Al Batt: Zappa and weasels ripped my flesh but I caught a crappie

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

Weasels ripped my flesh.

My mother wouldn’t have approved — either of weasels ripping my flesh or me searching for a magazine article carrying that title. Years earlier, it’d been the main cover line of an issue of Man’s Life magazine. I’d not seen that magazine, but I’d heard of it. I’d hoped to somehow find it in a year-old Argosy magazine in the barbershop.

Al Batt

“Weasels Ripped My Flesh” became a song by The Mothers of Invention. It was about two minutes of discordant noise and ear-bothering feedback followed by applause. Then Frank Zappa, the leader, said, “Goodnight, boys and girls. Thanks for coming to our concert.”

The barber asked me what I was reading. I was reading Argosy even though it was for men because the loitering men in the shop were reading all the comic books meant for someone my age. I told him I was perusing a well-written article about matadors. That was true. The tonsorial artist had a lit cigarette drooping from his mouth as he talked. A bit of ash fell from the tip of the cigarette as his lips moved. “That’s what you should be when you grow up. Your father has cows. You could practice on them.”

I welcomed his career advice. I wanted to be a matador. I was old enough to know better, but I didn’t. There were red flags. I had one. It was a red handkerchief. I wanted to wave it at a bull, but his fierceness dissuaded me. I considered bothering the steers, but they were out for lunch. So, I waved my red hankie in front of a cow. I forgot she had a young calf. My presence caused her to get her bowels in an uproar. The cow either ignored the red hankie or her aim was terrible because she knocked me down, even though I wasn’t wearing a safety helmet. I was unhurt except for a bruised pride. My father told me, true or not, that a bull closed his eyes when he charged and a cow kept her eyes open so she wouldn’t miss what she was aiming at — targets like me. My thought was, “Now he tells me.” 

Nathan W. Morris advised, “Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.” I acted on his counsel and eliminated matador from my list of possible vocational pursuits. Mistakes that don’t erase one’s existence, serve an educational purpose. Ralph Nader has frequently said, “Your best teacher is your last mistake.”

Years later, that experience tempered my enthusiasm when two friends invited me to go on an ice fishing adventure with them. “You should come ice fishing with us,” they said as if they were kind-hearted. “I should win the lottery without you,” I said. My eagerness was in short supply. I didn’t take to ice fishing like a duck on a June bug, but I joined them because they were my friends.

We crammed into a small pickup truck and headed over yonder where fish were purported to surrender upon command. We cut a hole in perfectly good ice and stared into it as if it were a small, frosty freezer compartment where ice cube trays lived in old refrigerators and we were trying to remember where we’d put the peas. The lake ice cracked loudly, trying to frighten us away. 

We’d prepared for winter weather by dressing properly in layered clothing, wool socks and dorky hats. We had a bag of aged Cheetos and a portable radio. We wore so much clothing, each of us became a human slow cooker. The radio issued dire weather predictions. It snowed heavily and the wind blew. The fish house, the size of a porta-potty and holding three big guys, rocked in the wind and reminded me of a washing machine from my past. It rocked so enthusiastically, I had to chase it down a busy street to retrieve my underwear. The wind screamed as if weasels were ripping its flesh. Nobody could hear me scream, other than the two guys jammed into the form-fitting shack with me. 

We became snowed in.

I was the only one to catch a fish — a crappie. 

I’d waved my red hanky at it.


Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.