage, then responded, "Well thanks, whipper snapper." Then, she shot a thunderbolt from her eye that caused my clothing to vaporize. It dawned on me that I had just committed the mother of all f**k-ups. (Apparently, she wanted "red zinger," instead.)

What had actually happened was this: When I said "Here's your Earl Grey! :)", Frankie heard "Here you go, Ole' Gran! :P" I understand the confusion there. The words are only slightly dissimilar, and the term "ole' gran" is part of my everyday parlance. So, it was not entirely unreasonable to think that, the day after I was nearly killed for patronizing her during The Paddle From Hell, I would throw a cup of hot tea at Frankie and call her "Ole' Gran!" I do that sort of shit all the time.

After the scalding stopped and I regained consciousness, we all had a good hearty laugh together. Deep down, I think she thought it was funny--even if I really DID mean to call her "Ole Gran." Really, this is how nicknames are born.

With love,


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rivertrout Clinches Key District in Bid for Democratic Nomination


June 3 was a tumultuous day at the Senior Center on the corner of 3d Street and Marguerite Avenue, where the polls opened at 7:00 a.m. By 8:00 that evening, with all seventeen votes counted, it was over. In a hotly contested race, dark fish candidate "Rivertrout" topped local solo practitioner and Democratic party hopeful Steve Young for the nomination for United States Representative from the city's Second Sub-District of the Partial Congressional District of the "Flower Streets" (representing Marigold Avenue--behind the Chevron station--numbers 2600 - 2656). A write-in candidate, Trout took the lead when Mrs. Trout, a known swing voter, brought the Rivertrout's marks in the popular vote column to 2. "I didn't really research the candidates this year, and almost missed the cut-off. Didn't even realize it was Primary Day until I saw this elderly lady wearing an 'I voted' sticker," Mrs. Trout was quoted as saying shortly after her husband's victory speech. "Since I didn't recognize the other candidate's name," Mrs. Trout explained, "I figured--what the heck?"

The freshman candidate was noticably emboldened. "I don't mind tellin' you that this was a friggin' LANDSLIDE," Rivertrout told a boisterous crowd of supporters (wife, dog and daughter--the cat was off-site, campaigning for McCain). "This proves that, even in Corona del Mar, change is possible . . . though not probable," he added. "Now, it's on to the General Election--which should be interesting, because I never even served in the military."

The Second Sub-District, formerly a Democratic stronghold, turned decidedly "red" last December, when the Erlichmans moved out of Unit 2647 and were replaced by the Smith family, devout fascists. Since December, pundits have kept a close watch on the Second Sub-District to see which candidate might unite the remaining liberals in the neighborhood--specifically, the Jamesons and the McKinneys, who had a falling-out a few months before the primary when Nick Jameson's sprinkler system sprayed water all over Jesse McKinney's Volkswagen, causing spotting.

The campaign for the General Election kicks off this evening at the local Starbucks (Goldenrod and PCH, mapquest here.) The Rivertrout knows he faces stiff odds this November against the Republican incumbent, but he remains optimistic. When confronted with the realities of the Corona del Mar voting population during a recent interview on Larry King Live, the Rivertrout asserted "If I can narrow the gap to something short of 2 to 23,024--you know, if my wife remembers when Election Day is--it will be a great symbolical victory for the Democratical party."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

HIGH ALERT: Rivertrout Antiterrorism Initiative

The other day, I was in the airport on my way to somewhere far too important to share with the likes of the Reader, when I was pulled into a dark room, beaten, and questioned for four days about my love for America.

Just kidding. That doesn't happen to pasty dudes like me. Plus, I always make sure to wear a "flag pin" on my collar--especially when I fly. (Hey, don't knock it--I gained three "superdelegates" in rural Mississippi just today.)

That said, I did have a few minutes to sit and watch our guardians of the sky profile hapless passengers as they boarded airplanes bound for their grandmothers' homes. I began to wonder about the trivial things that seemed to raise the antennae of the TSA. This is not a unique observation; we've all seen and wondered about these things. But it's a Friday, and I'm tired, and this is my blog, and I get to write what I want (and it's password protected, I think), so too bad.

Realizing that the TSA lives by a code of rules and reg'lations--and with genuine, honest-to-God (or Allah) respect and appreciation for their role in keeping all of us safe--when you see some of the things that set them off, you sometimes have to stop and ask: What's the point?

