Abstract: Two old guys hunt and kill a lower life form. Then they eat it. This makes them happy.
This morning is fraught with peril. Trouble on all fronts. The devil's in the details, and there's a swarm of them today. Miles to go before I sleep, so I'm mainlining mocha java, jacked into the cyberspew and streaming mp3 salsa tunes. It's 0600.
Business first, in every real sense of the term. My real job, IT Consultant, consists of a grab bag of software development, Internet and database maintenance, and an endless series of meetings. Thankfully most of this can occur very effectively long distance, so I get to work at my home office in Cape Cod.
The upshot is today's scheduled lineup of database inserts, Daily Status Reports, and a potentially contentious phone conference. Those are the highlights and it's down hill from there. Spicing up the mix today is the fact that I pinched a damned nerve surfing last week, so every time I move my right elbow, I am tormented with a burning stab wound of pain that takes my breath away like a punch to the stomach. OOOF! If I hold my body just right I can still type.
The only good news in the picture is that I'm also scheduled to go spearfishing for Tautog off Waquoit. Tautog (Tautoga onitis) are chubby little black fish that are native to New England. Their primary diet consists of various shellfish, and their flesh develops a flavor and consistency similar to scallops, or even abalone. In short they are fantastic eating, and Woody and I hunt them avidly. And mercilessly I'm afraid. If you're squeamish about hunting for your own dinner mo betta you bail now, cause this story ain't for you.
Outside my window the fog is pressing in from Buzzards Bay, ghostly white and clammy with warm moisture. The prospect of driving my boat through this hazard to navigation is disquieting, but I've got hours of work ahead of me before I'll have to cross that road. In the meantime, I've got to keep three computer workstations busy, access almost a terabyte of SQL Server data tables, update two commercial websites and take a shower. On second thought, there's probably no time for a shower.
Hours pass. Frenzied stochastic events come in noisy bursts. Clicking keyboards and rolling mice. The gentle white noise purr of disk drives and the improbably silent pulse of broadband Internet traffic bulging through the routers and firewalls. The phone rings and disembodied voices exchange symbols and polite conventions. Conversational gambits, false laughter, crafty political machinations, and ass covering dot the vocal landscape. We are all acting out caricatures of ourselves, complex avatars to represent us in this low tech virtual reality. My persona is genial, obliging and authoritative. I'm the friendly AnswerMan who knows more about their system than they do.
The bandwidth of conference calls is terrible. Very little useful information is offered and even less is actually received by the participants. I'm bored to tears.
This too shall pass. And in time it does. The upshot of our meeting is problematic. It took us way too long to reach the conclusion, but in the end it was obvious that we're going to have a fundamental problem integrating the Circulation software with the database and there isn't likely to be an easy fix to it. This one is going to be time consuming and expensive. I'm the first one to have figured this out, and I'm in the unenviable position of having to progressively reveal this information to my clients.
But all that can be worried over tomorrow. In the meantime, I need to make myself a lunch, decant some Shiraz into the bota bag, gather up my dive gear and boogie down to Woods Hole. And take a shower.
WHYC, south dock, Woody and all his gear. I've had the jitters all the way down here, work worries, some kook tailgating my car, stress demons tunneling up and down my spine. No Shower. Seeing Woody on the dock makes me smile for the first time I can remember today.
We're partners in play, Woody and I. Two old guys who have somehow managed to hook up for a shared worldview. We surf together, fish together and hunt Tautog together. Other than that, we hardly see each other. We don't, generally, socialize. I dunno about him, but I'm jealously keeping this relationship apart from the rest of my life. Woody means fun, and that's how I want it to stay.
The fog is even thicker now than it was, and in a few minutes, we're cutting swaths through it in my boat South Swell as we poke our way out of the harbor and into the channel for Nobska Point. We can't see a damned thing with our eyes, but I've got world-class radar and a GPS chartplotter, so I know where we are and I know what's around us. In fact that's the immediate problem. The big blob on the radar screen is very likely the car ferry from Martha's Vineyard, and it's headed directly for the little black arrow on the GPS, which is us. Now, if I'm right about all that, the big blob is going to have to turn across our bow in a few seconds on its way into Woods Hole. If it does we're jake because it will pass harmlessly in front of us. On the other hand, if it's not the Ferry, it might be the Exxon Valdez or some other big scary ship, headed for buoy number nine which means we're in harm's way. The stress demons are back and I realize I've been holding my breath as I watch the radar screen. After a moment of silent tension, the big blob slowly begins to turn in front of us at last. Exhale.
As it turns out, the rest of the trip to Waquoit was a cakewalk. As soon as we'd exited the Hole, the fog lifted and we could see for miles. Behind us the wall of impenetrable mist rose up like an overblown special effect in a cheesy Ed Wood sci fi thriller. In front of us, fair winds and following seas. Twenty minutes of high speed flying over Vineyard Sound has restored my spirits. Hauling ass across the water is one of the sweetest thrills known to man and, though I'm generally an environmentally conscious individual, I relish this shameless display of petroleum-driven velocity.
When we get close, Woody points out the directions and we quickly come to a consensus on a good anchoring spot. He's on the bow and I'm tweaking us into a nice spot just off the jetty that has a clean sandy bottom. We're a team and by the time I give him the nod, he's already got the chain rode flaked smoothly on deck. Over the side with a splash and 60 feet of scope to make sure we're hooked in good. We don't want to worry about the boat when we're working.
Woody calls this new divespot the "Tauggie Shooting Gallery," a crude but evocative expression of the excitement he had diving here yesterday. He says the place is lousy with Tautog, big ones. They haven't been fished much apparently, because they don't even panic when they see you coming. Spearfishing Nirvana.
