The Legend of how Riverslick Stole the Bride

As the only eye witness to the events I am about to relate, or at least the only eye witness that, based on the circumstances of the situation, is likely to be able to clearly recall all of the conversations and activities, I feel compelled to relate the true and actual story of Riverslick and the Bride.

It all started normally enough, or at least normal considering the participants in the events of the day.  There had been a variety of warnings regarding the stagnant water that we had been in, and at least one of us, this storyteller to be exact, had already fallen due to no fault of our own, but rather the vagaries of a unsteady riverbed and a rotten, fallen log.  We had been less than successful in observing our target.  Actually there were several targets that would have made a fine reward for the days efforts, but none had been forthcoming so far.

Entering what was to be our last fishing site of the day, although as you will see, not absolutely the last site for some of us, the Snorkelmeister and the Farmer headed off, as they are wont to do, with much enthusiasm directly down stream.  Riverslick the Bride and I wandered rather slowly up stream to a separate pool.  Soon, Riverslick had captured a fair sampling of fish from the pools.  He had been hoping to see a few things in these pools and had been successful on at least one count, and not so successful on another.  At this point he began to sing to himself, but I must admit that although I didn’t have a banjo on my knee, I was quick to join him.

No susanae,
we did not catch that fish,
but we got an arrow darter,
and a couple of Notropis.

We were having such fun with fish and song that we hadn’t noticed that the evening had begun to encroach upon our day and the sky had gone rather dusky.  The Farmer wandered back our way having not captured his target fish.  We inquired as to the whereabouts of the Snorkelmeister, but none amongst us had seen him since he had originally charged forth into the pools and puddles of what should have been the river.  After calling out to our absent compatriot and waiting around between the puddles and pools for is return, we decided to hike back up the pathway we had descended and return to our vehicles. Not long thereafter we see the Snorkelmeister walking up the road, snorkel cap on, unsnapped, flaps dangling, mask, snorkel and plastic bag in hand, grinning from ear to ear.  As he nears we can see that he has captured his quarry in a plastic bag.  Etheostoma sagitta, the arrow darter, the target of his search the answer to his prayers, a rare find and a rare catch via a rare method.  Without dip net or seine, without assistance, nearly without light as the evening had already made its approach, the Snorkelmeister bagged, literally, a large male arrow darter, by talking him into his plastic viewing bag.

While still in a state of unbelief, surprise, and brimming with questions, we were again approach by yet another strange sight coming down the road.  Only this time it was not our own beloved Snorkelmeister, but Bob and Bear and a tractor.  Of course we didn’t have names for these new visitors as of yet, but soon introductions were soon made as the large, at least when measured circumferentially, open shirted man and his tiny, measured by any capacity, dog stopped the tractor even with our own parked vehicles.

Bob inquired, as to our well being and that of our vehicles.  We explained, as best we dared, the nature of our investigations and adventures up to that point.

“You best be careful of that water… it ain’t safe… you didn’t drink any did you?  We been pullin’ dead deer out of that stream all summer.”
“I’m sure I didn’t drink more than a pint”
“Well then you got about 24 hours to live.”
“Well in that case I got my last supper right here.”

And suddenly, with a quick duck into the van and a reach in between the front seats the Snorkelmeister produces, as is from a magician’s hat, a recently deceased Sciurus carolinensis, long grey and limp.  “Talked him out of the tree and into the van, just like I talked the darter into the bag.”  Now, I’m pretty sure that Bob didn’t know what a darter was, but he had surely seen his share of road kill.  So the Snorkelmeister turns his back on the whole scene, places his last supper back in the van and concentrates on making the appropriate accommodations for E. sagitta, the Farmer engages in potential photographic portraiture of same, and realizing at that point that he had met his match, Bob decides there is nothing additional to be gained by further pressing his point regarding the lethality of the almost river.  Instead he proceeds to invite the group of us to his place… a bar down the road he called the Rooster Scratch. And having given his warning and extending his hospitality he spoke something to Bear that we could not hear, goosed the tractor back to life and headed on in the direction he had indicated.

Now, knowing that there would soon be a wedding and carefully considering his own impending retirement on the near horizon, Riverslick decides that the offer of the man on the tractor should be seriously considered.  He verbalizes his intention to take the large gray bearded man up on his offer, but the Snorkelmeister is busy preparing quarters for his captured E. sagitta and the Farmer is focused on photographing the same.

So we all load up and soon the Farmer and the Snorkelmeister are in his van, and Riverslick and I surreptitiously steal away with the Bride, only half expecting the others to follow, and only half caring.

Not far down the unpaved road and around a bend or two, we come to the aforementioned Rooster Scratch, lit with the obligatory neon advertising and surrounded by pick-me-up trucks and motorcycles.  Riverslick parks on the far side of the road and the Bride and I jump out of the be-stickered VW bus that serves as his transportation, sometimes camper, and fish collecting gear storage container.  As we neared the building we realized that, only one out of three of us had any cash, so the soon to be retiree, agreed to pay for his own party and we proceeded into the Rooster Scratch.

