“Done measured it out before we set it. We ain’t near no damn lock. Game warden ain’t gon’ have shit to say ‘bout it,” a gruff, elderly voice pierces off in the distance from the campfire.
Tossing another log onto the pile of crackling orange, the youthful scruff speckling the face of Zeb Martin mouths his reply. “Alright then Pawpaw. I know. Gon’now and get to bed, I’ll make sure we don’t burn down the tent.”
“Love ya, youngin’.”
“Love you too.”
Running a trot line is 100% lawful in the state of Georgia, unless you happened to have more than 51 hooks on it. Or if you were setting it in the vicinity of a state park lake. Both rules of which Russell Martin had broken countless times over the past several years, and by accessory, his grandson had too. Staking their camp for the first time this year down at Hard Labor Creek, it was a pattern that had not yet landed either of the two in trouble.
Might have been a first time for everything, but Zeb wasn’t too worried. Several pulls deep from the homemade corn liquor that his uncle had jarred up a few nights before, the kid from the dusty roads of Comer had enough bravery in him to take on even the meanest enforcers from the Department of Natural Resources. With the legality of the night coming into serious question on several counts, the Martin family seemed to prefer to hide in plain sight. In addition to the bright campfire, several Coleman lanterns surrounded the outdoor lounge area to provide adequate light for the sole member of the HOTv crew tagging along with the latest signee.
Despite his professionalism, the cameraman had begun to regret accepting Zeb’s offer to “take you a swig” of the moonshine from fifteen minutes ago. Having to steady an expensive piece of recording equipment wasn’t the most ideal way to spend the beginnings of a buzz, and he hoped that the newcomer would keep his monologue short and sweet. Thankfully, the occasional shake of the scene did give the setting a more authentic feel.
Martin slowly sunk into his canvas-backed seat. As had become familiar with his vignettes, the brim of his Ricky Rudd hat was pulled low on his forehead. The shaggy brown hair that managed to escape from under his cap appeared to have been mixed with Elmer’s glue in certain spots, matted from going over 48 hours without a trace of shampoo.
“That’s my Pawpaw,” Zeb introduces, eyes pointed toward the firelight. He tugged the zipper of his trademark brown-tone Carhartt jacket over a red flannel shirt. Despite the close proximity of the flames, the temperature had begun to drop a few degrees more as time inched closer to midnight. “He ain’t much for bein’ on film, so I ‘preciate y’all hangin’ out for a minute till he went to bed. Plus it gave me a lil’ time here to get good’n tipsy so mebbe I won’t be so bashful.”
“Been makin’ these trips with him ever since I was ‘bout eight or nine. We still usin’ the same ol’ boat with the same ol’ outboard Evinrude to bait and run the lines across the cove,” he recollects, his drawl keeping in stereo with the Southern tendency to storytell.
“Back then, I was an irritatin’ little shit, but he was dead set on makin’ a fisherman out of his grandson. My dad got suckered into spendin’ his weekends settin’ up on a deer stand by my great uncle, so Pawpaw pretty much decided from birth that I was gonna be the next Martin boy attached to a rod and reel.
“I don’t recall the first time I held a fishin’ pole, but reckon I must’ve took to it enough tuh have him start bringin’ me out with him on trotline trips. If y’all ain’t familiar,” Zeb mutters, briefly glancing up in recognition of his more sophisticated, non-sportsman audience. “Basically a trotline is just a bunch of hooks on one big ol’ stretch. Kinda like a clothesline, but for catchin’ a bunch of fish. Anyway, you run ‘bout five or six of ‘em across coves, stickin’ worms on the hooks as you go and let ‘em set. After while, you go pull ‘em and brang in what you caught. Do that fer a weekend, and usually you got yerself a purty big haul.”
Reaching to the dirt beside him, Martin graps the glass Bell jar amidst a slight rustle of leaves. Unscrewing the lid, he brings the liquor up to his lips and takes a modest swallow before securing it back in place. Confident that he’ll need it to continue to cope with his shyness, he positions the jar between his legs for easier access.
