IT’S GOOD TO BE THE GUIDE
Word count: 1422
The economic collapse of ’08 forced people all across the country to launch cottage industries. My neighbors were no exception. They went from peddling eggs and honey to selling chickens and bees, giving riding lessons to selling horses, raising alpacas to selling real estate. My first entrepreneurial venture was in herbal medicine.
While walking in the back pasture one day, I noticed an abundance of rabbit pellets. I figured I could sell them to my aging friends as an herbal remedy for dementia, or as a dietary supplement for raising IQ. They looked nutritious; were definitely organic; and the rabbits were wild, so manufacturing costs would be zero. With the right marketing strategy, I’d be in the chips in no time. I test-marketed the “smart pills” on my ol’ buddy, Appleton.
I gave Appleton an ample supply of smart pills with instructions to take 12 pills three times a day, cautioning him not to exceed the recommended dosage: “You don’t want to get too smart too quick. Being a genius is a huge responsibility.”
When I called to see if he needed more smart pills, he said, “I don’t think these pills work. I’m not feeling any smarter. As a matter of fact—”
“Yours is a tough case. We may have to up the dosage.”
“They taste like crap.”
“I think they’re starting to work. Besides, you can’t come off them cold turkey. You have to reduce the dosage slowly over several years,” I explained.
My career as a river guide started about a month later, when the FDA took the short sighted position that rabbit pellets had no nutritional or medicinal value, abruptly ending my career as an herbalist.
I was casting about for my next entrepreneurial venture when I remembered the half-finished plywood johnboat in the barn. I figured with the judicial application of some caulk, nails, and duct-tape I could have the boat shipshape in no time and hire out as a river guide. It sounded easy enough; the river would do most of the heavy lifting, and I already had plenty of excuses as to why fish aren’t biting.
I talked it over with my friend Spider, of Spider John’s Bait Shop, who sells beer, bait, gas, bootleg Sunday-liquor, and uncertain hotdogs that fossilize shortly after purchase and double as crawdad bait. He said I could use the bait shop as a base of operations as long as I kept his name out of it.
We decided I should make a trial run to get a feel for the river and test the durability of the boat and equipment. “You’ll need ballast,” Spider told me.
“Yeah, something to represent the weight of the sports in the boat, so you can see how the boat handles the rap . . . uh . . . faster water.”
“Oh . . . ballast . . . dead weight, I gotchya, I’ll use Appleton. But you know the river, Spider, maybe you should go with me,” I suggested.
“It’ll be better if you use Appleton. You have life vests right?”
“Life vests? Oh, I figured I could make some out of duct tape and old Styrofoam coolers.”
“Yeah, it’ll be better if you use Appleton. Put in at Big Hole and I’ll pick you boys up at Last Chance. If you make it that far, just look for my old red truck. Don’t go past Last Chance or you’ll wind up in Dead Man’s Canyon, and it can be a little rough. There’s no way out of Dead Man’s except through Red Canyon, and it’s even rougher.”
“De—De—Dead Man’s Canyon?”
“Yeah, it’s right after Dead Man’s Rock and Dead Man’s Chute. Don’t worry. Just look for my truck and pull in there.”
“It’ll be a breeze,” I told Appleton over the phone the next day. “All you gotta do is sit back, enjoy the scenery, and fish.”
“You’ve scouted it, right?” he asked.
I figured it would be a waste of time scouting the river, seeing as how we were going to go down it anyway, so I said, “You bet. We’re good to go. Spider told me where to put in.”
“Spider? What’s he got to do with this? That SOB still owes me five bucks for some flies I tied for him.”
“Well, there you go,” I said. “You can hit him up when he picks us up at the end of our run. You’ll get a nice, relaxing float trip and five bucks to boot. Come to think of it, that SOB owes me five bucks. I’ll tell him to bring our money when he comes to pick us up. I’ll pick you up in the morning.”
I got Appleton seated in the front of the boat and handed him one of the homemade life vests.
“What the hell is that?” he asked.
“That ain’t no life vest. I ain’t wearin’ that.”
“Suit yourself,” I said as we shoved off.
We drifted along lazy-like for the first couple of miles. Appleton fished, while I worked the boat. But watching somebody else fish is like going to a topless bar when you’re horny. I soon had a rod strung up and we were both catching some nice cutts. We were so busy catching fish that we never did see Last Chance, the red truck, or Spider come to think of it.
By the time I saw the water boiling around Dead Man’s Rock it was too late; the river had us in its clutches and we were headed straight for the rock at a pretty good clip.
Appleton turned, grinned, and said, “I told you them pills ain’t workin’! Gimme one of them vests!” It was a disturbing grin—his lips were peeled back from his clinched teeth like a mule eating thistles—a grin normally associated with psychotic monkeys. I handed him a vest and grinned back as we spun into the chute bisected by Dead Man’s Rock.
We kissed Dead Man’s Rock passionately as we went by, and I lost track of Appleton until he popped to the surface like a cork when we entered the flat water below the rapids. I was surprised at how well the life vest was holding up and made a mental note to check with Spider about selling them out of the bait shop. “Hang on, buddy! I’ll save you!” I shouted. To which he turned, grinned, and struck out for the bank. Appleton is a surprisingly strong swimmer when properly motivated—he almost made it.
He was obviously disorientated, swimming away from the boat like that. It took everything I had to grab him and haul him halfway back into the boat before we were sucked into lower Dead Man’s Chute. I chalked his cursing, scratching, and biting up to drowning-man’s panic and was finally able to pin him down against the gunwale with my knee just as we dropped into the plunge pool below Dead Man’s Fall.
By then we could hear the roar emanating from Red Canyon, and Appleton’s on-board antics had become an element for concern; his mental stability had begun to deteriorate—the monkey grin now seemed permanent—he became delusional, claiming that I was somehow responsible for our predicament, and his frantic attempts to exit the boat were causing us to take on water. While I’m widely known to be long suffering, caring, and compassionate, my patience had worn thin, so I beached the boat so he could regain his composure.
Appleton took off across the sandbar like a striped-ass ape. Realizing his escape was blocked by the sheer cliffs of Red Canyon he began hopping up and down in frustration. I’d had just about enough, so I informed him that if he didn’t calm down he would have to be restrained for the remainder of the trip. That’s when he—still grinning—picked up a piece of driftwood and advanced on me with what can best be described as a bughouse shuffle.
Now I enjoy hate-and-discontent as much as the next man—as long as it’s not focused on me. It was my success in channeling his anger by pointing out that it was Spider who’d failed to meet us at the takeout, Spider who’d endorsed using him as ballast, and Spider who’d suggested the trip in the first place that encouraged me to give up river guiding in favor of my latest venture—psychiatry.
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