Fish On A Stick and Singing By a Gas Pump

Jimmy “The Freak”, a friend of mine dries salmon on a stick, eating it like a fishy corn dog. He gets his fish shipped in from Seattle in big, frozen boxes. On the days his shipments arrive, he gets so excited he can barely speak.

I like fish, and I like fish sticks – the ones in the grocery store freezer section – but dried fish on a stick bothers me. Fish tacos are the same way. There is fish and there are tacos. I don’t see them hanging out together no matter how many times I go to Mexico. But that’s just me.

My sister tells me this shows a “lack of palete sophistication,” and that I need to “expand my culinary hortizons.” This is her way of saying I’m a backwards, bass boat-loving redneck with no manners and no taste. I have to argue with some of that. I have no bass boat, my neck is only red now and then and my taster works just fine, last time I checked, which was at a steak house in Nashville. But everything in Nashville tastes better because of the music. And it’s not just country music anymore.

Hey sis, if you’re reading this, I don’t just listen to Willie and Waylon and Merle anymore. I’ve “expanded my musical horizons” to include some Muscle Shoals type sounds like the Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell and Alabama Shakes. Muscle Shoals is a special place for music. I was driving down the road the other day playing The Civil Wars “Barton Hollow” (or Holler, to those of us who’ve been there) and I had to roll down the windows to keep from OD’ing on the beautiful harmony.

Jimmy, who dries fish on a stick, tells me all the time that Muscle Shoals is in a revival for music. He’s preaching to the choir.

“Oh we got some history down here,” says Jimmy. “Bob Dylan, Wilson Picket, The Stones, Clarence Carter, Otis Redding, Aretha Frankin, Paul Simon, a whole lot of people have recorded in Muscle Shoals. And then there’s Lynyrd Skynyrd. Lordy.”

He is sticking fish with ka-bob sticks and arranging them on a tray in his kitchen.

“Dear brother Duane Allman was a session player here,” he says as if talking about a religious figure. “Little Richard, Percy Sledge, man this is a legendary place. And now it’s hot again.”

I have to leave since I can’t stand to see what he’s doing to those fish and I ride up to a gas station where I run into a woman singing at the pump. It’s not something you see every day.

I’m one of those shower singers and not even the tile walls makes me sound like John Paul White belting out “From This Valley” with Joy Williams, but this woman – 89 octane pump in hand – is pouring it out like somebody hurting in a blues song. It is haunting. And I can’t even walk because of it. I just stand there, my mouth half open and my ears taking it straight into my heart. When she tops off her tank, she gets in and drives away.

“Another woman standing next to me dips her head in the direction of what we’ve just seen and says, “You know who that is, don’t you?”

“No ma’am, I don’t,” I say. “But she can sing like a wounded angel.”

“You are so right,” says the woman.

And with that, she too gets in her car and drives away without telling me who the beautiful gas pump singer was. So I go inside for a cold drink and ask the cashier, who looks to be about 17 years old, recently in a fight and semi conscious, wearing earbuds with the cord snaked down into his pants pocket. I hope it was his pocket, anyway. I debate with myself whether or not to ask him about the singer, but I do it anyway.

“Ah dun oh miser she proly sumsanger ernuther,” he mumbles through busted mouth.

I take my drink and a chocolate MoonPie (since I ran out at the last stop) and nod.

“Did you win the fight?” I say motioning to his half blackened eye.

“Naw,” he grunts.

The whole episode reminds me that sometimes in life, a beautiful thing is followed by a doofus with a busted face and a bent larynx.


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