Karma and the Street Catfish

Karma, man. What a bitch that chick is.

So here’s what happened: A friend of mine – Joanne* – has a duck, and this duck is becoming a man, so to speak. To help protect another animal in her household who is the current object of this duck’s affection, she says she’s going to find a girl duck.

For many reasons, I oppose this. Namely because it’s the equivalent of getting your teenage boy a prostitute, but also because ducks are against the law in Gulfport and at some point she’s going to get in trouble. She, of course, knows about the illegalities, and she’s a smart lady who understands the risk. However, she’s a soft touch. That’s how she ended up with damn duck in the first place. This morning, I tried to beat her into submission about this whole “duck sex worker” scenario.

“You’re going to be the crazy duck lady,” I said. “It started with a chicken. Now you have multiple chickens, a parrot, and a duck, and you want a second duck to help relieve the urges of the first. I can see how this is going to go down if Larry dies first. You’re going to become a collector. We’re going to have to have a damn intervention. That won’t work, so next thing you know, I’ll come home one day and see the NewsChannel 8 truck outside your house as county workers carry out the ducks. You can’t let this happen. You can’t be the crazy duck lady.”

It’s important to note here I referred to Joanne as “crazy” in the way her love of animals translates into an extreme behavior. Keep reading.

We had some rain today, by which I mean we had a deluge. In between rain storms, El Cap looked up from his computer and said, “there’s a fish in the street.” I was mildly alarmed until I remembered we lived in Gulfport and went to take a closer look.

On the Street Where You Live
The lessor-known Gulfport Street Catfish

Sure enough, our neighborhood was lousy with catfish. Apparently the flooded storm sewers had washed freshwater catfish from Tomlinson pond and into the streets. When the water went down, the fish had nowhere to go.

At first, I shooed them away, because it’s way easier to catch a catfish with a fishing pole than it is with my hands. They kept squirting out of my hand. Once I figured out that by grasping them firmly with my fingers in front of one fin but not the other I could keep a hold on them, I was able to start tossing them back in the flooded swale (which has a storm sewer drain.)

I freely admit I may just be prolonging the inevitable – I don’t know if the fish will make it to the drain when the water recedes – after all, fish are known for their tastiness, not their intelligence – but I couldn’t stand to see scores of fish suffocating on the street.

And that is how my neighbors and passers-by came to see me, standing in a sundress in the rain, grabbing fish out the street and tossing them back into a flooded storm ditch.

Like calls to like, I suppose. Crazy is as crazy does. Pick your platitude. I brought this on myself, I know.

Street Catfish
Cthulhu, is that you?

Bonus moment: About an hour after what El Cap calls “the Catfish Brigade”, the rain broke and he and I took the dogs for a walk, where we returned three more catfish to water. Best moment was when El Cap was trying to catch a catfish who had flip-walked into the middle of the street and a guy pedaled past us.

“What’s that?” Random Bicyclist asked me.

“Freshwater catfish,” I answered. (I don’t know why I felt the need to explain the “freshwater” part, but just chalk it up to “this day is surreal as shit” and leave it at that, shall we?)

“Oh,” he said, and nodded. “OK.”


*Names have been changed to protect the illegal ducks.

Chapter Three: The Edge of the Abyss, Revisited

Hello, abyss, old friend. It’s me again, at your edge. I’m ready to jump in again.

I probably should have seen this coming, but I didn’t. I have a tendency to get too inside the mirror. Which is funny, in the way people say funny when something isn’t funny at all: I was so introspective I didn’t see what was happening in my own life, and it was clearly going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.

I’m a big believer – huge, actually – in “we do what we want” so I can’t change philosophies midstream now and say I didn’t want this. I am certain I could have avoided this, of course, but I just didn’t want to avoid it enough. Apparently.

And so, for the first time in almost 12 years, as the Gabber staff plugs away at a deadline for Thursday’s paper, I am not a part of it. Oh, I’ve submitted a final Hard Candy, which you can all read tomorrow, and they have a few nondescript things of mine to run over the next month (not the sort of thing one includes in their portfolio, but the sort of thing that keeps the machine part of the newspaper going) , but for all intents and purposes, I no longer write for the Gabber.

