Shticks, stones, funny bones

December 23, 2007|By CANDUS THOMSON

Bill Heavey's humor columns make dandy bookmarks.

That's a compliment.

For a number of years, I have been carefully tearing the back page out of Field and Stream, underlining his best lines and archiving them in travel books, cookbooks and the latest best-seller that resides in my personal library on the toilet tank.

This is my way of acknowledging both his writing skill and the fact that my alma mater, Emerson College (sadly named for Charles Wesley, the carnival barker, not Ralph Waldo, the essayist), will never dedicate a Thomson wing in the campus library filled with my papers.

But magazine pages get old and frayed. And when the Charmin runs out, you'd better believe all bets are off.

Luckily, Field and Stream has seen fit to bundle some of Heavey's best work into a single volume, If You Didn't Bring Jerky, What Did I Just Eat? (Atlantic Monthly Press, $23).

Heavey, a Northern Virginia resident who claims Maryland's woods and waters as his home turf, is just as funny in hardcover as he is stuffed in a book on the back of the American Standard.

If you're a regular reader, you know Heavey claims no extraordinary talents to make him the alpha outdoorsman. He writes: "I am physically unimpressive, have the woods sense of a parking meter and for years thought that a `staging area' was where deer rehearsed theatrical performances."

It's a shtick that works. If you fish or hunt, you will embrace a lot of Heavey's takes on the outdoors and laugh at some of the stuff he does. For example:

On finding his daughter Emma's SpongeBob Squarepants book in his hunting backpack while in a tree stand: "After not even seeing a deer all morning, and with nothing to lose, I pushed the button decorated with a giggling SpongeBob. Out came a sound like a doe bleat on helium. Intrigued, I hit it again. A doe emerged from the bushes 70 yards distant, where it stood alert and frozen for two minutes. I hit the button once more. Fifteen minutes later, I sent an arrow into that deer. I am unsure about SpongeBob's sexual orientation, but I will say this: The boy knows deer."

On bass fishing TV shows: "Many television hosts like to kiss the bass they catch. I don't know who started this, but it has become epidemic. And it has to be hurting the catch-and-release survival rate. How strong do you think your will to live would be if the last thing you saw before being set free was an extreme close-up of [professional angler] Woo Daves' lips?"

On spinning rod vs. fly rod: "My idea of fun is catching fish. Tons of them if possible. I love the tug and the way all three of us - the fish, the line, and I - become electrically connected for a few moments. I can count on zero fingers the number of times I've gone to bed thinking, `That would have been a pretty good day if I hadn't caught so many fish.' But you can't tell a fly fisherman that. He'll give you some mumbo jumbo about `loving the process,' spit white wine in your eye, and run you over with his Saab."

On bow hunting in January: "The strange fact is that I like the late season, cold and all. I like it because the smart hunters - those smug guys diligent enough to scout the preseason and disciplined enough to avoid over-hunting prime stands - have tagged out. That leaves the woods to guys like me: the obsessed, the unhinged, the ones who don't know when to quit. There is a strange satisfaction in this kind of hunting. If you get a deer, the victory is that much sweeter. If not, it sure wasn't for lack of trying."

On the agony of waiting at Fletcher's Boathouse in D.C. for the water to warm enough for fishing: "It would be easier all around if fish lived in the air. Air's a pushover. You throw it a little sunlight and it snuggles into your arms and coos, `My place or yours?' Even soil heats up fairly fast. A single warm day like this one has no problem coaxing the daffodils and forsythia into promiscuous behavior they'll regret with tomorrow's cold snap. But water remembers what Mama told her. She requires the prolonged application of warmth before she comes around."

Heavey, 52, wasn't always in this line of work. Until age 40, he toiled for a construction trade association, "making the world safe for concrete."

A minor midlife crisis convinced him to shuck a regular paycheck and take the poverty vow of a full-time freelance outdoors writer. A newspaper travel story about smallmouth bass fishing was just the lure for Field and Stream, which brought him in from the cold.

"The outdoors is just a lens through which I filter everything, and a lot of the stuff, it's everyman kind of stuff about the difficulty of getting out to fish and hunt and be a good dad and husband," he explains while driving to a parent-teacher conference.

He didn't grow up hunting, but says he learned first to deer hunt and then graduated to bow hunting "to give me something to lie about the other six months of the year."

Now the challenge is to balance doing and writing.

"Sometimes, you have to carve out those 10 minutes for a 3,000-word feature and just bear down," he says, laughing. "It's brutal."

Does Heavey envision a day when he runs out of ways to poke fun at himself?

"The short answer is no," he says, driving and laughing. "There's not too much competition on the doofus front."

So, Bill, why should people buy your book?

"Because I desperately need the money," says Heavey, still laughing. "I've got all my eggs in one basket."

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