Thursday, January 31, 2008

what "where there's fish there's cats" means

The title of this blog means that there will always be a predator for every prey. Or, more generally, some thing or some one will eventually find a way to exploit every possible opportunity. Where there's cheese, there's rats. Where there's fish, there's cats. Where there's money to be made in selling access to botnets, there's websites devoted entirely to selling access to botnets.

That is what the phrase means, if it was in the dictionary, but that does not explain why I use it. Here's why.

Once when I was about 16 my dad sent me and my brother and my cousin to go check on the minnow traps he'd set in Bayou Cateau (a tributary of Bayou La Batre, pronounced something exactly like "Bikey Toe").

Dad's minnow traps were made out of mason jars and window screen. I can't remember what he baited them with. Cat food would have been awesome for this story, but we didn't have a cat at the time, so it wouldn't make sense. The traps were sunk into the bayou just above what is now the Crumb Schambeau Memorial Bridge, tethered to the bank by string.

(Crumb Schambeau was still alive and employing the youth of the town as well-tipped bagboys at his grocery/hardware store, crunching the numbers on a calculator made before integrated circuits were invented, the effects of the Wal-Mart at Tillman's Corner on his bottom line displayed in glowing nixie tubes; so the bridge was at that time nameless)

As we approached the bank, we were suddenly surrounded by feral cats. Ok, I'm sure memory exaggerates and "surrounded" is probably too dramatic of a word, but I swear there were definitely more of them than there were of us. It was like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie. Lean, hungry, bony felines raised their voices in a chorus of "braaaiiiiinsssss.." "mmmmeeeeeeooooowwwwww!".

Knowing that it was going to be difficult to complete our mission with these animals dogging (sic) us, wanting to get rid of the cats without having to hurt them, and being too ignorant to think about the fact that they might be rabid, one of us (I really can't remember which one) grabbed the nearest cat, picked him up, and tossed him into the bayou. As far out into the bayou as we could throw him; far enough that the magic power that cats normally have to fall sideways and avoid going into rain barrels did not work. He plunged into the tea-like water like a stone.

Several seconds later, he scrabbled back up onto the bank like something that had escaped from the netherworld. Dripping, muddy, sniffling, he looked even more like some kind of horror movie creature, and he was still as hungry as ever.

But it had bought us a few seconds of time. So two of us ran interference, tossing cats into the bayou right and left, while the other checked the minnow traps. I don't recall if there were any minnows in them in or not.

I'd like to think that we finally fed the poor damn things before we left. But unless we got any minnows, I'm not sure what we would have fed them that day. I do believe we came back with food for them on other days.

A lot of people find this story really funny, especially the part that comes right after they ask me why there were so many cats there in the first place. That's when I point out that the mouth of Bayou Cateau is smack in the middle of Bayou La Batre's industrial heart, where shrimp, crab, and fish of many kinds are unloaded, processed, and packed by a multi-ethnic corps of people in very white clothing. People with clear plastic bags over their hair and white rubber boots on their feet.

That's when I say, "where there's fish, there's cats". Why, exactly, this is considered hilarious I don't know. To me it just sounds true.

These cats were the latest of untold generations of feral animals that survived on the droppings, leavings, and spoilage of the factories that feed us all people who buy Wild American Shrimp. They shared this food source with dogs, racoons, and (on the more rural side of the Bayou) pigs. People who shot and ate those pigs said that they tasted like rotten shrimp hulls.

I actually don't tell the story so much anymore, because even when I try to justify it by overstating the numbers of cats, and even when I explain that we had nothing to feed them, and even when I claim to have gone back and fed them later, it sounds just plain mean. We wouldn't have repeatedly thrown them in the bayou if it wasn't fun. No, defending oneself from feline assault is not inherently mean, but having a gay old time doing it and hooting about it for years afterward? I'm afraid it is, if only just a little bit.

So I don't tell this story much anymore; but I still tell it sometimes because you really need to know it if you want to be able to say that you know me.

To end this on a more positive note:

At some point later in time, I may or may not have tried to write a parody of the song "Johnny Freedom" (warning: lyrics sites are mostly evil), in which the words "tossing tea in Boston Bay" were replaced by "tossing cats in bikey toe". But I believe that's the only line I actually came up with so its a pretty lame parody. Nevertheless.. Johnny Horton FTW! Hit the decks a-rrrrrunnin' boys an' spin them guns arrrrround!


Now, the other part of that story.

My grandfather owns the land on both sides of that bridge... That is, on the side closer to the mouth of the bayou rather than closer to the middle of town.

He was (and still is at 80 years young) a gill-net fisher. Just below that bridge is his boat launch, and the reason there are always stray animals there is that he has for my entire life cleaned fish (etc) there, and tossed the scraps into the marsh for the animals to eat.

Every now and again, the dog/cat they had at home would die of old age or something, and he'd bring home a new puppy/kitten.

He also owns the land across from the Alba football field... If you were to kick a ball toward the goal posts, and it went across that road back there, it would land in his garden... He made it a habit for many years to feed the quail there on that little plot. That is until one day when he got a flavor for quail. Fortunately, he keeps a rusty old Marlin 12 gauge "Goose Gun" behind his seat. You know the kind of thing... 36 inch barrel, bolt action rusted shut so you have to beat it with a 2x4 to load the thing...

One shot was apparently all he needed. He ground-strafed the quail he'd been caring for all those years, and took out about a dozen.
My grandfather owns the land on both sides of that bridge...

Should have read:

My grandfather owns the land on both sides of Shellbelt road...
Well, then I guess we were stealing your minnows. I supposed I owe you for those.
Hard to eat a minner... We was after them mullets. ;)
so was that here
or here?