THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- FISH FLOPPED

by: Wes Ishmael

If Aunt Pinky had a motto for lawn-keeping and gardening, it would almost mirror that iconic one of mail carriers: neither abnormally dry conditions, nor drought—no matter how extreme—shall keep me from growing a lawn for its sheer beauty or a few odd vegetables for the chance to whack weeds.

Through all the years Hooter could remember, his aunt always had a lawn that looked like a magazine picture, as well as vegetables to tend and pick. That was saying something in this perennially parched part of the world. But Aunt Pinky had a couple of secrets that enabled her to fulfill her pledge.

First, she allowed the degree of soil moisture and outlook for summer and fall rain to define the size of her lawn and garden. Second, there was a windmill close enough to the house. With pipe and a trusty ancient pump Aunt Pinky could make it rain when and where Mom Nature refused.

If not for her horticultural tendencies, Hooter reckoned he wouldn't be sitting here now, surrounded by paramedics and rubberneckers at a fancy seafood restaurant, staring at a lady he'd never met who was groaning, gasping, grimacing and complaining; a lady who had ended up in this position at least partly because of him.

Work, Dag-Nabbit!

It started with the ancient pump. A string of triple-digit-hot days had Aunt Pinky running water more often than not. One morning the pump just quit working, as pumps have a penchant for doing. No amount of priming, coaxing, choking and cajoling could induce cooperation.

Aunt Pinky lost her patience and found a pipe wrench that seemed at least half her size. She went to cussing and taking herculean swings at the insolent pump. Metal on metal, force on force, she figured something had to give.

It did.

Aunt Pinky heard something pop in her left wrist. She felt white-hot pain burn up her arm. Aunt Pinky left the wrench laying where she dropped it. She found a smaller one she could swing with her good hand. Between sobs, she continued cussing and flailing away. She never got the pump working but had the satisfaction of busting the cast iron housing.

By the time Hooter got there, Aunt Pinky's wrist was so swollen that it looked like she was toting a bowling ball, same color and all.

“What in the world have you done? We've got to get you to the hospital.”

Aunt Pinky just held out a jar of homemade pickles with her good hand. “We most certainly will not. Here, this is what I called you for. It's a new jar and I can't quite manage it.”

If anyone hated hospitals more than Hooter, it was his aunt.

“That's nothing to mess around with. Get in the pickup.”

“I will not. Give me my pickles.”

Fortunately, about that time they heard an engine in the drive and then the plaintiff moan of Doc Bulger's bull horn. Doc was the best and only veterinarian for miles around. He had started courting Aunt Pinky again after a decades-long hiatus. Aunt Pinky claimed she wasn't that interested but encouraged the good doctor because she knew that it drove her nemesis, Nelda Isselfrick, loonier than a raccoon in a hall of mirrors.

Doc opened the door and was about to say howdy when he saw the wrist. Like any veterinarian worth his salt in an emergency, Doc didn't ask. “Hooter, you get your aunt on that other side. We'll put her in her car; it will be easier. You follow in my truck. We're heading to Lubbock. Now.”

Either Aunt Pinky was more smitten than she admitted or the pain had about worn her down. She didn't even put up a fight.

Cheer Up

That was a week ago. Aunt Pinky had fractured her wrist and incurred come collateral damage. Now, she was heading back to Lubbock for a checkup. Doc drove her again. Hooter followed along in Doc's pickup again so he could drive is aunt back home; Doc had cattle to process in a different direction.

“Afterwards, we'll go to that seafood restaurant you like so much,” Doc had told Pinky.

Hooter knew little about seafood but reckoned he'd be fine so long as cheeseburgers were on the menu. So, after a positive progress report on the wrist, off they went. That's where the trouble started.

Aunt Pinky did love seafood on special occasions. She especially enjoyed King Crab legs.

“You'll have to help me, though,” she whispered to Hooter when Doc excused himself to wash up.

“Huh?”

“You mean to tell me you've never had crab legs?”

“Nope.”

“Well, I never,” she started then realized time was short. “The shell on the crab legs has to be cracked and pried open to get at the meat. They'll bring a tool kind of like a nut cracker that you can use.”