“If that don’t exactly sound like a fun-filled weekend to ya, well,” Zeb chuckles, “you’d be right on that. Where I live, though, most folks ain’t goin’ to Olive Garden or dang P.F. Chang’s when they take a notion to go out to eat: they either at a barbeque joint or somethin’ along them lines. So, Pawpaw’s been supplementin’ his income sellin’ catfish to them places for as long as I can remember, and it ain’t bad money, either. When you eight years old, though, ain’t no amount of money worth bein’ bored as hell on a Saturday.”
Placing his fist underneath his chin, the effects of the hooch had begun to seep in his brain as he began to relax a little further. The sound of cackling wood and the chirp of crickets filled the brief pause in his monologue, like a brief spell of hypnosis interrupting a train of thought.
“First time I came out with him,” the Watson Mill Kid continues, “he made me bring my bookbag and all my school stuff. I made it through Friday night without whinin’ about it, but come Saturday mornin’ after the first line we done run, I was already gettin’ restless. ‘You so damn bored, go do yer homework.’ Naturally, that was the last thang I wanted to do on a weekend, so I told him naw.
“So then he goes, ‘tell you what then, go get the rod and reel and sit over yonder on that dock. You catch me a bream that’s bigger than anythang we get off the line, we’ll go home. Better save me any bream you catch, though: don’t go throwin’ nothin’ back, ya hear me?’ Gave me an out, and you ain’t never seen someone take off quicker’n that.”
“Smarter than he looks,” Zeb proclaims, “‘cause even though I didn’t crack open a book, still learned somethin’ purty valuable that weekend: little ol’ breams make damn good bait if yer tryin’ to land big ol’ catfish. Rub a lil’ chicken liver on ‘em, and they cain’t resist it. Like a thick ass in a pair of cutoff jean shorts, them beady eyes are just drawn to it. But you sure as hell ain’t catchin’ one bigger’n a cat. So there wasn’t no leavin’ early for me then, or ever.”
In full awareness that the analogy of rubbing putrid-smelling fowl parts being similar to Daisy Duke’s hind end, Zeb’s pace at the end of the last sentence was noticeably slower than usual. He instinctively had adjusted his hat to where the bill was at a sharper downward angle, trying to shield his face even more than it already was. Not wanting to come off too obvious on the mild embarrassment, he stutters on.
“Anyway, old man got the last laugh on that one. Been comin’ out with him for thirteen years now and I’m still regulated to bream duty. Y’all can say anything ya want about Pawpaw, but one thing he ain’t never gon’ be accused of is inconsistency. Won’t hear no complaints outta me, though: runnin’ trot is still boring. Still ain’t seen a dime of the profit, though, so I reckon one thing you can accuse him of is bein’ a cheap ass.”
“You get paid in life-long memories,” a voice called out from within the tent. Zeb, caught off guard by the fact that his grandfather was still awake and apparently privy to the entire story, bellows out a laugh.
“Psssssssssh, what Disney movie you jus’ watch tuh come up with some bull shit like that?” the younger Martin responds.
“Don’t be cussin’ in front of your elders,” was Russell Martin’s retort.
The younger Martin boy shook his head, treating himself to another pull of the moonshine. Now fully aware that his grandfather was still awake, he attempted to push it out of his mind that his audience had grown. Public speaking (even in the most private of settings such as this one) just did not come easy for the country boy. Determined, Zeb musters a deep breath.
“After while I figgred all this free labor I was givin’ meant I’d inherit Pawpaw’s book of business. Old codger probably gon’ live until I’m about eighty-five jus’ tuh spite me, though. Never even dreamt up until here recently that ‘rasslin would eventually be a ways to earn a livin’, but here we are. Next Saturday’ll be the first one of these trips I’d done miss in a long time — well the hell away from the DNR and a worn out ol’ boat. Much as I’ll miss ‘em, shore hope I ain’t hoppin’ in the front of that pickup fer a long time tuh come.
