I will soon be celebrating my eleventh year of power-walking. In that time, I have seen many interesting things but the most incredible come from the animal kingdom...more specifically, the animal kingdom's "road-kill" division.
This part of South Jersey has a wide variety of wildlife. So seeing fresh, dead critters on my three neighborhood jaunts each week is almost common.
I think splattered squirrels, field mice, bats and rabbits got what they deserved. Squashed turtles, snakes and chipmunks, as sad as they might be, are no big deal. And raccoons, deer and foxes should have enough brains to avoid jaywalking. However, there has been three circumstances of road-kill that were not only eye-opening but disturbing as well.
About ten years ago, I got the crap scared out of me on Great Creek Road. Ahead, I saw a clump of furriness and upon closer examination became startled when I realized it was an animal, (my first up close look at a possum). At that moment I didn't know what it was but its haunting smiley face and ferocious rows of razor-like teeth seemed poised to rip out a section of my Achilles Tendon.WHEN CAUGHT OFF-GUARD, FLATTENED POSSUMS LOOK A LOT LESS CUTE AND CUDDLY.
More recently on Wrangleboro Road, I saw a pair of long, thin plastic tubes glistening in the distance. As I neared them, I noticed they led to a grayish brown lump in the weeds. My heart then jumped in my throat when I realized that these lines were intestines pulled from a gopher's innards.
This morning, I saw the granddaddy of all unusual dead animals! I was power-walking in a remote corner of the parking lot, in the Garden State Parkway's rest stop when I saw a big, grayish, aquamarine-colored fish. I hustled over and discovered it was a three-foot shark. I can't identify many sea creatures but this was definitely mini-jaws.
My wife Sue on the other hand...could probably tell what species of shark it was. In her youth, she had plenty of fishing experience. She proved her expertise in the mid-80's when we took my parents for a stroll, along the Emmons Avenue marina in Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay. In the late afternoon, the fisherman set up makeshift booths along the sidewalk and sell their catch. As we went past, Sue named every fish.
I stored her appreciation for fishing away. Five years later, we went to Ocean City Maryland with another couple. They brought rods and reels and were surprised that I didn't bring mine. They couldn't believe I was going to a fisherman's paradise without any intention of fishing. The guy then laughed in my face when I said, "I never fished in my life." They encouraged (badgered) me for quite some time until...I, the ultimate land-lubber...for the sake of my wife, agreed to pull up my land anchor and take the plunge.
We made reservation for the following morning aboard a chartered party boat.
Our hotel had an aquarium attached to a fountain in the lobby. The place's atrium affect gave each room a view of it from the balcony. That night, after we said our good-byes, the other guy phoned my room and asked me to meet him outside the room. I found him in the corridor leaning over the third floor rail, with fishing rod in hand.
I saw the colorful carp swimming below as he stood erect, cast his line and said, "I'm gonna catch me some fish tonight too."
I groaned, "See you in the morning," and turned back towards my room.
I heard strong rolling thunder in the distance as he said, "Wait, I'll let you try after I get one."
At 6AM, the fog was so dense it looked like nighttime. It had stormed during the night and the parking lot was partially flooded. I put on the Weather Channel. They were reporting a clear afternoon and especially rough seas. I called the other couple and told them my findings.
He laughed at me and said, "We're ready for breakfast."
We parked at the western end of Division Street and boarded the boat. Even though you could barely see a hundred feet into the bay, the glass-like water was calm. Our moods were high as our "GILLIGAN'S ISLAND-like," three-hour tour began.
Ten minutes later, we were peacefully chugging out of the bay. I was getting a feel for handling the fishing rod when I started a series a sea-sickness jokes. Soon all four of us were topping each other with clever synonyms for vomit.
We were just getting into the open ocean when an employee wearing a yellow rain slicker delivered the bait. My eye caught a glimpse of the disgusting cut-up fish. It didn't bother me but I made a point to avoid looking down into the bucket again.
Soon, the sun was trying to poke through the haze as the choppy Atlantic intensified. We were still giddy with excitement as the wind's direction changed. In retrospect, I should have moved to avoid the stink, because I wasn't savvy to the affect diesel fumes would have on me.
The "party" boat began a continual series of climbs and crashes in the ten-foot swells. Amid the pukey wisecracks, the bait and the boat's exhaust, I felt my first twinge of stomach discomfort.
At the same time that my laughs and smiles were eroding into a somber melancholy, a senior citizen in a tattered white, naval officer's cap approached. He was collecting money for the, "catching the biggest fish pool." I had my head down trying to find two singles to buck-up with when I got a full facial blast of the old-salt's cheap cigar. In the exact second I gave away our two-dollar entrance fee for the contest...I gave away whatever I had for breakfast.
Within seconds, my mess was being hosed-down as torturous taunts from my sea-faring brethren began. Their sarcastic jeering inspired me to stumble to the railing to give my dinner from the night before...a decent burial at sea.
My wife was supportive as she escorted her fallen warrior into the cabin. She situated me on a wooden bench and left me laying there like a lox. She then went and asked a member of the staff to turn back because I was sick.
He had a good laugh at her "joke" and said, (insert pirate accent here), "Aye, give 'em time, half these people will be chummin' right along side your darlin'."
Simultaneously, my nausea and cold-sweats temporarily subsided. This lull in my suffering allowed me to realize how pissed-off I was for being in my predicament. I thought I would die if this was going to keep up for two more hours. I tried to sleep but the taste of bile in my mouth wouldn't let me relax. My thoughts wandered as I held my belly and stared out the window. The listing ship caused the scenery to a have a regular cadence. In predictable intervals, I saw sky, sky, sky...water, water, water. After four sets of that, the queasiness shot through me again...I made a mad dash to the "head" and gave back the previous day's lunch.
The other couple came by to see how I was and my wife made a couple of non-conjugal visits too. Luckily, I slipped in and out of sleep for the rest of the voyage.
The storm during the night had churned-up the ocean so much that few people caught any fish. That tidbit and the first sighting of land didn't give me any solace as my sea-sickness evolved into the dry-heaves.
Our boat was inching into port as I shakily arose. The fresh air, still-water and bright sun lifted my spirits until I heard my group laughing and talking about going for lunch. As dizzy as I was, I made sure I was first in line to disembark. As soon as we docked, I staggered down the gangway. Back on terrafirma, I got on my hands and knees and kissed the ground.
I swore I'd never go ocean fishing again...and never have.
As for the dead shark in the parking lot...when my son Andrew and his two friends came home from school, I mentioned it to them. They wanted to see the beast, but I warned them it might not still be there, six-plus hours later. Propelled by their curiosity, we took the 5 minute drive. Well, it was not only there but the shark became an iPHONE sensation and the highlight of their day. THE SHARK'S CONDITION DETERIORATED DURING THE DAY. TORN APART BY SEAGULLS, I CAN'T BELIEVE I DIDN'T WRETCH. HOWEVER, THE TEENAGE LUST FOR HIGH ENTERTAINMENT WASN'T HINDERED BY THE VICTIM'S PLUCKED-OUT EYE, DARKENED COLOR, PUTRID STENCH OR SWARM OF FLIES.
If the shark wasn't there, my story would have sounded like an exaggeration or a lie...instead the boys got more than they bargained for...a FISHY fishy.
The only way to top today's fishy shark tale would be if I saw and smelled a dead skunk on my next power-walk. If I do, maybe that will send me back out to sea?