The wherefores and whys really, really don’t matter. It became clear to me my time there was at a stopping point. I would never have been able to separate on my own; I needed a push. I didn’t see it coming, I really and truly didn’t, but when I started talking to El Cap about “what next” this past weekend I of course went through the whole postmortem, I realized yes, this has been coming for a while and of course I didn’t see it because I couldn’t.

It doesn’t matter. I will be forever grateful for how the Gabber changed my life. Over the years, too, the Reichart family was exceptionally good to me. I am the writer I am, in part, because they allowed me to be that writer.

Endings, however, often suck. (Yes, that’s the best word right there, unless I want to describe it as “eating a suck burrito” which is a phrase I’m stealing borrowing from these guys.)

This is one of those times.

I’ve spent the past days surrounded by friends who have buoyed my spirits and told me only good things. I needed that and am lucky to have those sorts of friends, the ones who support you without question and encourage you and tell you, yes, buttercup, you’re going to be OK.

At El Cap’s encouragement, I will take the rest of this year and finish three books I’ve started and mostly finished. He suggested the parting was perhaps a gift and the thing that was breaking my heart so hard was also the thing that would propel me to a new chapter of my life. He told me to freelance, yes, because, well, bills, but please focus on publishing something larger (I’m paraphrasing) than a city council report (Although, as much as I bitch about those meetings, I enjoy government reporting. It’s an illness.) He wants to see me write what I love, not what I need to write, to see me find something to stretch against the walls of my talents in new ways.

And I want that, too, actually. The idea of taking a year (OK, 11 months and 17 days, give or take) to work within my own little fictional world, pitch my second print book to a conventional press, and maybe even start trying to get feature work with magazines? That sounds incredibly, awfully, amazingly appealing. Most people don’t get that chance, and, without El Cap’s support, I wouldn’t either.

The last time I left a job, I did not have a plan except “write” – and I learned wishes work best with a touch of specificity mixed in to them. Last time wasn’t bad, not by a long shot. I found more than I ever imagined by simply following the direction “write.” This time, I have that specificity, but not too much, I hope, that I’ll miss something good. And, the same as last time, the grand plan includes sucking breath in and pushing it out again, and, if all else fails, I’ll just keep swimming.

To be continued…

Thelma and the Great iPhone Caper of 2015

Some people in this world are Thelma and others? Well, they’re Louise.

“Afraid that she will be prosecuted, Louise decides to go on the run and Thelma accompanies her.” (source)

I am so not a Thelma. I am not the one who is persuaded. I am the persuader.

Case in point: My new (ish) iPhone.

Wait. Let’s back up for those of you playing the home game (a/k/a, those of you who don’t know me in real life.) I break things. Usually only things that cost me money to replace. Currently I own three Apple products. This morning, two of them had cracked screens. That’s not bad luck; that’s Cathy luck.

In March, I switched cell phone companies. To avoid getting nabbed for fraud (keep reading), let’s call the company “Dash Wireless.” (I know if you’re actually reading this, I’m not fooling you, but I have done no small amount of SEO copywriting and know this change will keep web bots from returning this post on searches for, um, Dash.) So I switch to Dash, and I, being clumsy as hell but also having learned from 41-plus years of being me, well, I buy the insurance. Because I kind of need a phone, as much as I hate it so much that when you call me, odds are your ring is the Darth Vader theme. Don’t take it personally; I just kind of resent being shackled to a phone. I am at the mercy of text, voice, and email. We used to live in caves, people.

Ahem. Where was I? Ah, yes, Dash. And insurance. And me, of course, dropping my phone. I sigh. I try for many months to make do, but the nature of the break along the back of my phone is that it’s somehow puffier, and my ear develops an inconvenient habit of muting the call/launching FaceTime/disconnecting the call, so I finally cave, pay the $200 insurance deductible – the Dash rep told me it would be $50, but whatever, there’s a cost associated with being me and of course it’s not $50 and of course I have no proof she told me that – and get my new phone.