“Yep, reckon I’ll get tuh Chicago ‘bout Wednesday and start puttin’ in the final preparations tuh go square up with Brian Hollywood,” Zeb declares, lifting his eyes for a brief moment to the camera. “Big part of that is gon’ be tryin’ tuh get the jitterbug out my mind. Dern thing puttin’ its spiny legs all over that pink sponge up there. Back in the day, lotta rednecks ‘round here was into that ‘No Fear’ brand, but some of ‘em put a little Southern stank on it and called it ‘Ain’t Skeered.’ You’d see them big ol’ stickers ‘cross the back windshields, most of ‘em purty close to a Rebel flag decal. Or, a few of ‘em with stars ‘n bars in the damn ‘Ain’t Skeered’ logo.
“Like the ol’ guy in a Corvette, y’all prolly know when you out there goin’ heavy-handed on puttin’ yerself over, it’s ‘cause yer overcompensatin’ fer what ya don’t got. Lot of them folks probably ‘ain’t skeered,’ but not ‘cause they got gumption. Naw, it’s ‘cause they jus’ dumber’n shit. Dead giveaway with anyone with a kinship to the Confederate flag.”
Shaking his head with a bit of disgust at the thought, Zeb rolls on with his monologue.
“I’ve never been accused of bein’ the brightest bulb tuh stick in a lantern, but I ain’t a liar, neither. I ‘am skeered’ about my debut in High Octane ‘Rasslin. Not about takin’ a butt-whippin’ from Brian, though. Heck, I know he’s go’n get his licks in. Man’s a helluva scrapper, and one of them redemption stories in the makin’ since he beat the brakes off Scott Stevens at March tuh Glory. Tuh him, I’m a mudhole on the mountain he reckons he needs to trod through or jump over. Hollywood’s bigger’n better than Dollywood, and I’m sure he’s gon’ carry that confidence balled up in his fists on Saturdee.
“I’ve taken plenty of beatins, so naw, not too worried ‘bout that part. Ain’t even frightened ‘bout losin’, neither. Now, don’t mean I’m makin’ it easy on the bettin’ line. Jus’ not the type to be sayin’ I’mma win then havin’ tuh make excuses why I didn’t the next time y’all talk to me. I’m a ‘rassler, not a politician. Might get lucky, might not. What I am nervous ‘bout is makin’ sure this ain’t my first and last chance to catch somethin’.
“Y’all might have hit yer limit hearin’ ‘bout fishin’ by now, but it’s one of three things I know purty well, so hear me out. Fishin’ and ‘rasslin ain’t all too different tuh me. When you first see both of ‘em, they look like thangs that most anyone can do. Any dumbass can hold a pole to the water, and all y’all youngins out there I’m sure done put yer little brother or friend in a sleeper hold or a DDT a time or two. Uh, I reckon I’m legally obliged to tell y’all don’t do that by the way.
“But, fact of the matter is that while they both look easy, there’s a purty steep learnin’ curve you gotta hit to get good at both. Thangs that you ain’t necessarily seein’ just by watchin’ someone else do it.
“Then, tuh top all that off, you might dern well end up gettin’ good at both,” he sums up. “You might know how tuh read the temperature and cast off jus’ the right minute towards that one sweet spot where you know them bass gon’ bite. Problem is, ain’t no fisherman ever had a day where they always caught somethin’. And in the business uh ‘rasslin, you might cast yer line out a hundred times and have nothin’ to show for it. Head to an armory, some middle school gym out’n the cut in your hometown and talk to some of the old timers there: they’ll tell you how they ‘rastled the Brian Hollywoods of their day before they was big and ‘tore it up,’ makin’ it sound like headlinin’ a dang hundred-thousand seater.
“Them’s the same guys you run into at the bait ‘n tackle shack, always claimin’ they caught a three-footer that day but slipped off the line when they brought it outta the water. You smile and nod and let ‘em spin the yarn, but you just feel sad for ‘em when you leave.”
“I am skeered of endin’ up like one uh them. And I know what I got half-assin’ it shore won’t be enough to get me to another Refueled, so I best give y’all everythang I can and then some. Brian, lookin’ forward to makin’ acquaintance. HOTv, ‘preciate y’all givin’ me the time. Reckon we’ll see y’all later.”
Reckon he will. As the background slowly collapses into black, our cameraman finally gets the relief that he’d been longing for. Longing for another drink of the white lightning, the interview comes to a close.