Friday, June 28, 2013

RIP Tuffy



I'm back from my writing workshop and life's been fraught with drama since getting dropped off at the Raleigh airport Wednesday morning (more on that later).  This morning I got a phone call telling me that a fine man named Tuffy died last weekend, which makes me sad because I based a main character in my fishing novel on him.  I lift my coffee mug in tribute to Tuffy Redemann, a man whose truth was stranger than the fiction I wrote about his life.  Here's an excerpt from Chapter 2 in Across the River in which we first meet him:
 

Barrel-sized chunks of ice sped down the river, spinning when they rammed into each other.  The river gleamed black and dangerous where it rose up the banks, pouring over docks and smacking the pilings.  It slopped onto lawns, raced across parking lots and flooded the boat landing.  Beneath the murky current walleye searched for food, snapping at early hatching lake flies and minnows.
            A tiny clapboard building with peeling white paint and drooping gutters stood beside the highway, about a hundred feet past the billboard.  A neon sign flickered “Open” behind smeared windows, and the dried carcasses of a million mosquitoes and flies lay heaped between glass panes and torn screens. Inside the shop a portly, bearded man dipped minnows in a huge aluminum tank.  He alternately swigged Mountain Dew out of a can and dragged on a cigarette with his free hand while listening to the radio propped on the shelf behind the cash register. 
            Maw Cooper suffered through the steady trickle of walleye fishermen, preferring the chaotic rush of the amateurs looking to hook white bass.  Those fishing walleye came in slowly throughout the day, politely requesting their choice of bait and paying cash.  These men knew what they wanted, and they didn’t want to stand around talking about it.  No hassling with credit cards or novice questions for these expert fishermen, thank you very much.  That would wait until May when the city slickers sped into town in their shiny SUVs, eager to “live off the land” for three or four days out of the year before returning to their high-speed, sterilized lives behind cubicle walls.  Maw liked his cash register full as much as the next guy, so he helpfully sold the weekend fishermen more bait than they’d ever use in a three-day wekend, and outfitted them with new rods and reels to boot.  Yes sir, he preferred business in May, when the hours flew past punctuated by the constant ring of his register drawer opening.