Before you even form that budding feeling of pity for the poor little Tauggies we are about to slay, lemme splain, no there is too much, let me sum up. If you hunt it and kill it and prepare it and eat it, and if it's not an endangered species, and if you don't worry the females or youngsters, then you probably don't have anything much to apologize for in the cosmic circle of life sense of things. Woody and I aren't sportsmen, we're hunting for meat. We salute the noble Tautog, and we thank them for sustaining us.
Next thing you know, I'm slipping into the cold clear water while Woody smirks at me from the dinghy. Since he did so well here yesterday, he's generously offered to let me make the first dives, while he hands me loaded spearguns. The idea of this chivalrous offer strikes me as archaic and courtly. I'd smile, but my mouth is full of snorkel and I'm kicking as fast as I can to get my body temperature up a few notches. I blow right past Woody, grabbing a gun he offers as I pass.
Our spearguns are pretty standard issue, a round aluminum tube with three thick surgical rubber bands on one end and a pistol grip handle on the other end. The rubbers are stretched back and latched into notches on a steel spear about the diameter of a pencil. The back end of the spear is firmly latched in the handle and the business end sports an unimpressive point with two hinged barbs that spread on impact. They aren't very powerful or very accurate. I'm not James Bond, and this isn't Thunderball.
Even before my first dive I can see that the underwater terrain here is extraordinarily beautiful. Most of the places I've dove on the Cape are pretty monotonous, grey grass, grey rocks, grey-green grass, yellow-green sponge, dark green fishies, etc. This place is vibrant with color and life! The water is really clear, so the light is penetrating down thirty feet or so and when I dive down I'm reminded of the big tank in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. That sense of vast improbable space is the same and the disorienting three dimensionality when objects are moving in all directions at one. I'm so bedazzled by the scene that I completely forget my mission, and when I finally notice that there's a small herd of Tautog, grazing like little buffalo, in front of me my lungs are burning and I've GOT...TO...SURFACE...NOW!
Woody of course is grinning expectantly at me from the boat. I'm suddenly, painfully, aware that he's waiting for me to hoist up a flopping fish on my spear and a small flush of embarrassment washes over me. I turn my mask back to the water, intent on doing better.
Now the sad truth is that I didn't do better. Not on that next dive, or on the next half dozen of them either. I made a bunch of shots, and even tagged one Tauggie hard enough to give him a bruise to remember, but I just wasn't on my game. I finally demanded that Woody just get the hell in the water and nail some fish so we both didn't go home empty handed. And he did, and things got much better after that. You reckon at my age I'd be over performance pressure.
Once the tide started to turn every dive became a challenge. Cape Cod is renowned for the strength and treachery of its tidal currents which often approach the speed of small river rapids. Everything on the water is planned around, or at least in consideration of, the tides. And that includes spearfishing. I took some huge hyperventilating breaths as the tide rushed me along the jetty, preparing for the last deep dive of the day. I waited till I saw the grey shadow of my prey silhouetted against the sand, then kicked hard for the bottom. I like to hug the transition zone between the rocks and the sand, creeping around each corner with my gun at my shoulder in hopes of surprising a tautog. If you're in good shape, you should be able to pull almost a minute underwater and on my best days I can do that. This wasn't one of my best though and I began to feel the irresistible tugging of my lungs almost as soon as I'd gotten down to depth. Luckily the current was doing the work for me, so I just hung in the water column and waited for a shot. I saw the pole marking the end of the jetty at the same time a big fat Tauggie waddled out from behind his rock. I pointed, I fired and I hit him with a thump just behind his gills. The spear didn't go through him though and if I pulled up he was certain to slip off so, with my lungs on fire, I dove back down to retrieve him and the spear.
Spear and fish broke through the surface of the water first with me following as quickly as I could. There's nothing so sweet as the taste of fresh air in your lungs after a long dive, and I just lay on my back to savor it for a moment. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a very bad strategy as the current was intent on pulling me out to sea at a very rapid clip. By the time I got my bearings again I realized that I had a long hard swim ahead of me with a heavy flopping fish.
The ageless exhilaration of a successful hunt carried me home. Woody just laughed at me as I struggled, and finally arrived, gasping, at the dinghy. He'd shot three times as many fish as I had, but it was a pretty good day for me too. On the beach, filleting our catch in the sun we couldn't stop smiling.
Tautog en mojo de ajo
Fresh Tautog fillets, half a pound for each adult, skinned and boned.
Fresh garlic cloves, three, minced.
Virgin Olive oil, 2/3 cup
Italian Bread Crumbs, three cups
Fresh Basil, 1/2 cup, finely chopped
Fresh Rosemary, 1/8 cup finely chopped
Juice from one lemon
Lemon wedges for garnish
Heat the olive oil, in a deep skillet over a high flame. When it's good and hot, add the garlic and saute until the garlic turns dark brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large ziplock plastic bag, combine the breadcrumbs, basil, rosemary and seasoning salt. Shake the bag to combine all ingredients thoroughly.
Put the fillets in a large bowl and, once the cooked garlic and oil has cooled, pour the contents over the fish. Massage the oil, herb and garlic bits into the fish.
Lightly oil a large baking pan.
One at a time, drop each oiled fish fillet into the ziplock bag, close the top and shake gently to work the breadcrumb mixture into the oiled fish. Place the breaded fillets in the baking pan.
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes @ 400 degrees F. until the fish is flaky. Serve with a lemon wedge garnish.
Goes very well with simple side dishes like brown rice, fresh salsa and a small salad.
- Saludos y pesetas y tiempo para gustarlo!
NOTE: Purists may justifiably complain that traditionally Pescado en mojo de ajo involves a very quick pan fry of the fish and garlic in pure butter, but in deference to borgo and my other cholesterol-watching friends, I submit that this adaptation is just as tasty and much better for you.