The scene as we stepped through the door, or through the looking glass I’m never really sure, would have made the head of Magritte or Dali spin with the intensity of the surrealism.

Carry on my wayward son, There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest, Don't you cry no more…

Kansas, Skynyrd and The King blared form the jukebox that night.  We quickly looked around and found Bob and Bear sitting in the corner.  The big man and the little dog both jumped up and came over to greet us.  We made our way to the bar and get three bottles of Yuengling Beer.  The room is open in the middle with a bench seat running nearly the entire perimeter of the room, interrupted by the front door and a table in the corner.  It’s here that Bob sits with a can of beer for himself and a bottle of water for Bear.  He pours drink after drink for the small dog, by filling the screw off cap from the bottle with a bit of water, which Bear proceeds to laps up with his incredibly small tongue.

The Bride starts talking to several women at one end of the bar, and is soon sitting with one who introduces herself as Liz and immediately launches into her entire life story, family concerns, and foibles.  Riverslick and I sit down next to Bob, and then he starts.  “Whatta ya’ do?  Myself I’m a doctor, yep a doctor… perform minor surgery ‘round here on Fridays, pull teeth on Wednesdays… oh and I cut hair on Mondays.”  And then the door opens and a woman walks though carrying a bushel basket of medium sized pumpkins… followed by a man with several more large pumpkins.  “But I don’t do much of that any more, I’m retired… actually retired three times.”  Although he never really mentions the third job (the doctor claim was obviously a line) he does go on to talk about some time he spent in the U.S. Army in Germany, and some more time in Vietnam.  And the door opens again and the woman walks though carrying a bushel basket of hot peppers… followed by a man with another bushel basket of the same.  And Bob tells us as well that he was the Postmaster around here for a while.  His daughter still works over at the post office.  And he begins to introduce everyone in the bar, all who seem to be related to Bob in some way or at least married to some relative of his.  This includes the bartender who is introduced to us as his grandson Jake.  He calls out to Jake, holds his beer can high and shakes it to indicate its obvious lack of contents, and Jake brings him another can.  And the door opens again and the woman walks though carrying a bushel basket of hot peppers… followed by a man with another bushel basket of the same.  Bob drinks long from the can, jumps up and goes over to a shelf high beside the bar, grabs a framed black and white photo and wanders back to his assigned seat in the corner.  He holds up one hand to cover the lower half of his face (a rather pointless endeavor as his face is completely covered by a shaggy gray beard that falls all the way to mid chest), in the other hand he holds up the photo.  “Does it look like me?”  The weathered face, squinted eyes and bulbous nose are identical, man and photo… so to is the beard for that matter.  I nod.  “It’s my great… great… great… four greats I think grandfather.”  He talks some of genealogy and history and how long his family has been around these parts. And the door opens again and the woman walks though carrying a bushel basket of hot peppers… followed by a man with another bushel basket of the same.  I can’t resist asking about the produce parade, and Bob tells of his nine acres down the hill where he grows pumpkins and peppers.  Now, Riverslick is rather the pepper aficionado, so he starts asking questions.  And before I know it we are walking across the bar, through the adjacent room and through a door into the back room, leaving the Bride alone and deep into the life history, trials and tribulations of Liz.  We return soon enough having seen Bob’s stash of habanero and other varieties of peppers. 

Bob sits back down at his place under the sign on the wall that reads, ”He rules the roost, but she rules the rooster.” I look around and a couple at the bar, approximately fifty years of age are flipping through a magazine or catalog of some sort.  They point and talk, and then giggle, and then open the centerfold of the Playboy they are reading at the bar.  A few other younger folks come in and go out.  “They’re going out for prayer meeting… that’s not allowed in here… and I don’t allow it in here either.”  They stop outside by a motorcycle and light up their weed.  In walks a tall slender man, every bit as old as Bob “That’s my brother Slim, he’s got a pacemaker and an automatic defibulator.”  That doesn’t stop Slim from heading towards the bar and getting a drink, or two.  And again Bob begins to introduce everyone in the bar, all who seem to be related to him in some way or at least married to some relative of his. 

Again he holds his beer can high and shakes it, and again Jake brings him another can.  He shifts gears again, and looks at the Bride, “Whatta you do?”  The Bride tells him of her degree in Anthropology.  “Really, that’s interesting.  I myself am a Neanderthal.”  And he launches into a dialogue with the Bride about how he and his people invented fire, and such.  How they are superior to the rest of the Homo erectus and how few of their kind are truly left anymore.  And again Bob begins to introduce everyone in the bar, all who seem to be related to him in some way or at least married to some relative of his. 