I get this phone as El Cap and I are headed to Tennessee for a few days, so by the time I activate the phone, I’m in Macon, Georgia and have almost no reception. Same in Tennessee. When we get home I realize, um, hey, the only way people can hear me is if I talk to them on speaker phone. This, of course, is wildly inconvenient for those around me, so I call Dash and get directed to the local Dash store, where they look over my phone, agree that it’s a refurbished piece of junk and I need a new one. Of course, the crappy warranty refurbs they offer are back ordered, so they give me a bunch of paperwork and tell me I’ll get one in no less than a week, likely more.

That was December 15. Later that day, of course, I drop my phone and crack the screen. Because of course I do. I opt to take a wait-and-see attitude, because hey, the damn thing wasn’t working anyway and maybe I’ll catch a break. So yesterday my new phone – the one I couldn’t get three hours before I broke the screen on the non-functional one – arrives. I go to the store but never even get to sign in because the woman in the Dash reception area sees my screen and tells me I can’t get my warranty phone unless I pay another $200 claim to the insurance company.

“But I already paid that and y’all sent me a phone that doesn’t work. This one,” I say, gesturing to my phone.

“But the screen wasn’t cracked.”

“But it didn’t work anyway. I paid for a phone, the phone you sent didn’t work, and you said you couldn’t repair it, so what does it matter? I still paid for a phone that works and you sent me one that didn’t.”

“It doesn’t matter. You can finance a new phone if you’d like.”

I sighed (which is what I do a lot instead of opting to lose my shit) left the store, and called the insurance company, where two minions told me my situation certainly was frustrating, and I could get a new (read: refurbished) phone for $200. I tell them they’re not getting any more of my money (because at this point I’m pissed at myself, pissed at the Dash representative, and not at all happy with the condescending bitch on the phone who fails to see the difference between “frustrated” and “furious” and the pretense of “pleasant” is long gone) and hang up the phone. At this point I’d like to note I am sorely missing the days of slamming down a receiver (on the sort of phone that would also eliminate some of my other problems.)

That’s when I decide to – brainstorm – fix the screen and go back to the store the next day. Except I worry they’ll remember me, so the plan is for El Cap to go in on my behalf (we share an account) and trade in my phone. And then El Cap gets paged to go to work, because he’s a tow boat captain and Saturdays are apparently like Black Friday of boats not working, and I call Thelma.

Oh, that’s not her name, because the first thing she says to me when this is all over is “Is this going to be a column?” and I promised her it wouldn’t and while this isn’t a column, I still probably shouldn’t expose her secret identity because she’s my friend and also game for wacky capers, although, as you’re about to see, she really should be driving the getaway car, not robbing the bank.

I go to Thelma’s house. Thelma, who planned a perfectly relaxing day of reading in a hammock, comes out to greet me and I tell her, “I need you to commit cell phone fraud with me.”

She looks at her husband and her impressionable teenage daughter, sighs (not out of rage, like I do, but because she’s realizing, again, that she should never have me around her impressionable teenage daughter. Or she’s depressed she only attracts crazy people for friends. Hard to tell with sighing) and grabs her purse.

“OK,” I tell her on the way to the store. “You have to be me.” She closes her eyes briefly and gets out of the car with my phone. It is at that moment I realize I do not like waiting to see if the Great iPhone Caper of 2015 will work. I am, for lack of a better analogy, the one who robs the bank. I am a lousy “wait in the getaway car” partner; I’m positive everyone walking out of the store knows I’m trying to defraud the cell phone company (although, in all honesty, I don’t think many people would blame me.) I think of five different things to tell her, but she’s gone and I don’t want to show my face in the store in case they remember me. I then get the brilliant idea to text her, except, hey, I don’t have a phone. I reach for her phone, but I don’t know the passcode, which is actually a good thing because I’m pretty sure the tech, not Thelma, now has my phone and if he sees messages like “play it cool, Thelma!” he might get suspicious.