National security. That is the point. How dare you ask, you miserable communist. To learn more about the important security measures taken by the TSA, I decided to do some research. (Not "Michael Moore research"--but actual research.) Fortunately, our system of transparent government By The People affords the common citizen like me ready access to all State Secrets. You know: checks and balances (my balance: near zero). Anyway, the gentlemen with whom I spoke were very forthcoming and eager to enlighten me. Seventeen FOIA requests, two interrogations, and one water boarding later, here is what I was able to learn about the National Security Directives at work in our nation's airports:

National Security Directive No. 1: Removal of laptop computer from carry-on for inspection.
Official Rationale: Terrorists tend to be "Mac people."

National Security Directive No. 2: Seizure of bottle of Evian water (16 oz.) at security checkpoint.
Official Rationale: Terrorists cannot effectively wage Jihad if they are dehydrated.

National Security Directive No. 3: Seizure of tube of lip balm at security checkpoint.
Official Rationale: Nothing causes a terrorist to lose his cool and blow his cover like f---ing with his Carmex.

National Security Directive No. 4: Pat-down of 89-year-old man in wheelchair.
Official Rationale: Fits the profile for "cranky, chair-bound terrorist with a lazy eye yelling about all the goddamn terrorists and where's my Cheez Whiz."

National Security Directive No. 5: Pat-down of thin, attractive, 27-year-old woman.
Official Rationale: National Security is a serious matter. We can't AFFORD to take any chances . . . .

National Security Directive No. 6: Picking of TSA "specialist's" nose.
Official Rationale: Next on President Bush's "hot list" of places WMDs might be hidden.

National Security Directive No. 7: Waving of metal-detecting wand over toddler at security checkpoint.
Official Rationale: They do this on the set of Sesame Street all the time, kid. Don't screw with me, or you and that bag of Cheerios will be off to Guantanamo so fast it'll make your head spin.

As you can see, there is a perfectly sound explanation for everything. Nothing to worry about.

[River Trout's disclaimer: All smart-assery aside, I truly do appreciate and thank all who work hard to keep us and our airways safe.]

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Cantaloupe of Sports

Mrs., Kid and I recently returned from a vacation to Hawai'i. (Only Hawai'ians and snobs get to spell Hawai'i with the '.) As is customary during our vacations, my wife and I engaged in that sacred ritual that has occurred once every year (sometimes twice) since our wedding day. I know I don't have to tell you what I'm talking about.

No, not that.

I am speaking of the annual "Wife Kicks My Ass-athon," whereby she finally succeeds in dragging me out of bed in the morning to go running with (behind) her. When at home, I usually avoid this event by asserting that I have to "go to work," "wash the car," "tend to the cat," or "have excess teeth removed through my nasal passage." On other occasions, I simply cite unfavorable environmental circumstances:

Seattle: "Goddamn tree-huggers; running sucks because of them."

Central Park: "These hostile New Yorkers; it's their fault that running sucks." [New Yorker: "Hey, f--- you, f--- ball!"]

This time, though, we are on an island--not an office or New Yorker in sight. So unfortunately, none of the traditional alternatives (excuses) are available to me. What am I to I do? Blame the coconuts?

No. It's time to rationalize. I have some time on my hands anyway, because we are not yet at Mile 1, and I am already passed out on the sidewalk with a colorful tropical bird pecking at my liver. It goes a little something like this:

In the beginning, Man had nothing better to do, and he was being chased by mastodons and sabre-toothed tigers most of the time anyway, so he ran. Because he had to. But then, Man discovered fire and beer, and the mastodons and tigers decided that they would all be happier and much more buzzed if they just partied with Man instead of chasing, killing and eating him. So, there was no need for Man to run. (Also, during one intense drinking session, Man had a moment of self-actualization, where he realized that it was really his own insecurity that he had been running from all along--and there was peace.) Back to the story. With the mastodons and tigers off his ass, Man finally had a moment to sit down and invent real sports. Like cycling. And badminton. And roooowing (say it slowly, with your nose in the air--no, higher). Somewhere along the line, the horseless carriage was invented. Then came McDonald's. You get the point: With these quality diversions, running was no longer necessary to get from Point A to Point B. It had become, rightly, obsolete.