Maw wiped clean his glasses with the edge of his t-shirt and straightened a display of cigarettes before returning to the minnow tanks.  Leaning above the swirling water, he checked the temperature once more before adjusting a valve.  “That oughta do it,” he announced to the empty store before returning to his stool behind the counter.
            Looking through the bug-smeared window at the faint daylight spreading across the sky, Maw noticed two of the light bulbs on his sign outside needed replacing.  “Best get after that,” he muttered.  “Don’t want to be known as ‘Ma’s Bat and Tackle’.”
            He ripped yesterday’s page off his Word of the Day calendar and read the word for March 12th.  “Jactation—noun—the act of bragging, a false boast or false statement that causes harm to another person.  Relentless tossing or jerking of the body in severe illness.”  Maw loved long, obscure words that nobody else heard of.  He thought it made him sound smart when he said things like “fistulous” and “polygenesis” in the middle of a conversation.  Since 1978 he’d religiously studied the daily offering in the Word of the Day calendar.  “Jactation.”  He considered it for a moment before trying it out.  “I don’t think it’s jactation to say my minnows are the best in town.” 
            He nudged through the door of the storage room at the back of his shop, carrying his can of Mountain Dew and cradling two light bulbs in his arm, when the phone’s ring pierced the quiet gurgle of the minnow tanks and the serene hum of the coolers.  Maw started and the bulbs slid out of his arm, their fragile glass shells shattering on the floor.  “Shit!”  Maw kicked at the glass shards with his scuffed sneakers and reached across the counter to grab the phone receiver.
            “Maw here,” he snapped and shrugged the phone cord off his shoulder.  He glanced at the clock behind the counter.  It was 6:53.
            “Good morning.  Am I talking to Maw’s Bait and Tackle?” asked a low voice smoother than aged whiskey.
            “Yeah.  I’m Maw.”
            “Well, hello, Maw.  This is Dave LaMay calling from Chicago.  What’s the fishing report for the week up there in Bassville?”
            “Well, hello, Dave LaMay from Chicago.”  Maw adopted the caller’s condescending tone in his gravelly voice.  “The fishing report for the week is fair to middlin’ provided you know where to fish and what to use for bait.”
            The voice on the other line rumbled with laughter at this response and went on to explain that he, Dave LaMay from Chicago, was a disc jockey at a radio station downtown.  Knowing a number of Chicago natives made their way north to fish each spring, he thought he’d incorporate a fishing report into his morning program.  Maw’s happened to be the number provided to him by a friendly operator.
            Maw recognized an opportunity for free advertising as fast as a sturgeon could gulp down a frog, so he launched into his pitch without missing a beat.
            “Dave LaMay from Chicago, you tell your listeners that the best fishing is done with a minnow for bait.  A fierce minnow.  A minnow that goes after the fish itself instead of waiting passively for the fish to come find it in the murky depths of the Wissipaw River.  You tell your listeners that very minnow is bred and raised and sold exclusively at Maw’s Bait and Tackle right here in Bassville.”
            “Is that a fact?”
            “Yup.  Just off the highway.  You can see my sign.  Actually it reads ‘Ma’s Bat and Tackle’ just now.  I was on my way to replace a couple of bulbs in the “W” when you called.  Could change the name to ‘Ma’s Bat and Tackle’ and skip changing light bulbs, but I’d end up with a different business entirely, don’t you know.  But tell your listeners it’s MAW’S BAIT AND TACKLE!  Maw spelled with a ‘W’.”
            Dave LaMay agreed his listeners would indeed know where to go since this phone call was live, on the air, at this very moment.
            Maw grinned, delighted to have commercial air time at no personal expense.  “It’s not jactation, Dave LaMay,” he paused to let Chicago absorb his intelligence, “when I tell you that I sell the best minnows around.  Tell you what, Dave, anyone comes into my shop mentioning your show, I’ll give ’em a free dozen of my specialty minnows. 
            “That’s quite a deal, Maw.”
            “Listen, call back tomorrow and I’ll give you another report.  About twenty guys in suits just came through my front door talking about some radio guy named Dave LaMay and free minnows.  I gotta go.”
            “Until tomorrow then, Maw.”
            Maw hung up the phone and raised his “Born to Fish” coffee mug high in the air.  “To Maw Cooper!  Salesman extraordinaire!  Come on, May!  Come on, you fabulously wealthy anglers of the south!”   He choked down a swig of cold coffee because a toast didn’t count unless you took a sip, and whispered, “Call again tomorrow.  Please.”


RIP, Tuffy.  I'm glad I knew you and I'm sorry I didn't get this book finished in time for you to ever read it.

8 comments:

  1. I love this excerpt from your book. It is so clear I can see it. And I've met a few Maws in my day as well, in the Northwoods. ;) He sounds like quite a character. And what a tribute to him, putting him in your book.

    I'm sorry for your loss.


    p.s. I'm glad you finally got home too. :)

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  2. Love this. Sorry to your loss.

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  3. Oh, I'm sorry, Melissa. I can't imagine a better tribute than your lovely prose. And I can't wait to read more!

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  4. All the craziness of trying to get home again, and now such sad news. I'm sorry for your loss. Your writing makes him sound like someone I'd like to have in my town.

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  5. 'Fraught with drama' and then this very sad news. Sounds like a difficult homecoming.

    How good it is that you memorialized this fine man in your writing.

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  6. I'm so sorry.
    You've written him well.

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  7. I am sure anybody that knows him would recognize him--you've painted such a lifelike, detailed picture.

    I followed your adventure on FB--what an ordeal. Glad you made it home.

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  8. So sorry for your loss. Glad you finally made it home.

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Spill it, reader.