Ten minutes later she comes out to the car.

“OK,” she says, and she looks pale and wide-eyed and maybe a little ill. “They want to know things. I told them my purse was in the car.” She then asks for my wireless account passcode, the name of my first pet, and my license. I figure either she’s really committed to getting this phone for me or has a master plan to punish me for dragging her into this. I figure if she is stealing my identity, “identity theft” is actually a good enough reason to give my boss as to why I don’t have a phone come Monday, so I write down my passcode and my first pet’s name and hand over my purse.

After she goes in the store I realize we never gave Dash the real name of my first pet, but I have no way to tell Thelma this. It was not a good 15 minutes for me. I kept looking around, waiting for the cops to arrive, because there is no way anyone will believe Thelma is my driver’s license photo and it now occurs to me they may think she stole my phone and purse and that’s when I realize she has my purse. Which is my favorite purse, my Brahmin, and not inexpensive. That purse has never even touched the floor and now it’s headed for some grungy evidence locker. Also, Thelma has all my debit cards and my Discover card and my business AmEx and I don’t even have my phone to call her husband to tell him to bail her out. Worst. Friend. Ever.

But apparently the fact that Thelma looks less like me than Geena Davis does bothers no one in the Dash store, because she walks out of the store with my new iPhone. She gets in the car, hands me the phone, looks at me like she really wants to go back in time and not have moved to Gulfport, and says, “Here is your new iPhone. That. Was. Awful.”

Not ONLY did I give her the wrong secret answer, they actually looked at my license (me: 5’4″, Italian, dark hair; Thelma: NOT 5’4″, northern European, freckles), looked at her, looked at the license, went in the back, came back, went in the back again, and… came out with my phone. I’m pretty sure they knew it wasn’t me but didn’t know how to handle it, and since she did have the phone with the proper serial number, apparently figured, meh, what the hell? This is what happens when you pay people minimum wage, Dash.

They did, however, make Thelma choose a new nine-million-digit passcode for my account, and she randomly (but cleverly) grabbed my insurance card and gave them my insurance policy number. Which means if I have a phone issue in the future, I can now get a free mammogram. Or when I go for my mammogram, my left nipple will have its own ringtone. I don’t really know how passcodes work. Also, I probably should give that number to El Cap. In case he ever has to call the phone company. He doesn’t need a mammogram. I’m hoping.

(Also, a giant, huge, larger-than-life shout out to Tony at Gulfport’s Cell Phone Solutions, who fixed my screen for a fraction of what the mall guys charge and also, without looking at me in an “I told you so” tone of voice, told me they had great prices on Otterboxes. I now own a pink and white Otterbox, and I will now be bringing my cracked iPhone to Tony every time I break it, which I’m not even going to pretend won’t happen. Because it’s me, y’all. It’s kind of my thing.)

Also, when I told El Cap about this later, he suggested we should have gone to Radio Shack and bought walkie-talkies. This is why I love him. Also, I now totally know what to get Thelma for her birthday.

UPDATE: My mom just read this and sent me an email, which read:

So, Thelma and Louise in action.  I should have warned her about the sofa you “returned” when you moved from Kissimmee.  I’m beginning to believe you are not really my child.

That’s totally another post, y’all.


Hard Candy – Thankful

General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” 

– Hugh Grant, “Love, Actually”

Christmas, in my world, starts about a week before Thanksgiving at the latest. If I can get away with it, it starts November 2. I can never, I should note, get away with that. And part of celebrating Christmas, to me, is celebrating Thanksgiving. I suspect that’s because I tend towards the misanthropic, so the idea of gratitude makes for a nice respite.

So, without further preamble, here’s my list of things for which I am grateful.

My old friend, Frank. Eleven years ago I was not in the holiday spirit. I was, in fact, downright Grinchy. Frank suggested we go see Love, Actually, which was unusual because he was forever dragging me to dramas that sounded good until I sat down in a dark theatre. I slept through a lot of fine cinema in Frank’s company. This time, though, he must have sensed I could use a boost. I left that movie feeling as good as I felt as a kid opening presents at my parents’ house. It, along with Home for the Holidays, The Ref, and Holiday Inn, are among my favorite holiday movies.