Hooter was earnestly trying to figure out what a nut cracker had to do with a crab when his aunt said, “See, over there.”

A lady sitting at a table kitty-corner to Hooter's right had stuffed what Aunt Pinkly said was a crab leg into what looked like a pair of pliers and then bore down. Hooter heard the crack. Looked simple enough.

“Why not ask Doc to help? You know he'll want to. I thought that's what you folks swapping spit did for each other.”

“Hooter McCormick, I'll box your ears…” Aunt Pinky started, but caught herself as she was about to try to whack him with the hand set in plaster and dangling in a sling from her neck. “You watch your language, young man.”

“Yes Ma'm.”

“And the reason I want you to help is that at this stage, I don't think it would be proper.”

Hooter had no idea what she was worried about, but agreed to help. Besides, it didn't look that hard. The lady Hooter had watched wield the pliers had to be near 60. Of course, she didn't seem too happy. She'd quickly made a scene calling the wait staff over, speaking loud enough for everyone around to hear that she was accustomed to better service and crab that wasn't quite so soggy.

“It comes out of the water, what else would it be?” Hooter had chimed in before he could catch himself. Those that heard, laughed, appreciating some levity in what had quickly become a tense situation.

The uppity lady looked at Hooter. “You obviously view these chain establishments as fine dining.”

Hooter was just bristling up when his aunt said under her breath, “Hooter, not here and not now.”

Hooter let the snooty lady's comment slide, begrudgingly.

Doc returned about that time, all smiles and moon eyes for Aunt Pinky.

Soon enough the order arrived. Sure enough, Doc wanted to help Aunt Pinky with the crab legs. Aunt Pinky whispered to him loud enough for Hooter to hear that ever since he was a little kid, Hooter had always like cracking the legs.

Fine to lie to the man, but it would be improper to let him dress out your crab, Hooter thought. But he didn't say anything.

While Aunt Pinky and Doc chatted, Hooter grabbed a crab leg and the pliers like he knew what he was doing. He got a good bite at one end of the leg and clamped down.

It happened in a split second, but Hooter saw it in slow motion. Rather than crack the shell, the pressure from the pliers simply forced a wad of crab meat—surely most of the meat in that leg—rocketing from the end of the shell. The meaty missile flew across the room and caught the snooty lady square in the back where there was skin but no dress. The lady stiffened as if someone had squirted her with cold water. She was trying to turn around to see what was going on when she started to cough, or trying to cough at least.

Just like that, the snooty lady was trying to stand up and sit back against her chair all at once, slapping the table with one hand and her chest with the other. No doubt about it, she was choking. Must've been mid-swallow when the crab leg smacked her, thought Hooter.

Everyone just stared, trying to figure out what all the fuss was about. Everyone except Doc. Quick as wink, he was behind her, his massive arms around her, lifting her out of her chair and giving her three enormous squeezes, about a half a second apart.

Whatever was in the lady's gullet came out. Doc set her back down. She was dazed for a minute. Then, rather than say thanks, she grabbed at her side and cried out, “You clumsy oaf, I think you've broken my ribs. What kind of place is this?”

By that time, the wait staff and manager were there.

“This man saved your life is what he did,” one of the waiters said. “I saw the whole thing.”

“That's right, I saw it, too,” chimed in a waitress.

“We'll call an ambulance for you to make sure you're OK,” said the manager.

On it went. Doc shrugged his shoulders and returned to the table.

Hooter caught himself staring guiltily at the crab meat lying on the floor, hoping no one would notice, and if they did, he hoped they would have the decency not to inquire of its origin.

“I didn't know you knew how to do the Heimlich maneuver,” said Aunt Pinky, clearly impressed and proud to be sitting next to the hero.

“The what?” Doc asked. “I've never done it before. No one else was doing anything. Figured she'd die if someone didn't try something, so it's not like I could kill her.”

As they talked, Aunt Pinky had retrieved the crab leg from Hooter and was picking around for the meat.

“You know that lady may have had a point. This one seems to be a dud.”







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