“Jake, go outside and get these folks a bottle of clear water.”  When Jake returns he has what appears to be a plain bottle of Aquafina.  But the twinkle in the eye of old Bob makes it clear to all that something else is about to happen.  Apparently, Bob had taken a liking to Riverslick, and why not we all know that he is a rather likeable fellow, so he leans over and hands him the bottle of the mysterious clear water.  Riverslick tentatively removes the cap and takes a sniff of the bottle… his nose crinkles, his eyebrows raise and he blinks with curiosity.  He pauses with the bottle in one hand and the cap in the other, and for a moment I thought he might just pour some in the cap, and try to sip out of it like Bear.  Bob too senses his hesitation and takes the bottle from him. “Don’t worry none about germs, this can kill whatever you got.” And he turns and looks at the Bride. “Have you ever seen them at a wine tasting?” He takes the bottle and holds it up to the light and looks intently at the clear liquid.  He sniffs the top of the bottle and nods approvingly at the fragrance.  He tips the bottle back, takes a generous quantity into his mouth and swishes it around, we laugh softly. Encouraged, Bob stands tilts his head back, sticks out his ample gluteus, and wiggles it around enthusiastically, steps forward again and swallows.  He hands the bottle to me, the Bride looks nervously out of the corner of her eye, I look, sniff and sip with only a minor amount of theatrics compared to Bob, fully expecting for the clear liquid to burn a hole through my throat and knock me back in my seat.  Surprisingly, the scent was mild with the distinct clarity of corn mash and something I could not quite identify, and the taste was smooth, like a fine sipping whiskey.  The Bride drinks, Riverslick drinks, Bob drinks again, and the lady carrying the bushel baskets sits down and takes a drink.  Turns out she is Bob’s wife, and she sits and joins the conversation as the clear water makes repeated rounds from one to the next as Bob continues to spin yarns.

He warns us of the power of the clear water and tells us a few stories.  Of the guy that wound up falling down the hill out back and how his friends left him.  Took him a while to get up the hill and even longer to get home.  Of the guy that over did it somewhat and wound up outside hugging the coke machine. “Yeah, that guy nearly fell in love with that coke machine out there that night… just couldn’t let it go.”  Of the Trailer that they have across the road, used specifically to make sure that folks that go a little too far have a place to sleep it off.  And the clear water makes a few more rounds…

“I don’t sell any of this stuff, just give it away?”  And we mention that the Bride is a bride-to-be.  He looks at me, and the Bride sitting next to me… ”Are you two together?” No, we explain that we have pretty much kidnapped her from the most bizarre hiking, snorkeling, seining, paddling, bachelor party there has likely ever been. “Jake, step outside and get this little girl another bottle of clear water.”  And someone says, yeah she needs some of this for the honeymoon.  And Bob says, “Nope, too much of this and there won’t be any honeymoon at all… if you know what I mean.”  But Jake does as he was told and brings her the extra bottle and we try to tuck it away.

“Now that you’ve had a little bit of that, would you like to join?” 
“Whatta’ ya mean join… join what?”
“Join the Rooster Scratch, it takes a dollar.  Look around on the wall.”

And maybe for the first time we notice that the entire place is covered with what almost looks like dollar bills… dollar bills taped to the wall with clear adhesive tape.  But they don’t seem right.  For a second I think, it’s like the old ‘first dollar I ever made’ but there are way too many of them… hundreds actually.   And then a closer look reveals that they are dollar bills, but that someone has written something on each one.  On every bill there is a name or two and a date.  Bob tells us to sign our names and the date on a dollar bill.  Riverslick is the only one with any cash, so he and I sign a bill and I stand on the bench and stick it to the wall high above Bob’s head in the corner, in one of the few empty places on any of the four walls.  The Bride comes back from wandering around a bit and she decides that she wants to join as well. Riverslick comes up with another one dollar bill, the Bride writes her name on it and again, I stick it to the wall high above Bob’s head in the corner.  We take photographs of the dollar bills on the wall, we take photographs of the Bride, we take photographs of Bob, we even photograph Bear kissing the Bride.

And soon we realize that it is time to go home.  Snorkelmeister and the Farmer have never found there way down the gravel road to the Rooster Scratch.  The surrealism cannot, by definition, last forever… it is eventually overcome by the reality.  Like Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Tinman we must follow our road back to our home.

The road from the Rooster Scratch back to our camp was not straight, it was not smooth, it was not well lit.  But Riverslick’s VW van was true and the CD played loud, and we laughed and sang our way out of the Kentucky mountains, back to the river and back to our camp.  Banjo music and BR-549, Riverslick and I singing, “Poison, get thee out of me…” and the Bride giggling as she is wont to do at times such as these.

We made it back that night, to our friends, campfire, hotdogs, and even to a piece of Snorkelmeister’s road kill squirrel.  We returned the Bride to the Farmer, and even told some of the story that night, but this is the true and complete accounting of how Riverslick kidnapped the Bride.