New sewers. Wow, that’s a 180 in gratitude, I know, but I need to do this, because I’ve harassed Gulfport’s Public Works Director Don Sopak in print and in person about this so much I’m amazed he hasn’t filed a restraining order. Last week, the city started evaluating the sewers to determine the extent of repair needed, and while I called Don to complain about the gurgling noise the testing made my toilets make, I neglected to mention how happy I was we were doing this.

Liberals like Mayor Sam Henderson and Yolanda Roman, and any liberal, anywhere, in office. This election scared me, both in the lack of turnout and the results. As I drove through Georgia last week I realized how strongly the Tea Party has divided this country and fostered hate. Stay strong, please, and also, local guys, thanks for keeping your partisan politics out of our local politics.

Vice Mayor Christine Brown, who has been an endless source of surprises. She’s been able to put partisan politics aside for the good of Gulfport, and you would never know she was a Republican by watching her in meetings. I actually suspect she may not be, but I don’t want to be the one to tell her that.

Ward One Councilman Dan Liedtke. I have to sigh when I say this. He’s so incredibly conservative, I want to dislike him, but I can’t, because he’s our token conservative. He makes my brain hurt when he gets started on any sort of conservative rant, but he also makes me think. On a local level, he’s the one who gets aggressive about saving the city money, and while I don’t always agree with how he wants to do it, I appreciate that someone’s paying attention.

Lesley DeMuth and Jim O’Reilly. Lesley is Gulfport’s city clerk and Jim is our city manager, and I couldn’t report on city business without the level of cooperation they give me. Let me be clear: I’m not friends with these people, and at times our jobs are at odds. Even then, when it would be easy for them to mire me in bureaucracy when I make a request, they don’t. Gulfport is lucky to have them both, and I am lucky to have a job that allows me to deal with city staff that doesn’t see the media as the enemy.

Every one of our police officers and firefighters. I have no way to thank you eloquently for what you’re willing to risk to keep everyone else safe, so please just know that you all have my gratitude.

My editor, Shelly Wilson. She came on board this year after a several-year absence from the Gabber, and I hate her. Oh, not all the time, just mostly on Wednesdays and Tuesdays, of course, where she’s hassling me about doing my job properly. If you’ve seen any changes in the paper lately, that’s her hand at work. We’re making some changes to make the paper better for you, and while bringing a new position into the mix has not been without minor pitfalls, just know that for every mistake you may see as we revamp our editorial process, she’s caught about seven we ordinarily wouldn’t. It’s been an absolute bitch for her to come up to speed, and I’m not certain she knows how much I appreciate having her around.

Our hound dog, Banyan. She could be a coonhound, according to the shelter she called home for far too long. I’d likely call her a goofhound, because this dog is the Jack Tripper of dogs. I am in love with this dog, and although Calypso may not be as thankful as I am for her, I believe she’ll come around and by this time next year they’ll be best buddies.

My mom and dad. They didn’t raise me perfectly, but from what I’ve seen, they definitely scored in the 98th percentile.

El Cap. He saves me every day from being the bitter, cranky old lady I can see in my head. He lets me be myself –which is to say, just crazy enough – without letting me be self-destructive. It’s a fine line. I am no picnic as a partner, rest assured. I’m not sure what he keeps going back to that keeps him from dropping rat poison in my coffee and dumping my body in Clam Bayou, but I’m lucky and forever grateful.

You guys. You read this column, and you write or call to tell me you love it or you hate it. This never ceases to amaze me, and I’m grateful every day that you keep reading and thinking. I love that you care enough to make this column a thing, and, more importantly, that you care enough to keep the Gabber a thing. Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Hard Candy appears mostly regularly in print and online for the Gabber Newspaper, but the opinions and attitudes expressed are all Cathy’s. Contact her here.