The call came through one Wednesday afternoon. If I was interested, the man was saying, I could jump on a private plane Saturday afternoon and join other media types flying to Albany, Ga., to stay in a storied old plantation and go “hunt’n.”
“Did you ever read ‘A Man in Full’ by Tom Wolfe?” he asked.
“Well, sure,” I told him. “In fact, I read it while traveling in Cuba.”
“I hear there’s some real fine fish’n down there.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. I had spent a week in Cuba and never once thought about a fish, except for those that showed up broiled on a plate next to some black beans and rice.
“Well,” he continued, “this is gonna be ‘A Man in Full’ weekend – horses, wagons, dogs, the whole thing. Got yourself a gun?”
Well, I did inherit my dad’s shotgun, the very shotgun he had taken on hunting trips when I was a child. I had waited for him to take me with him, but those exotic occasions seemed reserved for his college buddies. I had read all of Faulkner’s hunting stories, preparing myself for the moment I would have to look down the sights of a two-barrel at a wild animal and I wondered if I could really ever pull the trigger. I’d never had the opportunity to find out, especially since I’d once been married to a life-long vegetarian who wasn’t sure she’d stay married to me if I did.
Once at Gillionville, one of the most famous of the now-famous quail plantations, we were led out to a field, given a gun and began blasting away at some clay pigeons shot from an automatic skeet launcher.
The gun felt good under my arm. I loved the sound when I pulled the trigger and the gun exploded, followed by the obliteration of the plastic projectile. Then, there followed that primordial sound that magically transforms a city boy into a real man: the guttural sounds of other hunters congratulating me on my good aim. I breathed deeply and stood tall. I confidently cracked open the gun and ejected those shells and inhaled that intoxicating combination of metal, oil and gunpowder.
That night, after a grand dinner, all us manly men retired to the fireplace and drank glasses of port and smoked cigars. Then, it began. The stories. Hunt’n stories from Montana, fish’n stories from Alaska – each one grander than the last. “Ohmygod,” I thought. “I forgot to pack any stories.”
I drank heavily from the port, trying to summon some suitable tale. When I was a child I found some crawdads in our creek, one block west of Peachtree. My brothers and I once unsuccessfully shot a pellet gun at squirrels in tall pine trees because they threw pine cones at us while we threw the football.
I began to shift uncomfortably in my chair, fearing my city-boy nature would be unmasked. I could feel the sweat popping out on my forehead. Finally, the plantation manager said he had to get up early to wake the dogs, so he’d better mosey off for some shuteye. Others followed and I was saved.
The next morning we rose early, had a huge hunt-country breakfast and I rode a horse for three hours, carefully absorbing each and every detail of my successful hunt so next time I could lean back by the fire, take a pull on my cigar and tell the story of the time I went to Gillionville …