One afternoon, a few weeks after I moved to Newport, I was writing in my new favorite Oregon Coast tavern, Hoover's, when Debbie, the cook, came out from the kitchen, walked over to my table, and asked, "Do you want some fresh trout?"
"What?" I said, utterly dumbfounded.
Now, in my long residence hanging out in Oregon taverns, I've been asked some peculiar questions, such as: was I the FBI agent who shot Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge?; was I Colin Farrell?; did I want to die?; did I know Lewis and Clark were really gay?; did I know how drunk she really could get? These, I easily answered, but the trout question, well, that one threw me.
"Trout?" I asked. I'd never tasted it.
Debbie said that Garrid, a regular who ran Hoover's karaoke nights with D-Day precision, as opposed to the Occupation of Iraq, liked to fish for trout but detested eating them. Did I want some?
Well... maybe... well... why not?
"But I don't know how to clean them," I said.
"He cleans them up and then I store them bagged in ice in the refrigerator. Give me your phone number and he'll call."
So I did, and never expected to hear anything.
Two days later I received a call in the afternoon from an unrecognizable number and answered it. Maybe it was that big book deal at long last. No, it was Garrid, and he had fresh trout waiting for me at Hoover's. "Come down and get them," he said. "I caught them today."
I drove immediately to the bar, walked in, and was barely 10 feet inside the door when Debbie greeted me holding a bag full of ice containing what I guess is called a "mess" of trout. Garrid was nowhere around and that left me keenly disappointed. Who catches trout, cleans them, calls up a total stranger to meet him in a bar, and offers up his entire catch because he doesn't like the taste of trout? This is someone I must know.
Debbie handed over the bag and there I stood inside Hoover's on a weekday afternoon in April with absolutely no idea how to cook trout. I told Debbie to thank Garrid and I left, too embarrassed to ask her how to cook the fish.
Back home, I called my stepfather in Canby, whom I knew had caught a million trout in his Oregon life. I asked how to cook them and he described a half-dozen allegedly delicious methods ranging from poaching to barbecuing. I listened to him, utterly unconvinced, probably because staring at the trout in the plastic bag unnerved me in a way that reminded me of standing naked in the front of a mirror and feeling hung over to the roof. But an unusual Oregon story was in obvious play, so I had to see it through.
It was a sunny and unseasonably hot afternoon and I didn't want to stink up the house, so I lit a small fire in the burn barrel and watched it burn sitting in a lawn chair, drinking a cheap beer, and reading the new Jim Harrison novel.
Twenty minutes later, after adding lemon, white wine, butter, black pepper, and tarragon to the fish, I wrapped the experiment in foil and banked it in the coals. I watched it cook while the dogs rested on the grass a few feet away.
I burrowed into Harrison for a chapter and then unwrapped the foil and poked at the trout with a piece of kindling from the wood pile. The fish seemed ready. I picked some radishes, peas, and strawberries from the garden and placed them alongside the trout on a paper plate. I looked at the meal for a moment and then began eating it with my hands.
It was indisputably the best meal I'd ever cooked and I ate it standing up in my backyard. The dogs finished the rest of the trout and licked the plate spotless. Then Sonny, the husky, ate the plate. I reclined on the lawn, read more of Harrison, and dozed off.
Two days later, I got another call from Garrid. More trout. Then, a week later, more trout. Soon I was eating cold trout for breakfast and trout and tomato sandwiches for lunch.
Garrid intrigued me and I began asking questions about him. I learned that he lived nearby and washed cars at a used car lot. I also learned that he was very serious about his karaoke duties. One afternoon, I was sitting at the bar writing in my journal when a tall man wearing his black hair in a ponytail walked in. It had to be Garrid. He sat a few stools down and I got up, went over, and introduced myself, and thanked him for the trout. We talked trout for 20 minutes and then I asked him if I could buy him a drink. He said I could, so I did. It was a double whiskey and I bought him the good shit because, well, he was the Trout Man and had offered up his best to me.
