The Horse in My Garage and Other Stories is a hilarious addition to Patrick F. McManus’s library of humor. He weighs in on his childhood, everyday life, and outdoor tales. His typical exaggerated commentary will elicit a belly laugh, whether you’ve been reading his tales for years or are new to his special blend of classic American humor.
Read about the antics of Patrick’s friends Rancid Crabtree and Retch Sweeney in such stories as “Shaping Up for the Hunt” and “Bear Hunters.” McManus plays off the recent obsession with hoarders in his surprising story “The Lady Who Kept Things.” In the titular story, meet Patrick’s horse, Huckleberry, and enjoy the experience of all the problems that come along with owning your own horse—or keeping him in the garage.
Other great stories include:
- “Catch-And-Eaters,” about the importance of a forked stick when fishing
- “$7,000 TV Historical Extravaganza,” a look at one director’s loose interpretation of historical accuracy and political correctness
- “A Lake Too Far,” concerning the woes of Patrick and his wife, Bun, on a fateful birding trip in Australia
- “Chicken Chronicles,” which involves Patrick’s memory of wandering around naked in the chicken yard when guests came to call
Spend some time with Pat McManus. You won’t regret it.
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The Horse in My Garage
And Other Stories
By Patrick F. McManus
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2012 Patrick F. McManus
All rights reserved.
A Scholar of Worms
My wife brought a neat little metal box into my office the other day and asked, "Wouldn't this be good for worms?"
I looked at the box. It would fit nicely in a shirt or vest pocket. The latch on it opened easily. You could hold it out toward a fishing partner, snap it open, and ask, "Worm?" I figured it was about big enough for four worms at a time. It would work well if your fishing buddy carried a big can of worms, and you could meet him from time to time for a refill, kind of like fighter planes meeting a tanker in mid-fight to get a refill.
"Perfect!" I said.
Actually, I couldn't remember the last time I had fished with worms. Maggots, yes — worms, no. Worms were starting to become a distant memory. The thought saddened me, because I'd once been a scholar of worms.
My very first worm scared me half to death. I was four or five years old and digging in the dirt at the corner of our ancient log cabin. Dirt, at the time, was my favorite toy, possibly my only toy. I forget what I used for a digging tool, perhaps an old spoon my mother had given me. I was soon working on a major excavation. That is how you play with dirt; you move it from one place to another. Suddenly, I unearthed a huge night crawler. It had never occurred to me that a worm could be so large. I thought it was a snake.
I went into the cabin to report my find, something I by then viewed as a scientific discovery.
"Don't rip the door off its hinges!" Mom shouted. "Stop that screeching and shaking dirt all over the floor." (My mother had very little experience with scientists.)
I pulled her outside to show her the snake and was pleased to learn my discovery was only a worm. Still, for several years, I was not particularly fond of night crawlers. They kind of ruined dirt for me. Afterward, I only dug in the dirt tentatively, always expecting the next spoonful to turn up another monster. I preferred worms with fewer pretensions, something a bit more modest.
As mentioned, I have in recent years used mostly maggots for bait. True, they lack the worm's personality and character, but on the other hand they are rather tidy, not counting the wood shavings vendors typically use as fillers in their plastic containers. I suppose maggots, technically speaking, are worms of a sort. If you have gathered maggots from their natural medium, you will think their plastic containers one of the great inventions of mankind. You will not mind in the least vacuuming up from the floor of your boat the wood shavings and the little brown corpses of escaped maggots. (What were they thinking, anyway? That they could make a run for it?) Another thing I like about fishing with maggots is that if left alone they turn into flies. What kind of future is that for them? You have saved them from that particular horror, for which they should thank you copiously. At least a worm has the self-respect to remain a worm. Kind of reminds me of a couple of kids I knew in high school, not that I'm promoting any shortcomings of self-respect.
A couple of years after the discovery of my first night crawler, we moved back to our farm in Idaho. We raised mostly stumps on our farm. They tended to mind their own business and didn't cause much trouble, such as whining to be harvested. Then my parents lapsed into insanity and started populating the farm with cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits, and other irritants. Our former tranquil life in the woods was suddenly transformed into endless emergencies, perpetrated by these useless and irresponsible new residents.
