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It’s always hard to say goodbye

(It’s even harder when you have to say it in Chinese) July 25, 2002 — Well, I don’t have the plague. Not yellow fever, psychosis or leprosy, either. How do I know this, you ask? Did I feel a case of the plague coming on and run off to the doctor? “Hey, Doc. I think […]

Redneck Games: You might be a redneck … if you enjoy this column

July 18, 2002 — When I stepped out of my air-conditioned car, the heat hit me like a right hook. The sun was searing and inescapable. Everything, everyone seemed to be surrounded by an abstract haze, kind of like the watercolor paintings that rise from hot highways in the summertime. I was standing in a […]

Dawsonville Down Under: Kangaroo court rules NASCAR country

July 4, 2002 — As a kookaburra cackled in the distance, a wallaby wallowed in the shade of a tall tree. Nearby, a red kangaroo hopped, then stopped. She stared at me quizzically. Her baby joey — face, feet and tail all peering out of her pouch — stared, too. Ah, the sights and sounds […]

Soccer Watching: Late-night confessions of a World Cup junkie

June 27, 2002 — In a current television commercial, the main character ends up flat on his back in the middle of a crowded sidewalk. He is motionless. Another man takes the guy’s arm and sees that he’s wearing a bracelet, kind of like a medical I.D. tag. He flips it over and finds the […]

Mississippi Handgrabbing: Finger food (Part 2 of 2)

Hands are bait when grabbing giant catfish June 20, 2002 — Forget about forethought — or any other type of thought, really — when you stick your hand in front of a 40-pound catfish, hoping that the monster mistakes your fingers for food. Thinking can only cause problems. It’s best to do such things with […]

Mississippi Handgrabbing: Man vs. fish (Part 1 of 2)

Mississippi ‘masters’ lure lunkers … using only their hands as bait

Mike Willoughby emerged from the mud-brown Mississippi water as if he were part of a river baptism, as if the very spirit of the Holy Ghost had taken possession of his being.

But Willoughby didn’t come up from the Big Black River singing. He didn’t say, “Hallelujah.”

Instead, Willoughby grimaced and grunted. He appeared to be in pain.

“He come up and bit me and twisted off,” the 33-year-old paint contractor from Jackson, Miss., said before groaning again. “Felt like a good fish.”

Then, Willoughby took a deep breath and disappeared into the water again. He was trying to coax a giant flathead catfish into biting his hand.

After his third dunk into the drink, Willoughby spit water, gasped for air and warned us again that the fish was “a good ‘un.”

“Alright, I’m fixin’ to come out with him,” Willoughby announced before going under a final time.

I suppose I shouldn’t have reacted with so much shock when Willoughby struggled to the surface with a 53-pound creature in his arms. I mean, I had seen photos and read accounts of men fishing for colossal catfish using only their bare hands. But I always remained skeptical.

Even after Willoughby lugged his leviathan to the boat and placed its still spasmodic body into a cooler, part of me — the logical and rational part — questioned the validity of the whole venture. To the uninitiated onlooker, what goes on under the cover of muddy water is a mystery.

Hawaii Spearfishing: To spear a fish, you must act like one

June 6, 2002 — He is a predator of the sea, lurking deep beneath the surface, hiding inside cracks in the coral reef, waiting for dinner to swim by. But Wendell Ko does not have gills. He cannot breath underwater. Although, at times it seems like he can. Ko is a Hawaiian spearfisherman. He is […]

Antique Tractor Pull: ‘Good, clean American fun’

May 30, 2002 — “Turn left at the only red light in town.” When you are given those directions, you know you are headed for a countrified corner of the world. And when you turn onto Holloway Road in Danielsville, you know you have arrived. It’s a graveyard for anything with gears. Tractors, backhoes and […]

Slot Car Racing: ‘3-2-1, squeeze ’em!’

May 16, 2002 — I inspected the car Mark Taaffe built for me. I had my doubts as to whether it would withstand the beating I was about to put it through. The car was yellow. It had a big blue “0” emblazoned on its roof. “Zero is as close as I could come to […]

Clogging: A toe-tappin’ good time

April 25, 2002 — Keith Brady’s feet went off like firecrackers. His knees were loose hinges — swinging back and forth, up and around. Everything below was a blur. Perhaps Brady was a marionette, I thought. Perhaps someone, or something, was pulling at the strings from up above. He made the unnatural appear natural. He […]

Garbage Collection: Are you ‘garbage man material’?

April 21, 2002 — When Gainesville solid waste superintendent Adrian Niles explained it, the job description seemed simple enough. Get garbage out of can. Put lid back on can. Carry garbage to truck and throw it in the back. Repeat, again and again. So that’s what I did. For one day, I was a Gainesville […]

Remembering Nell: Someone to watch over me

April 13, 2002 — My dear old next door neighbor, Nell Thompson, passed away Sunday. And I didn’t even realize it until Wednesday afternoon. I’ve spent the long hours since trying to figure out how that could happen. I learned of the sad news while reading the newspaper. I saw Nell’s name and face on […]

Team Penning: Not just horsing around

April 11, 2002 — John Hulsey remembers riding his horse down Green Street. He’d clip-clop on over to the old Royal Theater, which used to occupy the vacant lot next to Clore’s Restaurant. He’d tie up his horse and take in a movie. This was the 1960s — not too long ago, really. Back then, […]

Zamboni Drivers: The ice men cometh

April 4, 2002 — It is a movable throne. In it sits the king of the common man. He is the Zamboni driver. The Atlanta Thrashers won only 19 of their first 76 games this season. That’s the worst record in the National Hockey League. But the Zamboni drivers at Philips Arena can do no […]

Lacrosse: A cross between everything

March 28, 2002 — Lacrosse is North America’s oldest sport. You would think, then, that most people would have heard of it by now. That’s not the case in Northeast Georgia. Even though lacrosse was played religiously here by the Cherokee, Creek and Oconee Indian tribes hundreds of years ago (the town of Ball Ground, […]

Horseback Riding: Honey back in saddle after rough ride

March 21, 2002 — For 15 seconds or so, Dodie Ellison thought that her granddaughter was dead. Nine-year-old Honey Beth Campbell lay motionless in the dirt. A horse named Hunker had just put her through hell. When I heard the story, it made my stomach sink. In the fall of 2000, Honey gave me a […]

Geocaching: Not just for geeks anymore

March 14, 2002 — Hi. My name is Dan. And I’m a geocacher. There, I said it. Are your geek alarms going off? Believe it or not, I’ve never watched a full episode of “Star Trek.” I still haven’t seen the most recent “Star Wars” installment. And I have no interest in reading “The Lord […]

Hiking: Waterfalls are welcome during tournament time

March 7, 2002 — Sometimes you need to get away. I spent the better part of last week covering the first three rounds of the state basketball tournament in Rome. I am now on a first-name basis with the staffs of the Days Inn and Applebee’s there. I know well the roads that link the […]

Bingo: Trying to be chance’s chosen one

February 28, 2002 — When Bernie Olejnik took his seat behind the Bingo King Autotronic 7600, everybody shut up. Many in the crowd of nearly 100 at the Gainesville Elks Lodge on Sunday had been waiting more than an hour for this moment — waiting patiently for that first bright numbered ball to separate itself […]

Solar System Walk: No telescope required

February 21, 2002 — Robert Webb told me to meet him at the planet Earth. So I did. It was cold and windy there. Turns out Earth is on the corner of Washington and Main. You’ll find the moon there, too. Look toward the courthouse, and you’ll see the sun. It’s a stainless steel ball […]