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The Killer Trout

A small trout can gobble a dragonfly nymph, but could it dispatch a house cat?
Mitten’s nine lives were tested in some very odd ways, but none more improbable than the episode of the killer trout. This goes back to our Laurel Apartment days. One winter night, I went to the Sportsman’s Show with two old friends, Scrawn and Z. This is one of those dead-of-winter-so-let’s-think-summer shows that are held in the far north, and probably elsewhere as well.  

I met the Scrawn when I was in third grade, in 1952. He was a year ahead of me in school and even though we only lived a block apart, I didn’t really know him. We met when I sheepishly asked him to ask his older brother to stop beating me up. It worked, and we became fast friends.

I met the Z when we started seventh grade. Scrawn, then an 8th grader, linked up with Z at our new junior high school, and Z fell right in with the crew. That was 1956. I still bum around with these guys today, 56 years later for Scrawn, 52 years later for Z, and they were not even my oldest friends. That honor went to DJ, with whom I started kindergarten in the fall of 1949. After a 55-year friendship, I gave a eulogy at his funeral in October 2004, following his 20-month battle with cancer.

The four of us hung around together all those years, and I’m still hangin’ with Scrawn, Z, and Calfman, the new kid who joined us in 1967. I am blessed for sure.

Z has introduced a new dude into the mix, Bo, a fellow employee at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Bo, being basically bananas, fits right in.

Like Ryebread and Blepps, the sales meeting dudes, Scrawn, Z, DJ, Calfman and Bo are their real nicknames but their given names shall be kept a mystery.

We didn’t always have to go hunting or fishing to have a good time. Besides the card games, cutting firewood and the nutty projects, we would go to the winter “shows.” Nothing will ever match the Sportsman’s Show of 1961 when you could pay $2.00 to wrestle “Victor the Rasslin’ Bear.” Z and I ponied up a buck each so the Scrawn could match hammerlocks and half nelsons with what was surely a 500-pound black bear. Scrawn wasn’t going to do it unless we paid the entry. I will tell you this: based on just pure entertainment value, it was the best buck either of us has ever spent. I thought we were going to die from laughter.

Scrawn’s plan was to grab Victor by a rear leg and tip him over. They did a few friendly pushes and the brute tossed Scrawn to the mat a time or two. Then Scrawn saw his opening and went for one of Victor’s rear legs and started to lift it up. Victor became annoyed and simply laid down, flattening the Scrawn. Z and I were dying, barely able to hold each other up. Afterwards, Scrawn kept mumbling, “My foot slipped or I coulda beat that tub.” We just laughed all the more.

Then there was the 1985 Sportman’s Show where I purchased the “Ginsu” knives. Oh sure, you can laugh, but it’s 2008 and I still have these things, and they have never needed sharpening, just like the guy said. One is in the butcher-block knife holder in the kitchen and the other two are in toolboxes. What more can you ask of a product?

Anyway, in 1984, Scrawn, Z and I were headed to the Sportman’s Show in St Paul. Just inside the door, the first thing you saw coming in and the last thing you saw going out, was a fishing pond stocked with trout. On our way out there was quite a commotion around the canvas pool. It seems the aerator had quit and the trout were going belly-up. The two guys running the thing were selling barely live trout in baggies for 50 cents each. I talked the guy into three for a buck.

Of course, Scrawn and Z thought I was nuts. I didn’t tell them that I was going to do a trout dinner for Laurie. This was before we were married and my theory was that an occasional nice meal at my place, cooked by me, might keep her interest from going the way of an un-aerated fish in a green canvas tank.

As I recall, the meal was trout, broccoli, French bread, and a half giraffe of wine. You may be more familiar with the full giraffe of wine, the decanter with the longer neck.

When I got back to the apartment, Mitten immediately smelled the fish and went wild. He meowed non-stop and followed me straight to the kitchen. He stretched up on my leg and dug his claws through my pants into my skin. “What the hell! Lay off you little shit.” He could not contain himself. I gutted and gilled the fish, added some water, sealed the baggie as best I could and tossed it in the freezer. Then I took the garbage with the fish guts down to the dumpster in back. Whew! When I got back, Mitten continued to walk around the fridge and wouldn’t stop purring, so when he’d meow it was that great half-purr, half-meow thing that was always so funny. “P-u-r-r-r-e-o-w!”

He and I watched a little news and then went to bed. I always preferred Mitten up under my arm when we slept. If he curled at my feet it was fine until I moved in the middle of the night. More often than not, moving my feet bothered him, and he would bite my feet right through the covers. Keeping him in a loose headlock up near my chest was best. But he was still very interested in the kitchen, and trotted in there again before I dozed off.

Mitten had a continuing keen interest in the kitchen and the fridge after the trout came home, especially when I had to open the freezer. He went nutty each time. The trout odor, even frozen trout, must have been like catnip to him. It was not too many nights after the trout arrived home that they got the better of my little whiskered friend.

I woke up around 3 a.m. to faint meows. It was Mitten, but it was like he was not in the apartment. Where the heck is he? I looked out in the hall . . . not there. Even though it was February, I opened a window (it was a ground floor apartment) to see if he had gotten outside and was perhaps on the window ledge right outside the apartment. These were not foolish checks on my part since he had escaped in the past, a few times out into the hall and once all the way outside. He was like a little Houdini.

Nothing. I wandered the apartment and could hear his faint cries. They were the loudest in the kitchen. I searched behind the stove with a flashlight and I even opened the oven. No Mitten. I was standing there in my boxer shorts and T-shirt, looking at the fridge. Could he have somehow gotten up inside the rear of the thing, trapped next to the condenser or something? I pulled the fridge away from the wall a bit, got down with the flashlight and looked up into the rear of the unit. Nothing.

So there I am, once again standing in front of the fridge, looking at the damn thing, and telling myself . . . no way is he in there. But I just had to check.

I opened the lower fridge door . . . no Mitten. Like a robot, I opened the top freezer door . . . and out he came . . . leaping onto my neck and hanging on for dear life. He was scared, cold and perhaps not far from death. I have no idea how long he had been in there . . . maybe an hour . . . maybe more. I really didn’t know.

We went straight to bed and he curled up on my chest, under the covers, and never moved. He purred for the longest time and finally went to sleep. I stroked him for as long as I was awake. From that point forward our bond was . . . if I can paraphrase a line from John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles . . . tighter than Tom Thumb’s butt.

I checked out the freezer door the next day. The magnets holding it shut were pretty weak, and Mitten was a pretty smart cat. I could just imagine him seeing the freezer door open a few times, and figuring out how to open it himself. All he had to do was get on top of the fridge and push against the top edge of the freezer door with his paws, open it and crawl in. Of course, the door closed behind him and he was then in huge trouble.

I’ve generally been a light sleeper and Mitten was always a loud meow-er. That combination, and my silly “What would Mitten do?” thinking on that night, prevented my little guy from becoming a victim of the killer trout.

This is just as it happened but, alas, there are no living witnesses but me. May I be forced to eat my weight in tofu, couscous and polenta if this is not all true.

The Bors thought the trout dinner was fine. She gave some of hers to little Mitten, just to shut him up. That seemed fitting . . . Mittie eating one of his would-be assassins.