On its plus side, the farm came with a creek. The creek was a mess. It had high walls of brush hugging its banks, logs crisscrossing it, beaver dams backing up the water, and huge cedar stumps disrupting the current. It was lovely. Sometimes during runoff, ice would catch on the logs and form huge dams. Once, the water rose so high behind one dam that it almost took out the barn and its livestock. But no such luck.
The creek, or "crick," as we referred to it in those days, was wild and unpredictable, much like my own character at the time. Even though the creek harbored mostly chaos, it also contained in its deep dark holes an abundance of hungry trout. Those trout changed my life. Had I not discovered them, I might have grown up to become ... well, I might have grown up.
In my pre-creek years, I thought of worms as primarily useless, if occasionally entertaining, in the way only worms can be. Once I realized worms could be used to catch fish, I began to study them closely and soon became a scholar of worms. I read everything I could find written about worms. OK, I'll admit it, not all that much was written about worms.
In the spring of the year, before fishing season opened, worms were plentiful. They lay around on the top of the ground sunning themselves or, often, drowning in puddles, getting themselves squished under vehicle tires, and otherwise acting stupidly. Those wisely remaining underground could be clever, inventing numerous escapes from my flailing shovel. Sometimes I would notice the rear tip of one disappearing into the bottom of my excavation. Despite my making the dirt fly, I could never seem to catch up with the worm. It was as if it knew of secret worm speedways routed through the dirt.
Sensing the arrival of fishing season, all worms, even the dumb ones, began burrowing deep in the earth. Usually, the best place to dig worms was in what we laughingly called "the garden." Each spring we would spade up the ground and plant numerous seeds, with visions of squash, pumpkins, lettuce, onions, and potatoes dancing in our heads. I vaguely recall some of the plants actually reaching a height of two inches or more before drying up and dying. It was that garden that first taught me the futility of hope. Nevertheless, the garden soil had been loosened, and that made it fairly easy to turn up a dozen or so worms in a fairly short time, at least in the months of May and June. One spring, having experienced a dearth of midsummer worms in previous years, I dug up several dozen worms and saved them in a large box of dirt. I had been told that worms like coffee grounds, so I dumped in a bunch of grounds to provide them with nourishment. Come July, when other worms had dug themselves halfway to China, I went out to the box, smugly anticipating great wiggly handfuls of its contents. Apparently high on caffeine, the worms had gone over the walls en masse. ("The next moonless night — hic — we make our break. Pass it along.") No matter the cause of the inmates' disappearance, I blamed the coffee grounds. Never again did I try to store up worms.
Fortunately, we had a huge pile of cow manure out behind our barn, and worms could be found there any time of the year. They were pale, skinny fellows, as you might expect of anyone who lived in a manure pile. The fish in the creek, however, did not seem to care much for manure pile worms, although I doubt they actually knew where their next meal was coming from.
My study of worms has produced some interesting facts. I bet you didn't know that a worm has five hearts, or that there are 2,700 different kinds of earthworms. My source also says, "It's hard to imagine something more interesting to watch than an earthworm giving birth." I'll have to put that one on my list of Fun Things to Do in My Free Time.
In another publication I learned you can go out to the typical golf course putting green, drive a couple of metal stakes into the ground, connect wires between the stakes and the terminal to a car battery, and watch about 10,000 night crawlers come flying up out of the ground. Well, I'm not exactly sure of the number, but a lot of big worms, enough to keep you in bait for years, as long as you don't feed them coffee grounds. It is my impression that some industrious people actually gather worms in this manner and then sell them. If you're thinking of taking up the practice, however, I suggest you do it in the middle of the night. I don't know what the laws are in regard to the collection of worms from putting greens, so you're on your own. I think it might be embarrassing to be arrested for worm theft. If it turns out your jail mate is a bank robber and he asks, "What are you in for?" don't tell him.
Just recently I read a report in which researchers claimed that worms don't feel pain. In all my years of baiting hooks, I have felt twinges of guilt every time I threaded a worm on a hook. Now I find out they don't feel pain — they've been faking it! — just to play on my sense of guilt!
If you can't trust a worm, whom can you trust?