[Aside: Sometimes, I ask the runners why they do what they do:
Me: "Hi *gasp gasp*. Where are you going?"
Avid Runner: "Over there."
Me: "Really? What about after that?"
Avid Runner: "Probably come back here."
Me: "Why not just stay here now and save yourself the trip?"
Avid Runner: "Would you please get your car off my foot, A--hole?"]

With the advent of real sports, running became superfluous. A means of inflicting pain on people as punishment for sucking at other sports. A filler. In short, running became the Cantaloupe of Sports.

You have probably been to a "Carrow's" or "Denny's" at some point in your life. If you live in the Midwest, you have probably seen a commercial on T.V. for "Perkins'" between episodes of "Monster Truck Extravaganza" and the advertisements for personal injury lawyers. (Call me. I can do better than those guys. I promise. I take 30%. If I don't win, YOU DON'T PAY!) Anyway, these eateries are all essentially the same insofar as the "side of fruit" that comes with the pancake meal is a lie. If you have been there--and I know you have--you know very well that there IS no "side of fruit." If you request one, you will instead receive a small bowl full of . . . cantaloupe. Or "honeydew melon." And buried somewhere beneath these faux fruits, you will find a genetically-questionable purple table grape the size of a dinosaur egg. (It's a trick! The grape is a trick!! Don't buy into it!!!)

Running is to sports as the cantaloupe is to the fruit salad--a fraud! A fallacy! A farce! Other words that start with "f"! Many attempt to justify their affliction with this senseless activity by saying that the beauty in running is in its "simplicity." It needs no equipment (except a $169 pair of shoes, astronaut socks, drywick ultra-shirt, neon shoelaces, and a strap-on iPod), and there is no specialized training. You need nobody else to pull you through. But why does such a simple sport need three or four monthly magazines devoted to it? [See titles such as Runner's World, Running, Running Fast, Still Running.] What do these magazines say about such a "simple" sport to fill their pages? "Running: Put one foot in front of the other, real fast-like. Repeat." How do advertising agencies sell that?

Some might say that my beef is really that I suck at running. That is a true statement. At this point, though, it doesn't really matter. The best thing to do is, in my own way, duck the issue: "Honey, I'll stop here and 'do some push-ups.' I'm cross-training. Pick me up on the way back (as you rocket through another six miles, then return to help me limp the last 1/2 mile back to the hotel)." [Note: The Kid will also rocket through the six-mile loop, because at 27 inches tall, she, too, is faster than me.]

Eventually, my annual run will be over. I will have succeeded in transporting myself from Point A to Point B, then back to Point A again, no doubt experiencing a great sense of accomplishment along the way. And then it will be time for the boat drinks (see photo above).

Monday, March 31, 2008

Rivertrout Returns for No Apparent Reason

Dearest Patrons and Matrons; friends, Romans and countrymen; and fish:

It is upon the recommendation of many (one (1)) that I embark upon this--how you say--"blog" to report on the happenings in the life of that most precocious of cartilage-spined creatures, the River Trout.
Thought-provoking image of vegetable kebabs against
crystalline sea.

The River Trout began dispatching missives on the finer points (one (1)) of life in Minnesota some nine years ago, when he found himself trapped in that undesirable location for the purpose of sitting through three years of sheer torture. When we left our scaly hero, he had just graduated from the first stage of that torture, law school, in the hopes of aspiring to the most noble of stations: First Year Associate/Collating Specialist. In other words, he jumped from the frying pan into the fire. These many years later (six), it occurs to the River Trout that graduating may not have been such a hot idea, after all.

Nevertheless, he's back, fishier than ever. And this time, the Trout brings a small army to back him--like Rambo, but more of them. Alongside the wily River Trout you'll find a beautiful wife and daughter, a dog, the world's most appreciative grey tabby cat (codename: "f---in' cat!"), and a servant named Chachi, who is schooled in the martial arts and advanced tactical warfare (ok, made that last part up). These characters remain anonymous at the request of the River Trout's security detail (except Chachi, who, like the security detail, does not technically exist), but will, no doubt, appear in future entries. In said entries, they will assume their own unique code names--sometimes several different code names day-in and day-out--depending on what trouble they may have gotten into that day.

The cat's code name will, most likely, stay fairly consistent.

So with that, there will be writing. Thoughtful commentary. Quality authorship. Just as soon as I have a chance to blackmail someone into doing those things for me.