By: John Nielsen
“Seasickness: at first, you are so sick you are afraid you will die, and then you are afraid you won’t die.” -- Mark Twain.
God drove Man out of the Garden of Eden and into a life of toil. He loves us, so He created the northern Gulf Coast. He brought forth wild beasts of the forest, birds of the air, and Red Snapper. In fact, there are so many fish, beasts, and birds along our coast that some men hardly toil at all.
A spell descends on some Southern men at the opening of each sporting season. These seasons: turkey, deer, duck, dove, quail, snapper, and SEC football beguile men to plot, plan, and spend money irrationally. Precious daughters are forced to change wedding dates that might interfere with some opening day of… something. Of course, Mardi Gras is not a sport. Some men approach it as such. It’s a magical intermission between Deer and Turkey seasons.
Once, I heard a eulogy at a man's funeral. The friend comforted a widow and loved ones with the reassurance that “Clyde held on for one last turkey season. He’s probably up there, raht now, callin’ one up.” It was stupid to say about a man’s death, but the man speaking was a turkey hunter, too.
A fever comes over some people as the opening day of Red Snapper season approaches. Plans are made. Rods and tackle are organized and prepared. Boats are scrubbed. Boat owners with sketchy motors harass surly mechanics with entreaties of why their boat is more critically needed than all of the other boats at his shop. Mechanics comfort frantic snapper fishermen with empty promises and feigned optimism just to make them go away.
Early in life, a weak inner ear caused me terrible motion sickness. Gap-toothed carnival barkers cursed me, even as a child, when I blew corn dogs and funnel cakes all over their rides and other patrons. Deep sea fishing yielded similar results. I tried potions, patches, and gadgets that promised sunny, fun-filled days in the deep crystal waters of the Gulf. Each time, I spent the day heaving and making loud sounds over the sides of boats. I finally swore that I would never leave smooth inland waters again.
My buddy, Royce, called. “Opening day of snapper season is next week. Come go fishing. Me, Gurn, and Burl are leaving out of Orange Beach.”
“Hell, no. I get sick every time.” I replied.
“It's been 20 years. Older people don’t get seasick.” He lied.
“I’m not goin’.”
“Look, Gurn went to Colorado. He bought some of those THC gummy things that prevent seasickness. Gurn says they are guaranteed.”
“Does Gurn get seasick?” I asked.
“No. He eats em’ when he fights with his wife. He says they saved his marriage.”
“I don’t do drugs. I especially don’t do drugs supplied by Gurn Burdon.”
“Gurn says these are “medical grade” THC gummies. He says Doctors prescribe them.”
I stalled, “Well, Gurn sometimes exaggerates. Let me think about it, and I’ll call you back”.
I ruminated for several hours. I feared seasickness, but I grew jealous thinking about my friends catching fish, telling jokes, swapping stories, and that good sort of hazing men dole out when they’re in a group.
I called Royce back. “If Gurn REALLY thinks those gummies work, I’ll try it.”
We all met at a house in Orange Beach the night before. Eating, drinking, and wide-ranging talk covered both deep and shallow topics. Gurn gave me a THC gummy to eat before bed. He ate 3. He tried to sound clinical. “You’ll sleep good,” he said, “but you might wake up a little hungry.” I did relax and fell asleep. I dreamed of reeling in Snapper.
We pulled away from the dock, and Gurn gave me another medicinal gummy. He ate three more. I also had special motion sickness bracelets, an ear patch, and ginger lozenges. I was optimistic. We moved through Alabama Pass into the Gulf with a hundred other boats. Boat wakes made the water rough.
We saw a man in a small boat headed into the Gulf. It was a 70’s era, faded yellow Glastron ski boat. He’d hand-painted the motor in a camouflage motif. A cloud of blue, oily smoke billowed from the motor.
Burl predicted that he would drown. We laughed at this testament to a man’s determination to catch snapper. That’s when the first wave of nausea came to me.
“Royce,” I said forcefully, “I’m not going. Get close to the beach. I’m swimming in.”
He pushed the throttle forward and claimed we didn’t have time.
Gurn tried to reassure me, “Surrender to the gummies! Here, eat another one.”
Everybody laughed again except me. I knew I’d been had.
I stared at the horizon and held back the urge to throw up. We reached Royce’s secret artificial snapper reef he’d paid a man to position in the dead of night. The coordinates were Royce’s secret and his alone. We arrived. There were dozens of boats trolling the area. That man had dropped Royce’s secret reef next to a lot of other secret reefs.
I became sicker but tried to hide it.
“I haven’t snapper fished in 20 years – what's the limit on snapper?” I asked.
“Two…Two per man.” Gurn replied without looking at me.
I grew furious. “Ya’ll drugged me and boated my ass out here for eight fish?”
“We wanted you to come,” Burl teased, “but we really just need your fish.”
The other men laughed at my plight. I was sick, weak, and mad as hell. I conjured the worst profanity I knew and launched it at these lifelong friends. When I finished my tirade, I heaved, leaned over, and vomited loudly into the blue gulf. The heaves became louder, almost a yell, as I got sicker. Burl said, “ I think your gettin’ used to the high seas. You sound like a pirate when you puke.”
He made an “arrghhhhh” sound.
Royce, Gurn, and Burl caught eight good snappers while I threw up. We headed back to Orange Beach. When I saw land in the distance, I thought about how Columbus must have felt after 2 ½ months at sea.
We pulled up to the wharf. I stepped out of the boat and started walking toward the house.
Somebody called out, “Hey, Cool Breeze, we still gotta clean the fish and wash down the boat.”
I kept walking, and without looking back, I raised my hand high and presented the universal salute.
I placed my face in front of an air conditioner vent inside the house. I felt relieved knowing that any future Red Snapper would come from a plate.