The very best worms for fishing, I determined years ago, are those that have been power-tilled in gardens. They're tough, angry, and belligerent, and perfect for catching wily fish of all kinds, particularly walleye and other arrogant species. Power tillers are expensive, of course, but well worth the price for tough, street-wise worm: "You wanna piece of me?" they growl at the fish. "You wanna rumble? Let's see what you got!"
The worms you buy at gas stations and other places of business are mostly raised on worm farms. They have grown up pampered and coddled and simply don't have the menacing personality of your power-tilled or even your manure-pile worms. One word of caution, though, should you ever buy commercial worms. If you go into a backwoods gas station and find a large, rough-looking woman behind the cash register, don't ask, "Do you have worms?" My friend Retch Sweeney did that a while back. He should get out of his full-body cast any day now. I'm exaggerating. The cast covers only part of his body. I won't mention which part.
I took the metal box from Bun and dropped it in my vest pocket.
"Perfect," I said. I guess she must be aware she's married to a scholar of worms. How great can that be!CHAPTER 2
Shaping Up for the Hunt
The exercise fad in this country is reaching epidemic proportions. You can't have a simple business meeting anymore without your associates comparing their tennis elbows, shin splints, charley horses, and athlete's feet. It's downright disgusting. Even my boss walked up to me the other day and asked if I would like to see his Adidas. I said, "What do you think I am, a pervert or something?" It turned out he was talking about his new pair of tennis shoes!
Exercise addicts are bad enough, but the pushers are worse. Everywhere I turn, somebody is trying to get me to take up jogging, bodybuilding, isometrics, yoga, kung fu, karate, or some other form of premeditated self-destruction. I tell them I'm an outdoorsman and just being an outdoors-man is adequate exercise.
Take, for example, my experience of loading a canoe on my car rack the other day. Knowing how even the slightest breeze can foil the success of this maneuver, I sacrificed one of my few remaining hairs to a test of wind velocity. The hair drifted quietly to the ground. Thus assured, I grabbed the canoe and, with a movement so smooth and graceful the vessel scarcely grazed my protruding eyeballs, snapped it straight up over my head.
At that instant, there arrived on the scene the strongest gust of wind recorded in our state in over half a century. The canoe sailed over the top of my wife's rose garden, mowed down a picket fence, ricocheted off a telephone pole, and turned end over end twice before starting to skitter across the street. At that point, and none too soon, I managed to release my grip on the thing and narrowly avoided being run over by the Avon lady.
My injuries were confined to an imaginative but tasteful reordering of my skeletal structure and a bad bruise on my leg where an unsuccessful attempt had been made to substitute a canoe thwart for a left femur. In those thirty seconds, I had enough exercise to last the average person for five years, but I can't seem to convince anyone of the fact. If you don't spend two hours a day running around in a sweatshirt, health addicts think you're either courting thrombosis or deliberately trying to antagonize the deodorant companies.
A while back I was slumped over the breakfast table performing my usual morning ritual of gluing my psyche back into some semblance of a human consciousness with caffeine, nicotine, cholesterol, and the headlines of the morning paper, when I happened to glance out the kitchen window and catch sight of my neighbor running down the alley in what appeared to be his pajamas. Now, Al Finley, a rather portly chap, is a member of the city council but is otherwise of good reputation. He usually conducts himself in a dignified and rational manner, so it was natural for me to assume that he was being pursued by someone, probably one or more of his dissatisfied constituents. While I was still pondering the vagaries of the political life, he ran by again, this time in the opposite direction.
By gosh, I said to myself, there must be more than one after him, because somebody obviously headed him off at the end of the alley and drove him back this way. After he made a couple more passes up and down the alley and was beginning to show signs of exhaustion, I decided to do what I could to save him from the mob. I stepped out on the back porch and yelled, "Jump the fence, Finley, and I'll hide you in the coal bin! I don't care what it is you've done." He gestured weakly at me in a manner I can describe only as unappreciative and kept on running.
"All right!" I shouted after him. "Let them get you. It'll serve you right!"
As I was walking by his house on my way to work an hour later, he emerged unscathed from his front door. He said he hoped he hadn't offended me by rejecting my offer of sanctuary. I said that it was all right, and you couldn't expect a person to be civil when he was running for his life.
"I wasn't running for my life," Finley replied. "I was jogging."
"Jogging? What on earth for?"
"I've already lost two inches around my waist," he said.
