Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Man with the Fish on His Foot

The last vestiges of the red tide had just about disappeared by the time we arrived at Boca Grande for our annual week at the beach. And while the breeze carried a tinge of acrid, fishy aroma, the shoreline was no longer the carpet of carcasses it had been just a couple of weeks earlier.

So I set out on an early morning walk just like I always do when I’m at the beach—barefoot. After all, to imprison feet in shoes while going on a beach walk is, to use a comparison oft applied to another, even-more-gratifying sensual experience, like wearing a raincoat in the shower. There’s something about that whole sand-between-the-toes thing that is essential to beachgoing.

I’d made it about a half mile when, flush with the vigor of an aging body finally beginning to warm up and deceived into thinking I was actually in shape, I thought: What the heck, why not jog for a while? I broke into a trot. It felt pretty good. My stride was long, my pace not bad. I figured I might have a future starring in those TV commercials where a middle-aged guy runs down a beach with a couple of golden retrievers bounding on either side, then arrives on the porch of his beach house as his wife pours him a big glass of lemonade and the voiceover talks about a prescription medicine that would put some bounce in his step and some lead in his pencil.

The next thing I knew there was a dagger in my right foot and I was tumbling onto the sand. I sat up. I reached for my foot. And there, stuck to it, was a catfish.

For the record, it was a Gafftopsail catfish, bagre marinus, most notable for its long curving dorsal fin, a dorsal fin with a barb like a fishhook, a dorsal fin now impaled just south of my big toe. The fish itself was a relatively recent arrival on shore and had washed up under some seaweed. But its freshness was of little solace.

The pain was fierce. I hollered. I cussed. I grabbed the fish and gave it a yank. It didn’t budge. It hurt even worse. I cussed some more. I yanked on the fish again. Nothing. Except excruciating, ungodly pain.

So I did the only thing I could do. I stood up and started gimping my way back to our condo, the catfish flapping against my sole. I felt like that guy in Carl Hiaasen’s Double Whammy, the one who is forced to walk around with a dead pit bull clamped onto his arm. These things happen in Florida.

And I am here to tell you that, should you ever feel lonely and want someone to talk to, then just attach a catfish to your foot. Or any other available body part. It is a real conversation starter. First, people’s mouths drop open. Then they start to say something, but, you know, what do you say to a man with a fish on his foot? Still, they try.

Said one woman, “Is that a shark?”
Said another: “Has this ever happened to you before?”
And one guy, a real smart aleck, actually said: “Hey, did you know there was a fish on your foot?”

Back at the condo, my devoted wife donned gloves and tried to separate me from my piscatorial companion. She yanked, she pulled. I yelled, I cussed. Finally, we found a hacksaw, cut the fish from its fin, and proceeded to the emergency clinic. Incisions were involved. I’ll spare you the details.

“Next time,” the doctor said, “wear shoes.”

No way. It’s still not worth it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Forbidden Fruit

My cousin in Miami, Edith, sent me a box big box of mangoes the other day, bless her heart. It cost her a ton in postage and I owe her big time because the box contained some of her precious Early Golds, quite possibly the best mangoes on the planet.
The way it is these days, you can go to the supermarket and find mangoes any time of year. In the fall, winter and spring, they ship them in from Mexico, Brazil or Thailand. They are passable, I suppose, better than no mangoes at all.
But anyone with real mango lust and no cousin Edith in Miami, should take a drive to Pine Island, along Charlotte Harbor. It's mango heaven. You can load up with a bushel or two of the local varieties—Tommie Adkins, Hayden or, my favorite, the Valenciana—and happily sate yourself for a week or so, enjoying mangoes in all their manifestations. Mango margueritas. Mango chutney. Sliced mangoes on vanilla ice cream. Or plain old sliced mangoes with maybe a squeeze of lime juice on them.
I make my Pine Island pilgrimage every summer and I always think of Jack Floweree, who used to farm mangoes near Bokeelia. Floweree was nothing less than a mango prophet. Stop by his place – he called it the Mango Factory—and he would preach the many healthful benefits of eating mangoes and share his unflinching belief that mangoes are indeed the Forbidden Fruit of the bible.
“Mangoes have both good and evil in them,” Floweree would say. “The skin is poison to some folks and can make them break out in the hives. But the fruit is heaven itself.”
In Floweree’s version of the Book of Genesis, Eve plucked a mango from the Tree of Knowledge and offered to share it with Adam.
“You know how it is when you peel a mango. You make a mess and get mango juice all over you,” Floweree said. “That’s the way it was for ol’ Eve. She peeled that mango and when she was done she was covered in mango juice. She gave some of the fruit to Adam and he devoured it, thought it was the best thing he’d ever eaten, just had to have some more. And so ol’ Adam he started licking that mango juice off of Eve and, well, the two of them got to carrying on.
“That’s when the heavens parted, God pointed down and told Adam he had to leave the Garden of Eden,” Floweree said. “His voice boomed out: ‘Man, go!’”
Which leads us directly, with a few groans, to the very best way to eat a mango.
First, select your mango and find a sharp knife. Carry knife and mango to the bathroom. Take off all your clothes. Then get into the shower with your mango and your knife.
Slice the skin into four sections and peel it off. If, like me, you are a complete mango addict, then you will risk getting a little “poison” from the skin on your lips just so you can gnaw the fruit from the peel. Once the peel is dispatched, sit down in the shower. Hold the fruit in your hand and go at it. Let that mango juice drip where it may.
And luxuriate in the goodness.
If the heavens part and a voice booms out, “Man, go!” then you are on your own. But I suggest you go get another mango, peel it, and offer the Big Guy a slice.