Almost a year later, my book about Newport had just come out and it proved a big hit in Hoover's because the regulars love hearing crazy stories about drinking almost as much as they love living crazy stories about drinking. I had written about Hoover's in the book, including a piece about Garrid and his trout. He called me and said he liked the book a lot and had more trout waiting for me at Hoover's.
A day later I picked up the trout and cooked it up. Excellent! I was finally getting the hang of it. I still hadn't seen Garrid since the book's release and I wanted to thank him in person for being such a good sport, so I dropped by on a Friday afternoon before his karaoke shift started.
Sure enough, Garrid was there, with a couple of other regulars, sitting on stools out on the deck, smoking, bullshitting about the topless chick from the movie Animal House who flew in the window and into the horny kid's lap — the same chick, now a member of the AARP, who just happened to have visited Hoover's recently with her party friends, and apparently the tits still looked good.
Garrid stood up when he saw me enter, came over, and we shook hands. As he gave me the lowdown on his new wife and plans for a karaoke studio in the converted warehouse where he lived, which happened to lay across Highway 101 from Hoover's, he played some classic rock nuggets on the sound system, undoubtedly warming up for the KJ show later that night, like a true professional KJ should.
The regulars now know who I am and what I like to write about, and the unsolicited Hoover's stories have started flowing my way like the Columbia River used to. Really, I could write the literary equivalent of a Hoover's War and Peace with all the new material, like the latest tale, recently received via email from a customer, detailing the semi-attractive meth slut who took home a chronic video poker player to his trailer at Idaho Point. It was of course a sensational story, but as Garrid launched his own sensational story that would undoubtedly blow the meth slut one out of the water, he interrupted himself.
"I've got some more trout for you back at home. Let me go get it," he said.
"That would be great."
Garrid then went over to the sound system and played a new, longer version of Peter Frampton's "Do You Feel Like We Do," which clocked in at nearly 15 minutes on Frampton Comes Alive. He exited Hoover's to go across the street to fetch the trout and never once looked in a hurry.
Let me repeat that: an Oregon Coast KJ put on an epic cut from a classic double live album from the 1970s, and crossed Highway 101 to retrieve a bag of frozen fish for an Oregon Coast writer.
Garrid was back before Frampton really got into it on the talk box.
After stashing the trout in the refrigerator, Garrid came over to me. I was alternately drinking a beer, reading the newspaper and writing a letter.
"Thank you," I said. "I want to buy you a whiskey. What do you drink?"
"Fuck that!" I nearly screamed. "What's your favorite brand?"
"I never drink on the job," he said.
Well, of course, I thought. Garrid was a pro in a world where pros are rapidly disappearing, except the ones who rip off the working class, plunder the earth, and play Elmer Gantry better than Elmer Gantry.
"I'll buy you one for after the show," I said.
He agreed and I told Anna to make sure he got a double of whatever he wanted.
Garrid then started telling Hoover's stories. Naturally, they were all priceless, but one towered above the rest. A name: Stevie Nicks, as in the Stevie Nicks, who stopped into Hoover's one night a few years ago with her brother on a drive down 101 to a show in the Bay Area.
Garrid had been there, with at least one sodden regular at the bar. He claimed he knew Stevie from way back, from his stint in the celebrity business in LA. I had no reason not to believe him or anything else I'd ever overheard in Hoover's.
Okay, that might be pushing it considering some of the regulars, but in Hoover's I'd learned of a local vampire who bit women on the ass, a stripper's pole erected in a Newport home, and a special portal called the rock zone. These were the facts, unassailable facts, and really, isn't anything possible in Hoover's?
So, the Stevie story went, she sang a couple of her songs on the karaoke machine. After "Stand Back," Garrid joined her for a duet on "Stop Dragging my Heart Around." When Stevie left, a sodden regular remarked that the woman who just sang sure sounded like Stevie Nicks.
It was time to go and Garrid went to retrieve the trout. I walked over to the bar, placed some bills on the counter, and reminded Anna to get Garrid "the good shit, Maker's Mark or something. And make it double!"
As I left holding the trout, I turned to Garrid and exclaimed, "Who leaves Hoover's with a bag of trout in his left hand?"
"You do!" he said.