"I see," I said, deciding not to pursue the subject. It was clear the strain of fleecing taxpayers over the years had undermined his sanity, and I had no wish to nudge him further into the abyss. Nevertheless, he chose to explain.
"Have you forgotten hunting season is coming up in less than two months?" He gave me a look of having made everything clear. "You ought to do some jogging yourself."
"Look, Finley," I said gently. "I've hunted deer since I was twelve years old, and not once in all that time has a situation arisen requiring me to jog after them. Besides, the deer don't like it, and it makes the other hunters nervous."
He stared at me vacantly, then got in his car and drove off shaking his head. It was a sad spectacle to witness, even in a politician.
As if I hadn't had enough trouble already for one day, when I arrived at the office somewhat later than usual, my secretary was a picture of torment: legs and hands clamped together, teeth clenched, eyes bulging, face the color of an overripe pomegranate.
"Uh, sorry I'm so late, Midge," I said. "If you need to step out for a moment, I'll answer the phone."
"Whew!" she said, sagging into her chair. "I was just doing my daily isometrics."
"That was my impression," I said, "but I'd prefer you not do one in the office."
"Isometrics are an exercise for toning up the muscles!" she snapped.
Actually, I knew all about isometrics. I told Midge about the time my friend Retch Sweeney caught the exercise bug, and how, before he recovered his senses, it cost him a good deal of embarrassment and nearly his life. Once, when returning from a fishing trip, Retch stopped at a little roadside diner conspicuous for its total lack of other patrons. The steak he ordered and the price of it aroused in Retch the suspicion that the place was run by a combination of highwaymen and horse thieves.
After the main course and while waiting for his dessert, Retch decided to pass the time profitably by performing isometrics, an exercise he hoped would convey the impression that he was a physical fitness buff and could turn deadly should the gang attempt to rob him. As it turned out, the cook and the waitress had never heard of isometrics but were well practiced in the latest first-aid procedure for saving a person strangling on his dinner. The cook caught Retch in a crushing bear hug from behind, driving all the wind out of him with sufficient force to blow all the flies off a mound of hamburger ten feet away.
"Say your name!" the cook shouted, driving his balled fist into Retch's solar plexus. "Say your name!"
As soon as Retch recovered enough to speak, be blurted out, "Retch! Retch!"
"It ain't working," shouted the waitress. "He's still retching!"
By this time, the cook was using Retch's rib cage as an accordion, squeezing out, among other things, a tune Retch thought he recognized as either "Turkey in the Straw" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Just before the waitress made a last-ditch effort to reach down Retch's throat with a pair of spaghetti tongs, Retch managed to clear up the misunderstanding. The cook and the waitress had themselves a good laugh and as a gesture of goodwill allowed Retch to leave the premises without committing further assault on his person.
Although I generally question the veracity of Retch's stories, I told Midge that I thought this one was true. She said she didn't believe a word of it and that Retch and I had probably made it up, simply to poke fun at the new health fads. As a card-carrying health sadist herself, she took the opportunity to express her opinion that I could use a bit of exercise myself.
Excerpted from The Horse in My Garage by Patrick F. McManus. Copyright © 2012 Patrick F. McManus. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Scholar of Worms 1
Shaping up for the Hunt 7
A Bit about My Writing Life 15
$7,000 TV Historical Extravaganza 29
Wild Life in a Room with a View 35
Risk Assessment 47
The Forty-Pound Brown Trout 55
Bear Hunters 61
A Lake Too Far 71
The Chicken Chronicles 77
Secret Athlete 81
The McManus Principles 85
Basic Lying Made Easy 89
A Chainsaw Kind of Guy 97
The Lady Who Kept Things 103
September Song 109
The Longest March 115
The Stalk 119
The Horse in My Garage 125
The Tent 131
To Smoke a Steelhead 135
The Teachings of Rancid Crabtree 141
Christmas Shopping 147
Who Ate My Shakespeare? 151
Romantic Moments 155
The Canoe 159
The Writing of "The Green Box" 165
A Routine Fishing Trip 169
The Brown Pelican 173
Christmas Over Easy 183
Dog People 189
Finding My Roots 193
The Longest Three Miles 197
Scrabble's Powers of Observation 201
The Dark and Other Dangers 205